Mema

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Time has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Sometimes I feel like I’m so busy that I can’t remember important dates. Some always stick out though–like July 11. Six years ago today, my grandmother, Betty Jo Nance (“Mema” to me and her other grandchildren) died after a very sudden downturn in health. I suppose she had suffered enough heartbreaks, and her body and mind decided they had enough.

Mema was strong, stubborn, intelligent, and above all, a protector. She was determined to make sure her family stayed safe and that they had all of the help they needed to make it in this world. Having the self-inflicted stress of being the “protector” meant that she was not always the happiest person, but she was oh so proud–of all of her family.

Growing up, Mema had just the right balance of kindness and toughness that a child needed, and as you got older, the toughness increased. She expected a lot out of you, but she made it known when you did well (and also when you did not so well). She loved her children, grandchildren, and one great-grandchild very deeply, and seeing their success and sharing in their lives is what kept her going, what really made her tick.

When she left us, it truly did feel like losing a matriarch. She seemed to be the “head” of the family. I often wonder what she would think about me and my life now–I’m sure she would think I was crazy for moving to a large city with a gun violence problem (love you, Chicago!), but at the same time, I think she would appreciate the boldness. Without her in my life, I don’t know how much of that boldness I would have had.

Thank you, Mema, for being just the right balance of what this girl needed in a grandmother.

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Under the El Tracks

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When life gets stressful, which it has a lot lately, I find it hard to look around and notice beauty. The ability my anxiety has to take away the small joys is not something I am proud of, but I know and recognize when it is happening. 

Some days, I can’t get over the fact that we have a racist, sexist, uncaring man sitting in this nation’s highest office. (And some days, I can’t get over the fact that I know some of my family members voted for him.)

Some days, I get sad thinking about my dogs over the years and how some of them are no longer with me. (And also how I know my dog Missy misses their presence.)

Some days, I get mad thinking about the refugee crisis and how some people just don’t want to help anyone, no matter how desperate that other person’s situation may be.

Some days, I get bogged down with the minutia of work and how I feel like I will never be able to get everything done.

Some days, I feel like I do not contribute enough to this world and my community. It can seem like I just take up space.

Some days, I feel guilty for worrying about all of these things simultaneously and not giving enough attention to the ones I love.

When these feelings overtake me and the thoughts race through my head, it can be hard to see anything else. Then other days…something will catch my eye and help me refocus. 

Other days, I see a little hang out spot full of beads, flags, random yard decorations, and seats for plenty. I see this under the El tracks in Lakeview.

Other days, I remember that I know many more people who oppose our 45th president than support him. I remember that resistance is built one step at a time against people like him.

Other days, I smile when I think about my dogs who have passed on and think of how lucky we were to know and love them.

Other days, I donate to a refugee organization and to a museum dedicated to preserving the memory of those who died in genocide. Their legacies will continue to change the world.

Other days, I see someone at work smile because I helped them with a problem or helped them learn something new.

Other days, I recognize that I am just one person who is trying to do her best. I am human, and my fears are not just my own.

Other days, I remember that I declared that this year, 2017, would be the year of inspiration, and sometimes being inspired means I think about too much at once. It is then that I refocus on my partner, who is patient without end and more understanding than he should be.

Some days, I am overcome with stress and anxiety by all that surrounds me. Other days, I am inspired by what I see under the El tracks.

 

 

 

Shoes

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Before I moved to Chicago, I never really knew what it meant to “wear out” a pair of shoes. Sure, I have had shoes that I thought were too impractical, that I completely ruined through accidents (i.e., dropping an entire can of wood stain on them), or that I grew to dislike the style of, and I eventually parted ways with them. That is not the case anymore.

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Two of my favorite pairs of tennis shoes. (If you notice, I do have a favorite brand. I promise this isn’t product placement for New Balance.)

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The soles of the shoes are worn flat and have completely disintegrated in some places!

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They have holes, so if there is any moisture on the ground, my feet know it.

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The holes aren’t confined to just the outside of the shoes either–multiple hurried trips out of the door mean bent heels.

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All of my shoes like to have holes in the same places apparently.

 

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The destruction doesn’t stop at tennis shoes–my Sperry’s used to be a go-to as well.

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I guess you can say I “walk hard.”

