Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Some things that are true...

1- I am a bad blogger.  (Bad blogger!  Outside!)

2- I can no longer determine which of the laundry on my floor is clean, and which is dirty.

3-Buying art builds a certain type of euphoria inside of me.  Its like when I was allowed to sit at the grown-ups' table as a kid.  I just feel SO grown-up (even when the art in question is this)

4- I am reading Emma. I spend a vast majority of my reading time wishing I was watching Clueless.

5- I rediscovered Livejournal.  I used to be angsty and whiny.

6- In the past week and (almost) a half, I have used nearly an entire container of hydrocortisone cream on some nasty bug bites I acquired while in Florida.  And they're still itchy.  Am I doing it wrong?

7- Door County is on my mind.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the one where I equate politics with college dating.

I started this blog post awhile ago, and the abandoned it for adventure and being a whiny baby.  So it is slightly less topical, but still very valid and something that is constantly on mah mind.

A few weeks ago, I read this little jam and it hit me, real deep.  Because I remember the days and weeks when I didn't believe in Barack Obama.  The months of primaries when I was just not feeling the political game he was spittin.

And then, something happened.

I heard him speak.  A lot.  And I heard the people who love and support him the most speak.  And there were the speeches you could hear right through, but there were ones that made me feel like, "listen, I know this guy and believe me - he plays for keeps."

And so I jumped on board.  All the way.  No looking back.  Because when your country is a proverbial dung heap and you are teetering on the edge of grown-up-hood, relying on the people in charge to do you right, you have to have faith in your decisions.

But over the past few year or two, dread has crept into my psyche.  Its the worst of the bad break-up stories.  He's not the guy who has the moral cajones to admit he's not ready for a real relationship, he's the guy who keeps forgetting to call, and doesn't come out when he says he will, and forgets your birthday BUT insists that he loves you, and your his girl and he's doing the best he can and sometimes he writes poetry and slips it under your dorm room door.

And so (because you are a 19-year old girl in this particular metaphor) you keep trying to believe in him and convince yourself that he just needs time to figure it all out.

But how much is too much time?  Or the right amount?

And listen, I am extra-double aware, that he was given a rough hand.  And no one is willing to cut him a break.  And it makes crazy angry.  But I just want him to fight for my honor you know.

I want a stranger to hit on me in a bar and for him to punch that guy in the nose and tell him that I deserve a country with good schools, and affordable health care, and a chance to own a house, and funding for the things that matter to me and if he (the stranger) doesn't like that, then he can get lost.

Is he going to do that?  Is he?  I am much more grown-up than I was two years ago and I am legitimately fearful for the things that are happening in this country.  And I just want some one to tell me its okay and then back it up with some action.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Resolutions Update (more chubs, but with a plan!)

I had the very jarring experience of having to put on a bathing suit for the first time all summer last week.  Needless to say, it was a very unfortunate reminder of just how poorly I am doing on one of my resolutions.

But, with that came a renewed passion to get in shape for bathing suit season 2012 (or possibly late 2011, if anyone wants to have a Caribbean Christmas, I am totally game).

I started counting calories, which has always been the most annoying thing ever, but made less annoying with a future phone app.  It has a whole bunch of brand name/restaurant name food on it - and the internet, at this point, pretty much has a calorie count for everything.  ALSO, in some parts of the world, they are required to post calorie counts in fast-food restaurants right on the menu.  This is totally something that Chicago needs to jump on.  Terrible and awesome at the same time (Chicago specializes in that particular combo).

Of course, the minute I realize I need to put on a bathing suit coincided with the minute I went on vacation, when eating as much as possible, all the time, became the name of the game.  It was very frustrating to attempt to count calories, only to be over my "limit" by my mid-morning snack.  So of course, I picked happiness and ate whatever I damn well wanted.  Happily into my work trip (which started exactly 12 hours after my vacation ended).  Eat eat eat.  And still no exercising.

Anyway - the plan is to quit the gym and find other ways to get exercising.  I realized recently that I hate the gym.  I hate everything about it.  There is no good quality except that it makes me skinnier and sometimes they give away free smoothie samples.  Even though my gym is incredibly convenient, and nice and affordable - the act of going to the gym makes me pretty miserable.

