Notes on a Surprise Party

When I introduce Devin, I like to tell people that he’s from a hippie community. “No, like a real hippie community,” I clarify. I explain that his parents grow most of their own food, that people have names like Tree, Chamomile, and Forest––and oh yeah, Devin and his three best friends were all born at home and delivered by the same midwife.*

This year, the spouses of those four born-at-home hippies decided to surprise them with a birthday party. The midwife came. It was in the house where one of them was born. And––at the height of the party––the mothers did dramatic readings of their birth stories that bordered on performance art. (OK, the last one is a lie, but I wish I’d thought to suggest it.)

 

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The four born-at-home hippies with Tree, their midwife

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The party-planning spouses

At first, the surprise party seemed easy enough to orchestrate. All we had to do was get the guys to go home on the same weekend, have them show up at the same place at the same time, and keep it a secret until then. In the end, it was less “piece of cake” and more “learning experience.” I took some notes in case you’d like to learn from my mistakes!

1) Coordinating party plans from three different states can be really confusing. You’ll probably send a lot of text messages. If you don’t want your surprise target to get suspicious about said texting, change the names of your co-conspirators in your contact list. Otherwise, your partner may see your phone light up with a text from his best friend’s partner and say, “Hey! Look who sent you a text message!” thinking you’re going to tell him that they’re coming to visit or something, and instead you’ll get cagey and mumble that he shouldn’t look at your phone.

2) Related: figure out a plan so that your partner doesn’t talk to any of his best friends in the weeks leading up to their joint surprise party (and then report back because I still don’t know how to do this).

3) How do you explain coming home with 45 pounds of cheese? You can’t. Don’t do the party prep at your place––or figure out a workaround for party prep altogether. I recommend throwing your surprise party with people who don’t mind doing a potluck. Luckily, hippies are so down for potlucks (though really, “potluck” is an understatement. We had so many cakes that we hardly made a dent in the official birthday cake! It was like a cartoon banquet come to life.)

4) This might seem like backward advice, but trust me: you don’t want to be too good at hiding the surprise party. I was so focused on keeping the secret that Devin thought I wasn’t going to celebrate his birthday at all. And he planned his own party. Oops. Miraculously, he decided he wanted it to be a brunch at his parents’ house on the same day as the surprise party, which was a dinner, so we were able to do both (back-to-back!), but it was nerve-wracking for me and confusing for Devin. So confusing in fact that when everyone yelled, “Surprise!” Devin turned to me in a panic and said, “Do my parents know about this?” because he was worried they hadn’t been invited. (They had to wait until we left their house to drive to the party.)

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Devin’s morning party with our Madison friends (photo by our friend Kate)

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Devin’s evening party with his baby friends (and their babies!)

5) The saying “two can keep a secret if one of them is dead” definitely applies in this situation. Surprising four people is impossible! By the end of our party-planning sojourn, half of the birthday guys knew about the party, and you know what? They didn’t enjoy it any less than the dudes who didn’t know.

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Happy birthday, Devin, Jackson, James, and Morgan!


I’m honestly not sure if the moral of this story is that a party doesn’t have to be a surprise to be fun OR that now I know how to do better next time. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

*I told Tree, the midwife, that this is my favorite fun fact about Devin, and she asked me to note that she does not deliver babies. The way she sees it, the person giving birth does all the work. She’s just there to assist.  

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Happy Birthday, Bethany!

This summer I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and the first thing she said to me was, “How do you know ArchedEyebrow?,” which thrilled me because I love Bethany Rutter, and I think everyone should know her.

And since the internet told me that today is her birthday, I decided to answer that question for the world wide web.

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Bethany in front of the Brooklyn Museum, spring 2015

I met Bethany at a wedding, waiting in line for appetizers––they had these little food stations featuring different cuisines in addition to a seated dinner and multiple desserts. It was food heaven (or as I like to call it, heaven. Because if it’s true we get to create our own version of heaven, mine will consist of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, kitchens, and restaurants).

Back to the wedding buffet…

When I met Bethany, I was spending a lot of time with super cool women who unfortunately had terrible relationships with food (like a lot, if not most, women living in our patriarchal, body-hating society), so social eating situations made me apprehensive. (It’s hard for me to hear people make negative weight-related comments about food, especially when I’m about to eat, and all I want to do is enjoy it!) I didn’t realize how much I had come to expect fatphobic food talk before every meal until I heard Bethany exclaim, “This is delightful!”

We bonded over how excited we were to try everything, and honestly, that interaction was enough for me to love her. But that wasn’t all! She was also wearing a dress I still daydream about. And she was the wedding DJ. And she played ***Flawless by Beyoncé for me, so by the end of the wedding, I had a major friend crush.

