What I'm Reading

I have a few books bookmarked right now, as I steal time to read before I should be going to bed or on plane rides.

Nature's Metropolis - a re-read from college, before I knew I'd someday be living in Chicago. I can't remember if this was from my American Environmental History class, or my American West class, but it was a keeper. The focus is Chicago as a gateway and point of exchange for goods moving east and west. I have a new perspective for the zeal of the city's early boosters, and it's reminiscent of the campaigning that's being done now for the 2016 Olympics.

Apartment Therapy - helping to motivate me to pack up bags for the Salvation Army and select paint colors for my workroom.

I have to pick up my pace in these two books, because I'm thinking of using a birthday gift card for Madeleine Albright's memoir, Read My Pins. Politics and jewelry, and a powerful and smart woman. Perfect!

Weekend

This weekend was full of good food, good company, and even things that are good for me, like tennis.
Friday night: a "double date" late dinner at gastro-pub, Publican. It's supposed to be evocative of a Belgian beer hall and the main menu item is on the walls above you in grand portraiture: pork! I don't think I should ever try to eat a regular pork rind after having theirs, because they were, as the NYTimes puts it, "airy — as if pigs really could fly and you’re touching bits of their wings — and subtly fiery in taste and color, courtesy of Espelette red pepper and cheddar dust." The lights reminded me of the ones we had in our dining room growing up, multiplied by 10.
Saturday night: We moved from the pig to the cow, for steakhouse Fulton's on the River. This scenic spot right on the river gives a great view of the interior Chicago skyline, and was perfect for sharing with out-of-town guests Jason's mom (Nancy) and aunt (Cherie.)

This was a pre-theater dinner and we dashed off in perfect time for Jersey Boys. The show was enjoyable as everyone had promised (even Oprah said that Stedman's seen the show three times, when she had the cast members on her show last week.) As each song began I thought to myself, "Wait, the Four Seasons did this song too??!" Out of the corner of my eye I caught Nancy singing along.

It was a good thing I played tennis not once, but twice this weekend with all the rich foods. I've picked up the racket so late this summer, sadly. There's really no reason why. Of course today, it became cold and blustery but I hope it's a passing cloud before full winter blows in.

Run. Walk. Pledge.


Just like last year, I am doing the Chicago AIDS Foundation 5k this year! (If you'd like to give me some encouragement by pledging you can look me up here!)

I am running. It seems a bizarre pursuit to successively worsen my 5k running time I think, since I haven't been running much. We'll see if playing tennis this weekend or doing the bike at the gym can increase my general health and therefore make me run faster? Yeah, it's a weak theory.

My Decorator is So Easily Distracted!


My decorator is so easily distracted. And by "my decorator" I mean, me.
I made myself a nice little powerpoint slide that helps me stay on track with my inspiration photo (up there in the top left corner) for my workroom.

I have already found a very cheap rug from Overstock.com (nearly $900 cheaper than the expensive one I'd initially liked from Horchow!)

However, then I look around online and find other beautiful things that make me question if I should change direction altogether.

Like these pillows by nakeddecor:Maybe this version might be made to fit?And Jason sits next to me on the couch and asks if I am planning on blogging this room into being done. Hmph.

Must Read List

A blog I love to visit is i suwannee, and here's why:

1a. Her dog is adorable.
1b. Her dog's name is Rowdy. Mental note to use this name for the dog that Jason and I wish we could get, were it not for cold Chicago winters, our long work hours and the accompanying cost of dog walkers, and how freaking nervous and crazy our cats would be by a canine introduction.
2. She's got lotsa style.
3. She finds her style often cheaply on eBay. Particularly rugs!
4. She also has a imaginary wealthier life, where she muses about when the guest services division of her house gets their "ducks in a row."
5. She also can laugh by observing her husband's household activities. (Since she's from the South, it's busting a chifferobe down there.)
6. Bookcases. Maybe I will try the color coordination someday.
7. I figured out where Suwannee is recently. 8. And she's just got super taste in decorating. Now that I'm a homeowner, there's so much I can do with our interiors, and maybe they'll be inspired by i suwannee. (Pay attention to the sets on the right menu bar, lots of inspiration to be had there!)

