My trip to Chicago and Ontario

My trip to Chicago and Stratford, Ontario was the third out of four mini vacations I have planned this summer, and was the biggest of them all. Can’t believe I’m getting to the end of my July/August trips! I’m so blessed to have been able to spend time traveling this summer.

On Thursday, I boarded a flight at an unmentionably early hour to visit Hillary, Jess, and Anna – we had tickets to two shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario. Jess (who I hadn’t seen since we graduated from grad school in 2006) met me at the airport and we rented our Chrysler 200, which we nicknamed Spaulding, because he was kind of pretentious. He had a clock with a dial as opposed to a digital clock. Come on Spaulding, you’re trying too hard.

We made our way back to Hillary’s place, dropped off Spaulding, and did some shopping. Chicago shopping is some of the best – we visited a handful of wonderful boutiques, including Virtu, Valentia, Knit 1, Soutache, and the Needle Shop. It was so hard for me not to buy ALL THE THINGS. I did buy some of the things: a fabulous ceramic bowl with scissors on it, a large purple button for a purse I’m working on, two cards, and a couple remnants of fabric (Mix Tape Multi by Timeless Treasures and Across the Pond Heron by Cloud 9). Also in the picture are a Pirates of Penzance mug from the festival and a bunch of FQs from Quiltology, which I visited later in my trip.

Hillary came home from work and the three of us drove to Anna’s and picked her up and headed to Michigan! I drove and the rain was fairly insane for most of the way. After leaving 107 degree Sacramento, though, the pouring rain was lovely. We stayed the night at Hillary’s mom’s house in Okemos, MI, and played with her small white dog Nilla, who might have actually been a tiny, tiny polar bear.

The next morning we headed up to Canada! Again! That’s twice in one week for me. This Canada was not as pretty as British Columbia, but it was still a pleasant drive through the green farmland and woods. Stratford Ontario is in the middle of nowhere, but the town itself is really quite cute. We parked and grabbed lunch and some delicious Canadian wine at Bentley’s Pub, and then walked around downtown Stratford for a while, browsing bookstores and shops, enjoying a little break in the rain.

We checked into our hotel and got ready for our first show, The Pirates of Penzance. It was SUCH FUN. My face actually hurt from smiling so much. It was like eating two and a half hours of ice cream. The music was delightful, the acting, singing, and dancing were fantastic, and the whole thing was a giant pirate boat filled with joy. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. We also looked darn good going to see it:

After the show, we went out to late-night nosh at Mercer House, and had drinks and some food, including this there-are-no-words-to-describe-the-deliciousness jelly doughnut crème bruleè and some to-die-for parmesan fries.

That night, the fire alarm in the room I was sharing with Jess decided to misbehave. It would chirp every twenty minutes or so, stop for a while, chirp again. We slept through most of it, but it got worse around 4:00am. We called the front desk and a portly, friendly Canadian came to our room and told us that there was nothing he could do but transfer us. Jess and I were so exhausted that we decided to try and sleep through it. That worked for the most part, but by the time we were up and getting ready to go, we were still pretty sleepy.

That morning, we had a backstage tour of the Festival Theater, which was really interesting. We saw where they rehearsed, how props are made, the large costume and wardrobe rooms (The thread! The fabric! The hats! The sewing machines!), and the armory, which was a little terrifying since all of the weapons they use in their shows are real. We also learned that false beards are made from the hair harvested from the underside of a yak. You definitely needed to know that. The gardens surrounding the theater were very pretty, too, and the Bard made an appearance:

We ate lunch at a little sushi place, and then went to our second show, Much Ado About Nothing, which was reimagined in Brazil. The interpretation worked very well, and the show was so good (it’s my favorite Shakespeare play), though I have to say we were all really tired and I found my head nodding a little. I felt so bad! The show was really good! But I was still sleepy nonetheless. So, after the show, NAP TIME! That was really nice and much needed.

