Archive | April, 2016

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An Evening with Authors

If you’re a creative person, you know that sometimes you may feel a little stuck, uninspired, or you may feel your passion waning a bit. It happens to all of us whether that passion is writing, painting, design, photography, etc… Sometimes, all it takes is sharing a few hours with like minded people to get those creative juices flowing again. Whether you’re an avid reader, or enjoy creative writing, these events are fun and thought provoking. Plus it’s interesting  to meet the person behind the book.

This past week, May and June attended two author events in the Chicago area. All were authors from Chicago. Saturday evening we spent a few hours with Elizabeth Crane at the beautiful Hemingway Museum in Oak Park.  The event was sponsored as part of a series created by the author Elizabeth Berg, called Writing Matters.

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The Hemingway Museum

 Elizabeth Crane is the author of three collections of short stories- When the Messenger is Hot, All this Heavenly Gloryand You Must Be This Happy to EnterShe also has two novels, We Only Know So Much and The History of Great ThingsShe discussed her writing style as well as how her mother has always been a huge inspiration for her writing.  Her mother was an opera singer and they had a complicated relationship, which as a result has given her a lot to write about. Betsy Crane writes an interesting genre called autobiographical fiction.  So it seems to walk the border somewhere between memoir and fiction.

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We also attended an event on Tuesday evening at a nearby public library, with authors Brigid Pasulka, author of A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True, and Rebecca Makkah, who wrote The Hundred Year House.  They both spoke about their writing process, what inspired their stories, and answered questions from the audience.

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Both of these authors’ books have elements of historical fiction in them. Neither May nor June have read them, but they are now on our short list of books to read, and we look forward to sharing them with you.

One thing that was interesting about all three of these authors is that none of them have MFA degrees in creative writing.  Instead, all three really just became writers by doing something they love, writing.

Also, when all three writers talked about their books, none of them set out to write a novel. Betsy Crane said that she is really a short story writer and for both her novels, she started a short story and then kept going. Rebecca Makkai’s novel also started out as a short story which didn’t work, so she decided it needed to be a novel.  Unfortunately, that novel fell flat, however her interest in the history of the house became the subject matter for the novel that grew into The Hundred Year House. Similarly, Brigid Pasulka wrote a lot of stories about Poland that she put in a drawer. Then, while on vacation in Poland, the rest of the story came together. The part she had previously written and her more recent words intertwined, resulting in her novel.

All of the writers are currently working on other projects, but they also have day jobs as writing teachers. One thing that was startling was how long the timeline was for publishing. For a few of the writers, the actual writing of the novel took seven or eight years, and then after the story was sold, two more years to publish.

As book lovers  (and for at least one of us (June) an aspiring novelist), we always find it so interesting to learn about the writer’s creative process. These were very interesting events and inspired us to come home and be creative.  —May and June

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Why You Need to Go on Vacation

I went on vacation last week.  For most of you this is probably not a major event, but for me this was a major milestone.  The sad truth is that my husband and I could not remember the last time we had taken a true vacation.  My husband’s family lives very far away from us and over the last couple of years, there have been many family events that have required us to travel to them.  So, most of our time off has been used to attend these events and while we love visiting family, it is not the same as a true getaway.  Plus there is always an excuse for not going on vacation- not enough money, not enough time, too much to do at work, etc.

This time though we were locked in.  My husband had a conference for an organization he volunteers for, and the conference happened to be about two hours from Nashville.  It was fortuitous because we have been talking about visiting Nashville for a couple of years.  I love country music so I was excited to visit.  So we booked our hotel, got a dog sitter for Gatsby and packed our bags.  I do admit on the day before we left I had some second thoughts, when I was dealing with my crabby boss giving me a hard time because I was going to be gone.  However, this is the thing, vacation is so worth it and while I can tell you all of the fun things we did in Nashville (which I will be happy to do if you want to know) I got so much more out of it than just seeing a few interesting things.

While we cannot get away from it all because it seems that information, the news and social media are everywhere, it was rejuvenating to reduce the amount of it for awhile.  For most of the week we did not check or watch the news, which meant we were not inundated with the crazy presidential campaign, plus we were a bit insulated from others tragedies and there was just less noise.  I think being informed is so important but at times it is also overwhelming.  I enjoyed for a little bit to reduce some of the outside noise from the media.  I think I am going to try and remember this at home and turn off the television and step away from the computer at times.

In a similar vein, I also reduced the number of times I looked at emails, Facebook and Instagram.  I also tried to be present to where I was and to the company I was with, and reduced the amount of texting I did.  I really tried to enjoy the present moment.  Often, we get so caught up in all of these relationships that we have, that we sometimes are not as present in the relationship that is occurring right in the moment.  My husband and I sat and enjoyed each other’s company at meals, we enjoyed concerts and other entertainment and yes, while we did share some of that on social media, we tried not to be sharing every moment.

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(Our moment of fame on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry)

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(Under the moon of the neon lights…. Oh wait I think that’s the lyrics to a country song)

It is good to just go have fun.  I will admit I am very goal oriented.  As a result my days are often scheduled and full of routine.  Vacation is a nice break from that routine.  Yes, we did have some scheduling.  And yes I did make some plans.  But we did try and go with the flow for some of our time on vacation.  We often ate meals at non-traditional times.  I did not eat a lot vegetables during the week and I went to bed late.  It felt good to get out of my box.

