Saturday, August 19, 2017

11 of My Favorite Food & Drink Spots in Cuyahoga Falls


When I was growing up in Cuyahoga Falls, there wasn't a whole lot going on. That's not to say it was a bad place to live - I loved it then, & I still do now - but there weren't many activity options. My friends & I spent a lot of time at the bowling alley & the local Applebee's (which probably explains why my diet consisted largely of mozzarella sticks & chicken fingers until age 22).

These days, though, Cuyahoga Falls has become a bit of a hotspot. I'm always surprised when I meet people who work in Cleveland but live there for the fairly easy commute & the low property taxes; it seems like every other Lyft driver I chat with lives in the Falls, noting its inexpensive prices & close proximity to both Cleveland & Akron. In addition to - or perhaps because of - those qualities, the Falls has seen a recent boom in business. These days, its home to restaurants & bars I never would've imagined during its more podunk years.

I'm proud of Cuyahoga Falls (except for its heavily Republican voting record) &, having recently tried a few of its new spots, I wanted to show it off a bit. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat & drink in my hometown, spots that I hope you'll check out if you find yourself in the area or want to take a nearby day trip. The Falls just isn't what it used to be - in the best way possible!


The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery

Named to nearly all of Cleveland's "Best Of" lists, this spot is actually about a 45-minute drive from the CLE. Lucky for me, I visit CF often - & this is always my top request, especially when it comes to weekend brunch. Their menu changes regularly, but a few staples remain, including their massive, homemade pastries (I die for those croissants) - & everything is creative & unique, food you won't find anyplace else. Last time I was there, for example, I had freaking breakfast spaetzle. I'm always blown away by the fact that this restaurant exists in Cuyahoga Falls, of all places. (1970 State Rd.)


Burntwood Tavern

The CF franchise of this local chain has the best location in town, situated right on the Cuyahoga River in the former powerhouse of a river dam. From their patio & balconies, you can hear the falls rushing behind you (drowning out the sound of the highway on the other side...) & the original gears that moved the dam's doors now decorate the bar area. Their happy hour prices can't be beat: I'm a sucker for their margherita flatbread or their massive "tavern tots" with a Jack & Jill (blueberry infused vodka, muddled blueberries, & lemon juice) on the side. (2291 Riverfront Parkway)

The Cashmere Cricket

This little cocktail spot, located on Front Street, is so darn cute. Sure, the drinks are a little expensive - but they're also better than you're going to get anyplace else in the Falls. For awhile, they didn't really do food - but now they've got a robust menu of small plates that includes ricotta gnocchi, sauteed shrimp & chorizo, mushroom flatbread., & other tasty options. In warm weather, their patio can't be beat - & in colder climes, retreat to their cozy indoor couches. (2235 Front St.)

Craft Beer Bar

Though its name may not be the most creative, this place was, in my opinion, one of the first to begin to revitalize & invigorate the recent Cuyahoga Falls "craft" boom, in terms of both drinks and food. This small, local public house serves 30 craft beers on tap at any given time, rotating regularly with special events to boot, & their menu is simple but elevated (think poutine, flatbreads, cured meats, & even meatloaf). They're nearly always packed, so secure a reservation ahead of time. (1846 Front St.)
  

Crave Cantina

The Falls welcomed Latin fare to its local food scene with the recent opening of Crave Cantina, owned by the same folks who run Crave in Akron. Their taco-centric menu features unusual combos, like a flank steak banh mi taco & a coffee barbacoa duck confit taco, & they've even got two tasty vegan options: a Nashville hot tofu taco & a Chinese BBQ jackfruit option, both of which I love. They've got plenty of beer & margarita options, but my mom & I are thrilled to have Peruvian-inspired Pisco sours & chicha moradas just a couple miles from home. (2097 Front St.)


Darby's on Fifty-Nine

Formerly a biker bar of sorts called Frankie's, Darby's is now one of the hidden gems of the Falls, a tiny spot located at the edge of Route 59. It only has about 10 tables (plus a huge bar & a beautiful outdoor patio space), so you may have to wait - but it'll be worth it. Where else can you get scallop sliders & filet mignon tacos? (The answer, in the Falls, is nowhere.) My mom & I like to meet here for lunch, when their menu is similar but their prices are lower & the wait is shorter. (2764 Rt. 59/Front St.)

Flury's Cafe

This breakfast & lunch spot has limited hours & only takes cash, so plan ahead & bring your appetite with you. This is as close as Cuyahoga Falls gets to a Jersey-style diner, but it's done with simple elegance & none of those gross accents. This is the sort of place where you feel like a regular, even if it's your first time visiting - & you're treated like one, too. Try their breakfast quesadilla or their chorizo scramble. Or anything, really. (2202 Front St.)
  

Hibachi Japan

I actually haven't been to the new Hibachi, which recently relocated to a brand new building on the Riverfront. I have, however, had my fair share of meals at their original spot, just down the street, & I've heard that their food has only gotten better since then - which is a tall order, since it was stellar to begin with. Unrelated to the local chain of the same name, the CF Hibachi is beloved as a local prom dinner spot, date night option, & family meal locale all in one. (1803 Front St.)


HiHo Brewing Co.

A brewery in the Falls? A brewery in the Falls! Their new, industrial location is both spacious & gorgeous, & their homemade beer menu changes regularly. When they've got it, I love the SMASH German Pils, perfect for summer - & they've got a view of the river out back! Their food menu is limited mostly to snacks - charcuterie, hummus, hot pretzels - but everything's tasty, inexpensive, & enough to keep you satiated while you drink. Bonus: It's connected to The Social Dept., a hand-printed apparel company owned by two dudes I knew in high school. (1707 Front St.)


Moe's Restaurant

I haven't been to Moe's for ages, but I still think of it fondly because it's the first place where I ever ate crème brûlée, thus making the world a more delicious place to live. It's in a bit of a weird spot, nestled among car dealerships, but it's one of the Falls' best let's-get-fancy-tonight spots, with an ever-changing menu that ranges from elevated standard fare (grilled lamb with bacon jam, fig risotto, & heirloom carrots) to the regionally indulgent (potato pierogis with lobster & shiitake mushrooms). Leave room (& budget) for drinks, as their cocktail options are a thing of beauty. (2385 Front Street)

River City Bar & Grill

I couldn't leave my favorite dive bar off the list, could I? My college boyfriend was a bartender here back in the day, & I still freaking love this place, even after all these years. They have super-cheap drink specials (drinks on me, y'all!), & they actually have great food, too; try the wimpies, which are basically just sliders. Bonus: It's less than a mile from my mom's house, & it's next door to a 24-hour donut shop that lets you walk through the drive-thru. (2621 Bailey Rd.)

If you've been to Cuyahoga Falls, what's your favorite spot in town? Where should I try in your Northeast Ohio 'hood?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

My 7 Necessary Self-Care Tricks for Busy Work Weeks


In a work meeting on Monday, one of my coworkers gave a short shpiel thanking all of us for the work we had already done this week & were preparing to do in the days to come. You see, I work for a Jewish organization, & in the wake of a rally full of literal Nazis, we had a lot of work to do: statements to right, membership to check in, campaigns to get off the ground, content to prepare & share... we knew we had a long, full week ahead of us.

As my coworker spoke, she reminded us all to take care of ourselves personally while we were working so hard professionally. I chimed in with something to the effect of, "Self-care is important during tough times!" She rolled her eyes & responded, "No, it's not self-care, you millennials. Just do what you need to do to take care of yourself." OK, well, that's what I meant. Isn't that what self-care means?

I think self-care is important, & maybe it is a millennial obsession, but since when is focusing on our mental & emotional well-being a bad thing? Perhaps the generations before us don't focus on self-care enough!

Look, this week has been really hard. It's been a lot of work, & only a little bit of sleep, because when I'm anxious or busy, I don't sleep very well. It's emotionally grueling, too, to keep up with the news cycle when the news cycle is all about racism & anti-Semitism & hatred & bigotry & the list goes on.

