Category Attractions

Chicago: Designer toys, metal burgers, and buckets of blood

Situated at the corner of W Belmont and N Francisco in Chicago, the original Kuma’s Corner has been dishing up gourmet burgers with heavy metal flair for fourteen years, and I swear I’ve been hearing about it from my local friends for just about that long. At least one of those friends even made a special trip for their Bleeping Blagojevich burger in “honor” of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office and is currently serving fourteen years in prison for corruption for what basically amounts to trying to auction off former President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat to the highest bidder–that burger was topped with a thick slice of salty balogna, had grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun, and was served with a dollar symbol emblazoned in mustard on top. Just like the cost of that Senate seat, the price of the Bleeping Blagojevich was negotiable, but not available for free.

Kuma’s Corner stopped serving that particular burger a while back, because you can’t rest on your laurels and also because no one remembers a political scandal longer than a week anymore. Our group had tried to get in a couple of evenings previous at their West Loop location (also on a corner) but it was so full that we ended up at another nearby restaurant whose name I have forgotten which is for the best because I couldn’t say anything nice about it even by accident, how do you cut up a sausage for a slider and not notice that it isn’t cooked through?  …ahem.

We found it much easier to pop into the original Kuma’s for lunch on a Monday, metal blasting from the speakers, movies playing on their screens instead of sports. Their walls are painted crimson, their ceilings and fixtures black. On the wall behind the bar, a disheveled bear reaches with arms outstretched to wrap them around the beholder, its mouth and chest covered in blood as it proclaims its desire for MEAT. Adjacent is the chalkboard that informs patrons which charity they’re helping if they order the monthly draft special. 

Kuma’s also stocks Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s most infamous liquor. Originally advertised as a “challenge to the braggart who claims he can drink anything”, Malort is flavored with wormwood (not gasoline, as is rumored). It doesn’t appear that any bar or restaurant outside of Illinois serves Malort, so I decided to seize the opportunity, ordering a shot along with the recommended beer to wash it down. Malort tastes like bitter dirt that is on fire somehow, and that fire infuses your tissues from your tongue all the way down. Malort’s flavor is so aggressive that its own creator concedes that “The first shot is hard to swallow!” but ominously adds “Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours…forever” which sounds like exactly the kind of devil’s bargain that goes down in a metal burger bar on a Monday afternoon.

I kept up my goat streak and ordered the Goatsnake: a thick, medium rare patty of their proprietary ground beef blend, topped with a hockey puck of herbed goat cheese, poblano sweet corn relish, a Cholula lemon vinaigrette, and buttermilk breaded deep fried red onions on a pretzel bun. The resulting burger is THICK, hard to pick up, hard to eat, but harder to put down because it was so delicious. It’s the kind of burger that you need to smash down a little and then hold on for dear life. I loved the flavors at play here–it brings a lot of tang to the table between the goat cheese, the lemon vinaigrette, and the buttermilk breading which pairs so beautifully with the richness of the beef. I love a mountain of fried onion so this was going to be a delight to me regardless, but that hearty pile was exactly the right amount of crunch to balance all that soft cheese. 

Hell Kitty Kitty

The same beer from above plus a shot of Malort.

The beer from above minus the Malort plus the Goatsnake and its fried onion mountain.

After lunch, we walked to nearby Bucket O’Blood Books & Records, a resale shop with a curated collection: sci fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, metal, punk…you get the drift. I have some thoughts on why “romance novels” were specifically called out as an entire genre that they do not accept even though, for example, books like Kushiel’s Dart have fantasy and blood to spare, but instead of getting into it, I’ll just say that I think it boils down to a pervasive problem that rhymes with “schizogeny“, even if it’s unconscious schizogeny.  We browsed for a while; I didn’t end up leaving with anything* as I was saving my limited carry on room potential for our next stop, Rotofugi. 

Rotofugi is the other kind of adult toy store, the kind with limited edition art toys and a gallery of original work by current and emerging artists and two full aisles of blind box toys. If you’re not familiar with the concept, blind box toys are an assortment of toys sold in identical boxes but you don’t know what you’re getting until after you open it. It’s like gambling except instead of winning money, you end up with a bunch of the same toy you didn’t want, because the odds of getting the really rare toy you do want are approximately the same as you being crushed by the toy factory falling from the sky. Trading cards but non-biodegradable. They can be fun if the concept is unique or you’re not overly invested in what you get–I bought a Stink Box featuring art by Jason Limon and any plastic kitty pooping in that box would be just as funny as any other. I also bought a blind box of tiny glow-in-the-dark realistic looking magnetic mushrooms that now cling to the side of my fridge. But generally I feel that blind boxes are just ways for manufacturers to hide what they’re selling to you so they can (1) get you to spend more money and (2) sell out the edition so retailers don’t end up with a stock of less-popular figures/poses that they can’t move. The art toy world does lay claim to starting the blind box trend but I honestly can’t help but think of the utter wave of trash this trend has created and will continue to create when people get tired of having fifty dusty reminders of a TV show they used to watch. Or of a plastic kitty infinitely squatting in a cardboard litter box.

