Monday, August 31, 2015

Make Your Own Bacon!


Why not just make your own bacon, instead of bringing it home?

There's been lots to think about lately. I'm in the midst of a sort of chrysalis moment. Everything's suspended while I try to re-steer my life. Into freelance work. 
Typing that is scary. Trying to do it is scarier. 

The thing is, it's more rewarding. I hit my 2 year anniversary at Chicagoist last week. I took a trip through the archives to look at my first article and ended up perusing my journey thus far for a bit longer than expected. 

It's been amazing. I remember when I went to Station to Station, a "happening" at Union Station, and I was listed as "press" for the first time. I probably seemed way too giddy in a line full of tired and impatient writers and photographers, but I was beaming. I was on a list, I was getting access to something I'd already been interested in, and I'd be able to see it differently than a lot of people will have the chance to. 

I've talked to some of my favorite musicians, authors and comics and attended and photographed amazing events I'd always wanted to be a part of.  I've gotten to bring friends, loved ones and dates to things I couldn't actually afford to take them to without this opportunity. And I've made so many friends of the writers and editors at Chicagoist. It's been fantastic. There's not one second of that I'd want to change, even with spiked posts, misunderstandings, weird problems at events, broken down cars and forgotten cameras...

I can't say that about any 9 to 5 I've had, except maybe the bakery. 

Which is why I have to start "Actually Doing The Things." 

That picture was taken from the first story I had published for Chicagoist, "Come On, See Happy!" about an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center which centered around an artist's investigation of what it is and how to find it. 

The first story was born of me loosing some of my insecurity chains thanks to GISHWHES, which was borne of some heartbreak and a desire to do the things that "always sounded kinda neat" like a kayak trip or a giant scavenger hunt. 

Where, in the two years, have I left that behind? 
This post popped into my head today, after I'd spent about two hours sending pitches to places I'd procrastinated sending them for months. After I'd applied for some amazing jobs after doing just a little bit more research than I'd done prior. 

All of that in one day made me feel pretty good. 

Why don't we just move on the things we want, then? What's the fear? It's not like we can't try again if we fail the first time. 

In talking to the boyfriend about this, I thought of our recent cooking adventure, and our also recent start of a food blog. 

We made bacon. 
From scratch. Cured and smoked by us. About 9 lbs of glorious, thick cut bacon. 
It was part of our 52 weeks of cooking challenge on Reddit, and if you'd have told me before I'd be doing that...I wouldn't have thought so. Doing things from scratch always carries this connotation of difficulty, crazy amounts of time-sinkage and the distinct possibility of it turning out to be a Pinterest fail. 

But so what? Fail and learn. Fail and do it better next time. Make your own damn bacon!
In the end, it wasn't that hard. A little research, a little hands on time, some contraption constructing...and a week of waiting, and we've got 9 lbs of bacon for the price of 4. Good deal. 

I guess what I'm saying is...get out there. All of us just...need to toss those chains off and do the things we say we're going to. 

Make your own damn bacon!

And, if you'd like, check out how we did ours over on that aforementioned new food blog, Our Blue Plate Special. We hope to be updating it with new cooking adventures fairly regularly. 


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Here Comes The Regular...



The other night, I found myself at one of those bar/restaurant/arcade places. I was picking up a press badge for the con I'll be covering this weekend, and I'd never been to this particular one before. In fact, I haven't really been at those sorts of places much, if I'm being honest, though I do like to game.

Part of the night's festivities included us being given a card worth a free hour of play time. Quick scan on any machine and you get to play. Pretty simple, and I had a great time with Mario Kart, pinball, Galaga and Pac-Man. I didn't even expect it.

An hour's a pretty good amount of time, actually. At some point though, with about 15 minutes left my card kept coming up "Play time temporarily suspended."

For whatever reason I wondered what unknowable rule I'd broken first. Catholic guilt? I don't know. I tried switching games and it worked for me. In any case, I was able to continue my adventures with Night Moves pinball and go home feeling like a pinball wizard.

I'm feeling like something else tonight.
My brain kind of likes metaphors and similes, extended or not. Right now it seems like a way to talk about something I want to talk about without being more specific than I want to be.

