Sunday, August 29, 2010

Girls with Guitars (and Drums and a Bass)

On the last Saturday of each month (during the summer), my neighborhood puts on free musical performances in the square. Sometimes they are good, other times it is just nice to be outside enjoying the weather. Last night was more than a nice night to be out.

When Flying Feels Like Falling, previously called Circular Convention, an all girl alternative/punk band, entertained the Logan Square crowd with a couple covers including one from Blink 182, and some originals from their own collection. WFFLF came together while the young women were participating in a rock music summer camp through Girls Rock Chicago. It was refreshing seeing these girls up on the stage with their skinny jeans, purple hair and punk attitudes rocking out to music they created. So few girls are ever encouraged to get out there and play. Nice music and great job!

Girls Rock Chicago, through its summer camp, works with girls between the ages of 8 and 16 teaching them how to play instruments and form a band. This organization has been in operation since 2005 and is growing with more girls, more staff and more great music.

I applaud the founders of this organization because Girls Rock gives girls a chance to explore their musical inclinations and supports their talents while showing them the ropes of what it takes to be in a band. Programs such as this which provide guidance and an emotional outlet to pre-teen and teenage girls  are so important in developing strong individuals. I remember from my teenage years most bands tended to all male with no room for any female talent. It is nice to see girl bands holding their own out there.

I cannot say enough good things about this project so I will end here. If you get a chance, you should check them out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mirrors Visted, A Poem

I recently started reading Gaiman's "Smoke and Mirrors." The mystery and intrigue Gaiman inserts into his short stories brings me back to my childhood wonder about all that was then magical in the world. When dragons and unicorns could exist and peacefully live together with the other forest creatures. And Mommy Fortuna could capture them for her own wishes.

This quote inspired the poem that follows:
Mirrors are wonderful things. They appear to tell the truth, to reflect life back out at us; but set the mirror correctly and it will lie so convincingly you'll believe that something has vanished into thin air, that a box filled with doves and flags and spiders is actually empty, that people hidden in the wings or the pit are floating ghosts upon the stage. Angle it right and a mirror becomes a magic casement; it can show you anything you can imagine and maybe a few things you can't.
(Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors)

Mirrors Visited

We do the dance opposite of one another,
Facing each other,
Turning the mirrors at 45 degree angles, changing reality
Producing the magic and telling the lies only magicians can tell.
We all do the dance and tell the lies and live and love and dance opposite of each other.
The music is secondary. The each other is tertiary.
It is only the mirrors that remain in first.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
Behind the mirrors exists nothing.
Ignore the emptiness just beyond.
Look into the mirrors see happiness.
Keep smiling into the mirrors, they will smile back.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
Even when we dance alone in front of the mirrors there are two.
No one is lonely in front of the mirrors.
We smile big smiles and bow to each other.
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.
A small candle glow becomes a bursting of light and the smile returns upon the lips of the reflection.
Step out of the mirror and dance the dance and smile the smile.
Twirl faster and faster and the light brightens and the smile widens
The mirrors, telling the lies.
The mirrors, living and loving and dancing opposite of each other.

(J Smith 2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music to My Ears

This weekend was the 9th Glenwood Ave. Arts Festival in Chicago. Hands down, this is one of the best neighborhood music festivals around. Rarely if ever do I enjoy the music played at the festivals I attend. I focus on the people watching, which was plentiful at this one too. Although I cannot replicate the music from all the wonderful bands we saw, I can provide a photolog of the musical journey. Regardless of what your musical leanings are, each band was enjoyable and provided a great festival atmosphere to go along with the visual art.

The first band were were able to catch was the Sons of Susan. This is a blues and swing type band.

The next band we found our way to was the Lowdown Brass Band. They bill themselves as Afro-beat, Funk and Crunk. Fun group!

We were entertained by Bible of the Devil. A metal and rock band and definitely lively. They drew quite a crowd. 

Mississippi Gabe Carter was the next act up. This is a blues type band. Really great! 

The Polkaholics were a very lively bunch! They kept the crowd entertained with various songs including Went out for a beer.

Walking on to the next stage, excited to see what was in store, we came upon Ode. A gypsy punk band. This was one of my favorites at the fest.

Finally, our night wrapped up with Tom Holland and the Shuffle Kings. What a finale!

Other than all the wonderful bands scattered throughout this wonderland of sound, there were also the other painters, weavers, knitters, and street artists. This woman was kindly entertaining the puppy with her baton twirls.