Here's how I deal during difficult weeks:
  1. Keep easy food on hand. I don't really cook - like, at all. When I'm busy, I make even less effort, which usually results in ordering takeout or buying chips from the bodega down the street & subsequently feeling like utter shit. This week, wary of falling into that old trap, I ran to Target & bought frozen veggie burritos & a few Lean Cuisine pizzas. Are they the healthiest? No, but they're way better than ordering Domino's or binging a bag full of Cheez-Its - & they're just as mindless, so I don't have to put in much effort.
        
  2. Sneak naps on my lunch breaks: I don't usually take lunch breaks, actually, but on busy weeks, they're a must - & when I've streamlined a meal plan like that, I need less time for lunch, which means lunch breaks become nap breaks. Sometimes even 15 minutes of shut-eye can calm me down & rejuvenate me so I feel ready to get back to work. Perk of working from home!
        
  3. Don't underestimate the power of a shower. During particularly busy work weeks, I tend to work through times that should include taking a shower & sprucing myself up & becoming a real person. When I do finally take a moment to clean up, the result is almost always a complete 180. Even if it's temporary, it's important. Again: perks of working from home, I guess, though, is it a perk to not have to prioritize personal hygiene?
       
  4. Find a mindless TV show to binge while I work: I love to keep the TV on (or more specifically, my iPad), while I work, but I can only work through really brainless shows. I just finished the first season of the CW's Riverdale, a sinister take on the Archie comics, & now I'm back to watching season three of The O.C. Oh, & amidst it all, my guilty pleasure Bachelor in Paradise started, so maybe it's my lucky week, after all!
     
  5. Read a book: During weeks like this, I end of working well beyond standard office hours. Still, I try to take time for myself where I can, even if that just means reading a book during bathroom breaks or for a whopping five minutes before bed. Right now, I'm reading Nathan Englander's What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, a book of short stories that isn't necessarily light-hearted, but it is incredible, & it feels incredibly appropriate for the times, too. It's nice to get lost in something that's not work.
     
  6. Seek out support: This might seem like a no-brainer, but I think that I, at least, tend to forget about it or downplay how much it matters, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed. I tend to think I ought to deal with it by myself - but why? That's what friends, family, & fiancés are for. When someone asks how I'm doing, I am honest without being a whiner or a downer, which opens the line of communication to talk a little bit about where I'm at & get a little bit of support.
      
  7. Know my limits: I've said no to a few things this week. I said I couldn't take on an additional project request from a colleague; I told Mike I needed to go to bed early instead of doing date night. I haven't bailed on everything, but during weeks like this, I try to pay attention when I'm feeling overextended, recognizing that time is a precious resource when things feel hectic. 
The world's a scary place right now, you guys. Take care of yourself. And tell me: How's your week going? How do you get through particularly busy weeks?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How the Charlottesville March Reminded Me of My Favorite Havdalah Service


“A good week, a week of peace. May gladness reign and joy increase…”

These are the words Reform Jews sing during Havdalah, the ceremony observed Saturday evening at sundown to mark the end of Shabbat. We gather together to sing and to pray, passing around a snifter of fragrant spices to soothe the soul as we say goodbye to Shabbat, the day of rest, and welcome a new week.

Joining in Havdalah services at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., made for some of the most powerful and profound moments of my Jewish experience. On Friday evening, as I watched videos of neo-Nazis wielding torches and chanting slurs at the Jefferson memorial in Charlottesville, I am struck by some of the parallels – and the vast differences those parallels present.

Read the rest of this piece on ReformJudaism.org.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Northeast Ohio Rocks: The Most Joyful Local Trend

We all know Cleveland rocks, but have you heard of Northeast Ohio Rocks? Apparently this is a trend that started in other cities, but the Northeast Ohio group was established in the summer of 2016 by a local woman named Nancy Powell. It's such a joyful, fun endeavor that I can't help but love it!

The gist is just that people... paint rocks & then hide them around the state. Simple & weird, right? But it's so cute. The painted rocks include a note on the back or bottom about the Facebook group, usually accompanied by a hashtag referencing the rock's creator. When you find a rock, you're supposed to post a photo of it in the Facebook group, using the hashtag so its original painter can easily follow its journey.

This activity is obviously great for families with young children, who paint rocks with their kiddos & take a few with them on family outings so they can both look for them & hide them. I don't have kids, but even as a childless adult, I'm having a lot of fun with Northeast Ohio Rocks, staying alert while I'm out & about as I look for my next find.

One day, as I was walking to my favorite coffee shop, I struck up a conversation with a little girl who lives a few doors down & is always rising her scooter around the neighborhood. "Have you found any painted rocks yet?" she asked me; she was upset that she hadn't found any yet. The next time I hid one, I made sure it was close enough to her house that she'd spot it - & she did! There's pretty much nothing as joy-affirming as seeing a little kid so darn happy.

So far, I've found three rocks: The first one was in the little garden area around a tree outside my favorite coffee shop; the second one was in a part next to my house; the third was atop the mailbox on a nearby street corner, & I found it was I dropped a package in the mail. I haven't painted any rocks myself, but every time I'm out & about in my neighborhood, I keep my eyes peeled for the next painted gem!

Have you found any rocks yet? If you live outside the NEO area, is there anything like this happening where you live?



Monday, August 7, 2017

7 Wedding Traditions I Just Don't Care About (& a Giveaway!)



Let's talk a little bit more about weddings!

First things first: If you're local & planning your upcoming wedding, you definitely want to check out Handpicked, A Bridal Event, an intimate, cocktail party-style bridal fair on Tuesday, August 15th at HiHo Brewery in Cuyahoga Falls. My mom & I will be there... & I have two tickets to give away, too! To be entered win, just leave a comment here saying you'd like to attend (be sure to include your email address in the appropriate field), & I'll contact the winner this Friday.

OK. Now let's talk a little bit more about weddings.

Weddings are absolutely mired in tradition, both of the longtime variety & of the "This is a brand-new trend, but we're going to act like it's been happening forever!" sort. I recently finished the book A Practical Wedding, which reassures brides- & grooms-to-be that we need not follow the so-called rules when planning our own big day. This isn't to criticize anyone who does do these or love them; I'm sure you don't care about a few of the things I do. I think it's interesting to see what does & doesn't resonate with individual people.

With all that in mind, I wanted to confess a few wedding traditions that I just don't give a damn about - & luckily, Mike feels the same!
  1. Cake: My mom insists we've got to have some sort of dessert at our wedding, but... why? Neither of us even likes cake, for the most part, or desserts in general. We looked into the idea of serving doughnuts from local biz Brewnuts, but the cost was a thousand dollars for 200 doughnuts, so that was an immediate no-go. We may still come up with a dessert idea, but if we don't? Oh, well, I say!
      
  2. Sitting on "sides": The idea of a bride's side & a groom's side during the wedding ceremony has always seemed like a bit of a foreign concept to me. I feel like most Jews don't do this at their weddings, & lately I've been to primarily Jewish weddings, so I haven't seen much of it. Why not just sit wherever? We're all there to celebrate the same love!
      
  3. A bridal party table: I've never liked the idea of the bridal party sitting at a head table, which inevitably means that bridesmaids & groomsmen have to sit away from their dates all evening. I want our wedding to be fun for everyone in attendance, & that means not abandoning their husbands, wives, & dates through the whole of dinner. [Edited to add: After posting this, I learned that Mike & I are not in agreement on this one. Whooooops. Looks like we may have a bridal party table after all!
      
  4. Chair covers: This is one that I don't entirely understand. I've never been to a wedding & thought, "Everything would be so much nicer if only these chairs were decorated!" I literally can't remember a single wedding where I've ever made note of the chairs at all, actually. So why spend money to cover them?
      
  5. Garter & bouquet toss: Again, these are traditions I haven't seen much of at Jewish weddings, & they've always seemed a bit old-fashioned to me. Someone is always made to be super uncomfortable (usually whomever ends up having to wear the garter), & it's all just too heternormative & awkward for me.
      
  6. A big exit: I've seen some cool wedding exits, like when my cousin & his wife paddled away in a canoe behind a stream of sparklers. Still, this isn't a tradition that matters much to me, & since we're having our ceremony & our reception in the same place, we won't need to do an in-between exit, either, the kind with bubbles or rice or butterflies or whatever. All the easier, I say!
      
