Early in 2019 I read a book that discussed the power of willing something into the universe and to do so, you needed to be open and looking for opportunity. I’m a little skeptical of ‘willing’ something without ‘doing’ something, honestly. But I did sit  with this thought and figured out that, to me, this really means being like a sponge and allowing yourself to soak up all the things around you. It means that you are open to ideas that normally you’d say no to.  And that spoke (loudly) to me-how many opportunities have I inadvertently said no to because of some form of fear? Fear seems to play a huge part in why I may shut myself in my proverbial shell before I even begin to explore (think of a Cortney turtle, or a Cortney armadillo! What? New [scary]thing? Nope. Zoopt. Cortney armadillo!)
I recognize there are people out there that have minimal to no fear factor and just fly blindly into new adventures but alas, I am not (yet) one of them. That’s not to say I don’t push my comfort zones from time to time but when I read How to Be a Badass last year I was in a place mentally that I could recognize just how easy it is to make excuses to stay nice and cozy in my comfort—and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t want to let opportunities pass me by that ultimately, could be something magical. Or at least worthwhile. 
 So, I spent 2019 saying yes to anything that I did not have a valid reason to say no to. If my ‘no’ was because I was afraid, it was not a suitable rationale for me-only logical ‘no’s’ allowed.
 I had to first recognize just how often I ‘nope-d’ an idea before it even had roots.  It took a lot of work to  recognize those nopes! Once I could catch myself I could ask myself why. Why do I automatically want to say no to this? That was an eye-opening experience in itself that challenged me to have several heart-to-hearts with my own insecurities. “Well inner me, I don’t want to be embarrassed!” “And I don’t want to let people down!” Yeah, and recognizing where those fears generate from? Let’s just say this ‘not saying no’ thing was a rabbit hole of self-discovery.
Okay. So that’s all dandy but…how did I keep this up for an entire year? This sounds hard (IT IS) and like many Big Deals…something that could easily just be passed along after the book was finished.

I’m a visual person so I knew I needed a reminder to keep me open to opportunities and searching for things to ‘soak up’ whatever 2019 had to offer me. I  needed some sort of talisman to remind me to not automatically say no to those hard feelings- and enter…Spongy.
Spongy is a centimeter cube piece of (unused) kitchen sponge that I have carried with me every day. It’s green and is always in my purse or pocket.  Spongy is responsible for several major things I did in 2019 including:
  • Applying and accepting an adjunct instructor position (I also had Spongy in my pocket my first day instructing)
  • Taking up tap dancing (Spongy was in my bag, silently cheering me on during my recital)
  • Making and fostering several new friendships
  • Several random adventures (like going to Chicago on the hottest day of the year to stand in line for cookies… I could have used Spongy for a different purpose that day but it remained in my bag)
  • Blogging more with the high hopes that what I share can help others
  • Reaching out to have a few hard conversations with others that I had put off because, well, they were hard.
Some of the things Spongy brought into my life seem nuanced now. There are things that were ‘minor’ in the grand scheme of a year but being able to say yes more than saying no really created a year that I’m proud of. Spongy has helped keep me honest in my intention to grow and curate a life worthy of living. Sometimes it means mentally (okay, sometimes physically) running with reckless abandon into The Scary/Tough/Unknown thing but sometimes it actually means sitting back with my thoughts and working through them rather than pushing them aside and saying “no, I don’t want to think about that”. There have been tears. I think there may have been some cursing a kitchen sponge involved too-but ultimately Spongy has been the mascot I didn’t know I needed in life. Spongy and I will be working on balancing out some of the new from 2019 as we move into 2020 but I have no doubt we’ll continue to see new adventures together.
Have courage to suck at new things, friends. We’re all in this together-and I’m happy to provide you with a Spongy of your own if you need it. <3

October-December Reads Welcome to the New Year!

One of my favorite ornaments-books tied with twine.

Well, here are are! We made it through the odd 2019 (I have a theory that odd numbered years are far less superior to even ones) and we’re roaring (hah) right into 2020! I’ve spent the last two weeks being unsure of what day it was and forgetting what a vegetable is and can honestly say I’m ready for routine to start again. The Christmas tree is gone, ideas for the new year formulated, and I’m ready to run into January full of anxiety and hope!

I finished the quarter logging fewer titles but still about the same amount of hours read. Why? Because the first book up is a doozy. On paper I believe it’s around 750 pages, in audio it’s about 31 hours. Most of the books I read are somewhere between 5-8 hours and I can usually get through them in a week, so this book took most of the month of October to finish. (Also, mid-October to, well, yesterday? was pretty hectic and brain-frazzle-y so finishing anything was a feat.)

37. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (contemporary fiction)- This is a book divided- people have either loved it or hated it (I have found few in between). I ultimately enjoyed this book a lot. Yes, it has been made into a film recently (I haven’t watched it yet but I’ve heard that it didn’t translate well despite what I consider a solid cast). Some have compared this to works of Dickenson, it reminded me of Go Ask Alice– a story of a young person who becomes lost in a world they were thrown into by circumstances beyond their control. By the end of the book I can’t say I particularly liked any of the characters (except one-if you’ve read it feel free to take a guess) but I enjoyed the writing. B

38. Red, White, and Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston (teen LGBTQI+ romance?)- I needed a palette cleanser after #37 and this book was a ‘new to audio’ selection. It was a fantastic mix of humor and predicament! The characters were charming and like many, I too wished that parts of this story were real life. If you’re looking for a quick read, this is a good one. A

39.Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate (historical fiction)- And right back into some serious stuff, oops. This book takes a fictional look at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage that ran for the first half of the 20thcentury under practices that were just deplorable. (Sidenote, I’m preparing to teach a course on child welfare so this book hit me right in the feels.) Before We Were Yours was a heart-wrenching tale of what can be assumed as reality for far too many children who lived through the broken and corrupt tactics of child laundering. This book broke my heart with some saving grace-resiliency is a hell of a thing. A

40. Unfuck Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life, Gary John Bishop (self-help)Quick read with some nice reminders that waiting around to ‘feel like’ doing the thing is a waste of time. Waiting to feel motivated/creative/energized/ ready is a fallacy, so just suck it up and start. A

41. Waiting for Tom Hanks, Kerry Winfrey (nonfiction romance)- It’s really easy to accidentally read romance novels, ya’ll. I don’t fancy myself a romance novel ‘fan’ but I will say that they are good reads in between harder ones. Shrug. I chose this book because of the title (I can feel your judgment!) and it was a cute story. Was it groundbreaking? No. Did it have flaws? Yes. Was I able to escape into a rom-com and ignore my kitchen being unusable for two weeks? Absolutely.  So it did the job. B

42. Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope, Mark Manson (self help)-I adored this book because it aligned well with my own personal philosophy on life. Manson made sense of some thoughts I’ve had lingering for a while and I found myself talking back to the book (“EXACTLY”, “OMG THAT’S IT!”, “THANK YOU” may have been yelled). However, this book pushes past Nihilism to look meaningfully at life in the most objectively way possible. Two side notes: if you are not in a place to look at life and question things, this may not be for you. I suggested it to a friend who said it was a difficult read (it can make you question things, so know your own headspace when going in) and two-if you follow Manson’s blog I’ve read that this book is more or less a collection of blog posts strung together. A

43. White Fragility,Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction badassbook)- This book tore me down in a way that we* should all be torn down. To realize privilege past the obvious is hard-but necessary. I highly suggest everyone* read this and sit with the uncomfortable feelings it’ll bring up and then ask; Why? How? Now what? A+
*white people

44. Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney (contemporary fiction)- A comment on Goodreads, “Conversations with Friends is another one of those books about not particularly nice people entangled in awkward relationships.”  It wasn’t the worst book, it was not the greatest book. It kept my attention just enough that I didn’t roll my eyes. C

45.The Witches are Coming, Lindy West (nonfiction, essays, badassbook)- I have been waiting for this book since the second I finished Shrill last year and it’s incredibly fitting that this was my last book of 2019 and that it was #45. I felt heartbroken and empowered throughout this book and reminded of the long road ahead, and the long road behind. The witches are definitely coming. A+

15 books over my goal-happy dance!! For 2020 I’m going to try and hit 50. I also want to try and find a list similar to thisthat pushes me to be more mindful about different genres. There are some I really don’t care for (mystery/thriller, true crime, basically anything that leaves me feeling anxious) but I do want to continue to experience others point of view. And I’m always open to suggestions!

A thought: I recently read that finishing a book just to finish it is a waste of time and that more seasoned readers practice a page 50 rule. Page 50 rule means that if you’re not engaged by page 50 and feel yourself wanting to quit-quit.  I have only found myself wanting to truly quit one book in the last year while others I wanted to finish just to see if it got better. To me, having any sort of drive is worth finishing the book but I am giving myself permission to ’50’ a book this year.

In 2020 we should have a new Jenny Lawson book and I can’t wait! Hopefully her book store in San Antonio will open as well so I can go and bask in the glory that is this very large cat.

Favorite books in 2019: In no particular order (these can usually be noted by an ‘A+’ review, these are the books I’d recommend to anyone who asked):
  • White Fragility
  • Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered
  • Good Omens
  • Shrill
  • Becoming
  • The Hate U Give
  • Lean In
  • Everything is Fucked
  • You Are a Badass

Cheers! Wishing you all a year full of equal amounts excitement and contentment mixed with growth and rest.

