Sunday, May 1, 2016

What I Read in April


I sure did plow through 'em last month! I finished a whopping eight books in April, nearly all of them very good & worth the read. Lately, I find that I'm doing less writing in order to make room for more reading, which is surely a phase, but one I'm not mad about. Reading a slightly more passive, less stressful way to become one with words, falling into someone else's instead of churning out my own. I'm sure I'll come back to writing eventually - I always do - but for now, I'm really enjoy all this damn reading.

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

This is exactly the kind of mystery novel I love: unpredictable, interesting, & imaginative. It tells the story of police detective Louise Rick, who's investigating the case of an indigent, mentally disabled woman found dead in a local woods. The woman, she learns, was a patient at a nearby asylum... & was declared dead more than 30 years ago. As I read, I started to put together the bits & pieces of the mystery on my own, but the reality of it the ending was richer & more detailed than I could've imagined on my own, which I appreciate - not too easy to guess, but not totally unguessable. ★★★★★

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

I'd long been looking forward to this book & still can't decide if it met expectations, exceeded them, or fell below them. What a strange novel! Mia leaves the bar with a handsome stranger who proceeds to kidnap her. Their dynamic is fascinating, & so is the parallel dynamic occurring within Mia's family. Her high-powered father doesn't much care that she's gone, but her guilt-ridden mother conducts a desperate search for her, aided by a committed detective. The book is told from their perspectives & that of the kidnapper; interestingly, we don't hear from Mia herself until the very end. This book was well-written, but the pacing was soooo slow & level that even the big twists & reveals at the end were, while surprising, still totally even-keeled. ★★★★☆

Year of Yes by Shonda Rimes

I'd heard mixed things about this book, but I loved it from the get-go. Shonda Rimes speaks in a voice that is familiar to me, comfortable to me, reminiscent of my own. She is a mix of brash & confident & nervous & humble & unsure & badass. She is funny but thoughtful. She is both Meredith Grey & Olivia Pope. And reading her own words about her own life - specifically, how her sister's accusation "You never say yes to anything" inspired her to change her ways - was like seeing how the sausage is made, but in a good way (which is, I know, totally not how that phrase is supposed to work). ★★★★☆

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I've had this one on my shelf for months & should've gotten to it sooner. What a gem! The book is narrated by the elderly Addie Baum, who's telling her life story to her granddaughter, Ava, in response to the question, "How did you become the woman you are today?" Addie, a first-generation American Jew, has lead quite a life: poverty, suicide, sexual assault, family issues... & yet, she remains insightful, wise, & optimistic. This is a poignant, & well-written novel about life in a time period that most of us can't quite imagine. It was a pleasure & an honor to learn of this fictional character's very real life & to live it through her memories. ★★★★★

Deliver Her by Patricia Perry Donovan

I received this book for free as my April Kindle First selection. A lot of Goodreads reviewers call it predictable & unrealistic, & I agree that it is - but I still found it imminently readable & compelling. It's about a family that's falling apart - parents divorcing, a teenage daughter whose best friend has just died. The mother, Meg, sends her daughter, Alex, to a boarding school to shape up, but the transport goes wrong & Alex goes missing in the middle of a New England snowstorm. This is a solid debut novel if you don't need your books to be super deep or intellectual - just entertaining. ★★★☆☆

Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel 

As terrible as the title of this book is, I'm pretty into this author right now; she's Denmark's bestselling novelist, apparently, though as far as I can tell, she's basically a Danish Mary Higgins Clark. Confusingly, this book is the second title in the series I couldn't start from the beginning, because the first book hasn't yet been published in English. It was entertaining enough, & it kept me guessing, though, as with the other Blaedel book I read in April, the conclusion felt a bit rushed & slightly less climactic than I'd hoped it would be. Still, I'm looking forward to more from her. ★★★☆☆

Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan

Aside from memoirs, I don't usually read nonfiction, so this is pretty far out of my comfort zone - but at less than 100 pages, this book is so short that it seemed worth a try. Pollan, a journalist, takes a simple but fascinating look at diet in America, including how it compares with the rest of the world: what we eat, why we eat it, &, above all, how we can do better. I know that some of Pollan's 64 "food rules" will stick with me long beyond my half hour reading of this short book. ★★★★★