I'll probably give it another month, but I am on the hunt for other exercise options.  Now that its not blazing hot all the time, I may revisit the notion of biking places.  And if I can finally stop dragging my laptop everywhere, it makes the walk to the red line (when I punk out on biking) much much less miserable.

And I want to do other things.  I have a boot camp groupon that I am saving for October, and I am researching dance studios and yoga huts (or whatever they call them) that aren't crazy expensive.  Any other brilliant fitness ideas (that aren't "stop complaining and go the the gym like a grown-up") would be awesome...

So while I am quite sure that whatever silly fitness goal I made back on 1/1/2011 will never come true.  But no harm in putting my game face on for next year.

Also, apparently there are still 130 days left in the year.  In case you were thinking that you're running out of time... you totally are.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Flying Solo

M- "I am sorry, I wish I could be there for you on your existential journey."

R- "Its okay, it wouldn't be much of an existential journey if you were there helping out."

This was part of a much longer conversation that I had a few months back. And it has latched itself right to the front of my conscious.

As someone who is well aware of what an incredibly good life she leads, there are moments when I am awash in the realization of the futility of everything.  I desperately grasp into the fog of my own doubt to try to discover what truly matters.  Over time, I have found that these things that matter tend to be the ones that sink to the ground, and tend to easily accessible no matter what the mental weather.

However, I have also discovered that this journey through my own mire is one that can only be taken independently.  How could anyone else even think to venture through this?  No matter what you are willing to offer, be it treasure or particularly empathetic ears, they are useless on a quest with no map or key.

I survive the journey, surely enough.  I always do.  And I am never very far from where I began.

Eventually the offers of hands-to-hold will wither away from neglect, and then, well, things will be almost just as they are now.

These battles are mine, but there is nothing quite like having someone with to do a victory dance at the end.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

And you say Chi-City...

 It's pretty lame that it took me almost three months to put this blog post up but such is life. When my Mom came to visit in May and brought me lots of letters we also did a little bit of sight-seeing including my first Chicago Architecture Boat Tour. We went on a Wendella tour because it was cheaper but, naturally, you get what you pay for. The tour guide wasn't great and didn't drop a whole lot of knowledge that I didn't already know.

But it was a beautiful day and as my mother listened politely I took way too many pictures.

While my heart is firmly entrenched on the East Coast, there is something about this city that truly intoxicates me.

I like to pretend that I am a real photographer sometimes, and I had a lot of fun playing with reflections and shapes.

And thought they are by far the most boring of the whole trip, I did take a few standard "skyline pictures" as well.  Although these views of the city pales in comparison to the view from the Shedd Aquarium and points South.  


 As these last few weeks of summer begin to slip away, I like to take a minute and think about what a stunning place this is.  I feel like I spend a lot of my time trying to rush away and do things, and I hardly ever just appreciate it for how pretty it is.  

Its going to get cold way sooner than we think, and everyone will go back to being grouchy and hating each other.  But no matter what...its very pretty to look at.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Book 13 - The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I think one of my least favorite, but most often asked-of questions is, "What kind of books do you like to read?" It's mostly just frustrating in its misguideness. 

Why in the world would you limit yourself to "one kind" of books?  I know there are people out there who do such a thing, and I salute them for even picking up a book at all, but am frustrated by close and yet so far they are from having their lives changed. 

For example, when forced to give an answer besides, "everything," to the above-mentioned question, I often spout "post-apocalyptic fiction." Which pisses people off because they want you to say something that can be easily categorized.  If they continue the conversation (I find that this answer can be a turn-off to many) and let me explain (Margaret Atwood, Hunger Games, blah blah) they then eventually ask, "wow, are there a lot of books out there like that?"  The answer, at least according to me is, "in the grand scheme of things, not really." Which is why I hate the pigeon hole it puts me in.  How frustrating to be leaving David Sedaris, Erik Larson and others off my most favorites list. 

Anyway - soap box aside, I love all books.  Some more than others, but I am willing to give anything a shot.

image (via)

Creative Non-fiction is always a genre I forget how much I love.  To be learning real facts AND being entranced by a fascinating story?  Epic. Win. 