We had no more shows to go to, but plenty of evening time free to kill. What should we do? First, we wandered down along the river in Stratford, searching for the famous Stratford swans. Every year, they release 22 white swans and 2 black swans. We managed to see both (even though the white one thought he was hiding)!

We also loved the Stratford walk signals, which featured a walking man that was MUCH more jaunty than any walk signal we’d ever seen. So, of course, we walked like him:

Then how about eating and drinking! A lot! We started with dinner at Fellini’s, where Jess and I split two pizzas and I had a delicious sangria. Next we went to Molly Bloom’s, a cute little pub, for some live music, wine, and free beer! (Love ya, Canada.)

Then, because we hadn’t had enough to eat and drink, we went back to Mercer House, where I had yet another jelly doughnut crème brulee and a coffee. Because I could.

The next morning, we hit the trail back to Chicago – the drive is more than eight hours straight. We stopped by in Okemos to visit Hillary’s mom and have lunch, and then plowed through the rest of Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois back to Hillary’s place. That night we ordered food in and watched Parks and Rec, because these are the kind of friends I have, and I love them.

On (rainy, rainy) Monday morning, Hillary went to work and I drove to the airport to drop off Jess (bye!!!!) and the rental car. I made my way back to Hillary’s on the L, only getting lost once (it seems I’ve lost my Public Transportation Skillz now that I don’t live in Boston anymore). It was rainy and I loved it.

I had the entire day to myself, so I went and got some coffee at a little shop by her house, and wrote and did some catch-up work for a while. Then I went FABRIC SHOPPING! Again! I headed down to Quiltology, and bought some lovely fabric – they had fat quarters for a buck! You can’t beat that. And all Art Gallery fabrics were 20% off. If you’re in Chicago and you like to sew, I highly recommend you head down there.

That afternoon, I went and visited my other grad school roommate, Kate, and her husband Arif and their new son Jude, who is CUTE OVERLOAD. It was the first time we’d seen each other since her wedding three years ago. So there was a lot to catch up on! Their new house in Chicago (right down the street from Hillary’s) is just gorgeous, and I’m sure they’ll be very happy there! Hillary then came home from work, and we went out to dinner at Frasca, which has excellent food. Like, really excellent. Like, I wanted to smuggle leftover bruschetta home in my purse excellent.

And now I am back and I already miss being away. On Labor Day weekend, Ryan and I have one more trip northward to Portland for a wedding, and then no trips until Sewing Summit in October (I guess that’s not that far away…but it seems like it!)

Once we got home, Jess read that Justin Bieber was from Stratford, which explains the almost frightening amount of Bieber merchandise available for sale there. We thought the Canadians just really loved their pop stars. But Stratford REALLY loves the Bieb. OMG BIEBER FEVER CAN’T EVEN TAKE A CLEAR PHOTO!!!!:

We even saw on a t-shirt: “To Bieb, or not to Bieb? That is the question.”

(The answer, for the record, is “not.”)

Treat Yo’self!*

Hillary and I met when we were the first two people to show up for graduate school orientation in Boston back in 2006. As we stood there, it was like we were each thinking, “Why, you are extremely punctual! We shall be great friends!” And six years later, we are still great friends. It’s too bad we live nearly 2000 miles apart, but we are really good at keeping and touch and visiting each other every so often. Hillary came here on Thursday for a long weekend, and I’m headed to Chicago to go with her and some other friends to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada in August. We’re very excited to see each other twice this year!

Anywho, we had a great time while she was here. We spent Friday traipsing around San Francisco in the rain/mist/fog/15-minutes-of-sunshine. We visited the fun shops in the Ferry Building (where I bought a fabulous green umbrella because we were a big soggy), took a tour of Alcatraz (it’s got a thing on the end that looks like a monster), rode a cable car to City Lights bookstore (where I purchased Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark and Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which will make Steve very happy), ate an entire pizza in the North End (that was sort of the elevensies before dinner), and then met up with one of her friends in Yerba Buena Gardens for dinner and tea (and then barely made it back to my car before the garage closed). It was an altogether lovely day. Here are some photos from our adventure. (There is also a picture of the delicious scones I made.)