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

I don't know why, but I thought this book was a memoir. It's not. Oops. It's actually a YA novel about a teen girl named Lara Jean who writes love letters to the boys she has crushes on as a way of helping herself move on.. & is mortified to find out that someone has not only discovered her letters but has sent them to the people they're about.Other reviewers found Lara Jean grating, unlikable, & too young-sounding, but I thought she was charming, quirky, & completely age-appropriate. This was an easy & enjoyable read that had me relieved I'm long past the unrequited-high-school-crush phase of life. ★★★★☆

BONUS: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

I'm not sure this counts as a book, but hey, it's published independently, & I read it... This short story, originally written for Game of Thrones mastermind George R. R. Martin, is about a phony psychic who takes on a seriously distressed client with a potentially haunted house & a disturbed stepson - maybe. The psychological twists keep coming, even in 64 short pages, as one would expect from the author of Gone Girl. It won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. ★★★★★

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Time We Accidentally Ended Up with a Neon Orange Mustang


Our rental car was a 2016 Kia Soul, simple & silver, easy to drive & not to tough to figure our. Mike drives a silver Soul, so it felt familiar.

And then, on day two of our trip, the Soul wouldn't start. There it sat, dead in the driveway of a rental home, & when the AAA tech came out to give us a jump, he told us the battery had a faulty cell. "I got it started," he told us, "but if you turn it off, there's no guarantee you'll be able to turn it back on." So we hopped in the car & drove back to the airport to exchange it for something more reliable.

We couldn't get through to the car rental company on our drive back, & we waited in line for almost half an hour when we arrived. We were visiting Hilton Head, a vacation destination where most people's week begins on Saturdays. It was a Saturday. The airport was slammed. We worried they wouldn't have any available cars for us.

"Maybe we'll end up with some snazzy sports car that no one else wants to pay for," I joked.

The car they gave us was a 2016 Ford Mustang - neon orange, so bright it nearly glowed in the dark.

I could not stop laughing.

We were in town for my Uncle Dennis's wedding to his new wife, Aline; they moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania to South Carolina, & now they're just a few miles from the ocean. He's one of those fake uncles, not related by blood, but I've never called him anything else. He & my dad were best friends in high school & into adulthood, & my Aunt Sue, who died a few years ago after a long struggle with MS, was one of my mom's closest friends. Their three sons are my cousins; they feel like family, period.

My Uncle Dennis was also my dad's road rally partner; he was the driver & my dad was the navigator, winding their way through dark Ohio backroads throughout the '80s and into the early '90s, before my uncle moved to Virginia & before my dad got sick. They built a car together, a yellow Datsun 510. They went to races together. They were car people.

And so the fact that my mom & I ended up driving this goddamn Mustang - a convertible, no less - the weekend of my uncle's wedding felt like a gift. Or a joke, maybe. Or both. Something from above.

I could barely get into the car the first time because the passenger-side seat was moved so far up. Who the hell is that tiny? And then, my mom couldn't figure out how to turn the remote-start on, so I had to go ask the Budget employee for help, laughing all the while. My mom marveled at how smoothly it drove, how fast it got, how uncomfortable it made her. I took endless, amused Snapchats from the dash.

It's funny the way you can tell that people are judging you when you drive a fancy car like that. My mom accidentally cut someone off when she was pulling out of a parking lot, & the other driver went full-on road ragey, honking & tailing us & flipping us off. I'm sure he expected, when he passed us, to see some slick-haired douchebag behind the wheel, not my grey-haired librarian of a mother who's barely five feet tall. I wished there were a bumper sticker on the back announcing "THIS IS A RENTAL," some way to assure the general, judgy public that I drive a damn Mazda in real life.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the reception hall, my GPS loudly announced, "You have arrived." I laughed again: "We have arrived," I joked as we swung our snazzy car into a parking space. We were both dressed up, sunglasses on, hair blowing in the wind, our jerky car standing out amidst a lot full of, like, silver Civics.

Admittedly, we were relieved to turn it back in to the rental agency before we caught our flight home that Monday afternoon. By then, it was abundantly clear that we're not neon sports car people. Still, it was a perfect joke from my dad, from the universe, from coincidence. I can only imagine what a laugh he would've gotten, watching his girls drive around a beach town in a goddamn bright orange Mustang. What a ride.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

10 Instagram Accounts I Love

These days, Instagram is my social media platform of choice. There's less noise, more visuals - nice things, pretty things, interesting things. Things that aren't controversial, that don't rile me up, that don't result in online arguments. Though I follow more than 700 accounts (which is probably way more than I ought to), a few accounts stand out as "Give me more!" faves. Here are 11 accounts I always look forward to hearing - errr, seeing - from. What are your favorite accounts?