She lives in London, so I wasn’t sure if I would get to see her again, but somehow we ended up going to see the Kara Walker exhibit in the Domino sugar factory before she flew home. All of the art was made of refined sugar and represented Black bodies, and at the exhibit, there were lots of non-Black people doing awful things to the sculptures (like taking photos in front of the art while making lewd or violent poses). Bethany took in the scene and said, “Someone should take pictures or make a video to expose all the racist things people are doing.”

I decided on the spot that we were destined to be friends, even if she did live across the Atlantic. (Later we learned Kara Walker had been filming us all along because she’s brilliant.)

It’s been two years since that dreamy wedding, and I’ve only found more reasons to love Bethany, including her fabulous fashion blog, her hilarious twitter, her sense of fun, and the way she doesn’t just stand with her arms crossed when she sees something unjust (see, for example, her “You Look Great!” campaign in response to one of the worst examples of fat-shaming harassment I’ve ever heard of).

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arched sushi

Happy birthday, Bethany! I’m so glad you exist.

 

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click, click, click: fighting fatphobia edition

In fourth grade I wrote my first petition, asking the principal for benches near the playground so kids could have a more comfortable place to read during recess. (I don’t know how I convinced other kids to sign it because there wasn’t exactly a recess book club, but the petition was successful, and I read on a blue bench for the rest of the year.)

As you can tell, I wasn’t what one would consider an athletic child. When I did exercise, it was in structured environments like gym class or cheerleading practice, and that’s the kind of exercise environment I still prefer. Put me in a class with a person telling me what to do and I’m happy. I don’t really care what the class is as long as I don’t have to figure out what to do by myself. It’s like, I like to move; I just don’t really know how.

Even though I enjoy them, I’m ambivalent about recommending exercise classes because there’s one part I hate and would never want other people to endure. It happens about halfway through class, and I think most instructors consider it a pep talk. I call it the Lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you portion because it is usually just fatphobia disguised as encouragement. Often it includes references to bikinis and summer and “working hard to look good!”

Once, during the most intense part of a class, the teacher broke with body-shaming tradition and asked, “Do you feel strong?”

Did I? No one had ever asked me before.

It made me think about all the ways I’ve been taught that as a woman, my most important job is to be pretty and how beauty is conflated with thinness in our society. What if I’d been taught to focus on how I felt rather than how I looked? What if I’d been praised for being strong instead of “cute”? How different would my life be? The sad thing is, I can’t even imagine.

I’ve written before about deciding to love my body, resist negative messages, and challenge the underlying assumptions of fatphobia. It’s an ongoing process because I encounter countless messages designed to make me feel bad about my body or fear gaining weight, and I can’t just go through life yelling “Lalala, I can’t hear you!” Thankfully, there are lots of positive messages for people who want to question our fat=bad, diet=good culture. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few links to pieces I’ve found especially interesting.

nayyirah waheed quote  Graphic found via Pinterest


READ

Most of what I’ve read about fat positivity is written from the perspective of someone who has overcome insecurities, but Jo’s post about being fat and struggling to love your body is in the present tense, and her willingness to focus on process rather than triumph makes it not just inspiring but useful.

“it would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. i’ve had it pinned down, i’ve had it named, for years now yet i still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. as women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons…but if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. you can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. unless you are living it.”

 

LISTEN

This American Life did an episode about “rethink[ing] the way we see being fat.” The whole episode is excellent, but if you only have time for one act, I suggest Elna Baker’s story about her drastic weight loss, which demonstrates how harmful fatphobia can be––even when you “succeed” at becoming thin.

Here’s something I never tell people. I still take phentermine. I take it for a few months at a time a year, or sometimes it feels like half of the year. I can’t get it prescribed anymore, so I buy it in Mexico or online, though the online stuff is fake and doesn’t work as well.

I have a shirt that says, ‘I’m allergic to mornings.’ Everyone who knows me knows I have problems sleeping at night. I am usually up until 4:00 AM. I say I have insomnia. Really, I am awake because I am on speed. And I am on speed, because I need to stay thin. I need to stay thin so I can get what I want.

I know how this sounds. I know exactly how messed up it is. But I also feel like…we won’t really get anywhere unless I admit it.”

 

GIVE (TO YOUR DOCTOR)

Annika Burnett’s “Doctors Don’t Like Fat People” has a depressing title that makes me want to burn everything down, but it’s an open letter from a med school student challenging anti-fat bias in her own training and in medicine in general. Take comfort in knowing that someday she’ll be an M.D. with patients of her own and that she’s not waiting until then to change things.

All too frequently in medicine, the terms ‘fat’ and ‘unhealthy’ are mistakenly collapsed. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the relationship between body weight and overall health status is not so clear (to read more from folks beginning to challenge this paradigm, check out here and here). Yes, obesity is a risk factor for many diseases. So are age, race, gender and family history. It is unclear whether and to what extent we can choose our body size any more than we can choose those characteristics.

