Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Little More Hope for Haïti

A couple weekends ago, I took the train and bus far, far up North to attend my first event for a new group I joined called Chicagoans help Haiti. It was a sewing workshop to make dresses and pants for children orphaned by last year's earthquake. We were instructed to bring some t-shirts (for pants) or pillowcases (for dresses) and a $1 donation. I didn't really know what to expect. Frankly, I thought it'd be a bunch of old people. But I gave it a shot anyway.

I met someone while I was walking in who was around my age, which was quite comforting. As we were handing in our t-shirts, we realized we both had shirts from Threadless, so we obviously hit it off right away. We chatted and hung out a bit throughout the event, then exchanged emails as we were leaving. Turns out she is freelance photographer, and I sometimes freelance write. We thought we could team up sometime in the future to work on an article or project together.

The event itself was a well-oiled machine if I ever saw one. Two head sewer ladies supervised the whole process of ironing, tracing, snipping, pinning, elasticing, unpinning and sewing the little pants and dresses, which also had little pockets. Each t-shirt and each pillowcase went through 10+ steps before its transformation into a pair of pants or a dress. Every single station was manned and humming with conversation and laughter. It looked like everyone was having a good time.

When I wasn't taking notes, I was on the elastic crew. I sat with two lovely nice old French ladies and guided pieces of elastic through dress collars. I enjoyed creeping in on their French conversation. Actually, I was super shy around them and apprehensive to let them know I spoke French. I told them I was embarrassed I would make mistakes. "That's how we feel in English!" they said. "I am sure we make mistakes all the time." I felt a little bit better and so I chatted with them in French.

As I was working away, I thought that it kind of seemed silly to bring all these people here to spend a few hours sewing clothes when each person could just have easily gone to a thrift store and purchased some children's clothing for a few measly dollars. But as I looked around, I understood that people wouldn't get the same feeling of accomplishment out of donating someone's old and forgotten clothes. We were all working collectively to make something that would benefit others, and that's why the sewing workshop was a good idea. Most of the people couldn't even sew, but they were given simple tasks that didn't require sewing skills. The event also brought friends and strangers together over a common philanthropic goal. Plus those head sewer ladies were awesome at delegating, so a lot got done. I left before the event was over, but the pants and dresses were piling up as I left. I hope they make some little Haitian kids happy.

Here are some of my photos, which are pretty awful. I wasn't dedicating too much time to taking them. If you'd like to see some really great photos — including one of me working hard on that elastic — visit Sarah Tilotta Photography's Haiti Sewing Workshop album. She's my new photographer friend, and you'll quickly see that she's great at what she does!

patterns for boys' pants.

That's Sarah's pillowcase! I am sure it made a great dress. I really like the pattern. I wish I had a dress with that pattern.

Super awesome sewer lady on the right. She seriously kicked butt. She was so nice and so efficient, which is not easy to do at the same time.

Cute little girls who served as models for the dresses. For even cuter photos, see Sarah's album.

Once a t-shirt, now little boy pants.

Once a pillowcase, now a little girl dress.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Low Battery

This week started off well enough. Then that flat tire thing happened. And that was no big deal because I handled it well enough. And then, the next day, another flat tire happened. So I had to take the bus home, which stresses me out. Not the bus itself, but taking the bus with a bike is stressful. Everyone is waiting for you to put your bike on or get it off and there is all this pressure and inevitably you pull the wrong lever and drop your bike in the middle of a busy street known as Chicago Avenue. In between all of this, I was cramming in a lot of freelance work and had a lot of nine-to-five work to see to, and I just got über stressed in general. Plus I couldn't make it to the pool or yoga or obviously ride my bike or eat things that are good for me. I could probably find about six more things to make the week more dramatic and horrible, but to make an already-long-enough story short, I was not feeling great.

