An Uncommon Gift Guide for Valentine's Day

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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I had so much fun putting together my Cleveland-themed holiday gift guide in December that I'm back with one for Valentine's Day! Much as I love my city, though, this one's not CLE-themed; rather, it's focused on some of the goodies I'm currently loving from Uncommon Goods quirky selection of V-Day gifts.We're just two weeks out from the holiday, so now's the time to plan. Got dinner reservations yet?

Part of my beef with the holiday of love is that people just get so darn cheesy, which is why I like Uncommon Goods. They sell, well, uncommon goods - with a social justice twist. The company believes it's their responsibility to use their business to impact the world in a positive way. Even their lowest paid workers starts at 50% above the minimum wage; most of their jewelry & home items are made in the U.S., & 1/3 of their products incorporate recycled/upcycled materials. I love a company with a commitment to global good!

Here a few of my favorite of their 300+ Valentine's Day items to get you thinking about the holiday:
  1. For the bookworm: Talk about getting wrapped up a good book! These silk-screened cotton literary scarves let your favorite reader wear their love of classic literature around their necks. Choose from Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland, Wuthering Heights, or Pride & Prejudice. ($48) 
  2. For the nostalgia lover: The "My Life Story - So Far" journal provides prompts for recording your life's experiences, relationships, & hard-won wisdom. This would be a great gift for parents and grandparents, guiding them in creating a lasting family keepsake. ($30)
  3. For the home chef: Roll these foodie dice to see what's cooking! Five dice offer protein options, cooking methods, grain/carb selections, herb choices, & bonus ingredients; four additional dice offer seasonal veggies. That's 186,000 different meal combinations! ($24) 
  4. For the classy wino: You've heard of whiskey stones, but what about wine pearls? These innovative chillers bring a glass of wine to its ideal sipping temperature. Chill your drink without altering or diluting its delicate flavors, you insufferable snob. ($24.95) 
  5. For the city dweller: I love these "neighborwoods" drink coasters & hate that they don't offer a Cleveland version. If you live someplace else, though, celebrate your city with cedar coasters etched with your urban grid. European versions are available, too. ($36)
  6. For the busy bee: Can't spend a day at an actual spa? Bring the spa home! This spa-in-a-bag kit includes body butter, body scrub, Dead Sea salts, & lip balm all made with natural beeswax & honey harvested at a Maryland apiary. ($70)
  7. For the boozy hipster: How pretty are these black walnut martini glasses? There's no glass in them at all, in fact. They'd look gorgeous on display on your bar... & in your hand as you sip a dirty one at the end of a long day. ($122)
These seven items barely scratch the service of what's available from Uncommon Goods, whose selection of Valentine's Day gifts for women span five pages - so skip the chocolates & go for something uncommon. Happy Valentine's Day!

Thanks to one of my favorite online shops, Uncommon Goods, for collaborating with me on this post.
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Rest in Peace: Exploring Cleveland's Monroe Street Cemetery

Friday, January 27, 2017

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Fun fact, or super-creepy fact, depending on how you feel about such things: I love old cemeteries. They're such peaceful, quiet places for alone time, & the headstones are often fascinating - the wording, the designs, the names, the epitaphs. I've only even written here about exploring Lake View Cemetery, an historic, beautiful, & socially acceptable cemetery to love; I've never written about others because it just seems... weird.

Recently, though, two of my favorite blogs have helped me feel less weird about my weird love of weird cemeteries. Kayla of The Dainty Squid (she lives in my 'hood) & Alexandra of Only Living Girl in New York (we went to college together) both blog regularly about cemetery exploration, among other adventures, & ogling their photos made me want to share a few of my own.

Earlier this week, I took a quick midday break & found myself at the Monroe Street Cemetery in Ohio City, which was incorporated into the City of Cleveland in 1836; the cemetery was designated a Historic Landmark in 1973. More than 32,000 people are buried in the 4-acre space. I'm no photographer, like Kayla & Alexandra are, & a grey, rainy, January day in the CLE is not exactly the setting for vibrant photos - but, hey, that's life in Cleveland, right?

The Monroe Street Cemetery is the final resting place of two Ohio City mayors, a few notable local abolitionists, more than 500 members of the military, & plenty of "ordinary persons who, with the sweat of their brows, made Ohio City and Cleveland grow and become a major metropolitan area," writes the Cemetery Foundation.

There are also a number of graves that simply read "baby," marking the resting place of infants that died in childbirth or didn't live more than a few hours past birth. These always make me so sad, even a hundred-plus years later.

The cemetery certainly isn't in disrepair, per se, but it's not in great shape, either. Many of the headstones are too mossy to be readable, & lots of them are crumbling, broken, or fallen. The Cemetery Foundation is working toward restoring the area, though, including a number of old mausoleums that are, for now, shuttered. One of the mausoleums even has an underground space, apparently, that remains a mystery even to those who are working on its restoration. They're hoping to open it soon.