  7. Honeymooning right away: It's stressful enough to plan a wedding; I don't want to have to plan my honeymoon at the same time! Mike & I are planning to do a quick winter getaway after the wedding itself, but we won't go on our "real" honeymoon until spring, when we've had plenty of time to plan, save, & relax after the big day - especially because my biennial work conference is less than a month after our wedding day! 
There are, of course, plenty of wedding traditions I do care about & am enjoying planning for. Check out my last wedding update (from June), a little bit about why I'm changing my last name, & a few Jewish traditions we're including in our wedding. With our wedding just about three months away, I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of almost-last-minute inspiration Handpicked, A Bridal Event provides me - & I hope you'll love it, too!

If you're already married, planning a wedding, or just considering your future options, tell me: What wedding-day traditions (or "traditions") do you just not care about?

Thanks to Handpicked, A Bridal Event for offering me two tickets for myself & two tickets to give away. As always, all opinions are my own! 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Return of Bear Bear: How My Instagram Pic Reunited a Kid with Her Stuffed BFF



I am 33 years old (as of yesterday!), & I still sleep with a teddy bear every night. His name is Jolly, & I've had him since I was 3 years old. You can see him in the photo above, sitting on my bed.

I don't sleep with Jolly because I need to - I can sleep just fine without him - but I prefer to. Just as some people hold onto a pillow at night, Jolly is the perfect size for me to clutch as I fall asleep. Plus, he's cute. When I was a kid, I called him my brother. (Any other only nerdy children out there? Holler.)

When I was a kid, my mom & I traveled to Disney World... & I accidentally left Jolly in our hotel room. I will never forget the devastation I felt when I realized I'd forgotten him, confined him to some dusty lost-and-found room until he was inevitably thrown out like trash; I sobbed for days. Conversely, I will also never forget the joy I felt, a week later, when Jolly arrived by mail, sent home by some kind member of the hotel's housekeeping staff.

About a week ago, I was on a walk around my neighborhood when I spotted a small, stuffed bear wearing a tutu, wedged into a chain-link fence so that it was propped upright like a tiny, welcoming ambassador. I snapped of a photo of it & posted it to Instagram, just a cute little find to share with the world:


A couple hours later, I got an Instagram DM from Emma, who lives on my street & is a barista at my favorite coffee shop. "Someone is looking for this bear!!!" she wrote, accompanied by a screencap of a post in our neighborhood watch Facebook group.

Whaaaat?!

I had inadvertently located a lost Bear Bear, some kid's beloved stuffed friend! Another resident had already posted a link to my Instagram photo in response to this parent's plea, but I followed up with the location of said stuffed friend (which I got by checking out the photo's metadata - thanks, Apple, for being both creepy & helpful). I crossed my fingers that Bear Bear was still there & waited to see if the original poster would respond with an update.

When I checked back the next day, Bear Bear had been retrieved, & its owner posted to the group with a note & a photo: Thank you so much Kate and everyone for your help. We have bear bear safely home! ❤️"


I wish you could see how adorable & happy this little kiddo looks, but far be it from me to be the jerk who shares a photo of somebody else's kid on my blog. Still, this should give you a bit of a feel for how freaking cute their reunion was. A day or so later, the original poster left a comment on my original Instagram photo, too: 
thank you so much for posting this!! This bear was given to my daughter on the day she was born and I was just sick when we thought it was gone forever. To tack on to your post- so maybe the bear was there as a friendly ambassador, but also as a sign that even in a place with a reputation for crime and misfortune, there are still good neighbors and great things happening all the time :)
I just can't express how happy it makes me to have been able to facilitate this reunion. May Bear Bear live a long & happy bear-life with this happy munchkin. Jolly & I wish you lots of joy together! 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Times When Money Can, Actually, Buy Happiness



A new study finds that money can indeed buy happiness - if you use it to save time. And a new study in my own life shows that this is indeed true, especially if I'm spending money to save myself the time & hassle of cleaning my home, something I haaaaate doing & am notably not-great at.

In my birthday wishlist post, I mentioned that I bought myself the gift of hiring someone to come clean my apartment. Mike suggested it, actually, & I was all in. Sure, we only moved in two months ago, but hardwood floors get dusty very fast, & our cats shed a lot, & our bedroom has carpet, &, well, cleaning is just not our strongest suit. Our home wasn't dirty, by any means, but it definitely needed some work... which neither of us felt fully equipped to do.

"Let's book it as soon as possible," he said. So we did.

I made an appointment online with Cardinal Maids, which I'd called once in the past but never actually used. There's a longer story there, one I couldn't share on the blog at the time: Basically, my then-landlord screamed at me & made me cry in front of the cleaning lady, & the cleaning lady gave me a big hug & a coupon for a future service before leaving (without cleaning my place, which is part of the long story). In short, it was a really bad day, & her kindness went a a long, long way - so when it came time to book a housekeeping service, I knew I wanted to go back to that company.

It was really easy to book online, & they have straightforward pricing that made clear exactly how much I'd be paying & for what. I also found a $30-off Groupon, which brought down the cost a little - though I knew it would absolutely be worth the full price.

The morning of my appointment, two cleaning ladies arrived a little bit before their scheduled time of 10:30am. They even called me to tell me when they were on their way! I was afraid it might be awkward that I'd be there the whole time, working from home, but they told me they'd clean my office last so that I could work throughout their cleaning. I put on a headset to take my morning call, & I mostly couldn't hear the vacuuming at all.

The whole thing only took about an hour because we didn't have them clean our guest room (which is still filled with unpacked boxes), & they didn't have to do much in the office (which isn't really set up, aside from two desks). They dusted, swept & mopped the floor, scrubbed the sinks & shower & toilet, & even took out the trash.

When they were done, I stood in my living room & basically just twirled around like a princess in love with her castle. Everything was so freaking sparkly-clean. There were no tumbleweeds of cat fur blowing in the ceiling-fanned breeze, no jam-like residue tracked in from the mulberry tree in our front yard, no slivers of carrots & onions on the kitchen floor that sometimes escape Mike's cooking creations. It was like our home was a hotel.

Truly, I can't explain how happy I was to stand barefoot on a freshly vacuumed rug, sunlight streaming through the windows, & take in this spotless apartment. Sure, it was an added expense - but if we have to cut back on a night out or a few frivolous purchases here & there to work it into our budget, so be it. What's extra income for, if not to make your life easier every now & again?

This is an expense I'm happy to pony up for. Because that kind of happiness? Well, it turns out you can buy it, after all.

Have you ever hired someone to clean your home? What's your favorite time-saving "money can buy happiness" indulgence, when you can afford it?

Note: This is not a sponsored post, & I paid full price (aside from my Groupon) for my service with Cardinal Maids. I just liked them so much that I wanted to raise them up! 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

What I Read in July


Hello, hello, hello, & happy August! My 33rd birthday is in three days, & yet I spent most of July reading books written for seventh graders. I have no regrets. I read three books in one series (& am halfway through the fourth), but I managed to fit in three other books, too.

Know what I didn't read? Any of the three books I ordered from Book of the Month Club last month. Oops! I try to read one of them a month, but I have a bit of a backlog right now - which is fine, because it means I've always got something good in the queue. Today is BoTM's reveal day, so check it out if you're interested in getting new reads before they hit the shelves. My referral code will get you three months for just $30, plus a cute tote.

And now, onto the reviews!