@thatcheeseplate

I'm newly obsessed with cheese & meat trays, & I think I owe much of my obsession to this Instagram account. It's just photo after photo after photo of beautiful cheese & charcuterie trays, so decadent that you'll never want to eat anything else.


@joe_the_intern

Surely you know Joe, former G.I., who's now an intern for sex & dating blogger Simone of Skinny Dip. Along with his BFF Hammer (M.C., of course), Joe travels, blogs, breaks gender norms, & makes me laugh. Best intern ever? Best intern ever. And those abs of steel - er, plastic - don't hurt, either.



@foodsofjane

This Cleveland food blogger has hit the big-time, with 21k followers & lots of local news coverage. She 's allergic to nuts, fish, shellfish, sesame seeds, avocado, & chickpeas, which means she has to get creative about her eating - & damn, does she ever. Her photos are beautiful & mouth-watering.


@mannywallace

This Cleveland photographer is all over the place, snapping quick pics of the best this city has to offer. Most of his photos show up on the @clevelandscene account, too, but I prefer his personal feed to theirs for the aesthetic of pure photos not broken up by ads & media.

  

@dogsontables

Do you love dogs? Yes? Then you'll love @dogsontables, which is, for no real reason, simply a collection of - you guessed it - dogs sitting on tables. 


@thedaintysquid

The day I first spotted popular blogger Kayla at my favorite local coffee shop, it felt like a celebrity sighting. I had no idea she'd moved here! With candy-colored hair & a few quirky hobbies (plus a cat named Squid!), her Instagram is a mish-mash of everything pretty, but still somehow down-to-earth.


@airbnb

Yes, a brand! I mean, have you seen Air BnB's Instagram feed? It's gorgeous, full of cool places to visit & even cooler places to stay. For days when I have a serious case of wanderlust, this account is both the best & the worst.


@ashleegadd

Ashlee, a former blogger turned entrepreneur, is a mama of two & the founder of Coffee & Crumbs, a site for mothers. She's also a mega-talented photographer whose Instagram documents the daily beauty of a perfectly normal life. She'd not trying to put on airs or make her life look Insta-amazing. And that somehow makes her extra amazing.


@myohioadventure 

Is it any surprise that I love an account dedicated to exploring the Buckeye State? This account serves as a beautiful middle finger to all those coastal folk who think Ohio is nothing but a flyover state full of farmland & hillbillies. There's so much to do & see here, & this account captures quite a bit of it. It makes me want to have more Ohio adventures!


@ihavethisthingwithfloors

I feel like most Instagrammers are familiar with this account by now, but man, it brings me a lot of visual joy. It's just a collection of pictures of people's shoes as they stand on fancy floors - tiled floors, chevron floors, animal-print floors, modern floors, ancient floors... so many floors. It's one of my Instagram life goals to be feature don this page, but I don't see very many cool floors in real life, so that seems unlikely.

Which accounts are your favorite? Follow me on Instagram at @heyescapist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Best Year of My Life and the Best Love I Can Imagine


Today marks exactly 365 days since I met the love of my life.

I'd been on OKCupid & Tinder for months, but I'd yet to go on a single date. Sure, I responded to people sometimes, considered whether it might be worth setting something up, but I always defaulted to radio silence. I like my alone time, & I wasn't interested in giving it up for dates with guys who weren't going to be the right fit for me. Risky? Probably. That's how people end up, like, alone forever.

And yet.

When Mike first messaged me, all I could think was, "Oh, God, this guy sounds so nice & normal" - so, of course, I didn't respond to him. I just panicked & ignored him entirely. I did send my friend Lindsey his picture, a copy of his message, & snippets from his profile - but I didn't send anything to him. When, a week later, she asked whether I'd written him back, I told her I hadn't & that it was too late. "Too late for what?" she hounded me. "It's not like you know him. If you respond now & he thinks it's too late, so what? Then you won't go out. No big deal."

She was right, obviously, so I responded. We sent a few messages back & forth, mostly about mutual love of writing, & then we decided on a time & a place to meet. My mom was going to be out of the country at the time, so if I was kidnapped & murdered, who would even know?

Somehow, though, my characteristic anxiety was absent from the lead-up to our first date. Mike seemed, well, nice & normal, just like I'd originally thought, & the friendly, no-pressure tone of our messages put me at ease. Needless to say, I was not kidnapped or murdered. We met at The Treehouse, a bar in Tremont, which Mike picked because he suspected that I, a recently former East Coast dweller, might like the vibe of the area. He was right.

