Postcard from Milwaukee

22 Nov

I didn’t expect to go to Milwaukee and come home with a suitcase like I’d been to Portland. That is, I bought books. A lot of them.

My name is Jill, and I have a problem.

I should’ve expected this. Milwaukee is full of beer, and I’d planned on going on the Lakefront Brewery tour, so I should’ve known that at some point I’d get the hankering to go book shopping.

For those of you planning on going to Milwaukee, go on the Lakefront tour. It’s $7, you get four samples of beer and a coupon to have more free beer at one of many local establishments. You can also turn in your ticket for a free pint glass afterward. If you happen to get tour guide Josh, you’re in for a good time. Let’s face it, if you’ve been on one brewery tour, you’ve been on most of them. Josh made this one a lot of fun, and I spent more time laughing than I did drinking, which says something, since we did take a break mid-tour to get another pour.

At any rate, once I was finished with the tour and with my freebie beer, which I enjoyed at the Milwaukee Brat House along with a bowl of beer cheese soup, I was definitely in a mood to buy books. Or book. So I thought.

On the trip I’d brought along Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander, a really fun read. I was on track to finish it before my flights, so I wanted something else on hand, as I’d already gone through the in-flight magazine.

I made my way over to Downtown Books, a really nice used bookstore with super tall shelves and corners of discovery. I did really well with sticking to my plan to buy only one book, until I rounded one of these corners and found some intriguing looking food writing.

I bought four books.

This I thought would be OK, until I got to the Milwaukee airport.

On the day I left Milwaukee, the weather was crummy–snowing, cold, wet. After eating a late breakfast and getting some pastries from the Milwaukee Public Market, I didn’t have much else to do, so I headed to the airport early.

I had no idea there was a used bookstore in the airport itself. I had three hours to kill. After I found Renaissance Books, I thought I was going to miss my flight. Needless to say, I found some interesting stuff–a couple of fencing books for the Boy, a Navy SEALS workout book, a U.S. Olympic yearbook from 1960 and a reprint of the WPA Guide to Massachusetts. It was quite the haul, and a good one at that.

I keep thinking that I’m making progress with reading my pile of books, and I am. I’m just building the pile a little faster than I can read it. Perhaps the lesson is to stop mixing booze and books, as fun as it may be. Somehow, that’s a lesson I don’t really want to learn.


My Book du Jour

28 Oct

I recently finished a book from the stack I purchased at Powell’s this past August. This in itself can be a feat–I have books on my bookshelf that have competed with each other for years to get my attention, to no avail. I was interested in them enough to purchase them, but in waiting for the right moment where I’ll break down and actually read them (which is usually “not now,” since I’m catching up on another book), they’ve bided their time, promising not to let their covers get sun damaged before I can crack them open.

I’d say this book was special, but they’re all special, aren’t they? Even the books that are downright awful–they’re special in their own way. However, it was a book that spoke to me ever since I saw it while browsing the shelves at Porter Square Books. I didn’t buy it then, but it was important enough for me to write down the title and promise myself I’d find it later: Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton. I’m glad that Powell’s came through for me and had a used copy for sale (sorry, PSB) so that I could get to it more quickly then never.

Suffice it to say, I fell in love with this book. I wanted to devour it, yet I never wanted it to end. Why? It captured how I feel when I swim. Shapton, who tried out for the Canadian Olympic team twice and is now a writer and illustrator, told of her time in swimming through glimpses at her life. It’s not an inspirational tome, nor is it one to help you improve your swimming; however it floats along and pulls you in, much like the sport itself.

I was an age-group swimmer for several years, so I understand the regimented workouts, the frozen hair in the winter, rinsing out swimsuits and putting them on while still damp, things that Shapton notes. While I never pursued swimming beyond age 12, I still love to swim laps–sometimes even creating my own workout with kick board and pull buoy–or go for a long swim in a pond or lake.

When I swim, I don’t really think of anything. Sometimes I’ll work through a writing piece or project. Sometimes I hear music playing in my head. But mostly it’s nothingness. It’s me and the pool and the stroke, and to be honest, that’s one thing I love about swimming. This book captured that feeling of nothingness and made me want to read page after page, just like I will swim lap after lap, taking it all in and letting the words wash over me.

I’d like to read it again soon. While the odds of that happening are very slim, considering the fight that’s going on to get to the top of my reading list, Swimming Studies instantly got a prime spot on my bookshelf, where I can see it daily and let the memory of Shapton’s words wash over me.

Bonus Postcard from Pittsburgh

23 Oct
pierogi grilled cheese

The Pittsburgh grilled cheese from Hemingway’s, minus the kraut.