I got to thinking about how without knowing why, my playing time got suspended. I kinda feel like that now.

There's plenty of reasons I can make up for why that would happen. Maybe I scanned my card too fast? Too much? Maybe I wore some part of the useful part of it off? Totally random glitch? To be honest, most of what I came up with had to do with me and what I could have done to cause it, even for something that small. Now I'm told that's a problem, and that it bleeds into other things and other places. I've been thinking about that a lot.

But I'm still thinking about what's happening in my life now that's suspending things. I feel like things were good, but they can't be as good again. I feel like I wore holes in things, or scratched off the most important bits. Maybe I swiped the card too much, insisting on keeping going, when I shouldn't have done that. I know I can be bull-headed and forgetful, either not doing things I should or blasting through a wall I shouldn'tve oughta.

Even worse, I'm wondering if it's really temporary. This thing, this rejected card I'm referring to, it feels bigger and worse than a temporary glitch. It feels like maybe I need to start again.

And at least with the cards, you can add more time. I don't know if I have that luxury. On top of that, the history is still there. Maybe the card says 0 minutes, but somewhere there's a record of where I went and what I did.

My habits are known, traceable.

I could start again as someone else, but maybe I like some of that history. Maybe I liked being a regular. Maybe I wanted to be known as a pinball wizard.

I could go somewhere else, start all over, be an unknown. But...I'm the sort who wants to settle in, who likes familiar places and faces.

I don't know if this solves anything, writing this, but at least, in a manner, it explains how I feel.
At a certain point, does time just run out permanently?
Can I really add time? Will the history hurt me? Will my scratching away ruin my own fun, or my ability to function here?
Has it already? Game over?
I really hope not. This is the last thing I want to lose.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When the sky goes dark...



It's funny how things come full circle sometimes. This particular post was sidelined for a while, due to weddings downstate, laziness on my part, and whatever other nonsense there is in the world. Perhaps a little bit of Chicagoist stuff too, which is neither nonsense nor laziness, but there you have it.

I took this picture from my dear love's house one night. If you don't already follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you may not know that I'm a huge storm nerd. It grew out of a severe fear of storms and tornadoes when I was younger. I used to mostly hide under tables or in closets when storms rolled in, but eventually, maybe around high school, I started to get into what made storms tick, and became more than a little obsessed with thunderstorms and tornadoes.

So it was not at all unusual on this summer night for me to be watching stormclouds gather in the distance from the window in our living room. It was around sunset, and the clouds were a purpley gray that I found rather neat. This particular storm was taking its time building. I was happily breathing in charged air, thinking a good storm was just what my garden needed.



Then it changed. It was churning. The purple was getting a bit jaundiced. Instead of the clouds billowing in neat vertical stacks or along the line of a wall cloud, they started to twist. Yellow and pink and grey mixed like a palette had been tipped over.  The wind picked up. It wasn't time for it to be dark, but it was getting that way.



Sometimes there's a change that happens and you can't explain it. The sky can be purple, pink and yellow all at once and we're sipping margaritas under a palm tree on the beach commenting on how beautiful nature is. This wasn't that though. This was a muddy sky, a sudden stillness and a sick spiral.  I felt the fear clawing a bit, so I drew the curtains and consulted my sweetheart.  He's not exactly the weather nerd I am, and not as quick to worry, but he opened the curtains, had a look, and put his warm, familiar hand on my back and gave it a few soft rubs.  Immediately, the fear fell back, and I felt like I could safely weather the storm. He may not have seen what I saw, and he may not have felt what I felt, but he was behind me, and he would be there.

On this particular night, not much happened. There was a severe storm, a lot of lightning and thunder, and a soaking rain.

I say things come full circle, because just three days ago, I sat on the basement stairs watching a different storm. The kitten sat with me and we watched it blow in quickly. The lightning was seemingly non stop, and the wind was already bending branches. I was waiting for the rain.

