Saturday, December 31, 2016


It's now officially New Year's Eve night. I'm ready to say adios to 2016 (after a few choice beverages and several playings of DJ Earworm's recent mashups) and hola 2017 (which has potential to be a busy, challenging, rewarding, momentous year). Cheers!

Extra: a look back at past years: 12.31.15 & 12.31.14

The Antidote

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive ThinkingThe Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The subtitle says it all: "Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking"...this is a self-help book that subverts the ooey gooey "if you can believe it, you can achieve it" messages.

First thoughts: Yes. This book is for me. I struggle with goals - setting them, sticking to them, believing in them. It's especially challenging as a person who loves committing to, well, challenges. I've done happiness challenges for several years, and while I learned a lot, I can't say I'm any more (or less) "happy" than I was without the challenges.

What about Happiness?: We crave happiness, but we aren't very good at achieving it - despite all of our trying with education, money, more stuff, self-help books, etc...we're still not quite happy. Some of us, yes, but not as a whole. What gives?

A quote: "There are good reasons to believe that the whole notion of 'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with. For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place?" -p6 what are our options?: In the face of the paradox of happiness, we can continue to pursue futile solutions, give up, OR take the "negative path" to "happiness" - that is, we can "enjoy uncertainty, embrace insecurity, and value death." -p7-8

More about these Negative Paths:

Stoicism: tranquility through calm indifference of circumstances - examine negative emotions and experiences and decide to be tranquil.
Buddhism: non-attachment to positive and/or negative thoughts - don't cling to or avoid anything.
Insecurity: it's not something to confront - recognize that life is insecurity.
Failure: stretching past your current limit - it's a good thing.

"To fully embrace the experience of failure, not merely to tolerate it as a stepping stone to success, is to abandon this constant straining never to put a foot wrong. It is to relax." -p173

Goals: stop pushing things to 5yrs in the future - enjoy your work in the present.

"...goal-free living simply makes for happier humans." -p95

Goals, continued: The goal chapter was my favorite - I am constantly changing my "goals" and letting them adapt to where I am at the moment. I've learned to be flexible in the path I take to an objective and in changing the objective itself. It's much easier to take action based on who I am right now instead of "where I see myself in 5 years" - 5 years ago I did not see myself a) engaged, b) applying to grad school, c) finishing up a teaching fellowship...and yet here I am, happy as a clam that these things are all true.

Recommended for: everyone. Unless you've already figured all this out, and even then, still read this to affirm your decisions to fail big, pursue your curiosities, and live in composed insecurity.

Final thoughts in a quote: "You can have a broad sense of direction without a specific goal or a precise vision of the future. I think of it like jazz, like improvisation. It's all about meandering with purpose." -Steve Shapiro, p96

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Night Links 37

Much like 2016, my "goals" for 2017 aren't what most people would deem "SMART" - they're not so much a culmination of specific tasks I can cross off while on my way to a grand conclusion as they are feelings I want to feel this coming year (mostly healthy and content). I've essentially given up on goals, because (in their most popular and oft-advertised form) they don't work how they should.

Here's the evidence, and different ways of thinking about accomplishments:

First, this article on "staying happy" when things are not going well. I'll have more to say about Burkeman's book tomorrow, but this article is a nice intro to the idea of positivity in the face of negative news: "Paradoxically, it’s through taking action, despite not feeling happy about the situation, that a deeper kind of happiness can arise."

The above leads nicely into this manifesto, a re-imagining of the news from the stable and positive side and a reminder that most humans are good (normal, boring) people.

Same message, put a little more bluntly: "The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience." Pursuing things - goals, happiness, whatever - simply highlights the fact that you don't have those things. Sometimes you "get happy" by giving up and living with the struggle. [Warning: adult language ahead.]

This information is all great if you have a direction you want to struggle in, but for all of us with a "passionless unknown," here are three simple steps to keep going until we stumble upon it...

...and permission - encouragement even - to not love what you do.

Another echo of the same message: "I just worked at whatever I was working on and ended up wherever I am. I continue to approach work and life that same way today."