Know what else I liked? Him. Obviously.

We texted every day after that. We went on four dates before he asked, as we sat on his front porch in the sun, whether he could call me his girlfriend. At first, I said no, not yet - until I realized I was being ridiculous because he was perfect for me & I never wanted to let him go, like, ever.

The rest, as they say, is history. Our story.

I always kind of assumed I was the sort of person who would not find love - or who wouldn't fall in love, at least. I have great friends & a wonderful family, so I know love, as a general & important concept, but I have a terrible track record with relationships, I get bored easily, & I like being by myself more than I like being with anyone else. Those aren't necessarily easy characteristics to overcome, when it comes to a romantic relationship, so I'd sort of settled into this assumption that I was meant for a non-traditional sort of life, a cat lady or everyone's favorite fake aunt.

But then there was Mike.

Everything I could say or want to say or start to say sounds too damn cliche, & this is a love that is anything but. None of it seems right, seems fair, seems big enough.

We are perfectly matched, despite the fact that we are almost entirely different: Where I am emotional & anxiety-ridden, he is logical to the point of being a little bit Asperger'sy. He reads books on theory, doesn't watch TV, wants to talk big ideas & psychology; I read YA novels & watch reality TV & write for trashy women's magazines.We clash as often as we agree, but we fit together like a key in a lock. We are one another's only fit.

He makes me laugh every day. He doesn't think it's annoying when I tell long-winded stories about people he's never even met. He does the cooking, & I do the cleaning, a perfect balance that highlights our strengths & covers for one another's weaknesses. He teaches me new concepts & inspires me to take on new challenges.

We take care of one another: He calms me down when I'm at peak panic, & I joke that he's my "boyfriend Xanax"; he teases that I'm upgrading his robot software by teaching him human emotions. We have so much fun & go on so many adventures  together, but we also both value our alone time & the fact that we can be, as I call it, "alone together," engrossed in our writing or reading or other solo activities while sitting right next to one another.

We argue, we disagree, we don't always get it right - but we always care for & respect one another, & we always, always love one another. I have never felt as loved as I do when I'm with him, nor have I ever had so much love to give. We say "I love you" every day - not because we have to, but because we mean it. My God, do I mean it.

The life we've built together, here in Cleveland, is one I never imagined I would have. I didn't think I was the kind of person who could do this, or even the kind of person who wanted to. But he has changed me for the better, introducing me to myself in a whole new way. With him, I am a better version of myself, & I know he feels that he is, too.

I cannot believe he found me. I cannot imagine being without him. And I cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with him.

Happy one-year anniversary, my love. Here's to many, many more together.

Friday, April 22, 2016

CLE Adventure #8: The View from Terminal Tower

One of the best things I've done so far in Cleveland was snagging the best view in the city.

It typically costs $6 to visit the Terminal Tower observation deck, & tickets are limited, both in quantity & timing. At the end of last month, though, my friend Lindsey & I were lucky enough to score a private visit before the deck was even open to the public!

We'd already been planning to see a film at this year's Cleveland International Film Festival (as blogged about here), but what sealed the deal was learning that anyone with a CIFF ticket stub was entitled to a free visit up to the observation deck - before it opened for the season.

After a packed-to-the-gills night at the movies, we assumed everyone & their mother would take CIFF up on the opportunity to check out the observation deck - but when we got there on Saturday morning, we were thrilled to find that we were the only ones there.

It's a 42-story ride to the top, one that triggered Lindsey's elevator phobia, & I'm sure it was super helpful to her that I rambled all the way up in an effort to distract her. When we finally reached the top, we headed into the observation deck, which is just, like, set amidst offices & carpeted corridors, totally normal. No one even escorted us - we were just on our own, exploring the 42nd floor of Terminal Tower.






At a total of 52 stories high, Terminal Tower was the tallest building in the United States outside of New York when it was built in the 1920s, an honor it held as late as 1964.  It was a perfectly blue-sky day - & when the weather's clear, you can see as far as 30 miles (which means my mom's house is juuuust out of view). It's Cleveland's most iconic symbol & the most recognizable piece of our small but mighty skyline, lighting up each night in colors often related to local & global events. (It's going dark for Earth Day tonight, but beyond that, I'm expecting a lot of wine & gold, to represent lots & lots of Cavs wins!)