We were only in Pittsburgh for a  couple of days, so I didn’t get a chance to verify this, but Pittsburgh does not exactly scream “foodie city” to me. From my experience, Pittsburgh is a food town, an eating town (and yes, I know it’s a city, but somehow “town” seems kind of an appropriate descriptor). It’s a town that says, “I need to forge some steel and build a bridge! I need FOOD! SUSTENANCE!”

And in that sense, it totally delivered. From the few meals I ate in Pittsburgh, I was astounded at the amount of stuff in sandwiches. Yes, I know that by definition, a sandwich has stuff in it. That is the nature of two slices of bread with fillings. But in Pittsburgh, there was stuff in my sandwich that I normally would’ve expected to get on the side. For example, I didn’t have to choose whether I wanted pierogis or grilled cheese. I could get pierogis in my grilled cheese.


Primanti Bros. Pitts-burgher cheese steak

Also take the legendary Primanti Bros., which serves sandwiches filled with meat, fries and cole slaw on two pieces of waxed paper. Who needs sides, when you could shovel your meal into your entire mouth in a few bites and get back to the mill (or, as Primanti notes, back to truckin’)?

This type of food may not be popular to write about. It doesn’t come with reductions, and nothing is deconstructed, but it certainly had a quality to it that made you understand the city a little better. Eating like this made me feel more connected to the city, to its past — and in the case of Church Brew Works’ pierogi pizza I also ate (and most of which I carted home on a nine-hour drive because that deliciousness couldn’t go to waste)– of what Pittsburgh hopes to be.

Stories through food. Pittsburgh, yours is pretty interesting.

Postcard from Pittsburgh

17 Oct




It does sound a little weird to say we took a 9+ hour road trip to see a giant rubber duck, but that’s what the Boy and I decided to do to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Oh, we had friends to visit, food to try, and a museum to visit, but the duck was my priority.

Pittsburgh is the first American city to get The Rubber Duck Project, Florentijn Hofman’s 40′ tall rubber duck that floated on the Allegheny River by Point State Park, where the three rivers in Pittsburgh meet. It’s a lovely location — bridges to one side, Heinz Field behind it. You can go and sit on on the revetment along the river, watch the duck and take some pictures. And you smile, because you can’t help but smile. The duck is adorable.

The park also has some great people watching. It’s fun to see the duck’s effect on others. Families take group pictures. A bride and groom took some wedding photos. And everybody’s happy. The whimsy of the entire piece just makes your day.

Was it worth the long drive? I’d say yes, although we did a bunch of other things in Pittsburgh that made for an enjoyable weekend. But the duck was pretty awesome. If you get the chance, go — it’s only in town through the 20th.  Maybe it’ll pop up in another city soon…hmm, sounds like a reason to hit the road again!

Postcard from Asheville

11 Oct


Asheville can be summed up in two words: Gravy flight. We found Biscuit Head on our third day in Asheville. The previous two we had gone to a nearby Waffle House, which was chosen for its proximity to the hotel and quick service in order to get our group to the roller derby venue on time for the day’s bouts. While my taste buds were sad I didn’t get more biscuity meals, my waistline is a little relieved. Asheville’s food certainly did a number on me.

Anyway, Biscuit Head’s gravy flight was pretty amazing. I chose the smoked tomato creole, the sausage gravy, and a goat cheese gravy. While I did scope out the restaurant’s jam bar, I didn’t have enough room in my stomach to really sample much beyond some bacon chocolate goodness. Even though I would’ve gladly ordered more, I thought I’d have to ask someone to roll me out the door.

I didn’t know what to expect from Asheville, but a place like Biscuit Head wasn’t it (seems logical though, right?) — the Asheville I experienced was a lot more hippieish hipster than I expected, with some flashes of the old monied South thrown in. For every chichi place I went to, like the fantastic bookstore/champagne bar, there was a funky experience to balance it out, like the couple sitting on a bench where the woman was topless and the man was wearing a bra. It’s almost as if its motto is “Asheville: It’ll make you think twice.”

Hopefully I’ll go back someday and spend more time exploring the city than its roller derby venue. Asheville has an interesting vibe, and I wouldn’t mind getting to know the place a little better.

The Sports “Fan” at Post-Season Time

10 Oct

Although my husband will attest to being an American male, he does not enjoy the traditional American male hobby of watching sports. “I prefer participating,” he says. I have to give him credit for that, although I’m sure if “Monday Night Fencing” was popular in this country, he’d be the first to grab a big bowl of chips and plant himself on the couch to watch it.