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(I was pretending that I could sing)

Experiencing something new even if it is not a great experience with your loved one can bring you together.  Because the first night of our vacation was actually my husband’s volunteer conference, we had to stay in a hotel booked by the organization.  It was a skeevy and creepy hotel.  The best thing I can say about it is that we did not get bed bugs and we were not murdered in our sleep.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.  However, going through this together actually gave us a lot of laughs for a good part of the week.  And on a better note discovering new restaurants, new bars and a new city together was exciting and bonded us in a way that does not happen when we are at home and in our day-to-day routine.

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(All the pretty boots lined up and no I did not go home with any new boots.)

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(I love magnolia wreaths but I think I am going to need a lot more leaves before I can make my own.  Maybe I should just order one.)

One thing I really loved about Nashville is because so much of the city revolves around the music industry, and especially up and coming artists, it has an artistic vibe that was good for my artist’s soul.  I am by no means musical (although I did have a fleeting thought that I should learn to play the guitar) but just being around all those people following their artistic dreams inspired me to be more creative.  One cool thing we did was attend the Bluebird Cafe open mike night.  This is an opportunity for undiscovered songwriters to perform.  Some of them were more experienced than others but I give all of them a lot of credit for getting up there on stage and performing their original work.

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(The famous Bluebird Cafe.  Garth Brooks was discovered here.  Parts of the television show Nashville are filmed here.  We enjoyed this view from the parking lot for a while when we stood in line.)

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(I wanted to take her home from Antique Archaeology but alas she was not for sale.)

IMG_3825(I loved that the songwriters hand write their songs.  I often hand write things because it helps me think.  Note to schools that are no longer teaching handwriting.  This was Taylor Swift’s first hit song “Tim McGraw.”)

 

I love fancy hotels.  This is not a new discovery but just something I am reminded of every time we have the opportunity to stay in one.  We had the chance to stay in the fancy Hermitage Hotel for one night as a treat. It was lovely.  There is nothing like staying in a hotel that is heads and tails far superior to your own house.  We came back from being out for the evening to the bed neatly turned down, fancy slippers and robes and bottles of waters and cookies.  There is nothing like that level of service and pampering that says it better that you are vacation.  I was ready to move in but Tom would not let me, so sadly I had to come home.

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(My fancy slippers)

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(Selfie in the lobby of the Hermitage Hotel)

 I think I must be a bit of a Southern girl at heart.  I have always lived in the Northern United States.  My paternal grandparents and my dad (for part of his life) were from the Ozarks.  Listening to true country music (not the pop country music on the radio), blue grass music, eating fried chicken, driving through rolling hills and seeing the rocks where the road had to be cut through brought me a sense of peace.  It’s strange because other than probably a week or two each year, I never spent any time in the South.  And because my grandmother died in 2001, I have not spent any time in the South since then.  However, I felt like there was a little piece of me that was complete being in that space.  Maybe I need that sense of place for my soul.

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(Rosco P Coltrane and Flash from the Dukes of Hazard.)

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(We enjoyed some country cooking at the Loveless Cafe.)

Finally, I needed a vacation to be better at my job.  Before leaving on vacation, I was just plain tired and work was drudgery.  I cannot say that I was excited to come back to work, but I did come back a little refreshed and renewed and ready to tackle the challenges of the next few months.  I also brought back a few cool souvenirs to remind me of all the fun we had, and also to help me to remember that the next time I question whether or not to go on vacation, we should just do it.  –June

 

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Call the Midwife

Happy Monday! I hope you all enjoyed the glorious weather here in the midwest this past weekend. Bob and I woke up our bikes from their winter slumber, and enjoyed getting out on the trails again.

I want to share with you one of my favorite shows. It’s on PBS, and the series is Call the Midwife.

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The fifth season of Call the Midwife started three weeks ago, and I’m still in love with it. The show is based on the memoirs of the late Jennifer Worth, a nurse and midwife in England. The series begins in East London in the middle 1950’s and focuses on the lives of midwives who live in a community of nuns, who are also nurses. They provide the poorest women, who are pregnant, with the best possible health care.

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I have been watching this series since it’s premiere five seasons ago, and haven’t lost interest which can often happen after a series has been on a few years. The main characters are very human in that they are all flawed in some way, making it easy to identify with them.

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In addition to bringing the audience into the homes of the many expectant mothers in this poor community, we also get a peek into the social issues of the time period. These include abortion, infidelity, and homosexuality, and we see how these issues affect the people living there. A few years back the show went through a bit of a transition, when a few of the characters including the main character Jenny, played by Jessica Raine, decided to leave the show to move on to other adventures. I was a little worried that the series would lose some of its luster, but I wasn’t disappointed. The new characters have been every bit as interesting, and the show has kept its momentum.

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This wonderful series is sensitive, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at the same time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been choked up by the end of an episode. Each story is filled with heart and beautifully written.

If you aren’t already a fan of the show, no worries. You can catch up with the past seasons on Netflix, or check out pbs.org.

