Freadom

July 27, 2016 at 12:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

See what word play magic I did there? It’s because the volunteer events I’ve been running with my company have been a huge success and are providing freedom through literacy to kids all over Chicago!

We’ve officially held three days of giving out books to kids (12 books to each kid – entirely free and theirs to keep!) and we’ve given out over 15,000 books. Yes, 15,000. How incredible is that? Over one thousand kids have walked home happy with bags full of their new libraries and we’re not finished yet! We have two more dates to go next week and while I wish I could be at those like I’ve been at all the others, I’ll be on vacation so I’ll be cheering from afar.

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Can’t beat free!

This has been such a fun program to be a part of seeing the kids cheer as they hug their new books to their chest is pretty damn special. I grew up with my nose in a book and simply can’t imagine living in a world where I didn’t have the ability to escape to a different time or place through just the words on a page. And the fact that the company I work for is actually sponsoring and encouraging employee participation in these events is extra special!

Stay tuned to keep reading all about it!

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Book Club Baby Shower!

March 15, 2016 at 2:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Just in time to be a month late, I remembered I’d forgotten to post about our last book club meeting. Make sense? Thought so.

Our book club has been getting together for like seven years now and we’ve all grown pretty close. So when one of our members announced a pregnancy, we got all giddy and super excited. This particular member offered to host our last meeting at her house in the (almost) burbs and we managed to surprise her with a baby shower in her very own home! A home, by the way, that made me green with envy. After having spent the last five years in a one-bedroom apartment and sharing a single closet with Scott, walking through her four-bedroom domicile was like walking through a dream full of everything I’ve always wanted and nothing I could ever afford. Suffice to say – she’s got a nice place.

And we decorated it super fast! Well, a couple of us decorated it while the others got her to give us a tour. We totally stretched that out too, asking all sorts of questions about original woodwork and television screen placement. But our ruse worked and when we made our way downstairs, she was definitely surprised! And even a little teary-eyed, which we’ll just attribute to hormones and being surrounded by wonderful women.

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We didn’t do anything like this nor did we bring baby books because we clearly suck at this shower thing. But we tried!

So we sat around and watched her open gifts while eating a ton of food and drinking wine that the pregnant lady can’t have right now. She was happy regardless though and I’m pretty sure she liked all of her gifts. As for the actual book club part of this party, we all read a book. But we all read different books because when we chose in January we were all exhausted from the holidays and couldn’t be bothered to be specific. We all read “romantic” books since we were meeting in February and I chose to re-read Great Expectations, which I read forever ago but forgot all about. And I really liked it! Miss Havisham is a great character and Pip is someone I love to hate. It also made me want to watch the movie starring Ethan Hawke but I haven’t gotten around to that yet.

The other girls read other books but since it’s been a month I’ve forgotten all about those. I do remember having fun though and unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the next get-together since I’ll be out of town. But soon enough we’ll all be together again celebrating our newest book club member and reading her nursery books so we can look forward to that!

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Book Nerd

January 22, 2016 at 4:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

Am I the only one who, when reading a new book, will use both my Kindle and a hard copy to do so? I love the Kindle and all its fancy perks and I especially love that I can use it while I’m exercising at the gym (shockingly, actual books don’t like to stay put on cardio equipment). The Kindle is slim and tiny and can fit in almost any purse I own, which is great. It’s also super light and that’s a plus when I’m reading larger tomes.

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Fight! Fight! Fight!

But wait! There’s more! I also like the feeling of an actual book in my hands and if I’m sitting on my couch I’d rather have a real book versus an e-reader accompanying me. So lately I’ve been making a point of downloading the free version of the book I’m reading and also checking out a hard copy from the library so we can hang on the couch. Then I feel really good about myself because I’m supporting my local library in two different ways!

And I can’t be the only one who does that. Right?

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July Book Club Review

July 21, 2015 at 8:50 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

For this month’s book club, we were supposed to meet at a French restaurant and read Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. Well, the best laid plans of both mice and men oft go astray and this month was no different. We were told not to worry about making reservations at the restaurant because there would be plenty of tables but there was some huge company party going on when we arrived so there was no seating to be had. Did I mention this was during a major downpour? So that made finding an alternative place on foot even more awesome. Luckily, one of the ladies was smart enough to pull up Yelp on her phone and we were at Cafe Iberico with sangria in hand in mere minutes. Spanish tapas and lots more sangria – can’t go wrong with that!