I, on the other hand, do enjoy watching baseball, football, and hockey. Even though I now live in Massachusetts, I’m a Chicago fan at heart. The Patriots? Please. Do I have to remind you of the 46-10 routing my Chicago Bears gave them at Super Bowl XX? [note: the next Super Bowl will be number XLVII. The Bears have won precisely zero Super Bowls since then, while the Patriots have won three. It doesn't matter though - the Patriots will never have as great a team as the 1985 Bears. Even ESPN says so!]

The Bruins? Well, my love of friendly wagers taught me never to bet against the Blackhawks again. Not that I minded the Blackhawks winning, but I learned a valuable lesson during this year’s Stanley Cup.

The Red Sox? I don’t believe in the American League. Period. Oh, Fenway’s cool, sure, but it’s still home to an inferior team. Yep, you’ve guessed it — I’m a Cubs fan. I do accept pity and condolences.

The Boy hails from Michigan, so by default he’s a Lions, Tigers, and (sadly) a Red Wings fan. He probably would take offense to me calling it “default,” and spit out a bunch of statistics that prove his loyalty. I know better.

Even though I am a sports fan, because the Boy isn’t into sports watching (and I have no office pool to bet in), I don’t pay as much attention to sports as I used to. I do watch when we’re at a bar, and if I’m working out on the elliptical or treadmill, I’ll put on ESPN or NESN, but I don’t pay as close attention to results, standings and playoffs as I used to. This year though, we kind of have to since the Red Sox are doing well in the playoffs (note: We also can’t call them the “Sox,” because the Sox are the Sox. We actually saw a Red Sox vs. Sox game this summer. Red Sox won. This North Sider thought that was OK). That news is pretty much everywhere. I’ve tried to engage the Boy in some kind of baseball talk–his team is in it too, and it’s all on the line for them tonight–but because of his fair-weatherness, I get to toy with him and have conversations like this.

Me: So if it’s the Red Sox vs. the Tigers in the playoffs, who are you routing for?

The Boy: The Tigers!

Me: You know who I’m routing for? <beat> The Cubs. Just wait ’till next year, baby!

The Boy: <shakes head> Indeed.

Hey, at least I don’t force him to become a sports widower.

Adding to the Pile

9 Oct

Yesterday, the Boy and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. Which one, you ask? Apparently it was the fancy cocktails and bookstores anniversary (look it up on the ultramodern chart of anniversary gifts). We went to a multicultural restaurant that serves up global dishes–we had Moroccan Chicken and Chicken Kiev–designed for sharing. It also had a pretty decent cocktail menu, and after three, it was time to head home.

Home happened to be past two bookstores. We stopped at both. I now own three more books. If I wasn’t reading anything at the moment, I’d call this a big problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless because I’m bringing in more books than I’m consuming, and I continue to let the pile grow.

However, I couldn’t help but add Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguisewhich indulges a food kick I’ve had lately. Art of McSweeney’s lets me look into the making of one of my favorite literary journals (which I love getting, but unfortunately haven’t read that much of. Making a mental note to fix that). And last but not least, I got The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I haven’t read any of her other books, but this one spoke to me–and by “spoke to me,” I mean a part of my brain said, “YOU MUST OWN THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW!” The next day, I’m still excited by it, so it’s going to the top of the pile. I hope my brain chose well.

If you think it has, let me know.

The Haul

7 Oct


This is how my August trip to Portland turnout out. I ended up getting about $40 in store credit for the books I sold, which parlayed nicely into this stack. Even though I have a tendency to buy books and not read them, I’ve already read three of them: How Georgia Became O’KeeffeMind Gym, and The Girls’ Guide to Love and Supper Clubs. Not bad (especially considering that in that time, I’ve finished The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and Sleepwalk With Me).

[Incidentally, I was in Portland again at the end of September and sold the latter two back to Powells...and managed to buy only three for myself on that trip.]

Most of these books were unplanned purchases–the O’Keeffe book one was one of these. I don’t normally get into artists, but an idea that’s lurking around in the back of my brain said, “GET SOMETHING ON GEORGIA O’KEEFFE!” I’d fully intended to just get a book of some of her pictures, but this was also on the shelf, and after a quick glance, my subconscious said, “BUY THIS BOOK!” I’m glad I listened because I so enjoyed it. Karen Karbo put so much personality into the story of O’Keeffe and made her so alive and relatable. With this book you wanted to be friends with both O’Keeffe and Karbo. I’d tell Karbo this myself, but it would border on stalkerishness, and well, we’ll save that for when my writing career is a little further along and it might be more acceptable for me to gush over her.  Karbo has a new book out on Julia Child that I would like to read some day (but if you’ve got nothing to read, I suggest you do so now), which means I need to get cracking on the rest of this pile.

I entitled this post “The Haul,” not just to show off the new books (that are actually sitting on the floor of my office because I’m out of shelf space), but also to describe the haul that was my September.