Boyfriend recently discovered how awesome books are and his somewhat creative non-fiction bent has been a fantastic ying to my crazy-dramatic-make-'em-ups fiction yang.  He has a whole pile of books that I cannot wait to get my fingers on, but I started with this (bought by me, not by him - for book club). 

Ms. Skloot spins a pretty fantastic yarn.  I don't want to get bogged down in summary - but this book is about the first "immortal" cells - the HeLa cells, which essentially revolutionized science and the woman (and her family) that they were taken from.  Its a hefty story to undertake, and from what I read - she put in her time.  She researched and worked for over a decade for this story to come alive, and for someone who cannot focus on something for more than 5 days without totally losing interest, I am completely in awe of her dedication.

However. I wish there was less of her in the book.  I feel as though I am reading her story of learning about these people and things when I wish I was just learning about the people and things.  Maybe I'm wrong, and it would lose a lot of the relatability if you took out her perspective, but to me- it feels as though she is trying to bestow upon us, her knowledge, rather than the knowledge that just exists.  When you read Devil in the White City - Mr. Larson is not a part of your experience.  And I think, that is what I love so much about it.  It transports me back to that time.

And, to be totally fair- the events of this book happened/are still happening much more recently than most creative non-fiction I am used to reading.  So that changes things.  But I still couldn't shake the fact that I wanted less of her, more of these people.

I have to give her mad props though - talk about being at the right place at the right time.  Affordable, accessible health care has always been a struggle in low-income area (obvs.) but I feel as though in the current political climate, this book struck a particular cord that resonates louder than it may have 10 years ago. 

I will be totally honest with you - parts of this book made me cry, and some made me seethe with the injustice of it all.  Mostly it just overwhelmed me with how much I truly did not know about the lack of true privacy in the world. 

I was fully aware that my spirit, and my image will live in infamy on these crazy internet tubes, but I honestly had no idea that if I was at a hospital (which I haven't been really yet, but give it time) - any bits they take out of me, I no longer own or have control over.  Of course there are forms and what not, but the thing that I got most out of this book is that releasing control of your cells, the things that physically make you, you - sitting, reading, breathing, digesting is what needs to happen for any sort of advancement in science.  It's some what violating to think, not just because they take what makes up you, but that you can't really control it.

If that doesn't freak you out enough, just think at least I am giving you the heads up...there are people (Ms. Lacks being one of them) who had their cells taken without anyone telling them or their families.  And while the idea of monetary compensation is a huge one (though not one I want to get into) it is something to just know.  Know that your cells are out there changing things - and if my cells are the secret to curing something (I really hope its morning breath or why I biologically need to eat a whole bag of yogurt covered pretzels in a day) than I am stoked I am doing my part.

I just want the people who give their cells (ie - everyone) to all have equal access to the medical advancements that might come out of it - regardless of financial situation.  Its really only fair.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Basil Party

If you're anything like me (and for your sake, I hope this is not the case - but, just go with me) you probably have a lot of basil at your house.

Apparently, this stuff is impossible to kill.  While most of the plant-tending falls to Boyfriend and his vegetable-whisperer hands, I can even some how keep basil alive.

And its not just alive.  It thrives.  It is unstoppable.  Which is sometimes more trouble than its worth.

Boyfriend is quite good at making the vegetables grow, but he lacks the initiative to then utilize them.  So when I stepped out on our deck garden two weeks ago, I realized there were four or five lush green basil plants humming merrily along on their way to being coriander that had yet to be touched.

So while Boyfriend was having a well-deserved break from me in Alabama - I got down to business.

Obviously my first thoughts were pesto and caprese salad but since there is so much I knew I was going to have to go outside my little box.  So I went to the only place where I get new recipes (when my mom isn't around) - the internet.

Here is what I have for you.

Basil, Artichoke, Tomato Pasta.  I found this recipe here.  Its pretty much a no brainer, as its basically a caprese salad in pasta, but I was stoked by the addition of artichokes (canned, obviously) - I didn't use marinated ones because that's the lazy way out.  I just sauteed them with the tomatoes in golden balsamic (because its what we had) and pretty much any spices I could find.  And I doubled all the good stuff to add to the pasta (recipes are so stingy with the food that actually tastes good). 

