Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yes and November

When I look back on November 2016, I see highs and lows. This was a big month - both for myself and for the world. My country elected a man with ties to white supremacist groups (who has yet to denounce the hundreds of hate crimes being carried out in his name. Meanwhile, he has taken the time to threaten our First Amendment rights several times...but I digress). We also managed to elect a few women, minorities, and politicians who won't sit back and let our leaders halt progress as we know it - baby steps.

In my personal life, I made the decision to apply to grad school and I got engaged. ! Right now I'm excited for both, and only a little anxious when I think about going to grad school, finding a new job, and planning a wedding simultaneously...again, baby steps.

No matter what's coming down the line in December and beyond, I'm taking it step by step (much like this video which heavily features my morning commute). One step, one second, one morning at a time.

Monday, November 21, 2016

As the Milwaukeeans Do

Jesus and I took a late Anniversary trip to Milwaukee this past weekend - just a quick one-nighter - and we loved it. It's less than a two-hour drive from Chicago, and with some advanced planning, much cheaper than the same weekend would be here. We had tickets to see the Zelda Symphony Orchestra at Riverside Theater, and added in a few extra activities as we went. Here's what we recommend:


For a quick snack, check out Wild Flour Bakery in the Shops of Grand AvenueTheir muffins were the perfect size to tide us over until dinner. Plus they're a Woman-Owned Business!

We had dinner at Buck Bradley's. The food is typical American/bar & grill, with an extra special Wisconsin touch (think: CHEESE!). The atmosphere is cozy and vintage, with TVs for the sports fans and a quieter dining room for families and couples on dates.


Since we had this trip planned since spring, we got a pretty decent deal at the Fairfield Inn & Suites downtown. It was only 3 blocks away from the theater, and within walking distance of many downtown attractions. Parking was only $15 overnight, and we had a legit continental breakfast.


The Zelda Symphony won't be back to Riverside Theater until at least next year, but they have tons of upcoming shows. It's a historic theater with quite the origin story (including a fire & continuing floods), and stunning decor.
Depending on the season, there's always something going on downtown. We got to see holiday lights, do a little shopping, check out the restaurant/bar scene, and gaze up and down the river (until we decided it was way too cold for that nonsense).

Our activity for Sunday was the Milwaukee Public Museum. We highly recommend this 134-year old museum, and it may even edge out our own Field Museum in novelty and great use of space. The Streets of Old Milwaukee are fascinating and we spent a lot of our time imagining ourselves in each room or house of the European Village. And that Butterfly Vivarium! This is a must for families, or couples with a childlike sense of wonder.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Under the Skin

Under the SkinUnder the Skin by Michel Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Isserley is a female and she resembles a human, mostly. She lives on Earth with a few of her kind, all of whom were sent here on a food gathering mission.

First thoughts: This story is quick-paced and easy to read (on the surface), but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered - the biggest being "What does it mean to be human?"

On Michel Faber: Yeah, this is nothing like the other Faber I read this year (The Crimson Petal and the White). Except that in both books the main character is female? It's a stretch - these are two very different books.

Changes I Would Make: I could have done without the bulk of the middle section - we need the beginning to set the stage, and the action picks up in the end, but the middle drags on a bit as we see Isserley's routine of picking up hitchhikers over and over. And the actual ending was a bit deus ex machina; I would've gone a different way with it.

Recommended for: People who need a weird book to read, anyone interested in the meat farming industry and/or the implications of humans not being alone in the galaxy.

Final thoughts: Under the Skin is supposed to get under your skin slowly and reveal the human vs alien in us all, but it doesn't do it as strongly as it could have.

View all my reviews

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Sometimes we need animals to show us how to be decent human beings.

If you haven't seen Zootopia yet, do. It's on Netflix & worth every minute. While the story of a determined bunny cop with a laissez-faire fox as her sidekick would normally be cute, funny, or even just a good time, Disney takes it up a notch and makes sure we (well, adults at least) get more out of this family film. The political implications were spot on and even more striking post-election. The way prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are approached, I wouldn't be surprised if a teacher decided to show this in class. (In fact, my students might just have this to watch during our pre-Thanksgiving party.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Inspiration Kitchens & Garfield Park Conservatory

Because sometimes you need a quiet, beautiful place to shut out the world's nonsense while you recharge. Also, amazing food for a worthy cause.
In 1989, former police officer Lisa Nigro began passing out sandwiches and coffee to residents of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Today, under the Inspiration Corporation umbrella, Inspiration Kitchens provides training and jobs, along with other supports, to street-based and low income populations interested in working in food service. Because I'm all about voting with my dollars (and because the food is a grand slam), eating at Inspiration Kitchens before a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory was a no-brainer for Jesus and me. He got the shrimp skillet, I got chicken on a biscuit, and we both got wowed by our meals.
We got real zen once inside GPC - I love how hushed people get around abundant plant life, both massive and tiny. While Jesus took a few laps around the different rooms searching for Pokemon, I sat on a bench in the Fern Room and read. It was glorious. And were it not for a lingering cough, which made my lungs favor the Aroid House, I could have sat in the Desert House for several hours, just being quiet.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eli and Charlie Sisters are hit men in the Old West of the 1850s, but they don't always agree on their way of living. During a particularly difficult mark, Eli questions his life as a killer.

First thoughts: Entertaining, dark, funny, strange. This is the Old West re-imagined.

Favorite quotes:

"We can all of us be hurt, and no one is exclusively safe from worry and sadness." -p50

"This moment, this one position in time, was the happiest I will ever be as long as I am living. I have since felt it was too happy, that men are not meant to have access to this kind of satisfaction; certainly it has tempered every moment of happiness I have experienced since." -p284

Recommended for: Western fans, Mark Twain readers, career changers, anyone needing an adventure from the comfort of their couch.