It's On

With our birthdays right next to each other on the calendar, Jason and I often receive shared presents.

The gift we received from Jason's sister Courtney, and her husband Lorenzo, proves the following:

a. that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree
b. as part of the American dream, the next generation will always strive to do better than the one that preceded it (a & b both reflecting Courtney mirroring her mother's inventive gift-giving - previous gifts have included cooking together, and food tasting and Segway tours.)
c. Italians (like Lorenzo) really do like Vespa's
d. all of the above

Because we have received a gift certificate for a Vespa tour of Chicago. They run April through October, so we'll see if this one is squeezed in this year, or if we can redeem it to help roar into springtime. (A blog post will share how this works out for us.)

Yummy Philly

One of the very best things to do in Philadelphia (besides seeing my family, of course!) is eating. High-class Stephen Starr dining or low-brow soft pretzels, tastycake and cheese steak, which you can get just steps after getting off the plane I discovered.

To pep me up from the plane ride, Juliet and I strolled to the Best-in-Philly 2009 Sweet Shop, the Naked Chocolate Cafe. After seeing a spot on the Food Network just before my departure, I added this to the top of my list. Juliet and I enjoyed the frozen drinking chocolate, Aztec flavor with spices like cardamom and cloves. This is chocolate with integrity! By comparison, Hershey's tastes like wax. It was so very good, as the camera phone picture of Juliet will tell you. (Somehow I lost the photo of me from my phone.)

For my birthday dinner, I was treated to Distrito, by hot-right-now chef Jose Garces, whose Chicago Mercat a la Planxa Jason and I love. Districto has a canteen feel, versus the swankness of Mercat. "Modern Mexican" is the cuisine. Juliet's brother-in-law observed that no one seems to call their food "nuevo" anymore. The walls are bright pink, with bright blue, green, and pink chairs and a wall covered in glittered Mexican wrestling masks. (Unfortunately our table was kind of located in the suburbs of the restaurant, away from the best of the decor!)
Once it started coming though, the food totally absorbed our attention. Soft tacos of kobe steak and hamachi topped with all sorts of punchy deliciousness that I can't quite sum up any better. Plantains in cream, sweet corn with queso fresco... I'm making myself hungry just writing this!

Just before leaving we brunched on crepes at Cafe Beaumonde. Juliet wondered why I hadn't taken a photo, was the breakfast not blog-worthy? No, I had just left my real camera in the trunk of the car and am now lacking confidence in my camera phone skills. But my savory crepe with eggs sunny-side up, sausage and mushroom was satisfying enough that I could happily decline the stale snacks on the plane and wasn't hungry until supper time.

My tummy is already wondering how soon I can get back to Philadelphia.

Weekend Showers

To help my sister and her husband feather their nest for the arrival of a new little baby we feted them with a little bay shower this weekend. The planning committee was staffed by Juliet's mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and me, doing whatever could be carried on a plane. Like little pennant flags to decorate the party rooms. Cute little touches were baby photos of "mom" and "dad", rubber duckies in the punch bowl, and bubbly drinks called "Tickled Pink" of champagne and X-Rated Fusion Liqueur (French vodka with blood orange, mango and passion fruit) for those who were drinking. A yummy drink to remember for a future girl's night, or maybe Project Runway finale viewing party.Another notable beverage was home-brewed root beer supplied by the father-to-be, also super tasty for root beer floats and a hit with the kids. There were appropriately cute and tiny tea sandwiches, beautiful flowers arranged by sister-in-law Ann, and jelly bean favors for guests to take as they left a beautiful day's party. After the guests had left the hostesses and honorees kicked off their shoes to take a breath before a round of lawn croquet. If you ever flip through the pages of J. Crew or another catalog and see photos of models playing croquet or some similar esoteric sport in their party dresses, and wonder, "When and where would you ever do that?" It's here, as I was being coached on the best croquet strategy in my party dress, borrowed trench and flip flops, with someone holding my champagne glass. Behind us, from behind the bushes, two deer wandered through a neighbor's garden as the afternoon sun fell behind the trees.