Still, even if being fat were entirely a matter of willpower and even if fat definitively meant unhealthy, would that give us an excuse to treat fat patients poorly? When has hostility ever been conducive to taking care of a patient? Creating a clinical environment so antagonistic that fat patients are afraid to access care is not helping anybody.”

 

AND MAYBE GET SOME NEW CLOTHES?

That’s what Arianna Rebolini did after she realized that she had a closet that was antithetical to the way she wanted to feel about–and in–her body.

“I was beginning every single day with a terrible task — facing a closet that told me my body wasn’t right, and choosing which way I’d like to be made physically uncomfortable that day. My clothes were undoing years of work toward accepting my body as-is, coaxing me into old beliefs. Like: Discomfort was what I deserved for having gained weight. Like: Anger and unhappiness would motivate me to lose weight. Like: Happiness and nice things and self-esteem were for people who haven’t gained weight. I’d decided years ago those beliefs were empty; it was time to ditch the last thing pulling me toward them.”

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My Madison: Community Pharmacy

The best part about moving to a new city is discovering your places. There are personal places like your favorite room at home (the living room) or your preferred bus route (the 28), and then there are the notable ones: things you’ve never seen anywhere else, places you can’t wait to share with your friends.

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I’m no stranger to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that Community Pharmacy is the most unique pharmacy I’ve ever encountered. Like most U.S. pharmacies, it sells a lot more than prescription drugs. Unlike most pharmacies, it’s owned by the people who work there; half of the store is devoted to natural remedies; and its goal is not to make money but to provide health care at the lowest possible cost. Plus, does your pharmacy stock feminist magazines and vegetarian cookbooks? Mine does!

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A few weeks ago, I spoke with Scott Chojnacki to learn more about this Madison institution.

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HISTORY

Founded in 1972 with a grant from the Wisconsin Student Association, Community Pharmacy was established to serve students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by providing the most affordable medications available.

SERVICES

Today Community Pharmacy strives to provide the most affordable health care possible to everyone in Madison. Scott explained how that philosophy shapes the pharmacy: “There’s a segment of customers that get their prescriptions and don’t really explore very much; they see us as your standard pharmacy. A lot of other people don’t even think of us as a pharmacy even though ‘pharmacy’ is in our name. They come in for supplements, herbs, and custom homeopathic formulas. Others come in for natural beauty and skin care products. The idea has always been to offer the biggest range of health options, and that’s what we aspire to do.”

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Community Pharmacy is a workers’ cooperative. There is no CEO, no managers, and the store is run without hierarchies. Everyone who works there is part of a team that makes decisions collectively. And they take their role in the community seriously. If the staff believes a cause needs support, they discuss it at their monthly staff meeting and decide on a course of action. That’s how they decided to hang a Black Lives Matter sign in their front window.

Because no one is relying on the store to turn a profit, Community Pharmacy answers to its customers––not stockholders.  Instead of asking “how much can we charge?,” they ask, “How little?”

That approach can have a huge impact. Before this interview, I didn’t realize how much power pharmacies have over the price of medicine, especially if a prescription is not covered by insurance. “We hear it from our customers,” Scott explained, “They’ll say, ‘Oh my God, I called Walgreens and they were going to charge me hundreds of dollars for this drug. You’re selling it for ten percent of that.’”

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FAVORITES

One of my favorite things to do is ask the workers at different stores and restaurants about their favorite products because I know that nobody knows the stuff better than they do. During our interview, I asked Scott to recommend some of his favorite Community Pharmacy products, and he got so excited that he ran out of the room and came back with his hands full. 

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1.“Suki exfoliate foaming cleanser is a cleanser and mild exfoliator that you can use every day. It’s my job to sample different products, but I can never get too far from this.”

2. “Veriditas is an essential oils company that only buys ingredients from cooperatives  and only sells to cooperatives. Most people are familiar with the aromatherapy uses of lavender, but it’s also a great anti-inflammatory. This is my go-to with mosquito bites or if I give myself a little burn with the oven. It works so well at taking that pain away.”

3. “MegaFood has relationships with farmers that have exactly the kind of growing practices they appreciate, and with food-grown supplements, you’re getting the highest absorbability. Your body is able to process them so much better than synthetic vitamins.”

4. “If you like coconut and chocolate, you have to try Madécasse Toasted Coconut. It’s chocolate that has shaved coconut on the bottom. I buy this as a gift all the time, so people can know what the good life is.”

MADISON

As for his favorite places in Madison, Scott recommends the botanic gardens: “I love Olbrich Gardens, which is a free garden for anybody to go to. Pick a day and spend an hour getting lost there. I am surprised every time with some plant that I missed before.”

Thank you, Scott, and thank you, Community Pharmacy!

Sign up for the Community Pharmacy e-mail newsletter to receive 10% off your next purchase.

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Gifts For My Dead

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I went to Portland last week, and when I got back to Madison, I noticed that everyone was talking about gifts for their dead.