I really enjoyed browsing their art gallery, and I seriously debated buying a Jason Limon original, Cinq. It’s a 2013 piece and especially interesting to me as I didn’t know sculpture was in his body of work and yet his style translates to it clearly. I didn’t bring it home but I still think about it sometimes and I feel like it belongs in a room next to a plant in a macrame hanger.

Sea Horse Tim Shumate

A Star in the Darkness Tim Shumate

Cinq Jason Limon

*I know it’s basically a Crime Against Books to admit this but really old paperbacks that don’t belong to me gross me out, especially when they turn that awful yellow-brown and they get that extra soft texture on the page that kind of lingers on your fingers along with that musty book smell. I get that some people really dig the smell of old books but I cannot ride that ride with you. I bought a book from 1943 online for a friend for her birthday about a goat who goes around causing mischief, and when it arrived, I intended to read it (so we could later discuss goat mischief) but I could not read more than a few pages at a time because the experience of handling it was just too awful. And then, to top it off, I ran into the passage where Billy Whiskers gets racist because why not ruin an otherwise charming story about a whimsical goat with some casual racism? So of course I couldn’t even send it to her because it’s not going to be Auntie Melissa’s fault her kids learn old timey racial epithets. NO. 

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

Chicago: Boating & Goating

Ever since the first AOL disc was inserted into my dad’s work laptop, I have lived on the internet. Back then, the closest thing we had to social media was email message boards, where people of a common interest would sign up to be part of a group and then you’d get a digest email of messages from group members. It was like the comments section came to you, daily, and all those commenters had your email address, but you were excited about it instead of horrified. My special interest/obsession at that point in my life was The Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the things I did after I first fumbled onto the internet was join a Smashing Pumpkins email group. I was thrilled to have all of these strangers’ opinions of albums and songs and band member rankings delivered to me daily, but the overall group size was a bit overwhelming, and eventually I broke off with a smaller group onto a different Smashing Pumpkins-but-not-exclusively list, and these people transformed from strangers into friends I’d never met. We haven’t all kept in touch over the past twenty years, but some of us have. So when the Smashing Pumpkins announced a reunion tour and one of these friends floated a suggestion that we meet in Chicago to see their hometown show and make a weekend of it, I immediately agreed, because I feel like if someone is planning to abduct and murder a person, gaining their trust at 16 is a good move but twenty years is too long a time to lie in wait, so I could probably risk it. 

Our party was three: Me, Dianne, and Dee, a fellow Pumpkins fan and someone Dianne had met through their mutual interest in Sphynx cats. Dee lived in the city and wouldn’t be able to join us on the first day because of work, so we decided to hit up some tourist spots and see where the day took us. First, we walked to the riverwalk to buy tickets for a riverboat architecture tour–the next available time was in a couple of hours, which was more time than we wanted to spend just dinking around the waterfront but not really enough to do much of anything else. 

So we walked south to Millenium Park and spent a little time there. Its most well-known feature is Cloud Gate, otherwise referred to as “the bean”. Cloud Gate was designed by artist Sir Anish Kapoor and officially unveiled to the public in its final polished state in 2006. When I looked up that date to confirm it, a little bell went off as I know I had seen it before then, in 2004–it turns out, I had seen it during the brief window it was unveiled to the public before its seams were polished off.  

2004

It took me a minute to find me but then I couldn’t stop seeing myself everywhere.

August 2018

People were zumbaing across the great lawn as we walked to the Lurie garden. I grew up in a town about an hour drive north of Chicago and had an almost visceral reaction to the garden, as no smell is as immediately familiar as the smell of the sun warming the plants and dirts of your childhood, the years when you spent the most time out in among those plants and that dirt, skinning your knees, picking cattails and growing up. My nose took me back decades in an instant.

Before the architecture tour, we decided to grab a quick beverage and a snack somewhere, and settled on Le Pain Quotidien, where they defy the very laws of nature and existence itself with how long it takes them to whip some dragon fruit into a smoothie.  Parties came and went and I drank my entire turmeric latte and Dianne ate her meal and still my gloppy snack had yet to arrive. I tried to cancel the order but they took another ten minutes to pack it for me to go and carry it on my lap in the hot sun on a boat for an hour and a half and threw away afterward because for some reason a long slow warm-up in the sun doesn’t do much for an amalgamation of coconut yogurt, key lime, avocado, and cashew butter.

We made it back to the boat with mere minutes to spare before boarding…and still we were not the last in line.  When the queue got to our turn, we sat front and center on the boat, as most of the seats to the back and either side had been claimed already, which was fine by me as it meant no one’s head was ever blocking my view. I bought myself a beer for the tour, which sweated into my hand and onto the bag that held the aforementioned Warm Yogurty Mistake, I got a mild stripey sunburn thanks in part to the fancy shoulder cutouts on my shirt but mostly to my perpetual failure to ever apply enough sunscreen everywhere, and friends, I could not tell you really anything that I learned on this tour which means that I would be happy to go back and do it again anytime and see if it sticks.