I was having too much fun to take a photo of this.

Unexpected Nostalgia

Have you ever caught the eye of an old friend, classmate or co-worker in a crowd? And all of the sudden you remembered who you were back then? Or smelled a scent that reminded you of the summertime growing up, like funnel cake at the carnival?

Such is the same feeling when doing my usual evening blog reading and seeing, for sale on eBay, this pillow. I swear it was in our house somewhere growing up. (And Jason will be relieved to know #1. That I didn't inherit it and #2. It's enough for me to see it eBay, but not purchase. But Juliet, if you still have it, you might be able to sell it on eBay for $19.99!)

Baby's First Fall Shopping Season

It's with bubbling glee that I am making preparations to visit my sister this weekend, and celebrate her & her husband's baby shower. With Juliet's talented sister-in-law, and artful hostess mother-in-law I think the party is going to be quite cute. (But NO GAMES - I'm so glad that Juliet and I agree on this point.)

Without keeping track, I seem to keep on buying the newest little arrival to the family gifts, and more gifts. I'll share them and details of the shower once they've been unwrapped and unveiled.

There are so many adorable things to find for babies, and yet such a shame to know that kids grow so fast that they'll probably be in and out of their clothes in a matter of months.

I remember pausing in wonder when my mom told me that she didn't need new clothes every year like us, because she didn't grow every year. At the time, I hadn't even hit my teens yet, probably not even double digits, so this seemed impossible. Adults can own the same clothes for years??? How boring. I think I was sad for my mom, she didn't get to go back to school shopping.

It's probably the combination of the happy nostalgia of back-to-school shopping (a special day spent together with my mom and Juliet at Marshalls), my September birthday, and the lures thrown out by the thickest fashion magazines of the year that make me want to shop more this time of year. (That part of me may never grow up.)

("A is for Jerks" Onesie from Chicago-based Threadless.)

Happy Birthday!

Thanks for everyone's birthday wishes, and gifts. And even the Facebook tidings that sometimes are sincere, but also sometimes feel a little automated. Hey, guy who I haven't seen since high school, and barely talked to then, thanks for writing on my wall. I did get myself a brownie with my lunch today, wore a cute dress, and trimmed up the pretty pink roses that came home with Jason. (I wondered if it was a reflection of our neighborhood that the name of the roses were "Latin Lady." Feliz cumpleanos!)
My friends wanted to treat me with a night out celebration, but I demurred this year, not feeling in the mood for being the center of attention. (It's so awkward, having to wear the crown on your head like that...)
This Friday I get to see my sister, for a small celebration with her (and brother-in-law) too! Fewer guests = more cake to go around.

Weekend

This weekend is a busy one (again!) Friday: a short notice suggestion to join friends at the German-American Festival. The attractions were German beer, brawts, and music. Lots of lifting of your plastic stein to shout along to the music. This is the closest I'll get to Oktoberfest, at least this year.
Along for the ride was an award I got at work recently, The Gnome. It's an idea stolen from Jason's old office, to create a whimsical, non-monetary (pout) award that rotates every two weeks. Like in the movie Amelie (my *favorite* movie) the gnome has started to travel. The last winner snapped photos of the gnome in his garden and enjoying a beer surrounded by some beach toys. Well, I had to 'one up' that, so I took the gnome to the festival. And found the tallest and most costumed festival goer to pose with the gnome.The gnome also shared our meal while we sat and enjoyed the band.
As you can see, things kind of devolved into more silliness as the evening proceeded.
Thinking that we were tourists traveling with our gnome a fellow festival goer offered to take our picture, and asked where we were from. Puzzled, we replied "Chicago!" I advised my friends that next time we have to be more prepared with a fun fake city, like "Winnipeg!" or "the outer Hebrides."