Devin was at his parents’ house, so I made a mental note to ask him later in the week. And I kept overhearing the phrase: “Gift for my dead” … “Gift for my dead” … “Gift for my dead.”

Wisconsin has a large Catholic population so I started to wonder if it was a tradition similar to Día de los Muertos.

I imagined little altars topped with cheese curds and Green Bay Packers memorabilia, rhubarb-scented veladoras, a polka band instead of mariachis, and calaveritas made of maple syrup instead of sugar cane. I’ve passed a few cemeteries in Madison, and I wondered if I’d get to see some of the celebrations.

It wasn’t until I overheard someone say “I’ve really got to get a gift for my dead. Father’s Day is on Sunday!” that I realized they weren’t preparing to accept the reality of death by participating in a collective mourning ritual commemorating loved ones lost. They were buying gifts for their dads!

And that’s when I had my big epiphany: the Upper Midwest accent is really just a game of musical chairs for short vowels.

The “a” in “dad” sounds like the “e” in “dead.”

The “o” in “Wisconsin” sounds like the “a” in “apple.”

“About” sounds like “a boat,” and round and round.

Now I know to run through all the vowels before I imagine another elaborate scenario (though I’m not ready to give up my daydream of a Midwestern Día de Muertos quite yet).

 

 

* The ceramic skull pictured above was a souvenir from Puerto Peñasco, where I guess they also know about Wisconsin’s Day of the Dead. ; )

 

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Carolina

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“I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, but since women couldn’t do that, I went to secretary school,” Abbita (short for abuelita) explained, when I called to interview her for a homework assignment about feminism. I’d been nervous to call, afraid she’d say feminism was a crazy American import or that it was un-Christian and ruining “the family” or that she was disappointed in me. Instead she told me about how she had worked for Licenciado Müller, a lawyer who helped women get divorced in Chihuahua. Abbita, whose real name was Carolina, said she loved her job because she cared about helping those women and because her boss trusted her judgment.

I never knew about any of this because she stopped working after she and my grandfather got married, but hearing this story illuminated the parts of her life I did know in a new way. It was the light turning on in a room I’d only explored with a flashlight.

All my life I’d heard about how she had been on her school’s basketball team. The girls wore long skirts as part of their uniform, but she joined the team in secret and had to hide it from her family because playing sports––even in giant skirts––was not ladylike. It was a quiet act of resistance. Like most of what she did.

My grandmother would often tell me the story of a woman who got married in the city and was soon forced by her husband to move to a little house with a dirt floor in the mountains, completely isolated from her friends and family. She would get angry telling this story and say that she supported the woman leaving her husband because the way he treated her was wrong. When I was little, I thought this was just one of those stories that grandmas tell (“This one again?”). I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to her. Now I can imagine how desperate I would feel if I lost control of my life from one day to the next, can imagine how many women my grandmother knew who never regained it.

Whenever a woman she knew got married, Abbita would give her a little bit of money in secret because she believed it was essential that women have a way to escape bad marriages. This too seemed melodramatic to me (“Por si el marido le sale malo” sounded like something from a novela, and when I heard about my grandmother’s bridal safety-net tactics, I laughed and thought, “Too much Televisa.”)

In my own life, I’ve noticed that it is very taboo to talk about divorce if you’re married, but I don’t think I could be married if divorce weren’t legal and accessible to women. I don’t mean to imply that I take my relationship with Devin lightly, but I think marriage fundamentally changes when it is not an obligation. When I decided to get married, I didn’t have to give up my name or my rights. I didn’t have to give up my job or my dreams. I didn’t become someone’s property. I believe that Devin and I choose to be together even though we are free to leave. I believe we have the kind of marriage women like my grandmother fought for.

On the day of my cousin Vanessa’s wedding, Abbita told me a story. “I was never interested in cooking, but when I married your grandfather, I thought I should learn. He said, ‘No! Don’t take a cooking class. You should learn to play the piano,’ and he got me a piano. In the end, I didn’t learn to cook or play the piano. All I did was have babies. What kind of a life is that?”

Of course, that isn’t all she did. She did lots of things, like finding a way to own and manage properties and teaching me how to read and write and becoming so well-known for her wit that people would ask her to write their greeting cards and building relationships so strong that her children and grandchildren would fight over who got to sleep in the extra twin bed she kept in her room.

Still, I know she would have liked to do other things, too. It’s no coincidence that all of her daughters have Master’s degrees or that she gave each of her grandchildren a small sum of money when we turned 18 and said, “This is your money. You can do whatever you want with it.” She believed fiercely in independence. She took as much of it as she could and made sure we were free to have more.

Abbita didn’t go around exclaiming “I’m a feminist!,” but when I asked her to explain if she was, she had a quick answer: “Machismo means men are in charge, but feminism doesn’t mean women should be in charge. Do you know the saying ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’? Well, I don’t think anyone should be behind anyone. To me, feminism means that we all walk together, hand-in-hand.”

