I like movies about quirky families trying to love each other, restaurants that spark my culinary creativity, books with uniquely voiced and compelling narrators, things that might be kind of ugly but maybe they’re not and it’s hard to tell, farmers’ markets, music with good old fashioned guitar pickin’, eating bowls and bowls of ice cream, and anthropomorphizing inanimate objects. But most of all, I love discovering¹ new things, whether it’s an author or a song or an easier way to put pillowcases on², I’m always on the lookout for more things to explore. Below are some discoveries³ that I’m enjoying at the moment. If you think of anything I might like, won’t you pass it my way?
…ipsento coffee house (2035 N. Western Ave.)
This is one of those places that I stumbled into by accident, and then had to go back every day for a week. They have a delicious and creative drink menu (the latte made with coconut milk, honey, and cayenne pepper is especially delightful), a wide variety of sandwich options, 100% real fruit smoothies, and charming décor. Also, the people who work there are extremely kind. I went in with the two very small and very rambunctious (and also very wonderful) children that I nanny for, and, in addition to being really really really patient, the barista gave them some free smoothie samples – a sure-fire way to win my heart for good.
…in defense of food // Michael Pollan
In Defense of Food is (as the cover says) an eater’s manifesto: a look into how food science has replaced food culture, how foodlike products have replaced actual food, how industry and politics have divorced food from the natural world, how – in spite of America’s obsession with “nutrition” and “healthy eating” – we have become more and more unhealthy, and (best of all) how to look at our relationship with food and eating in a healthy, productive, respectful way. It’s not a diet plan. Pollan never outlines exactly what we should or shouldn’t do. He just presents some facts and philosophies and suggestions and leaves it to the reader to apply to his or her life. Some of his suggestions: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. Don’t eat anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce. Eat your meals at a table (No a desk is not a table). I’m revealing the true depths of my nerdiness here, but In Defense of Food is the page-turning-est nugget of non-fiction I’ve read since James L. Swanson’s Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase For Lincoln’s Killer (I just had to get a plug in for that one, too! It’s so so so marvelous!).
…words & music // Peter Oyloe
Even if Peter wasn’t a beloved friend and collaborator of mine, I would be shouting about this album from the mountaintops. Words & Music is a gem from beginning to end, blending a classic folk sound with a more contemporary musical sensibility. Poetic and contemplative without ever being pretentious, Peter offers introspective and insightful music that lives in your bones and articulates your own feelings with alarming accuracy, but in a much more elegant and lovely way than you would have articulated them yourself. You can listen to some sample tracks HERE, but probably you’ll just want to own your own copy. The fact that Patty Griffin and Peter Oyloe are side-by-side alphabetically on my iPod means that the ol’ scroller wheel hasn’t gotten a full spin in the last 12 months. Which leads me to…
…living with ghosts // Patty Griffin
Patty Griffin is one of those musicians who I always seem to revisit at just the right time. Whether I was hiking through the mountains in Idaho or grieving the loss of a close friend, she seemed to be right there, singin’ my soul out. It’s hard to pick just one album to recommend (1000 Kisses and Impossible Dream are other favorites, although you can’t go wrong with any of them), but her 1996 debut Living With Ghosts is a great starting point. It is simply produced, not much more than vocals and guitar, which allows the crispness and detail of the songwriting to take front and center. Her songs are both aching and hopeful, in one moment inspiring some quiet reflection and in the next, inviting you to belt your lungs out. “It’s a mad mad mission – sign me up.”
…the peggy notebaert nature museum on thursdays
Picture this, if you will. It’s a winter day in Chicago. That kind of day where you are wearing 19 layers of clothing, you haven’t seen a color that isn’t grey in about 5 months, and you can’t remember a time in the whole history of your life when you didn’t feel cold. Well I am here to tell you that there is still joy in the world, in fact in this very city, even on that day. And that joy is the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. Any day is great, but Thursdays are free (and actually free, in the way that they don’t even make you feel bad about only throwing two dollars in to the suggested donation which, as a not-so-rich artist, I really appreciate), which adds to the stress-relieving powers of the whole event. The key place to go is the Butterfly Haven, which is just what it sounds like. It’s a beautiful greenhouse (read: it’s warm), full of ground dwelling birds and hundreds of butterflies. Walking into it is a bit like walking into a fairy tale — it is lush and green, there is a small waterfall, and if you hold really still the butterflies will come and rest on your arms and shoulders. It is a magical place to be, especially on those cold winter days.
¹I use the word “discovering” in the Christopher Columbus sense of the word, where lots of people know about the new-to-me thing already, but since it’s new to me, I’m super excited.
²My favorite method: (1) turn the pillowcase inside-out (2) stick your arms inside the pillowcase til your hands are in the corners (3) pinch the corners of the pillow through the pillowcase (4) flip the pillowcase right-side-out, pulling it over the pillow while you do so.
³See footnote 1.