It was such a cool experience to visit the Terminal Tower observation deck completely alone, just us & the view - & we were lucky to get such a blue-sky morning, especially because it started pouring within the hour. Seeing Cleveland all laid out like this, bustling with activity & life & its new reputation as a cool place to be instead of a depressing one, I fell in love all over again. OK, that happens at least once a week - but this was a really special experience.








Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include activities like visiting a dead president's crypt, seeing a show at Playhouse Square, & buying everything at the West Side Market - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

CLE Adventure #7: James A. Garfield Memorial


Mike & I first visited Lake View Cemetery on an unseasonably warm day in January. Unfortunately, the James A. Garfield Memorial was closed then, so we committed to returning in the spring. What better time for that than Daffodil Weekend? During this April weekend, more than 100,000 daffodils blossom throughout the cemetery, concentrated primarily on the aptly named Daffodil Hill. 

Unfortunately, this month's quick snowstorm killed off some of the flowers, making the sight slightly less spectacular than it's intended to be. Still, those little yellow flowers are surprisingly hardy, & thousands of them were still in bloom & alert & beautiful when we arrived on Saturday afternoon. Daffodils are my favorite flower - so simply & perseverant & underrated - so, April snow be damned, I was thrilled for even a fraction of Daffodil Hill's beauty.




 After sitting on Daffodil Hill for a few quiet moments, we headed over to the Garfield Memorial. It isn't particularly attractive from the outside, & so, to be frank, I wasn't expecting much from the inside of it, but damn, was I ever wrong about that.

The inside of the Garfield Memorial is incredible. Like, how can this just... be right here in Cleveland? It looks like something straight from Europe, something ancient, something famous. It's gorgeous, all marble & tiles & stained glass & high ceilings, with a 12-foot statue of our 20th president standing quite regally in the center. My washed-out iPhone photos don't even come close to doing it the justice it deserves.






   



When you head downstairs via the long, winding marble staircase, you're taken to the crypt that holds the caskets of President Garfield & his wife Lucretia, along with the ashes of their daughter & son-in-law. I can't say exactly why, but there's something so weird about knowing that the bones of a dead president are, like, right down the street.



The best part of the memorial (aside from all of it) is going upstairs, where there's a rooftop balcony with an incredible view of Cleveland, including downtown & the vast expanse of Lake Erie. And what a beautiful day for it! I know that, compared to lots of cities, the Cleveland skyline is no great shakes, but every time I catch a glimpse of that familiar silhouette, it strikes me all over again: I finally live here. On such a perfect, blue-sky day, standing in the sun with the man I love, atop that ugly building in the middle of a damn cemetery, I felt totally zen, completely happy, & incredibly thankful for the life I've found here.

Bring it on, summer. I'm ready for more adventures.



Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include activities like seeing a show at Playhouse Square, buying everything at the West Side Market, & drinking with dinosaurs - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Hate Your Body


I've gained a little weight since last summer. I knew I had, but I guess I didn't realize just how much had crept up on me until I tried to dress for warmer weather last weekend & realized my options had seriously dwindled as a result of my own, well, lack of dwindling.

I haven't gained that much, actually, but it's just enough that a lot of my spring & summer my clothes don't fit quite right, don't lay the way they're supposed to, don't flatter me in the way that I want them to. As someone who tries to be very body positive & who thinks way nastier about myself than I would ever dream of thinking about anyone else, I'm embarrassed to admit that I spent a solid portion of the weekend feeling miserable about myself & acting like a little extra weight somehow makes me a terrible person - as though having a flat stomach is more important than having a kind heart or a strong work ethic or any number of other things that I like to think I possess. 

Anyway, I spent a lot of the weekend feeling bad about myself - like I looked gross in everything I tried on & would rather wear a potato sack than any of the clothing I own. I whipped myself into a frenzy about how I'll never be able to lose weight now that I'm in my thirties & how someday I'll probably have a baby & gain 200 lbs. & be bed-ridden forever, etc., etc., etc. - you know, that sadness spiral we all fall into sometimes, for whatever personal & painful reasons happen to set us off.

When I calmed down from all my woe-is-me moping, I started making some plans to get healthier &, hopefully, to drop a few pounds in the process. I'd been thinking about it for a while, but the realization that I'm now down half a wardrobe served as an accelerant. Today, I began putting some of those plans into action (including eating stir fry sans rice for dinner tonight, which is basically just a warm salad, which is not a thing I do).

I feel good about this newly reinvigorated effort, & I stand by my commitment to try harder, but I decided something else, too: I deserve new clothes that help me feel a little bit better about myself in the meantime.

