We've been trying to limit dining out for a long time. At first, it was for health reasons. Cooking at home is obviously healthier than going out to eat for the most part. At first, it was a max of three meals out per week. Then, the pandemic hit, and we eliminated dining out (and takeout) altogether for the first six months or so. We made low-budget, wallet-friendly meals, leaning into black beans, Ramen, and breakfast protein, like eggs. It was actually quite fun to experiment with both recipes and ways to eat healthy while saving money!
Once we felt like we could spend a little cash, we got takeout about twice a month. It was always a treat, especially our favorite, Pho, but restaurant meals left me feeling heavy and sluggish after all of the clean eating (yes, I know Ramen isn't clean eating. It's merely cost effective). So, we embraced our crock pot for easy meals that made us feel great.
No, this isn't going to be one of those annoying recipe posts where I tell you the story of how I made my husband soooo happy with a vegan kale soup (though I love vegan food, kale, and soup) and changed his mind after years of being a carnivore. Instead, I'm reflecting on the comfort of the home cooked meal, and specifically, the kind where I can go about my day, write my cute butt off, and take a long bike ride without worrying that the house is going to burn down.
John's grandma gave him our crock pot. To our knowledge, it's at least 10 or 15 years old. Maybe older. And it's still in perfect working condition, like an old car or a carefully maintained grand piano. I love being able throw some stuff into it in the morning and walk back in the door to a home filled with the savory or sweet scents of herbs and vegetables.
I've always had a hard time accepting help. I'm a pretty independent and stubborn woman. We recently bought a little iRobot vacuum/mopping device to help me shave a few minutes off of keeping the dust situation in the condo in check. I've pulled countless muscles lifting speakers at gigs, refusing to let the closest beefy dude (who offered to do it), touch them. The crock pot is kind of a weird way in which I help myself, and let myself off the hook a little bit. Chop, toss, eat whenever. It's awesome, frankly.
I know some of this may seem trivial, but it's really not. I'm headed back to gigging on top of teaching and streaming and trying to write my second book, and honestly, the domestic pressure of womanhood isn't easily undone. I'm a flaming feminist. I will fight anyone online or in public about issues regarding female autonomy and respect and empowerment, but there is a teeny tiny piece of my brain that justifies leaving the daily editing behind to cook a nice dinner or clean the bedsheets. I often fall behind on my work because of it.
The crock pot and our little iRobot take a piece of the guilt away. All I need is a self-folding dryer, now.
Also, I want to say that we should be supporting our local restaurants, more than ever, as Chicago continues getting vaccinated. They have a lot of damage to recover from, plus, I need a night or two away from the kitchen each week. Saigon Pho is gonna get sick of me. ;)
First off, what are your favorite local restaurants (wherever you're reading from)?
Secondly, (Okay, I'm gonna do it...) do you have a favorite crock pot recipe? I'm doing this quinoa and veggie one today. I'll add some pre-marinated tofu later. There's a lot of beauty in eating something you put together.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, stay kind, and stay well-nourished.
I love rainy days. I don't know why, but I always have. I struggle with falling asleep, but thunderstorms always put me right to bed. Grey skies and the gentle patter of droplets on the roof and windows put my nerves at ease. I typically find it easier to concentrate on creative work when the sun isn't shining.
Of course, I love bright, warm days, too, but those lend themselves to different head space. They inspire long walks, disc golfing, lunch with friends on a patio, and pop music being blasted from my car's speakers. It's a social vibe, one that makes me want to move my body, whether it's in a park or in the kitchen.
However, my M.O. is to be curled up on the couch with a mug of tea or a glass of whiskey, reading a book or writing one, enjoying the quiet of an unscheduled afternoon as the giant delivery trucks rumble by our condo, creating a sort of urban thunderclap. Can you see it, almost? (Don't picture it too vividly; I'm definitely not wearing a bra in this vignette.)
The past year has taught me that I typically move too fast, work too hard, and spend my free time trying to make up for the work I burnt myself out on. I guess I've always been this way. Even in high school, I only slept a few hours a night and regularly juggled multiple after school activities at once. That's some serious sunshine energy. I carried that over to my time on the road and my master's program, during which I continued working nights.
But the sun needs the moon, and us humans need bursts of productivity and vibrance, as well as an opportunity to heal and rest. This is a consistent trope throughout religion and mythology. I bring up mythology (and religion, really) because storytelling is so closely intertwined with the human experience. It's how we learn, adapt, get in touch with our roots. In Egyptian mythology, the sun (Ra) and the god of darkness (Apep) are constantly at odds and fighting over their space in the sky. In Greek mythology, you've got Apollo (god of the sun, music, and healing) and his twin sister Artemis, the goddess of the moon, the hunt, and protector of women. In Christianity, you've got God and Satan - good and even, dualities.