The day was long, but so worth it! If you find yourself in Chicago while this festival is going on you should definitely get out to see it for yourselves. Not one to be missed!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Trapped Fly

Yesterday, while waiting for a friend I was drawn to the predicament of a fly trapped in a storefront window. I believe the fly could see the place he sought to be, but he could not reach it. He desperately tried to free himself from his self inflicted prison, but no matter how hard he tried, he did not persevere. Instead, he just buzzed around, up and down the window, in search of the exit that did not, and could not, exist.

Rarely are we awakened to the fact that we are confined- confined by society, confined by our relationships, confined by our thoughts, confined by the limitations of our bodies. But when we become aware we are confined in one way or another, when we realize some "freedom" is just beyond reach, all our senses become heightened and panic may set in. Even if the confines are those we chose and those we want, once panic sets in, we cease thinking clearly and the ability to focus on the situation is lost. Often we start grasping at objects, thoughts and ideas to try and free ourselves from our entrapments without thinking through what it is we are trying to free ourselves from or if we really want "freedom" at all.

Watching the fly's dilemma brought to mind Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit, which glimpses into the world of hell. While Sartre's hell lacks the fire and brimstone facade, it provides a more frightening picture of a hell It brings to light and allows recognition of society's tearing away of freedom through objectification. Even when we are given the ability to leave, we tend not to for fear of what awaits us. (The devil we know…).
Has society robbed us of the wherewithal to implement a plan to free ourselves from whatever prison we have created or determine if the "prison" is one we want? Are we left desperately flittering about without knowing where to go, drowning in our own indecision? Following only the path that is set forth be it wrong or right?

Commercials, movies, advertisements etc. tell us the life we should have, the life we "want." But should we really want it? And, if so, why? I cannot say for certain, but I do believe group think is becoming much more prevalent. Even though life is never like the movies, why do we try to emulate it? The happy endings fed to us at the end of films cannot be replicated in real life- there is always something else that happens- we do not just get the girl. The girl becomes older, has thoughts and a life of her own, wants security, gets sick, etc. She does not remain perfect as she was at the end of the movie. Why do we allow ourselves to be drawn into this false reality and try to require society to behave within the confines of it?

Sartre says:

"L'enfer c'est les autres" (Hell is other people) (No Exit, Sartre)

Is hell other people? Is it our need to desperately be accepted and validated by those that surround us? Do we as a group hold each other down, force ourselves and others to conform- is that the purpose of society?

Or is it as Oscar Wilde claims:

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell”

Is hell our own insecurities?

Maybe it is both? Maybe we create our own "hell" and then force others to conform to a hellish society because we are the ones in control of it? How do you break out of the conformity one places on oneself and others- is it just safety in numbers that drives us?

I am not sure. Either way, we will all most likely continue to remain in step and make as few waves as possible to avoid shattering the "hellish" facade in which we exist. The shadows will remain on the wall and we will continue to believe they are our reality.

Amazing what a little fly can trigger.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fantasical Loves and other myths...

What makes love real? Do you have to see the person? touch the person?

Is it possible to be in love with the idea of love rather than the person? I believe this is possible. I would call the love with the idea of love (of the person) "fantasy love." I believe we see a lot of that these days. People falling in love with thoughts of another person rather than the person him/herself. I would say Internet relationships fall into this category. Without knowing the real person, the everyday person, how do you know who it is that you love? It is similar to "falling in love" with an actor or musician. The person provided in the glitz and glamour of the big screen can be wonderful, but that does not convey the real person. I am not saying that the person may not have a beautiful soul, body and mind, but I am saying that it is impossible to know if you are not around that person. If you cannot and do not experience their physical presence. The intimate quirkiness that each of us has.

If I had to choose between the two, I would want real love. The solid concrete love, the kind that binds you to another. It may not be flashy, but it is real and good. Fantasy love is great for the highs it can provide, but it seems to be empty and shallow. It lacks the depth that real love can produce. I want someone to love me, my faults and all. I do not ever want to be placed on a pedestal, the fall is much to great.  The fantasy love can burn big and bright, but dies.

For me, I want the "love me even in my old ratty sweatpants" love. I find that to be romantic. I also find that to be the love that lasts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Korean Festival

On Sunday I ventured out to the 15th Annual Korean Fest. The festival is free with donations accepted-I like this idea. It allows everyone to enjoy the festival, not just those with the money to support it. Moreover, I like that Chicago has such a diverse population that it can have a Korean Festival which provides an introduction to specific neighborhoods and cultures. Everyone was very welcoming and out to have a nice time.

