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?"

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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