Midwestern Summer Nostalgia

I’ve spent 5 out of the last 6 weekends away from the city–on the shore of Lake Michigan, in a small lakeside town in central Wisconsin, and camping along the banks of the Wisconsin River. I return to these same places every summer, spending a good chunk of my July and August floating in freshwater and soaking in midwestern sunsets. Even though I have an impossibly long travel wish list and try to go to new destinations as often as possible, I look forward to my midwestern summertime every year.

This year, I took along a waterproof speaker and attached it the front of my kayak with bungee cords so I could listen to a mix of pop, indie rock, and 70’s AM Gold while paddling. I’d tuck a New Glarus Spotted Cow in a coozie into the drink holder, then leisurely cruise around the lake, sipping my beer and humming along to “Waterloo Sunset”, “Summer Breeze,” and “Night Moves.” As the sun set further into the sky, the surface of the lake turned glassy and still, reflecting the dark silhouettes of tall pine, the sky above a melted popsicle orangey pink. I spend a week with my family on this lake every year. We take rides on the pontoon boat and drop anchor in different parts of the chain, cannonballing into deep water. There’s home movies of me at 5 years old, playing in these same waters, the same orangey sunset in the background, overlaid with the staticky fuzz of VHS.

Every August, a group of our friends do a float trip on the Wisconsin River. For 16 years now, we return to the same campsite along the river bank. In this timeframe, people have come and gone, gotten married and had kids, and moved out of state. But every year, we keep going back, reliving the same carefree day spent floating down the same 6 miles of river, drinking local beers on sandbars and laughing over memories from years ago. We retell our favorite stories while living out new ones that will be told over the same fire pit in future years.

I’m a notorious winter apologist, but there’s nothing like summer days and nights that bring out my love for the Midwest. Give me three months of campfires, golden afternoons spent kayaking to the lakeside bar,  hiding out from hot days while sipping Bloodys and Old Fashioneds in a dive with flannel curtains on the windows, and dipping my bare feet into silky blue water as it runs along the sides of a canoe. I fantasize about leaving the city for longer stretches of time to live on the water, somewhere quiet and wooded, where fog lingers in the mornings and burns off as the sun rises, and the surface turns to glass as night falls.

Advertisements

The Halfway Point

It’s blazing hot in Chicago right now, a world away from the polar vortex of last January. Every remaining weekend of this summer is already packed to the gills with plans; it’s utter mayhem. I love summer and wringing every last sun-soaked second of fun out of these three months, but this is also why I relish the cozy calm of winter and its time of forced hibernation.

Now that we’re at the halfway point of 2019, I thought it would be a good time to check back in on my goals for the year, in part to keep myself on track as well as make tweaks to stuff that isn’t really working for me.

  • Decrease my carbon footprint. This one is always going to be a work in progress. Besides being a lot more conscious of how much plastic we use, Kurt and I have also agreed to eat less red meat. I’ll never go full-on vegetarian (I’ve done it before and my body just overall feels better when I’m eating animal proteins) but I’m aiming to cut back by a lot, and replacing with poultry and sustainable types of fish. (Soapbox sidenote: this planet’s only hope of avoiding what’s getting closer and closer to an irreversible worst case scenario has to be major changes on a global level, so stay loud and be an educated voter, y’all.)
  • Keep up with healthy eating, yoga, and cardio exercise. This is another one that’s all about balance, and also giving myself a break when needed. I try to cram leafy greens and colorful veggies into my daily diet as much as possible, but also, my love of donuts is infinite and profound. Exercising 4-5 times a week is the right amount to keep me sane, so that is going well. I’d like to incorporate more yoga into my home workout when I can’t get to the studio, so HMU with your fave apps.
  • Be more mindful of my budget. Somehow, this is going well?! I’ve been making larger payments on my remaining debt (Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be theater majors), paying off credit card balances right away, and saving toward my pop pilgrimage fund. My hermit-like tendencies and Kurt’s preference to cook at home come in real handy with this one.
  • Organize my house and my digital life. Have you ever looked at how much it costs to replace couch cushions that have gotten all dog-and-catted up? It is WILD. But I am finally(!!) trying to finish decorating our house. I’ve also gotten into houseplants. My digital photos are still a mess and I keep meaning to finally finish assembling our wedding album, considering we just celebrated our 5-year anniversary. The to-do list is frankly overwhelming, but one thing at a time. It feels good to make at least some small progress.
  • Keep writing. Every week: Submit, Pitch, or Apply. I am most excited and proud of this one.  I realized quickly that my weekly submission/pitching goal forces me to write constantly. And the wider net you cast, the better chances you have. In 6 months of consistent pitching and submitting, I’ve had more success with getting my work accepted and published (and even getting paid for it!) than I had in the previous two years combined. I’m aiming to have sent out 52 total submissions/pitches by the end of this year (I gave up on residencies because I am already taking too much time off work), and I’m currently at 28, so I’m right on track. If I can share any encouragement with y’all, it’s keep up whatever you are doing, and do a lot of it. I love and support your creative vision!
  • Keep traveling whenever and wherever I can. This one, I live for. I will squeeze every last drop out of my PTO. Destinations don’t have to be far; I spent last weekend on the lake in Indiana and had a blast. I also decided to add onto this, to go someplace new in my hometown of Chicago at least once a month. I am a homebody and a creature of habit, so I really need to take better advantage of what my beautiful bonkers alligator-infested city has to offer. Last night, I went to a full moon celebration on the lakefront and watched fire dancers perform under the night sky, and it was definitely better than my couch.

