Thursday, June 30, 2016


June was: hustling to finish school on a high note, celebrating graduates of all ages, prepping for summer, and vacation. Super full, super awesome.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the CastleWe Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sisters Constance and Merricat live in their sheltered family estate with Uncle Julian, away from the prying eyes and gossips of the nearby village who want to know what really happened the night the rest of the Blackwood family was poisoned by arsenic in the sugar bowl.

First thoughts: So creepy! And mysterious. And suspenseful. Who do we trust? What is real? The story is dream-like in places. A little magical. A lot macabre.

Spoiler-y: Unless I missed a major plot point, I was convinced that eventually we would find out that the sisters had been dead the entire time. The story is disturbing enough without that turn of events.

Shirley Jackson...sounds familiar: Remember "The Lottery"? Yeah, Jackson's got disturbing locked down.

Recommended for: simmering spooky story lovers, fans of Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter, or Ursula K. Le Guin, people with strange family members.

Final thoughts: I love the details and layers that don't interfere with this simple story. It reminds me of The Trespassers by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Practical Commencement Speech II

Another year, another 8th grade graduation, another trio of tips from a local alderman. This time Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, 35th Ward Alderman, shared three things for our graduates to remember when they get to high school - and, like last year, these three things are applicable at any time, not just during commencements.

Time Flies
It took our 8th graders about 13 years to reach this milestone, and in another 13, they could be aldermen & women (Rosa is 27). That's how quickly life goes. Wherever you are right now, and however long it took to get there, in the same amount of time or less, you're probably going to be somewhere completely different. I think about this all the time - a year ago, did I imagine I'd be where I am now? 99% of the time, the answer is nope, in a good way.

Things Change
Similarly, right now (at age 13) our students have to ask to go to the bathroom. In less than 13 years (probably closer to 4 or less), they'll be expected to take care of that on their own without needing adult supervision or a bathroom pass. And they'll be on to even bigger things - they'll be able to drive, vote, have jobs, and BE adults. We don't stay in middle school or high school or college forever. Things change.

Experience Talks
Rosa knew his audience - this tip got plenty of applause and a few whistles. But outside of an auditorium filled with parents, it's still sound advice. Whether it's our own parents or other trusted parent-like adults, we all have mentors we look up to - people who were in our shoes 20 or 30 or 40 years ago and who have lived through the experiences we're about to embark on. They have words of wisdom to share, as long as we listen.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Everything Store

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of AmazonThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A detailed telling of the history of Amazon and its creator, Jeff Bezos.

First thoughts: I could never work at Amazon! While I don't need my work-home life to be absolutely balanced, I do need an employer who understands work is not my life.

And yet: I appreciate that proposals within Amazon (for products/services/business acquisitions/etc) are done so via a narrative - a story is told to paint a better picture of how the business idea will benefit Amazon.

Love it or hate it: Amazon has come a long way. As only a casual shopper, I was unaware of all the controversy and struggles Amazon has had along its way to world domination.

Amazon What?: Amazon has had so many business ventures, projects, and trial services, and they all have complex names - so much thought put into things consumers may never even see or know about. A testament to their commitment? Or a waste of time and energy?

Recommended for: business starters and owners, consumers, investors, online sellers, Amazon applicants, curious minds.

Final thoughts: Interesting. Stone turns what could have been a boring chunk of information into an illuminating origin story. Good to know some background and be better informed. And to know I would never survive in that world!

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Night Links 31

Chicago students still have 2 days left of school, but it's summer reading list season on the internet:

Dinner: A Love Story - 14 Summer Reads
Gimme Some Oven - Summer Reading List
Perpetual Page-Turner - 10 YA Books That Should Be In Your Beach Bag This Summer
Upcycled Education - Summer Book Recommendations
Paper/Plates - Essential Summer Reading
Book Riot - How to Create Your Own Summer Syllabus

And who am I to resist the movement? (Though it should be noted, my reading lists are year-round.) Here's what I'm excited to read in the next 2 months:

Bed, David Whitehouse - Currently reading this story of a man who refuses to leave his bed. It's...different.

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter- One of my plane/beach reads for my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico! I'm excited to "travel" to Italy while reading.