As you can see, I seem to go through a lot of shoes. However, I had the three pairs of shoes shown above for anywhere from 4 to 7 years before moving to Chicago in 2014, and they were in pretty much pristine condition when I first arrived in the city one year and nine months ago.

Since moving to Chicago, Sam and I have sold our car. We use public transportation, our own two feet, and occasionally a taxi if it’s really needed to get around the city. Of course, this makes for a lot more wear and tear on our shoes since we generally walk to get anywhere and everywhere. I treasure this privilege, and I am so happy to be able to explore Chicago in such an intimate way: walking around is so much more personal and connecting than driving.

Also since moving to Chicago, I began working for a dog walking company, Windy City Paws. Working there has always been about walking (obviously), and as my role has changed over the year and a half that I have been there, it still is! As Field Supervisor, I shadow all of the company’s walkers on their routes and get to meet all of their dogs, which is really the best job ever. Since I’m out shadowing someone at least three to four days a week (or more), I am on my feet a lot!

My after-work hobbies and activities require lots of walking as well. I spend a few hours per week learning to be a dog trainer through a wonderful partnership that Windy City Paws has with a training facility called Collins Canine. Sam and I also make a point to walk on the Lakefront Trail and downtown river walk as often as possible as well as visit museums, go to the movies, and spend time outdoors with our pup Missy (in ALL weather).

All of this activity is such a drastic change from the way I used to live life: walk 10 feet to the car, drive to work or school, sit down for a few hours, walk 10 feet back to the car, drive home, take out the dogs for about 5 minutes or so. Repeat. It’s no wonder my shoes never really experienced any true wear.

I tend to develop unusual attachments to inanimate objects, locking them in my mind with certain memories and meanings, so these shoes actually represent much more to me than footwear. (One of those pair of shoes–the blue and pink checkered sneakers–I wore on my very first trip to Chicago in 2007, in fact, so that is of course why I can never get rid of them no matter how ratty they may become. I’ll stop wearing them, but they’ll be there.) What these shoes represent to me now is a total change of lifestyle and direction. Whereas I used to be, for the most part, sedentary and also seemingly “stuck” in a certain way of life, now I’m active and mobile. Wearing out those shoes meant that I had moved on from something that I didn’t want to be a part of anymore.

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New (New Balance, of course) shoes at Lake Michigan.

So now I have a new pair of shoes. I spent more money on them than I usually do (and that I like to do), but I see it as an investment in my lifestyle and my work. And after having this new pair of shoes for a grand total of three days, they have already walked a couple dozen miles and have had their laces chewed on by two different dogs. That’s the existence they’ll have to endure belonging to Lauren, though. 😉 I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A New Year to Reflect

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Happy New Year, folks! I hope 2016 will bring you all hope, love, and well-being for you and all of your loved ones.

For several years now, I have given each “new year” a word that I think will be the guiding theme of the next 365 days (366 this year!). 2015 was the year of “discovery,” and it truly was a year when I discovered so much–about myself, about my city, about life. There were heartbreaks: my beloved dog Cosmo died suddenly in June, and Sam’s grandmother died in November. There were triumphs: I got a job that I really love and enjoy that lets me spend time with my family and work with animals on a daily basis. I made amazing friends who enrich my life and make living in Chicago more fun than I ever thought it could be! Several family and friends visited Sam and I and got to experience first-hand why we love Chicago so much.

I will admit that at the beginning of 2015, I was scared. Sam and I had just moved to Chicago three months prior, and the future seemed very uncertain. This year, I am excited and hopeful for the future. I owe this feeling mostly to two key factors: 1.) Rambling Readers Book Club and 2.) Windy City Paws.

Our book club made us feel welcome from the very first time we attended in December 2014, and as someone who has never really felt like I have fit in anywhere, I can honestly say that my fellow Rambling Readers make me feel more accepted than I ever have. To my book club: I love you all and am so grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you for being you!

My work at Windy City Paws has also made my life so much fuller this past year, and I can honestly say that I am so fulfilled and challenged with the work that I do. My supportive colleagues make me want to do more and learn more every day, and I am so thankful for their guidance and their friendship.

I guess you could say that things really “clicked” in 2015. So many things I was worried about this time last year fell into place and created a wonderful new life for Sam and I here in Chicago. Not everything was happy this year, but it really was a year of “discovery” in many ways–most of which were amazing.