By Thursday I was totally fried. I never miss Thursday night French class. Never ever never ever. But I needed to try taking a few hours off of life. So I headed home to where my two good friends and roomies were. The second I walked in the door, I unloaded everything on them. About the bike and the work and the this and the that. They patiently listened, then one handed me a dinner of delicious leftovers and another offered to accompany to a coffee shop so we could both get work done. They didn't even know how much I needed those things. I was SO hungry and SO unmotivated to spend the rest of my night working.

And just having some human beings to unload my complaints to felt great. Especially because I internalize things a lot and think because I moved to big bad Paris alone, I can handle anything. And I probably can. But it's nice when I don't have to.

The week is over. Tomorrow starts a new one. Hooray!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On Flat, Salty, Deflated Tires

I spoke too soon when I boasted last week about how productive my life is, because I definitely put too much on my plate sometimes. Yesterday, I fudged up my volunteering schedule so was running late for my shift, then realized my bike tire was flat. Really the flat tire had nothing to do with my jam-packed calendar, but it reminded me of how tight I schedule my day-to-day life. I cram it all in and leave absolutely no room for hiccups.

My first instinct with the flat was to freak out, perhaps leave my bike at the shop and hurry up to Open Books. But I would still have a flat tire and no bike. Thankfully, the folks at the bookstore are super understanding and know all about work/life/volunteer balance. So I decided to get it fixed before riding up there.

There’s a repair shop precisely six feet from where I park my bike, so I rolled on in. The mechanic took a look and began to give me the run-down on my bike: it’s in bad shape, kinda. The tires are old and cracking and are getting worse from biking in winter (salt). He found multiple pieces of glass, which have probably just been hanging out there for some time because my tire pressure was so low. It’s supposed to be at 90 PSI, and mine were at 20. Really I am lucky I got a flat because I could have blown my tires in the condition I was riding.

I felt stupid. Stupid for messing up my volunteer schedule and nearly missing my shift. Stupid for not checking my tire pressure and biking around with apparently a whole freaking windshield in my tires. Stupid for feeling like I could do 10 things in one day. And stupid for thinking any of this even matters.

Mandatory let’s-talk-about-France moment: Those people don’t care about anything. They don’t care to get stressed about things anyway. I got really good at this carefree attitude when I was over there, but the longer I’m in ‘Merica, the more easily I seem to get stressed about minor petty things such as scheduling mishaps and flat tires.

But the flat tire was good. I couldn’t go anywhere, so I could breathe a little bit and not rush to my next calendar reminder. I just had to sit there. And do nothing. It was exactly what I needed to do. I thought about how maybe I need to scale things back a bit. And even though I won’t, I’ll at least check my tire pressure more often.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

No Nager, Merci

One of my fav Paris bloggers, Prêt à Voyager recently blogged about her experience at Paris swimming pools. I was cracking up as I read the whole post, because she was so spot on. Basically, Parisians are WACK when it comes to swimming pools. I like swimming a great deal, and when I was in Paris and training for my most recent marathon, I tried my hardest to swim once a week as cross training. But it was impossible. It was just too weird. And crowded. And naked. Here are some other things:

- The lockers were always really complicated. I tried to swim at several different pools hoping to find one that was a good fit, and every time had to learn some new complex locking system. Whatever happened to the good old key? No, instead they have euro coin locks, or locks where you have to enter a secret pin code after two beeps. Also, one pool has these weirdo mannequin hanger thingys that everyone casually hung their clothes on and put inside their lockers. I was embarrassed because I just threw my clothes in a heap inside the locker. I thought that was what normal people did.

- For men, anything but a Speedo is deemed unsanitary (see picture). Men must wear Speedos to be allowed to swim. Gross. If you forget yours, you can buy one from the vending machine. Double gross.

- After exiting the locker room and before entering the swimming pool, you must walk through 1-2 feet of stagnant water. It's like a kiddie pool blocking your path to the swimming pool. It's, you know, to sanitize your feet. Triple gross.

- Parisians can't swim. Not fast or in a straight line or anything. I don't even know why they go to the swimming pool. They enjoy clogging the wall space so that swimming without stopping is absolutely impossible. They can't smoke there, so I really don't see why they are wasting their time poking around the pool.

