Thursday, March 31, 2016

Out Like a Lamb

March, what I believe to be the longest month, is coming to an end. It saw snow, rain, 60 degree days, and a few windstorms. Today was stormy and humid, and all the kids were buzzing with an energy usually felt in the drawn out days before a break. We have two weeks left before ours - one of which is taken up by standardized testing, the other which includes report card pick up day and third quarter grades. It'll be eventful, but I'm ready for April!

Here's a look back at March (spoilers, it's mostly me walking and reading!):

Monday, March 28, 2016

Another Slice: A Pizza Place Update

Since Jesus and I moved to the Old Irving Park neighborhood, we've been trying out new restaurants to turn into our local favorites. We have plenty in the running (and more to test in the warm months to come!), but there are already a few standouts. In the pizza category we have new options for deep dish, a cracker crust stand by, a new to Chicago standout, and redemption for an honorable mention from my last pizza post.

Chicago's Pizza
Good For: traditional Chicago deep dish, plus a million other Italian options.
Ambiance: casual and familial. The Irving Park location is small, so prepared to be cozy on a busy day.
Notes: BYOB at the Irving location.

La Villa
Good For: the whole family, and then some (or delivery).
Ambiance: old school charm, complete with checkered table cloths and plenty of bread sticks to go around.
Notes: La Villa is open and delivers late, and they also feature a banquet hall, catering services, and lunch.

Warehouse Bar & Pizzeria
Good For: watching the game, especially if it's the Badger game, and drinking beer (16 on tap).
Ambiance: modern yet country, with great Wisconsin-caliber service.
Notes: if you didn't guess, this is a Wisconsin bar that specializes in pizzas - I recommend trying a red and a white sauce specialty pizza.

The Boiler Room
Good For: Happy Hour and a slice after work.
Ambiance: much more relaxed on a weekday evening than it is on weekends - The Boiler Room redeemed itself with it's PB&J (slice of pizza, PBR, and a shot of Jameson for $8.50) and easygoing weeknight atmosphere.
Notes: cash only, but using their ATM gets you a free shot of Jameson.

Coming Soon:
Lou Malnati's: this deep dish carryout/delivery only location is almost complete, and I'm sure Jesus and I will be testing it out when the weather is nice and we don't want to cook.

To Try (Still):
Pizzeria Da Nella: It has now been seven (7!!!) years since my last slice of true Neapolitan pizza. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Broke Diaries

The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone BrokeThe Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke by Angela Nissel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Angela Nissel's diary of her senior year in college definitely lends support to the idea that "being poor is expensive," but something is lacking in this otherwise honest and clever memoir.

First thoughts: There were times when I was reminded of Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich), but I wanted more of that style and less of Nissel's narration of her days. Memoirs are hot or cold for me, and this adaptation of a blog felt like a straight copy and paste from the online platform into print pages - while tidbits of daily life are common in blogs, where they're doled out in small chunks over days and weeks, that same text crammed into a book read in three days feels dull. I would've enjoyed more examples of "broke" dilemmas, even categorized: broke eating, broke phone bills, broke entertainment. The book would've felt more useful then.

First questions: How did Nissel become "broke" in the first place? Was she always, or did it come as a result of student loans?

Recommended for: Perhaps college students could relate better - I know I'm not that far removed from college, but I had to remind myself that she was "still in school" every time she made a money blunder.

Final thoughts: Disappointing overall, though maybe it was a better read in 2001. It's definitely dated. The humor didn't quite translate on paper - the wording of things is clearly how she speaks, but it's my guess that her delivery is what makes her words funny, not the words themselves.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

I hesitated to post this recipe - partially because I thought I already had, partially because it's just so stinkin' easy, I feel like I'm getting away with something every time I make it. And I make it a lot - it's my most adaptable recipe and the best crowd-pleasing-yet-non-fussy, feel-good-and-taste-good go-to I have in my arsenal when I'm entertaining.

The basic recipe, from Ali at Gimme Some Oven goes like this:


Put them in a crock pot and walk away. Then come back about six hours later, remove the chicken and use two forks to shred it. Put it back in and mix it all up.

Seriously, it's that simple.

You could kick it up a notch and add a few things: frozen corn, a can of black beans, or chopped onion and peppers. (I've started to.) And when you serve it, make sure to include all the fun fixings: lettuce, tomato, cilantro, salsa, rice, tortillas, avocado, lime...and a few friends to share with.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane in theaters just over a week ago, and I still find myself thinking about it - it's almost haunting. There's not a lot I can say to describe the movie itself without giving too much away, and I really think the power in this distant cousin to Cloverfield is its mystery. It was developed and filmed under several pseudonyms, with the first trailer for it appearing just two months before its full release.