Tappa, Tappa, Tappa

Growing up I always wanted to take a dance class. I had two cousins who did and I remember practicing routines with them and going their recitals to watch with wonder (and maybe a little jealousy). In high school instead of traditional gym class I took dance-which was fun-but it wasn’t the quite the same.
For the last several years I have tried to take some class through our local park district. One year it was acrylic painting (and realized I probably should take drawing too), ceramics (pottery wheels are hard), and this year I decided to live out my childhood dream of taking a dance class.
 Our park district offers a “Beginning Adult Tap Class” that is for people 18 years and older, so my fear of being Billy Madison was relieved. I signed up, bought some tap shoes off of Amazon, and prepared myself for the great unknown.
The first class came and it was a doozy. It was definitely an adult tap class-I am the youngest person in the class by some years (and most of them are retirees).  I was amazed at how good everyone was for a beginner and being one of the only two new students to the ‘beginning’ class I stood out like a sore thumb. I was so far outside of my comfort zone that I wasn’t sure if I would really show up again the next week.
But I did, and have, shown up to every class since we started in September. Every Tuesday night I tell D that I don’t want to go, then I go, and I come back in a much better mood. I tend to really enjoy a buddy when I am reaching out of my comfort zone and this was one of the few times I had to go out completely unassisted. After a couple conversations with internal me about allowing myself to feel awkward (which sucks, let’s be honest. That’s why we push it away.) I slowly became open to the experience and I have to say, it’s been a fun one!
So fun in fact, that this week I get to live out one of my childhood dreams of having a recital! In a costume! In front of friends! (okay, I’m a little embarrassed by this, but I’m trying to embrace the experience.)
For some things, it’s never too late to try but it sure can be super uncomfortable to do so. When people found out that I signed up for tap classes I was overwhelmed by how many people said it was ‘awesome’ and that they ‘could never do something like that.’  And while hearing that made me feel a lot of things it also made me recognize my own growth. Being able to push past fear or insecurity (and have a lot of humility, because I am no Eleanor Powell here) is something I’ve been working on and maybe, I’m making progress?
Funny thing progress is-because it’s not like I feel less insecure or braver doing things outside of my comfort zone-I’m just starting to build up confidence that the juice really is worth the squeeze. The hardest part is facing the thoughts that creep in my head and being rational about with what is really going on versus the very loud internal dialogue that’s trying to ‘protect’ me from those uncomfortable situations-think the mom in Carrie here, you know, ‘they’re all going to laugh at you!’? That’s basically what your safety brain is doing and your trying to be Carrie and be all ‘I can do this AND I have magical powers that if someone laughs I’ll burn this whole place down! Okay, don’t go that far, but it’s a good analogy!  For me that’s the key to tapping into (hah) new adventures (not the burning down things, the pointing out my irrational Carrie’s mom I-just-want-to-keep-you-safe thoughts. Again, no telekinesis here.).
Is there anything in your life that you’ve wanted to do for a long time but just haven’t been able to-yet? Sometimes asking yourself what is standing in your way can surface some hard stuff, and I honor just how difficult and long that process can take. You may have to sit with things that are uncomfortable and you might have to wrestle with some unruly beasts but at the end of the day you have to ask yourself if your proverbial juice is worth squeezing.
Halloween Tap Dancing Hot Dog!

Grandma’s Noodles

I have several friends who love food and cooking just as much as I do. They are creative people who have brilliant ideas for dishes and a penchant for finding The Best recipe for whatever food you may fancy. When we talk about food recipes we tend to share websites or screen shots so that we can chat about what we may improve or try.  But often, we come back to the tried tales of dinner’s past. Our hearts and our stomachs pull us back through time until we’re standing in our grandmother’s kitchens stirring bowls or more likely, licking spoons. We see our grandmother’s looking at a 3 x 5 index card, or a worn notebook-not a website to be bookmarked later. “Here’s my grandma’s recipe, but I don’t know what she does to make it so good.”

Food is a hot topic with the holidays coming up and we’ve started to discuss what we’ll be making to feed our loved ones. Some of us now carry the torch of hosting, while others are still just junior executives in the kitchen. I am still  the latter and am entirely grateful that my grandma insists on getting up very early on the holidays and making two of my all-time favorite foods: noodles and pecan pie.

Let me explain noodles. You know how some dishes are region specific? Well, noodles seem to be one of those things that when I talk about them with folks from outside the Midwest I get a ‘what.are.you.doing.’ response. (On further investigation noodles on top of mashed potatoes may also be a thing in Amish communities, so I’m assuming this goes back to carbo-loading farmers. And some people add peas?!) These are not chicken and noodles, although they’re cooked in chicken broth and have chicken in them. It is not chicken noodle soup. 

These noodles are salt*, water*, egg* and flour* with a little yellow food coloring*, brought together and kneaded a little*, rolled out to the edges of the table*, cut, and added to chicken stock. You get the chicken stock by boiling an entire chicken until cooked. Add the noodles and pull the meat from the chicken to add back in. Put in that* crock pot on low and let them go to town until time to serve. Finished they sit in almost gravy, and they will congeal when they get cold.

That’s my grandma’s recipe. Those asterisks are things that I cannot define on my own.  This summer I spent a few hours with my grandma trying to transcribe what exactly makes her noodles, noodles. I now have two pages full of a recipe plus technique and know the history to the mixing bowls that she has used for 60+ years to make them.  I know that I will never be able to replicate Grandma’s Noodles and there is no website, no food blogger, or Michelin rated chef that could ever reproduce them. Objectively-they may not even be that great but they are my grandma’s noodles and the feed more than just my belly. The hands that execute the love into those noodles cannot be purchased at a local super market and that’s why I can’t just simply share her recipe and ensure that it’s The Noodles. (She broke my heart when she told me she adds a little yellow food coloring to brighten them up but I would have never thought to do that on my own.)

Oh, and you have to serve them on top of mashed potatoes. It’s a thing, it’s delicious, and if you know, you know.

(I won’t even get into the pie crust recipe. Grandmas make everything look so easy.)