Have a wonderful week. ~May

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April Book Reads

Happy Friday!  How about some good reads for the weekend?   It looks like the weather may be gorgeous here.  In that case we will simply take our reading outside.  This month we have a book that is on the best sellers list, a work of historical fiction that is a collaborative work by three best selling authors, and an older work by one of our favorite authors.

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

A Man Called Ove

From Amazon:

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. “If there was an award for ‘Most Charming Book of the Year,’ this first novel by a Swedish blogger-turned-overnight-sensation would win hands down” (Booklist, starred review).

May’s Review: I first heard about this book from June, and when I checked out the story, I wasn’t sure it was going to be “my cup of tea” so to speak. However, June loved it and since we pretty much share the same taste in books, I decided to give it a go- and loved it! By the end of the story, I had fallen in love with this shall we say prickly man called Ove. I laughed and shed a few tears throughout the story and was completely entertained by its cast of quirky characters. The author, Fredrik Backman is a native of Sweden, and this book was translated. Sometimes, the essence of the story can be lost in translation, but I’m happy to say this story kept its charm. I enjoyed it so much, I’ve put one of his newer releases, My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She’s Sorry, on hold at the library.

June’s Review:  I was completely charmed and smitten with this book.  I have probably said this before but I love books (and also movies and television shows) with characters that are quirky and a little off and you certainly have that here.  In the beginning, Ove is not really very likeable and is really my version of a nightmare, busybody neighbor.  However, when you find out the reason behind his surly demeanor you feel sorry for him and realize that he has suffered so much loss.  Fortunately for Ove people come into his life that decide they are going to love him in spite of himself.  This is such a touching story of how one person and one small deed can have a great impact on a person’s world. At the end I did need tissues but they were for the best type of happy sad tears that I love.

The Forgotten Room: A Novel by Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

The Forgotten Room

From Amazon:

New York Times bestselling authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig present a masterful collaboration—a rich, multigenerational novel of love and loss that spans half a century….

1945: When the critically wounded Captain Cooper Ravenal is brought to a private hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, young Dr. Kate Schuyler is drawn into a complex mystery that connects three generations of women in her family to a single extraordinary room in a Gilded Age mansion.

Who is the woman in Captain Ravenel’s portrait miniature who looks so much like Kate?  And why is she wearing the ruby pendant handed down to Kate by her mother?  In their pursuit of answers, they find themselves drawn into the turbulent stories of Gilded Age Olive Van Alen, driven from riches to rags, who hired out as a servant in the very house her father designed, and Jazz Age Lucy Young, who came from Brooklyn to Manhattan in pursuit of the father she had never known.  But are Kate and Cooper ready for the secrets that will be revealed in the Forgotten Room? 

The Forgotten Room, set in alternating time periods, is a sumptuous feast of a novel brought to vivid life by three brilliant storytellers.

May’s Review: I’m always excited to read a work of historical fiction, and wasn’t sure how this story by three authors was going to read. This was the first novel I’ve read by these authors, and it’s  a love story, that focuses on three women who are all connected by family, in three different eras. I have to say these authors did a beautiful job of connecting this story, and I would love to know how they went about writing it. I liked all  the characters in this story and always looked forward to each chapter’s period in time. This was a pretty fast read and I found it very enjoyable.

June’s Review:  This work of historical fiction is set in three different time periods with an intertwined story line.  The characters are all connected and this results in a mystery of sorts for the reader to sift through.  I was concerned that because the book was written by three authors that the story would be stilted and disjointed but it was not.  In fact, I would be very interested to know how they wrote the book together since I could not tell which part was written by which author (I have read other books by Beatriz Williams and can recommend them).  I was a bit distracted during the book that someone was going to end up going to bed with someone that maybe shouldn’t because they were related so maybe they did not give enough clues in the puzzle for the reader to figure out soon enough.  All in all this was an enjoyable and quick read.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

The House of Sprits

From Amazon:

The unforgettable first novel that established Isabel Allende as one of the world’s most gifted and imaginative storytellers.

The House of the Spirits brings to life the triumphs and tragedies of three generations of the Trueba family. The patriarch Esteban is a volatile, proud man whose voracious pursuit of political power is tempered only by his love for his delicate wife, Clara, a woman with a mystical connection to the spirit world. When their daughter Blanca embarks on a forbidden love affair in defiance of her implacable father, the result is an unexpected gift to Esteban: his adored granddaughter Alba, a beautiful and strong-willed child who will lead her family and her country into a revolutionary future.

One of the most important novels of the twentieth century, The House of the Spirits is an enthralling epic that spans decades and lives, weaving the personal and the political into a universal story of love, magic, and fate.

May’s Review: For those of you who loved The Japanese Lover, I strongly suggest you read Isabel Allende’s first novel, The House of Spirits, which was written in 1982. I absolutely loved it! It’s a book that travels through four generations of a family in post colonial Chile. The book also explores the political struggles between Marxists and Capitalists and there’s a little magic woven into this story which I always love. This was a complex book, with a lot going on and it took a little bit more of my attention, but it was so worth it. Isabel Allende is an absolutely beautiful writer, and I highly recommend this book.

