Friday, November 17, 2017

#87 - Visit 3 New Museums

Yet another list item that just fell right into my lap. The first two museums were field trips for a course I was team teaching this quarter and the last was during my visit to Austin.

1. I served as a staff professional for the Explore Chicago program at DePaul, a first-year experience course that has components of an academic course with a theme, opportunities to learn more about Chicago, and about 10 hours of material focused on supporting students in their transition to college. Our first field trip as a class was to the Chicago History Museum, a museum I had been planning to visit, had even bought a Groupon for, years back.


We only had about an hour there, and I hope to return. The museum was fascinating, which makes sense, as Chicago is a fascinating city. The visit reminded me to get outside of my Chicago bubble and experience what this city really has to offer. It also reconnected me with my intention to learn more about this great city and all of its bizarre origins and history.

Effing weird ass tickets from the World's Fair


2. Later in the quarter we took a trip to the Jane Addams Hull House. I find this piece of Chicago history to be fascinating as it is at the intersection of true service to a community in need and the White savior complex. Jane Addams built a settlement to serve one of the poorest, most under-served areas of Chicago. She took the time to integrate herself into the community and earn its trust. But she also maintained her White, upperclass lifestyle and appearance, insisting that to change herself to better fit the community she served would be at best pandering and at worst pathetic and insulting.

Only two buildings of the original settlement remain, as the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) purchased the entire property. They had planned to tear down the entire settlement, but protesters eventually convinced them to keep the original house and dining hall, which now stand as a museum. The change in the area is another fascination I have with urban areas, particularly Chicago: urban redevelopment and/or gentrification. As a higher education professional, I generally assume real estate used in the service of education is a positive thing. I often forget that universities, like any other organization, search for the cheapest, easiest real estate, and so frequently target low-income communities who do not have the funds nor political power to fight back. They are forced out of their homes and must relocate. As someone who has relocated and is also White, perceived as upper middle class, very well educated, heterosexual, and currently able bodied, relocating has been incredibly stressful for me at times. Those with less privilege in any of those identities not only struggle more with the expense of relocating and also must worry about whether or not they will be welcomed into a new neighborhood or even by a landlord.


3. While in Austin for my birthday trip with UMCSD friends, I was generally just going with the flow with a stated preference for being outside. The last day, we ended up in the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum. It wasn't until I left Austin that I realized, oh, that was a museum, that counts. It was definitely my style of garden, winding paths around wildly, unkempt greenery and unusual sculptures.

It was also family day, so there were approximately a million children as well as some interactive activities. My favorite was the option to become a musically inspired sculpture, though I did enjoy the snapshot I took of a balloon artist explaining balloon artistry to a very attentive child. My second favorite was when Da Jung insisted we take a path up some stairs to another area, which was a beautiful path... to nowhere. My third favorite was a sculpture of a tiny horse.
Saddest statue

Actually, my first favorite was spending time with my lovely friends.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

#47 - Kayak on a River

Selfie lessons on the river
While it's certainly gratifying to complete a big list item, one that requires a lot of planning, commitment, and work... It's also really lovely when something off my list happens naturally.

Lately I've been feeling that I'm at a place in my life where though I have financial, mental, emotional worries, I feel as if I'm thriving socially. Not only do have intelligent, kind, fun-loving, ambitious, beautiful people in my life whom I can call friends, but because of them, I constantly get to do things I want to do. I have regular plans with the Zanns twice a week. Masters is always organizing some fun, new experience with other fantastic people. I get to have long conversations over wine and weird liquors with my parents. And sometimes I have the good fortune of being able to connect with friends who live hundreds of miles away and they take all the work out of planning my birthday trip by planning a trip they want to go on and choose things to do that happen to be on this list.

Beautiful backdrop for a paddle

2009 - Las Vegas, NV
2010 - Louisville, KY
2011 - Kalamazoo, MI
2012 - Hollywood, CA
2013 - San Juan, PR
2015 - Kona, HI
2016 - Portland, ME
2017 - Austin, TX

This year as I contemplated where to go, some friends of mine from San Diego started planning a trip to Austin... in November. Perfect. 

I met Da Jung, Karl, and Jon through the University of Michigan Club of San Diego (UMCSD). I'm so thankful for the people, including Karl, who put so much work into that club, and I hope they know how important their work is. Through UMCSD I was able to make friends outside of school while working on my PhD. We played kickball, went on hikes, went to happy hours, and eventually planned things on our own with each other because we were actually friends. When things were tough academically, I had a group of friends who were supportive, kind, and fun. As moving makes friendship very inconvenient and a lot of work, I'm thankful that I've stayed in regular contact with several of my UMCSD friends, including these three.