This was my third year attending and although not my favorite year, it was still enjoyable. I was sad we missed the wonderful drumming group, which I have recorded in years past, but it was a beautiful day and there is always a good bubble tea to be had.

Even though there scheduled are performances, it is the people watching that makes most festivals interesting.

Here are some photos from the day...

And the events...
Korean Flag

Shin Myung and Mask Dance

East Sea Martial Arts
And, of course, the food...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cookie Starts With C- and these start with 3 (Chocolate Chip Cookies)

To celebrate completing another certification exam (fingers and toes crossed that I passed), I whipped up some chocolate chip cookies.  Because all my regularly scheduled chocolate chip cookie recipes are packed away somewhere in the depths of a storage unit, I searched for a new recipe. This is what I found. So far I have heard no complaints from my trusty taste testers.

Here is the recipe:


1 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips)
1/2 cup dried cherries (optional)
1 cup chopped walnuts (or macadamia nuts) (optional)
Preheat the over to 350 degrees (I have to turn my oven up to 370 degrees since it has its own temperature agenda regardless of what the knob says.
Cream butter and both sugars until smooth. Add in one egg at a time, continue mixing. Add vanilla- keep mixing. In a measuring cup mix together the baking soda and hot water- allow to dissolve then add to the batter. Mix in your flour (you may want to try reducing the flour to 2 1/2 cups rather than the full 3 cups unless you prefer cakey cookies. I do not, so there you go).
At this stage, I equally divide the dough into 2 separate containers. Since I have a soy sensitivity I have to use soy free chocolate chips. My husband, on the other hand, prefers regular old chocolate chips. Because of this dilemma, 1/2 the dough gets 1 cup regular chocolate chips and then the remaining 1/2 dough gets a cup of the soy free chocolate chips as well as the 1/2 (or so) of dried cherries.
Spoon the dough out onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes. I baked mine for about 15 minutes per each cookie sheet because they were having a little trouble browning. Other than that, they turned out quite nice.
Let cool or just start eating if you can handle the burn. I suggest waiting at least long enough that the steam coming off the cookies subsides.
Makes about 4 dozen.

Good for sharing with nice people. If you don't know any nice people, you need to get out more! If you are offering them cookies many people can become nice. Do not be hoodwinked- only the nice people should get cookies.

I saw a shirt a while back that said "Come to the Dark Side, We have Cookies." Well said.
Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rome, A Moveable Feast and a love of Hemingway

One of my first true literary loves is Hemingway. Although I do stray from time to time (with other authors such as Saramago, Bulgakov, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald, Dickens, etc.), the anticipation of reading one of Hemingway’s stories gives me such great pleasure I do not shun him for long. His writing as the man’s man touching on war, boxing and bull fighting, does not deter me because his simple writing style conveys such richness in thought that I am drawn to him and revel in his prose.

The Sun Also Rises has become a book conveying a certain warmth related to “home” for me, possibly due to the time and place I first encountered it. It makes me want to run away to Spain and join the “lost generation” living on words, absinthe and bull fighting.

For the moment, I am reading A Moveable Feast. It is a patchwork of memoirs from Hemingway’s life as an ex-pat in Paris edited by his grandson (there is another version, but this is the one I have). This book calls to me. I want to join him. His writing pulls on my own memories and awakens the chapters of my life from when I lived in Rome, drawing the memories thick and solid- almost real. My thoughts when I first arrived in Rome some 14 years ago? I'm home.

I so enjoyed that period of my life. I was so young and free- my only restrictions were those that I created and lack of money (which can be gotten around if one is creative). But even lacking money, I was able to venture out into the Roman night and sit on the Spanish steps or visit Piazza Navona to take in all that was Rome. Do you remember the Christmas festival? Bombastik? The wine festival? Navona Notte? The weekend trips near and far?

I could leisurely read books, converse and discover without much care of the passing of time. I could love life as one does as an foreigner. I felt at the time that the life I was leading would never come to an end. It could always live on. I would always carry it with me. And I do.

The friends I had during that time still dance in my memory- as does the food, the love, the passionate arguments, and self discovery. Even though many of these same people cross my path now and again, the "they" they were remains locked in Roman time forever.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What I Want to be...