For the rest of tonight, I’m gonna sit and relax in our sunporch, read a book, and listen to the summer cicadas.

 

Hello 40!

Hi, I turn 40 today! I’m actually pretty excited about it. Sometimes, this surprises people and they ask me why. For me, it boils down to a few things: 1). You can either let yourself feel bummed out about aging, or you can choose to embrace it.  2).  Every single one of us ages. It’s the most universal human experience I can think of. Natasha Lyonne, Kate Hudson, and Rosario Dawson all turn 40 the same month as me, so I feel like I’m in pretty damn good company, and 3). Getting older is far better than the alternative. Over the past year, I’ve had several loved ones go through various health issues, and it has only driven home how very lucky we are to get the amount of days we have on this planet. Life may seem mundane and downright tedious at times, but it’s also so, so very fragile. I have a lot more I want to accomplish during however many more trips around the sun I’ve got coming, so Imma carpe the f outta this diem.

There’s a David Bowie quote that I love, “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” I’ve actually been spending the past year thinking about how I want to celebrate this milestone birthday. I decided early on that I want to be on some sort of epic trip while I cross over into my next decade. My favorite type of travel blends outdoor adventure with city culture, long stretches of road trip driving into the horizon and also immersing myself into the landscape, sleeping under open skies. So at this very moment, Kurt and I are taking a long road trip along Route 66 into the American southwest, a place neither of us have explored much at all before. Travel blogs to come soon!

And this is my brand, but honestly, look at the many gifts the pop culture is giving us this month. Game of Thrones is back for its final season. We got a new Star Wars episode IX trailer AND a Veronica Mars teaser in the same day. Beyoncé blessed us with a Netflix concert doc. Fosse/Verdon is recreating musical numbers I grew up obsessed with. And Avengers: Endgame released just before my birthday. This life is an embarrassment of riches. When this post publishes as scheduled, I will have probably spent about 4 straight hours crying over the steering wheel still getting over Endgame. What a time to be alive! I can’t wait to see what happens next, whether it’s an encounter with the World’s Largest Rocking Chair AND the World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair in the same day, or seeing who ends up on the Iron Throne in the next few weeks.

I’m just very, very thankful to be here and be lucky enough to see it all.

 

This Winter

I’ve spent most of my life in Chicago, through countless blizzards, several polar vortexes, early October frosts, surprise late April flurries, and as of this past week, the second coldest day in recorded local history. On Wednesday morning, the thermometer on our back porch registered -22 degrees (the record stands at -27 in January 1985, when I was 5 years old).

River pees on the porch in -22 degrees

While these extreme polar vortexes are more the exception than the rule, even an ordinary Chicago winter is typically brutal. It can be festive and pretty up to and through the holidays, but the dreary gray skies and frigid winds that batter us through January, February, and early March can really drain your spirits. And that’s not to mention the endless shoveling of sidewalks, the chipping of ice from windshields, salt stains on your heavy winter boots, and short days with long nights spent cooped up inside.

And yet, I love winter. I love CHICAGO winters. As a Midwesterner, I crave the rhythm of seasons. Winter is a time of resting under warm blankets, watching movies and drinking wine while the dog curls up on our feet. As soon as spring breaks, we tend to run  headlong into sunny summer days when we barely spend a weekend at home, taking in every opportunity to drink in the sun, jump into a lake, and sit around a campfire. Summer is a period of nonstop activity, and winter is, for me, is the perfect period of forced rest spent reading, writing, cuddling and catching up on TV shows. (Just like the pioneers but replace needlepoint with Netflix).