Sam and I have determined that 2016 will be the year of “reflection.” We’ve been in a cycle of massive change for the past several years, and we are now at a point where we feel we can take a moment to enjoy our lives the way they are.

I am excited about spending the upcoming 366 days with Sam, Missy, and our new kitty Mister, reflecting on how very fortunate we all are as well as embracing the next adventures the future will bring. Welcome, 2016–I look forward to experiencing all that you have to offer.

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Historic Everyday Eats – Sunshine Cake

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Greetings to all of my fellow food and history lovers! I am sorry that it has been so long since I last posted a historic recipe, but life has gotten in the way of my food experimenting time. 😉 To make it up to you, I have found a recipe that very well may be the best one yet. It came from an 1896 cookbook for a girls’ cooking school (titled, of course The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book), and I can’t tell you how much I loved looking through this book and finding this cake recipe.

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Plus, the author’s name is Fannie Farmer. That makes anything she writes pure gold. From what I could tell by her introduction in the book, she had a very scientific mind and had an eye to the future of proper dietary planning and its effects on personal health. Hats off to Fannie, a natural leader and a woman ahead of her time.

Since this is my birthday week, I wanted to make a cake if I could find a suitable recipe. I found one for which I already had all of the ingredients and supplies needed, so it was the winner! The recipe for “Sunshine Cake” reads as follows:

Sunshine Cake

“Whites 10 eggs.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.

Yolks 6 eggs.

1 teaspoon lemon extract.

1 cup flour.

1 teaspoon cream of tartar.

Beat whites of eggs until stiff and dry, add sugar gradually, and continue beating; then add yolks of eggs beaten until thick and lemon colored, and extract. Cut and fold in flour mixed and sifted with cream of tartar. Bake fifty minutes in a moderate oven in an angel cake pan.”

Taking a shot at making egg whites stiff and fluffy is always daunting, but you know what? If our foremothers could do it without a stand mixer, I can certainly try with all of my modern amenities! Let’s see how my sunshine cake turned out.

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The ingredients: powdered sugar, eggs, flour, lemon (or in my case, orange–because it was what I had around) extract, and cream of tartar (not photographed–totally slipped my mind)! That’s right, just five ingredients.

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First, the hard part: separating 10 eggs and beating the whites until they turned from this yellow goop…

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…into this fluffy white mountain! This was all thanks to a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. I beat the whites on high for about 8-10 minutes.

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I then turned the mixer on low and gradually added the 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar.

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After the sugar was incorporated, I added the yolks of 6 eggs, beaten until they were thick and “lemon colored.” 😉

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I then added in my orange extract (no, it’s not lemon, but it’s still a citrus and goes along with the “sunshine” theme). The resulting mixture was light and creamy.

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I then folded in the flour and cream of tartar by hand. You don’t want to overmix at this point–the batter needs to be airy.

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The batter went into my “angel cake pan” and into a 350 degree oven.

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50 minutes later, I had a perfectly golden brown sunshine cake. 🙂

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I turned the cake upside down and cooled it on a cooling rack for an hour before taking it out of the pan. (I buttered just the bottom of the angel food cake pan to help it slide out easier.)

While my cake was cooling, I contemplated a frosting. After attempting one recipe and failing (I will try it again and make it work in the future–promise!), I decided to go with a super simple recipe I found in the same cookbook called “Confectioners’ Frosting:”

confectioners frosting

“2 tablespoons boiling water.

Confectioners’ sugar.

Flavoring.

To water add enough sifted sugar to make of right consistency to spread; then add flavoring. Fresh fruit juice may be used in place of boiling water. This is a most satisfactory frosting, and is both easily and quickly made.”

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In fact, this frosting was very simple. I heated two tablespoons of water to boiling in the microwave, added about 2/3 of a cup of sugar, and about a teaspoon of orange extract. Voila! Easy and delicious frosting!

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I poured the frosting on the cake and let it drip down the sides. The finished Sunshine Cake with Confectioners’ Frosting looked great!

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It tasted even better–light and fluffy but oh so flavorful!

Sunshine Cake was one of my favorite recipes to make so far. But really, I have loved all of the recipes with which I’ve experimented over these months, whether they turned out great or were duds. That’s just part of the process. This book said it best with this quote in its front pages:

Cookery means...

Cookery means all of that and so much more to me. How I love it so.