Taking Stock: March 2020

Taking Stock


I mean, I wish. I’m thinking about taking apart an old laptop but I’m very nervous.

Reading: The 6th Extinction.  I don’t know why it is taking me forever, but it is.  It is this year’s One Book, One Chicago book.  Every time I sit down to read it, I make it like 1-3 pages before I have to get up and do something else.

Looking: Old. So very old. I don’t think I’m aging well at all. I don’t feel like a “new 40” that is really the new 30. I feel (and look) like an old 40. That has 20 years left before I retire and 23 before I die.


I’m listening to The God of Small Things. It’s a Booker-Man Prize winner. I started it back in December and just ran out of steam. It’s good so far- but definitely has a “100 years of Solitude” feel.

Wishing: Running were easier.  I bought some new running shoes last week.  The weather is starting to turn here… so running outside might be nice.  I just wish I were better at it.  And that it were easier.  Really wish I could be one of these gazelle runners who just through their shoes on and go out for an easy five mile run an hour.  But that is not me.

Enjoying: I finally went to the Chicago Institute of Art this week.  Only been wanting to visit it for 7 years.  It was pretty cool.  I can see why it is so highly regarded… a lot of Manet and Monet, some Cezanne.  And a gigantic display of Arms and Armor… which Nico really liked.  He also got a kick out of this one, because he recognizes it. 

Loving: my planner. I love the Hobonichi Cousin, but had a hard time adjusting to the paper-where ink dries so very slowly. Also, the grids are so small. Was forced to get a fancy multi pen with 0.3 mm nibs. Like those white and blue pens from the 1980s with the four inks.

Only mine’s from Japan…

Hoping: my new boss wants me to do all the trainings this spring and summer. I am lobbying to do an intro to digital humanities workshop at Oxford this summer. In case you were wondering if I could be any more insufferable. Am hoping to go to one of the areas my distant ancestors were from to go to an old pub and have a drink, which I think my mom would have liked.

Coveting: While I still love winter, I’ve now reached the point of winter where I miss Florida beaches.

The Winter Doldrums

I am feeling a certain kind of way.

I can’t decide what my funk is right now. The house is a disaster area. Like it hasn’t been properly cleaned in months. Nico’s room looks like a tornado hit it. I don’t want to do any work. I want to create, but I have no space to create.  I want to garden, but its winter. I want to cook, but I am trying to eat keto and keto is boring AF. I hate the music I have been listening to, but I don’t want to listen to other kinds of music.  I really hate the books I have been reading.  I want to go camping, but it’s winter. I want to watch baseball, but its winter.  I want to pick berries and ride my bike, but again, winter.

Frankly, I have been struggling with this blog and the extent to which I am wasting time.  If I don’t think about this particular space and think more broadly about how people do what I want this blog to be, then I would have to answer truthfully that people don’t do this anymore. Blogging. It is such a holdover from the 2000s.  Like, what was a blog even? What a weird thing. To write your thoughts and ideas in a specific place with no limits… with the general expectation that people would read it and would comment on it and you could build a little community of people who read blogs like yours.

I also came across Mighty Networks, which made me feel even worse about wanting something big from this blog. There was an article or something I read on the site that was like, “Don’t start a blog in 2018” and I was like, “What if I started a blog in 2017?” Uh.

I agreed with so much of it. I just… I don’t know. I don’t see myself being an Instagram celebrity. I mean, I think you’re probably doing it wrong if you follow more people than you have followers. But, it feels self-indulgent to write a blog now- particularly when much of what I am interested in is doing stuff that is on my life list. I get hyped as shit to think about and do that. Work on SEO? And network? And make Twitter and Instagram friends? Ugh. God. No. Please.

And ultimately, what I bring to the table here, isn’t anything really ground breaking. It is not novel.  And it definitely isn’t creative.  Basically I am an aggregator of ideas: take Maggie Mason’s interest and efforts toward her life list.  Add Tim Ferriss’s hacks for life (pay people to do shit that doesn’t help you do stuff you want to do. Also, say no.) Add that to my mom’s method of: don’t know how to do something? Figure it out, bitch!

What I want? I want a community like Go Mighty was (I don’t know if there is a relationship between Go Mighty and Mighty Networks. It is probably worth finding out).

I don’t know what is wrong with me right now.  At work, I fluctuate between being like, “Holy shit, I worked 10 hours today.  And could easily have worked another 10 without even noticing” and “Have I really been at work for only 2 hours?  I feel like I have been there all day.”  At home, I fluctuate between, “I have so much time to do things” to “Ugh, its 6pm, almost bed time.  I can’t get anything done today.”

