- Had fun in the photo booth at Gilt Bar
- Visited the Catcade
- Took control of my hair loss by getting my hair cut and later shaving my head
- Donated my hair to charity
- Colored my hair with a Sharpie
- Finished knitting an afghan for my brother
- Went to Story Sessions at City Winery
- Added romance to chickpea burgers
- Knitted a ridiculously long stocking cap
- Escaped another room
- Attended a Seder for the first time (and found the afikoman, thus winning a major award!)
- Finished chemo—fucking hooray!
- Made funnel cakes at home
- Had a lumpectomy (especially notable since I was originally was looking at a mastectomy before chemo shrank my tumor down to almost nothing!)
- Helped produce Monsters, Myths and Other Matters
- Got a Lyft with Snoopy
- Had fun with new hair colors
- Got a Kit-Kat clock
- Kept up with my Spanish lessons (almost daily)
- Danced on the ceiling
- Leaped into a pot of happiness
- Played in a confetti room
- Hugged a giant rubber duck
- Gave and received henna tattoos
- Completed Julaiku for a fourth year
- Educated people about feral shopping carts
- Saw Anthony Rizzo’s 1000th career hit (live and in person)
- Banged the gong after finishing radiation therapy
- Made use of the emergency crown that I keep in my wallet
- Applied to be a Cards Against Humanity writer
- Was depicted in painting
- Visited House on the Rock as an adult for the first time
- Visited the National Mustard Museum
- Got crafty with my husband
- Knitted a shrug
- Saw some cool stuff during Open House Chicago
- Visited the American Toby Jug Museum
- Visited Few Distillery
- Took some pretty cool black and white photos
- Went on a major organization kick and finally made a dent in my clutter
- Sent a goat to a friend
- Got my old tattoo spruced up
- Finally got the new tattoo I’ve been talking about for ages
Forty-three Notable Things I Did While I Was Forty-three October 24, 2018
Straight Talk About Feral Shopping Carts August 3, 2018
During the warmer months of the year, I spend quite a lot of time walking and riding my bike on the path in the forest preserve near my house. I’ve been frequenting this preserve for more than a decade now, and until quite recently, feral shopping carts were a pretty rare sight there. Sure, I saw a few over the years, but I certainly didn’t consider them a problem.
A little over a month ago, I spotted this cart. Having seen feral shopping carts in the past, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it normally, but it’s bright orange color and the fact that it was flipped on it’s end made it stand out to me. My initial impulse was to help it by setting it on its wheels, but I know better than to get too close to a feral cart. They have been known to ram and scratch and are notorious for spreading disease.
A week or so later, I spotted another cart, and then another just a few days later. Before I knew it, just over a month had passed, and I had seen seven feral shopping carts in that time. I can’t say for certain that each sighting involved a different cart, but there were at least four of them–I know this because of their distinct markings. I could no longer deny that feral shopping carts were becoming a problem in my neighborhood forest preserve.
In an effort to curb this growing problem and prevent similar issues in other areas, I feel compelled to offer the following tips on how to avoid contributing to the problem.
- Do your part to keep carts from going stray. If you use shopping carts provided by retailers, return them to the proper places after you have finished your shopping. Proper places include depositories within stores (usually placed near the exits/entrances) and conveniently placed corrals in parking lots. Do not leave your carts free to roam in parking lots, as this increases the likelihood of their escape. Besides, only sociopaths abandon their carts uncorraled.
- Do not set shopping carts “free.” You may think that by taking a cart out of a store or parking lot, you are opening it up to a glorious and free life, but that’s not the case. Most carts have spent their entire lives in captivity and have not developed the skills necessary to fend for themselves. Sadly, some carts have been altered by store owners who aim to slow shoppers down in efforts to increase the time (and thus money) they spend in stores. Such alterations further hinder carts’ survival in the wild.
- Resist the impulse to acquire your own cart. Think carefully before bringing a shopping cart into your home. Sure, shopping carts are cute and fun, especially when they are young, but remember that they require care and commitment. The sad fact is that many shopping carts acquired on impulse end up being neglected. Often, these carts run away or are “set free” from their neglectful homes and must survive in the wild (see above for more on this) .