In our world of access, what is being lost in the cracks? I recently came across this article that put into words my feelings about needing to capture the culinary history of my family (and perked my interest in some new careers, gastronomy program, anyone?) Not only is there something so important about having the food of our loved ones live on, there’s something to having it written down, in their own words-with all the little extra tid bits to help us long after we can’t ask them questions. Many food bloggers replicate this by adding story and answering comment feedback creating an electronic recipe box for many-but what about that index card I mentioned earlier that tells you what aisle grandma finds the ‘good’ brand of something? There much more to these cards- family stories, personal memories, it’s our way to find home again when you can’t go back.

I have a recipe box. It’s not full but it does have actual cards written by family members. My grandma’s salad dressing that I love, a friend’s Thanksgiving stuffing that I got sick of asking her for every year and finally wrote down, and some from our engagement party where we asked all the guests to bring a family recipe to share with the soon-to-be wedded couple.  The connection to those cards means the world to me and I’m going to make more of an effort to actually write down and use the recipes. I want to keep up the tradition of handing out actual cards rather than weblinks so that someday, my great nieces or nephews may lament over my cookie recipe-but still have access to it.

“You Read A Lot” Reading List July-September 2019

Recently someone said this about me. Someone actually said I, Cortney, read ‘a lot’. It made my day!

24. The Sun is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon (young adult fiction)-  This was a quick read about two teenagers whose lives collide in a beautiful but difficult way.  Young adult is really talking about some true life issues nowadays, not just teen romance and I appreciate it. B.

25. Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick (autobiography)- I like Anna Kendrick and her story is just as endearing as she is. I wish we could be friends because I think she’s hilarious! A.

26.  Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis (self-help?)- I know. I knooooow. “Cortney, didn’t you h-a-t-e her last book?” Yes. I did. Has that changed? No. But she has such a following and so many people share their life-changing moments because of Hollis that I went ahead and gave this book a go and I will say I found at least a third of it not completely cringe-worthy. It wasn’t as plagiarized (kudos) but still drippy with privilege (however, she did somewhat (?) acknowledge this?) I did have moments of feeling ‘energized’ but that could have also been the coffee. C.

27. Good Omens,Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (science fiction?)- I decided to read this after the mini-series aired on Amazon Prime earlier this year and I loved it! (The cast was so good! My main man played the voice of God and that was enough to get my buy in.) I was pleasantly surprised that there was very few deviations from the book! I have heard that the other books in this series (I guess it’s a series) aren’t as grand, but I adored this one. A+.

28. Normal People, Sally Rooney (coming-of-age fiction)- The title doesn’t lie here, folks. It’s a love-ish story about star-crossed lovers who live somewhat normal lives? I think I read this based from a review in a magazine. It was fine, I didn’t care for either lead character but their development was solid. B.

29. Of Mess and Moxie, Jen Hatmaker (autobiography)- I chose this book based on the title and had no idea who Jen Hatmaker was. (Yeah, I often mean to actually look up these books/writers before I read them but then forget and just start the book.) Hatmaker is apparently kind of famous and has written multiple books and several are probably not my cup of tea (she seemed to have an a-ha moment at some point) I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the honesty Hatmaker brought forth about privilege and the humor of being humble. A.

30. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens (coming-of-age fiction)- I definitely didn’t know what to expect here and I wasn’t that impressed with it until about halfway through and then I was enthralled. Give it a go and give it time. A.

31. The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah (historical fiction)- This book stuck with me for several days after I finished it and while not an true account of anyone’s life it definitely had glints into what was possible in the lives of those living in Nazi-occupied France during WWII. The story itself is heartbreaking and will make you think about parts of war that you may never have dreamt of (if you’ve never lived in an occupied country). Hannah makes you think about the word hero and how complex that word really is. A.

32. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts., Brene Brown (professional development/self-helf)- I love this book. I love this notion. I love the idea that if we allow ourselves to become vulnerable the better people we can be-not just for ourselves but for everyone around us. I’m excited to read all of her works and tell everyone I know about it. Actually, if you have 3 minutes and want to learn something that will help you continue to be an awesome human, check out this little video based off one of Brown’s TED talks regarding empathy. A.

33. Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered : The Definitive How-To Guide, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (nonfiction)-Okay, confession time: because I use most of my time to listen to audio files listening to books, I don’t get a whole lot of time to listen to podcasts so…I’veneverlistenedtomyfavoritemurderIAMSORRY. Whew. Now that I got that out  I can say that I checked out this book because so many people were raving about it and it’s NOT really about true crime (okay there’s somecrime in it) but really it’s a collection of stories from Kilgariff and Hardstark’s lives and includes one of my favorite topics-making new friends with people who are just as weird as us! Adored it, adding it to my list of books to read when I need a pick me up (currently on that shelf are Jenny Lawson’s books Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, BJ Novak’s One More Thing, and Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type: Some Stories). A+

34. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown (professional development)- So someone told me that given that I had read Dare to Lead before Daring Greatly, I may not be as impressed. They were right.  Daring Greatly offered some insight to back stories that I didn’t know however and I still benefited from this work. If you want to read one or the other, I suggest Dare to Lead. B.