I particularly liked all the headstones that are right up against the cemetery's outer edges, where brush & ivy have all but covered some of them. I also always like to see the designs & fonts that families chose for their late loved ones, & this cemetery has a good variety of them. I saw at least three made to look like tree trunks!

The Monroe Street Cemetery is also home to the graves of a number of Civil War soldiers who fought for the Union. Visitors come from all over the country to find the headstones of their family members - not just Civil War soldiers but also those who served during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, & both World Wars.

I would've liked to have spent a little bit more time at this cemetery, & in nicer weather. It had rained earlier in the day, so it was almost too muddy to navigate - but luckily, it's just around the corner from me, which means I predict another visit in the future so that I can keep exploring this chunk of Cleveland history.

Do you ever explore old cemeteries, or is it too creepy a habit for your tastes?
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I Promise This Won't Become a Wedding Blog

Monday, January 23, 2017

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I'm really torn on whether to do much blogging about wedding planning because my big question is: Does anyone, other than my mom & me, give a crap? That said, part of me figures... why not? This is my blog, & I may as well word-vomit as I see fit, right? 

The Date 

We're getting hitched on November 11, 2017, not because I'm one of those people with any particular attachment to the make-a-wish date of 11/11 but because it was, like, the only day next fall that would work. Between the High Holidays, friends' weddings, & Halloween, this was the only date that made sense. It's also Veterans' Day. Oops.

The Venue 

We really wanted to knock this out before I left for Peru in mid-November, & we were able to accomplish that. We rounded up info & pricing online, then booked the first & only venue we looked at in person. It's a brand new venue located in a renovated bank building. So much marble!

The Wedding Party 

Our party is a liiiiittle bit bigger than is ideal, but we couldn't narrow it down. Too many people we love! Mike asked his groomsmen (& his sister) with personalized flasks, & I gave my bridesmaids (& his sister!) coffee mugs with a dorky poem: "Roses are red / Coffee is hot / Will you stand up there with me as I tie the knot?"

The Rehearsal Dinner 

We've made no progress on this front, but I'm enjoying brainstorming ideas. My mom suggested a brunch rehearsal, but I like the idea of a brewery. Because our wedding venue is in a neighborhood that doesn't really highlight Cleveland's greatness, we'd like to hold the rehearsal dinner someplace that shows off our city. Open to suggestions! 

The Dress 

I found one, I found one! A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the soul-crushing experience of trying to find a wedding dress, & you guys responded with such wonderful, helpful, supportive comments. (Thank you!) Shortly afterward, my mom & I went dress shopping & struck gold... at David's Bridal, which I really didn't want to try. I love the dress I ordered, though, & can't wait to wear it.

The Invitations

We haven't decided on invitations but had fun choosing save-the-date postcards, which will go out this month. We do know that our invitations will be just one piece, with no RSVP cards; that'll all be done online to save time & money. We're using because they have gorgeous designs, low-ish prices, & near-constant sales, & I'm using Ebates to find coupon codes & get cash back. 

The Food 

We're both anti-wedding meals because they're so often just, like, dried chicken breast & wilted veggies. I want to have food people will want to eat, including myself, still ever the picky eater. We're hoping to have our reception catered by Sokolowski's, the pierogi palace that's a beloved Cleveland icon. Mike proposed to me on National Pierogi Day, so this couldn't be more fitting... or delicious.

The Drinks

Our venue requires us to bring in our own booze, so we're planning to drive down to Cincinnati for a weekend & buy all our booze from Kentucky while we're there. I'm also trying to come up with a fun signature cocktail - something with champagne, duh - to go with the 400 gold foil drink straws I bought from Target last month.

Here are some things I haven't thought about yet: a photographer, a DJ, a gift registry, a honeymoon, the ceremony itself, & probably a millionbillion other things that I just haven't gotten around to because I have no idea how to plan a 200-person party. I'm grateful to helpful friends & family, though, & to the glory that is the Internet as we begin to take the plunge into wedding planning.

Less than 300 days until we #kaputaringonit. Full speed ahead! 
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Marching Isn't the Only Way to Fight

Thursday, January 19, 2017

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I can't be at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday; in fact, I can't even attend the Women's March here in Cleveland on Saturday because I'd already purchased tickets to another event long before I knew what the day would be.

In truth, I know that such a loud, crowded gathering would likely overwhelm my anxiety, anyway, but I still have deep guilt about not participating in this momentous & important day of action. I am grateful & honored that my friend Stephanie has offered to write my name & the names of others who cannot attend literally on her body to carry us with her while she marches.

And I am trying to remind myself that there are a great many ways to be an activist; marching is certainly not the only one. Though I can't participate on Saturday, I pledge to continue to participate year-round, for the next four years & as long as it takes, in acts of advocacy, protest, education, intersectionality, solidarity, & beyond.

I will write to my members of Congress.

I will vote my conscience.

I will stay up-to-date on what's happening.

I will speak, debate, argue, write.

I will not be ashamed to be a liberal, a Jew, an America, a woman.

I will not go quietly into the night.