One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

This was a Book of the Month Club pick that I wasn't sure about. It's got a funky, bright cover, sure, but I feel like essay memoirs by hipster millennials are all the rage lately (saysas someone who wants to eventually write her own), & I just wasn't sure I wanted to bother. I'm glad I did because Koul, the daughter of Indian immigrants who's now a culture writer for BuzzFeed, has a funny, relatable voice & a lot of great stories. ★★★★★

The Gone Series (Book 1-3) by Michael Grant

I bought Gone, a dystopian YA novel, cheap from Loganberry Books - & immediately set to work tearing through it. The premise is that one day, everyone in town aged 15+ simply disappears - poof, gone. The result is a community full of youth in a beach town with a nuclear power plant at its center. The kids start gaining strange powers, the animals start mutating, & nobody knows what to freaking do. As soon as I finished Gone, I started on Hunger, which was even weirder than the first: talking coyotes, an abstract villain called The Darkness, a kind with a whip for a hand. And yet, I just could. not. stop, which led me to the third book, Lies. It was just as weird, & I loved it just as much. Must keep reading. ★★★★☆

A Practical Wedding: Creative Ideas for Planning a Beautiful, Affordable, and Meaningful Celebration by Meg Keene

Keene is the chill-bride mastermind behind the website of the same name, APracticalWedding.com, & boy, was this book ever a reassuring lifesaver of a read. It's all about the many options for throwing a wedding, including some I'd never thought of, & more importantly, it gives you permission to ignore everyone's expectations. There's lots of great - & practical - advice in here for a wedding that doesn't bankrupt you, turn you into bridezilla, or make you lose your ever-loving mind. ★★★★


True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner

As a true crime addict myself, I knew I wanted to get my hands on this non-fiction book, but what I didn't realize what that the author is from the Akron area. The book opens at a bar in Kent & mentions spots in my hometown. So weird! Renner investigates the disappearance of Maura Murray, a 21-year old nursing student who went missing in 2004 after crashing her car in a remote part of New Hampshire. Simultaneously, he tells of himself & his own life, including a lifetime of true crime obsession & how it affected his relationships, his family, & his mental health. ★★★★☆

Comment to tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past.

My "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but if you do, it will help me buy more books.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A 33rd Birthday Wishlist


I make a birthday wishlist every year, not because I expect anyone to buy me gifts but because I think the older we get, the less we think about frivolous items we want, replaced instead by practical items we want, or even items we need - stuff we wish we didn't have to pay for ourselves, purchases we're putting off but know we'll eventually buy.

Once a year, at least, it's fun to think about items I just plain want, not stuff I need. On this year's list:
  • Tie-Waist Jumpsuit from Old Navy:  I look dumb in rompers but loved their long-legged cousin, the jumpsuit. I already own two casual, black-&-white printed jumpsuits from Old Navy, but if I'm being honest, both are a little snug around the midsection right now. I'd love a well-fitted one, & this all-black beauty is just the ticket. ($34)
       
  • FabFitFun subscription: I've got one box left on my existing year-long subscription to this, the mother of all subscription boxes, & I'd love to continue getting it after that. Alas, I've sworn off subscription boxes in the lead-up to our wedding, so I haven't renewed my subscription. How will I get my quarterly trinket fix without it?! ($179.99)
       
  • Red Fan Earrings from Gudbling: Do I need more statement earrings? Probably not. Do I want more? Always & forever, yes. I've long had my eye on this edgy homemade pair, which is way more colorful than my standard style - but unfortunately more expensive, too. ($47.45)
       
  • Sherpa Bedrest from Target: Lately I've being doing a lot of reading in bed, which is wonderful & cozy except my pillows aren't sturdy enough to keep me comfortable. This backrest pillow is part of Target's college line, surely designed for 18-year-old dorm life, but I still want it for my 33-year-old self. ($13.49)
       
  • Ceramic Cactus Fragrance Diffuser: What cuter way to send soothing essential oil blends into the apartment air than with this adorably disguised cactus diffuser? I don't actually, um, use essential oils, but maybe I would if I owned this. That's how that works, right? ($20.99)
       
  • Oy Fucking Vey Bracelet from The Curated Gift Shop: This Etsy shop sells bracelets with nearly every engraving possible ("I KNOW GUAC IS EXTRA"), but as a good little Yid, this one is the most applicable to my life. You don't want to know how many times a day I say/think this sassy Jewish phrase. ($28)
       
  • Prints from Madame Talbot: I first discovered this macabre print-maker while visiting the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, & Mike & I quickly fell in love with her spooky Gothic/Victorian style. She has so many prints that I don't know which I like best, though as our wedding day approaches, I'm partial to the creepy "'Til Death to Us Part" option.
        
  • A vacuum cleaner: This item isn't linked to any specific brand or type because what the hell do I know about vacuum cleaners? I have a Dirt Devil that does the basics, but with a bigger place & a carpeted bedroom, I'd like a real vacuum - I just don't want to do the research to find one. And fine, this is probably closer to an adult need than a frivolous birthday want. ($why are these so expensive)
       
  • Book of the Month Club subscription: Here's another existing subscription box that's about to wind down for me - & it's far & away my favorite. Each month, I choose one of five curated new-release options, & BoTM populates my home bookshelf with pretty hardcovers that I get to read before they hit stores. A book lover's dream! ($44.97)
Because I'm about to be 33 goddamn years old & no one buys you gifts when you're a freaking adult (except my best friend, Christina, who gave me an awesome gift over the weekend - thanks, Christina!), I went ahead & treated myself to a few of my wishlist items. They are:

  • Barrow Flats from MooreaSeal.com: I've never owned a pair of shoes I like as much as these or am complimented on as often, so naturally, I decided I needed ("needed") a second pair. Less than a week after my new charcoal pair arrived, I broke my tan pair... so I ended up treating myself to not one but two pairs of these shoes. Really, though - they're worth it.
      
  • Schwinn Hybrid Trailway Bike: Yes, I bought a bike from Target - but it's a reliable brand, & it was on sale! I'm a little afraid to ride it lest I die in a pothole, but I've started by riding it the five blocks to my favorite coffee shop. Luckily, remembering how to ride a bike is like, well, riding a bike.
          
  • A house-cleaning from Cardinal Maids: With a slew of positive online reviews, Cardinal Maids was the obvious choice when Mike & I decided to pay someone else to clean our place. I'm neat but hate cleaning, so this sounded like a great way to take off some of the pressure. They're coming tomorrow, & I've literally never been so excited about a clean home.
Whether or not your birthday is coming up, tell me: What's on your personal wishlist? Hey, Christmas & Hanukkah are only a few months away! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On Birthdays: Thankful for Today & Thinking about Forever


I turn 33 on Saturday, August 5th, a little more than a week away. I knew my birthday was coming, of course, but I just didn't realize how quickly, how soon. I kept thinking, "I'll make plans for my birthday. I've got time!" - & now, all of a sudden, time has just about run out. I'll be 33 next week.

I've been thinking, lately, about my last few birthdays, or at least the ones I remember. I can remember & differentiate as far back as 27, I think, but it's my thirties that have been on my mind.

I wasn't upset about turning 30. In fact, I was excited. I was excited that I'd made it, especially after a suicide-by-30 promise that I'd made to myself about a decade earlier. And I was excited to feel like an adult, to have my opinion heard & trusted more than I ever felt like it was in my twenties. The night before 30, I had a panic attack; I hardly slept, worrying about what I was doing with my life & what the next decade had in store for me. But then, the day came & went, & I was 30, & all was fine.

I turned 30 in D.C. just a few months before I decided to move back home. It was a slow, laid-back day; I went into the office that day but then headed home a little but early & missed my office party. I hosted a get-together with friends at a taco place I loved, & my boss showed up. It was his birthday, too, & everyone in attendance sang to both of us, then passed around 30 cupcakes, 10 apiece from the best bakeries in the city. I drank late into the night with a college friend who didn't mind heading into work hungover the next day.

I turned 31 just a month after moving to Cleveland, & it was a day that went by without much fanfare. Mike & I had been together just a few months, so we got a little fancy for the first birthday we'd ever celebrated together, making dinner reservations at Spice Kitchen + Bar in Lakewood. The meal was just OK, but what really stands out is the birthday gift Mike gave me: The complete boxed set of the Harry Potter series, the kind that comes in a Hogwarts trunk. It was accompanied by a two-page letter that I still cherish.

I turned 32 last summer, & my actual birthday was the hottest day of the year. I took of work to go feed giraffes at the Cleveland Zoo, but I bailed because it was just too hot. That night, Mike & I drove to Columbus & stayed in an AirBnB before heading to the Ohio State Fair (a.k.a. my favorite place in the world) very early in the morning. We spent the day eating fried foods & marveling over the Butter Cow & walking about 20k steps

I've just been thinking lately about... well, life, I guess. I've been thinking about how much life changes over the years, for all of us. We've gained new friends & lost old ones & gotten married & gotten divorced & had babies & moved across the country & gone to grad school & gotten new jobs & bought new houses & God-knows-what-else. At almost-33, I finally feel like... yeah, I'm an adult. I may not always be a good one, but I do, finally, feel like I supposed to be here, like I'm allowed to be here.