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On Saturday, we decided to do the exact opposite of running around a big city — we sat on my couch and watched the entire season 3 of Parks & Rec, which is absolutely hysterical (“Stop. Pooping.”) We loved that we could spend a day being so busy, and then enjoy each other’s company just as much hanging out around the house stuffing our faces with scones. Oh! And Ryan (I’ve gotten a lot of good-natured flack lately for calling him “the boyfriend” so it’s about time you all learned his name) came over so Hillary could meet his dog Gunnar (oh, and also meet Ryan…but the girl has her priorities). The three of us om-nom-nomed some Thai food and Hillary said I could keep Ryan. So, win!

Then Hillary had to go back this morning to Chicago. I should have mentioned again that it was 10 degrees in Chicago and 60 here. Maybe she would have stayed longer!

*really, you should be watching Parks & Rec.


Sundays: “Less Bad”

This is a continuation of thoughts regarding my post a few weeks ago about social justice and sustainable living.

My friend Hills (who has a great blog where she recommends all sorts of wonderful things) is fairly aware of the impact of her shopping habits. When we were roommates in Boston, I was amazed to watch her go shopping. It was like an extreme sport. Want to buy some eyeliner? Out pops a spreadsheet of which cosmetics companies do not test on animals. That kind of thing.

This was back before I cared much about my shopping habits. Is it cheap? Awesome? Is it cute? Great! Is it coated in high fructose corn syrup? Yum! But the more Hills and I talked about it, the more I realized she has some really great thoughts about sustainable living. This is my favorite:

“I know I can never be really good at this. Really, my goal is to be less bad.”

Less bad. The more I think about it, I think it’s probably the best we can hope for. And it’s way better than just bad.

I’m almost finished with Everyday Justice: the Global Impact of Our Daily Choices. In it, author Julie Clawson gives practical ways to address some of the ways we oppress workers and ruin the environment with our shopping choices. Plus she comes from a Christian perspective, talking about loving our neighbor and being good stewards of the earth, which I appreciate.

One of the things I really like about this book is that she doesn’t have an all-or-nothing approach. In other words, she’s trying to get people to be less bad, and to think about how their shopping choices impact others and the environment both here and around the world. It’s a very interesting read, and covers topics both new to me as well as things I’ve read from other authors (including topics such as tomato growers in Florida, cattle feed lots, and sweatshops).

As I ate my pre-packaged salad yesterday at lunch (so easy, so cheap, sort of “meh” in the taste department), I wondered where all the ingredients came from, how many resources were used to get all those ingredients into one place for packaging, how much extra packaging there was in this one little salad, whether or not the veggies were coated with pesticides, and how the workers who grew the veggies were treated. Somehow I went from just my normal lunchtime routine to thinking about a much bigger picture. And I had a moment of salad panic.

As I try and make better choices, I’m realizing just how difficult it is. I had a salad today at a local restaurant that I often go to and thought I’d email them to see where they source their produce and meat. They have no email address or phone number on their site; they just have an address. Which means now I have to write a letter. Hello, the 19th century called and it wants its forms of communication back.

It’s things like this that deter me from really finding out more about where stuff comes from. It turns out even being less bad is difficult.

Despite telling myself that every good choice makes me less bad, I still am frustrated this week. I’m frustrated that our production systems have come so far that it’s impossible to source most of what’s in my home. I’m frustrated that somehow “organic” and “sustainable” and “local” have these elitist connotations, despite the fact that this was the way the world worked for thousands of years before about 1950. I’m frustrated that this rabbit trail is making me think so much when it was so much easier just to be ignorant. I am frustrated that it’s hard and takes time and energy and extra money. I’m frustrated I have to consider pesticides and natural resources and worker conditions and animal welfare and the environment and all sorts of things because honestly, when I think about it carefully, I really do care deeply about these things and want to make changes.

But as Clawson and Hills have said, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s just about being a little less bad. So for dinner I’m having farmer’s market zucchini and corn risotto. It’s a start.

How were you less bad this week?