You may be wondering if there are trap-neuter-release (TNR) programs for shopping carts (as there are for feral cats in some communities). Unfortunately, at the present time, it’s not possible to spay or neuter shopping carts as they have no discernible genitalia. In fact, although shopping carts hav long been reproduced in laboratories, scientists remain mystified as to how they breed in the wild. Thus, the best defense against an out-of-control shopping cart population lies in not letting the carts get out in the first place.
We can solve this problem if we all do our part!
Do as I Say, Not as I Do July 24, 2018
Painted on the path:
“Always finish what you st”
No Myth May 16, 2018
I’ve been a part of the Budlong Woods Writers for years now, and we just published our second collection of poetry, prose, and photography, Monsters, Myths and Other Matters. I invite you to check it out!
I don’t recall exactly when my husband Ian first mentioned the 2017 solar eclipse to me, but it was at least 2 years ago. I had been in Peoria in 1994 and had seen the annular solar eclipse, which was pretty cool. Weather permitting, a total eclipse would be much more impressive, so I said was down for a road trip to be in a good viewing spot for that. In the following 700+ days, we revisited the topic occasionally, then with increasing frequency as E-day drew nearer. Vague ideas gradually gelled into firmer intentions, and we eventually had a plan for a fun road trip and great geekery with some good friends.
In early July our plans to travel downstate for the event came up in casual conversation more and more often. I sometimes forget that not everyone is married to someone with an astronomy degree and had not been hearing about the eclipse for years, so I was a little surprised by how many people were unaware there was an eclipse in our near future. By late July/early August, though, people had started to catch on. With each day, I saw more news items and Facebook posts that mentioned the eclipse. I admit I may have rolled my eyes a little at people who were just starting to get hip it. After all, I was an eclipster–I had been into this long before most people.
With just days to go, I began to hear stories of people scrambling to obtain and/or pay exorbitant prices for proper eye-wear and started to think that maybe we should have gotten more than 6 pairs of glasses and made some sweet bank by price gouging. Meanwhile, Ian did the final test runs with our new camera and solar filter. I procured road-trip snacks and chose a knitting project to work on for at least part of our time in the car. Texts began to fly about what we were going to do about watching Game of Thrones on Sunday. That question had not occurred to me as I haven’t watched the show or read the books, but appropriate plans were arranged.
On Sunday evening, Ian and I (along with fellow eclipsters Rachel and Matthew) drove from Chicago to Peoria, the home of the remainder of our crew (Michelle and Friday). That evening’s Game of Thrones episode was waiting on their DVR. As it aired, I occupied myself with other things but did have my attention drawn to the show by flaming undead bears and an epic javelin throw. I also recall a fair bit of shouting at the television. I know close to nothing about Jon Snow, but apparently he doesn’t plan very well.
We set off bright (well, actually somewhat dim) and early Monday morning. Our intended destination was Goreville, IL, but we knew that traffic would be heavy and unpredictable and were content to stop anywhere within the path of totality. For much of the way, we avoided the interstate in favor of state roads, where traffic was certainly heavier than usual but not too bad. We passed the time with activities like a Bohemian Rhapsody sing-along and Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon, Serial Killer Edition*.
During a pit stop in Vandalia, we perused the souvenirs available at a gas station. In addition to the variety of mainly gun/hunting-themed signs, stickers, and mugs, they offered US-state shaped magnets for every state (well, there were slots for all of them, but several non-IL magnets were sold out, which brings many questions to my mind). Little known fact–Canada is actually a US state (at least according to this display); we had great fun pointing this out to Matthew, who originally hails from the Great White North. We also discovered coffee nut M&Ms (thumbs up) and got some breath-freshening, on-theme Eclipse gum before getting back on the road.
We got on I-57 a bit south of Vandalia, and traffic flowed pretty smoothly for a little while but then slowed dramatically, and before long, it became clear that we were unlikely to make it to Goreville in time. Rather than risk being trapped on the interstate between exits, we got off I-57 in Benton. At that point, we were already within the path of totality but went a little further south, eventually stopping at a park in Johnston City roughly an hour before totality. Ian got the camera set up with time to spare before the eclipse began.
There were a few other small groups of people in the park, and a few more arrived shortly after we did. We laughed and took pictures of each other wearing funny-looking glasses and looked skyward through protective filters as the moon started to gradually edge its way in front of the sun. We hydrated, snacked, and took refuge from the heat in the shade of trees. Someone in the park played the obligatory Bonnie Tyler song. Rachel made PAC-MAN noises. We made pinhole “cameras” with our thumbs and forefingers and looked at the resulting tiny crescents cast upon the ground. We texted with friends and family members both inside and outside the path of totality. The light around us started to dim, resembling that of an overcast day, but with mostly clear skies. An exciting eeriness descended on us, and I began to understand why, before anyone figured out what was really happening astronomically speaking, our ancient ancestors were more than a little freaked out by total eclipses.