Maybe the problem isn’t me.  Maybe someone is messing with my timeline.  That could happen.  Right?

Getty Images

When people in the past have asked me what kind of insane person I am to move from Florida to here, I have confided, conspiratorially, that the trick to surviving Chicago winter is to GTFO in February.  February is definitely the time to leave.  Because with a shot of some place warmer, some place greener, some place beachier, and sunnier, one can make it to summer here, which is when the fun starts.

Maybe it would be good to remember my own advice.

Springsteen on Broadway

New York, was New York.

I remember how impressed I used to be with New York.  The first couple of times I went I was living in Florida, and was literally awestruck by everything.  Trains.  The sheer number of people who lived there.  The assumption that everyone I saw on the street was in glamorous and famous in some way.  Which is totally not true.  Most the people you see in New York don’t live there.  And many are just straight up annoyed that you are there, from Florida.

But the less impressed I became with New York over time (especially since I live in Chicago now) the more amused I become by “born and bred” New Yorkers, people who believe it is the best city in the world because it is the center of the universe, it has the best everything.  New Yorkers who don’t even learn how to drive, because why bother?

One thing I continued to be in awe of are the NYC cabs.  They reminded me of schools of fish, moving quickly and smoothly down the street,  merging and stopping as if choreographed.  

My sister had the cool idea to take my mom to New York to see Springsteen (who is playing at the Walter Kerr theater on Broadway). She entered into the lottery and got two tickets, which was unfortunate, because we were three.  I rolled the dice and went, thinking that I could scrape up a ticket.  Surely I could.  Just one ticket?  Just one poor bastard who ended up having to work?

Narrator: JBR was not able to get a ticket, despite extensive efforts on Craigslist and standing in the “lucky seat” line at the theater.

Which ended up being fine.  I left and had a drink near Times Square (which is still an awe-inspiring experience). Then I had a fantastic dinner and headed back to the hotel. My mom and sister had a fantastic time at the concert.  Which was cool.

img_4134We ended up getting to do some fun things while we were there.  We went to Mood (of Project Runway) and saw Swatch.  Having not seen much Project Runway, I didn’t realize that Swatch was a big deal.

I know, its blasphemy to say that.

It was a lot like the old days, with Nicole and me toting and fetching for my mom.  The only thing we were missing was JJ picking out thread for various projects.


I got to “run” the Brooklyn Bridge. I say “run” because there was no running involved- since the weather was nice and 384745758594940482 people were on the bridge.

Ugh.  So many people.  So many people not being aware of their surroundings.  So many tourists.  I don’t know why I got it in my head that I wanted to do this- but I just did.  I guess I thought that this was “real” that crossing the bridge on foot was what “real” people in New York do, when they are going about their daily lives.

FALSE.  Mostly just tourists do this.

Oh well.  It was a nice walk, except for all the people.  But New Yorkers probably say that all the time about tourists.  And if I am being honest, I should note that at the time, I was a tourist.  Sad face emoji.


Just to complete the “total basic bitch” look, I am totally listening to “New York State of Mind.”  As one does.


Also, for the first time EVER, I got to go inside the New York Public Library.  Which was FANTASTIC.  It is a beautiful building.  But again, with the tourists.  Not a fan.  Not a fan at all.  Note to self: next time I go to New York, find a special event at the library at night, so I can enjoy the best library in the world without all the damn tourists.

I said what I said.


In all, it was a really fun time. I wish that we could do a trip like this once a year.  Different places, not always New York or big cities- but something with my mom and my sister, because I don’t see them enough.

Shakedown Kayaks with Dad

I don’t remember when my dad and I started talking about doing a kayak expedition.  We’re both kinda  fans of kayaking and during a holiday visit, we chatted about the trips we wanted to do.  He told me about a series of paddle races that are longer (200-300 miles) and mentioned that he wanted to do the WaterTribe Everglades Challenge.

We talked about it very briefly in 2015 and called each other’s bluffs last year.  We aren’t getting any younger.  I also helped matters along by telling Dad that the paddle expedition is on the Forty by 40 list.  It is officially, put up or shut up time.

boxer_1487994622-048446_assetMy Dad is a lot like me in that once we have decided to do something, we sorta obsess over it.  Dad being Dad and not having a double kayak meant that was the first order of business.  The double being bought, we planned a couple of shakedown paddles for when I was in Florida for the Alumni game.