Since I left San Diego, Da Jung moved to Austin, so here we are in Austin, just over a year since I've last seen any of them, and it's so nice to be reassured that I have lasting authentic relationships from San Diego. It's also nice that they did a lot of research on what to do and like to do things that I like to do. One of those things just so happened to be kayaking.

I like turtles.
What a deal at $10/hour at the boathouse. Jon, Da Jung, and I took a paddle down Lady Bird Lake, a part of the Colorado River. The weather was perfect, the views were lovely, and there were so many turtles.

While this wasn't quite the river kayaking I imagined, I'm counting it as it's much different than the sea kayaking I've done previously. I much preferred river kayaking as I didn't get seasick. I definitely need to look into some paddle sports on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

Thanks, friends, for a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

#79 - Run a 10k (fail)

So... I finally signed up for a 10k. Well, to be more accurate, Megan Holland signed the two of us up for a 10k. And even more accurately, Masters, looking out for us all again, found a sweet 2-for-1 deal for a 10k that was also a fundraiser for a food pantry.

And then I didn't go. I've been working a lot--meaning I have my regular, full-time job, which is going just fine, and then I have 4 side jobs, which are also each going just fine, but I found out I have yet another student loan to pay back that I didn't know about, so I picked up extra hours at 2 of the side jobs, which is why I'm working a lot. So after 3 days at a conference downstate, I just need some time to, well, I'd like to say catch up on sleep and Stranger Things, but really, it was catch up on cleaning and side work.

So, I guess this will be on my list again next year!

#58 - Go to a Fashion Show (Fail)

So... I was supposed to go a fashion show at Anthropologie, but I was running a bit late. I did have a glass of wine after the show and then Masters, Beth, and I went and had tacos. Fail for the list but a win overall!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

#83 - Learn to Make 3 Traditional Polish Dishes

My grandma emigrated from Poland with her family when she was young. From the few stories I've heard, she had a rough time growing up as a Polish immigrant in Detroit. They were poor and, like many immigrant communities, were disliked by the general population. She was bullied for her accent and because of it, refused to teach my mom and her brother Polish. She only taught us grandkids a few words when we requested it. I remember growing up being very cognizant of my Polish heritage but not knowing a ton about it. I always picked Poland when assigned reports on countries, but most of my knowledge is about food and holidays.

My most prevalent Polish memories center around Wigilia, the Polish Christmas Eve celebration... though us spoiled American kids definitely kept those events from being authentic. (E.g. It's supposed to be a meat-free meal with many fish courses, but we all refused to eat fish, so meat it was.) However, that meal always* included oplatek (which I didn't know how to spell until I Googled it for this blog post), a trading of best wishes for the new year, straw under the baby Jesus, a chair for The Stranger*, so very many courses, pierogi, and chrusiki (*not always included but I really like the concept). These traditions live on as I've never missed a Christmas Eve with my parents, aunt, and uncle. My brother and cousins have missed the dinner occasionally but generally, every effort is made to attend.

In preparation for Christmas Eve, my parents generally take a trip to Hamtramck, the Polish neighborhood of Detroit. Hamtramck has seen better days, but there are still some really fantastic Polish restaurants and bakeries. When I'm able to go back to Michigan early, I get to join them for lunch at Polonia before stopping at the New Palace Bakery for chrusciki for Christmas Eve.

As I've been cooking more, I decided I should learn how to make more Polish recipes, both favorites and things I've never had before... though I'll probably avoid the recipes that call for blood. Like, there's literally a dish called blood soup. Um... no, thank you. When I told my mom, she bought me a copy of a little Polish cookbook she owned called Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans. Yes, it does include a recipe for blood soup.
Golabki before it went in the oven.
It wasn't pretty when it came out,
but it was delicious.

Last weekend,
I spent some time reading through the book and marking the recipes I'd like to try. There were a lot. Here are the first three, all very traditional, and I hope to do more and try a few with my mom.