Whether or not you're marching on Saturday, I urge you to think about what you will do for these next four years. Will you pay attention? Will you fight? Will you educate yourself & others? Will you do more than simply wait?

Where will you begin?


*If anyone can identify the source of this gorgeous image, I'd love to give proper credit. 
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Keep Austin Weird: My Long Weekend in Texas

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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If you follow me on Instagram (hey, follow me on Instagram!), you might've caught photos of my long weekend in Austin, TX, for the bachelorette party of my dear friend Jill, who's getting married in New Orleans this March. Though I've been to Austin before, it was for South by Southwest in 2013, & I was very overwhelmed by all the goings-on that encompass that event. It was a great time, but I wouldn't say it was an accurate view of regular Austin. This was a great opportunity to see Austin when it's a little bit more normal.

Except is Austin ever normal? The city's whole slogan is "Keep Austin weird," & indeed, this liberal gem in the midst of otherwise-way-too-southern-for-me Texas is one of the quirkiest cities I've yet to visit.

Obviously, we ate a lot of tacos while we were there. We ate twice at Con Madre, a food truck attached to a gas station, & one apiece at Torchy's & Tacodeli. Con Madre, I think, was my favorite, though the queso at Torchy's was some of the best I've ever had, & Tacodeli had a killer vegetarian sweet potato taco with pepitas. I also ordered fancy tacos for dinner at Alcomar on Sunday night - stuffed with lobster tail! My grand taco tally for the three days we were there? Eleven.

Without set plans during our visit, we spent a lot of time just wandering around, seeing what Austin had to offer. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't particularly cooperative; it was overcast nearly our entire time there, raining off & on all weekend, & on Sunday night, there was a terrible thunderstorm. Still, with the help of the nonprofit rideshare app Ride Austin (because the city doesn't have Uber or Lyft), we managed to get in a lot of shopping on South Congress Street - book-ended by taco meals, of course.

I'm always on the lookout for unusual souvenirs I can't get anyplace else, & I really scored on this trip. I walked away with a throw pillow printed with a Revolutionary War-style portrait of Bill Murray from Triple Z Threadz & a Catholic Mexican-style prayer candle with Michelle Obama's face on it from Prima Dora, along with a gorgeous handmade ring I scored on the cheap at Pop-Up Austin. I wanted a neon dinosaur planter from the Plaid Pigeon, but I didn't trust myself to try to travel with live succulents!

Here are just a few of the colorful sights we took in as we wandered.



We also stumbled upon (OK, sought out on Google Maps) the city's famous "I love you so much" graffiti, which is spray-painted on the side of Jo's Coffee. Did you know it was spray-painted for an engagement shoot? We waited in line to take a bunch of pictures in front of it, & though we accidentally cut a few folks in the process, everyone was really nice about. How can you be mean when you're standing in front of such lovely words?

One of my favorite spots was Uncommon Objects, a massive, sprawling antique shop on South Congress Street. It was full of strange &, well, uncommon objects, like a hippopotamus skull & a million other things I can't remember but definitely wanted to own. The shop seems to go on forever, every corner of it filled with tons of goodies to look at. It reminded me a lot of one of my all-time favorite stores, the Antique Emporium in Asbury Park, N.J., though, dare I say it? Even cooler. Had I not been with a group of people, I probably could've spent a whole day in here - although for the sake of my bank account, I suppose it's good that I didn't.

Since it was, after all, a bachelorette party, we also partied a little bit, too. Saturday was our big night out, starting with incredible BBQ & fancy cocktails at Lamberts downtown, & then we went out on 6th Street... where our plans hit a snag. One of the members of our group had lost her driver's license earlier that day while wandering South Congress, & though she had lots of backup forms of ID, none was enough to get her into Barbarella, the dance bar we'd wanted to go to.

Dejected, we figured we'd have to call it a night & go drink at our AirBnB, but lo & behold, we encountered a very dumb and/or very inattentive bouncer at a bar down the street. He let all of us in with no problem! Though the bar wasn't as iconic or as crowded as Barbarella surely was, at least it was somewhere - & then Jill, the bachelorette, won a round of free shots. We had the dance floor to ourselves, we talked to a lot of friendly southern strangers, & best of all, we found a photo booth.


Aside from dinner, we stayed in on Sunday, pre-gaming a bit beforehand & afterward just watch standup comedy on Netflix. Our AirBnB was so cozy that I could've stayed inside the whole damn weekend & not minded a bit (though I'm obviously glad I didn't!). Oh, yeah, & speaking of the AirBnB: The bride's sister decorated the whole place with penis-shaped confetti that we had a helluva time trying to clean up before we vacated the premises on Monday! 

And I haven't even told you about our AirBnB! I took tons of photos of it because I thought it was amazing, owned by a fascinating shaman/psychic/hippie/gypsy/real estate agent... but I think this is enough photos for one post, don't you? Lots of the house pics are on Instagram, if you want to check out the witchy vibes our temporary abode gave off. Needless to say, here's how I feel about Austin:

I'd love to make it back there again soon. So many tacos await!
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