They’re gonna get burned

As for the book, I didn’t actually read it (I know, a book club rarity for me!). I had a hard time finding it and the library has a huge waitlist, plus I didn’t want to pay for a new copy because I’m cheap. I needn’t have worried since only one other girl managed to get her hands on it (not such a book club rarity…). The book told the story of one of the first  transgender activists in the nation and it seems engrossing enough that I will read it, at some point. However for the month I decided to stick to another LGBTQ book and I read Spring Fire, which was published in 1952 and is considered to be the first lesbian pulp fiction novel ever to be published. It told the story of two sorority sisters who fall in love with each other only to have that love ripped apart by social convention. Many years after the book was published, the author (who wrote under a pen name at the time) said she regretted the ending she gave her characters. Basically, one of the women is committed to a mental hospital and the other decides she’s straight and never really loved the other girl to begin with. However, at the time the book was released no place would publish a story where two women lived happily ever after so the unhappy ending was required. It certainly did feel abrupt in the book but I can understand the reasoning behind the author making the choices she did. That said, the novel was very innocent by today’s standards and gave me a glimpse of what living a gay lifestyle in secrecy could have been like.

As always with book club, we had a great time and ate a lot of great food. Now if we could just always have great weather, things would be perfect!

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Kindle Keeper

January 13, 2015 at 9:32 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

As I mentioned in my last post, I am the owner of a brand-new Kindle Paperwhite. I’ve had a Nook for a few years as it was a hand-me-down from an aunt so I’m not completely foreign to the whole e-book thing, but I still feel like a grandma. The first Nook I was given was super old-school as I think it was the first generation and since it was still attached to my aunt’s account, I really only had access to her books. Which were aplenty, but not exactly to my taste (I’ve never read a Nora Roberts book and could probably survive without doing so). A couple of years later my aunt upgraded her own Nook and gave me a newer version, which was backlit so it was definitely a bit fancier. She told me she would download books for me if I wanted and there were a couple I asked for (yes, The Count of Monte Cristo was one of them) but I didn’t want to be greedy and so I only used it for select reading.

First world problems.

Then I decided to splurge and get my own device. I chose the Kindle because I do most things Amazon and it was all pretty straightforward, plus it got great reviews. I briefly toyed with the idea of getting a Fire but then I decided I don’t need my Facebook and Instagram apps on half a dozen different devices. The Paperwhite is just for reading and if I had the ability to check email or surf the web I don’t think I’d get near as much actual reading accomplished. So here I am, learning the ways of yet another electronic machine. I will admit it’s pretty cool and I love being able to read about a character or learn the definition of a word with a light touch of my finger. The pages turn much quicker than my Nook did and it even has a handy feature that estimates how much longer it will take me to finish the chapter I’m currently reading. I’m sure it does other things like cook my breakfast and balance my bank account but I haven’t quite learned all of the ropes. Yet. But I did use it to finish that tome Cristo so I’ve got that going for me!

To be honest though, I’m still torn on the whole thing. I like books. BOOKS. I like the way they smell and turning their pages and flipping through them and holding them and hugging them and well – you get the idea. But I also like not having to carry a 600 page beast around in my backpack or purse every day (I brought three different books along with me on my last trip out of town – they definitely take up space). So I know I won’t use the Kindle exclusively but it will obviously come in handy on certain occasions. I’m clearly emerging into the 21st century, just a little bit at a time.

That said, I downloaded our next book club book from the library (another handy feature!) and it’s on my Kindle now. And the Kindle is in my backpack…right next to the hard copy of the exact same book. Am I doing this right? Probably not but I can read the book on the el and then use the Kindle while I’m at the gym so it works for me!

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August Book Club Review

August 22, 2014 at 1:04 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these!

On Sunday, the girls came over to my place for some potluck/BYOB Book Club action. The original plan was to eat and drink before walking to a nearby comedy show but in the end we just ate and drank. And it was a blast! I always have such fun with these gals, although it was rough waking up on Monday morning after all the wine we downed Sunday night.  I guess there’s a reason we usually stick to Thursday or Friday for our meetings!