We ended up going back to the hotel to freshen up and take a bit of a rest, and the struck out again with intentions to go to Girl & the Goat, a Chicago fine dining restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options which could not be said of the highly-lauded Au Cheval, which is literally across the street and where I wanted to go to all the more because it turned out Girl & the Goat was closed for a private event that evening. Never fear, just down the block was Little Goat Diner, serving diner fare with the same top quality ingredients and care they use at Girl & the Goat. 

Their menu is enormous but I went nearly as goaty as possible, with a little goat latte, a lil caesar salad, and a sloppy goat sandwich on brioche topped with coleslaw. …I may have gone a bit too goaty overall. I think the goat milk from the latte and the goat from the sandwich came from goats who clearly knew and hated one another and decided to continue to butt heads in my guts. It doesn’t look like they have the sloppy goat on the menu at present, but when I had it, I didn’t love it–it was too big, too rich, too soft, the goat flavor a little strong. But I also think that’s what a sloppy joe should be, and thus I can’t fault them for serving me what I ordered. I think I was just bad at picking what I wanted that day.

 

Ponce City Market & Paris on Ponce

The Ponce City Market is a new shopping complex in former Sears & Roebuck with a killer food court, local shops, and even an art-o-mat. After a brief detour to what appeared to be a good sale on Frye boots, I got to learn the hard lesson that their boots don’t accommodate my calves, which is a very fun and not-at-all embarrassing thing to have to discover in front of a smug thin salesperson who was very put out about getting them for me in the first place. This. This is why I don’t have nice things, because salespeople intimidate me out of stores and also because the powers that be in fashion have decided that calves as wide as mine are too freakishly large to clothe. Their (one, people with wide calves don’t want to be burdened with too many options) wide calf boot is even named the MELISSA and it doesn’t fit my calf and as a boot appreciator named Melissa I just want to fall into a hole and die every time I shop for boots because all it does is break my heart. Don’t even get me started on English riding boots, apparently no one with a calf wider than a pencil deserves to be able to purchase proper equipment.

So I guess you could say I was ready to eat some feelings at Five Daughters Bakery, where Carrie and I shared two 100 layer doughnuts, their croissant-style confection. Both their King Kong (maple bacon) and their Bourbon Peach Pecan were delicious if not quite boot-disappointment-erasing. 

From Ponce City Market, it’s bare steps to Paris on Ponce, a carefully curated antiques and other upscale flea market vendors’ warehouse. I had a lot of fun browsing through here, and I ended up leaving with a cool print I’ve yet to frame and hang. I wanted to leave with their chubby pug dog wearing a little french bowtie but somehow managed to resist. 

Barely. Look at that smooshy face!

Atlanta: In and Around The King Center

We started our morning off at FolkArt Restaurant, where I had a truly beautiful sweet potato waffle topped with fried chicken and a whiskey peach compote. Between the heat, the time change, and the drinks the night before, I didn’t feel much like eating and I’m afraid they thought I didn’t like my meal because I ate so few bites. I loved it, and I was angry with my body for not wanting it. The waffle was so tender and flavorful, the chicken was perfectly crisp and greasy in the good way, and the peaches were everything you’d hope for from a Georgia peach, wrapped in a blanket of boozy spice. They were stunning together. And my stomach was jumping around in a way that told me that it was a foolish game to try and eat more than three bites. But those three bites…*kisses fingertips*

After breakfast, we went to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and got tickets for the afternoon guided tour of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth home. It was a powerful experience that I’ve been finding extraordinarily difficult to write about, having realized that my education with regards to Dr. King has been subpar to say the least and I’m not going to turn around and pretend I’m qualified to educate others. The King Center was established by Mrs. Coretta Scott King after her husband’s assassination in 1968 to be “no dead monument, but a living memorial filled with all the vitality that was his, a center of human endeavor, committed to the causes for which he lived and died.” The King Center in its present structure (completed in 1982) remains alive and vital. Roses clamber upward, showcasing children’s poems about race and peace. The water around the tombs of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King flows. A flame burns eternal, dancing and alive. Inside The King Center, displays invite you in close to interact, to think, to reflect, to take action when you see injustice.

MLK Jr World Peace Rose Garden

The birth home of Dr. King

The Victorian childhood home of Dr. King was recently sold to and is now run by the National Parks Service, and they offer free guided tours every thirty minutes, with groups limited to fifteen people in size. If you want to visit,  get there early to get your tickets or prepare to be disappointed. I cannot emphasize enough how relatively few people get to go inside this home every day. If there’s a tour every thirty minutes, eight hours a day, that’s 240 people maximum. By contrast, The King Center receives 650,000 visitors annually. They’re open 361 days a year, which means that on average there are some 1,800 visitors per day and only some thirteen percent of them will get to tour the home. And visiting the home has real gravitas–to stand where this civil rights leader spent his formative years, to see where his family shared their meals and lived the moments that made up their lives together, all with a knowledgeable guide.  

After the tour of Dr. King’s childhood home concluded, we walked south toward Decatur Street and took in some murals. 