I think about myself at 21, nervous to call her, worried that I would have to defend feminism to my grandmother, wondering if there were any books I could give her to explain it in a way she could understand. I was so silly, thinking I’d discovered feminism when she had taught it to me all along.

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click, click, click

I’m a big fan of other blogs’ link lists, and I’ve seen really cool stuff recently, so I decided to try making one myself. Here are a few things I think you might also like.

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Spring in Madison means the lakes are back to their liquid state. This is Lake Mendota, the lake Devin, our friend Makeba, and I traversed on foot for my birthday! 


ART


This short story by Stephanie Jimenez is vivid and familiar. One of my favorite parts:

Maria sat in the backseat with the plastic bag on her lap. Maria could recognize her mother’s voice anywhere, the narrator of all those bedtime books in childhood, the one that pronounced library liberry and share instead of chair. Maria had developed a habit of correcting the way her mother talked, but now, as she watched the landscape go by from the backseat, the voice was soothing, more soothing than rain, and Maria said nothing. She closed her eyes.

CULTURE

Just in time for summer vacation, New York Magazine enlisted psychologist and travel-guide author Michael Brein for tips on traveling with other people. Brein calls this his “three-point scale of compatibility,” but I think it can also be a good tool for tempering expectations and finding ways to compromise. After reading this, my mom and I talked about what kind of travelers we are and came up with some ideas for our next trip together. (Suddenly all our silly vacation arguments made sense!)

  1. ACTIVITY LEVEL. Are they high- or low-energy? If you plan to see a city by foot, for instance, you want people who can keep up.

  2. DIURNAL-NOCTURNAL DISPOSITION. Do they prefer daytime activities or rowdy nightlife?

  3. TIME-URGENCY. Some people want to schedule every moment, while others prefer to be totally spontaneous.

FOOD

The big farmers’ market in Madison is back on the Square, and I’m excited to eat more spring produce. This What’s in Season? post is a great resource if you like to make a shopping list before going out or if you need recipe ideas for food you haven’t had in a year…or if you want a list of food that might be cheaper than usual at the grocery store!

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Policed/Protected

I woke up to voices on the radio. They said a judge reversed the jury’s decision, and Peter Liang will serve no jail time.

Peter Liang, the NYPD officer who killed Akai Gurley, was found guilty of manslaughter. But the judge reduced the conviction to “criminally negligent homicide” and the punishment to five years’ probation and 800 hours of community service.

akaila and akai gurley Buzzfeed

Akaila and Akai Gurley (photo via Buzzfeed)


I wanted them to say that Akai Gurley was just walking down the stairs in his apartment building.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang fired his gun blindly into the stairwell because he heard a sound.
I wanted them to say that after his bullet hit Akai Gurley, Peter Liang left him on the ground.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang was required to give CPR to Akai Gurley, but he didn’t.
I wanted them to say that instead of helping, he refused to answer calls from a 911 operator and his commanding officer while a man he shot lay on the ground dying.
Instead of helping, he texted his union representative and worried about being fired.
I wanted them to say that Peter Liang wasn’t even supposed to be patrolling the stairs of that building.
I wanted them to say that Akai Gurley had a two year-old baby at the time of his murder, a baby girl named after him, a baby girl who lost her dad.

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Memorial in the Pink Houses building where Akai Gurley died (Photo via The New York Times)


I wanted to say that the Pink Houses, where Akai and his family lived, were so far away from my own house in Brooklyn that it took me two trains, one bus, and an hour of travel time to get there for the vigil. When I got there, I saw nothing except brown public housing buildings, one after another. I wondered where residents could work, how they could buy groceries.

I wanted to ask how we would have reacted if the shooting had happened one hour from my house in the other direction. If, instead of East New York, a man had been killed by the police in an Upper East Side staircase.

Would we be more indignant that an innocent man was murdered by police if he had been wealthy and White? Would it be so easy to write off his death as an accident? Can we even imagine it?

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MADE: Tacos al Pastor y Micheladas

One of my favorite Madison bloggers, Tomissa Porath, often blogs about beer. I don’t know very much about beer, but when we became friends, I just had to invite her over for micheladas because, despite her extensive beer knowledge, she had never had one. (In case you haven’t either, a michelada is a beer cocktail from Mexico.)

Once I started to think about micheladas, I decided I had to make tacos, too! And then I got so focused on tacos, I forgot to buy the beer. Oops. Thankfully, I was able to call my friend Kate who saved the day and allowed us to have a balanced meal. ; )

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Tacos al Pastor
Recipe translated and adapted from Chef Oropeza.