June’s Review:  This was Isabel Allende’s first novel and really is one of my favorite books of all time.  I have to admit I have not read this novel in a long time and I was hoping to pick it up to read it again before our little review here this month.  However, as always Isabel Allende’s writing is magical and masterful.  This book is a look at Chilean history and one thing to know is that Isabel Allende is the niece of Salvador Allende, the socialist president that was democratically elected and was later killed by the dictator, Pinochet.  All of my favorite elements are here of love and history and the mystical.  If you have not read this classic, I highly recommend it.

Enjoy your weekend.  –May and June

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Shed Project Management

We have needed a new backyard shed for a few years.  We have a smaller house with a small two car garage and because we like to park both cars in the garage, we do not have a lot of storage.  That means that an outdoor shed is really essential.  A shed was already in our backyard when we bought our house, but it was old back then, and over the last eight years has been getting in worse and worse shape.  One of the walls was rotting and you could see through it and every time there was a storm (or even a light breeze it seemed), a few more shingles from the roof would blow into the yard.  So we decided that this was the year!  No one said home ownership was glamorous.

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So I don’t know how your marriage or household works, but in our relationship there are certain projects or tasks that I take responsibility for, and there are others that are my husband’s responsibility.  For big matters we definitely seek input from the other, but someone has to be in charge, and one person cannot be in charge of everything.  So, for many things it is divide and conquer.  This shed project fell under my husband’s list.

The two of us together picked out the new shed.  Last fall we started looking for a new shed.  We checked out some of the big box stores and then we found a shed specialty franchiser near our house.   However, we did not buy it at the time because it was November and we knew we were not putting a new shed up in the middle of winter, so we waited  until spring.

One thing that is interesting in relationships is how each of you in the relationship has strengths and weaknesses, and how those attributes can balance each other.  I have known this for awhile but I observed this quite clearly during what I will now call “The Shed Project.”

For people who do not know my husband, here are some things that you need to know about him that are important to The Shed Project.  He is very, very smart.  He has an undergraduate degree in Physics Engineering (I do not even know what that is, probably because the word physics alone scares me) and a graduate engineering degree from MIT.  He is extremely analytical and left-brained.  If I ask him to hang up pictures in our house, the tape measure and the level come out.  If I hang up a picture in our house I eyeball it on the wall, get out the hammer, and put in the nail.  He wrote a thesis and I cannot even understand the title, let alone any of the content.  He has taken more math classes than I even knew existed (my niece and nephew have taken advantage of this and he is frequently called on to help with math homework).  He keeps spreadsheets for our finances and his hobbies tend to be things that are tedious, involving details and precision.  However, time management is not his strength.  Although he means well, he constantly underestimates how long it is going to take him to do something.  Also, he does not do a lot of physical labor type projects.  He is great at fixing our computers and all things electrical in our house, but other house projects are generally not his area of expertise. We tend to hire what he likes to call our “extended team” for those things.

Things to know about me is that I am innately good at time management.  If I have a large project or a party to plan I tend to work backward and know how long it is going to take me to complete all of the steps to get to the end result.  I never pulled an all-nighter in college or law school because of this, since all of my work was done with time to spare.  However, I tend to spitball precise projects (see hanging pictures) and as a result often get frustrated when something doesn’t look quite right.  My hobbies tend to the more creative such as crafts, reading and writing.

Finally, the weather broke and we went and purchased the shed.  We decided on a classic barn style shed in a traditional red and white color scheme.  My husband spent a lot of time worrying about the size. Even though this one had the same  footprint, it was going to be substantially taller.  He measured several times.  I, picturing it in my minds eye without a tape measure, kept telling him it would be fine.

The franchise had a price for the shed and install, but then wanted to charge extra for items such as procuring the permit (our village requires a permit for a new shed) and also the demolition and removal of our old shed.  When my brothers were told about that, they were quick to volunteer to help my husband with the demolition of the old shed.

There were months of planning for the new shed.  I think my husband applied for the permit at the end of February.  We had it within a week.  Then he had to plan when to remove the contents of old shed, when to demolish the old shed, and then when the new shed would be installed.  Because the items from the shed were going to be stored on the back porch in the meantime, my only requirement was that The Shed Project was finished so that I could enjoy porch season starting in May.

I think there was so much thought into The Shed Project because he knew about his time management issues. I heard about every step of the project many, many times. Here’s another difference between us.  Most of my planning goes on in my head and then gets done.  Apparently, my husband likes to plan these things out loud to a sounding board.

So finally the shed was emptied of its contents and a date was set to demolish the old shed.  However, we had to have a way to get rid of the old shed because our garbage pickup will not simply take these items if they are out by the curb.  We had to get a dumpster service.  This is where I saw our differences up close and personal.  I looked at the shed and pictured the size of the dumpster in my brain, with no real reference to how big it really was, and thought no problem, it will fit.  My husband measured the old shed and then took the measurements of the dumpster and did math (I’m not sure what kind of math) to figure out that yes in fact the old shed once demolished would fit in the dumpster.

The April Saturday slated for demolition dawned sunny but cold, and the demo team of Tom and my two brothers showed up ready to work in exchange for the promise of beer and pizza once done.  Had I been thinking, I would have gotten all of them Chip Gaines favorite t-shirt “#Demo Day.”