Patch Whisky

I was so excited to finally see a Nychos in person!

@caveal

It’s like his eyes follow me around no matter where I move and also I’m going blind.

Caroline Caldwell

Paper Frank

This was all in a few blocks! After walking around, we grabbed lunch at Harold’s Chicken & Ice Bar so I could have my second fried chicken meal of the day and to discuss our plans for the rest of the trip. I was hot and sweaty enough at the time that I half hoped that this would be one of those situations where the bar, your glass, and your chair are all made of ice. Sadly, this was not the case, and it was on the hard, unforgiving plastic chairs of Harold’s that I learned that my sweatiness was not something I was experiencing just for me, but was, in fact, a gift I was sharing with others, as when I stood up, a horrible, steamy ass print remained behind for all to see. Later, I would take to slowly sliding my butt off of whatever seat I had been resting upon so as to sort of…smear the evidence away, but I was so horrified by this first occurrence that I just kind of tossed a napkin on it and fled lest someone see the basket of partially-eaten food and that distinctive shape in the chair and deduce that they were in the presence of a hungry ghost with a hot crotch.  (It’s probably this kind of top quality content that got me flagged by some workplace filters a while back, but am I going to stop talking about butts? No. No I am not.) 

After lunch, we headed over to the Little Five Points neighborhood to get some coffee at Aurora Coffee, do some shopping at Junkman’s Daughter, and check out more art.  Junkman’s Daughter doesn’t allow photos inside so I’ll do my best to describe it in words. Imagine a thrift store vibe but with new stuff–tightly packed racks of clothes, wide selection of merchandise all looming and touching and intermingling with a 50s raver steampunk stoner costumes-are-for-everyday-wear pop culture local art aesthetic. And then add in a second floor just for loud shoes and a smoke shop in the back. Junkman’s Daughter is so much. I love it. I bought way too much stuff there, including a framed art print of an alien with a ridiculously juicy booty playing with cats. I’ve hung it next to my desk. But there I go again, talking about butts.

There’s a mural by Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi between these two on the back of the building, but his work is as dead to me as he is


A closer look at 2018: ren faire, archery class, Director’s Cut


I spent a summer afternoon at the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire and once again, fully enjoyed myself. I finally have enough body confidence to not care if my ass looks wide if I drape it with a period-inaccurate but very festive jingly coin bellydancer’s sash, so I jingled my way around the shoppes and bought myself a very nice Mongolian horse archery bow which I have yet to really use because I don’t have the right kind of glove to keep my hand from being cut by the fletches (there’s no arrow rest on a Mongolian bow, or any horse bow to the best of my knowledge). I could just buy a glove but I’ve been wanting to get into leatherworking, and the possibility that I could make my own at some point in the future exactly how I want it has prevented me from buying a glove which means the bow has sat. Just buy the damn glove, Melissa. Just buy the glove.


I signed up for a six week introductory archery course at Next Step Archery and half-filled the twelve person class with friends. I was glad to finally get some in-depth instruction as I’d just been shooting from instinct up until that point. My skills really leveled up over the course of class, and it was so much fun to learn with friends. The six weeks flew by. If I had signed up for the next course, I could have stayed with many of the same people, but timing wasn’t good with my France trip and each subsequent class is shooting with a more complex bow with more gadgets and balances and finer adjustments, and the goal I’m working toward is horse archery with a bow with…none of those things. I’m signed up for a two day horse archery clinic in southwestern Washington in June, so I’ve got between now and then to get good enough at riding to be comfortable hands-free at a trot. I’m thinking I’d like to take a private lesson or two with this bow in order to be more comfortable without the rest, which will also necessitate buying the damn glove already.

When I shot from this distance…

…this is what my target looked like.



My archery school was right near Arashi Ramen (perfect dinner for a chilly evening) which is next door to 99 Ranch Market which means I found myself browsing though specialty Asian groceries more often than usual. I had a brief, intense love of garlic cracker nuts (it’s a nut! encased in a shell of cracker!) but I must’ve eaten them too often because just the thought of their taste makes me feel a little nauseated. Because why enjoy something every once in a while when you can have a whole bunch of it at once and ruin it for yourself for life? I’m operating on broken logic.

On one trip to 99 Ranch market after lunch at Arashi with Erika (the same trip where she introduced me to cracker nuts!), I bought this tea, and we discussed that 3:15 is about the perfect time in the afternoon for a little caffeinated pick-me-up. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling a little snoozy from lunch and decided to try out my new 3:15pm coffee milk tea to see if would indeed perk me up and I looked up from the box to find it was precisely 3:15pm. The tea was…not good.

I know for a fact this package says oat noodles. But literally every time I see it, I think it says “cat noodles” and I’m left to wonder what kind of cat demands freshly-cooked noodles. One with fiber issues, I guess.


And here I thought it was a painful reminder to use protection.