35. Five Feet Apart, Rachael Lippincott (young adult fiction)- I wanted to read this before I watched the movie and I am interested in this story because my friend who has CF wrote about how it contrasts and compares to real life with CF. (You should also check out my friend because she’s awesome.) I enjoyed the story, I cried a few tears, I was reminded to get my flu shot to ensure that others around me stay healthy. A.

36. Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life, Annie Spence (nonfiction, humor)- This book is a great way to remember books you haven’t read in a long time, or to get some new recommendations. Peppered with humor and a great reminder of how important stories are to humanity. A.

I have surpassed my goal already this year! Confetti time!  The book I’m currently reading is quite long, so we’ll see how close I end up to 50 by 2020. Have you read any of these? What are you reading now?

(Literal) Hot Child in The City

I consider myself pretty lucky that I am still close with my college roommates. No, we don’t talk every day or see each other often, but I know that I could call either of them (I have two, and oddly they share the same name) and we can pick up where we left off. Both ladies were there in such an important time of my life and I am forever grateful that they weren’t total weirdos (at least, not in a bad way.)
KP and I lived together in an on-campus apartment for two years. We had a mascot-a large stuffed penguin named Petey. Our apartment was forever frigid in the winter because we refused to turn the heat past like 65*. On Sundays we had breakfast for dinner. KP was once afraid that all I did was eat cookies and sleep (because for the first semester we lived together, that’s pretty much all I did. Depression is a jerk that doesn’t care that you’re in college and it’s supposed to be the.best.time. of your life). I only remember a handful of small parties. Our décor was very college chic. We cried, we laughed, we have inside jokes that to this day make me uncontrollably giggle when I think about them.
Since graduating over 10 years ago, KP and I have made an effort to get together I would say, at least once a year. If it wasn’t for her, my wedding would have not have went as smoothly as it did (for that, I am forever grateful). We send each other birthday cards and “I miss you!” texts and I know that when I have a wacky adventure and need a partner, she’s pretty much always down.  So when I said, “oh hey there’s this pop-up bakery coming to Chicago, wanna go?” she was 100% ready for the ride. 
How do two college roomies for life do The Windy City in 24 hours during the hottest day of the year? Like this:
A few days before our weekend adventure, we realized that the weather was going to be hot. Sizzling hot. Hottest day of the year hot. And most of our plans (okay, our one plan) involved standing in a long line outside for the MilkBar pop-up during the hottest part of the day. What do you do when there’s  no option B? Make option A work! I bought a sunhat, packed 4 tubes of sunscreen, and prepped all the water bottles before venturing off to the city.
I tend to feel that I represent farm chic’ in hats. Or look like Wayne Campbell. Party on.
Not even kidding. Protect that ghostly skin
KP and I made it to the Milkbar line, water, hat, and sunscreen in tow, about an hour after the pop-up opened. The line was wrapped halfway around the city block and we estimated an hour before we’d be eating all the things. The line crept along but Milkbar was kind enough to offer cold water and Gatorade to guest waiting in line. The best part? Most of our time in line was shaded (#blessed)! It was still warm but the shade definitely made it bearable. 2.5 hours later (Hah. Estimate fail) we made it to the front of the line and snarfed on some long anticipated treats! 
I’ve been a fangirl of Christina Tosi and Milkbar for a while now but haven’t been able to make it to a store location. I have baked some of her treats from her cookbook (bakebook?) but I could not wait to see how my imitations lived up to the real deals. KP and I tried 2 cookies, Milkbar Pie, and the Cereal Milk soft serve (cereal milk is iconic to Tosi). I was a fan of everything we tried but I think the Milkbar Pie was my ultimate favorite; followed by the cornflake-chocolate chip- marshmallow cookie. 
The Cake.
Our menu!
Was it worth 2.5 hours in blaring heat? Yes. Yes it was. 
Sadly it was too hot to take photos of the goods, so here is me-melting like the soft serve.
We then went for tacos at Big Star (where the pop-up was being hosted) and devoured our food like we hadn’t eaten all day. Because we hadn’t. Oops. (excitement fail.)
And how do you follow up heat, cookies, and tacos as it starts to rain on your Saturday roomie parade? Tasty drinks! What makes tasty drinks even better? Tiki tasty drinks!! Lost Lake was seriously the cutest little tucked away gem and we had a blast trying all the fancy beverages. 
KP and I were feeling great and my heart could not have been more full thinking about how lucky I am to still have her in my life. Having people in your life who understand your quirkiness and your history in such an acute and honest way is a true blessing. So when you have a dolphin made out of a banana in your drink and you’re slurping down cold alcoholic beverages into a dehydrated body things can get pretty downright hilarious-with no judgment.

(Also, small world moment: we asked the ladies next to us at one point to take the photo below and I noticed that one of them had an Illinois Marathon pop socket on her phone. Come to find out not only was she from my current place of residence but also grew up in the same town I did!) 

The drinks at Lost Lake are divine and if you’re looking for a place that’s a little less crowded than the other well-known tiki bar in Chicago-this place is it.