1. Gołąbki
Yes, that is in a different font because I had to Google it. In English characters, it might be "golabki" or "gulumpkis." It's pronounced more like "gumpki." It's stuffed cabbage. Obviously as a snotty child I refused to eat this dish but as I've gotten older, I've grown to love it. It's basically Polish comfort food. It's also incredibly easy to make. I don't have much of a story to tell about it. I mixed the filling, stuffed the cabbage, and baked it. I'll definitely be trying it again, though I'll probably do a better job blanching the cabbage and possibly doing a double layer of the thinner leaves instead of trying to get one, strong leaf. Also, it said to layer bacon on top, which I did, but I'd probably skip that next time because it really just resulted in cabbagy bacon and really greasy (still delicious) golabkis. I have to give the tomato sauce topping a try too, which would likely negate the need for the bacon grease.

2. Dill Pickle Soup
That's right. Dill pickle soup is a thing and it's one of my very, very favorite soups. I love pickles, so one December when we were lunching at Polonia and I saw it on the menu, I was like, yep, trying that. It's one of the things that I decided I needed to learn to make, and OMG, it's so easy. And so delicious. There are only 5 ingredients: pickles, flour, butter, stock, and sour cream. I had a stock in my freezer, but I wasn't sure if it was any good, and I didn't want to risk not knowing if the soup was bad because the recipe was bad or the stock was bad, so I went with store-bought beef stock this time around. Next time I'll try it with my own stock. It was so tangy and pickley and made my taste buds so happy. I am definitely making this again. (No, I'm not going to address the levels of salt this soup has.)


Heaven,
I added the pickles for the picture to give it a little color and texture. It's generally just a creamy soup.
But I also then ate those pickles because they were delicious.

Mushroom & Onion
3. Pierogi
I wanted this classic Polish dish to be included in this list item, but I was sure it was going to be complicated and beyond my kitchen's capabilities. Nope. So easy. The dough had 4 ingredients, one being water, and the fillings range from simple to complex. I went with mushroom & onion and and cheese. The dough wasn't perfect. I'm new to dough, so I'm not sure exactly what went wrong. It was super watery and sticky, like basically just mud when I started. I used wheat flour because that's what I had, so that could have been the issue. Since it only took 5 minutes to make, I'll definitely try it again. The most time consuming part of either filling was chopping the mushrooms. If I had done it all at once, it honestly would have taken 20-30 minutes, start to finish, for fresh pierogiswith 2 different fillings. So happy I tried this.

Cheese.
These are usually my favorite.
I'll be playing with the cheese filling because
as you can see, it wasn't very dense.
I'll certainly add updates if I try more, perfect one of these (though the dill pickle soup was already perfect) and definitely if I give a recipe a go with my mom. Maybe we'll try to make our own pierogis this year for Christmas Eve!

Update: On Sundays, I go to the Zanns' and cook. One week Zann demanded pierogi, so I decided to give it another go with a different dough recipe. The dough was better, but I still have to figure out how to get it thinner because it was a little too doughy. I tried a meat and onion filling as well, and that was again super easy. So next time: thinner dough and attempts at sauerkraut and potato fillings!

Zann Dinner



Friday, September 1, 2017

#92 - See a Friend I Haven't Seen in at Least 3 Years

My mom reunited with her camp friends a.k.a. my friend's moms.
I always have this item on my list because I adore connecting with old friends. This item has certainly never disappointed me. However, I've never before been able to see so many old friends, several of whom I haven't seen in many years, all in one week. Reconnecting with camp friends is definitely my favorite, whether it's been months, years, or sometimes, decades.

If I haven't talked your ear off about camp before, here's a link. I have been attending Camp Michigania East, a family camp for Michigan alumni, since 1988. There's a camp in northern Michigan as well, but we tried out Michigania East, in the Adirondak park in upstate New York, one summer, and we were hooked, as certain families are. I wasn't going to say more here, but then I read a blog post by another camper--let's call her Megan--and felt compelled to find opportunities to put out into the world the gratitude I feel for my camp family.

I've probably attended, for at least a partial week, for 25 of the last 30 years. I've lost count. I hadn't been to a full week of camp in several years as late August in upstate New York was pretty hard to swing for a broke doctoral student in southern California. I hate missing it though.

Camp really made me who I am today. Growing up, I had friends from all over the East Coast. I learned early on about geographical and familial cultural differences. I learned differences in vernacular and slang. Many of my camp friends are Jewish, and where I grew up, nearly all of my friends were Christian/Catholic. I learned to love card games. I learned about music: the Beatles and Led Zepplin. I learned that you could see the Milky Way and how to identify constellations. I had pen pals. I had friends who knew me without all of the social dynamics of school. I had friends I had never been in public with until we were teenagers. It's a strange feeling to drive to a grocery store to pick up some beer at 21 with friends you've known for over a decade yet you've never seen them interact with actual strangers.