I’ve been to Casa Que Pasa a bunch and never blogged about it. It’s this dive in Bellingham that serves as a community art gallery, with many pieces for sale. I go there for their potato burrito, but the best version of it is the deep fried fame: the potato burrito deep fried like a chimichanga, especially when I pony up for added carne asada (for flavor and texture variation, it’s important in a burrito this large!) or carnitas (they’re triple cooked for a crispy exterior and a meltingly soft interior) and get them to slather it with extra potato sauce, because whatever is in it, it’s creamy-spicy-tangy and gives potatoes a reason to strive.



I was able to make it to the SAFE show at Donida this summer to see my friend Alex compete in some rail classes with his horse, Jesse. Would you believe this horse is a senior citizen? He is RIPPED. They took third in their last class of the day!

I’m thinking about going to a show or two with Navani this summer, but I also don’t know how well I’m going to do losing to a six year old.


My husband is the handsomest. 


Leg courtesy Christopher Bragg

I realized at the end of the summer that I’d bought a smoker and hadn’t had a single purposeful gathering of peoples for the consumption of smoked meats. I put together a bbq party for Labor Day weekend, and the plan was to culminate with watching the movie I’d helped crowdfund but had never seen/just received in the mail, Director’s Cut, ideally on a screen in the yard. As it turns out, Labor Day weekend is a popular weekend for outdoor screen rentals and none were available. I briefly pondered buying an outdoor screen setup so that my vision could continue unhindered but now that I’ve seen the movie I can say it was absolutely positively 100% for the best that this was not playing on a screen in my yard where my neighbors could see and/or hear. Its number of strip club scenes rivals or exceeds that of Showgirls and I’d like to remind you that in that movie, the main character was a stripper.

A Closer Look at 2018: River tubing in Leavenworth, pet pigs, and wigs and guns

Last summer I finally went river tubing for the first time. A friend rented a bus and a bunch of us went to Leavenworth Outdoor Center to rent tubes and spend a lazy afternoon on the water. It started off…a little sketchy when the driver of our shuttle from the outdoor center to the river almost immediately started making gross sex jokes, which turns out can tend to make a person feel a little vulnerable when they’re sitting in the back of a van wearing only a swimsuit.

Things improved when we made it to the Icicle creek and introduced asses to tubes. I was a little nervous about tubing at first as one of my other friends told me about a near-death experience she had river tubing, how fast it happened and how helpless she felt, and all it takes is one story to get my brain spinning. I was seriously analyzing my swimming skills in the days leading up to the event, and when we got to the creek I nearly laughed in relief when I saw we’d be floating in approximately six inches of water. No doubt, people can drown in that amount of water, but it wasn’t the mariana trench underneath my tube I’d been envisioning–as long as I could stand up, I’d be fine. We were instructed to each bring “a bucket of sunscreen” so I dutifully slathered up and successfully managed to avoid burns which means that (a) I am finally an adult and (b) being an adult means being vaguely ghostlike and greasy from head to toe. Being an adult doesn’t mean that I’m too mature to learn something new: for example, that day I learned that those insulated canteens’ greatest purpose is to hold frozen slushy beverages at the perfect temperature for hours. HOURS. The biggest downfall of any frozen drink is how fast it melts and becomes mediocre, and this completely changes the game. Aside from our mobile snack and drink stations (we rented an extra tube just to hold a cooler, being an adult also means that you’ve learned to keep an appropriate amount of snacks handy), we got to chat and relax and enjoy the scenery on the river, while actively paddling to avoid being clotheslined by tree branches, and at which our group was mostly successful. There are also a lot of people-watching opportunities on the river, with people riding down on pool floaties and air mattresses with their dogs and tinny speakers bumping The Weeknd. As the Icicle merged with the Wenatchee river, the water got wider, swifter, and deeper, and there were a lot more types of river craft to navigate around. The most challenging part of the day was finding a place to change before and after–there’s a restroom at the bar next door but they probably aren’t thrilled about a line of soggy people waiting for their two stalls. 

After dinner at Munchen Haus (their mustard selection and that vat of apple cider sauerkraut are top notch) we attempted to shop around town, and everything was either closed or about to close…at 6pm at the peak of summer tourist season. I’d say I don’t understand how any of these businesses remain in business, but during the four hours a day they deign to sell goods they’ve got people packed in their shoppes nose to armpit and they have three solid tourist seasons with summer turning to Oktoberfest turning to six month Christmas. They’re doing fine, and I’m just bitter that I couldn’t get any pear cinnamon caramel from Schocolat.  

On the way back home, we made our mandatory stop at The Alps, a two story candy shop (it’s on the outskirts of town, thereby escaping the designation “shoppe”). In addition to every candy you’ve ever heard of and several you haven’t, they sell preserves, hot sauces, unusual sodas, and horse figurines in case you needed something to look at while eating candy. As is usual for me, I go in and have a look around and don’t end up buying anything because it’s like my hedonism is on a switch and it can’t extend to the car ride home from an activity.  


My orchid rebloomed for the first time in spite of me not knowing how to trim them back. I have since trimmed them back and I feel pretty confident that I have, in fact, killed one of the stalks. But the other one is going strong!