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(Striking a manly pose before the first swing)

Unfortunately, I missed part of the entertainment, but from what I understand, the support beams were knocked out with sledge hammers after the doors were removed, and the shed just collapsed in a fairly neat pile.  I was teasing all of them beforehand that I had my very own Big Bang Theory in the backyard.  They were the start of a bad joke beginning with- what do you get when a Chief Information Security Officer, an Executive Librarian, and a High School AP History Teacher with four graduate degrees between them knock down a shed?  However, they did a great job. The shed was removed and no one had to go to the emergency room.

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And last week the company came to install our new shed.  Isn’t she pretty?

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The Shed Project seems to have come to a successful conclusion.   We have a few small matters left to complete including a light fixture installation and getting the stuff off my porch and back in the shed, but I think we can safely say that my husband did a great job. –June

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Fight Like a Girl

A few weeks back, my mom told me about a women’s self defense class that she and my niece were going to attend at a local high school. The class was three hours on a Sunday afternoon for girls thirteen and older. With Nicole going off to college in the fall, and Alyssa next year, I thought a class like this would probably be a good idea, so we all went.

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FIRE is a Maga-based self-defense system created by women and taught to women. The course is called Fight Like a Girl, and we attended the first class in a series of three. The goal of the course is to empower women of all ages by giving them the ability to defend themselves in a variety of assault situations, including those with multiple attackers or attackers with weapons.

I had taken self-defense in the past, but nothing was quite like what we all experienced in this particular class. After learning and practicing some simple yet very effective techniques, we were all put to the test and underwent several lifelike attacks, fighting back using the defense techniques we all learned. There were several men of all different ages and sizes that worked with us. They had pads for their protection, and we were all expected to fight as if our lives depended on it. I actually woke up the next day to sore wrists from being grabbed so many times. As intimidating as this class was, I left feeling that I could actually have a fighting chance, if I were to be attacked.

Here is a scary statistic. 1 in 4 college students will be the victim of some type of sexual assault on campus. 1 in 4!! I don’t know about you, but I want my girls to have the tools to fight back in any type of attack. Now of course, the best defense in any situation like this is to be aware, listen to your gut, and not put yourself in a position where you could be vulnerable. I remember when I was in college, a group of us girls had a pact that we never walk alone from the library or anywhere else after dark.

All the women attending this class were there for one purpose, to survive and escape an attack. The girls and I will definitely be attending the second class this summer.

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A Typical Class

Shannon Bruess is the FIRE creator and chief instructor. This is a safe and effective class that trains women to defend themselves. In the near future, Shannon hopes to have the Fight Like a Girl defense class in local high schools, for senior girls.

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These girls are ready!

For more information regarding classes call:

(847) 458-0938

Or visit the website

www.focusma.com

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Happy Hour – Let’s Celebrate Spring

Happy Friday!  The weather forecasters are promising us some spring temperatures this weekend, and June is taking a nice little trip with her husband to Nashville for a long overdue getaway.  So what better way to celebrate both than with a little Friday Happy Hour.

This Happy Hour was intended to be a working Happy Hour since we had some blog business that needed our attention. However, after we took about three sips of our cocktails, there was no work happening.  These cocktails were strong.  May had to drive home so she stopped early and drank water, and June stopped shortly after.  She had to take a little rest after May went home.

Prosecco and Limoncello Cocktail

3 parts chilled Prosecco

1 part chilled Limocello

Fresh blackberries and raspberries

Fresh mint sprigs for garnish

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Mix Prosecco and Limoncello. Garnish with raspberries and or blackberries and a few sprigs of mint.  If it’s a little strong for your taste, top with a little more Prosecco.

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For our appetizer we enjoyed a little brie and crackers. These cocktails may look innocent, however you definitely don’t want to drink these on an empty stomach.

Brie with Wine Soaked Blackberries

6 oz fresh blackberries

1/2 cup of red wine

2 tsp sugar

1 8 0z round brie

Dissolve sugar in wine.  Let blackberries sit in wine for at least 1/2  hour although longer is better.  Heat oven to 350.  Cut top rind off brie.  Bake brie for 10-15 minutes until warm and gooey (if it came in the wooden box you can bake it in there, otherwise put it in a round ramekin).  Spoon blackberries over the top.  Serve with crackers or a baguette.

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Have a good weekend and enjoy the beautiful spring weather.  –May and June

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UGG Driving Moc

More Spring Shoes – That Won’t Freeze Your Toes

We are having a shoe week here at May Meets June.  There are certain things I love to recommend to other people.  Books are the top of the list but I also like to pick out shoes for people.  My mom will often tell me that she needs a new pair of a certain kind of shoe and she will get an email from me with several links to Zappos with various choices.  And I love all of the pairs May picked out for comfy sandals for walking and travel on Monday (although I did tell her the yoga sandals were a little weird).  However, it is not quite sandal weather yet but lately every time I put on my favorite pair of booties I have a visceral reaction to them and want to throw up (I also have this reaction to my winter coat, my cozy grey cardigan and any other wardrobe piece I have been wearing for the last 5 months).  So since my body is obviously screaming for spring but it does not especially appreciate frostbitten toes I decided to show you some of my favorite pairs for that in between time of booties and sandals.