Recently, I was discussing with a friend what I want to be "when I grow up." I realize that I am already a thirty-something and by now I should be well on that path already.

I have been working for more than half my life and "should" have an idea of what I want to do. My conundrum does not spring from lack of experience. I have worked in a dry cleaners, a newspaper subscription company, a fast food chain, a nursing home, a hospital, a pizza place, a night club, a clothing store, an insurance market, a couple animal hospitals, a department store, an industrial supply company, and a couple law firms (I may be missing a couple jobs here and there). Mind you, this drawn out list doesn't even include all the places I have volunteered. Still, here I am and I do not yet know where I belong.

When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor and a ballerina- at the same time, of course. I know this because I proclaimed it at my kindergarten graduation- a recording of which remains to this day. (As does the dance routine that followed). The ballerina idea died almost as quickly as it surfaced, but the doctor idea held on until my first year of college.

I toyed with the idea of being a veterinarian, but nothing ever came of it. The switch from pre-med, psychology major, Italian language minor to philosophy major, psychology minor caused my parents some angst, but again, it did not lead me on any particular career path.

I loved philosophy for its enticing ability to provide an outlet to ponder the world and all its mysteries, but that is not a career- it is more something you do while hanging out with friends over a couple of beers. Rarely, if ever, do you see want ads for philosophers. I did the thing that most fresh out of college philosophy majors do with huge loans- I took a general office position with good benefits and dream of doing something else.

We often to fall into a job which we continue to do because our personal responsibilities increase and life continues on. My question is, what happens if those responsibilities disappear? What happens when you are no longer responsible for anyone but yourself?

Do you continue on the path you've already set or do you change gears and start over in a different direction? Does it matter that you have invested so many years in getting to where you are currently? If not, is there something stopping you from trying something different? Is it the fear of failure?

Andre Malraux said:

     Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has
     better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one's ideas, to
     take a calculated risk - and to act."

Is failure really that bad? I have experienced my share of failure and I know it can sting, but is that enough not to try? I am not so sure. To really love the life one leads does it require taking chances? I am going to say yes, it does. Chances for happiness, chances to find a passion that drives you. Does that make for a successful life? Again, I would say yes- maybe not in the conventional sense, but for you yourself, as a person.

I have been content with my life thus far, with all its ups and downs. But when faced with change not of your own making, do you wallow in it or do you grasp it and allow it to expand your horizons? Do you allow it catapult you into a new space, to color your dreams and reinvigorate your wanderlust? I just don't know...

...or is this the pondering of a bourgeois armchair philosopher with too much time on her hands? Possibly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Beautiful Boule (Bread)

Making bread is a full on sensory experience. The earthy smell of the yeast proofing, the feel of the dough on your hands (and sometimes arms and elbows depending on how messy I am), the crackle of the crust when it comes out of the oven. There is nothing more comforting than the smell of bread baking (although the smell of freshly cut basil does comes close).

I used to make the type of bread that requires lots of kneading and rising and then more kneading. Even though I find the process grounding and the development of patience needed, sometimes life gets in the way. But, life should never get in the way of having good bread around! Since we do not live in Europe where, I believe, bakeries out number homes, we have to do it ourselves.

As a compromise between time and good bread, I found a godsend of a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (thanks to one of my good friends turning me on to it).

I make bread so often that we have stopped buying bread from the grocery store because mine is just better. (Now that I have patted myself on the back for a job well done, I can get on to the recipe...)

This receipe makes about 2 loaves of bread and 1 pizza or 3 smaller loaves. The basic dough consists of the following ingredients:

11/2 Tbs yeast
11/2 Tbs salt
3 cups lukewarm water
61/2 cups flour
1 5-7 qt covered container (to hold it all in- larger is better because the dough will need somewhere to go when it rises)

Mix the water, salt and yeast in the container- no need to use a bowl.

Let the mixture proof (i.e. set, sit, just leave it alone) for 5 minutes or so.

Start mixing in the flour. Mix in all of it. The original recipe states that it is not necessary to knead the dough.  I mix the dough with my hands in the container, not on the counter. I use my hands because I find it difficult to turn in all the flour with just a wooden spoon (and I also like getting my hands a little dirty), but feel free to mix it in however you see fit.

Once mixed, allow dough to rise in a warm place for 2-5 hours. I usually put a towel in between the top of the container and the lid. It makes it feel more like the traditional way of making bread and I also believe that it allows it to rise better. I have no proof this theory works, but I like it and it is my bread. Feel free to do what you feel is best.

