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.

 

 

Advertisements

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!

March Goals

A few weeks into January, I spent a Sunday afternoon with a group of friends making vision boards. I’d never made one before, but in the decade or so, I’ve developed a tendency to overbook my life to the point where I lose track of some of the goals I want to attain. Making a vision board has helped me to focus on the handful of goals that are most important to me, helping me to prioritize my precious free time. It also gives me the excellent excuse: “Can’t do it; it’s not on my vision board.”

the bottom one says Cook, I swear

So far, I’m doing good! I’ve traveled to Las Vegas and New Orleans. I’ve meditated every day except 6 total (hungover Vegas flight, every day in New Orleans because sharing a shotgun apartment with 7 people, while super fun, is not v. Zen). I’m changing some of the other goals around a bit as various projects evolve, but you get the idea.

In terms of health and fitness goals,  I have a workout regimen that’s attainable and doesn’t totally dominate my free time. I run on my elliptical machine 2-3 times a week for 45 minutes while blaring pop favorites of yesterday and today. Then twice a week, I go to a power vinyasa class. I’ve never had a body that is naturally skinny, but I put on muscle quickly and I surprise people with my strength (usually during impromptu drunken arm wrestling challenges). With my crazy strong hamstrings and quads, I like to say that I have the lower body of a  male cartoon centaur. In terms of nutrition, I’ve slowly been improving my eating habits over recent years and working a lot more leafy greens and veggies into my regular diet. My biggest downfall is still sugar (gimme all the gimmick flavored Oreos pleez). This past January, I did a sweets-free month (still ate some fruits, opted for plain yogurt and added my own fresh toppings, ate regular bread but no pastries or donuts, no chocolate or candy, etc.) and it had a big impact on how I felt. It was also surprisingly easy for me to accomplish since I knew that there was an end date in sight. Sure enough, come February 1st, it all went out the window, and as of this morning I’ve eaten a slice of leftover cake with my morning coffee for 4 days straight.

So, back to the vision board! Starting tomorrow morning, March 1st, I’m setting two health challenges for myself:

  1. I’ve wanted to up my yoga practice for a while now, so I’m going to shoot for 30 days of yoga, at least 15 minutes to an hour a day. I want to see how it improves my flexibility, strength, and overall outlook.
  2. I’m cutting out sweet treats again, but with the allowance of 1 per week (that’s a single donut, cookie, or slice of cake. Or 1 sleeve. of Oreos because I make my own rules). The goal here is to better set a habit where I’m eliminating most sugar from my diet but keeping it attainable–I can still enjoy a piece of cake at a party or treat myself to a milkshake, just in better moderation.

I am better about adhering to goals once I’ve made them public, so to the handful of people who may end up reading this, thanks for keeping me accountable. High five!

 

Hey, 2018, Hey

2017, amirite?? Yes, the events of the world made me cry and have massive anxiety, but there was also a feeling of collective resilience that began to build slowly over twelve tumultuous months. Looking at brand spanking new 2018 laying before us, I feel pretty good. Maybe this is just me choosing to take an optimistic viewpoint, but I’m feeling rullll hopeful.  Like, Princess-Leia-at-the-end-of-Rogue-One Level of Hope. On this first day of a new year, we are all Mariah Carey, ready to put last year’s stumbles behind us and start anew, triumphant, and bedazzled. Plus, the Year of the Dog starts in a month and dogs always make everything better.

This year, I’ll be thinking a lot of a line from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.”

My resolutions for 2018:

  • Continue building on what I started/accomplished in 2017. Yoga and meditation became a part of my regular routine, and have had a big impact on me. I aim to increase my yoga practice and meditate as close to daily as possible.
  • Last year, I made a goal of carving out 3 hours/week for writing. On average, I usually hit this goal and then some, so I’m aiming for 6 hours/week, hopefully falling somewhere closer to the higher end between 3-6 on a regular basis. As with last year, I will be kind to myself when Life takes over and letting myself have little vacations when needed.
  • Keep improving my nutrition habits, starting with a sugary treats cleanse in January. At this point in my life, I know how much better I feel when I’m eating well and getting lots of fresh veggies and healthy protein in my diet. Make the time to grocery shop and meal prep so I don’t have to fall back on fast, processed food in a pinch.
  • Consume art. Read whenever I can. Watch films thoughtfully without looking at my phone. Support artists. Create.
  • Continue to travel as much as I can. Swim in as many lakes as possible. Watch the sun rise. Watch it set. Immerse myself in nature whenever possible.

Happy New Year! ❤

 

Summer Updates

It’s been a minute since I’ve updated this blog. This summer has been a whirlwind of activity and I’m working on a couple of different things, so I’m playing catch-up with this post.

What I’ve been doing lately:

Every summer, I try to jump into as many natural bodies of water as possible. Pools are fine, but give me a Midwestern lake or river over a water-filled concrete hole any day. I spent a weekend with my family in Long Beach, Indiana, where I whiled away an afternoon bobbing along the surface of Lake Michigan, letting my toes drag over the sand. On another trip to the Chain O’Lakes in north-central Wisconsin, storms threatened to cut down on my swimming time and lent to a lazy day of pub-hopping and indoor board games. But one afternoon, the sky cleared up and the sun came out so we hopped aboard the pontoon boat, and even though it was only in the mid-60’s, I jumped in the lake. There’s something about swimming in a deep body of water where you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and you float along thinking of what kind of primal creatures might be swirling in the depths beneath your feet. My brother and I were the only ones in the water while the rest of my family stayed on the boat, and I paddled along as sunlight glinted off the surface of the lake and through the thick green trees, and it was heaven. These are the kind of days I dream about in late January when the icy winds howl around our cozy little house.

In the spring, I decided to give up on a novel that I had been working on. I was about 45 pages in, and the idea of my premise was no longer drawing me to the page. At the same time, I realized that a short story I recently started had enough teeth to sustain the length of a novel. Wah-wah-waahhhh. I abandoned my earlier project to a Google Drive folder of cast-off ideas, and now I’m humming along on my new premise, starting from scratch. I still have my first novel-length manuscript from 2014 sitting in a file, and the process of working on it taught me so much about my own creative process. I don’t look at bulk amounts of cast-off pages as a waste of time at all; they’re practice towards what will someday be a complete piece that I’ll be (hopefully) proud to share. Some projects tell you when they’re ready.

On the interwebs, I’ve been writing some other fun things:

  • Game of Thrones recaps for Heauxs, a pop culture site. Seriously, check them out–there’s tons of reviews and think pieces and travelogues written by some hilarious, intelligent, and incredibly talented people. Writing these weekly recaps is fulfilling all of my 2007-era Television-without-Pity dreams.
  • I performed a piece about ancestry and identity at Miss Spoken in July, and shared it over at Drinkers with Writing Problems.

Let’s see, what else… In pop culture, besides Game of Thrones, I’ve been obsessing over Twin Peaks: the Return, and catching up on Outlander. The former makes me want to revisit the Pacific Northwest, and the latter has me researching camping in Scotland. And speaking of camping, Kurt and I are going on a fall road trip to Acadia National Park, so I’ll be posting some new travel blogs in the near future. Send any Maine recommendations my way. We also have a canoeing trip coming up as well as a visit to the Ozarks, so I have a few more chances to jump into a lake before the end of the summer. I suggest you do the same.