OTBT Springfield

OTBT Shoes

May and I hit up this little shoe store in downtown Arlington Heights on Friday afternoon when we were supposed to be working called Tootsies Shoes.  They were having a great sale and I picked up this pair of shoes that I had admired a couple of times when I had been in there.  My pair are a little lighter colored brown so I think they will make a great spring shoe and will even work well into summer.  I like to keep my toes covered even in the summer when I am commuting downtown or I am going to be in a large crowd of people.  I have a weird thing about germs and also have a thing about having my toes stepped on.

Clarks Feature Film

Clarks Feature Film

I have these shoes in a gold metallic (which sadly I could not find) and I wear them all of the time.  They seem to have them in silver this year instead.  They are very comfortable.  And the best part for me is that they are Mary Janes.  I love Mary Jane shoes.

UGG Aven

UGG Driving Moc

Driving moccasins are always a great option this time of year.  The outer sole has enough toughness to it that it will hold you up in case you hit a patch of that tricky black ice.  I have a similar pair that I have worn for years and they are always the first pair of shoes that I reach for when the weather changes enough for my to wear shoes with no socks.

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Dansko Thea

Dansko Thea

I love a good clog and these are great because they are sandal like but they cover up your toes.  I have them from a couple of seasons ago in a fun spring green color which gives my outfits a pop of color even when I’m stuck wearing that cozy grey cardigan.  IMG_3743

I ended up wearing them to the bridal brunch May hosted in the April blizzard-like conditions and my feet did not turn to ice cubes.

Skechers Go Walk

Skechers

I love my Skechers Go Walk shoes.  They are a little cuter on then they appear on any website and they have some fun patterns and colors too if you want a little more pop.  I like them because they feel like athletic shoes but are not so clunky and you do not have to wear socks.  I will also tell you they were the only shoes that got me through a severely sprained ankle two summers ago and a broken toe last summer.  I finally replaced my beloved pair since they practically walked themselves to the garbage can.

I think this weekend I may put those winter shoes and booties to rest in the closet and break out some of these in between shoes until we finally hit sandal weather.  Of course it being Chicago that could be next week or it could be the 4th of July, you never know.  –June

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Great Sandals for Travel and Walking

As summer approaches (even though our recent temps have been more like winter!),we continue to shed the layers of the last several months, storing the parkas, heavy sweaters, and of course we can’t forget about our cold weather shoes and boots.  I’m such a warm weather girl and love to be barefoot as often as possible. However, when shoes are required, I want to wear a sandal that feels as if I’m not wearing anything at all.

I love pretty shoes and have always admired Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City) as she gracefully leaps over puddles on the streets of New York City in her Manolo Blahnik stilettos. She made it look so effortless, so easy. As for me, I’m more like Monica from Friends, who had to be carried piggyback by Chandler because her very fashionable boots were killing her feet. Honestly, I don’t know how women do it. My spirit is always willing, but my feet just can’t handle the torture of being enclosed in very beautiful, yet very impractical footwear. I always have plenty of Band-Aids in my purse for the inevitable blisters that always appear after a few hours.

We recently spent several days in a warm climate, and I knew there would be a lot of walking involved so before we left, I decided to do a little research on the best walking/traveling sandal.  This can be a little tricky because let’s face it, there isn’t one perfect sandal for every body. We come in all shapes and sizes, and this includes our feet, and for me, it goes beyond function and comfort. It has to be stylish too.

So here are a few options that got high marks.

Naot Sabrina:

These sandals got a very good customer review, and shortly before my trip, I ordered them from Nordstrom. I have another pair of Naot sandals that I love, so I knew the brand would work with my high arch and narrow foot. It did not disappoint, and in fact, I love them. I didn’t have a chance to break them in before my trip which made me a little apprehensive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought “comfortable shoes,” only to end up with painful blisters. I put these on and ended up walking several miles the first time wearing them, and my feet felt wonderful. They’re cute and look great with just about anything. I bought the black and brown, however they also come in other color combinations. Again, I LOVED these!!

Naot Sandal

Naot Dorith:

Here is another sandal by Naot, which I want to share with you because they are also oh so comfy if you’re going to be on your feet a long time. I have them in silver, but they also are available in other color combinations and look great with skirts, shorts, and those cute little ankle pants.

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Teva Flip Flops:

If you’re looking for a flip flop with a little extra support, Teva has a nice selection. I’ve been wearing them for years. They are perfect for the beach or running errands. I bought them in a wedge which is nice if you’re a little vertically challenged.

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Birkenstock Arizona:

It has been many years since I’ve owned a pair of Birkenstocks. I have to be honest with you, I just don’t think they’re very cute. The pair I had were comfortable, but I didn’t wear them very often because I always felt like I had shoe boxes on my feet. Recently, the brand has enjoyed a surge in popularity, and I have to admit, I’ve been tempted. I’ve seen many Pinterest boards showing them with dresses, pants, shorts, and leggings and I have to say, they always look great. I don’t know, maybe I’m paying more attention to the outfit rather then the shoes, but truthfully,  I’m thinking about giving them a second chance.

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Yoga Sandals:

June and I have been taking a pilates class together, and our instructor always has these on and raves about them. I’ve known about them for years, but just didn’t think having all my toes separated would be very comfortable. Yoga sandals are known to provide proper heel support, and the gentle spreading of the toes provides alignment, stability, and balance.  I found these on Amazon. I may try them out this summer, and I think they would be a great flip flop for pedicures also.