Not Into the Woods, as I misspelled on the invite to Book Club. Because that’s a musical.

The book we read was In the Woods by Tana French, which was a murder/crime/whodunit novel set in Ireland. The story revolves around two detectives, one of whom was the victim of some mysterious potential crime when he was a child. He had been playing in some nearby woods with two friends when they disappeared – the detective was found alone, clutching a tree, shoes full of blood and no recollection of anything that happened. So he grows up, moves away, changes his name and becomes a detective. Then he and his partner get called back to his hometown to investigate the murder of a young girl, not too far from where his old friends disappeared.

Intriguing enough premise and I did like the story but *SPOILER ALERT* they never find out what happened to those damn kids! The murder of the little girl is solved but I wanted to know what happened to the detective’s friends. His character was written really well and it was easy to kind of detest him while also understanding where he was coming from but he ended up treating his partner (and former best friend) like crap and that pissed me off. Though I guess if a fictional character has the ability to make me mad that means the author was doing something right. Anyway, it was a thicker book but I flew through it and enjoyed it for the most part. Just wish there had been some happier resolution at the end but life doesn’t always have a nice tidy ending so I suppose I can forgive it. Still would’ve liked to know what happened to those kids though!

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June Book Club

July 2, 2012 at 11:51 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

A few newer faces and a few older faces that haven’t made an appearance in a while all managed to make it out roughly two weeks ago for our monthly book club meeting.  We read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which is a 2003 non-fiction work that talks all about the 1893 World’s Fair that was held in Chicago.  The book weaves two totally different perspectives of the event – part of the story revolves around Daniel H. Burnham, the architect and developer who brought the city to life for the fair and the other part centers on Dr. H.H. Holmes, who was a pharmacist by day and serial killer by night.  Holmes built a large hotel to lure in young women who came to the city to find work during the fair but his creepy hotel also doubled as a killer’s dream castle, as he had torture rooms and a crematorium set up  without anyone being the wiser.  As freaky as it is, everything is based on historical fact.

Look for the movie involving Leonardo DiCaprio soon. No, really, he bought the rights.

I first read this book a few years ago, right after I moved to the city.  I thought it was really interesting and it gave me a totally different perspective on the city I now called home.  I also learned interesting little facts, such as how Morton Salt and Cracker Jack were first introduced in Chicago during that World’s Fair.  Did you know that?

I didn’t have a chance to re-read the whole book before our meeting but I refreshed myself on its Wikipedia page so I at least remembered the names of important characters.  Every other book club member seemed to enjoy the book too though we all agreed that the parts focusing on the murderer were a little more gripping than those focusing on the brick and mortar buildings.  Regardless, we enjoyed learning a little of the history of our city, however lurid it may be.

We met at Bad Apple, which is where we met back in January.  It was still as good as ever and my sandwich tasted like angel wings from heaven on two pieces of focaccia bread.  It’s always fun to have a night out with my literate lady friends – I knew being a bookworm for all those years would come in handy at some point!

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April Book Club Review

April 27, 2012 at 11:05 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

The ladies and I spent this past month reading Blindness by  Portuguese Nobel-prize winning author Jose Saramago and for dinner/drinks we checked out Haymarket Pub & Brewery in the West Loop.  Blindness is a stream of consciousness story (meaning no actual dialogue or quotes were used and everything is described from various points of view instead) of a pandemic of blindness that spreads by contagion.  It starts with a man sitting in his car at a stop light who suddenly loses his vision, and a passerby who helps him home becomes blind himself.  Soon, there are hundreds of newly blinded individuals living in an old mental hospital as the government has decided that quarantine is the best solution.  The people in the hospital quickly revert to primal human beings who fight for food, beds and sex.  These people lose their dignity and every comfort they’ve ever known.  It’s a really interesting concept and I think the anthropologist in me especially enjoyed thinking about the breakdown that society would face if something like this were to actually occur.  The book was fairly long and dense as the style of writing didn’t include many paragraph, page or chapter breaks, and sometimes the lack of dialogue caused me to have to stop and think about who was saying what.  I found though that I actually really liked the style (not all of the other ladies felt this way), as when I write stories myself I don’t use a lot of dialogue either.  There were two of us out of the four present who finished the book and while the other girl felt the ending was too expected and easy, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing and really enjoyed the whole book.