All of that to say, I think balance has always been important for the human experience, and it's painted throughout all of the stories we tell ourselves. I'm saying all of this to drive my point about rainy days home. I've had a lot of bright, summer days, and I've learned that I ought to hibernate a bit more, to strike that balance.
So, on this rainy Chicago afternoon, I'm going to go to the studio and mix a track from my new album...slowly, gently, quietly, maybe even with headphones on. I'm still making up for years of sprinting during what is clearly a marathon. I'm always learning.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
I'm not a big sports fan, especially baseball, but I am a huge fan of things getting back to "normal", whatever that means. Thursday is our day off, so when I saw that Cleveland was playing the White Sox at 1:10 on 4/15, and tickets were $11, I bought them right away.
We took the train for the first time in over a year. It was uncanny to see the familiar sights and smells and the variety of personalities that make Chicago inherently Chicago-y. Most people, however, thanked the bus driver and were very conscious to leave six feet between travelers. It felt like a whole cultural shift. I think the past year really did re-shape some peoples' world views. Chicago has always felt like a place where I could feel safe and be myself (quirks aside), but the ride yesterday took that to a whole new level.
We got to the stadium a few minutes after the first pitch was thrown, and I got myself a very pricey Oberon before we walked up the stairs to our nosebleed seats. It was chilly, and a hell of a hike, but I didn't care. It was almost magical, seeing people watching a live sports game together. The seating was spread out. In fact, most chairs' seats were zip tied to their backs to ensure no seat swapping or gathering. It felt really safe, actually, and we joked with some neighbors a few rows away, but no one tried to get close to us. I have to congratulate the folks at Guaranteed Rate Field who planned that out.
There was clapping, cheering, one man and his two daughters yelling "LET'S GO WHITE SOX" for the entire game (normally this would irritate me, but given the lack of any shouting for 13 months, it made me smile), and the smells of ballpark food. I celebrated at the "wrong" times, but there were a few other Cleveland fans in the vicinity who joined me. It was an awesome (and inexpensive...except for the ballpark beer prices) way to spend an afternoon.
It helps that my team won 4-2. In the parking lot, a very large man told my friend to "go you-know-what yourself" upon seeing his Indians jersey fare, so I think the Sox fans were a bit sore about it. There is a little bit of that glow, that thrill from watching your hometown team win.
We saw the last NBA game of 2020 on March 10th of last year. The next day I saw my cousin, who was traveling through Chicago for work. He warned me about the shutdowns, and I didn't believe him, but he was right: that was the last ball game. It's funny that we started our emergence back to a post-pandemic world (slowly, cautiously) with a baseball game. That wouldn't have been my guess. I would have thought we'd do a concert or go to a movie or something, but it looks like we bookended this crazy time with professional sports matches. Maybe I'll be a big sports fan, yet. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic for Cleveland.
What are you looking forward to doing once you feel safe?
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Update as of 4/16/21: We are getting a second Leo! He will be named Smaul Simon, and he is perfect in every way. He's a rescue with a little bit of a deformity, but that's why I fell in love with him
I got my leopard gecko, Athena, 5 and a half years ago. I know this because she was a birthday present to myself. My original birthday present plan was to get a fish. One fish. A singular fish. When I walked into PetSmart, though, I noticed a "for sale" sticker on the leopard gecko tank. Normally they were about forty dollars, but the sticker announced they were selling for six. When I asked a sales attendant why they were so inexpensive, she replied, "because they're old." When I asked what would happen to them if they didn't sell, she said, "we have to get rid of them." Now, I don't know if that means donating them to a school classroom, or something more foreboding, but I decided that I was going to take one of those geckos home with me. I asked if there were any female geckos in the tank. There was only one. I said I'd take it.
And then I had Athena. And a tank...and lights, light fixtures, lizard-safe tank turf, a few fake plants, and a water dish, as well as a pretty hefty receipt and a packed car trunk.
I had no idea how to care for a leopard gecko. I'm pretty sure I was given a pamphlet with an underwhelming amount of information (and some disinformation), so I went to Google and a bunch of reptile forums. I did my best to feed and care for her, and I learned a lot along the way. This will be our sixth year together. I don't know her actual age, since she was simply "old" when I got her, but my best guess is that she's 7.