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout - The backup plane/beach read for vacation (I always bring a back up). I'm hoping it'll be different from what I'm expecting from the cover.

Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie - What better way to return from vacation than with something literary, a cross between "a fairy tale, a furious political satire, and a meditation..." (from the front flap). We'll see how I do with a deep read in deep summer.

Shine Shine Shine, Lydia Netzer - If I can't hang with Rushdie, I've got Netzer on deck with an adventurous love story that'll take me to the moon and back.

Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger - Highly rated by almost everyone I know who's read it + On so many "Best of" lists = A book I'm bound to check out sooner rather than later, even though 15 years after publication isn't exactly sooner.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dulce de Leche Brownies

This recipe is not summery and will make your kitchen unbearably hot (350 degrees for 45 minutes will do that even in winter), BUT it's so good. And I've made it twice now for my coworkers, so I'm the office favorite.

I didn't change much from this recipe by The Merchant Baker, and really, any brownies can be dulce de leche brownies - just add a few dollops to the batter and swirl around - so feel free to adapt this to your favorite recipe or store-bought mix.

2/3 c cocoa (I used Nestle)
1 1/2 c sugar
1/2 c powdered sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 c flour (I used all purpose)
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 c oil (I used olive)
2 tbsp water
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 (+ some extra) dulce de leche at room temperature, or slightly warmed in microwave (I used what Bailey brought me from Uruguay, but it can be found in the States - check specialty grocers or the "world foods" aisles)
[Note: I left out chocolate chips and espresso powder and these didn't suffer one bit!]

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease square baking pan.
  2. Whisk together dry ingredients.
  3. Add eggs, oil, water, and vanilla to dry mixture and stir until smooth.
  4. Pour just over half the batter into pan.
  5. Drop generous spoonfuls of dulce de leche over batter and swirl, making sure there is dulce in all areas without overspreading it.
  6. Pour the remaining batter over and gently spread to cover. Drizzle any remaining dulce de leche on top.
  7. Bake 35 minutes for a 9" pan, 45 minutes for 8". Fork inserted into center should come out (mostly) clean. Allow to cool before cutting.
Enjoy - these are decadent on their own or pair well with ice cream.
They also don't last long in an office of 4 women...

Monday, June 13, 2016

Professional Chaperoning

As a teaching fellow, my job description is flexible. Some weeks it includes classroom assistant, copy girl, and volunteer coordinator, but last week I was one thing: a professional chaperone. My team joined our school's 8th graders (well, the 60 who didn't go on the Washington, D.C. trip) on daily field trips in the Chicagoland area. We visited a few places I'm familiar with and a couple of new-to-me locations, so while I'm glad I won't be riding a yellow school bus for at least a few more months, I'm also grateful I got a (sort of) work-cation. Here's a quick recap:

Monday: Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
Easily the most "school-like" trip we took. Our tour guides had the students break off into groups to "research" certain areas of a larger 1936 Olympics-themed exhibit. (So interesting - did you know the tradition of the torch relay started in Berlin, thanks to Adolf Hitler?) Then we all met together while each group "taught" the exhibit assigned to them.

I can't give an accurate portrayal of the museum itself, since I was too busy herding middle schoolers (and, honestly, trying to remember the names of the 10 I was responsible for - I don't ever work with the 8th grade), but I can say the tour guides are dedicated and the collections are extensive - as the guides repeatedly told the students, "Everything in this museum is real." This trip was both educational and sobering.

Tuesday: Cantigny Park
This trip was my favorite - I've never been to this city getaway turned public park and museum, and it was the perfect mix of structure and free time for the kids. We got tours at the First Division Museum (an immersive/interactive history lesson from the POV of the 1st Infantry Division) and the Robert McCormick Museum (a guided walk through McCormick's sprawling mansion), plus time to explore Tank Park (11 tanks from WWI through Desert Storm - and yes, they're okay to climb on. They survived war, I think they can handle a bunch of 13-yr olds.)

I'm really hoping I can visit Cantigny again, hopefully with friends/family instead of teenagers. For the price of parking, you get admission to both museums plus all the gardens/grounds. This would make a great day trip!