One of my neighbors got a pig. Her name is Lily-June and I’ve seen her out on walks a couple of times but a sighting is exceedingly rare. I was out pulling weeds from the new grass when she walked by and so I finally got my opportunity to make a proper introduction. She found my new grass very tasty.


The Japanese garden at the arboretum. My behavior this day was atrocious and now I have this lovely photo to remind me that I can do better. 


I love the color shifts in these leaves.



Well? Someone listen to that stepladder and call the police!


My inlaws sent me the gorgeous bouquet above for my birthday and the gorgeous bouquet below was for our 5th wedding anniversary. 


I gave Africa her first-ever allover bath and her coat took on this amazing metallic sheen. Afterward, I took her into the front pasture to graze on the long rich grass there as a reward, and instead of putting her head down and going to town on food like I expected, she got the zoomies and thundered around. Showers make everyone feel good!


The trading card section proves as enticing to Jason today as it was in his childhood. The selection of cards at Subspace Comics and my love of period dramas has broadened the range of cards he buys, and for a while, he bought a Downton Abbey pack every time we went in to the store. He ended up getting a couple of special cards, one with a swatch of fabric that was used to create one of Cora’s dresses, and the other being this small Sir Richard Carlisle on brown cardstock. I wholeheartedly approve of how Jason displays it.


Virtually next door to Subspace Comics is Katsu Burger, another favorite of mine. They introduced a katsu dog and I tried their spicy garlic one, but I was nonplussed about this tube of crusty deep fried meat and elected not to finish it. I had a boss who was nuts for those taco time deep fried meat and bean paste burritos and I bet he would’ve loved this because it’s the same kind of odd crispy-squishy texture. I don’t see it on the menu anymore, and I’m not mourning its loss. I am kind of sad they stopped selling the super umami wagyu burger though.


We almost made more trips to Portland this year than into Seattle, and a few of them involved a stop at Powell’s books, where I spotted one of the great book titles of all time.

I know going after spelling is nit-picky but this is a bookstore. Also, I was just moving through this section on my way back to the mythology section and the misspelling caught my eye, I’m not getting divorced, separated, or interested in being a good enough parent.


I made it into the Screen Door Cafe three times this year and I still haven’t been able to stray from their fried chicken and biscuit sandwich. It’s so good that tears spring to my eyes on my first bite, every time. That tender, buttery biscuit! That perfectly fried peppery chicken smothered in even spicier, creamy sausage gravy! It’s decadent and always precisely what I need to power my day. The cheddar grits really benefit from a healthy dose of crystal hot sauce, and then I really benefit from an antacid tablet because being an adult also means not being able to eat this much spicy rich food without consequence anymore.


When driving somewhere on I-5, my favorite landmark south of Tacoma was the building with a giant banner proclaiming “$1 Chinese Food”. Even my sense of self-preservation is too strong to personally experience the kind of quality you get when you’re paying a dollar for your meal but I did enjoy reading the reviews of more foolish people. Whenever  I saw $1 Chinese Food, I knew I was either off on an adventure or I was almost home from one, and when that banner came down, I knew I was going to have to find a new landmark in order to preserve that feeling. Enter WGS Guns, or as Jason and I know it, “Wigs & Guns” because that’s what the sign looks like it says when you glance at it from the road. WIGS AND GUNS! Sounds like an event I once planned.

A closer look at 2018: the Frye, land shopping, tiny house, hairless kittens, and my garden

My friend Felix maintains a blog that he has updated daily since 2002. I love that he can drill down into any day of any year of the last seventeen years of his life. I can only assume that now that he has this incredible timeline resource, he will never need an in-depth alibi to prove he was falsely accused of murder, because it’s something he is completely, utterly prepared for. Maybe too prepared.

I can’t really do that with my blog. I used to post a lot more frequently when I was on LJ, but when I moved to my own domain, the sort of big-emotion confessional dear diary type thing I was publishing just felt less and less appropriate. And then for a few years work-wise I moved into a more visible place on the internet and talking about my daily life felt even less appropriate, and in that time period everyone got a lot more interconnected online, so I narrowed my focus to trips and primarily out of town trips so I didn’t have to deal with the ethical conundrum of publishing photos of my friends’ faces along with their real names and, like, photos of their homes and quotes from conversations they assumed were private. That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would encourage people to continue to be my friend. 

But as I was going through the photos I took in 2018, I realized there was so much that happened that I didn’t want to just disappear into the mental archives. I was going to post them all in a megapost, but I took all these photos and am therefore the most interested in them, and even I couldn’t scroll all the way down the page without feeling like I wanted to die. So instead, I’m divvying it up into several reasonable posts. Because as it turns out, a year is a long time.

 

Jason, Tristan and I went to the Frye Art Museum and ogled some art last January. The fabric in this painting is so beautifully rendered it blows my mind. 

The texture. THE TEXTURE. Look at that filmy tulle, that wrinkled satin, all with proper weight and drape.  Those frothy feathers in her hat make me want to light my art supplies on fire.