Being kept in the shadows is a major theme of 10CL, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. Throughout the movie we're never quite sure who is trustworthy, who holds the power, and what will happen next. We know there was a car accident, we know there are three people in a bunker, and we think there might be something happening out in the world, but we only have guesses as to what it is.

10CL hits hard with the creep factor, and all three principal actors are spot on for their roles. I loved the soundtrack, the simmering suspense, and how the story kept me thinking the whole way through (and then some).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Happy Happy Day

Happy Day of Happiness! I myself am feeling very happy these days. It feels good to know I've intentionally worked for "happy" (see: so many blog posts) and it's paid off - which isn't to say all of my happiness is my own doing, as I'm sure a big portion is my "growth" mindset (even not Happy things can lead to Happiness) and plain old being in the right place at the right time.

A short growing list of what's making me happy this Sunday afternoon:

  • brunch w/ my boo this morning (I was on coffee/bacon/fruit duty; he took care of pancakes and eggs.)
  • our new furniture rearrangement is doing wonders for the energy in the apartment
  • my newest journal is the perfect size for scribbles and doodles and word webs, aka I heart nontraditional journaling practices
  • i finally decided on a Bluetooth speaker thanks to my brother's recommendations and it's currently playing an acoustic playlist that goes with my chill out day
  • we fed Jesus's fam yesterday & in exchange they gave us an evening of joyful laughter (and a drying rack of clean dishes :) )
  • this weather, i mean c'mon - sunshine + cool breeze + random rains = cozy sweater weather on its way to sundress weather
  • Rachel & Jesus Travel 2016 - we all know the planning is half the fun :)
  • a few special visitors arrive in about one month, which means even more planning as a tour guide and host
  • friend dates
  • inter-office bracket challenges (I'm currently in 7th, though that'll most likely change before the night ends.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Someone Could Get Hurt

Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century ParenthoodSomeone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood by Drew Magary
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Drew Magary's memoir of "21st Century Parenthood" is filled with personal stories of the triumphs and tribulations that go with having children. The essays range from sweet and sensitive to rowdy and irreverent, and the whole way through I was both grateful for and shocked by his honesty.

First thoughts: See above. Also, I liked Magary's laid back writing and parenting style for the most part. A few times I was like, uhhh, should he be saying these things? He himself admits to self-editing certain parts so as to not scare people with his parenting, but I'm sure many things were exaggerated for humor.

Favorite quotes:

"No one makes it through life unscathed, but you usually get a grace period at the start." -p3

"People tell you that you should never take life for granted but that's wrong, because taking life for granted is an encouraging sign that your life is going well." -p8

"All the bullshit you sign up for when you start out doesn't just go away. It goes on and on and on until you stop running away from it and start embracing it." -p239

"Love means you never stop trying to be better." p 239

Parenting thoughts: This book could be an effective form of birth control; it's funny, but sad and scary too. More than once I asked myself if I was ready to be in the situations the book presented.

Final thoughts: I love the way the book was end-capped with one story (about the birth of his third child) split so that we got the set up early on, then read through stories of kids one and two before getting back to baby three. It gave a serious weight to the rest of the book and served as a balance to some of the crazy stories in the middle.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Night Links 27

Welp. My bracket is busted, no thanks to Michigan State (or West Virginia, Cal, Purdue, Baylor...). Even though I rarely watch college basketball, I'll still keep updating my ESPN app for the next few weeks. There's just something about being a part of a national event that makes March feel less like the longest month ever and more like a crazy race to April. Let's have the experts explain:

I may not have many teams left to "cheer" for, but there are still exciting games coming up.

Simply put, there's a joy to picking teams you may know little about, then getting to know their stories and feeling the highs and lows of the tournament along with them.

Even if you aren't into basketball at all, the economic impact and social media presence of the tournament can't be ignored.

Finally, if Buzz Aldrin is into it, why the heck wouldn't anyone else be? (Note: He also picked Michigan State to take it all, so that makes me feel better about my decision.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Jesus and I rearranged the furniture in our apartment yesterday. ALL of furniture - no room was left unaffected by our whirlwind of de-cluttering and moving around and adjusting and trying new things. Even the bathroom got the addition of our shopping cart as a rolling laundry basket. Our microwave has a new address. There's more furniture in our bedroom and less in the living room.

I know I'm not alone in feeling refreshed after a good rearranging, but I can't say it enough: if you're feeling weird or stuck or in need of something to put some pep in your step after daylight savings steals an hour from your weekend...move some stuff around. The physical act of moving furniture and thinking through a room's atmosphere also clears the cobwebs in your brain. It makes you look at things differently and revitalizes areas that have been lacking (like the dead space by our coat rack, which is now a blank wall).

Even if you don't agree, it's the best way to make sure every corner of the house gets swept at least every few months. :)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism

In a Different Key: The Story of AutismIn a Different Key: The Story of Autism by John Donvan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): A history of autism, told as a story with major characters, both heroic and antagonistic. The most inclusive/comprehensive piece of writing I've ever read on the topic.