Followers of this blog know what's coming favorite Elizabeth Gilbert video, the final word on how to think about goals/passions/life choices (it's my top bookmark, y'all):

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 By the Books

I read 66 books in 2016 (67 if I finish The Help before Sunday (doubtful)). Here's a breakdown of what I read (using my Goodreads Account as my source) :
Total Number of Books Read: 66
Total Pages Read: 21,151
Shortest Book: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  (83 pages)
Longest Book: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michal Faber (835 pages)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars
Highest Rated (by Goodreads): The Martian by Andy Weir (4.37 stars)
Highest Rated (by me): 6-way tie between Cravings by Chrissy Teigen, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
Re-reads: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (also read in 2008 & 2011) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (also read in 2011) [It was a good year for women who wrote year-long memoirs with lists as their titles.]
Women Authors: 28 (42% --> gonna do better than that next year)
Authors of Color: 9 (14% --> also working to improve that)
Non-Americans: 18 (27%--> I'm pretty okay with that)
Translations: 4
Books written by Neil Gaiman: 6 (that probably won't happen ever again)
Books with Movie or TV Adaptations: 26
Definitely Better Than The Movie: The Princess Bride by William Goldman was delightful!
Fantasy: 11
Horror: 10
Comedy: 10
Non-fiction: 23
Biggest Surprise: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Biggest Letdown: Paper Towns by John Green was the worst - do not waste your time on that garbage!
Still Thinking About: The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman (review coming on Saturday!)

Something I Learned (about reading): Reading has seasons, and books either fit or don't fit those seasons. Reading scary stories not in the fall feels out of place. Reading dense writing in the spring feels laborious. Some books had better "flow" than others based on the season and mood - and I plan on taking better advantage of that next year, instead of forging ahead with something just because "it's on the list".

Goal For 2017: More women, minorities, and translations. Less white dudes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Brookfield Zoolights 2016

In true form, Jesus and I went to zoolights this year - this time at Brookfield Zoo. We were there early during the first big snowfall of the winter, which meant we had most places to ourselves (until dusk, when the lights turned on & people came in flocks). We saw big sleeping cats and little sleeping cats, giraffe feeding time, and plenty of festive decor. We still prefer Lincoln Park's more condensed light shows and decorations, but Brookfield definitely felt like a winter wonderland when we were there!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Easiest Cheesiest Garlic Bread

A great way to get more cheese into your life is to stuff it inside and on top of some bread. Chrissy Teigen's Armadillo Cheesy Garlic Bread does just that, and is so simple to put together ahead of time that it makes the perfect party appetizer. Your guests' dinner plate eyes and reaching hands as you pull back the aluminum foil to reveal its cheesy criss-cross pattern will cement your status as bread honcho.

3 c shredded mozzarella (or another cheese of choice)
1 1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (we used finely shredded Parmesan)
1 stick butter (original recipe calls for an additional half stick, but 1 was plenty for the size of our loaf)
1/2 c mayonnaise
2 tbsp minced garlic (we used jarred garlic)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (we used paprika)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 pound round loaf bread (Teigen uses French, we did sourdough)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 (if prepping ahead, skip to 2).
  2. Combine cheeses, butter, mayo, and seasonings in a large bowl.
  3. Slice bread (almost to, but not through the bottom) in a diamond pattern, making cuts 2 inches apart.
  4. Cover a baking sheet in foil and place bread at center. Using a spoon and/or rubber scraper and/or your fingers, stuff cheese mixture into all the cracks. It works best to start at one end and fold back the cuts to fill in an entire row with cheese. Cover the top of the loaf with any remaining mixture.
  5. With another sheet of foil, cover the loaf, curling the top and bottom sheets together to seal in the bread.
  6. When ready to serve: bake 20 minutes at 400, then remove top foil sheet and reduce temperature to 375 and bake another 15-20 minutes longer. Cheese should be melty and golden.
  7. Serve immediately, though it does reheat wonderfully the next morning for breakfast!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The four Welch siblings recall their childhood from each of their perspectives in this memoir of growing up together, but individually.

First thoughts: reminds me of The Way Back (movie) and This is Your Life (by Meg Wolitzer). Very of its time, class, and race (80s, upper, white).

A memoir? I know - why do I keep reading memoirs when they are my least favorite genre? I keep thinking they can't all be self-absorbed and dramatic, but that's kind of the point of memoirs. I just pretend it's fiction while I read so I'm not as eye-rolly and unimpressed by rich people problems.

Recommended for: a specific type of person - someone who enjoys memoirs, or grew up with money. Yes, the Welches face events that are tragedies no matter who you are (deaths of parents, loss of finances), but they were uniquely positioned to be pretty okay (All Right, in fact) despite all this.