She's quiet, fairly low maintenance and eats roaches (weirdo), but she's actually improved my life incredibly. On days where I felt depressed, I had a reason to get up and walk to the Pet Store. When I felt socially awkward during visits, she was a great conversation piece. On days where I'm feeling lonely, she's fun to talk to. I always laugh when I feed her, because she's so animated. Her eyes get wide, she whips her tail, and pounces like lion...but she's tiny, so it's hilarious. And get this: if I continue to take good care of her, she'll live 15-20 years. Wild, right? But then again, lizards are sort of like little dinosaurs. I can't wait to be a 40 year old gecko lady. By then, hopefully I'll have another, too. (Hint, hint.)
The infuriating thing about how much I love her is that she takes to John more than me. I tell myself it's because he runs warm, but let's be honest, who doesn't like John? She got sick for awhile, and she would only let him give her medicine. It was really sweet to watch. I could probably write another whole blog post about how crazy it is to take a gecko to the vet, but again, I'm always learning. Reptiles are so cool.
Athena is currently giving me her signature one-eye-closed glare from her tank, since I interrupted her evening antics, as I usually do, now that I wake up at 7am. She was used to being a night creature, like me, but now we're all content in our confusion around here, I think.
Do you have a pet, and if so, what comforts has it brought you?
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Do you have a favorite coffee or tea mug? I do. It's a simple pleasure that feels silly at times, though it shouldn't. I've spent many lovely, sunny afternoons (in the good ol' days) walking around street festivals in Ohio, Michigan, and Chicago perusing the handicrafts of traveling artists. I'm always tickled by the work of ceramics artists, potters, who put out not only drinking vessels, but vases, bowls, and other practical pieces. I've also spent a fair amount of money on them. The power of a street festival is greater than my self control.
There are a variety of factors that come into play with selecting a good mug: weight, how the handle compliments the curves of your palm and finger strength, and, of course, how it looks. I tend to go for quirky, colorful mugs or mugs with sassy quips on them. Though I'd love for that to be a holiday gift hint, please don't all jump on the opportunity to buy me a new teacup.
Our collection of mugs is...perhaps, excessive. We've already donated a cabinet's-full of them to our local secondhand store. Those were hand-me-downs, old thrift shop picks from college, and cups that appeared as if out of thin air. The selections for donation included bland designs and logos for law firms and schools I didn't attend. (Again, where did they come from?) The remaining collection sports artisan-crafts (and online post-wine purchases) with figurines of dancing ladies, old-timey floral prints, funny jokes in bold text, and memorabilia from places visited. It's sort of a wild collection of misfit toys, and almost all of them remind me of a person, place, or experience. I get to start my mornings with a happy feeling, and I think that's a small step towards having a good day. I sip my (herbal) tea and journal every morning before breakfast. It helps me ease into whatever gets thrown my way.
Another thing that mugs bring me is comfort. No matter how I feel, I associate them with getting sick, since I tend to drink a ton of tea when I'm under the weather: Throat Coat and Ginger Turmeric are a couple of my favorites. I always get the sense that I'm protected as I wrap my fingers around the ceramic outer layer of the cup, feeling warmth run through my hands, and feel the soothing hot water ease my ripped up vocal cords or scratchy throat. It's a sign, or the memory of a sign, that healing is on the way and that everything will be fine.
Perhaps that's too dramatic, but I think having good mind-body awareness is a worthy practice in mindfulness. It's something I've been working on pretty intensely this past year.
I'll include a photo of a few of my favorite mugs with this post. What do you look for in your breakfast beverage-holder? And what feelings or memories does this daily ritual conjure in you?
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind.
Do you ever feel like you can't keep up? I don't know if it's the energetic shift I feel from a year of such a radical schedule adjustment, but I feel constantly overwhelmed by small tasks. I look at my text notifications and see that I have thirty unread messages from several days of being too stressed to respond to people. I see that my email inboxes are packed with not only junk mail and piled up to-do lists (check the bank statement, update credit card information on this site, etc.), but also with loving, thoughtful emails from friends. Sometimes I forget about these for months, and all along, I beat myself up for not being in touch enough, or not being "social enough" for others.