If you’ve ever walked into a taco place, you’ve probably seen a big spinning orange piece of meat with pineapple at the top. This contraption is called a trompo (because it resembles a spinning top), and it is used to make my very favorite kind of taco. Unfortunately, restaurants almost never have a vegetarian version (the spinning meat is pork), but making them at home is really easy and you can use any meat or protein you like, so don’t despair!

My only ingredient note is that you’ll want to go to a Mexican grocery store to make sure you can find all the ingredients you need. My favorite in Madison is Mercado Marimar, which also makes fresh corn tortillas––a must for good tacos. As for special tools, you will need a blender or food processor.

Ingredients (makes 8-12 tacos)

(for the filling)
* 4 dried ancho chiles  

* 3 dried guajillo chilies

* 75 grams (roughly 2.5 oz.) achiote paste (3/4 small bar)

* 1 or 2 garlic cloves

* 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

* 3/4 cups orange juice

* 2 tablespoons canola oil

* generous pinch of salt pizca de sal

* generous pinch of black pepper

* 16 oz. OR 24 oz. of your preferred protein (my favorite is seitan) Note: if you are using a protein like tofu or seitan, make sure to check the drained weight on the package. For example, the packages of seitan I bought listed the total weight as 1 lb. 2 oz., but the drained weight was 8 oz. Make sure to drain your tofu or seitan! Otherwise, your tacos will be watery. The more protein you use, the less saucy they will be, but as long as you marinate it for a little longer, it should still be very flavorful.

* 1 package of corn tortillas (you need at least 12 tortillas; most will have about 30). I recommend buying freshly made tortillas if you can find a tortillería in your town because the taste difference is enormous.

(taco garnishes, served in separate little bowls to pass around)
* 2 cups chopped pineapple (if canned, drain)

* 1 onion, finely chopped

* ½ bunch cilantro, washed and finely chopped taza de cilantro lavado, desinfectado y picado

* 10 key limes, halved OR 5 big limes, quartered (if you and your guests don’t usually eat a lot of lime, buy less)

* 1 small can (7 oz.) of your favorite Mexican salsa(s)––not the American kind––I recommend salsa verde from Herdez or La Costeña

Instructions

1. The first thing you want to do is prepare the dried chiles. Rub their exteriors with a kitchen rag to make sure there’s no dirt on them (there usually isn’t, but nothing is worse than gritty food). Run them under cold water. Cut off their stems (a pair of scissors works well for this). Then, cut a slit up the side of each chile and remove the seeds. Did you know seeds are what make chile peppers spicy? If you like spicy tacos, you can leave some seeds. Finally, place them in a bowl of medium-hot water to soften them for about ten minutes. They should feel plump and re-hydrated.


2. Next place the chiles, achiote paste, garlic, vinegar, orange juice, oil, salt, and pepper in the blender or food processor. Blend until you have a smooth sauce. This sauce is called an adobo.

3. Chop your meat or preferred protein into small pieces, and marinate it in the adobo. If you are using a smaller quantity of meat or vegetarian protein, 10 minutes should suffice. If you are using a larger quantity, marinate it for longer (~20 minutes).

4. Heat a small amount of oil in a pan (I used a cast-iron skillet), and cook your meat or protein thoroughly. I used medium-high heat and cooked the seitan until it was slightly crispy on the outside (about 10 minutes), but I don’t know anything about cooking meat, so cook it as you usually would. It should be really hot when you are done. Cover it and set it aside while you heat the tortillas.

5. There are lots of ways to heat tortillas, so you can choose the way that seems most practical to you. I recently learned that you can lightly moisten them and put them on a baking sheet at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 6 minutes, flipping once at the 3-minute mark. To me, this is so much easier than heating them one or two at a time on the stove. Make sure you wrap up your stack of tortillas in a kitchen towel after you’ve warmed them. Place them in a basket with a lid or another container with a lid to make sure they stay hot.

6. Bring the tortillas, meat or protein, and all the garnishes to the table. This way everyone gets to make their own tacos
. Enjoy!


Michelada

Making a michelada is super easy, and since this recipe makes one drink at a time, it’s totally customizable. Experiment with your preferred quantities of sauces and lime juice to find your perfect blend!

Ingredients

* a light or dark beer of your choice (we had Corona and Negra Modelo)

* Salsa Maggi

* Valentina hot sauce

* 1 or 2 key limes or half of a big lime

* Tajín or rock salt for the rim of your glass (I recommend Tajín)

* a frozen glass, beer mug, or mason jar

* 2 little plates (at least slightly bigger than the mouth of your glass)

Instructions

1. Take one of your plates and moisten it with a little water.

2. On the other plate sprinkle a bit of Tajín or salt.

3. Rub the rim of your glass first in the plate with water and then in the plate with Tajín or salt.

4. Squeeze the lime into your glass.

5. Add ½ tablespoon of Valentina hot sauce and ½ tablespoon of salsa Maggi.

6. Pour the beer in the glass, and enjoy!

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NYC Tour

For my birthday, the incredible, wonderful, talented Anja Riebensahm sent me a pop-up model of New York. The best part is that she put little speech and thought bubbles of things I might say or think all around the city (and a sign that says “KRISTY 4EVER” in Midtown). I loved putting it together and remembering all my favorite places.