I think if I make it again, I'll use sun-dried tomatoes, because they have way more flavor, and make some sort of dressing, because this was a little too dry for my taste. Oh, and shredded moz. (instead of little balls) because then you get the melty cheese in your pasta which always makes turning on the oven in the middle of the hottest summer ever more worth it.

And then? Corn-and-Basil Cakes.  These are my most favorite thing of this very moment.  Noble Pig is always my first stop for new recipes.  The problem is, I don't know what kind of glamour shots operation she has going on but her food looks amazing.  Mine does not.  These especially refused to get actually pancake-y.  They just looked sad.  Womp womp.

sad but yummy. Yummy Sad.

Also, I put a ton of Old Bay in which was the perfect addition.  I think next time they need more flour and possibly to be cooked in a skillet instead of on the griddle.  But seriously, so delicious (and really simple).  Do it.

Of course, it may be Sunday night, and you may be trying to eat all the food in your house in preparation for your upcoming annual pilgrimage to the best place in the universe.  In which case, this is a perfectly acceptable basil usage.

Not classy - but crazy delicious. No plate required.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Book 12.1 & 12.2 - Catching Fire and Mockingjay

Y'all, there is a reason I have a mockingjay key chain on my house keys.  These books are amazing.  After the epic book drought of 2011 (Icelandic adventures did not lend themselves to getting anything but guidebook reading done), I managed to read two books in three days.

I am fully aware of the fact that there is something ever-so-slightly off about being this into books that are geared for younger readers.  However, I feel like, in my own defense, perhaps it is time to call shenanigans on that particular reason for judging me (there are SO many other reasons).

When I, myself, was a young adult I read whatever I could get my hands on.  I was a completely unbiased reader.  Did I learn some things that maybe I could have waited a few years to learn?  Develop some misconceived notions about what to expect from relationships? Start using words I didn't really know the meaning of?  Yes.  These all happened, but my parents embraced it because a kid who is reading is way better than a kid smoking crack.

Anyway - since a young age, books have been just books and so that has continued into adulthood.

The way I decide what books I am going to read is by how much I want to keep reading them.

Catching Fire was waiting for me at the office on Monday morning.  I managed to wait until I got on the train to go home before diving in and then it was non-stop reading.  I read while I brush my teeth, and while eating dinner.  I read long past it was time to go to bed (even grown-ups have bedtimes, its how we keep ourselves from getting fired at work).  The next morning it was the same.  I got to my office and I just sat at my desk, computer still off, reading.  Then I turned the computer on, and kept reading until it got to the point where I realized that this was just ridiculous.  So I put it away...until lunch.

I was done by dinner.  And since Catching Fire is so good, I couldn't live with myself until I read Mockingjay too.

I think that Catching Fire might be my favorite of the books, which is weird for me too, guys.  I like the smell of uprising.  I mean, its no fun when everyone gets killed for their beliefs but its pretty bad ass to get to see what's about to happen.  Also its the book where Peeta is a dick, which is satisfying.  Apparently even when you're the nicest dude on the planet you can still be a total douche when some one hurts your pride/heart.

Mockingjay - on the second read (the first time was last summer when it came out) is still just as slow and disappointing.  And I still kind of wanted to punch Katniss in the face.  Like right in the jaw and tell her to grow up and stop whining.

I also wanted to tell everyone to leave her alone because she's a kid, not your dress-'em-up Warrior Barbie.  But since we hear her view points rather than anyone else's - her emotions are the ones that annoy me the most.

Also, I slipped for a second and thought that maybe Peeta was the best guy after all.  But then I remembered that my hate for shmoopy love business (despite what you may have heard) outweighs my love of cakes, every single time.  Also, get a job, Peeta.  Get. A. Job.

The best moment of this re-read came when I was letting a coworker borrow The Hunger Games and handed it to him in the middle of summer camp lunch when he was surrounded by 10 - 13 year-old girls.  The girls lost their Minds.  I think I won all the cool points available that day from having already read all three books.

And here's the thing - anything that gets kids reading is okay.  Anything that turns the tv off is amazing.  And books that bring together 26-year olds and 12-year olds (and perhaps a more mature audience as well, my mother and most of her friends have read it...and they are in their early 30's) and gives them something to bond over is the most inspiring and truly lifts my spirits in a way that makes me realize how truly important and valuable books are.