- The hours at every pool are very limited, which means you have to share a lane with 10-15 Parisians who can't swim. See above.

- I don't want to talk about the locker rooms.

I finally gave up on swimming and just counted riding my bike up Rue de Belleville as my cross training.

Now I live in 'MERICA, and I belong to a big fat American gym that has a pool. I swim twice a week usually. It is heavenly. I can flip turn to my heart's content without worrying about some Speedo-clad man kicking me in the face. AND the locker room is just ladies only! Crazy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gettin' er Done

I read this post from a blog called Frugal Girl in which she discusses cutting schedule clutter. She says that her readers are always amazed that she finds time to blog, bake, read, paint furniture, etc. Her retort is that she plans ahead, works efficiently and gets enough sleep, which gives her the necessary energy to get it all done!

A lot of people have the same reaction to all the stuff I am able to get done. These are the things that I do pretty much every week work week outside of actually working:

- Read ½ a book
- Go to two or so yoga classes
- Swim two or so miles
- Bike 40 or so miles
- Climb some walls
- Attend a French class
- Grocery shop
- Cook or prepare most of my meals
- Interview a couple folks and write some blog posts
- Write some other stuff
- Get some good deals with my coupons
- Watch a movie or bake a delicious treat
- Talk to Libby

I don’t always get it all done (with the exception of talking to the cat). But I mostly do. And just like Frugal Girl, I have a schedule, and I do my best to stick to it. If I plan ahead, I can pack it all in. For example, on Thursday nights I have French class at 7:45. So, after work, I go swim laps, and, if I have time, pick up a few groceries before class. I guess I could just go home and twiddle my thumbs until class. But that’s not really my style.

I am not a time waster. I like to pack as much as I can into every single day so that I can feel like I’ve accomplished/learned/achieved something. And every single day, I probably do! I don’t watch a lot of TV or spend a lot of time looking at people’s Facebook pictures or do whatever it is that a lot of people do that prevents them from being productive.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Itty Teeny Baby Steps

Today something groundbreaking happened in yoga class. I absentmindedly somehow touched my big right toe. In my young life, I've never been able to stick my legs straight and comfortably touch any toe, ever. In past years, sometimes I could almost-very-nearly-ouch-this-hurts graze the tops of my feet. But today, January 12, 2011, I touched a toe.

I started doing yoga weekly about a year ago, and my progress has eekingly been slow. I've been sitting hunched over my whole life and have very weak shoulders, core, upper body, everything — except I could kill a man with my legs, which are pretty freaking strong from all those marathons I've run and the biking to and from work every day. And since I am such poor model for what a yoga should look like, I am honestly surprised that a. I haven't given up yet and b. some of these tecahers haven't approached me after class and said "listen honey... I'm sorry to tell you this, but this isn't for you."

But I have stuck with it and no teacher has laughed in my face (for the record, yoga teachers are SO encouraging. The one last week was really quite nice, even though her class was so hard I thought I might barf). And even though it has taken me a year to touch one measely toe, I am proud of said accomplishment and am excited for the rest on the horizon.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to do a handstand. I still have nine more toes to touch. I shall work on this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting to Know Wormhole

I recently came into some freelance work this weekend, which meant it was time to head to a coffee shop. There's always Filter, but it's crowded, a little bit too hip and limits Internet to two hours. So I decided to try Wormhole, a newish coffee shop in my neighborhood. As an added bonus, a friend from high school recently started working there. I thought it'd be nice to see him.

I didn't get good pictures of the whole place since I didn't have the right lens on my camera, but it has a pretty cool '80s theme. I chatted briefly with the owner, who brought in a lot of the memorabilia from his mom's basement — lunchboxes, mugs, posters and even a working Nintendo with tons of games for customers to play.

This wasn't my drink, but I couldn't resist snapping a photo.

This was my vegan bluebery/cornbread muffin. I couldn't resist taking a bite before the photo. It was so good I ate two.