In addition to the long-term friendships I have from camp, without it, I wouldn't be in my professional field. I had never been a particularly sporty or active kid, but at camp I tried horseback riding, tennis, sailing, archery... I learned to try new things. Without camp, I wouldn't have been on the Equestrian Team in college. I wouldn't have worked at a tennis club. I wouldn't have taken sailing lessons in Chicago and San Diego. I wouldn't know I liked those things. I wouldn't be so brave to try new things. I wouldn't know I wanted to work in an environment that encourages building community in the context of fun, learning, and sometimes trying something new.

Each year I feel a longing to be back. As a graduate of Michigan, I am fortunate enough to have the option to return each year. Circumstances don't quite allow that.

I managed a few day days in 2014. I had had a dream that I was able to go to camp and woke up crying because I wanted it so badly. My mom called later that day and said they'd like to fly me out to bring me to camp. However, that year the most emotionally, academically difficult course of my life overlapped with camp. It had a reputation. I felt the pull so deeply that I e-mailed my professor, asking to be released from the last class just one hour early to hop a flight. He responded that it seemed important, told me I needed to explain it to the rest of the class, but less gave me permission to go than allowed me to give myself permission. It ended up being part of my learning for the course, which is too deeply emotional to explain as a tangent on this blog. I arrived, went to take my swim test, and was greeted by a relatively new camper at the time with a "Welcome home." I was immensely thankful as I was able to spend time with my parents, in my favorite place, and to reconnect with one of my oldest friends, after many years, during a time when life was really challenging him.

Two of my favorite people & oldest friends
(Rachel & Leah) in my favorite place
I also did a long weekend last year. I had just started a new job, didn't have enough vacation days built up, didn't have enough money after my cross-country move, and almost couldn't even take that one day because my director declared "no days off in August." I begged her for one Friday, so I could leave Thursday evening, drive to the mountains, spend Friday and Saturday nights at camp, and head home Sunday. That time was so necessary. With my dissertation, job search, cross country move, almost break in, and difficulty finding an apartment in Boston, I couldn't settle within myself. I had serious anxiety and spent a lot of time alone in spaces that felt like temporary apartments, never like home. At camp, I finally felt at home. When departing on Sunday, someone did me an anonymous favor that really moved me. While I have my suspicions, really, it could have been anyone because these people are family. I do wish I could tell them what a relief it was to feel cared for during a difficult time. I hope they read this. That feeling continued as another camp family took me into their home for several days, offering a room, food, scotch, whatever I needed, with the offer of more, when I didn't have a place to live in Boston. So while this blog post isn't about that, thank you, David and Julie. A few weeks later, another family invited me to Thanksgiving dinner. Thank you, Don and Emily. If I had stayed in Boston, I certainly would have taken you up on your kind offer of dinner. During my struggles in Boston, it was such a relief to feel like I had family so close, ready to take me in.

For this year, my parents yielded to those requests and decided to return. As at work I was told "no days off in August," I couldn't commit. I was even less able to commit once I applied for, was offered, and accepted a new job in Chicago, no longer driving distance, in addition to the additional relocation expenses and vacation days set to zero.

Then, there was a ton of drama as soon after camp in 2016, there was an announcement of an earlier registration deadline, and after that deadline, any unfilled spots would go to friends and family of the owners of the camp, basically anyone they wanted to fill the empty cabins. The deadline was so early, that many people could not commit even though they planned to attend the following year.

As soon as the information was shared on our facebook group, people took action. A few weeks of letter writing, phone calls, and immense energy and effort to plead our case resulted in the original deadline for that year as we promised to really push camp to friends, family, and with our local alumni clubs. Special thanks to Lynn and company. Our special community really came together to save itself, which really warmed my heart. So many people shared the letters they sent to the alumni association on our facebook page. It was incredible to see the different roles we each took, the slightly varied perspectives, and the different reasons why this place is so important to each of us and all of us. I've always loved camp, and it was really affirming to watch so many people openly showing the deepness of the love we have for the time we share, not just in this beautiful place in the Adirondaks, but the deepness of the love we have in spending that time together.

Plus, our efforts seem to have worked as there was a waiting list for camp this year. While the ideal for us is that everyone who wants to attend gets in, it's obviously important for camp to be full to be fiscally responsible for the alumni association and the owners of the camp.