So thanks Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling and Tamora Pierce and Monica Furlong and Phillip Pullman...for writing books that defy labels and generational gaps. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

The end of the adventure - Days 11 & 12

We woke up in our super adorable little cabin and got ready for our last real day in Iceland. The first stop was Gullfoss.  Gullfoss was a very awesome last waterfall (save the best for last and all that).  Once again, we got right up in the waterfall's face and took lots of pictures.  But let me tell you, I was surprised at how totally meh I was about waterfalls by the last day.

There were hundreds of waterfalls along our journey and they were all stunning and gorgeous and unique.  But after 10 days I was just exhausted of gorgeous natural wonders.

After the waterfall, I finally got a picture of my favorite street sign.

For awhile we would see this sign and just scream "NO TOWN," and, in our fatigued and overstimulated brains, it was hilarious.  Every time.

On the way back from Gullfoss we stopped for an incredibly necessary car wash.

in her clean, pre-flat tire state on the first day of the trip

Our little Kia (nicknamed Mrs. Marion Coatsworth-Haye of Marble Head - bonus points if you know the reference) went the distance for us.  Literally.  I had no idea what we were going to put that car through and she took it like a champ.  After the flat tire incident it was smooth sailing.  Except for the fact that she was filthy.  So we gave her a nice car bath and then had our very last Icelandic hotdog (sob.)

After hot dogs we went to the Bonus to buy tons of candy to take home.  Coconut Chocolate Chip Maryland Cookies (which you can apparently get in other parts of Europe, though I've never seen them), Nizza Chocolate Bars, and Hraun Lava Bars are all awesome and worth the price.  Be careful of the bulk candy though - apparently everything is either a gummy or a licorice covered in chocolate.   It is very disappointing after you have bought $5 worth to realize the Icelandic error in judgement.  Also, while you're at the Bonus - get some rye bread and pancakes to take home.  Even the plastic wrapped, store-bought pancakes are going to be an excellent life choice as take-aways from your adventure.

Souvenir shopping out of the way (for the time being) it was time to get on the road to the Blue Lagoon.  While we were super excited for this adventure, I think it cemented in all of our minds that the Iceland trip was coming to a close.  And it was pretty sad.  We had worked so hard and done so much that to have it all be over so fast, seemed kind of surreal.

Once we got to the Blue Lagoon, things got even more surreal.  We were pretty over all the naked pre-showering that is required, but we were not over how many people were going to be there.  It was freezing that day, and kind of rainy but then you get in the water and its the nicest bathtub ever, and it's full of a bazillion (mostly European, thankfully clothed) people all just kind of floating around in little huddles.

We didn't take cameras because we were not sure where to put them, turns out people just leave their cameras all over the place and no one steals them, because its Iceland.  But we didn't trust it.  So no Blue Lagoon pictures.  But it was lovely.  The best part was the 30-minute massage from the big lady with the strong hands.  Let me tell you, I am going to pick the burly lady over the hot guy to do my massage every time because you know she means business.  A massage is the perfect way to end any adventure, but particularly one where you have been sleeping on crappy hotel beds, asking your body to do crazy stuff it rarely does (hike, ride a horse, sit on a boat) and sitting in a car for upwards of 4 or 5 hours a day. 

After face masks, massages, the most amazing waterfall of them all (we got to stand under it! I punched a kid because he wanted a piece of my waterfall space and I wasn't ready to give it up) and tiny bottles of champagne at the swim up bar - toasting to our continued world domination - we left the Blue Lagoon behind.

Then we got to our final hotel.  And let's talk about saving the best for last.  Each hotel had its own quirks and charms and I liked all of them, but our final hotel was by far the classiest and for not that much more money (if my brain remembers correctly).  We had the incredible honor of being one of the hotel's first guests ever!  We christened this fabulous room with a loft space and one of the most amazing bathrooms by breaking a glass in the bathroom.  Hotel Berg, y'all.  Its the ish.

Also, to make it more awesome, the woman who owns it also is the owner of one of the most famous dogs in Iceland (and the website Bulldog.is). Of course she is.

For this, our final night in Iceland, we decided that it was time to finally eat real food again.  So went to Kaffi Duus, per the hotel/famous dog owner's recommendation.  An Excellent Choice.