I have been away from home about as long as I was there, which is a weird thing to say.  Since I left, an actual manatee park was opened nearish my old stomping grounds.  The morning after the game, we headed out, hoping to see some manatees.  The really cool thing about Florida is that in the winter, the manatees stay close to “warm” water.  In many cases, this is in the rivers near springs and power plants.

The spring we moved to Chicago, Dave and I took Nico to Crystal River with my mom, where we rented a boat and swam with manatees.  They are such chill animals.  Really, “sea cow” is the only way to describe them.  Nico accidentally stood on one, which you’re really not supposed to do.  But he was little and the manatee didn’t seem to mind.   Still, you shouldn’t do stuff like that.  boxer_1487994644-840043_asset The weather was absolutely spot on. It could not have been nicer.  Mild, with lots of sun.  Being in the midwest these last four years means my skin color has reverted to factory settings.  I learned my first beach trip back that the Florida sun don’t play, so I wore the long sleeves.  It wasn’t too bad at all.

We saw lots of manatees.  There were a lot of people on the water that day.  The cool thing about the park is that it is close to motor boats and the people living on the river were pretty much all at work.  It was quiet and peaceful, sunny, and breezy.   We paddled for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Dad did a good job picking out the kayak.  We can move it pretty well.  We both decided though that we really don’t want to do the Watertribe Challenge without a sail rig though.  So, that is our next step.


The next day, we headed out on the river that ran through my old stomping grounds.  The day was overcast and a bit windy, waves crashed over the deck more.  Both my dad and I prefer the sit on top kayaks, but for different reasons.  He likes them because they aren’t as hot as the sit in models, which is fair.  He mostly paddles in South Florida.  He knows a thing or two about how warm it can get there.  I like the sit on top ones because I have doubts about my ability to right a boat that has been tipped over.  Regardless, when we actually do the challenge (next year or the year after), we are going to need to figure out waterproof gear.  Of course, it might not be that big of a deal- we might just do the course, but have my mom drive as a support vehicle.  So we could camp where we camp and just throw that stuff in the back of the truck, and keep water, snacks, and lunch on us.

It’s not a bad plan.

Item Complete: #33 See Paris Bird and Flower Market

Way, way, way back, like all the way back in 2008, I stumbled upon an article (I think it was the Guardian piece I linked to here) about the Bird and Flower Market of Paris (Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux).  As a former southern belle and country girl at heart, I am always sorta intrigued by “markets.”  Like you go to one and get the thing.  Markets always make me think of “the good old days” (whenever that was), when people would get groceries from the butcher, and the grocer, and the baker.  I don’t know- it always seemed so quaint.

The Paris Bird and Flower Market was interesting to me, because, like most everything in Europe, I thought that it would be cool to stroll along the cobblestones where generations before me had shopped and socialized.  Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux has been around for over two centuries.  Plus, if we are being quite honest, I am quite fond of shiny, pretty things.

I was already interested in seeing the market when I heard an absolutely brilliant piece on Snap Judgement.  It is a cool story and features birds (with a cameo by the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux).

When my dissertation advisor sent me a note about a demography conference in Paris earlier this year, I submitted to it.  Ultimately, it was accepted and away I went!!  I had hoped to figure out a way for my favorite boys to come with me- but it just wasn’t in the cards this time.

Forgive me for what I am about to say-I kinda want to kick my own ass for it.  So here it is:

The trip wasn’t great.

I know.

I can’t.

Anthony Bourdain has this to say about enjoying Paris:

“What does it take to enjoy Paris? A F%CKING plane ticket! That is what it takes! You get on a plane and come to Paris and you wander around freely. Even if you’re eating badly in Paris, its a good thing… Let’s put it this way: if you are lucky enough to have a passport and a few bucks in your pocket and you find yourself in Paris… if you can’t find your way to a good time somehow, then there is no light or joy in this world.  How could you not enjoy Paris?  Having a miserable time in Paris is the best time ever…”

Shame.  I bring shame to my family. I know.

Here is the thing: I am getting old, y’all.  Or maybe not old-old, but just too old for five day trips to other time zones. Because I could just not get the jet lag sorted out.  Of course, it didn’t help that I did not sleep well the two nights leading up to my trip.  And I had great ideas of sleeping on the flight.  I even bought a neck pillow.  A neck pillow!!

Maybe I was too excited about going.  Because I could not fall asleep on the plane.  Know when I got sleepy?  Just as we started our descent in Charles de Gaulle.  Like it was amateur hour.  By the time I got into Paris at 6 in the morning, I had gotten about 6 hours of sleep over the previous three nights.  It wasn’t great.