Lately I’ve been daydreaming about New York more than usual. Aside from missing my friends who live there, I remember how much fun it was to play tour guide in the spring. Last year Devin and I hosted friends from England, Mexico, and South Africa within a few weeks of each other, and we were in tour guide heaven. This spring I am stuck in what feels like tour guide limbo. I’ve written a lot of texts and tweets that say “Go here! Skip this! Do that!” to friends who are visiting the city, but I realized that I almost always give the same advice, and to spare myself from carpal tunnel, I might as well put it all in one place.

Note: I am most familiar with Brooklyn and Manhattan because that’s where I spent most of my time. I am also familiar with restaurants in Queens (the borough with the best food, in my opinion), but I don’t know much about the Bronx or Staten Island.

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GENERAL ADVICE

1. As soon as you arrive, get a copy of New York Magazine, The New Yorker, and Time Out New York. Read them on your first day in town to see if there are any events you want to attend while you’re there. (You can also read their events listings online at the links above.)

2. If you’re going to be in New York longer than one or two days, get a 7-day unlimited MetroCard. You can get almost anywhere by public transit, and aside from saving money and time (because you won’t have to refill your card), the train is one of the best places to people-watch. If you like to tour cities by bus, skip the expensive tour buses, and ride a city bus (also included in your unlimited MetroCard). The buses are empty at prime touring times, and they ride down the same streets. Tip: The option to buy an unlimited card can be hard to find on the MetroCard machines, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

3. Use Google Maps to find your way around. There are New York-specific apps and sites, but you’ve probably used Google Maps before, and its directions are accurate for transit, walking, and biking. I use the app all the time, no matter what city I’m in, and it’s never led me astray.

BROOKLYN

1. IM Pastry Studio (1131 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225)

IM Pastry Studio is the bakery of my dreams! Perfect cupcakes, savory food, the best
cold brew in the city, super fresh fruit drinks (the mojito mint limeade and the ting ting  
are my favorites), and Dough doughnuts (a.k.a. the only donuts that matter). I’ve been   
known to walk out with a drink and dessert in each hand because the choice was so difficult. Plus, it’s beautiful and close to Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which I also highly, highly recommend.

2. M.O.B. (525 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217)

You know how sometimes you put your phone in airplane mode and it charges really fast? That’s how I feel when I walk down Atlantic Avenue. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you about M.O.B (Maimonides of Brooklyn), my favorite restaurant on that energizing street. It’s a vegan restaurant that aims to “seduce carnivores,” and judging by the reaction of the many meat-eaters I’ve taken there, it succeeds. Go there for brunch, lunch, or dinner. Sit inside at the long communal tables or outside in the garden. The whole menu is excellent, but I have a soft spot for the M.O.B. flatbreads served on plates in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge.

3. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade (at Montague Street and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway) and Brooklyn Bridge Park (starts at 45 Dock Street and wraps around the waterfront)

If you ask most New Yorkers about parks to visit, you’ll likely be told to go to the High Line, but I find it kind of underwhelming. The Brooklyn Heights Promenade and Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the other hand, never disappoint. They’re perfect for skyline views and photo ops. Brooklyn Bridge Park is built on a series of piers (each with its own features and activities), making it one of the most creative uses of public space I’ve ever seen. Take a spin on Jane’s Carousel, get pizza and Ample Hills ice cream, ride a bike, watch a soccer game, go for a swim in the (admittedly tiny) pop-up pool, roller-skate, have a perfect sunny day.

4. The Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11238)

As far as I know, the Brooklyn Museum is the only museum in the world with a feminist art wing (though I would love to be proven wrong). It is also the home of First Saturdays––my favorite, favorite, favorite free event in New York. Every first Saturday of the month, the museum opens its doors, allowing everyone the opportunity to view its exhibits, make art, and dance to live music for free. Go for the art, and stay for the people-watching. It’s a monthly convention of New York’s most stylish residents, and their outfits regularly left me breathless.

5. Night Train (622 Degraw Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217)

I hear NBC recently filmed Night Train for a TV special, so catch this comedy night ASAP before it blows up and you can no longer get tickets. Wyatt Cenac (of Daily Show fame) hosts and picks an incredible lineup of comedians. For example, in January we saw Erin Jackson, Hari Kondabolu, and Kevin Avery. Bonus: The DJ in residence is Don Will, whose name you might recognize from Another Round!