Knowing absolutely nothing about the subjects, I’d like to postulate that as the years passed and their marriage cooled, the gap between the portraits grew ever wider, eventually accommodating a third portrait featuring nothing but the table’s spare leaf and the family cat. I’ll further assume that one is in the hands of a private collector, and I’ve taken the liberty of recreating it here:

 

Cat photo by Nick Savchenko

 

I felt like both of these paintings are prime candidates for really good jokes but so far all I’ve been able to come up with are mediocre jokes.

 


 

Earlier in the year, I got on a real tear about looking at purchasing a larger property, spurred on by the arrival of the annual Puget Sound Special Olympics dream house raffle. For those of you outside of their mailing area, this raffle combines the heady, wholesome feel goodliness of giving to charity with the loin-rumpling allure of gambling and for your however-many-hundred dollar ticket, you could win page after glossy page of prizes. Dream vacations, luxury sedans, electronics…the grand prize was a waterfront mansion in a very ritzy part of Kirkland with a pool, hot tub, and a dock, OR you could choose to take four million dollars in cash instead. I did a little computer chair sleuthing and was able to determine exactly which home it was through satellite imagery because there’s only so much lakefront property in Kirkland with a pool  (because even the rich think an outdoor pool in the pacific northwest is an extravagance), and the shape of the pool itself is unique. Address in hand, I was able to get a better look inside from a time it had previously been on the market and literally none of that matters because if I won, I was obviously going to take the four million dollars. Obviously. It doesn’t matter if I liked or didn’t like the countertops, or if it seemed like the neighbors could see if I was in the hot tub, or if it ever gets a weird smell because it’s on the lake, or if I have to do some real self-reflection about whether I’m a living-in-a-mansion-on-the-waterfront kind of person, no. None of it matters. If I won, I would be in such a rush to take the money that when they called to let me know I won the grand prize, I would have already been there, taken the check, and all they’d hear is a ghost on the wind saying “I choooooseee the moooneeyyy” by the time they finished saying the word “prize”. On the phone. And then they’d hear my tires squealing in my rush to get to my financial institution to get it in my account before someone can strongarm me into taking the house because I choose the money

I started thinking about what I would buy with four million dollars (approximately 2 million dollars post taxes, the government would not want anyone’s loins getting too rumpled), and the conclusion that I came to was that I would buy land somewhere, a good horse property, and build a home, a barn, and a gothic cathedral of an arena. And then I realized you don’t need four million dollars to do that (except that last bit), so Jason and I started looking at properties. This place in North Bend wasn’t suitable for what we’d have to do to afford it but whoever ends up with that view is a lucky, lucky person. And they definitely shouldn’t just dump their horse crap in the stream like the owner at the time was doing because come on.

After checking out this place, we stayed at a nearby tiny house for the weekend to see what it was like and if we found the lifestyle suitable. The answer? Hard maybe. I could do it for a while (say, if we were traveling in it or visiting our retreat in it or living in it while we were building a new non-tiny home on our retreat) but I think the lack of personal space would be challenging for me and negotiating with a ladder for any middle of the night business isn’t something I’d be willing to do long-term. I also spent half of the first night overheated* and nervous about opening a window because what if a bear just happens to wander by and catch the scent of hot, salty human meat laying on a poorly defended slab, presumed easily reachable by bears? What I am saying is, I am the consummate outdoorsperson, precisely the sort of person who has business buying a parcel of land adjacent to wilderness. 

*And if I was that hot in the loft in February, how damn hot is it going to be up there in August?


My urgency with this idea has cooled, so we’re no longer spending one day per weekend at an open house or two, but I still open my realtor’s emails and casually browse plots of land. It could be such a good way to establish a friend-based community of slightly-larger-than-tiny homes and/or a way to be with my own horse on my own property that I can’t let the idea go. 


 

This is Angus, who was born into a litter of hairless kittens right around the time Poppy found her new home with my farrier. Angus had lots of curly red hair for a hairless kitten and he was very curious and cute. 

 


Two years ago, I planted a boatload of tulips in a patch of my landscaping. They came up great, and I was emboldened to plant more last year, with two colors interspersed in an organic, flowing shape in front of my house. This looked spectacular and so this year I bought and planted two hundred more bulbs including hyacinths and some others to fill in some other areas of the front yard and really make it scream SPRING. All the green moss on the roof would’ve coordinated nicely but sometimes glorious hobbitiness has to be sacrificed for the greater good of not needing to buy a new roof.

Last year at Halloween, my friends Daniel and Rebecca thoughtfully gave me some bulbs for dark purple/black tulips and their color was absolutely luscious and a true pleasure to behold on my patio, and I hope they come back.


This was, without a doubt, the most spesscell sandwich I had the entire year. Maybe in my life.