But I've been thinking, too, about how, at the same time, so many things feel the same as they ever have. Last night, I got together with my longtime best friend & soon-to-be maid of honor, Christina, who lives in Tennessee. We are vastly different people - than each other, than we used to be, everything. And yet, when we get together, we are exactly the same as we always have been: We laugh so hard it sometimes hurts, we reminisce, we tell stories, we find the stupidest things to be hilarious. We sat in her childhood bedroom working on a craft project for my upcoming wedding, wearing pajamas & watching Newsies & eating Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, her parents asleep downstairs as we laughed well into the night.

I thought getting older would be so scary. I thought getting older would be so scary that I once legitimately planned to die before I had to face it. Now? God, that seems laughable. Life is so good. Not always, of course, not every day, but overall, life is so fucking good. Things change & life moves forward & we become new, different - but somewhere in there, too, we're still just us. Older versions of the same people we've always been inside, finding ourselves & working it out & trying our damndest.

I am not afraid to be 33. I think of my friends who didn't make it here, of Dave & Elissa & Zach, & I am not afraid to turn 33 or 35 or 40 or 60 or 100. I am not afraid to grow old, to feel like an adult, to be someone's wife & mother & grandmother, to be a grown-ass woman who pays my bills & goes to bed early but still laughs until she cries with the same best friend she's had since she was 9 years old.

I feel lucky as hell to have today, to hope for tomorrow, & to dream of a whole, big, beautiful life, for however long I've got it. Happy almost-birthday to me - & here's to many more.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

8 of My Favorite Summer Treats


I don't have much of a sweet tooth; I'm more of a salty snacks kinda gal, truth be told, with little ability to resist the likes of flavored cashews, BBQ chips, or Chex Mix. In the summer, though, there are a few treats I just love - & even if I don't indulge in them very often, they're simply better consumed during the warm-weather months!

Here are a few of my faves. What are yours?
  1. Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake from Tremont Scoops
    I'm not a vegan or lactose intolerant or anything like that, but if all dairy-free foods tasted as good as this milkshake, I'd commit in a heartbeat. Truly, this shake is the best I've ever had - & you can even get it with vegan whipped cream on top.
      
  2. Sweetened Iced Coffee with Soy Milk from Civilization
    This is my everyday go-to, though I try to minimize the "sweetened" part. I go through about two of these a day in order to achieve my desired level of caffeination. I usually pay for my refill when I buy the first one!
      
  3. Arnold Palmer from anywhere that serves it
    For some reason, I can never remember the name of this drink, which is half lemonade & half iced tea; I've been known to ask for "a Tom Collins but without the booze" (because a Tom Collins is just a boozy version). Embarrassing... but so deliciously summery.
      
  4. DK Smoothie from Beviamo
    Sure, I could make this smoothie at home, but when a local joint makes it this well, why bother? It's made with just peanut butter, bananas, & vanilla protein powder, & I get a free smoothie after every 10 purchases... which I've reached more often than I care to admit.
      
  5. Dinosaur Plums from the West Side Market
    I'd never heard of dinosaur plums until a fruit vendor at WSM offered me a free sample - which is probably because they're just colloquially known as pluots, a plum/apricot combo. I don't love either plums or apricots on their own, but something this hybrid is incredibly tasty.
      
  6. Mango Lassis from Tandul
    As Ron Burgundy once said, "Milk [is] a bad choice" on a hot day, but when it comes to mango lassis, that's somehow just not true. This yogurt-based dairy drink is so cool & refreshing, & I'm fortunate to live very close to the best mango lassi-maker in town.
      
  7. Phat Beets Smoothie from Beet Jar
    I don't even really like beets, but somehow I'm loving them in smoothie form. This thick, healthy smoothie from Hingetown's healthiest joint is just the right amount of beetiness - not too earthy, but not too sweet from the other ingredients, either.
       
  8. Bubbles Rosé Ale from Cidergeist
    Is it fair to include booze in here? Hey, I'm doin' it. This pink-hued ale is made with apple, peach, & cranberry with a crisp taste that's not too tart or sweet - & is totally refreshing, especially when consumed on the front porch on a sunny day.
What are you indulging in this summer?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My First Blogger Meet-up in the CLE!


When I first started this blog in 2007, the D.C. blogging scene was a beauty to behold. It was large, active, welcoming, & full of really cool people doing really cool things, writing about all of it as they did. I never became super closer with any of the other bloggers, but I think fondly on my time participating in their many meet-ups (like the time we ended up at - & got kicked out of - a Dupont Circle strip club - ohhh, to be 23).

Now, though, people say the heyday of personal blogging has passed. They say blogging is dead. They say social media is the new blogging, that no one wants to read blog posts when they could just scroll through the captions in their Instagram or Twitter feeds.

I disagree, of course - & after all, you guys keep proving that conventional wisdom wrong by continuing to read & comment here (THANK YOU!). But the heyday of meet-ups, at least, does seem to have passed. Forums like 20SB & roundups like DC Blogs went dark. When I moved to Cleveland, I was eager to check out the Ohio Blogging Association, but I was dismayed to find that it was nearly defunct.

I've always known there must be other bloggers in Cleveland, bloggers I didn't yet know about, but how to find them? I wondered if the days of blogging as a local community activity were, in fact, dead.

A local blogging friend who I'd yet to meet in person, Crystal of Eat*Drink*Cleveland, recently added me to an Instagram pod for Cleveland bloggers, a group designed to help us engage with one another's content & help lift each other up. Through that, I found a bunch of blogs I hadn't yet known about - & then, last week, I saw that one of the bloggers, Leah of By Travel and Error, was hosting a local meet-up.

What?! Meet-ups were back?! I knew I had to go, anxious though I was sure to be.

Yesterday was the day. I headed over to Hi & Dry, a new bar-slash-bowling-alley just a few blocks away from my apartment, for Leah's Cleveland blogger meetup. It was attended by about a dozen other women, only one of whom I'd ever met in person (I had dinner with Kala of Cook Drink Decorate last month). In short, I was nervous as hell, but I just had a feeling it was going to be worth it. You know that feeling?

Of the group, I've been blogging the longest (10 years next month, daaaamn!), but these ladies, many of whom have only had blogs for a year or two, or even just a few months, blew me away with their savvy, their creativity, & their enthusiasm. If the heyday of personal blogging is dead, you'd certainly never know it based on the conversations I had & the content I heard about.

Truly, it was such a rejuvenating moment for me as a blogger, a Clevelander, & an aspiring creative type. I look forward to many more events like this in the future!

PS: Want to read these ladies' blogs? Check out Leah of By Travel & Error, Stacy of Styled By Stacy,  Crystal of Eat*Drink*Cleveland, Stella of The Heart's Delight, Alie of Alison's Five Things, Alyssa of The Mexitalian, Kala of Cook Drink Decorate, Brittney of According To Brittney, Amanda of Closeted Fashion, & Debi of DebiDarnell.com. Three of the ladies in attendance have yet-to-be-launched blogs coming soon!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

If We Were Having Coffee: Scenes from a Virtual Friend-Date



If we were having coffee, I'd be drinking a large iced coffee, sweetened & with a little bit of soy milk. I'd tell you that I'm always weirdly excited when I get to my favorite coffee shop & they know my order before I even have to speak it aloud. I'd also probably confess that I sometimes wonder whether the baristas think I'm the lamest person ever for being there so often & for so long.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that flew solo for much of this week. Mike was at an artificial intelligence conference in San Francisco, so I was my own, which means I indulged in some of my favorite single-lady behaviors. It also means that while I cleaned my entire apartment, I also ate takeout food for days. Hey, cleaning is my jam; cooking is not.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I've been having some great weekends this summer. Last weekend alone, I went to a Billy Joel concert & a Gold Cup soccer game & the Taste of Tremont festival & a new brewery - & that's just last weekend! It's been so much fun to treat summer a little bit more like I did when I was in college - full of adventures & experiences, even if I still have to work every day.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I've been really embarrassed about my sweatiness. I honestly think I have some sort of disorder - & according to my Internet research, there's basically no cure. Cool. When I'm out & about, I scan the people around me to see if anyone else is as sweaty as I am - & no one ever is. It's mortifying, & I've been so self-conscious about it this summer.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I'm nervous about a blogger meetup this weekend. Leah from By Travel and Error is hosting a get-together for Cleveland-based bloggers on Saturday afternoon, & while it's right here in my neighborhood, & it's not even a very big event, I'm still really scared to attend because... I don't know why. Because I'm a generally anxious person? Sigh.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I could use a vacation... & that I don't have any coming up. I went to New Orleans in March & D.C. in April & my cousin's cabin in Pennsylvania in June, so I can't really complain, but man, I could use a secluded getaway someplace where my only responsibilities are to sleep in late & read a book or seven.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that I'm panicking about the wedding. Nothing bad is happening, but OMG it's less than four months away, & I'm reaching that point where it feels really real. I'm trying to get everything in order but what if, like, I forget stuff? Details aren't my forte, & I'm feeling pretty pressed about the details. Weddings have a lot of details, you guys.