Final thoughts: Just OK. Well-written, to be sure, and a testament to the power of sibling love. I appreciated getting to hear everyone's perspective (and not being stuck with one narrator). In the end, though, I was still wondering "so what" about everything - I wasn't sure what the underlying motivation for writing the memoir was.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice

The longest night of the year calls for comfort food and cozy robes, reading scary stories in bed, and a walk around the neighborhood to not let the dark + cold + wintry wind get the best of you. That's how I started my night (which started at, what, 5? 4:30? Way too early, thank God we're on our way back to longer days). I plan on finishing it by snuggling in with my heating pad and Teddy Bear, then waking up to one last day of work for the year.

And what a year it's been. I'm ready to close this chapter and start a new one - no, things aren't going to change just because the calendar does, but the mental shift from 16 to 17 feels overdue. (All this to say, my personal 2016 was pretty okay. Work life, home life, and family life were good. That they were good in such a tumultuous year means I have lots to be thankful for as we countdown to the new year.)

So that's where I'll end on this longest night - with gratitude and the knowledge that long nights make us change our perspective on the rest of our nights. As we learned in 7th grade science this week - if the Earth wasn't tilted at a perfect 23.5 degrees, we wouldn't have seasons. Twelve hours of day would follow 12 hours of night, and Chicago would exist in a perpetual state of chilly 40 degree temperatures. I need seasons. I'm glad we have the tilt. I'm thankful for the longest night, and looking forward to dawn because of it.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

My Dear I Wanted to Tell YouMy Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of two relationships and how they grow and change during World War I.

First thoughts: A cross between Atonement and Catch-22, plot-wise, but written in the style of a romance/drama, and less powerful than either of those.

Characters (with potential spoilers):
Riley: WWI soldier. Loves Nadine, but refuses her love for him.
Nadine: Nurse who will deal with the worst. Brokenhearted with love for Riley.
Locke: Riley's commanding officer. Distant and hardened by war, though usually sensitive.
Julia: Locke's wife, who awaits his return from war. Her "talent" is her beauty.
Rose: Riley's nurse. Locke's cousin. Nadine's friend. Julia's confidante.

Recommendations: I could have done with less exposition in the beginning and more conflict working towards a resolution at the end. I almost gave up on this one because not much was going on, until it was.

Recommended for: Fans of wartime love stories will find this enjoyable - the characters are mostly likable, though flawed, so lovers of relationship-driven tales will find something here as well.

Final thoughts: A nice getaway to another time and place, even if you'd rather your WWI books be less "nice" and more real.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Holiday Spirit Time!

I'm finally feeling ready for some holiday cheer! 10+ weeks, two apprenticeship courses, seven student group presentations, two field trips, and one 60-minute showcase later, my semester is over (mostly). Next week is mostly a formality on the way to two weeks of break: holiday parties, Secret Santa exchanges, and holiday-themed dress up days await. With no more lessons to plan until next year, I'll get to enjoy being with my kids for some much deserved post-WOW! celebrations.

But first: a weekend of hibernation & all the laundry I haven't been doing.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Drop everything, grab your loved ones, and go see this movie ASAP. Moana is the Disney "princess" I want to introduce to all my students and my future children. I can point to her and say, "Here you go, kids. A fictional character to aspire to." She's fierce, funny, and female. She's strong. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them. She's not a damsel in distress or an independent teenager who needs nobody - she's a flawed human who is figuring out who she really is.

Moana doesn't stop with a dynamic title character (an improvement from Frozen & Tangled) - it gives us supportive (yet still flawed because they're human) parents, a sympathetic demigod, a role model grandmother, and (it is still Disney) a few animal sidekicks for comedic relief. It tells a classic story with heart and passion and voice actors who look like their characters (that is, not white). Lin-Manuel Miranda helps out with the music, which is amazing. Seeing and hearing Moana on the big screen was money well spent - not only for the experience, but because I want my dollars going to art I believe in.

Because while Moana is on one level a story about a girl who must leave her island to save her people, it's also about knowing and accepting who you are, celebrating differences, and respecting cultures. (A few things we could all use a refresher course on...some of us more than others.)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before DyingA Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jefferson, a black man wrongly convicted for murder, sits on death row. Grant, a black schoolteacher from Jefferson't hometown, is tasked with teaching him pride in himself as they both struggle with their humanity and the society that got them where they are (and where we still are).

First thoughts: I wish this book wasn't so timely, considering it was written 20 years ago and set 70 years ago. I wanted it to be "history," but instead it felt surreal.