So I was wiped out.  And I just couldn’t get my Paris legs under me.  I was mis-informed by the internets about the availability of sim cards for my “unlocked” iPhone.  Why did this matter?  Well, when I got a smart phone, I purged the “map-reading” and “spatial awareness and navigational” files from my brain.  Because I didn’t need them anymore.  My brain needed the space- for remembering important things, like lines from movies.    Look, man!  Something had to go!  So it was map-reading.

Also, I hadn’t bothered to learn any additional french, beyond the french that I already knew:

Bonjour, madamazelle, I like your chapeau!” (Good day, m’am, I like your hat!)

Enchante” (Enchanted- and I only learned that because it sounded fancy).

Merci beucoup!” (Thank you).

Parle ingles?” (Do you speak English- duh! American!)

Allez putain!!” (Go Whore!!- This is in reference to when your team is doing badly- I wouldn’t have actually said this to a Parisian sex worker).

Why?  Why would I have not needed any french?

Two reasons my friend!

Exhibit A).  I think this one is obvious- but my french is quite terrible and on previous occasions, most French people would rather stoop to my useless American tourst level and speak English than listen to the likes of me butcher their beautiful language.

Exhibit B).  I was supposed to have a phone with access to the interwebs via a data plan purchased for use with said SIM card, which should have worked with my bullshit phone.

My plan (flawed as it was) did not require conversing all that much in French nor worrying too much about navigation because I would be able to navigate myself around.  And even if I did need to speak French, I would be able to access the internet, which would have provided me with useful customized phrases via apps.

How did that work out for me?

It was a shit show.

I drove the jetlag struggle bus the entire time I was there.  My first two days there required me being at a conference, so I didn’t do much then.  Friday night I went with a girl from the conference to a nearby area of the city that had a street full of side-walk bistros and cafes.  I had fish and chips, because it looked really good (which it was) and Creme Brulee, which I wasn’t sure I had ever had before (if we are being honest, I wasn’t that big a fan of it.  I thought the texture was a little weird).

But then I had what could have been a lovely Paris weekend to myself, to get lost and day drink and nap.  And I just couldn’t- mostly because 4 hour long naps really eat into the day and make it so you have a hard time falling asleep.  And waking up.  Also, “Work Travel” JBR showed up- to put the brakes on almost everything.

I did manage a couple of really fantastic meals while I was there-including lots of baguette. Do you now how you could improve the taste of a salad?  Put it on a baguette.  Honestly!! I checked out Shakespeare and Co (a bookstore), which had a double bonus of selling booze- so you know that was my jam.  There was a little cafe near Place d’Italie (where my bnb was located), where I had dinner on Saturday night.  I had escargot cooked in basil and olive oil, that was wonderful.  You know what I did with that bread, right?  Used it to soak up basil and olive oil, like a boss.

My last full day there was a Sunday, which was the day I headed to Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux for the birds and the flowers!  img_9389

I don’t know what the usual turnout is for the market.  But it was a rainy early fall day- so there weren’t very many vendors, nor shoppers (which was fine by me).  So it’s hard for me to say much about the experience, other than most of the birds that were on display were small. Beautiful, but small, little guys, pink ones, grey ones, and light blue ones.  It’s a great thing that I would have had quite the time getting it through customs, because all of a sudden, I wanted to buy a bird.  Can you even imagine?  “M’am, do you have anything to declare?”


The flowers were mostly garden center flowers (and supplies), meaning that most were in pots.  I sort of expected stalls on stalls of cool cut flowers- but that is okay. They were still gorgeous.  But again, same issue, with customs.  Plus, I was already going to have a tough time toting my stuff back on the plane, can you imagine having to carry a giant potted plant back on a plane? That would have been fairly annoying for everyone around me.


So, while the Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux was slightly underwhelming, the experience did lead to a fantastic meal.  On the way back to the place I was staying, I grabbed a late lunch at a cafe nearish the Eiffel tower.  It was probably toursity- so don’t judge.  Also, it had fast free wifi, so who was winning?  My server spoke pretty good english (as did most of the French people I encountered).  She talked me into a lambshank special that was heavenly.  Plus french onion soup, baguette, and beer?  I died a little.  It was divine! img_9425

Altogether, the trip was okay. I am glad I went (and really glad I got to cross off Marché aux Fleurs et aux Oiseaux from the list.)  In the future, it would do a lot better to be well-rested in the days leading up to the trip.  This way, if some of my plans don’t work out, it is no big deal.  And have a better plan for telecommunications.  Or take Dave- Dave’s french is decent by most standards.  It would have really helped on this trip.