Then came totality. I can show you pictures of the sun’s corona and the sky otherwise looking like sunset in every direction. I can try to describe the experience with metaphor and say that there was electricity in the air as everyone in the park marveled and gasped, alternating between excited chattering and speechlessness, as we all drank in those two-ish odd minutes. But I know I really can’t do it justice. I’ve had a few experiences in my life that have made me understand what the word breathtaking truly means–this was one of them.
With totality behind us, we hung out in the park for a while longer, still buzzing about what we had just witnessed and watching as the moon slid out of the sun’s way. When it was all over, we packed up and headed for the nearby Dairy Queen where we enjoyed frozen treats and got our first looks at some of the pictures after they’d been transferred to an iPad. We started to kick around ideas for the 2024 eclipse, which included some talk of a ukulele band (Total Ukeclipse?), as well as customized t-shirts and/or hoodies.
Around 3:30 pm, we started toward home, Michelle and Friday heading back to Peoria, and the rest of us toward Chicago. Traffic was slow, even on state highways. Google Maps projected a travel time of just under six hours, which we took with a grain of salt. Additional grains of salt were added as traffic continued to crawl. After we’d been on the road for two, three, and then four hours, Google Maps continued to predict that we’d arrive home in around five hours. We remained cheerful, reminding ourselves of what an incredible experience we’d just had. Plus, we got to see some cool lightning and a rainbow on the way home.
I recall it was still somewhat light out when Matthew, who planned to work on Tuesday, started to joke that we might need to drop him off at work on the way home, as he might not have time to actually go home first. There was the small problem that he was wearing shorts and needed pants to go to work, but several potential solutions were offered: 1) we could stop at a 24-hour pants emporium; 2) I could knit him some pants, which, with the yarn selection I had on hand, would be technicolor dream pants; 3) he could barter for pants at a rest stop.
Around 9:30, Michelle texted to say she and Friday had finally made it home. At the time, we were at a rest stop north of Effingham (as was roughly 2/3 of the state’s population by the looks of it), still more than 250 miles from home. Rachel urged Matthew to consider not going in to work on Tuesday if we got home after midnight.
It was my turn to drive, and for about two hours, we made slow but decent progress. For some stretches, I actually drove at or near the speed limit. Then, around Rantoul, traffic came to a dead stop. We were stuck with nowhere to turn around and no exit for seven miles. Every few minutes, we inched forward a little. Signs told us the left lane was closed 4.5 miles ahead. Reports indicated that this lane closure was supposed to have been suspended in the days surrounding the eclipse, but apparently that had not happened, and there had been no signage in advance to divert traffic to an alternate route on a state highway. However, short time later, when blinding sheets of rain began to roll through the area, I was actually grateful not to be driving more than a few miles per hour.
About two hours later, we finally reached the next exit, stopped to switch drivers, and continued on Highway 45. Some time around 3:30 am, I remarked that Rachel’s previous comment about possibly getting home after midnight seemed like a quaint, distant memory. We finally made it to our house just after 4:30 am, approximately 13 hours after we’d departed. Rachel and Matthew left for their apartment, Matthew having long ago abandoned plans to go to work (with or without pants). As Ian and I collapsed into bed, we mumbled about plans to sic undead flaming bears on the Illinois Department of Transportation.
All that said, it was totally worth it.
* Eg, John Wayne Gacy: 1) Brian Dennehy portrayed John Wayne Gacy in To Catch a Killer. 2) Brian Dennehy was in First Blood with Sylvester Stallone. 3) Sylvester Stallone was in The Assassins with Julianne Moore. 4) Julianne Moore was in The Hunger Games movies with Donald Sutherland. 5) Donald Sutherland is the father of Kiefer Sutherland. 6) Kiefer Sutherland was in Flatliners with Kevin Bacon.