You might not be able to see me but I give this book two thumbs up

Apparently there’s a sequel called Seeing, but I have yet to read that.  Blindness was also made into a movie staring Julianne Moore (whom I love) and I watched that last weekend.  It wasn’t exactly a light, feel-good film but it did do justice to the book and Scott (who hasn’t read the novel) really liked the film.  It was interesting to see some of the buildings described but watching the movie just didn’t capture the horror of the situation like reading the book did.  All in all though, I’m glad I experienced both.

I’m also glad I experienced Haymarket Pub & Brewery, which is just a short walk from my office.  I mean, who doesn’t love a good brewery?  This place is a lot bigger than it looks and was full of dudes watching the Blackhawks hockey game, which we didn’t actually anticipate before booking our reservations.  So the place was a little (lot) louder than we expected but we managed to make ourselves heard.  I ordered a brew called Lucy’s Belgian Style Abbey Trippel, which was a delicious golden ale that shared a name of a good friend of mine (I thought of her when I ordered it and she would’ve loved it too).  I also had a veggie burger that put many other bar veggie burgers to shame, as well as some amazing sweet potato tater tots.  Can’t go wrong with tots and I’m a big fan of incorporating sweet potatoes into things (such as falafel – there’s a place near the office that does this amazingly).  Another gal ordered pizza which had an unusual sauce that made the whole thing superb and everyone left the night feeling full and satisfied.

Yet another successful book club meeting has come and gone and I believe this next book should be a quicker read, so as soon as the library gets it ready for me I’ll be checking it out.  In more ways than one (see what I did there?).  I’m currently about 40 pages from finishing Catch-22 and I’ll probably write another post about that but it won’t be so complimentary.  Seriously, this thing has taken me forever and I actually put it aside to read Blindness.  So you can look forward to that and I’ll be thankful that I have the eyes to read, even if I am reading things that drive me crazy.

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December Book Club Review

December 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

This month, the gals in the book club and I read The Zookeepers Wife by Diane Ackerman.  The book is based on the true-life story of a family in Poland in World War II that owned a zoo full of exotic and wild animals.  The zoo was visited by all of Warsaw until the war began and the German soldiers started moving and even killing the animals in order to clear out the zoo so they could use the space for their own purposes.  The family that owned the zoo, the Zabinskis, managed to keep the location useful to the Nazis while simultaneously smuggling Jews and other “war criminals” out to safety, right under the soldiers’ noses.  It’s a fascinating story about bravery, friendship and heroics in the middle of a traumatic war and it was even more interesting to me as a student of museums and zoos in general.  Seeing how they handled such a situation was an eye-opener and made me think about how we would handle similar circumstances here.

Interesting but not riveting

As I mentioned, the premise behind the book was fascinating.  Unfortunately, the book itself had a hard time capturing the tension and drama that was surely felt by the characters in the story.  There was a lot of historical information which was of course needed for the set up of the plot but some of it went beyond that and became tedious to get through.  The girls in the club and I agreed that we would’ve liked to have read more about the emotions and points of view from the men, women and children who were being helped to escape but their stories are, much like their lives in the book, rather mute.  The Zabinskis son was a young boy during the war yet he played an important role within the zoo and yet his personal side of things isn’t really mentioned at all.  I really liked the story behind this book and there was a lot of potential but it fell short of completely satisfying.

However, all was not lost as we were completely satisfied by our food and drink at our club meeting spot of the month, O Shaughnessys Pub which is a convenient 15 minute walk from home.  I had two different beers whose names I can’t remember (they were good though, I promise) and for dinner I had a wrap stuffed with portabella mushrooms, spinach, cranberries, goat cheese and red peppers.  It was really good too but I make similar sandwiches for lunch all the time so I wasn’t totally blown away.  Apparently their fish and chips are delicious though so if you’re looking for some traditional fare, there ya go.  I had been to this Pub once before, to have some brews with a buddy, and it didn’t disappoint then either.  The place was much less crowded when we went as a club but that’s what we get for going on a Thursday night in November versus a warm afternoon in the middle of summer.

All in all, it was a good meeting.  We got to see a few new and old faces and the company is always the best part.  Next month we’re reading an old favorite of mine (To Kill a Mockingbird) because one of the members has NEVER read it.  I don’t know how that happened so we plan to rectify it next month.