After cookies-tacos-beverages we decided it was time to go back to the hotel and recharge. We were staying on the Magnificent Mile which was a good location for basically everything we wanted to do (and it was a good price, yeah Groupon!) Once we felt a little cooler (both physically and emotionally, I needed to fix my sweaty life in both ways) we headed to what I can only explain as the IKEA of Italian cuisine. Have you ever heard of Eataly? I’m often tardy to the party but in case you too haven’t heard of this Italian IKEA: “Eataly is a large format/footprint Italian marketplace comprising a variety of restaurants, food and beverage counters, bakery, retail items, and a cooking school.”
It’s three floors of food, items to cook food, areas to learn how to prepare food, various vendors, food to eat, food hanging from the ceiling! It was intense and glorious and I thoroughly enjoyed it. While we waited for our table at one of the many restaurants we walked around and took photos with various food items (so many oddly-shaped cheeses) and I bought some peppercorns (when I see a weird spice, I want it. My spice drawer runneth over…into another spice drawer. And a cabinet.)
Truth time-I have about 45 photos of KP and various foods.
From the ceilings to the floors! Til the marinara drips down the walls


The food was delicious (the server subpar) and the company spectacular. I found a make-your-own cannoli kit. We perused the amazing dessert bar. My heart, soul, and belly were stuffed with all the good things.
The garlic scapes used to make this dish are from a farm local to where I live!

 The next day we had a few hours before KP had to catch her train. We stopped in a little diner close to the hotel called The West Egg (which, was not Gatsby themed?) before heading to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This museum is small in comparison to somewhere like the Art Institute, but the installations are well done and most definitely make you think and feel. I appreciated the Sunday crowd (not too busy that you couldn’t appreciate the art at your own pace) and that there wasn’t so much going on that you couldn’t get through everything in an hour. The gift shop was also selling items from my favorite business in South Africa, so huge bonus points there.  KP and I ended the trip by buying matching earrings and a quick hug at Union Station. 
It was a whirlwind trip-less than 24 hours really-but it was just what I needed.

Do Good.

I don’t have the capacity to even express myself regarding some of the horrific things going on in our world. It’s hard to be grateful for your own life and happy living it while be mad as hell, frustrated, and feeling guilt for the aforementioned ‘good’ feelings. I, too, grow tired of looking for helpers and being optimistic sometimes but I still come back to this quote time and time again. I can not stop doing my little parts to move the world forward in a productive way. I can not mend every heart, fix every problem, or argue to prove my every point. By I can do something, even a tiny little something, every day, for as long as I’m able.

 (If you’d like a free print out of this beautiful photo, visit this link)
Love you, friends.

More Books! April Through July Reads

Seems as though blogging keeps me accountable to my reading goal! We are pretty close to the mid-point of 2019 (how does this happen so quickly) and I’m feeling pretty good about my reading goal of the year! Here’s my recap from April to the end of June.