Things changed again. Clouds moving in one direction started spiraling in. Not only that, they began collecting into a wedge. I felt uneasy, and the wind died again.  The wedge grew larger, then began descending. And kept descending. The kitten jumped out of her window perch, and I ran into the living room, and said..."I don't like that cloud...it's really not right."

He took a look and agreed. The only comfort was that it looked to be past us, but that was short-lived, as the tornado siren roared to life not two minutes after. We ferried the cats and humans down to the basement, waited it out and resurfaced. It didn't miss this time. In fact, what I'd seen was an EF-1 tornado striking the southern part of our town and barreling head first into the neighboring towns. It levelled a pizza place my friend's dad worked at that I frequented in high school and after. It tore parts of the roof off of the high school there. In three separate cases, it was a block away from hitting the houses of loved ones.

Places I drive through every day were undriveable. Live wires sparked over houses whose lawns I ran barefoot through on some summer nights.  Giant trees that shaded town forever were ripped from the earth and snapped in half. It's frightening. It's amazing at the same time. I think the thing that's most interesting about tornadoes is the combination of their massive power and complete randomness.

You can't see it coming for days. It might jump one house and hit the next.  Yet it's this massive, destructive, insane force. Its winds are the most powerful on Earth, but it's there and it's gone. Sometimes, you get a few minutes of warning. Unfortunately, our warning came too late. You had to be watching the skies. I'm glad I was, and I'm glad those who may not have been made it out. It could have been so, so much worse.  Joplin. Moore. El Reno.

It's so weird. It's so...life.
You don't get warning.
One minute you're drinking a cocktail on a sunny lakeside patio, the next?
Who knows?
Maybe the ICU.
Maybe an accident.
Maybe a book deal.
Maybe...anything.

It's hard to know what to expect. It's hard when the storm hits, the power goes out, and trees block your way out of town.

Honestly? It's hard for me, right now. I don't have a job. I'm trying to steer the ship in the right direction, but it means taking some chances, it means it's taking longer than expected. It means money and time are running out and I don't have a solution.

But the same hand that was at my back when the sky got dark is still there. He's encouraging me, helping me grow, helping me forge a path.  My mother is standing behind me too, and my friends.
It's scary. I almost hoped someone would say "Just take any job, make money, stop dreaming."

But nobody is saying that. They're telling me they're going to help me through this storm a different way. They're telling me they're going to support me when it makes life harder for them. It's amazing, and when I think the sky's getting dark again, and I think of that, it chases that fear out of my belly all over again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How to Break Everything


I always laugh to myself a little when someone hurls out "You've got issues!!" at someone as an insult. It feels like grasping at straws, a desperate attempt to belittle someone in a moment of anger. It seems pointless to say something like that, at least to me.

I truly feel like no one comes through life unscathed. There's no person out there, having made it to adulthood, that has not encountered trouble, heartbreak, anger, abandonment. You might think Jennifer from Park Avenue has it made, with a butler and maid and nanny, her parents giving her money for a shiny new Mercedes and every beautiful "it" bag of every new season.  But you don't know if she's got parents who listen to her, who spend time with her, or who are really there at all. It's  a cliche, but the point is...yeah, let's face it. We all have issues.

"I'm broken" we wail into the blustery wind of a pity party.
I'm as guilty of it as anyone.

Trust issues? Check.
The feeling that my feelings don't matter or simply aren't important to anyone? Yup.
An overly developed need to prove myself as good enough/smart enough/enough? Surely.

And it's ok to say "hey, I'm like this because..."
It's ok to have anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, or to be an introvert. It's ok to be you.
It's good to know what your issues are, because at least if you're aware you do it, you can attempt to curb it if it's become harmful in your relationships with people.

Where you start to break everything is when you let it be ALL you are.
Or when you take it out on someone.
Or when you have someone do something that REMINDS you of the boyfriend who cheated on you/parent who abused you/boss who wrecked you emotionally and you take out all the frustration of those events in your life on them.

It's hard to watch someone walk out of a room when your relationship experience has been a bunch of people whose answer to any problem is to completely walk away or hold 2 week grudges. But if you don't let that happen, then the new person who realizes that he's angrier than he should be and needs to cool off before you can calmly discuss it may hit a boiling point.