On a different note – I went to the gym 4 times in the last week!  I must be losing my mind.

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Save the Libraries!

November 4, 2011 at 10:24 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

You know me and you know I love books (duh, just see my last post).  So when I’ve heard rumblings of issues pertaining to Chicago Public Libraries, I had to pay attention.  I’m going to copy and paste and email I received from a dear friend of mine who used to work for CPL and knows firsthand how terrible the situation will be for librarians and patrons if things continue on this path.  The email came from a library branch manager and fellow Chicagoan.  If you don’t have time to read this whole thing, please scroll to the link where you can sign an online petition to help save our libraries:

By way of introduction, my name is Tom Stark.  My wife and I are Chicago residents and parents of a Chicago Public School student.  I am the Branch Manager of the Chicago Public Library Budlong Woods Branch.  I am writing and sending this letter out of concern over the treatment of the Chicago Public Library in the city budget proposal for 2012.  I am writing as a citizen on my own time, and not as an official spokesperson for the Chicago Public Library.

 Frankly, I was astounded to learn that the 2012 Chicago budget proposal contains a crippling cut of some 363 library employees, nearly one-third of the staff, including 60 to 70 librarians at all levels, 60-70 full-time clerks, all of the part-time clerks, and all of the remaining library pages.  These layoffs come on top of bare bones, historically low staffing levels, and after the numerous vacancies have been eliminated.  What is most important to recognize is how these cuts will decimate the staff, and devastate the services they provide to library users each and every day. 

 Unfortunately, Chicago citizens, unaware of these radical cuts, appear to be under the impression that all that is at stake is a reduction in hours—branches closed half a day on Monday and Friday mornings.  Who could know that what is really going on is a wholesale budgetary assault on the library branches that have become the heartbeat of neighborhood communities across Chicago?

 In the last decade, the Chicago Public Library and its staff have produced nationally recognized services for the residents of Chicago, and now, with an already bare-bones staff, the library is managing its human and physical resources to provide these services in the most frugal way possible. Each year, over 10 million visitors of all ages and income levels seek out cultural, educational, and recreational resources at the Chicago Public Library.  Is there any other cultural, educational, entertainment, or athletic organization in Chicago that can make a similar claim?  Can you find a better, more democratic use of taxpayer resources, particularly at a time when families and other citizens are avidly seeking out affordable cultural, educational, and recreational resources?  Is there another institution in your neighborhood that is as active, responsive, and open to all as the Chicago Public Library?

 Consider the following:

 Chicagoans of all ages check out some 10 million items a year from 78 locations serving each neighborhood. 

Job searchers and other computer users utilize over 3.5 million free Internet sessions each year.  Nearly 60% of computer questions for reference librarians and CyberNavigators are from adults seeking assistance with job searches and employment services.

 Over 50,000 children keep up their reading skills by reading over one million books every summer as part of the Chicago Public Library’s annual Summer Reading Program.

 Thousands of children enjoy and benefit from early childhood literacy activities in Chicago’s libraries, and many more visit these same libraries after school, in the evenings, and on weekends for homework assistance from trained librarians and certified teachers.

 Each year the Chicago Public Library is used heavily by college students, career changers, adult learners, professionals, working adults, and people who simply want to read a bestseller, participate in a book club, enjoy a cultural program, use a free museum pass, attend a class on financial literacy, or receive free computer training.

 Thousands of families visit the library each day for books, homework support, reader’s advisory, referral services, story times, concerts, puppet shows, music concerts, craft times, book clubs, and other cultural, educational, and literacy-related activities. 

 The branches of the Chicago Public Library are essential anchors within each community, a place beyond school, workplace, and home where neighbors and people of all ages can connect to each other and seek out new growth and opportunities.   The library is a resource that all people can use and enjoy, especially in hard times.

And here’s the link:

Save Chicago Libraries!

As of today, various Aldermen in Chicago have sided with the community and are urging our Mayor to rethink this bad idea.  If we’re lucky we can keep the libraries staffed and running in the places we need them most.

And thanks for reading.  I actually plan on swinging by my local library sometime this weekend to grab my next book club book and hopefully I’ll have nothing but good news to report on this topic in the future.  Meanwhile, Happy Weekend!

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