Wednesday: Museum of Science and Industry
I've been here before, so all I'll add is this: it is impossible to keep 10 students in one area when there are tornadoes to walk through, submarines to walk around, and most importantly a giant mirror maze to get lost in. (Note: Never send children back into the maze to retrieve lost wanderers. They will just get more lost together.)

Thursday: Northwestern University and Bahá’í Temple
On this day, the students received tours at Northwestern (from former students) and at the only Bahá'í House of Worship in North America (from a current member of the Bahá'í faith). It was a day for getting out of comfort zones and imagining life outside of their middle school bubble - we challenged the students to think about where and what they would like to study after high school and to view the world through someone else's perspective. Although not all of the students were ready for the maturity that higher education and religious discussions require, a good number of them rose to these challenges, asking relevant questions and sharing honestly about their beliefs.

Friday: Logan Square Scavenger Hunt and Koz Park Games
We kept it local on Friday, touring the neighborhood and taking photos at pre-determined locations, then meeting up at a nearby park to compete in a few relays and field day activities. This was our most relaxed day, and a great way to end the week in a semi-celebration of all our time together.

All-in-all, I enjoyed meeting a few new students (even if they graduate next week) and it was refreshing to be out of the classroom! I recommend extended chaperoning to anyone with some spare time, a joy of sharing experiences with students, and lots of energy.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Logan's Run

Logan's Run: Vintage Movie ClassicsLogan's Run: Vintage Movie Classics by William F. Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the future (2116), no one is allowed to live past the age of 21. Logan, a Sandman enforces this law until he learns of a place called Sanctuary - then he trades sides and becomes a Runner.

First thoughts: If that summary sounded brief/vague, it's because the book was as well. Yes, Logan's Run is clearly a precursor/influencer to later sci-fi dystopias, but its world is remarkably undeveloped. As a reader, I had to fill in much of the details and background with both my imagination and outside sources (other book reviews, research on the 1976 movie).

Other thoughts: Fast read. Also, where do babies come from in this world?

Recommended for: sci-fi fans and historians, voracious readers in need of a lighter snack, ageists.

Final thoughts: This book didn't disappoint me, but it also wasn't the most impressive thing I've read.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

More Bars, More Grills, More Fun

It's al fresco dining season! Not many things can top eating outside when it's nice out, except of course having someone cook for you while you do the eating. Jesus and I have a few bar-and-grill-type spots for when we can't be bothered to cook for ourselves, or when we want a cold drink on a hot night, and I also have a few of my own spots that are great for an after-work drink and/or snack. And let's be honest, sidewalk chilling and people watching.

Harding Tavern
Good For: after work drinks, after work wings, tournament and playoff viewing.
Ambiance: intimate, yet modern. Lucky for them they have sidewalk space, because the restaurant itself is not big.
Notes: with daily brunch, delivery, and a well-stocked rotating draft list, The Harding Tavern caters to everyone.

Parts & Labor
Good For: "Damn Good Burgers. Damn Good Drinks. Damn Good Times."
Ambiance: industrial, yet comfortable. When I went they were playing all of Keira Knightley's movies in a loop.
Notes: as the cousin of popular Logan Square pizzeria, The Boiler Room, Parts & Labor holds up the reputation of a good themed (yet not kitschy) bar & kitchen.

Good For: eating and drinking and eating some more, all on the sidewalk.
Ambiance: half old-school Irish pub, half classy supper club.
Notes: I'm a fan of the tots and the pulled pork. I've heard the burgers are good as well.

Paddy Mac's
Good For: late night eats and cheap beer. Sometimes live entertainment.
Ambiance: maybe because we go here the most, but I get a dive bar/everybody knows your name vibe.
Notes: tots rule again! Jesus and I generally get whatever the daily special is - tacos, burgers, fish fry. Especially the fish fry.

Citizen Bar
Good For: last minute drinks, al fresco.
Ambiance: I'm hesitant to label Citizen Bar since my first/only time visiting was underwhelming. They boast plenty of outdoor space, but we were shuffled around to several tables and nearly forgotten about by servers who drifted aimlessly around the seating area. None of them seemed pleased to be there or ready for outdoor dining season in Chicago. :-/
Notes: Once we did get our food and drinks, they were good! I had the spice chicken sandwich paired with Summer Shandy. If/when I go again, I'll update.