That's why, today, I went to Old Navy after work & bought five tops, two pairs of harem pants, one pair of possible mom-shorts, one wacky denim dress that looks like it should be worn by a witch, & one pair of those cheap, amazing flip-flops, just for good measure.

Is it a whole new wardrobe? Of course not. But there are just enough staples in there to keep me from feeling like I have literally nothing to wear, to save me from doing myself the indignity of squeezing into pants that don't do me any favors.

It's, like, rule #1 of the diet code that you're not supposed to go shopping while you're trying to lose weight, but I think that's crap (as is the concept of dieting, though that's another post entirely). Almost nothing makes a girl feel worse about herself than clothes that don't quite fit. 

I didn't buy new clothes as a cop-out: I'm still going to put in the work to get into better shape, & I'm not going to get rid of my old clothes. Trust me, I hope to return to them soon. But in the meantime, do I need to punish myself for the alleged shame of my weight gain by wearing ill-fitting clothes that make me both look & feel worse?

And so, while I'm going to work toward the goal of shedding a few pounds – &, more importantly, just getting healthier overall – I'm not going to be so hard on myself that I won't allow myself to look nice in the meantime.

The best way to ensure that you keep hating your body is to dress like you hate your body. So yes, I'm going to try to lose weight – but I'm not going to be mean to myself or to the current iteration of my body while I do it. If you need me, I'll be over here eating stir-fry leftovers & wearing my new "Viva la Brunch" tee - the height of irony, truly, but at least I'm gonna look (& feel) good doing it.

Friday, April 15, 2016

CLE Adventure #6: The Cleveland International Film Festival


I admit: I'm not much for independent films.

I mean, that's a pretty broad statement. Independent films vary broadly in topic, genre, quality... but for some reason, they never seem to appeal to me. Give me a hugely hyped Melissa McCarthy comedy or a Morgan Freeman thriller any day.

And yet, when the Cleveland International Film Festival started up this year, I couldn't wait to get my mitts on tickets to... something, anything! I attended a CIFF event in the fall of 2014, right after I moved back to Ohio, where attendees got to vote on short films. It was the first time I ever really thought about independent films as just, well, films.

My friend Lindsey decided to come up to Cleveland for a 24-hour "Adventure Day," which has become one of our favorite sporadic traditions. We decided we wanted to check out a CIFF film, & we got to work deciding which one. There were dozens upon dozens to choose from, but we narrowed it down to a couple that fit within our Friday-night time slot (leaving us time afterward for an inaugural cone at Tremont Scoops on their opening day of spring!)

We decided on Hunky Dory, described as follows:
"Heart-warming and fun while also tragically bittersweet, HUNKY DORY is an uplifting tale of a wannabe artist changing from his self-destructive nature to becoming the man responsible for the only true thing he’s ever created."
The film was, in a word, incredible. I don't know how else to describe it. It was so good that I feel like it deserves to be famous, like, "Why isn't everyone paying attention this film?!" I liked it so much that I was disappointed to learn that it didn't win any of CIFF's awards.

At the end of the film, the co-directors - one of whom was the star actor, too - came down to the front of the theater for a quick audience Q&A. How often do you get to watch an amazing film & then talk to the dudes who made it a reality? They were passionate & humble, genuinely excited to be there & to share their art with us.


But beyond how much I liked the film itself, I also loved the experience of attending CIFF. All of the films are shown at the movie theater at Tower City Center, which I have fond memories of visiting as a kid. Cleveland's landmark skyscraper is home to offices, shopping, hotels, dining, & more - but its former glory has certainly diminished in time, & it's got a reputation for being a bit sad/creepy these days. But CIFF brings it alive again - alive with people, with color, with noise & excitement. The lines are long & the volunteers are just as enthusiastic as the viewers, who get in line early to snag the best seats to their films of choice.


In short, attending CIFF made me proud of Cleveland & got me even more excited for summer, when this city has so much to offer. I wanted to attend more films, but alas, with a vacation planned right in the middle of it, it just wasn't to be. As it turns out, though, this year's CIFF was pretty darn successful:
  • 102,255 attendees
  • $144,660 in challenge-match donations
  • 192 feature films
  • 213 short subjects
  • 72 countries of origin
  • 300 guest filmmakers
  • 11,000 volunteer hours
I look forward to doing my part next year to increase those stats a little bit by attending more than one film. So much to watch, so little time!

Tell me: Did you make it to CIFF this year? Have you ever been to a film festival? What's your favorite indie film & where can I watch it?


Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include activities like seeing a show at Playhouse Square, buying everything at the West Side Market, & drinking with dinosaurs - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Day I Saw a Man Die at an Airport


We were sitting in the upstairs terminal at Akron/Canton Airport, waiting for our flight out to Savannah, which was just a few minutes from boarding. "It looks like someone is having a medical issue," my mom murmured.

When I turned around, I saw an older man slumped over in his wheelchair. He was facing away from us, so I couldn't see what was happening, but it seemed clear he was unconscious. Three times, a young woman traveling with him tried to raise his head, & all three times, it fell slack against his chest.

"Somebody help me!" she screamed. "Somebody call 911 now!" By then, a handful of people had gathered around in concern, though none seemed to be medical professionals. A gate agent said she was on the phone with 911, but the airport isn't near a hospital, so paramedics were still far off. Volunteers lifted the man out of his wheelchair & onto the cold tile floor to try to help.

Someone (still not paramedics) brought out a defibrillator & began CPR. The man's face began to turn blue, his bare stomach caving beneath a stranger's hands that pushed so desperately on his rib cage. Nearby, the same young woman - his granddaughter, I think - paced the terminal, crying & wailing: "I just brought him back to Ohio," she said, over & over. "How could this happen?" They had just arrived on a morning flight from Florida.

It was heartbreaking to watch this woman watch her grandfather die, helpless to help him. Behind her, a sea of strangers' faces looked on, sympathetic but unable to do any more than she could. Strangers rubbed her back, bought her water, called her mother - but no one could do anything to save the man dying on the airport floor. The robotic voice coming from the defibrillator counted down the seconds until it was time to shock him again, echoing throughout the terminal as hundreds of people looked on in horror, a life slipping away before our eyes.

More than once I had to turn away from the scene on the floor, welling up with tears as a family's very personal heartbreak played out in public. I couldn't help it - & I wasn't the only one. Others were crying, too, quietly. Perhaps they, like me, were reminded of times in their own lives when strangers stepped in to provide help & support during a moment of tragedy.

I thought of this recent piece in the Washington Post, from a woman who learned of her father's suicide while shopping at a Whole Foods. I remembered the day I learned of my ex-boyfriend's suicide as I walked down Greek Row, of hearing about my grandma's death while I sat inside a seaside Starbucks. I recalled the day in autumn of 2014 when I passed out on a busy sidewalk mid-panic attack, awakening to a swarm of strangers who stopped to help & didn't leave my side until I was loaded into an ambulance. I remembered the day I got off a bus to call for help for an old woman who had fallen - maybe had a stroke - while waiting at a K Street bus stop.

But none of those incidents were quite like this. Nobody died in those moments - & I am almost positive that this man did, right there as we watched.

My flight boarded before the paramedics arrived, but I know - in my bones, I know - that the old man in the wheelchair didn't make it. It had been too long. He had turned too blue. Help was too far away. The sound of his granddaughter's screaming still rings in my ears.

"Ronald," she yelled as volunteers tried to revive him. "Ronald, I'm here!"

We were all there, & I'm sorry for it. Whomever he was, Ronald deserved to die with more dignity than that, shirt up & stomach exposed on the airport floor, surrounded by strangers. And his poor granddaughter deserved to mourn privately, not in front of a terminal full of helpless, horrified onlookers.

May he find in death the peace & solitude he was denied in his dying moments.

As for the rest of us: Go hug someone you love, OK?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CLE Adventure #5: West Side Market


Last Sunday marked the first Sunday that Cleveland's storied West Side Market was open for business. Historically closed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, & Sundays, the market is now officially open for business on both days of the weekend, with limited Sunday hours that begin at noon. Of course, it snowed on Sunday. Happy April from Cleveland!

Stopping by the West Side Market is one of my absolute favorite Cleveland activities, & if you're in town for a visit, you've got to make a trip there. If you live nearby & you've never been to WSM, well, what are you waiting for?!

Here are a few of my market must-haves, the items I keep coming back to. If you're a WSM regular, tell me: What else do I need to try?

*** 

Lake Erie Creamery
makes these incredible chevre balls in rosemary olive oil with colored peppercorns. Sold at WSM's The Cheese Shop, they're a little expensive ($8 for the small jar or $14 for the large), but they're worth it. And I can't stop eating them. When I'm done with the cheese, I use the herbed oil over pasta and grilled shrimp for a light, indulgent dinner.