 


I haven’t traditionally grown the same things in my garden every year. For a while, I was focused on rare seeds and unusual varietals for unique tastes, then I tried to see how much sustenance I could grow in this relatively limited space. Both of these have had their successes and failures– the honeyberry bushes are just now starting to mature and make an amount of berries I can harvest and cook with and I’m excited to be able to do more experimentation with the flavor this summer. For failures, the moon and stars melons looked beautiful but it doesn’t get hot or sunny enough here to ripen them, I got busy and never ended up making marshmallows with the marshmallow root, and I grew and ate so much zucchini that I grew myself a zucchini intolerance and I’m pretty salty about it. Because of said saltiness, in 2018 I decided to grow only for beauty and the joy of flowers, and that’s part of how I ended up with a raised bed full of dahlias. The other part is because I went plant shopping with Emily at both Molbak’s and Flower World, and we both enable one another to buy far too many plants, which is definitely how I ended up with a peony plant so large it barely fit on Flower Worlds’ largest cart.

Until that peony bloomed, I feared every day that it wouldn’t, as I’ve had that happen with peonies I’ve attempted to grow previously due to lack of sunlight where I’d planted them. I didn’t even know what color this plant’s blooms would be and so I hovered over the buds every time I had occasion to be out in that part of the yard. The gentle release as the bloom sighed open mimicked my relief at having found a suitable part of the yard for them. Their creamy white petals with a splash of scarlet fringing toward the center were exquisite, as was their fragrance. 

I really got a lot of pleasure out of gardening this year. The dahlias kept such a heavy bloom that I was able to pick mini bouquets to brighten up various nooks of the house all summer and even into fall. I could’ve picked larger bouquets but I liked to be out among these huge clumps of flowers out on the beds and observe the ecosystem I’d created and the inhabitants who moved in, including a garter snake we named Hermes and, later in the year, some of Hermes’ children.


 

A surprise to my garden this year was this borage plant, the seeds of which had been part of an engagement party “grow your own tea” kit gift from my friend Beth, whose privacy I’ve probably egregiously violated more than anyone on my blog by reminiscing about all of the things we got up to during that first tumultuous year we knew one another and became very close friends, living abroad in Taipei. I planted them after she gave them to me, and they grew vigorously that first year, and grew back even more vigorously the second year, popping up from cracks in the cement and in entirely new planters. Last year there were none, so my imagine my surprise to see this spiky stalk emerging from the mint pot this year. The year that Beth died.

I feel a gutteral howl inside me whenever I confront the thought. At the loss, at the rage that comes in to fill the void. My friend Beth is dead. I’m so hot with anger and despair. I’m angry at the injustice that someone as good as Beth is gone, that surely if there were some…force guiding the lives of humanity they could find some way to spare the life of the woman who wore herself ragged caring for the sick and dying, who spent her life concerned with the needs of those less fortunate than herself. And oh, but I’m angry with Beth, too, for pushing everyone away, for being too proud to let anyone care for her, at her reticence to get care lest her coworkers discover she’s sick, for insisting she was fine and that no one pay her any mind while she was slipping away. Because damn it, she fooled me. I never thought she wouldn’t pull through, reasoning that I knew she was sick but if she was really sick she wouldn’t keep pushing me away and now she’s gone and here I am, knowing full well that I did not do anything to help my friend Beth before she died. I have to live with that.

I cried when the borage appeared.

 

A visit to Funko Pop Headquarters in Everett, WA

Wetmore Theatre Plaza

The only reason this photo is here is because I never want to forget “Duke of Churl”.

It’s appropriate that Funko’s logo contains a crown as they are the undisputed kings of the niche pop culture casual collector’s market (say that five times fast!). I see legions of their creepy blank dead eyes watching me from a surprisingly wide variety of retailers–not just comic shops and video game stores but also museum gift shops and the occasional grocery store (?!). They’re everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous that somehow even I have one and you know how I feel about them because I just called them creepy two sentences ago! And it really makes sense–they’ve got a product that taps into nostalgia and is easy to mass produce at a price point that people don’t think twice about. They’re like…licensed beanie babies, except there’s thousands of designs from nearly every tv, movie, and game that ever had its moment in the pop culture lexicon. There’s even a Princess Diana pop figure that you can add to your collection

Funko’s brand new world headquarters opened up in Everett in August 2017. Given their massive popularity and its relative proximity to my home,  and furthermore knowing I’ve escorted out of town visitors to the space needle approximately 1,354 times (it’s a very rough estimate but it feels right), I knew that I never needed to self-motivate toward the Funko headquarters but that someday I’d find myself there all the same. And sure enough, less than a year after opening, I found myself inside Funko’s world. 

I do have to say that world is very appealing: candy-colored and larger than life, everything for sale in a setting that feels like its natural environment. Because the company’s most well known products are all housed in virtually identical packaging, these larger setpieces are vital to create an atmosphere of play rather than of a warehouse. It’s also in these setpieces that Funko feels less calculated, less (in their own words) focused on “rapid growth in the licensed gift and novelty world” and more like a really big fan of that thing that you love–and not just a fan of media but a fan of fandom, a meta-fandom, if you will, one that celebrates a person’s ability to fork out ten bucks every time they see a slightly different piece of plastic that reminds them of something better they like.  Whew, that might be a speed record for sliding back into cynicism!

…because I know somewhere you can get a lot of it. Especially if you need an unbent wookiee.