13. One Day in December, Josie Silver (love story, fiction)- I checked this out on a whim because I was in between loan requests and had a 3+hour drive one day. I was pleasantly surprised! Love stories really aren’t my thing but this one was read by two British people which automatically made it 1,000 times more charming. A quick read that I quite enjoyed. A
14. On the Come Up, Angie Thomas (fiction, young adult)- Yet another poignant and incredible story by Thomas.  Almost as heartbreaking as The Hate U Give and just as eye-opening. (I was finally able to watch The Hate U Give and was sad to see a few things changed from the book [isn’t that how it always goes?] but still an amazing story.) A
15. This Will Only Hurt a Little, Busy Phillips (autobiography)- So, full disclosure, the only TV show I know Phillips from is Freaks and Geeks (RIP). I didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek, Cougar Town, or ER…but I have watched White Chicks (which she wrote)-so going into this I really wasn’t sure what to expect but you know what? It was a good story. A dang good story. I had absolutely no knowledge of her work for women’s rights, her latest talk show, nothing,  but I am really glad I read this one. She is funny and tells it ‘how it is’ (such a lame phrase, but true in this respect). Good job, Busy-and happy birthday! A
16. Whiskey in a Teacup, Reese Witherspoon (autobiography? cookbook?)- I like Reese Witherspoon but this book was a tad confusing in audio format. It was very short and mostly supposed to be a cookbook that walks you through her upbringing in the South (bless her heart). It was fun to hear a few stories about her childhood and the Southern conventions that mean so much to Witherspoon but this one is best read with your eyeballs. B
17. The Power of Habit,  Charles Duhigg (personal development)- I enjoyed the stories Duhigg collected throughout this book, however it was much more a story-telling book than a ‘here are some concrete things you can do to have amazing habits!’ book. Still, it was full of captivating stories and I definitely feel like I learned something from reading it. B
18. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson (historical non-fiction)- This type of book is not something I actively seek out but it was recommended to me by a couple folks (including my husband). There’s been talks that it will be a movie (?) soon so this seemed like a good time to give it a go-and it did not disappoint! I really enjoyed Larson’s writing style and his ability to weave together the two stories: the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and America’s first serial killer, H. H. Holmes. Creepy enough to keep my attention, analytical enough that I didn’t have nightmares, win! A
19. How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, Clay Scroggins (personal development)- I had high hopes for this book but it was a disappointment. See my note below about personal development books (this is a #2). D
20. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, Lindy West (autobiography)- A friend suggested this one to me and I L-O-V-E-D it! Lindy writes about what it’s like to be a fat woman and all the trials that may come with that. She doesn’t apologize for a damn word (not that she should) and I am grateful to have read this book when I did. I learned more from this book than any of the ‘personal development’ books I read this quarter (maybe ever). The book was also adapted into a TV show for Hulu and I can not wait for the second season to show up! A+,10/10, definitely would recommend to a friend (I have, like 5 of them so far).
21. Get Your Shit Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do so You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do (A No Fucks Given Guide), Sarah Knight (personal development)-I always enjoy learning from someone who curses a lot.  Knight has several other books that I’ll read but I didn’t find this particular one as empowering as some of the others I have this year. However, Knight was the first writer in this genre that blatantly said she knows she has privilege and assumes the privilege of her readers! I was so impressed by this statement and I have a lot of respect to her for doing this. B
22. The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin (personal development)- Oh Gretchen Rubin (if you’re not familiar with her, she is responsible for The Happiness Project and the like). Just so everyone knows, I’m a Questioner that leans Obliger. Rubin has not studied human behavior or psychology in any formal sense and based this book totally on her own research (mostly surveys and a lot of observation) but what more can you really do when writing a book on personality traits and assessments? (I’m in the camp that personality tests are super fun (I’m an INFJ, by the way) but much like horoscopes (I’m an Aries, although I heard they recently revised the charts so maybe I’m now a Pisces which has always made more sense to me) they’re not sound science. So, it is what it is. C
23. You Don’t Look Your Age…and Other Fairy Tales, Sheila Nevins (essays)- Another one I checked out just for the heck of it and enjoyed. A collection of essays on varying topics of what it’s like to be female from a woman who is a badass (If you don’t know who Sheila Nevins is, look her up!) B
I think I may reach my goal by the end of July! Maybe I’ll shoot for 50 books this year. I will be starting to learn conversational French by audio soon, so that may slow me some-we’re going to Paris in March and I want to be at least somewhat prepared to ask where the closest croissant is…
Before I go, I wanted to share just a little ditty on my takeaways regarding ‘personal development’ books. Look, I’m glad we changed the phrase to personal development from the cringe-worthy ‘self-help’ label  but a rose is still a rose and it feels awkward to not put the term in quotes. Anyway-
My note on ‘personal development’ books:
I have now read more than a handful of ‘personal development’ books and they seem to fall into three camps:
  1. The ‘I went to *insert Ivy League School here* and I’m going to ignore the privileges I have and just tell you that with some ‘elbow grease’ you too can be Bill Gates’ camp. These folks (minus Knight, as I mentioned above) usually have some sound advice, don’t get me wrong, but the lack of insight to the built in privileges drives me up a wall.
  2. The ‘Through *insert religion* all things are possible’ camp. Hey, if this is your philosophy in life I have nothing but love for you but don’t try to guise your motivation in personal development. These books drip of privilege as well, and I typically return them early.
  3. The ‘I’m going to curse a lot so this doesn’t feel like a lame ‘self-help’ book’ camp. I tend to like these the most. I also find them to be the most genuine books. The writers tend to not just talk about themselves the entire time and recognize that just because it works for them does not necessarily mean it’s going to work for you. This is very much my own motto when ‘giving advice’ so perhaps that’s why I tend to gravitate toward them.
What’s been your #1 read this year?

A Year in the Life a Hot Dog Ambassador

Here ye, here ye, your Royal Highness The Queen of Wien is now presiding.
So remember when I wrote about my love of hot dogs and how it landed me the sweet title of Midwest Ambassador for the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council? Well it’s hard to believe it, but it has been just at a year since my title was bestowed to me-and what a year! I mean c’on folks, cut the mustard here, your constant fawning over me is just too much!
Wait. That’s not right. Pretty much this is how this year as went:
I was through the moon when I was picked. I don’t know if I pointed out that I am the only woman to have this title and that means more to me than the title itself (almost). I laughed and turned beet red when I told people I won at first and was even interviewed for our internal newsletter at work. So the first few months it took me a while to get over the fame and prestige that comes with such an endeavor… 
But come to find out, a lot of titles are just for show. I have a shiny badge and a shirt that says ‘wiener warrior’ on it but ultimately I just get to tell stories about why I love hot dogs a lot when people find out who I am (I know, I KNOW, they should already have this information but.)
I get a lot of funny looks and giggles for talking about my love of the wieners but ultimately my life has stayed relatively normal this year. Fame has not gotten the best of me, folks! Don’t you fret!
The coolest thing that has happened is when I went to the local Portillo’s and sheepishly told them that because of my badge of honor I am technically entitled to a discount (yeah, quite a privilege here). The three ladies behind the counter all looked at my badge in disbelief and asked multiple times if I was serious. Once I assured them that yes, they were indeed in the presence of royalty they gave me my food FOR FREE!
And that’s what it’s like to be the Ambassador. It’s not the life for everyone, but heavy is the belly that eats the (hot) dog. Oh, on a serious note? I may get a hot dog tattoo to mark this joyous occasion.
Happy National Hot Dog Week! Go enjoy some encased meats!