Saturday morning: Dentist. I don't know why I agreed to moving my appointment up from 9 am to 8 am. I don't even get to work quite that early. But at least I was still tired enough to zone out while my dentist poked around.

Saturday: Renegade Craft Fair. I wasn't in a super-shoppy mood, but I still did some Christmas shopping. And said a firm no to a few things that I was eyeing for myself. But darn it was crowded with hipsters, their dogs and their kids. It was funny to look around on the bus and know exactly who was going to the fair, based on their skinny jeans, gold sandals, and bug-eye plastic sunglasses. I sat back and didn't even worry about missing my stop.

Words to Wear


To keep special words close, this leather cuff seems like a sweet and sincere gift. The etsy crafter suggests inscribing it with your wedding vows. I think it'd be nice for a favorite poem or line from a storybook read to you when you were little. Maybe a joke that my dad would have told, or wisdom from a grandparent, even if it's kooky.

For only $13 it seems like a gift that'd be high in sincerity, but low in cost.

Figures...

It figures that the dressers I left in our old house upon moving out now sell for $185 on eBay.
And that a replica of the table I gave away to a fresh-faced craigslist shopper now sells for $1,500 at Pottery Barn. (But okay, I concede that my table wobbled like crazy and I almost felt guilty as I watched the girl and her three hipster friends hoist it onto the roof of their Japanese sedan. This only encourages to buy all future furniture from IKEA, so that I'll never look back regretfully in my rear view mirror at all the furniture I've left on the curb.

This I Also Believe

NPR's This I Believe series is some of what I enjoy the most on Sundays. It seems like it's broadcast on Sundays, or it should be.

I think I could have written this month's featured essay, "Always Go the Funeral." After sixteen years I still remember my mother's old co-workers that came to her wake, and my high school boyfriend who I hadn't talked to a whole lot after he'd spent a year abroad in Germany and I'd gone to college, but who made us laugh at the luncheon afterwards. (I'd say a belated thank you, but this is probably the most weird Facebook message you could get from someone.)

For my father's funeral, four friends road tripped from Ohio, bringing my own car back to me, since I'd left it in a flurry to get home - an incomparable and immeasurable gift. All five of us bunked down in my bedroom at home, making me feel surrounded by a protective cluster of friendship when I fell asleep that night.

And turning around after my father's funeral service I was awed that the aisles of the church seemed absolutely full, almost as much as on a Sunday from my childhood. And sometimes I think of all the people I've met since, who would have been there, if they'd know me then.

I'm sorry if this made my pregnant, and maybe more emotional-than-usual sister cry, but here is the essay:

I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.

The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.”

So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson’s shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, “Sorry about all this,” and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson’s mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.

That was the first time I went un-chaperoned, but my parents had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of course for years. By the time I was 16, I had been to five or six funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, “You can’t come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.”

Sounds simple — when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.

On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I’ve ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.


And the lesson I take to heart and repeat: "In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing."

Remember


Sometimes you (I) have to remember that your (my) life, all in all, is very good. Despite the sometimes rocky road that we (I) have traveled in the past, or the daily aggravations, absurdities, and arguments, today we are 99.99999% good.

One blog that helps me remember this is the NieNie Dialogues. Before the plane crash, Stephanie Nielson blogged about her kids, her husband, and the small celebrations they honored, seemingly every day. After a near fatal plane crash, there was more to celebrate, but it was a lot harder. Her blog has become a journal of recovery and remembering the small delights that happen everyday.

More about NieNie's story is here, but her blog is really the best way to connect and remember. (And as an observational aside, yet another Mormon who seems like a really wonderful, down to earth person.)

If I ever write my "This I Believe" essay, it will be about how much everyday and every little happy thing should matter, and that nothing, and no one, should be taken for granted. For another blog post...