If we were having coffee, I'd tell you that it's almost my birthday. I turn 33 on August 5th, & honestly, I've barely thought about it at all. I was hoping to have a get-together of some sort, whether at a bar or at our new place, but then I just lost track of time & never planned anything. Oh, well? I'm sure it'll be fine - though I still can't believe I'm almost in my mid-thirties. Life flies, eh?

If we were having coffee, what would you have to tell me? Comment with some life updates!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Let's Talk About Weddings, Money, & Really Bad Advice


Even if you choose to go the most minimalist route possible, weddings cost money. And if you're anything like most brides, you'll probably get caught up in at least part of the hoopla & hype that surrounds the wedding industry, whether you want a big bridal party or tons of gorgeous flowers or a poufy cupcake of a dress or a destination ceremony in a tropical paradise. And if you want all of the above? Well, it's gonna cost an arm & a leg, at the very least.

I'm in a Facebook group for CLE brides- & grooms-to-be, & as is the case in any local Facebook group, it's often a source of utter weirdness. From hideous dresses to maid-of-honor horror stories to plain old "WTF are you thinking?" plans, there are plenty of posts that make me cringe. Today, though, one caught my eye, & I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

One woman posted asking for advice on the following abridged-for-the-blog situation:
"My wedding is August 18th and we are having trouble affording the rest of the reception costs ($1400). It's basically a choice between having the reception and paying the bills this month. With the wedding being so close everyone has chosen their food options so how would I go about switching the menus to just cake and some appetizers?"
Whoa.

My first reaction is "How the hell did you get into a scenario where you're having a wedding you so badly cannot afford to be having?" I assumed other commenters would say the same thing, perhaps more gently - but you know what they say about assuming. By & large, the other commenters did not share my view.

For starters, one commenter wrote:
"I applaud you for being willing to be responsible with your budget. People tend to loose their sense when it comes to weddings." 
Wait, I'm confused. Is it... is it responsible budgeting to get so far in the hole that you have to rework your wedding at the last minute? Somehow I didn't think that was how responsible budgeting worked. And it gets worse. Though some people shared helpful ideas for cuts to make instead, here are the most jaw-dropping bit of "advice" group members provided:
  1. "Payday loan! They have installment loans, try Mountain Summit or maybe Money Key...hey nobody wants to do it but you have to have your reception!"
  2. "I received money before my wedding esp from people who were not going. To be able attend it was around 500 total but it helped with last min expenses."
  3. "There are alot of 0% apr credit cards right now for 12+ months.....check out credit karma it will give you best options."
  4. "I knew a groom who had abismal credit, he was able to get a personal loan for the rest of the costs. Might be an option."
  5. "Is a credit card an option? $1,400 is such a small amount in the grand scheme. If people come expecting a meal, they will be hungry and super pissed to find just cake and apps."
  6. "Not the best idea but get a loan, and pay it off after the wedding. I'm sure lots of ppl will give you cash for a gift."
  7. "You cannot ask people to come to your wedding after they are already expecting a meal they chose (and they are bringing you gifts and money) and just give them appetizers and cake. You need to find a different option or cancel all together."
  8. "Just say that your caterer quit last minute and you had to choose something else, and on last minute decisions it ended up being appetizers."
  9. "We're in the same boat...Ive been selling stuff on FB, opened 2 new accounts at Huntington, deferred my car payment, and got a loan with hopes to pay off after the wedding."
Mike & I initially planned to have a very low-key wedding, but we're fortunate that our parents offered us money to help cover the cost of a larger wedding. I don't take lightly that gift, & I recognize that many couples aren't in similar situations in terms of familial or financial support. 

But look: At the end of the day, you should only be having a wedding you can afford. If you can't afford it, that money isn't just going to magically appear. If anything, new expenses are going to crop up - but new funding probably isn't. Make a budget, get creative, make cuts along the way, et cetera, but you should not find yourself, a month before the big day, choosing between paying your bills or financing your wedding.

If you can't afford your bills in order to pay for your wedding, you shouldn't be having the wedding you're planning to have. If you plan in advance to take out a small loan or something of the sort, OK - but having a strategic financial plan is a far cry from "Oh, shit, this ship is sinking, & I've got to take out a sketchy payday loan just to provide the meal I promised my wedding guests." Why did you plan that freaking wedding?

Maybe I'm being overly judgy here. Maybe I'm going to get nasty comments about this post - & honestly, if you've got a different POV that I'm missing, I'd love to hear it. But as someone who is very frustrated with the wedding industry & the many gratuitous expenses it insists are vital, I can't help but be aghast at the idea that people are going bankrupt just to have a wedding that looks like the movies. Aren't we smarter than this?! Aren't we more realistic than this?!

Real life isn't the movies - & real weddings don't need to be, either. Save the cash for your life together, not for an all-out wedding day that will leave you with a mountain of debt to start out your marriage.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Explore Cleveland's History with Western Reserve Historical Society! (+ a Giveaway)


Three things you didn't know about me:
  • I minored in history in college. I have a terrible memory, so I love learning about it... & then learning about it again after I inevitably forget what I've learned.
  • I grew up in a family of car fanatics, which is an understatement. Once, at a garage sale, my dad glanced at a car covered in a tarp &, without seeing it, named its exact make & model based on shape alone, astounding its owner. 
  • I love Cleveland. Like, a lot.
OK, OK, maybe you'd guessed that last one.

The three of those things combined contribute to my love of Cleveland's Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, part of the Western Reserve Historical Society & one of the coolest historical offerings in the city. Northeast Ohio was a crucial hub of development in the transportation industry at the turn of the century, & University Circle's Crawford Museum shows off the city's many contributions. It's home to 140 antique cars, 21 other vehicles (motorcycles, bicycles, & boats), & 10 aircraft - to name a few.

When I first attended the museum, I sent my cousin Jim approximately 20 Snaps of beautiful antique cars & frantic captions like, "WE NEED TO GO HERE! FAMILY FIELD TRIP!" Jim, an aerospace engineer who knows just about everything about cars & regularly responds to my needy texts about my own vehicle, calmly responded that he already knew about the museum... & has visited it a number of times.  

Damn, fam, why didn't you clue me in sooner?!

But I should've known. The Western Reserve Historical Society also encompasses the Euclid Beach Park Grand Carousel, Costume Collection, Hay-McKinney and Bingham-Hanna Mansions, Kidzbits Family Hands-on Center, & the Research Library. They run the coolest historical exhibits & programming in Northeast Ohio - & they're celebrating 150 years of preserving its rich history to share it with the public.

As a kid, I made lots of trips to Hale Farm & Village, a living history museum on a 200-year-old family farm in the Cuyahoga Valley (think an Ohio-themed Williamsburg), & I love the gorgeous Euclid Beach Grand Park Carousel, a restored 1910 carousel now set indoors at the Western Reserve Historical Society's headquarters. I'm also really excited about their newest exhibit, opening in November: Cleveland Starts Here will be a core exhibit & digital portal that explores Northeast Ohio's rich, diverse history.