“Scoot Over, You Drive”

Recntly I took a literal drive down memory lane after dropping my best friend off at her house-It just happens that she now lives a few miles from where I ‘grew up’. ‘Where I grew up’ is a loaded phrase really, and is one that my answer for probably doesn’t match what most people know about me. While I physically spent more time of my childhood in one city with my mom, I consider that I ‘grew up’ where I spent my weekends-out in the country with my grandparents. While I’m not sure what the actual percentage was, I’m certain that I spent every other weekend with my grandparents (who, technically, would be my maternal grandfather and his wife, my ‘step’ grandma. My maternal grandmother passed away when I was 5. I remember her briefly but we’ll save that for another day).  This is a story about ‘growing up’.
My grandpa was my best friend. He was my resiliency factor. He is the person at the center of my life that continues to push me forward even today. To know Wayne was to love him and to love him was a treat. He was incredibly creative-making up ghost stories (I have a cassette tape of one of these-complete with sound effect!), drawing whatever I asked him to, and creating amazing things out of almost any medium (wood-working was by far the one I remember most.  I posted some of his work on my Instagram). I was his shadow and now I consider him mine. So when he got sick in 1996, I was concerned and scared but ultimately didn’t think he’d die. Sadly, that wasn’t how it worked out and he passed away shortly after the story I’m getting ready share.
My grandparents lived in the country-surrounded by woods and wildlife and dirt roads and people who all knew each other. I road my bike and played in dirt and waded through creeks (pronounced ‘cricks’, just in case you were wondering). I listened to country music and weeded the garden and ate anything I could grab from said garden. When I think back to what really were just several short years of my life so far-all I can remember is happiness. I remember going to sleep every night feeling safe. I vividly recall what well water tasted like and learning to cook with grandma. They both taught me so much in those few years (1991-1996) that I still use to this very day.
And one of those skills just so happens to be driving. What comes next is a story of a rite of passage that happens ‘out in the holler’: An eleven year old kid getting their first driving lesson down a dirt road in a pick-up truck.
About where we pulled over
I remember it was early winter and, actually, it may have taken place the last weekend my grandpa was alive. We had just driven to ‘town’ (sadly I drove through this ‘town’ and it’s nothing but a ghost of what it once was. The library where I checked out my favorite book on how to make drawings out of your thumbprint and Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time was still open. And so was the gas station.) for who-knows-what and were on our way back to the house when Grandpa turned down a side road and pulled over. He looked at me and said, “scoot over, you drive!” and I remember being so confused and excited that I did just that without any hesitation. Now, I barely remember what I had for dinner last night but I can say that I can recall this moment like it just happened. He jumped out as I moved over to the driver’s seat and got into the other side. I put on my seat belt, he moved the bucket seat as close to the wheel as it would go in his ’94 Chevy Silverado, and turned the radio down as I started to put the trunk into drive…and we were off. I probably went 5 miles an hour but what.a.rush.
I often drove (rode?) the riding lawn mower around my grandparent’s 3 acres (which was actually a ginormous hill? I’m still not sure how I’m alive but hey) but driving a truck was incredible! The gravel crunched under us, the sky was a steel-blue, and my Grandpa was teaching me how to drive.
He taught me so much that I can’t even put into words. Yes, he taught me how to drive a car but ultimately he showed me how to navigate my life.  It was a few short years but it is when I ‘grew up.’
This was the first moment in a very long time that I decided to stop long enough to remember it all and to feel all the emotions that flood back when I think about my childhood. When I drove down the gravel road to their former home I found myself holding my breath. The house has changed so much but the barn is still there. There were remnants of the garden. My favorite trees still stood tall.
Accidental meta
(the past is always closer than it appears).
The Bridge
Close by the house is a spot I loved to go to and was lovingly referred to as the ‘The Bridge’. It’s only about 50 yards from the house at the bottom of a hill. “Grandpa, I’m riding my bike down to The Bridge!” “Let’s go walk to The Bridge and throw sticks in!” (My favorite game, which was modeled after Pooh Sticks if you know that one.) Instead of being a super creep and pulling into the current owner’s driveway all I-used-to-live-here-so-can-I-be-weird-and-park-here-while-I-go-reminense?, I decided to go park at The Bridge. I didn’t stay too long. But I felt it. I know it’s kind of cliché but truly, I felt my childhood-in the air, in the rocks, in the sounds. The warm sun, the butterflies (okay I know I’m being all sentimental here but can I JUST SAY I do NOT remember insects growing up and while this  moment was uber important to me it was interrupted by my annoyance of being dinner to some 50 freaking mosquitoes. Who let those turds move in?)-it was everywhere.
While these pictures truly won’t mean much to anyone and are probably just some mediocre ‘wilderness’ shots, know that this is me. Those trees reverberate the beat of my heart. This is my protected and sacred ground. You never know what you’re really going to remember, or what is going to impact you as you mature. Adults never know if what they’re ‘doing’ is what is ‘best’ for youth. So I guess what I’m trying to say here is two-fold: appreciate who and what has molded you. You can have roots and wings but your heart will always know where home really is.  I’m also trying to convey what we read on inspirational posters everywhere-take the moments you can when you have them. Quality will always prevail quantity. I had 11 years, and really only 6 ‘down in the holler’ with Grandpa and Grandma-yet my heart still knows where it belongs.
We often when out looking for deer. 
This pretty lady showed up.

My Crick