The temperatures on Wednesday were low enough to give you frostbite in less than 5 minutes. But inside our toasty warm house, in my Jon Snow t-shirt and Swedish winter cap, a steaming mug of coffee in my hands, I was living my Laura Ingalls’ “The Long Winter” best life. Candles and a salt lamp made my home office light and cozy.  I was all set for a peaceful day  bathing in the light of my laptop while frosty patterns swirled across our windowpanes. Then, Kurt realized his van got towed (someone  got home late the night before and forgot about snow routes). A few minutes of cursing went down, then I posted a quick “out of office, brb” message before layering up in all of my winter gear to drive Kurt to the city impound lot.

Outside, the winter sun seemed brighter as it reflected off the heaping snowbanks (we had gotten about 6 inches of fresh snowfall two days earlier). As we walked to the garage, the frigid air hit my face like a slap.

Traffic was light, but it wasn’t quite the ice-covered ghost town I had expected. A few brave souls were out and about, running their cars to keep their batteries from dying in the extreme cold. As soon as we got to the impound lot, I understood why–after paying for the van’s release, Kurt couldn’t get the engine started. Our poor van had given up on this batshit weather and died on city property. In my car with the heat running, we called multiple towing companies, but they were all either too busy to assist or gave an estimated wait time of 4-5 hours. With no other options, we left the van at the lot and went back home so we could finish our afternoon workloads.

Later that same night, the sun long gone, we went back to the impound lot to meet a tow truck, which showed up roughly two hours later. Sitting in the car with the engine and heat running, I read Twitter all the way to the end. My feet froze in the passenger side while my entire face dried out from the heat blasting from the vents. Finally, our tow truck savior pulled up. I would have cried tears of joy but they would for sure freeze on my face. Kurt rode in the truck with the driver while I took our other vehicle home. Back at our house, I threw a frozen pizza into the oven and poured a glass of wine before I even took my coat off. We slept soundly that night, the dog and cat huddled on of the blankets in the concave of our bodies. The house creaked, the winds howled, frost quakes erupted.

In Chicago, we don’t have to worry about things like hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, mudslides, and droughts. Our landlocked flatness makes our region geographically boring AF but relatively safe from natural disasters. In the event of a dystopian apocalypse, we’re situated near the country’s largest source of fresh water. But we get winters. And I think because of our notoriously shitty, 15-month long, arctic blast winters, we’re tougher than the average bear. We’re resilient, and usually good-natured about it (drinking helps). We help our neighbors dig out their cars. Just this week, a Chicago woman named Candice Payne took action and rented 30 hotel rooms on her personal credit card to get homeless people out of the life-threatening weather. I love the way this city bands together in the worst of times.

And today, 4 days after the worst of the winter storm, it’s nearly 50 degrees, I’m wearing a light sweatshirt and nano-puff jacket, and I just stepped in thawed dog poop. Ah, Chicago.

 

 

2018 Wrap-up and 2019 Goals

Aww, look at wide-eyed innocent me back at the beginning of 2018. So full of hopes and dreams! This year was bonkers but I feel good about what I accomplished.

  • While I didn’t knock any major writing projects out of the park, I did some work that I’m proud of, had a small piece published, and committed to practicing the craft of writing fiction, which has always overwhelmed me in its difficulty.
  • Also, I took care of myself! I practiced yoga regularly, once for 27 out of 30 straight-ish days, and kept up with cardio. I ate spinach and kale by the fistful in mason jar salads and green smoothies more often than going out to buy lunch. I got enough sleep and drank enough water and meditated.
  • I consumed a lot of art. I read 38 books, and out of those, 76% were written by women, 36% by people of color, and 13% by LGBTQ writers. (I also rewatched a ton of Marvel and Star Wars movies, because I’m also all for comfort found in pop culture.)
  • And I traveled! Boy, did I travel: mechanical bull riding and Magic Mike in Las Vegas, karaoke and hangover brunches in New Orleans, castles and craft beers in Denmark, pastries and parks in Sweden, conferences and interactive theater in New York City, writing and drinking in Wisconsin, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking on the Chain O’ Lakes, camping through a snowstorm in Upper Peninsula Michigan, sleeping in a van listening to coyotes in Manistee National Forest. What a full year, and as someone who could barely afford the time and expense of leaving the Midwest for much of my earlier adulthood, this life feels like such an enormous gift.

So I didn’t write 6 hours a week, or master a handstand, or completely kick sugar.  I had some crappy setbacks  and work struggles and stressful months along with the amazing months, but of course that’s life, and it’s not what I choose to dwell on. I want to carry good vibes only into 2019.