I try to set an hour or two aside two or three times a week to tackle as many of these as I can, but it never seems to even make a dent. I can't bring myself to spend more time than that without sacrificing work or my mental health. Missed calls go unreturned, appointments get cancelled, friends get let down. I look at the clock and realize half of my day is gone, just playing catch up, and meanwhile my book sits unedited, my songs sit in a notebook untouched, and something has to give. It's usually my creative work that goes. Then I feel depleted and sad. It's a vicious cycle and it happens every week. Some people seem to be able to handle this well; I don't know what's wrong with me.
I read somewhere that we're going to reach a critical mass of how much humans can correspond. Email is the primary culprit of study right now, and researchers are starting to believe that it's already out of control. True, emails and texts are a quick and efficient ways to contact and communicate with someone but when everyone's doing it, there's just no way to strike a balance. I look forward to some data on this, if only to justify my own anxiety and guilt over perpetually being a "bad" daughter, friend, or employee.
This past week I took a trip and set my away message up. I really tried to unplug. But then the power in our building went out, students forgot I was on vacation and called/texted/emailed me, and others simply didn't care that I was trying to disconnect for this necessary mental breath of fresh air. The pressure to be "on" at all times feels inescapable.
I love meaningful one-on-one meals and social activities with people I love. I like the ritual of being a pen pal and sending emails to friends. It's not that I'm seeking a hermit's life, but sometimes I am deterred from picking up the phone to call someone by the onslaught of notifications before I can even do so.
What do you do to keep your email burden (and all of the other ones) at bay? In an ever-connected world, do you have tips on how to step away at times? Help me out!
Above, a picture of a hawk we saw on our (attempted) vacation retreat in rural Illinois. John saw it bathing in a little creek, and after that it sort of followed us around. Pretty neat.
Until tomorrow, stay safe, stay well, and stay kind.
I learned the basics of disc golfing about a year ago. I was hesitant, as I was awful at "normal" golf, but discing, as it is called colloquially, felt like a fun athletic activity where I could hang. You toss a frisbee, try to get it into a chain "net" of sorts, and rack up your points. Just like golf, you're going for a low score, and damn, is it fun.
Every time I play, I get a sore right tricep and the sneaker of the big toe of my right foot gets scuffed up, but I don't regret a single moment.
We try to take a trip somewhere outside of Chicago every few months, and a disc golf course is always a necessity in our location choice. Out here near our (undisclosed location) AirBnb, we've found a wealth of courses. We've gotten a ton of exercises and we'll be back again tomorrow, no doubt. I can't wait to walk a few miles while competing with myself on my most recent low score. My inner music school can only be quelled with self-competition, I guess.
The best part of Disc Golf is that it's social, it's competitive, it's booze/420/sobriety/what the hell ever friendly, and the whole culture of gameplay revolves around a culture of 1. loving nature/the outdoors, 2. trying to get some exercise, 3. being tolerant of relaxation activities...again, a little beer, and a lot of socialization. There's a super kind vibe there. I've only seen these types of interactions in metal/alternative culture before, and I wonder where the two intersect. Definitely, the love of being outdoors or the lack of a fear of getting dirty are part of the gamut. Most people I know that love nature and beer or weed tend to like good music and a bit of exercise, especially alongside a challenging conversation about a good book. I feel like I'm being redundant but these are the pillars of what I'd consider a "chill" person. I'm feeling extremely grateful today...the weather has been incredible, the (undisclosed location) we're staying at is super musician friendly, and we're eating and sleeping super well. No complaints on this front.
This week is Spring Break, so I may be writing a bit less on the blog front, but I hope you'll stay in touch here.
Until tomorrow, stay well, stay safe, and stay well.
Hey everyone! I'm going on Spring Break. This doesn't mean a break from blogging (for the most part) or writing, but more of a framework for how I'll be spending the next few days. Breaks are important in the sense of daily breaks of self care (taking time for a sit down dinner or a hot bath), but also in the macro way of leaving down, turning your phone off, and spending a bit more time doing what you want instead of what you need. Maybe. Am I right?
Why do we need these? Most of us can afford to sleep 7 or 8 hours a night (I hope), and that should account for sufficient survival rest. What is it about the permission to escape reality (on a beach in Mexico), or rent that cabin where there's no cell phone service.
I, personally, need time to unplug my brain. Dissociation and excessive sleeping during a depressive episode are two indicators in my life that prove it, as far as my body goes. It may have been the years of non-stop working, schooling, and perfectionist-ing, but something changed for me about two or three years ago. It wasn't fun to work overtime any more. I didn't feel rejuvenated if I was the first person to cross the finish line. This may sound like a cop out, but man, I went hard for about 26 years of my life.