MANHATTAN

1. Banana Pudding from Magnolia Bakery (various locations)

I don’t have very much wisdom to impart, but there is one thing I know deep down in my bones, and that is “If you go to Magnolia Bakery, get the banana pudding.” You will be tempted by the cupcakes. The cupcakes are beautiful. The cupcakes are famous! But sadly, the cupcakes are dry and boring. Trust me. I have made this mistake many times. However, the banana pudding is worth all the hype and then some. I don’t care if you don’t like banana desserts. I don’t care if you don’t like pudding. Both of these things are true of me, and still, the banana pudding is perfect.

2. Housing Works Bookstore Café (126 Crosby Street, New York, NY 10012)

Housing Works is a superb organization operating the best thrift stores in New York City. I love all of their stores, but my very favorite is the Housing Works Bookstore Café. Located on a cobblestone street in SoHo, it’s everything a bookstore should be, with bookshelves covering every wall on both floors, good lighting, plenty of tables, a grand staircase, and green hanging lamps. It also has free wi-fi, which is important if you’re visiting from abroad or if you don’t have a smartphone. All of that is enough to make it worth a visit, but it also hosts some of the best literary events, including The Moth StorySLAM so be sure to check the calendar.

3. Pippin Vintage Jewelry (112 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011)

Pippin Vintage Jewelry is a luxurious boutique that sells jewelry from seemingly every time period, but the coolest thing about it is that they have pieces at every price point (starting at $5). I bought Devin’s wedding band and my most beautiful pair of earrings at Pippin, and every time I’ve gone in, the staff has answered all my questions and made me feel like a VIP (even when the only thing I could ask was “Um…what’s the cheapest thing you sell?”). Bonus: Chelsea is filled with vintage stores, so be sure and walk around before and after you check out Pippin.

4. Fabulous Fanny’s (335 East 9th Street, New York, 10003)

People often ask me where I got my glasses, and I love answering “Fabulous Fanny’s!” It’s a store that truly lives up to the adjective in its name, with glasses of all kinds, most at much, much lower prices than at other stores. Fabulous Fanny’s stocks vintage frames and new frames made in the U.S.A. They don’t do the lenses in store, but they’ll refer you to a place in Chinatown that does quick work and is also very affordable, making it possible for you to buy a pair as a souvenir!

5. Playing Tourist (various locations)

When I was younger, I thought tourist attractions were for boring uninspired people with no creativity. As a result, I went to Paris and almost missed out on seeing the Eiffel Tower. Thankfully, a nice French family intervened, and now I know the error of my ways. I hope nobody is as silly as I was at 19, but just in case, I want to add this disclaimer. Most tourist attractions are attractions for a reason, and it doesn’t make you any less cool to want to see them. Since there are so many things to see in New York (and you probably want to do some things off the beaten path in addition), I suggest choosing a few rather than trying to see them all. My favorites are Grand Central Terminal (bonus points for all the good dining options, ranging from The Campbell Apartment to Magnolia “Get-the-Banana-Pudding” Bakery), the New York Public Library at 42nd street and the adjacent Bryant Park, Times Square (go late at night for maximum effect and minimal crowds), and the Statue of Liberty. You can see the Statue of Liberty from the Staten Island Ferry, which is free to ride, and a good option if you don’t have much money or time or if you don’t care about seeing the statue up close. However, in my opinion, going to see it up close is worth it (and before going, I didn’t think I’d like it that much!).

QUEENS

1. Casa Enrique (5-48 49th Ave. Long Island City, NY 11101)

In my experience, most Mexican restaurants in the States are not good––to put it mildly––so I prefer to wait until I go home to Chihuahua where I eat and eat and eat in an attempt to make up for lost time (and tacos). Casa Enrique is the shining exception. I cried when I ate there because I never imagined it was possible to have food that good on this side of the border. Chef Cosme Aguilar is my hero.

2. MoMA PS1 (22-25 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101)

PS1 is MoMA’s cool little sister. Focusing exclusively on contemporary art and housed in a former schoolhouse, it’s ideal for visitors who get overwhelmed by gigantic museums and who want to see experimental art they may not encounter elsewhere. I especially like it in the spring and summer because of the outdoor exhibits and the Warm Up concert series in the courtyard. However, I highly recommend that you check the calendar before going. Since it’s a smaller museum, it has a smaller number of exhibits (sometimes the whole museum is devoted to a single artist). I’ve seen some exhibits that I loved and others I regret seeing (and subjecting my mom to…), so make sure you know what’s showing.

3. SriPraPhai (64-13 39th Avenue, Woodside, NY 11377)

The average price for an entrée is $10. The portions are generous. And it is the best Thai restaurant in New York. I would regularly take hour-long subway rides to eat there with whomever I could convince to join me, and considering how far it was, it didn’t take much cajoling to convince anyone after they’d tried it once. The menu is longer than the Old Testament (with a sizeable vegetarian section!) so if you need recommendations, allow me to suggest the papaya salad, the mock-duck salad, the tom kha soup, and the panang curry.

Do you have any favorite NYC places? I’d love to hear them!

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