Recommendations: Don't get me wrong, this book is well-written, a slow burn - but I'd like it to be more detailed, maybe a bit more condensed with added character development. I cared about Jefferson and Grant, but not as much as I could have. I didn't know enough about them or their motivations. While the story moved me, I've also forgotten parts of it now, three months after finishing.

Recommended for: humanity.

Final thoughts: Sad. Sad and honest and a lesson to all of us: we are all human and we all deserve dignity.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Favorite Roasted Potatoes

I learned tonight that I can make a meal out of a few potatoes. Healthy? Debatable. Delicious? Absolutely.

I can't tell you where my recipe originated, except to say that it was both crowd-sourced and the result of plenty of experimenting. You should do the same with your own recipe - take mine, add in a few more opinions, try a few things out, and end with your very own favorite roasted potatoes.

Roasted Potatoes

4-5 small or medium potatoes (Baby Reds work great)
olive oil
garlic powder
rosemary (fresh or dry)

  1. Preheat oven to 450. Wash and cut potatoes into similar-sized cubes. Rinse again and pat dry with a towel.
  2. In a large bowl, combine potatoes and enough olive oil to completely coat them. Start small - a tablespoon or two, then add more if needed. It's important that the potatoes be completely covered in oil as that will seal in the heat & moisture of each piece so when they bake they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, BUT you don't want to overdo it with oil either. (This is where practice and experimenting comes in.)
  3. In a small bowl, combine equal amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Again, start small (1 tsp). Toss this mixture with the potatoes so that they are once again completely covered. Repeat the process if necessary. (If you use 5 larger potatoes, you may need more seasoning. Four small potatoes probably won't.)
  4. Pour potatoes onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a baking mat. Spread them out so they aren't touching each other. Use two baking sheets if needed - these guys need space!
  5. Bake until crispy golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside, 30-45 minutes. (If you used two baking sheets make sure to rotate them at some point.) I usually check after 30 minutes by piercing a potato with a fork, then decide they definitely need more time. Then I add in some rosemary (fresh). They always need more time than I think they do - you'll want to roast these until they are almost almost burnt. As long as the oil is covering them, they won't dry out. The insides will be nice and fluffy and the outside will crisp right up. You know you're there if the outsides are starting to bubble/puff out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Art and Science of Rearranging

It's a small thing, really, coming home to an apartment that feels nice. But it's made all the difference these past few days, when all I want to do is come home and sit still. Even better, Jesus did part of the rearranging while I was at work - coming home that day felt like a surprise party for one (the ideal surprise party for an introvert).

To be clear, we don't just move furniture around and call it a day. There's a method to our movement. Before anything happens, we decide that something isn't working in a room: no one ever sits on that couch because xyz is in the way, the bed is too close to the door or too far from an outlet, the radiators turned on and the bikes need to be pulled away from all that heat. We toss out a few ideas, weigh the pros and cons, and decide what we want.

Then it's moving time. Things get hairy here...literally. All the moving stirs up dust bunnies and while Jesus is chief of big furniture, I am in charge of sweeping previously unreachable corners. Big pieces get placed in their new homes, followed by smaller things like chairs or side tables or lamps. There's some room for mid-move adjustments as we realize parts of our plan might not work - tables are too long or too high for some spots, traffic flow is blocked, or it plain doesn't look good (sometimes our "method" is more of a gut feeling) - but we work through the knots until we have something fresh and practical.

Lastly, finishing touches. Vases, tchotchkes, and plants fall into place. We stand back and appraise our work, then sit in the space and feel it out some more. A few nods, and we're good. For at least a few months.

Extra: More rearranging thoughts & a poem.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

One Day

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the relationship of Dexter and Emma, shown on one day (July 15) of multiple years.

First thoughts: I watched this movie a while ago, but I can still remember the emotions from each year's vignette. Each version is pretty faithful to the other, and the emotions are a testament to how easy it is to fall for both Dexter and Emma (while at the same time being super frustrated with both). BUT. Why won't they admit they're in love? Some disbelief has to be suspended for this love story to work.

Middle thoughts: Yep, even in the middle and towards the end I found myself wanting to know how things go down (even though I know how it all ends). The character development pulled me in.

Recommended for: hopeless romantics, readers needing a world with different dramas to escape to, fans of "snapshot" stories.

Final thoughts: That ending. No spoilers here, but I appreciated the anniversary chapters for their reflection on the relationship.

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