Here’s my 2019 goals:

  • Become more conscious of my carbon footprint. Cut back on my use of plastics. Recycle, but reuse even more. Be less wasteful and more mindful.
  • Keep up with healthy eating, and continue to cut back on sugar and processed foods. Learn how to use the damn instant pot. Meal prep.
  • Keep practicing yoga and doing cardio. All movement is good, whether it be dancing to karaoke or walking across a new city. Every day is Leg Day.
  • Keep writing. I have two ideas for longer projects; pick one and commit to working towards a full draft. Blog and write about travel and pop culture opinions. Put the damn thoughts on the damn page.
  • Keep traveling whenever and wherever I can. Keep jumping in as many Midwestern lakes and rivers as possible.
  • Be more mindful of my budget. Sit down with Kurt and look at our current and future financial goals together. Reading Nomadland this year really opened my eyes in terms of thinking about our eventual retirement, and though I do the “right” things (have a 401k, pay off credit cards), I still (STILL!!) have a student loan to pay off, and a tendency to run off and make a tattoo appointment the second I have some extra cash on hand.
  • Organize my house and my digital life. Let’s not talk about the current state of my digital photo hoard.
  • Every week: Submit, Pitch, or Apply. Whether it be finding a home for a piece or trying to get into my first writing residency, it’s only going to happen if I keep putting myself out there.

Happy New Year, y’all! ❤

Chicago, Friday Night Trouble Bound

Neither of us had been to this bar in years, but as soon as we walk through the front door, hazy memories rush back like the swill at the bottom of a pint glass.  I sidle up to the cash-only bar and order two beers; the bartender hands me back my change,  a fistful of soggy singles that I shove into my wallet.

It takes two hours for the headlining band to take the stage. Before then, we stake out a spot in the crowd, bathing in neon light and the aural accompaniment of drunken banter. We’ve seen this band at least a dozen times before, but their shows make me feel like I never slowed down on all those killer parties. These kinds of nights feel like pure Chicago to me. How many times since I first turned 21 have I danced on this sticky floor, how many cheap PBRs have I crushed, how many times have I used the women’s bathroom where there’s never a functioning lock and I have to hook my foot around the bottom of the stall door so no one walks in on me. How many bands have I seen, and how many of them skyrocketed to fame or disappeared into oblivion.

The opening act is the frontman of another well-known band in town for the weekend, appearing solo, singing covers of 60’s and 70’s AM Gold radio hits. Catering to the local crowd, he launches into the rolling opening chords of “Lakeshore Drive.” I sing along, Friday night trouble bound.

When the headlining band takes the stage, the air is electric in that way that only happens when everyone there is a diehard fan who knows every lyric by heart. We scream in unison, hands punching the air like Mario raining coins from the sky. I can use this reference because everyone in this dive bar is my age. The room vibrates with body heat and joy. I feel the bass reverberate up through the soles of my feet and I wonder if my pulse matches the beat of the drums .

We pour out of the bar at 1 a.m., exhausted and exhilarated. As we walk down Western Ave, I feel the concrete sidewalk beneath my Chucks, rooting me to this city. Driving up Milwaukee Ave, we pass through my old neighborhood and I’m struck again by how much has changed–old laundromats and empty storefronts replaced with hipster bars, yoga studios, and breweries. I’m glad some time capsules still remain.

 

The Last Year of My 30’s

Today, I turn 39 and enter the last year of my 30’s. I’ve enjoyed this past decade so much, and I ain’t scurred to enter the next one. Here’s a random list of things I did in my 38th year:

  • toured my old high school for our twentieth reunion
  • bought an old Chevy Astrovan and turned it into a camper
  • went on writing retreats in Indianapolis and Milwaukee with great friends and writers
  • cried watching Wonder Woman in the theater
  • saw U2 perform Joshua Tree at Soldier Field, recreating one of my first high school concert experiences
  • became obsessed with Twin Peaks: the Return all summer
  • swam in Lake Michigan and Waupaca’s Chain O’ Lakes
  • had a sibling karaoke reunion at Sidekicks, my fave divey bar
  • saw Arcade Fire play a Lollopalooza aftershow at the Metro and Winn Butler ran into me when he jumped into the crowd
  • SAW A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
  • sang karaoke at a pirate bar in Delavan, WI
  • road tripped to Maine with my husband and our dog, checking off 4 new states
  • hiked to the top of Cadillac Mountain then ate an ice cream bar
  • saw Stephen King driving in his Jeep Liberty
  • hosted our first Thanksgiving in our house
  • added a Loch Ness monster to my early aught’s tramp stamp (it’s now a Triassic stamp!)
  • started meditating every morning
  • saw Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas
  • took a train ride in a sleeper car and sang karaoke in New Orleans
  • said goodbye to my beloved cat, Ginger Spice
  • practiced yoga 27 out of 31 days in March
  • visited two new countries, Denmark and Sweden

Looking at this list, I feel so hashtag-blessed to live my life. Who knows how many years we all get to share with each other, so I hope to cram each and every year of life as balls-to-the-wall as this one. OH HAI 39!