Grandma Campbell's Cupcakes is a division of Campbell's Sweets, one of Cleveland's favorite sweet shops (more on them in a bit!) While I imagine all their cupcakes are delicious, I wouldn't know because I always come back to the same one. Their lemon cupcake is perfectly moist & dense, not too heavy or crumbly. If you show up early, you can get them fresh out of the oven & still warm!

 
I've never had beef pinwheels. I don't know what beef pinwheels are. But I do like this sign kind of a lot. It's one of many that give me a laugh at WSM, like the huge, neon sign above the cake place that just says "CAKE," in case you didn't quite understand what they sell.


WSM has a large almost-open-air section that's covered in glass, sort of like a greenhouse. The whole thing reminds me of the shuk in Israel, where you can barter & haggle & stock up on fresh fruits & veggies. I love the fresh stuff, of course, but I also have a weakness for these dried strawberries, sold by a few different vendors. They taste like candy!


Every time I visit West Side Market, I buy as much Ohio City Pasta as I can carry (& homemade pasta is pretty heavy!) Their linguini & fettuccine comes in all kinds of flavors, & though I usually stick to the spinach & the garlic, I've been dying to try the saffron. Um, what goes with saffron pasta? I'll let you know. But seriously, this stuff is so amazing that boxed spaghetti & I are never, ever, ever getting back together.


When I'm not going myself on dried strawberries, my favorite fruit from West Side Market is dragon plums (which the Internet tells me are just pluots, which is kind of disappointing). They are so sweet & delicious. I've actually never had a regular plum, but I am totally sold on this variety.


I've yet to buy a non-cupcake dessert from West Side Market, but I've got my eye on these lady locks, any cannoli I can find, & every macaron in existence. Have I mentioned that this place is chock-full of homemade sweets?


If you're into pourover coffee, you're into Rooted in CLE, where Mike once got a cup of coffee that took ages, but only because it was given so much individual attention. Like, these folks know their coffee, & they put love into it. Bonus? The barista had lots of good dinner recs for us.


The West Side Market also has its own cafe, aptly named the West Side Cafe. It's attached to the market, & while their menu is pretty standard, it's also pretty tasty. It's also got a few very Clevelandy dishes thrown in for good measure, like the Pierogi Melt: a sandwich made of pierogis, saurkraut, & muenster cheese. Cleveland, you're out-Clevelanding yourself.


Everybody's tried the combo of cheese corn with caramel corn, right? The aforementioned Campbell's Sweets one-ups that mixture by cheese-coating their caramel corn. There's not much more to say about their famous Dichotomy Popcorn. It's incredible. And you can't order it online. Sorry.


I haven't bought any yet, but you can stock up on all your bacon needs at the West Side Market. It's like the meat vendors compete for the best-sounding bacon rubs: curried bacon, cinnamon chipotle bacon, garlic bacon, Jamaican jerk bacon, &, while we're tallking about gettin' real Clevelandy, Christmas Ale bacon from The Pork Chop Shop.

In addition to the cafe, there are a few prepared food kiosks throughout the market. I haven't tried all of them yet (I'm comin' for you, amazing-smelling falafel place), but one of my favorites is Crêpes de Luxe, which makes both sweet & savory crepes. Thrillist recently featured this photo of mine, enjoying a spinach-and-bacon crepe from the balcony of WSM.

And now for the pièce de résistance of my love of West Side Market: vidalia onion & cheese bread from Vera's Bakery. They sell other varieties, too - an artichoke/feta bread, a bacon/cheddar bread, some garlic-filled version - but this is my personal favorite (& their bestseller). It's cheesy & oniony, crunchy on the outside & soft inside, & I have, uh, accidentally eaten an entire loaf in one sitting, of which I'm only mildly ashamed.

This doesn't even begin to cover all the things I love from West Side Market. I also love the BBQ beef jerky from Sebastian's Meats, the carrot/lemon/pear juice from Juice Garden, the macarons from Michael's Bakery... the list goes on & on. I also bought my favorite Cleveland shirt - the one I'm wearing in my blog profile photo! - from WSM, at the Fresh Brewed Tees kiosk.

What I'm trying to say is this: On a sunny day, West Side Market is the absolute best place to be in all of Cleveland. And on all the other days - because God knows this city doesn't see as much sun as we'd like - it's a perfect place to stock up on goodies to take home & hunker down with until the next sunny day rolls around.


Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include activities like attending an extravagant brunch, drinking with dinosaurs & exploring an historic cemetery - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!
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