I practiced excessively in my undergrad, and I felt proud of that until I burned out and wrecked my arms for a good six months. I had tendonitis, carpal tunnel, tennis elbow...it was awful. Once I recovered, a friend of mine (who was also an excellent musician) leveled with me: "if you need to practice more than four hours a day, you're not doing it right." He was talking about focused, detail-oriented practice, not running the same passages over and over just to punish myself. It put a lot in perspective for me.
I don't think I work any less hard than I did back then. I teach, I'll be back to gigs soon, I write songs, I'm drafting my second book, and I still see my friends. Martyrdom is not sexy. Taking time off or doing something for yourself isn't selfish. I know there have been a lot of takes surrounding mental health and self care, but I still don't see too many artists that I know doing it all that well (the self care part). When I sit down to write, I turn my phone and computer to do not disturb, set a timer, and go. Once the timer goes off, I get a break. I find this practice to be efficient and rewarding, and better yet, it makes more time for me to take those much needed evenings, days, or weeks off without lingering feelings of guilt.
I will also say that most of my creative work is work that I love to do, so even on days off, if I have a free hour and a great idea, I write it down. I may even work on a draft of something, but always in the context of curiosity and love, never negative self-talk. At least that's what I'm trying to do.
As I prepare for my break this coming week, I'm looking forward to writing, reading, and taking long walks. My phone won't be with me all that much, but I hope that when I get back, we'll all reconnect, especially once I get through my vax process.
In the mean time, stay well, stay safe, and stay kind. (And take a break!)
I don't know about you, but a fun fact I discovered at the beginning of the pandemic is that not too many contemporary games are built for two-person play. Most popular games that I know (Cards Against Humanity, Anomia, etc.) are specifically designed to be played in a group, just like so many of the social traditions embedded in our fabric: karaoke, bowling, double date nights, you name it.
(*Preface: All of the following games can be played with large groups; they just have a cool two person vibe, too.*)
Before we knew what we could do safely, before we knew what we knew about the virus, we all shut ourselves inside and had panic attacks on grocery store days. (Just me? Really?) John and I burned out on Netflix shows and daily long (6+ mile) walks. On top of that, we were doing creative work for the better part of most days and needed something fun to do, so we brainstormed.
I proposed Gin Rummy, since I used to play it with both my mom and my grandma. We played it til the cards' corners were rubbed raw, but that occupied a few months of healthy competition (and a lot of friendly cussing). One day, John looked at me and said, "I'm so bored with this game." Someone had to say it. So we moved on.
John produced his great-grandfather's cribbage set. We watched some YouTube videos on how to play it and over wine-soaked late nights, slowly got the hang of it. (As I drank more wine, John got better. How does that work?) Cribbage is a beautifully interesting game because it has layers; you have to pay attention, count cards, do math, and hope for a little strategy via good luck. Soon that lost some of its luster as well, so we bounced on.
We circled back to Gin for awhile before we decided it was time for a new game.
Enter Shut-The-Box, a lovely Christmas present from John's grandma. It's an old English pub game, apparently, and it involves (again) some luck and some strategy to create combinations of numbers to score lower than your opponent. It moves quickly, too, so that creates opportunities for a heightened heart rate. Today, we found out that there are variations in how it's played from one of my dearest friends who'd recently discovered the game. So add variations on Shut-The-Box to my to-do list!
Our neighborhood has an awesome secondhand store named Family Tree. (If you're ever in Lincoln Square, go! It has delightful treasures at ridiculously low prices and every time you shop or donate, some of the store's wares go to charities in need.) We found an unopened box of Trivial Pursuit from 1981 for a few dollars. I remembered playing that with my parents every New Years Eve and threw it in our shopping basket. We've been playing an ongoing game for the last 3 days and I think this will remain a tradition until we need a break from that, too. (Disclaimer here -- there are a few not-PC cards. I do not endorse that shit. I do endorse remembering who wrote Wuthering Heights and where the Ambassador Bridge is located.)
The cool thing about these old games is that they do provide a lot of engaging fun and they create space for conversation. No doubt that's because they were all designed well before the internet (or even decent television, honestly) was widely accessible. Long nights could be spent with your friends or family playing them because you simply had the time. I kind of like that better than the fast paced party game (for now...there's a time and a place and an open bar for those). As technology-avoidant people when it's not necessary, they've been a great way to burn some time and have a few laughs (or threats - haha).
Do you have any favorite 2-person or older games? I want to acquire them all!
Until tomorrow, play on, playettes. (I had to say something hip-ish in this blog post...geez.)