Check out last year's bar and grill roundup here, or all my past restaurant reviews here.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday Night Survey: Summer Night Edition

Do you ever wonder how long it takes for a person to start taking summer weather for granted? Any "nice" day in May is welcomed as a treat, and even now in June I'm finding myself waking up pleasantly surprised at the sunshine (until I become unpleasantly warm and can no longer sleep under the direct light). Here's hoping I can keep up the gratitude for such a simple thing.

Waking up: to sunshine. early to do laundry before my neighbors hog the machine. happy.
Looking: forward to chaperoning field trips (aka, getting out of the classroom) all next week.
Celebrating: a year of change and transition, surviving my first year of "teaching," and new friendships.
Convincing: myself I don't need a pretzel every time I go to the mall.
Walking: as much as I can.
Shopping: for travel essentials.
Counting: down the days until Puerto Rico. (19!)
Watering: all 11 of my plant babies.
Planning: for the 12th.
Smelling: burgers grilling.
Drinking: water water water.
Reading: Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card.
Brewing: homemade iced tea.
Watching: my very first anime, and Miss USA.
Listening: to everything happening in our courtyard/alley #thanksopenwindows

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Corrections

The CorrectionsThe Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Corrections follows the lives of the Lamberts, giving us their present day woes and filling us in with background that shows how they got to where they are today - in a troubled society.

First thoughts: I get it, the corrections. Each family member has things to correct over the course of their lives - and we really get the full extent of their lives, with detail, time and character shifts, and the development of so many secondary characters. It was a lot to keep straight, but that meant getting the "whole" story.

Middle thoughts: I like this book, but I didn't devour it. I found myself getting distracted and setting it down often.

Recommended for: committed readers, readers looking for a good bang for their buck, fans of Franzen.

Final thoughts: A slow burn, intense sort of read, taking time and attention, but rewarding you with a full story of depth and change over time.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Visions V Hush

Jesus and I recently watched two new horror movies on Netflix, Visions and Hush. They're fundamentally different (spirits/hauntings versus stalkers/killers), yet strikingly similar (women as lead characters, emphasis on certain senses). Let's break them down even further.

Leading Ladies: Isla Fischer takes the helm in Visions, playing the pregnant co-owner of a rundown vineyard who starts seeing things on her property. Are her unnerving visions Mommy Senses, or PTSD from a car accident a year earlier? In Hush, Kate Seigel plays Maddie, a deaf-mute author who lives in relative isolation as she works on her second novel. When a killer shows up at her door, it's her quick thinking versus the killer's natural upper hand. Seigel herself also co-wrote the screenplay, making Hush winner of this round.

Star Power: Visions has the clear upper hand and sweeps this category. With Isla Fischer, Gillian Jacobs, Jim Parsons, Joanna Cassidy, and brief appearances by Eva Longoria, Visions is stocked with household names and familiar faces. Hush has only five on-screen characters, one of whom we literally only see on a computer screen, and they're relative newcomers compared to the cast of Visions.

Plot: It's paranormal sightings versus masked killer - this one is a draw, and really comes down to personal preference. I've seen paranormal done very well, though masked killer gets right to it with the fear factor.

Soundtrack/Sound Effects: This one goes to Hush, with it's emphasis on sound effects - and who can hear them. The viewer's experience of sound changes based on each character's perspective in a way that only adds to the drama and suspense.

Jump Scare Factor: Speaking of drama and suspense, both movies give viewers several jump scares, a few more agonizing moments of wondering what's about to happen, and plenty of reasons to hold onto someone's hand (or entire body) while watching. In the end, Hush ekes past Visions with its "this could happen in real life" scenarios and silent tension building.

Reception: Hush has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, to Visions's 15%. That is all.

It's obvious that in a battle between these two recent movies, Hush comes out the victor. Visions tries - and an interesting twist at the end redeems some of the lackluster acting, but in the end it's the minimalist slasher film over the eerie apparitions.