Want to check it all out for yourself? The Western Reserve Historical Society is generously giving away a one-year membership! To enter, just complete this short WRHS survey & like them on social media as instructed below. Happy exploring! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway Disclosure: I was asked to help promote the Western Reserve Historical Society’s survey & offerings in exchange for a complimentary annual household membership, plus one to give away. As always, all opinions are strictly my own! 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What I Read in June


It looks like I read a lot of books this month, but as you'll see, four of them were quick, easy reads - two trashy crime novels & two YA throwbacks. It's summer, & while I don't have any big beach vacations planned, I do like the keep my reading a little bit lighter (though, yes, I also ended up reading a Holocaust book, so...)

July 1st was also Book of the Month Club's book reveal day, & I chose not one but three books, which will be delivered soon: The Child by Fiona Barton, Hunger by Roxane Gay, & Final Girls by Riley Sager. Bring on the books! (If you're interested, use this referral link to get your first three months for just $9.99 each, plus a book tote.)

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

This book of very, very macabre short stories came free from Blogging for Books, which I was really excited about because I'd been dying to read it. Enriquez weaves tales of the underbelly of life in modern-day Argentina, with a twist of the grotesque & borderline magical. In one story, a disabled girl goes into an abandoned house & never returns; in another, a drug-addled teen mother sacrifices her children to dark magic. It was a compelling read, but it also freaked me the hell out. ★★★☆☆

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor

This book was a recommendation from my coworker Evan's blog, & I tore through it in two sittings (or should-be-sleepings). Senghor, who became a crack dealer at age 14, committed murder at age 19 just months after being shot himself (& likely suffering from some serious PTSD). He spent nearly two decades in prison, at first violent, angry, & withdrawn but later relying on faith & writing to help him find the strength to evolve into a peace-loving, justice-minded activist, husband, & father. Now, he works to better the Detroit community where he grew up. ★★★★★

Before He Takes by Blake Pierce

This series is like a bad crime show I can't stop watching - so cheesy, yet so readable. In this book, the fourth in the series, young FBI agent Mackenzie White investigates the case of missing women in an Iowa farming town. As usual, it ended with a stressful, unrealistic, heroine-of-the-day scenario... that I totally dug. What can I say? Some people love trashy romance novels; I love trashy crime novels. ★★★☆☆

Before He Needs by Blake Pierce

Yep, I kept going. Once I finished Before He Takes, I realized the next book in the series was already available - damn, this dude writes fast! In this one, Mackenzie investigates the violent murders of four Miami couples who all turn out to be swingers. This one didn't seem to move quite as quickly as the books before it, but (spoiler alerttt) the two main characters did finally hook up! ★★★☆☆

An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve

This memoir tells of the childhood of the daughter of an eccentric, mentally ill Manhattan poet who was active in the early feminist movement. Though not abusive in the traditionally thought-of manner, Leve's mother left behind mental & emotional scarring that her daughter, now an award-winning journalist living in Bali, carried & struggled with well into adulthood. Her mother's extreme neediness, gaslighting, irresponsibility, & neglect left Leve floundering to learn trust, love, & normalcy. ★★★★☆

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Last month, I read a book from my childhood, & doing so felt really wonderfully nostalgic - so I did it again this month. I was inspired by a recent episode of the podcast Criminal about the short-lived campaign to advertise the faces of missing kids on milk cartons; this book was one of my favorites in the early '90s, though I never got to its sequels. ★★★★☆

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

When the details of her kidnapping are revealed, Janie Johnson, is sent to live with her biological parents & four siblings, whose life is a far cry from the one she's always known. They insist on calling her by her birth name, & they disparage the only parents she's ever known (who actually didn't kidnap her - long story?!); the whole family struggles to find peace. ★★★★☆

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Anne Frank's birthday was June 12, & after reading through a bunch of quotes from & about her for a work-related project, I decided I needed to pick this up & (re?)read it. This unabridged version, published within the last few years, is a powerful testament to life during WWII, to a life spent in hiding, & to a brilliant young mind taken far before her time. May her legacy outlive us all. ★★★★★

Comment to tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past.

My "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but if you do, it will help me buy more books.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mead You Look: Western Reserve Meadery


I've never been much of a wine person. My mom, she loves a glass (or two) of red wine to top off the day, but I've never really enjoyed it. Sure, I'll have a glass if I'm with a group of people who order a bottle at dinner, or something, but it's never my go-to. I never, like, want wine.

The one time I had wine I loved was in Israel. Our tour guy, Guy, was friends with the owners of a winery, they called it, though they didn't have any grapes; none of the wine was grape wine. Instead, it was all made with honey & other fruits - & they tasted incredible. I later learned that it wasn't really wine at all; it was mead, but maybe the Israelis didn't have the word for it?

Remembering the tastes of that trip, I was thrilled to see that a meadery has opened right here in my neighborhood. Western Reserve Meadery is a small, locally owned operation located on Duck Island, the border of Cleveland's Tremont & Ohio City neighborhoods. One night in May, Mike & some friends & I were checking out Forest City Brewery when we realized the meadery was in the same building. Should we check it out? We should check it out.

What we found was a small, brightly lit space done all in smooth, shining wood - the handiwork, it turns out, of one of the owners, who does woodworking on the side. Talk about cool hobbies! We ended up speaking with him for about an hour, & he even showed us the backroom where the mead is made.

We also tried the mead, of course, & let me tell you: That shit is delicious. Their flavors change regularly, but here's what we tried:
  • Hefe-Mel: Honeyed with a a light banana/clove flavor - yum. They actually serve this one on tap in the tasting room.
  • Spiced Cranberry Blossom Mead: This sweet mead has a little bit of a kick to it.
  • Medjool Date Melomel: This is the one I was most excited about, though it was more savory than expected. 
  • Strawberry Basil Mead: This flavor is tart & refreshing, as expected. So summery.
  • Buckwheat Blossom Honey Cherry: This tart flavor is the one we bought a full bottle of, & it didn't last long once it got home. It's also 16.5% ABV.
Yeah, we were a liiiittle tipsy by the time we left.

Western Reserve Meadery's tasting room is open Wednesday through Friday from 4-10pm, & Saturdays from noon to 10pm. They offer samples of their meads for $2, or full glasses for $5. Their products are also sold in two other local spots: Cap & CorksRoss Beverage, both in Lakewood, & I've recently found them at the Tremont Farmers Market, too. While we were visiting, I tried desperately to think of someone we needed to buy a gift for because this would be perfect to take to a dinner party or something!

Bottom line: We loved Western Reserve Meadery & their mead, & it's a great addition to the area. If you like beer or wine or both, you're likely to find a mead that suits for fancy, too. L'chaim!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

It's Really, Really, Really Freaking Important That You Call Your Senators This Week


I shared an Ohio-centric version of this post on Facebook today, but it felt too important not to share as broadly as possible.

Have you called your senators to ask them to vote no on the GOP health care bill? 

Call your senators' offices now! Thank your Democratic senator for opposing the American Health Care Act , & ask/urge/plead with/beg your Republican senator to vote no on this harmful piece of legislation that would jeopardize the lives of millions of Americans.
You can find the phone number for your senators' D.C. office here (& if you're an Ohioan like me, you can call Senator Rob Portman's D.C. office at 202-224-3353). When you call, be sure to say your name & your city; clearly state your opposition to the bill & ask him or her to vote no, for the well-being of residents of your state & for all Americans.

Never done this before or feeling scared? Call after hours (like today!) & you'll get an answering machine instead of a real person. Your opinion will still be heard & documented by members of the senator's staff. Don't let phone anxiety prevent you from calling!

Here are a few quick facts about the AHCA, which you are welcome to quote in your call... or share with every single goddamn person you know because, in the words of American hero Gwen Stefani, "This shit is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S."
  • "The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the AHCA would cause 23 million people to lose insurance by 2026, according to The New York Times."*
  • "Insurers would be allowed to apply for a waiver to opt out of covering essential health benefits in order to charge higher rates for those with preexisting conditions - something that 70 percent of Americans oppose, according to a survey conducted by Langer Research Associates."* 
  • "A poll from Quinnipiac University found that 62 percent of Americans disapprove of the Republican’s bill, while 66 percent are unhappy with President Donald Trump’s handling of the nation’s health care.*
Let's let Republicans know that we mean it this time: They can't mess with our health, with our wellness, with our lives. Their jobs are at stakes.