We ate as though we had never eaten before.  We started with a seafood sampler which was amazing because Iceland knows whats up when it comes to things that live in the sea, but also because there was this sauce.  This "jus," if you will, that was made with garlic and perfection.  We ate every morsel.  When we ran out of bread we used spoons.  No classiness here.  Not when olive-oil-based happiness is on the line.

Then we got our entrees which were all amazing.  Of course, I loved mine the most.  Bacon. Wrapped. Monkfish in some sort of sauce-mess that reminded me of hollandaise sauce that some lobsters had had a dance party in along with some obligatory vegetables.

I ate the whole thing.  The whole thing.  I know, because McKim "you won't," me into it.  Did I feel less like a champion than I had anticipated after that last bite went it?  Sure.  But I do not regret it.  It was the most awesome.  The calories in that sauce alone totally made up for the lack of actual food over the past 7 days. 

We finished dinner and then went back to the hotel to rub our bellies, pack and watch movies on the first TV we turned on all trip. And to put irrational amounts of conditioner in our hair.  Mine, at least, needed it.  I made the terrible mistake of not bringing a hair elastic to the lagoon so all of the things that are good for your skin in it reeked havoc on my hair.  It took four days of deep conditioning after I got back to Chicago for it to finally feel normal again.

We woke up the next morning and had our very last adventure of getting gas, and then returning the car - both of which gave me panic attacks (the former because I thought we were going to be lost forever, not get gas and miss our flight, the latter because I figured right away they would see the tire patch and we would be totally effed and out a bazillion more dollars).  Then we got to the airport and I lamented to the nice gentleman behind the check in counter how sad I was to be leaving.

So of course he offered me $1000 in Delta dollars to stay (due to an overbooked flight).  There was a moment, when I hoped McKim and Musar would decide it was a good idea and we would have one more day.  But when I really thought about it - I wanted to be home in my bed with clean clothes and more conditioner.  Though, a part of me wishes I had stayed for one more day at the blue lagoon.  Ah well.

Anyway - once we were through security.  It was time to go shopping.  And shop we did.  To the tune of me maxing out my international credit card, and then spending all of McKim's extra cash.  I was officially broke at this point.  But satisfied.

With 20 or so minutes to go before our plane we figured it was time to saunter down to the gate.  We got about halfway there and were greeted with a line of epic proportions.  All humans waiting to get on planes like ours.  The line was easily 40-minutes long.  And our plane was scheduled to be high in the air by then.

Panic set in once again.  Musar kept a cool head and found someone willing to let us cut in front of her in the epic line.  Why? Because this nice lady had just spent some time in Iceland and the goodness had rubbed off on her.

Finally we got on board and by a stroke of good luck and shenanigans I got to sit next to McKim.  So we could drink red wine to excess and talk about big, scary things.  And how awesome Iceland is.  Oh, and watch Jane Eyre (the new version) which was horrible.

Also we got to sneak a peak at Greenland as we traveled over it.  If we thought Iceland was bad ass, it was Greenland's wimpy, hospitable little brother.

Finally, we were back in America.  And then after some wrangling, I was back in Chicago.  And where was my luggage?  Cincinnati?  Of course it was.  So I went to the Delta lady and she took one look at my smelly, hungover, bedraggled, sad-at-being-home self and told me they would drop my luggage off at my house.  Be pathetic and polite- and people will be nice to you.

I get on the blue line to go home and suddenly, I am overwhelmed by everything.  The noise, the smells, the people, the fact that there aren't waterfalls and purple flowers outside my window.  It was hard to come to terms with how much I fell in love with nature over those 12 days.  I fell in love with small towns and vast landscapes.  With adventure and solitude.  With trying new things and old things. 

Iceland was amazing and every penny was worth it.  But it wouldn't have been half the trip without the two gems I traveled with.  They both made the loveliest of travel companions and I hope this trip hasn't turned them off me for life, especially since I bogarted the baby carrots...and used their pictures on my blog without asking.

Thanks for coming along this journey with me.  These posts will change as I get the energy to add additional links and tidbits.  Just getting though the story was (clearly) an arduous process.  And if anyone is reading to this point, thank you for listening.

She's pint-sized and amazing.