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So there you have it. My comfy walking sandal recommendations. I know there is cheaper footwear out there, believe me, I’ve tried them all. However, for me it is worth the money to take care of my feet. Let’s face it, our feet do a lot carrying us around all day and they deserve to be cared for properly. Now, with that said, I do still own some very pretty, very impractical footwear. I can’t help it, I love pretty shoes. I just save them for those occasions when I know I won’t be on my feet for long periods of time. Coming soon, I’ll share some of my comfort summer wedges and heels.

Enjoy your week. ~May

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Working Out with a Friend

How many of you have a regular exercise schedule? A time that is specifically devoted to taking care of your body? Unless you are extremely dedicated, or it’s been part of your daily routine for many years, getting motivated to workout regularly can be a little challenging. We always seem to find an excuse for not working out….we don’t have time, we’re too tired, we can’t stay motivated, etc.  Well, have you ever tried working out with a partner?

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Many of us feel that we’re alone in this “must stay fit” world we live in. Sometimes, the answer to staying motivated is as simple as sharing the workout. Years ago, May regularly worked out with a friend at a local health club. Sure, the 5am wake up call was rather miserable, however once we got to the gym and into our routine, we forgot about the time, challenged each other, and always felt better when the workout was finished. May’s pups over the years have also been wonderful workout buddies. We want our canine family members to live long healthy lives, and getting out and walking everyday is as important for them, as it is for us. Sawyer and May walk daily, sometimes twice a day if the weather is nice. How about working out with your significant other?  June and her husband along with Gatsby often walk together after work and take longer walks on the weekend.  Not only is it nice to get out and get some exercise, but it is also a nice time to reconnect and get away from the distractions of phones and the television.

May and June both have regular workout routines on their own, but they also have attended a regular yoga class together for several years (although May is a little less regular than June, especially during the winter months), and recently, we were offered an opportunity to work out in a semi-private pilates class at our yoga studio. The program was for six weeks, working out side by side on a pilates reformer.

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May had done mat pilates in the past, but got rather bored with it after a while. The reformer was new to both of us, and we have to admit, a little intimidating. Even though our instructor was pretty easy on us at our first class, our bodies were definitely talking to us the next day. We are going into our fourth class now and although we have each experienced some challenges, we are also really enjoying the classes. It’s been fun doing something new together, and we both feel our bodies getting stronger in a different way when compared to some of our other exercise routines. We laugh, make faces at each other after a particularly difficult exercise (of course our instructor doesn’t see this ;)), and always feel a sense of accomplishment when we’re finished. We also have someone to complain to the next day (or the next day or the next day, you see where this is going) when we feel the aches, in a good way, from our workout.  It is nice to do a new workout or class with a partner because I don’t know about you but it always intimidating to try something new.  Doing it with a friend makes you a little braver.  Who knows, maybe we’ll do another six weeks?

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So grab a friend, your dog, spouse, or sibling and make it a priority to start moving together. Your body and health will thank you for it, plus you’ll have some fun too!!

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Move your body, eat well, and love yourself.

Have a wonderful weekend. ~May and June

 

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A Spring Yard Tour

My Grandma and Grandpa Shepard lived in very Southern Missouri.  It was so far south that you could walk to Arkansas.  But what that meant was that spring came early and winter came late, resulting in a very long growing season.  And both of my grandparents loved to garden.  As gardeners they also loved to show off their gardens so when we went to visit, we would all go on a little yard tour to appreciate their hard work.

They had a little rock house on a corner lot which sat at the apex of where two hills met.  This meant that the yard had a steep incline from the front to the back.  In fact, if you walked down the sidewalk on the side of the house, you’ll see that the city built a few steps because the incline was so steep.  There were some big hills in that town.  Because of the hill in the yard, the garden was broken up a bit to any flat piece of land.  My grandma loved to grow flowers and she lined her front walkway and all around the front of the house with flowers.  She had irises (which she called flags), dahlias and peonies.  I am sure there were others which I do not remember now, although she was into big showy flowers.

When my grandpa was living they had two vegetable gardens at their house, and because that was not enough, he had a big vegetable garden at someone else’s house.  They always grew lots of tomatoes with the goal being to have ripe tomatoes by the Fourth of July.  In Southern Missouri that often was a reality where here in Chicago, we are happy if we have ripe tomatoes by the middle of August.  They also grew lots of peppers both sweet and the hottest ones they could stand, plus cucumbers, green beans, pole beans, sugar snap peas and okra.  And my grandma would also plant flowers there including sunflowers and zinnias.

I can remember going on these yard tours when we would visit.  My dad always liked to garden so I am sure they just wanted to show my dad their garden, and because I was kind of a nosy kid who didn’t want to think I was going to miss anything, I just tagged along.  So when I recently found myself in my backyard having my own yard tour searching for signs of spring, it brought back some of those memories.  Also, I am so jealous that when we would visit my grandparents for Easter they already had flowers blooming.  For all of my cousins reading this who live south of me in Florida, Texas and Kentucky, you will probably laugh that this is all of the signs my yard is showing of spring.  I was excited though!  Especially because the day after I took these pictures we had crazy wind and snow.  At times it was snowing so hard it looked like a blizzard outside.  April in Chicago is not kind, but I think there is hope.