This is a critical time. Please don't just stand by & watch.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How to Make It Through a Tough Week


I haven't been having a very good week. Actually, I've been having a really bad week. It seems like, today, it's starting to turn around - but I'm always wary of saying so lest things actually get worse.

But I'm trying to work on changing my perspective, finding the good within the bad. It's surprisingly helpful, actually, & it makes me feel grateful even when I'm feeling down.

For example...

I've had a couple of really difficult days at work that I won't go into here, but at least I have a job I love that pays all the bills. Fortunately, bad days/problems there are few & far between, so when they do arise, they're at least a little bit easier to swallow.

All I wanted to do last night was crawl into bed early, but I had to clean our place because company is coming. Now, though, my home is clean, & tonight, we'll welcome two of my very best friends into town as they pass through on their way to Chicago.

I've been really low on cash lately because I'm paying off my credit card debt while trying not to go back into debt - but at least that means that, at some point, I'll be able to say I'm debt-free, & my paychecks will go right to me, not to my bills.

I feel wayyy behind on wedding planning (check out my last update), but I know it'll all fall into place by the big day. I mean, it has to, right? And when that time comes, I'll walk away married to my best friend, which is all I really need or want.

My weight is at an all-time high, which I don't feel good about, especially in the lead-up to said wedding, but I'm still mobile, capable, & strong. I've been doing workout videos, trying to move more, cutting carbs, etc., & most importantly, reassuring myself that I have value no matter how I look or how much I weigh.

For all these reasons & more, I've been struggling with depression & anxiety again, largely in the form of low self-esteem & a lack of confidence, which is a really weird thing to experience at 32 - but I am taking my medicine, practicing self-care, learning on my support system, & trying my best to take care of myself.

I'm reminded that mental illness is a lifelong struggle - that just because I overcame it once doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to it again or that life is not a happily-ever-after. But I know how to cope now, & I will not be taken under by my lows. I am so much more than my bad days, & a bad day or a bad week does not a bad life make.

And here's a small list of additional good things, because I find that writing them out helps me to appreciate them more:
  1. It was roasted red pepper soup day at my favorite coffee shop.
  2. My favorite barista introduced me to toddy, a super-strong iced coffee.
  3. I bought a bright green, patterned shirt yesterday that I love.
  4. Today is the summer solstice, but it's sunny, breezy, & not too hot.
  5. I'm rereading a very chill, readable YA series from my childhood.
  6. The cats have been super-extra-cuddly since we returned from a weekend trip.
  7. I'm meeting a new blog friend for tacos tomorrow night.
  8. I bought a bottle of my favorite mead at yesterday's farmer's market.
  9. I found an inspirational rock outside today?
Hey. Sometimes it's the littlest things.

Good luck gettin' through the week, friends.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Rooms to Let: An Incredible Art Installation in the Unlikeliest of Places


A couple weekends ago, Mike & some of our friends & I drove over to Slavic Village, where I'd never been, for an innovative, larger-than-life art installation called Rooms to Let. Supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, Rooms to Let is an annual project that transforms vacant houses & empty lots into massive works of art featuring works by dozens of local artists of varying styles.

We got there late in the day, so we only made it through three of the four houses. Luckily, two of them were located on the same lot. Unfortunately, the time frame meant we had to speed through a lot of the exhibits, & I'm sure I missed a ton of really cool stuff. I could've stayed in these houses all day, if I'd been by myself; as it was, I was the last one of our group out of all three of the houses we visited. Oops!

I'm no photographer, but here's a look at some of the best of the day. I couldn't let this amazing exhibit go undocumented - but as you look at these photos, imagine that it was all, like, 10 times more beautiful & fascinating than what you see here, OK? OK. Let's go.







We weren't sure what to expect, but the first room we walked into was covered in absolutely gorgeous, colorful paintings of nude women with modern, feminist, activist messaging woven throughout. It was hard to believe they were painted on the walls of abandoned building, places that someone once called home. 






This candy-colored room felt especially unsettling, somehow. The bright, saturated colors against the backdrop of a peeling, other-wise-falling-apart room... well, it was plain old spooky. Look how pretty & shiny & new these colors are - & then look at the crumbling building falling down around them.







Some of the rooms were reminiscent of the outdoors, with trees & even waterfalls brought inside. I'm not artistic enough to, you know, quite get it - but it was really cool to see a fake creek running through an abandoned stairwell & a roomful of trees growing through the walls.











Some of it was interactive, inviting visitors to take part by writing on the walls or knocking down blocks or playing music or, in one case, even sweeping the floors. In another room, a woman with a white-painted face & body sat at a desk, legs up, gum popping, as she flicked little pieces of paper across the room & refused to engage with any of her viewers.









One of the coolest rooms, though not exactly art in the traditional sense, was the "Selfie Pink-Ghost-Room," its name hastily scrawled on a plywood door. We made our way into a dark basement... filled with fake fog, pink lights, & a blank photo backdrop for... selfies, of course. It was a little too crowded down there for us to snag a good one, but it was still a cool place to explore.





My favorite room, in a really painful way, was the Donald Trump room, a child's playroom with not-so-subtle messaging about the danger of the impact of our fine president's words on young, impressionable girls & women. I kept hearing people peek their heads into the room & exclaim, "Look how cute it is!" - totally missing the point, like half this country, I guess.













That certainly wasn't the only politically minded display, though most were slightly more subtle. A number of the displays focused on housing issues - meta, yes, but important, too, especially given the setting of the exhibits.










And some of the exhibits hearkened back to Slavic Village's homeowners of ages past. In one room, the artist herself was actually present, chatting with visitors & explaining that the tchotchkes that peppered her work came from a home in the area that a friend of hers had recently purchased - photos & paperwork & recipes & all kinds of things that told the stories of the family that once lived there.




And some of it felt angry & broken, a reminder that this artwork came at the expense of a once-vibrant neighborhood's lifeblood. I was surprised, frankly, that more of it didn't feel angry... & I wondered how some of the neighbors felt, the ones living next door to these dilapidated-but-now-beautiful homes-turned-canvases - the ones still living in dilapidated homes themselves.











There were also some really incredible pieces of straight-up, traditional artwork in the "I want to hang that on my wall at home" sense. It was sort of depressing to think of all of this beautiful art being demolished along with the walls that hold them - but I guess that was sort of the point. Art is ephemeral. Stability is ephemeral. Life is ephemeral.






 And some of it just felt like art, period - weird & pretty & strange & inspirational & confusing & what-the-hell-ever else. There was literally a bathroom covered floor-to-ceiling in hair. Art, man.













The artwork continued outside, too, with performance art in the backyard, neon & metallic paint on much of the foliage, & murals being painted in real-time in vacant lots - not to mention this clown-covered couch hanging by a thread out of one of the windows. Yikes.










I have to confess: As much as I loved the artwork, something about Rooms to Let left me deeply unsettled. It is uncomfortably voyeuristic - not to mention classist - to visit a down-&-out neighborhood to see beautiful works of art in spaces that are tangible representations of economic downturn & poverty.

I appreciate what the folks behind Rooms to Let folks are trying to do, & I of course appreciate all the incredible art itself - but in practice, well... it just didn't feel good. People live in Slavic Village, people struggle in Slavic Village, people in Slavic Village are trying to make ends meet & better their community. They're not an exhibit.

Part of the lead-up to Rooms to Let included a fix-a-thon & a community clean-up project, but... well. It doesn't change what's happening in Slavic Village, in so much of Cleveland, or around the country. It doesn't change what economic inequality looks like - or feels like, for the people living it. Here are a few ways to support organizations doing work to correct economic inequality.

Overall, Rooms to Let was an incredible experience, some of the coolest & craziest art I've ever seen. Even though it made me uncomfortable in a number of ways - & was, probably, supposed to - I love that Cleveland artists & activists are taking on interesting & creative ways to try to bring attention to what's going on in our city, to bring something beautiful to something downtrodden, & to inspire creativity in Clevelanders.

Where can I find more great art in this city? Let me know in the comments!

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