Barcelona Wrap-Up: Sky Buckets and Selfies With Jesus August 5, 2017
Wednesday was our last full day in Barcelona, and although I wasn’t looking forward to the end of vacation, I had also been eagerly awaiting this day, as it would mean adding another European Ferris wheel to my collection. We started off breakfast (which included a delicious avocado waffle) at Alsur Café Luria and then headed over to Plaça de Catalunya and inquired at an information where to catch the bus to Tibidabo. The woman in the booth told us the park was closed, and I quickly became crestfallen, thinking I was going to be cheated out of yet another European Ferris wheel opportunity. “Are you sure?” I don’t even remember whether was Rachel or I who said it. “Just the other day, people here told us that the park was open Wednesday through Sunday.”
“Hang on, let me double check.” The woman consulted her colleague in the booth and then her computer. During what seemed like several minutes but was probably more like 45 seconds, I told myself there were plenty of other awesome things we could do if the park was closed, and I scanned my brain for options—visit the Picasso Museum and the chocolate museum, buy more souvenirs, drink more cava… Finally the woman spoke again. “My mistake. The park is open today.”
I admit that I heaved a sight of relief as she directed us toward the right bus stop, and I briefly wondered if I was a tad too emotionally invested in the idea of riding another Ferris wheel. It was a fleeting thought though, and before long, we were gleefully aboard the bus to Tibidabo. Well, I was grateful. Rachel was somewhat apprehensive. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, she wasn’t super excited about the Ferris wheel as she isn’t terribly keen on heights (a bit ironic for a flight attendant if you think about it), but, being the awesome friend that she is, she’d agreed to ride with me. Actually, I myself am kind of iffy about heights, but my fear is very situation-specific. I stay as far away from the edges of cliff edges as I can, and even steep staircases get my heart racing. However, if I’m enclosed and feel like I can’t easily stumble and/or fall, I tend to feel OK.
When we got to Tibidabo, of course, we headed immediately to the Ferris wheel. It’s a small park, and the lines were not long, so in no time we were riding Giradabo, another European Ferris wheel dream finally being realized. After that, we went on a ride call Talaia, which Rachel and I referred to as Sky Bucket. Rachel held on tightly and bravely grinned through gritted teeth as Sky Bucket carried us up almost as high as the statue atop the nearby Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
We rode the roller coaster and attempted to ride the log ride, but one of the logs got stuck (you might even say there was a log jam!), and it was shut down. We decided that was our cue to stop for some beer and tapas.
We also rode the carousel and the aerial railway ride. Both were fun, but I couldn’t help but feel that some of the aerial railway experience was lost on us because it included narration that was far behind beyond our poor Spanish comprehension. What I can tell you is that, one point we apparently flew into the sun, which was not as hot as one might think. A short time later, we passed through some sort of laboratory where strange beings were being created and grown. Then a cackling witch popped out of nowhere and startled the bejesus out of us.
We also visited the automaton museum at the park, which was cooler and much less creepy than I’d expected. It wasn’t completely without a creepiness factor, though. One of the automatons featured both monkeys and clowns, so Rachel was not the only to face some fears that day. The hell automaton was also a bit creepy but also kinda cool, and the one with ballroom dancing was just comically fast.
Next, we went to the hall of mirrors, where we donned oversized plastic gloves. They made our hands sweat like crazy, but they prevented fingerprint smudges on the mirrors, which really would have detracted from what as a fun and kind of trippy experience.
We made it out of the mirror maze without having to consult Google Maps (not that we would have been any less confused had we done so), rode the Ferris Wheel one more time, and then caught the bus back down to the city. Seated in front of us was an adorable redheaded toddler (and her parents), who began smiling shyly at us and then started making funny faces (which we, of course, reciprocated). After a few pleasant minutes of that, she started to shriek for no apparent reason, and that was what she continued to do for pretty much the rest of the ride.
Once back in the city, we did some more souvenir shopping (my end-of-vacation souvenir panic was starting to manifest) and ate dinner at Vegetalia. In the evening, on the way back to our hotel, we caught the Montjuïc fountain show.
Our voyage home the next day was not quite as smooth as our trip out had been, but not bad, all things considered. We didn’t get on our first-choice flight (to Atlanta) but got one to New York (JFK) a couple hours later. At JFK, we took a bus to the C terminal where the next flight to Chicago was to depart, but shortly after we arrived there, the gate changed, so we got back on the bus to the B terminal and couldn’t help but notice several emergency vehicles headed toward C terminal. We didn’t get on that first flight, and the next one was supposed to depart from…you guessed it–C terminal! However, it wasn’t due to leave for a few hours, so we decided to hang out at a wine bar in B terminal just in case there was another gate change. There, with a slight wine buzz and some jet lag, we had the somewhat surreal experience of being at JFK while watching the TV news, which featured people at JFK being interviewed about a fire that had broken out at the Panda Express in the C terminal (hence, the emergency vehicles).