After allowing it to rise, place the entire container in your refrigerator, cover and all. It can stay like that for a week. You can also freeze it, but since the bread is so good, you will end up making all the dough in a short period of time.

When you are ready to bake some bread, take a cutting board or pizza peel and rub it down with cornmeal to make the dough more easily transferable.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone already in oven.

Remove a softball size piece of dough from your container- using a serrated knife to separate the piece of dough from your original. Form it quickly into a ball and score the top of it with the same serrated knife (no need to dirty something else). Let rise for 20 minutes or so.

"Shoosh it" (i.e. slide it off the cutting board) onto the baking stone for cooking.

The book suggests placing a cup of water in a pan under the stone rack at the start of cooking. I have done with and without and didn't see a difference. I am sure there is one, but I didn't see it and so I am not worried about it. The bread has turned out fine either way.

Bake for about 35 minutes. Pull out of the oven and put on cooling rack until cool.

Best way to keep this bread from getting hard is to turn the cut side down on a cutting board. It will keep the bread soft until the end. Then again, if any pieces get too hard, you can always turn them into bread crumbs.

This bread comes out with a lovely crunchy crust and is well worth the space taken up in the refrigerator by the large container. It is fantastic with Nutella for those of us that prefer a little chocolate spread to get the day going.

Happy Baking!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Bird in the Hand...

Quick quote for the day:

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."
(F. Keonig)

Instead of running away from what you have, focus more fully and search for the beauty within. It may be a long road, but recovering what is hidden can be more gratifying than finding something new because it is already yours.

This is true when looking at oneself. We all have special gifts and talents. We all have unique lives. No one can determine that one life is better than another because an outsider is never privy to all the aspects of another's life or another's relationships. We can only see what is shared in the open. What is shared is usually only a faded glimpse of what lies beneath the surface. In practice, I try to appreciate my own talents, my own gifts, my own relationships and my own life with all its strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. The combination of these specific elements make for a unique experience, all my own.

I think this is true with love as well. You may be surprised at the endless layers each person has within. Rediscover each other again and again.  Since we can never know any one person completely, doesn't it make sense to try and learn the person we love most as fully and completely as we can?  Does it not lead us to a more meaningful life with that person? We celebrate long lives and long relationships because we understand how precious they are.

One of the songs that I believe reflects this idea in relation to relationships is Somebody (Depeche Mode).

I recall my father-in-law recounting how pleased he was to see an elderly couple holding hands and nuzzling on the metro one afternoon. It is this road of happy discovery that I choose for me and my life. I hope you do the same.

Have a joyful journey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

When I Married You...

Sometimes it is easier to write the things one means to say. Sometimes it cuts out the background noise and distractions. The following is a poem I threw together:

When I married you…

When I married you, I loved you like no other.
When I married you, I knew it was not the paper that bound us, but our commitment to each other.
When I married you, I knew there was no one else.
When I married you, I looked ahead and was happy.
When I married you, I looked behind and was satisfied.
When I married you, I knew you were my best friend.
When I married you, I married you forever.
When I married you, I said goodbye to single life with no regrets.
When I married you, I welcomed you with my whole being.
When I married you, I was confident that our love was strong.
When I married you, I knew you were not perfect, but that you were perfect for me.
When I married you, I knew I was not perfect, but wanted the ‘me’ I was (am) to be the perfection you sought.
When I married you, I said I do (and I have).
When I married you, I knew there would be some hard times.
When I married you, I knew there would be some sorrowful times.
When I married you, I believed we could get through anything together.
When I married you, I knew I would walk through fire for you.
When I married you, I knew life was short and wanted to share it with you.
When I married you, I knew I wanted to grow old with you.
When I married you, I felt your love and it made me strong.
When I married you, I knew there would be much laughter.
When I married you, I bound myself to all of you, even to the shadows in your heart's doorway.
When I married you, you lighted my shadows, wiped away the cobwebs in my heart and made room for it to grow.
When I married you, I wanted to share my world with you.
When I married you, I wanted to know your world, to walk in your secret garden.
When I married you, I knew life would never be the same.

I still feel the same today.


While on the topic of marriage, I also want to share with you of my favorite songs by Francis Cabrel, Je T'aimais, Je T'aime, Je T'aimerai. It is a truly amazing song. For the lyrics, in French and an English translation see here.

Love your other like you will die tomorrow. If you do, you will have no regrets should it be so...