Likewise, you can't just recognize it's an issue you have and then go no further with it. For this reason, I think maybe the better terminology for "issue" might *be* baggage. Baggage, if you think literally, is yes, something you carry around because you have to.  But when you have to, you also have to check on it, and do something about it, and make room for it. That's your responsibility, ultimately, though there are others along the way who can help (or hinder) with it. So you can't just recognize you have a problem and then say "It's just how I am." That's not responsible, and that's one more way to break everything.

I'm all for accepting people as they are. I think deep down we all want to find someone who will accept us as is, scars and all. We just can't turn around and smack them upside the head with our issues.

People will trigger the worst in you. They'll push those buttons that exist for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with them, or perhaps they do, but from before.

We get to choose how we react to that.  We have to choose, every single time.

Yes, we should be who we really are.
Yes, we should be accepted for who we really are, warts and all.

But if we want to make something good, and NOT break everything, we need to be more patient, more understanding, more self-aware, and try to handle those things we carry with more care, so that innocent bystanders don't get hurt.

It's a tough one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Life's Mixed Bag





There's this forum I started on back in my early 20s. And buried in their casual chat section, there's this category: Life's Mixed Bag.

There's also a forum for the bad things and the good things, but it's nice to hit mixed bag and see how it all leans on one day or another.

Today?

Let's get the scales out and see how it goes.

-I did not get enough sleep, and I had to drive in rush hour traffic to the city.
+ I did get to catch up on my podcasts, which is weirdly comforting.
+ I was going to the Field Museum for a media preview of the new Cyrus Tang Hall of China
+I was on time, comfortably
+They had amazing coffee.
+Got T-Rex shirt.
-Attacked by red winged blackbird outside museum when admiring lakefront views.
+It is GORGEOUS outside. Humid, but the lake breeze mutes that.
- I am still not employed.
+ I am still writing for Chicagoist, and therefore pursuing my dreams. ow
+Have wonderful boyfriend waiting for me at home.
+ Have new equipment to pursue said dreams.
-worried about length of time not "gainfully" employed
+ on a shaded patio writing this while eating a great burger and having a local brew.

Yeah, it tips pretty far to good.

A day or two ago I might have told you the entire sky was falling, and maybe it was. The ups seem really up and the downs really down lately.  I'm really trying to find a balance. Sometimes I feel I have absolutely no shit together, then sometimes I feel like I am doing better than expected.

I don't know what happens from here.
If I had my little way, my love and I would launch into a new future, hand in hand. We'd have our own little quiet place, he'd have less daily stress and maybe a puppy. We'd cook and laugh and watch our shows like we do now.  Maybe I'd be launching Albuquerqueist, and have my brilliant sunsets, endless sunshine, perfect green chile and mountains back. Maybe we'd live somewhere around here til we could do something like that, and I'd run off to cover stuff and come home to snuggle.

I need to get out of the temp loop, but it seems like that automatically means more time unemployed. And while that's been good in this particular scenario for a few reasons, I know the danger of the resume gap.

My worries, were I to list them, since that's how I started this, are:

Screwing up my relationship. I seem to not particularly be good at long term relationships, out of pure naivete. I try hard, but occasionally that leads to major fumbling. And while I don't want to find my value solely in my relationship, I do realize that this man is the best man I've known, and that we fit in a way that I have not fit with anyone before. Which is weird, because sometimes I see him as absolutely too together or analytical for someone as sometimes flighty and stubborn as I am. Sometimes, we say the same exact things at the exact same time, and think the same ridiculous things are funny.  Sometimes, we both are arguing and actually totally agree with each other, but I speak...whatever I speak, and he speaks something else entirely.

I'm not good when it's extemporaneous speech you want. I need to backspace, edit, delete and retry.

Career stuff.  I don't want to be a call center monkey, yet that is my past. I'm trying to steer the whole ship a different way, and I wonder how Titanicy that will get. I feel like I've got a portfolio that can launch me in a different direction, but I'm not exactly sure the roads to take, and what to look for.  I want to write. I want to photograph. I want to do....well, what I do for Chicagoist. I want to do that FOR chicagoist, and I want to do it day to day to make a paycheck. How and if I can swing that are...big questions. I need to be doing more, I think.