Final thoughts: How do we decide our careers? When do our careers become our lives (not just our livelihoods)? Read & discuss.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Night Links 36

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
 Jesus and I went to the Veterans Art Museum this morning to see the new Vonnegut exhibit. Vonnegut was a writer, veteran, activist, and artist. His political leanings were more socialist than left v right, so his take on this election would have been interesting. He combated death and the absurdity of the human experience with dry humor and pessimistic satire, and refused to romanticize war. His art is accessible to veterans and civilians alike, and reminds us that our time on Earth is short and weird. A lot of things don't make sense, and c'est la vie - but we still have the task of loving "whoever is around to be loved."

So, here is my love - in the form of things to read and ways to take action.


This letter from a writer to his wife. The election was never Democrat v Republican for many of us. It was validation v dehumanization.

This letter from Aaron Sorkin to his wife and daughter. What do we do now? We get out of bed and go back to work.

Any of these books to inform, educate, and inspire you to act.


Know your rights. And the rights of those more vulnerable than you.

Volunteer - teach others, feed others, make your corner of the globe a better place.

Speaking of teaching others - has great election resources for teachers and anyone who works with youth.

"Elections have endpoints. Social progress does not."

Donate to or volunteer with these human rights organizations (many Chicago-based). There are also links to articles about white privilege and racism, for those of us who need refreshers.

Another collection of Chicago-based organizations to support in the next four years (and beyond).

And a more general list of ways and resources to get involved in local politics - because the presidency is one thing, but our everyday lives are more affected by our local and state governments.

These resources are as much for me as they are for any readers - both as reminders that I'm not alone in how I feel and I'm also not powerless to act. As I've heard many people say this week, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Now we need to make sure that bend happens.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Future is Female

"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now." -Hillary Clinton
It was hard to face my students today. (Since there was no school yesterday, today was the first day we were all together since the election.) "Trump won," a student said in Second Hour, her eyes wide behind her glasses. I nodded. "I'm not happy about it." I agreed that few people around us were. We're lucky - we live in a very blue city, one that now feels safer for me and my black, brown, LGBTQ, Muslim, and disabled students than my home state does - but that doesn't mean we're off the hook for making changes in our communities.

Tomorrow, I'll start sharing the resources I've been collecting to help anyone else who refuses to sit back and let our country erase years of progress. Today, small victories and reasons why the future is female.

First, some good news. Six women who DID shatter the glass ceiling when they were elected on Tuesday. Hopefully one or more of them make a presidential run some day. 2020 wouldn't be too soon.

"Sitting on the sidelines and not participating is not an option, even when you’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing."  As a white woman, I have to own up to the fact that white women are a part of the problem - especially in the mess of this election. We're not above reproach just because we're still fighting for our own rights. In fact, it's even more important for us (white women) to be allies to people of color while recognizing they've been fighting for women and minorities longer and harder than we have.

Watching this history of women running for president first made me tear up. Then it made me angry. Then it made me want to do something. Like write this. And encourage every qualified woman I know to run for office.

Someday this Milennial map might become the norm, but first young voters need to show up. I'm heartened by the fact that many of the 8th grade students I work with will be old enough to vote in our next election. And while it was hard to see all of their confused and angry and disappointed faces today, I know they're counting down to 2020 right along with me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love & Politics

Lord knows this Nasty Woman will only date Bad Hombres who vote. Here's hoping your Election Night is spent with people you love. (And I'm hoping I go 3 for 3 in choosing presidents!)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Neil Gaiman Round-Up

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A whole "other" world is waiting for Coraline at the end of a secret passageway she finds in her living room, and now it's up to her to save her parents from the thing that wants to be her Other Mother.

First thoughts: Coraline is a great book to start off a Neil Gaiman kick.

Favorite quotes:

"Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense. She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to." -p20

"Nothing, she thought, had ever been so interesting." -p137

"Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky." -p145

Recommended for: children and parents, explorers and storytellers, wanderers and wonderers.

Final thoughts: A short read and a must read. Perfect for a late summer day - would be great to read to a student before school starts.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neverwhere is the story of what happens to the people the world forgets, set in a place the world doesn't see.

First thoughts: What's real? What's reality? I loved escaping to London Below. Makes me curious to think about a Chicago Below. This book makes you rethink the meaning of "falling through the cracks."

Doors: A door is a way in, a way out, it can be locked or unlocked, a gateway or a barrier...and in this book, Door is also a character and family name. Who/what are you if your name is Door?

Recommended for: readers who love to get lost in a world, dreamers, big imaginations, anyone who's ever wondered what's on the other side of reality.

Final thoughts: Neverwhere is a fantastic telling of reality. I could visualize all the characters and settings and truly felt the story. Gaiman builds a complex world and lets his characters loose inside.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What happened to the gods our ancestors brought with them to the New World? And what happens when the new gods challenge the old? American Gods tells the history of gods in America, all the way up to battles being fought even today.

First thoughts: I loved all the Midwest love - Illinois and Wisconsin are featured settings, including Chicago, Madison, and the House on the Rock.

Favorite quote: "If he was going to be anywhere tonight, he might as well be here..." p257

Recommended for: historians and fantasy-lovers alike.

Final thoughts: While there is an abundance of detail in this story, it doesn't always move the story along. My only critique is that I wanted more of the Lakeside plot - I liked the mystery of the little town and it's disappearing children. Personally, I could do without all the extras and the backstories of all the minor gods. All in all, it was still a great world to get lost in.