First thoughts: As someone who isn't super familiar with autism, this was a fascinating read. It really is a story - a collection of stories - that altogether shows the big picture (maybe not the entire picture, but a lot of it) of something humans have struggled to categorize for close to 80 years.

Story thoughts: I'm really emphasizing this. This book was a story. Non-fiction, yes, but even down to the terms the authors used - "narrative of autism," "cameo appearances," "observations," "interpretations," - and how each person is introduced as a character with unique motivations and developments. And the cliffhangers! There was a lot of drama, things I didn't expect, things that kept me hooked. There were twists and turns and red herrings, almost like a historical mystery.

Favorite quotes:

"...the definition of autism has always been malleable." -p370

"If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism." -p371

Recommended for: anyone who works with, knows, cares about, is confused by, or has wondered about someone with autism, med school students of all specialties, teachers of all age ranges, historians, and social workers.

Final thoughts: Whew. Intense - but I feel a lot more educated (and like I should read further) on the topic of autism. It has a dramatic story - ups, downs, different "champions," different perspectives. This was both interesting and informative.

Editor's Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Things My Students Say 4

Teacher: What's a perfect society?
Student: Not this!
Student: Tacos!
Student: No Donald Trump!
Student More teachers!

Teacher: Standardized tests are coming soon, be ready to read for two hours!
Student: Yes! I love reading!

Student, after reading "The Lottery": So...she doesn't win any money?

Student, looking at my wrists: Don't guys wear their watches on the right and girls on the left?
Me: Well, usually you wear it on the opposite wrist of the hand you write with, but you can wear it on whatever wrist you want.
Student: But, like low key, guys right, girls left...right?
Me: Um, no.

A list of "compliments" from students (mostly female) to my coworkers and me (also mostly female):

-You would look cute pregnant.
-You're not wearing make up today, right?
-Are those your real eyes?
-You could be in your twenties. Late twenties. Or maybe early thirties.
-Do you ever wear make up?
-That's your natural hair color I bet.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Princess Bride (Book)

The Princess Bride The Princess Bride by William Goldman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): The "good parts" version of S. Morgenstern's classic tale of action, adventure, romance, and revenge.

First thoughts: Why did it take me so long to find and read this book? I enjoyed the movie, but was afraid that the book wouldn't hold up. Luckily, the book is every bit as quirky. I recommend reading the intros (depending on which edition you have) - they are part of the whole "joke" of the book. The asides too - they tell a story all themselves.

Author's thoughts: More about the asides - I appreciated hearing Goldman's thought process in "deciding" which parts to keep in the book and which parts to cut out (or, in reality, which parts to flesh out and which to skim over with brief descriptions). In one, Goldman calls The Princess Bride his favorite book, then also admits "the wrong people die," in it. I loved the sentiment of valuing something despite the sadness. In fact...

Favorite quotes:

"The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this: life is not fair." -p238

"It was too unfair. You expected unfairness in you breathed, but this went beyond that." -p307

"'It appears to me as if we're doomed then,' Buttercup said.
Westley looked at her. 'Doomed madam?'
'To be together. Until one of us dies.'
'I've done that already, and I haven't the slightest intention of ever doing it again,' Westley said.
Buttercup looked at him. 'Don't we sort of have to sometime?'
'Not if we promise to outlive each other, and I make that promise now.'" -p356

Recommended for: readers, writers, fantasy lovers, pop culture nerds, adventurers, kids, kids at heart, book clubs, and jokers.

Final thoughts: Worth a read if you enjoyed the movie. Worth a read if you've never seen the movie, but enjoy a good story. Worth it if you enjoy a book-long inside joke.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reading Across My Apartment

Today, Dr Seuss's birthday, is also known as Read Across America Day. Lots of schools are participating in read-a-thons, read-a-longs, and other reading events this week, but I'm having my own personal celebration at home.

Whether it's at our dining room table during breakfast/dinner, on the sofa for some post-dinner relaxing, or in bed before I fall asleep, I'm reading anywhere and everywhere in the apartment these days - and out of it too, since I have 10-15 minutes on the train each morning. It helps that I have a hefty stack of books to enjoy (plus a deadline for getting them all read, since they belong to the library), and with temps staying low all I want to do when I get home from work is throw on my robe and get lost in another world.

This week I finished a rather large book about the history (emphasis on story) of autism, I'm nearly through a memoir of parenthood in the 21st century, I've been dipping in and out of Chrissy Teigen's cookbook, and I've got my eye on a blog-turned-book about living paycheck to paycheck. I guess I'm in a nonfiction phase. Whatever the case, I've been in a reading phase for over 20 years and I don't see it ending any time soon!