September had five weekends; I traveled for four of them. It’s the WFTDA’s tournament season, and I went to the four Division I playoff tournaments in various capacities. Among roller derby officials, the four September tournaments was traditionally known as the “death march” — you apply for all four feeling excited and you end the last one on your last legs, wondering what you got yourself into.

While it’s insanely fun to go to every tournament, by the end you’re tired, drained, and most likely sick. You don’t know where anything you own is located. You’re insanely behind on non-essential laundry. The folks at the TSA security checkpoint at your home airport start recognizing you.

I’d never done the death march until this year, and now it’s not even the full march anymore. The WFTDA added two Division II tournaments in August. Since I was going to be out of town during the first two weekends in August, I didn’t apply to work these two, nor did my association position in officials’ certification require me to be at either one of them. I saved it all for September.

First up was Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where I was a penalty box manager for the first Division I Playoff. Then I headed to Richmond, Virginia to lead a crew of non-skating officials for the second tournament. Next was Asheville, North Carolina and finally Salem, Oregon. At both of those tournaments I represented NSO Certification to help give feedback and write evaluations on non-skating officials.

I have to admit that in many aspects, the march was fun. I love participating in roller derby, and being able to do it and observe it at the highest levels of gameplay is pretty amazing. I got to hang out with friends from all over the country–and beyond–who I don’t get to see very often, and they like to hang out and get geeked about roller derby officiating, which I don’t often get to do with my husband. There’s also usually a few good restaurants along the way.

In other ways, the march was a slog. I was home for about seven days in September. I missed my husband. I didn’t get to see my other friends. Keeping up with everyone at home was difficult, particularly when you’re dealing with a three-hour time difference and you’ve got bouts from 10AM to 10PM. By the end I was extraordinarily tired, and I needed about a week to recover, unpack, tidy up the house a little bit, catch up on sleep, and start cracking on those evaluations I need to write. By some miracle, I didn’t get sick.

Now I’ve got a few weeks to try to catch up with everyone before I make one last trip for the year to Milwaukee for Championships. The 2013 Haul is almost complete.

Prepping for Portland

29 Jul

I’m going to be on the road again this week, heading to Portland, OR, to teach at a WFTDA Officiating Clinic. I’m excited to go to Portland because that part of the country has some really great officiating, and I rarely get the opportunity to work there.

While I’ll be going over lesson plans this week, I’m also prepping for another Portland occasion: Shopping at Powell’s. I’ve been to Portland a couple of times, and Powell’s is always my number one destination. A bookstore so large you need a map to navigate it? Yes, please!

Last time the Boy and I went to Powell’s, I wanted to make sure I could get all of our book purchases home, so we actually packed used books that we sold back to the store. Anything the store didn’t want, we left in our hotel room for other guests to enjoy. Not only did we have enough room in our suitcases, we also ended up getting a good $40 in store credit, which covered a nice little portion of our shopping list.

This trip I’d like to do the same thing. I’ve only got five books in my “to sell” pile, but I’ve got potentially three more that I can plow through before I go. To me this means I’ve got a nice, enjoyable week of reading ahead. Who could ask for anything more?

Badge of…?

16 Jul


I earned this sprained ankle over the weekend. It’s my first big roller derby injury. Exciting, right? I’m not sure. In the roller derby community, you see a lot of pictures of x-rays and really bad bruises. It’s part of the sport–almost like a badge of honor–and you can pretty much expect to get an injury at some point in your derby career.

As a non-skating official, I thought I was fairly impervious to injury. Oh, my calves get tight from standing a lot…..and there was a little incident last fall when a referee skated over my toes, but I didn’t expect anything worse than that.

After four years of being a non-skating official, I got skates this year and started to learn how to ref. Learning how to ref takes a while–you have to learn how to skate so well you don’t have to think about what your feet are doing, and you need to be able to see the action and make calls.

In learning how to skate, I’ve joined the skater training program in my league. I’ve graduated from no-contact practices to contact practices, and contact means taking a little extra risk. I came out on the losing side on Saturday, when I took a hit, fell and saw my ankle turn 90 degrees.

Now I’m off skates for a couple of weeks. I’m lucky it’s not worse than a minor sprain, but it still hurts. I missed skate practice tonight, both literally and figuratively. Still, I’ve survived an injury and perhaps have gone through a rite of passage, but not one that I’m necessarily pleased to wear as a badge of honor. I’d much rather be able to strap on my skates and get back on the track than pop ibuprofen, ice my ankle and keep it elevated. Perhaps it’s a way to deal with the frustration though. If anything, it’s a badge that reminds me to work hard on healing as quickly as possible.


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