Unlike last year, I now have a lovely job, where my vacation days are my vacation days to use as I see fit. Plus, I have multiple side jobs, so I can actually save up money to do things, like go on vacation. I'm so thankful that everything came together because this also ended up being the year when so many people came back to camp, which leads me back to the purpose of this blog post.

The Crew
Left to right: The "newbies," Corey & Daphne
Friends for 30 years, Ted, me, Rachel, & Leah 
I got a text a few weeks before camp that mentioned my dear friend Rachel Felson would be returning this year. I had not read the camp roster carefully enough, missing this information, and literally jumped for joy when I heard that news. Rachel and I have managed to see each other through the years. We overlapped in Chicago for a bit. She let me stay with her during a visit to San Francisco. Rachel holds a special place in my heart. Every time I see her, I feel my heart open because she always greets me with an open heart. She reminds me to continue to cultivate love and curiosity, to use my experiences to connect, not to compete. So few people in this world are so genuine.

When I got to camp, I learned Leah Weiss would also be joining us, which led me to fist pump on the beach, like a total bro. I've seen Leah a few times in the last few years, but hearing that the core of the gang was getting back together was monumental. Leah has another special place in my heart. I don't know anyone so strikingly strong, fiercely loyal, and, at the same time, so much damn fun. It makes me feel special to be her friend. Rachel, Leah, and Teddy, I love you kids. I'm so happy we got to spend time together. I needed that.

I also found out Rammy Holaday would be joining us later in the week. I still remember one night when I was a teenager, I think, that Rammy, a kid named Paul, and I stayed up all night together, playing cards and wandering the grounds. I specifically remember going to the waterfront at dawn and watching bats fly in and out of the fog over the lake. I'd never seen anything like it. Then I remember laughing uncontrollably as some little kids threw rocks at us for some reason. Now Rammy is working on his Ph.D. in philosophy, and I thoroughly enjoyed not so much catching up with him but having a deep conversation about ethics as if no time had passed, except that we were older and capable of having such conversations.
Zach, me, and Rammy at Dregs Night

Zach Lerner came back to camp after many years with his mom Linda and brother Ben, whom I knew, as well as Zach's delightful wife Alana and Ben's adorable family,wife Melissa and son Liam. My mom has stayed in touch with Linda, but I'm pretty sure it had been at least 15 years since I'd seen the Lerners as my last memories of Zach are of him around age 10, hanging around us when we were teenagers, which we encouraged because he was such a fun, cool kid. I wasn't sure if Zach and Alana were coming to camp out of obligation or by their own wishes, and regardless, it didn't take long to see the camp aura about them, Alana adapted to camp life quickly, and Zach seemed to be right back into it, except that he was stuck being an indoor kid due to a hand injury. It was really lovely to have them all this year, and I hope they came back again.

I hope we all go back again. I know this was a tough past year for all of us with the political climate of the country, and it was a particularly tough year for those who lost loved ones, struggled at work, went through difficult transitions, etc. I'm so thankful to have had a week to heal, laugh, love, and honor the space we build together each year in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Thank you.

Friday, August 25, 2017

#14 - Summit a New Mountain

So all throughout camp, I was like, I should probably go on the Hobie Cat since "sail a catamaran" is on my list. But then I didn't. Because I was too busy doing exactly what I wanted to do at each moment, which was mostly hang with camp people.

Then, as I was looking through my list to update my blog, I realized, we had definitely summitted a new mountain, and that's on the list too!

The Monday of camp, we went up Kipp Mountain, and though the views were spectacular from the cliff at the top of the trail through the OFFICIAL tree farm, we didn't quite summit it.

Thursday, we did a trail called the Balm of Gilead Mountain, which is a badass name but also very hard to remember. It may or may not be the summit of Gilead Mountain, but it kinda looked like it was, so I'm counting it. Gilead Mountain: summitted.


And what a lovely crew. We didn't get lost in the woods, but if we had, the company would have been lovely as it included at least 4 friends I've know for 29+ years and my dad. While the views, again, were spectacular, it's just divine to hike with a group where even with 15 or so of us, it doesn't matter who you're hiking next to because all down the line, the conversation is likely to be lovely. Stop, take a break, ask for bug spray, you're taken care of. The travel-bathroom stories on the way down really passed the time as well.

As the trip was probably almost 3 hours, including the 45-minute each way drive each way, plus an extra stop*, there isn't much more story to tell.

*Thanks, Peggy, for the root beer floats. Sorry we made you buy us gifts on your anniversary. :)