Family/Friends. I feel like there's a divide sometimes. I feel like I jumped into the relationship and got swallowed up, and I'm trying to catch up.  I feel like I've outgrown certain circles and things, but that's not the kind of person I really am either, to outgrow people who meant things to me. I am trying to budget time.

Self-improvement. I keep saying I need to get in a routine. Spend more time on appearances. I'm glad I don't feel the need to wear makeup anymore, and thank you, wonderful boyfriend, for that, but I still like it and want to master it. I want to finally get exercise into my daily routine, no questions asked. I need to keep writing, here, and keep photographing...everywhere.


So yeah.

I can't in good conscience sit here on a beautiful day in a city I love with great food, a great drink and a cool breeze and say I'm drowning.

I can say it's a hell of a mixed bag, and I hope to be able to turn that into something outstanding.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

An Old Leaf



So hello there, bloglandia. Or whatever this is called. I'm back. In fact, I'm back to stay. I've got a laptop which I can now use efficiently. The state figured their stuff out, and I invested in what I hope will be my future. I can actually use this laptop without it being plugged in! It's insane!

Writing to you all now from Chicago proper. Not on a story, on a dogsitting mission. Been here for the weekend with a lil' Papillon and a Corgi mix. I had the intention of finishing some Chicagoist stories and photo projects, but that hasn't quite happened. 

It's ok though. It's strange, but I've found little drips and drams of inspiration here and there during my stay. 

The first was the weirdest, so I'll explain that first. I used to watch this show...and it had this theme song. And it was a running joke with me and an ex of mine at one point, though I never really disliked the song.  Someone here might have heard of it, and if you know the song or the show, don't judge, friends, because everyone has their vices. Anyway, it was "I Don't Want To Be" by Gavin deGraw. But sometimes you need to hear something and there's no sense getting picky over how or where. 

Basically, I don't need to be anything other than a specialist's son. Daughter, y'dig. Either way...I think maybe some of what's been in my way lately is me trying to fix things by changing myself in a way I shouldn't. I mean yes, there's good changes to be made. A person can always learn to communicate better. How to fight fair, how to work together better.  

But you can't lose yourself in that. And if you do, you might end up hurting the very things and people you wanted to help by doing it.  It all sounds cliche, and part of it probably is, but maybe there's a reason for it. Cliche isn't automatically bad. And neither am I. Neither is who I am. Even my non-linear, scatterbrained self. But especially my self-reliant, smart, creative self. 

One other thing I realized this weekend is how far I've come. There's a lot of fears I faced to get where I am right now, and that could even be said literally. I didn't grow up around the city, and in fact, sorta grew into a fear of it. When I was older and went with other people, I started to see how amazing it was, and wanted to know more.  I dated someone who lived in the city and thought maybe one day I'd live here.  But I was afraid to drive, didn't know much about anywhere that wasn't Michigan Ave, and just...generally was afraid. I got in a sideswipe accident over by UIC years back on a trip with friends and from that point on was afraid to drive in the city- mostly because it was a CTA bus that forced me into another car that got me in that mess. 

Now...today...I'm learning how the pieces fit together. I'm able to drive in town like it's just another really big town. GPS helps a lot, of course, by making it easier to recover from a wrong turn, but still...I'm learning how neighborhoods flow into each other and discovering the unique flavors of each. Of course a lot of this is due to Chicagoist, something else that I wouldn't be doing had I not faced my fears.  That came out of GISHWHES, which came out of single me trying to do things that I always wished I'd do, like go kayaking or do a scavenger hunt. Then when I was getting bolder, things were nutty and I was asking CEOs to dance, I threw my hat in the ring and started writing. For real. Which has opened up an entire new world, and I am amazingly grateful. 

I have a byline. I have stories and contacts and encounters I couldn't have had I still been afraid to be here, or afraid to let anyone read my writing, though I've been writing since my kindergarten diary.
I'm stronger, life is better, because I faced those fears. So maybe? I need to remember both those things. I need to be bolder, and I need to be fearless.