I also like this photo, and aspect of the shop. I hate coffee shops that don't have enough space for you to "season" your drink. This left enough room for a few people to mix in sugar, grab napkins, etc.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Open Letter to the Person Sitting Next to Me at The Coffee Shop Singing to His Friend

Inspired by McSweeney’s open letters to people are entities who are unlikely to respond.

What the ef is wrong with you? People who listen to music on their computers at coffee shops bring headphones. Because it is an invasion of personal space and other people's sanity to blare your music in public. The same goes for blaring your voice. Which is not very good anyway. Also there is no variety, you are singing the same two mumbley lyrics over and over. What are you mumbling anyway? About crying? What do you have to cry about? I am the one that should be crying because you are ruining my productivity. Your coffee cup is empty, so it would be nice if you could leave now.

Friday, January 07, 2011


Janorexcia – The act of starving oneself in January to lose Christmas pudge. Also might have something to do with New Year’s resolutions.

How to use it!

• I didn't eat lunch today and instead went to the gym so I am a good janorexic. – me
• Drinking coffee no cream no sugar for janorexia. – Bradley
• Who keeps putting chocolate caramels in the kitchenette? this is not helping my janoerexia – Amy

Are you participating in janorexia?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

An Open Letter to Facebook and Your Damn Engagement Ring Ads

I like some of the services you provide for me. You make it easy to tag my friends in photos, put me in touch with faraway acquaintances, and entertain me a little bit on a bored Saturday afternoon. But I do not enjoy the part where you try to pressure me into getting married.

I know you think you know me. That me being 24, female, and in the same relationship for some time now = put a ring on it. So maybe that’s why you keep bombarding me with your “Do You Like Diamonds? Like us!” pay-per-click ads. But listen. I’m not interested in getting married anytime soon. That is why I keep deleting all your engagement ring ads. And then when you ask me why, I say I’m not interested in them. So why do you keep shoving those diamonds down my throat?

Usually I do not get so offended by advertising, especially because I know you need it to keep your service free for me. But I can only delete so many ads, tell you I don’t care about engagement rings, then see three more glaring at me in the right-hand column the next day. I. Don’t. Want. To. Get. Married. At. This. Point. In. My. Life. Is that so hard to understand? If you cared about me, you would listen. But you don’t care about me. You just want me to get married. LAME.

Monday, January 03, 2011


My roommates and I have been talking resolutions for the past few weeks. I thought of several throughout my month-long reverb10 blogging project. And last night I sat with my friends and sister to review what ours were. Here are mine:

1. Take more pictures
2. Wear more accessories
3. Be more thrifty
4. Stop buying meat from the grocery store (either it's local or nothing)
5. Take a dance class
6. Touch my toes
7. Do a handstand
8. Not look like a fatty fatty two-by-four in Kari's wedding this spring

December 31: Core Story

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: What central story is at the core of you, and how do you share it with the world? (Bonus: Consider your reflections from this month. Look through them to discover a thread you may not have noticed until today.) (Author: Molly O’Neill)

I rang in 2010 kind-of-but-not-really sure that I wanted to be in Chicago. I was pretty sure, but not totally sure. By the time 2011 came along, I was definitely sure. This has been the core story of the year and of a lot of these reverb10 posts. Although I still have some work to do, things are going pretty dandy. And that is that.

Reverb10 was good because it got me to write almost every single day. But I also felt like many of the prompts made me search for meaning in places there wasn’t any. Many of the prompts were also repetitive, and it was challenging to keep my posts different from one another.

I liked that these prompts made me think about what I’ve been doing over the past year, but nothing bubbled up that I hadn’t thought of before. I’m thinking about stuff all the time.

And I was also surprised by how many people told me they’ve been reading. This is a little scary for me because I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t have the time to make every single post perfect. I am worried that people will find typos or a misspelling and think poorly of me. But such is life, I suppose. If don’t want to mistakes, then I shouldn’t try, right?

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me over the past month. I am going to try to keep the blog going strong and write a few times a week.