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I think these technically are weeds that grow in my garden but they are pretty so I let them stay.

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The first signs that my peonies are coming up.  Peonies are my absolute favorite flower.  Apparently I take after my grandmother and love the big showy flowers.

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The magnolia tree is getting close to flowering.

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I love when we can see St. Francis again.  My father-in-law bought this for us for our garden.  Both he and my husband’s middle names are Francis.  I always feel sorry for “Frank” (as I like to call him) in the winter because he looks cold outside and then when the snow melts he always falls over.  So it is nice to see him looking nice and comfortable back in the garden.

I enjoyed my yard tour the other day.  It was a beautiful 60 degree day and the hints of green are giving me hope that spring really is on the way.  I know when I take another yard tour in a week or two, there will be so much more growth and color.  I really do love this time of year.  It is a time of hope and renewal.  I hope you are able to get out and enjoy it (between the snowflakes for some of us). –June

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Make Ahead Mini Frittatas

Spring is here and along with the warmer temperatures and beautiful blooms, it is also the season of brunches.  It usually begins with Easter, followed by Mother’s Day, and of course we’ve officially entered the season of weddings and bridal showers. I love brunch. It is such a wonderful combination of tasty dishes, sweets, and of course it’s not brunch without a refreshing mimosa cocktail.

This past weekend, my mom and I hosted a bridal shower brunch for my soon to be daughter in law. Even though our day was anything but spring like (crazy snow on and off all day!), inside it was warm and cozy and we had wonderful time celebrating such a lovely young woman. I tried out a new dish that I wanted to share with you all that was yummy, and the best part is it can be made ahead of time, and re-heated before serving.

A frittata is an egg based Italian dish similar to an omelette or crustless quiche and often includes additional ingredients such as meats, cheeses, vegetables and even pasta. I also had several quiches on the table and included the frittata for those guests with gluten sensitivities. Instead of making one large frittata, I put the egg mixture into muffin tins, making individual portions. I found this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks for entertaining, Ina Garten’s Make it Ahead.

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Ingredients:

2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pans

1 1/2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, washed and spun dry

4 ounces sliced Italian prosciutto, coarsely chopped ( I omitted to accomodate vegetarian diets)

8 ounces fresh baby spinach

2 1/2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 cups grated Italian Fontina cheese

8 extra large eggs

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a standard 12-cup muffin tin with olive oil, including the top of the pan. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large (12 inch) sauté pan. Add the leeks and sauté for 3 minutes, until tender. Add the prosciutto (if using) and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, breaking it up with a fork. Add the spinach, tossing with tongs, then cover the pan and cook for 3 minutes, tossing once while it cooks, until the spinach is all wilted. Off the heat, stir in the basil and lemon juice and set aside for 5 minutes. Divide the mixture with tongs among the 12 muffin cups, leaving any liquid behind. Sprinkle the Fontina evenly on top.

In a 4-cup liquid measuring cup, beat the eggs, half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together with a fork. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the filling in each cup, filling the muffin cups to the top. Sprinkle each frittata with the Parmesan cheese.

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Bake the frittatas for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned on top. If you insert a toothpick in the middle, they should feel firm. Cool for 5 minutes, remove with a small sharp knife onto a serving plate, and serve hot or warm.

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** Make it Ahead:

Bake the frittatas, then cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day. Reheat for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

**Note: Make sure you thoroughly grease your muffin tins. I made these ahead of time, and it was tricky getting them out of the pan.

Have a great week! ~May

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Sweet T’s Bakery and Cake Studio

Who doesn’t love a great bakery? May and June discovered a little gem of a bakery located in the quaint downtown area of Arlington Heights, IL. A family owned business, owner Tammy Montesinos and her husband Abel, both bakers, decided to fulfill a longtime dream of running their own bakery, and took the plunge nearly two years ago.  The bakery has been very successful, which isn’t easy these days with major supermarkets housing their own full service bakeries.

May’s first experience with Sweet T’s was rather accidental. She just happened to walk by the charming storefront window. It must have been fate because at that time, she needed a cake for her son’s engagement party. The cake was delicious not to mention beautiful, and got two thumbs up from all the guests. The bakery can bake a made to order cake, perfect for any occasion.

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Beautiful cakes

Recently, May and June stopped in for a little afternoon treat, sharing a variety of yummy bakery cookies. In addition to selling fine baked goods and cakes to order, the store also offers cake decorating classes for adults as well as kids parties.  Who knows, we may need to try a cake decorating class someday?

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So many choices……

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There is also plenty of room inside if you want to enjoy your fresh pastry with a hot cup of coffee. The interior decor is so sweet with pink painted walls and white tables and chairs.  It is a bit like having your sweet treats in a little cottage.

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Lot’s of items wrapped and ready to go

If you live in the area, we hope you check out Sweet T’s Bakery and Cake Studio. We know after your first visit, it will be a place you go back to for all your sweet treats. If you don’t live in the area, check out your local bakery. As you all know by now, May and June are big supporters of family owned businesses. Have a sweet weekend.

~May and June

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