Ultimately, we did end up going back to C terminal, and we got on the next flight by the skin of our teeth. In fact, the gate agent, who was non-revving on our flight, told us that he’d agreed to sit in the jump seat so we could get on the flight. We showered him with our sincere thanks, and I even offered him one of my mustache cookies, but he declined.
When we arrived in Chicago, it was late and we were pretty exhausted, but we were pleased to find that, not only had our checked bag beaten us home, but it was intact–no wine bottle breakage! ¡Olé!
After four nights in our hotel, I finally was able to remember which switch on the wall next to my bed corresponded to the bedside lamp and which controlled the room’s main lights. With this accomplishment, Rachel bestowed upon me the title Queen of Spain. It’s possible she does not actually have the authority to grant such a title, but I had no readily available proof that she didn’t, so I gladly accepted it.
We began our day with breakfast at the hotel, which, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned before was the Ayre Hotel Gran Vía, but owing to some humorous garbling in my brain, we had come to refer to as the Ariana Grande Hotel. Anyhow, the breakfast buffet was good, despite being somewhat treacherous (at least for a grace-challenged person like me) by tables placed too close together. It included chilled cava, so we could see no reason not to make ourselves mimosas to toast my coronation. There was a minor incident when I pressed the cappuccino button on the magic coffee machine and received only hot milk. Eager to remedy this grievous error, I pressed the espresso button, which delivered the sought-after caffeinated liquid but caused my cup to overflow and created a bit of a mess. How thoroughly embarrassing on the first day of my reign!
Next on our itinerary was a visit to Park Güell. To get there, we climbed numerous hills and roughly half the stairs in the world. In the middle of one of the staircases, we encountered a man who apparently thought it was the perfect time and place to initiate some sort of packing reorganization project. He had taken the contents of several plastic bags (bottles of soda and sundry items) and spread them out across most of the width of the steps (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, dude). All that aside, Park Güell was really cool and made me feel vaguely like I had stepped inside a Dr. Seuss book, albeit with less rhyming.
When we finished exploring the park, we set off in search of snacks, persevering through additional skirmishes with Google Maps and managing to evade a woman on the street who seemed to be trying her best to light us on fire with her cigarette (-1 point for lack of self-awareness, -1 point for attempted incendiarism of pedestrians). But it was all worth it, for, to the victors went the churros!
Since my vacations tend to feel incomplete without a visit to a local hat shop, we went next to Sombreria Mil. Upon entering the store, I knew I was about to undertake a marathon of trying on hats, so I removed the hat I’d been wearing, stuffed it into my purse, and got right to work. A few minutes in, while attempting to extricate a particular hat from a stack, I knocked over a foam mannequin head and sent a different stack of hats toppling to the floor. Then, in trying to tidy up that mess, I managed to drop the hats I’d been holding from the first stack. A shop employee rushed over to tend to the situation. Although I apologized profusely, she simply shot me a death glare and went about restoring order.
I shrugged it off, thinking that perhaps she was just having a bad day, and again began my quest of determining which hat would come home with me. Rachel also continued to try on hats, even though she’d all but decided she was going to buy the first one she’d tried on (which, I do have to say, was adorable). All this time, I couldn’t help but feel that the shop-tender was still giving me the stink-eye. Granted, I was a bumbling tourist who’d knocked some stuff over. Some righteous annoyance at me was reasonable, but I wasn’t sure I deserved the amount of ire conveyed by her glowers. After several minutes of this, I finally made eye contact with her, confronting her glare, and giving her a look as if to say What?!
“Could you open your bag, please?” she snapped.
That’s when it hit me. She must have glimpsed me stuffing my hat in my purse after entering the shop and thought I was stealing. “Oh!” I said, opening my bag wide and pulling out the hat. “I was wearing this when I came in!” I held it out for her to see, practically inviting her to examine the sweat stains and feel the slightly gritty film on it from being accidentally immersed in the sea the previous day. The woman’s face relaxed, she apologized, and the rest of the shop visit passed very pleasantly. Rachel and I both left with new (fully paid-for) hats.