Busy Bee

Lots was doing around the house this weekend. I decluttered drawers full of things like old magic markers, coupons from Bed, Bath & Beyond, and books I can concede I will never read.

Funny, I know that there are two rooms that really need to be addressed (workroom and guest room) but it's shelves in the living room that I was rearranging, the bedroom closet that I was rifling through with organizational zeal.

Is it still procrastinating if you're doing the right task, but just in the wrong place?

Taste of Chicago

Blog readers will know that Jason's mom is quite the creative gift giver (see 2007's Segway Tour) and she did it again. And since Jason already confessed to her that he bowed out of the latest gift and suggested I take a friend, I can blog about it. This might have been a tricky post otherwise since Nancy is a reader and might have noticed that Jason appears in none of the photos chronicling the Chicago Food Planet Tasting Tour.

This yummy tour took me and my lucky friend to the Bucktown & Wicker Park neighborhoods of Chicago to taste a few of those one-of-kind, best-in-town places. Starting with a classic Chicago style hot dog, with practically everything you can imagine on it, except ketchup! Seven toppings: yellow mustard, relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear, pickled sport peppers, and celery salt. It's really good.

Then iced hot chocolate, topped with a homemade marshmallow at our next stop, restaurant, Hot Chocolate. (I will be going back.)
Followed by a taste of pasta salad at The Goddess & The Grocer, a market founded by a caterer who served major concert tours and then decided to settle in Chicago. Look at those BRICKS of spinach lasagna.A slice of New Haven style pizza and a taste of their own brewed beer at Piece. Yeah, I know, you're wondering why we weren't eating Chicago-style pizza? I learned that 80% of pizza consumed in Chicago is actually the thin crust variety. The other 20% is the deep dish we eat when we have out-of-town guests. Between pizza and the next stop's falafel there's a mini architecture tour through the Victorian neighborhoods of Wicker Park. Welcome, because even day after the tour, I still feel full. Last stop, was iCream, a delicious ice cream shop where you can make your own flavors out of crazy fun stuff like cream soda, caramel, green tea, and hazelnut. They concoct it with liquid nitrogen in a mad scientist-like kitchen, right out of the Jetsons. As we were driving home I called Jason and told him that he might regret not going. Maybe I'll have to sign us up for their other Chicago tour...when I've worked off the 10 lbs I likely added on Saturday. Yep, still feeling full!

And next time we have those out-of-town guests I'll be able to nonchalantly propose that we check out a few hidden gems I've discovered in these neighborhoods. Like I stumbled upon them all by myself. Wink, wink!

Ever After

This is kind of where I hope that my "workroom" might end up. What a pretty and subtle color palette.

There's more inspiration at Apartment Therapy. (Of course.)

"Before"

In the hopes that it might help turn a few "Before's" to "After's" here are the tasks that lay before me. Knowing that you know I'm supposed to be doing these things might be the peer pressure I need. It will be a long winter (some say that Chicago's colder-than-normal summer will mean the same for the winter!) and so I have some projects lined up:

Scarf:(In addition to the in-progress summer scarf, whose launch will probably be next summer.)

Wrap Skirt:Which I hope to complete in time to wear on our Western Caribean cruise in December, or else it will be a concurrent unveiling with the 2010 Summer Scarf.

I bought the fabric for the wrap skirt, and the yarn, in Portland along with the lavender for drawer sachets. (Apparently, hanging out with Abby makes me feel like I am a crafty monster.) I'll be using vintage fabric that's been sitting in the cedar chest for probably 50+ years, inspired by etsy:
Tidying up the guest room, including hanging pictures: (The pictures are currently hung according only to where the previous owners had left nails in the wall.)

But the guest room is really only procrastination while I figure out how I am going to put together my office. I find it more inspiring to call it my "workroom". "Studio" sounds too posh.Ironically, it would be an ideal place to finish all these darn projects!
 

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