Last? This afternoon I went over to the National Museum of Mexican Art. It's a stop I'd been wanting to make for Chicagoist, and it's not far from where I'm staying with the doggies. So I went over that way this afternoon, and I am *so* glad I did. The things I love about Mexican culture are so apparent in its art- it's all bold colors, so personal, so passionate...it wears its heart on its sleeve.  There's such joy in the culture, but those same bold colors and brushstrokes speak of suffering too, of being something other.

It's not my heritage, but it reminds me of New Mexico, and the things I loved about it as well. And it reminds me that the things that you love can tell you what you want.

I want to fly bold colors. I want to make things personal- by being closer to the people in my life, and more honest, and more open. By listening more and better, and by sharing more.  I want to be passionate...which I already am, but I want to let that blossom- I need to pursue things more doggedly, I need the things I love to sweat out of my pores.

And I need my heart back out on my sleeve. I think there's no sense in trying to tuck it away where it belongs. That doesn't mean getting carried away by emotion and not being able to be there for other people, but it does mean that I'm an emotional person, and I need to use that instead of trying to become someone else.

I don't know how all this looks yet...but I know it's what I want.

I want to turn over an old leaf, in a way, and look back on the things I already had that I need to have back.  And I want to use that to create a better me now that will be all bold paint and passion.

Let's see what happens from here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Best.Grandma.Ever. :)



The stunning woman in this ridiculously gorgeous handmade wedding gown is my grandma. 
She's also one of my favorite people in the entire universe, for good reason. 
Today is the day she turns 90 years old. 

So many people say that they have the best grandma ever, and I'm glad that they do. It means that they know what a treasure it is to have their grandma around and in their lives. So maybe instead of insisting "There can be only one" all Highlander style, we can agree that "best" is a title of honor which can be attained by a certain caliber of person. 

She is certainly someone to be admired. Grandma grew up in Polish Chicago. She played on the green grass in Humboldt Park, wandered to Wicker Park for shopping, and took in shows at the local theaters, now long gone. She met someone, and fell in love. 

She became a mother to four, three wonderful daughters and one great son. Sadly, she lost her husband when she was still young. So, now a single mom, she worked at a factory, learned to drive, and continued to be an amazing mother.

Family is so important to her. As our family has grown generation by generation, she has welcomed each new member with the same love. 

When my mother lost her own husband at a very early age, leaving her a single mom to an infant, my grandma was there. Her children were there. I grew up without a dad, but my life was so full of family- aunts and uncles and cousins who I knew I could count on and who loved me, and still do. My mom could count on my grandma to watch me whenever she could so that she could work or take a well deserved break. I was *always* at Grandma's house, and I always loved Grandma's house. 

Grandma played baseball with me, taught me to crochet, took walks with me and cooked with me. She was proud of me when I ate the vegetables other kids pushed aside. She put my school pictures in her wallet and my coloring pages from Cub Foods on the refrigerator. She signs every birthday card "I love you" just in case there was any doubt. 

Grandma has literally and figuratively held my hand through my whole life. She's taught me to pick up and save my pennies. She taught me to look at the clouds and imagine what shapes they make. She taught me how to grow things, and stop and smell the roses. She's been there for breakups and hard times, and she's reminded me to have patience for people when they're going through hard times, as well. She reminded me that real love shows through even the darkest of situations if you will just be patient and look for it, and it's a lesson that's led to a lot of happiness for me, and a lot more understanding. She is amazingly kind and thoughtful, and adds to her prayer list like some people add to their grocery list. She always hugs my boyfriend, and when he's going through something hard, tells him she's praying for him. 

She also makes amazing golabki, and has taught me that and so many other recipes that remind me of my heritage. She will feed anyone and everyone who comes through her doors, even if all you have room for is a Tic-Tac. 

At 90, she's a vibrant woman still full of humor, energy, wisdom and love. 
She is honestly the person I want to be, now and at 90.

Happy Birthday, Grandma.
I love you, too.