Summer / Fall / Winter at Pistakee Bay, Chain o’ Lakes, Illinois.

I’ve spent the majority of my life living in cities, and anything beyond them has always been a little uncomfortable to me. One summer during college, I took a road trip with my friend to visit her family in Kansas. They lived in the middle of nowhere, and at night, the prairie was absolutely silent except for rustling grass. I couldn’t sleep: it was too quiet and too dark. Yet, I can sleep like a baby in my apartment, with its windows facing a main street, ambulances and buses and cars passing at all hours of the night, light pouring in. 

But the lake house is different. It’s quiet and dark, but comforting. The old house settles into sleep with creaks and snaps and I like to imagine that if I lie very still I can hear the lake lapping quietly against the shore. 

I love the energy of the city and up until recently, I couldn’t imagine living far away from an urban center. There’s so much to do and see and experience. But more and more, I can understand why people retreat into quieter suburbs and country homes as they get older and have families. Away from constant noise and movement, there’s a sense of safety and mindfulness. There’s a place to grow a vegetable garden and plant herbs and take long walks through the woods.

It’s a great privilege to be able to experience both worlds and I won’t ever take it for granted. 

If you live in or near Chicago it is in your best interest to visit Ravenswood Used Books at Montrose and Damen. Get lost in this delightful, labyrinthine temple to literature, buy used books at ridiculously reasonable prices, bring chocolate for the wonderful human who works at the front desk, tell all your friends about it, and return often. That this store becomes as much of an institution here in its new location as it was for 12 years in the heart of Lincoln Square is of the utmost importance to me.

But kindness is not always as heavy as action: it can be as light as speech or as invisible as inaction. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to exercise self-restraint: not posting a nasty comment on an article, leaving a mean-spirited tweet in the draft folder, keeping quiet to listen to whatever unfamiliar or opposing opinion is being offered.

The Internet has offered us many facile ways of expressing approval (like, favorite, share) but few ways of being kind. It might be that the greatest act of kindness on the Internet is to be quiet. Not to be forever silent, but at least listen and learn before expressing outrage or anger, and to realize that kindness will not always take the form of approval.

Sprung

On Saturday, friends got engaged in a park. Then they got on the train and, at every stop, their family members climbed on to surprise them. We were in the last car and we were packed tight and they were both crying and laughing and she was crushing a bouquet of flowers to her breast with a rose-gold hand. Between Belmont and Montrose Avenues, the city of Chicago allowed itself to believe in love.

 My favorite bookstore moved. 30,000 books heavy, backbreaking truckloads of all the dusty, creaky reasons I choose to believe that the world is good. Last night, eyes trickling with dust and a late-season cold, I followed my friend through the labyrinth of shelves that fill the new space—a skyline of shelves for books about Chicago, shelf-apartments for the volumes that will speak home into our hearts. And yet—there’s always that prickling feeling that we’re saying goodbye to what was really good, and that what’s to come won’t be wide enough for us. How can we fit ourselves into the small, suffocated knots that we tangle our future into, night after sleepless night?

 It wasn’t fever, I promised. Just a stuffy night, windows closed against the noise of cold rain washing winter trash into the city’s bowels.

 Junk food. I’ve been living on wine and half a Greek chicken, on a warm plate slapped down in early evening, gravy overlapping the sides of my smile. There are parents with children at the restaurant now, coaxing vegetables. Crayons and mussed ponytails. I remember those golden suppers, eaten long before sunset. We walk home and it’s still chilly and barren. My arm through yours, coat to coat, heart to heart but only when we allow it. Like a needle skipping on vinyl.

 Echoes of summertime, in the crackling ice across the bay, in the way the buds look painful before they burst into blooms. Shoots of green. It’s violent, this spring, the way it tears itself into existence out of rock-solid ground. The cruelest month, he called it. And it is, but I’m softening, flinging wide the windows and flopping on my stomach to watch the street unfold like an open page at twilight. It will rain soon. Bring the books inside.  

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Wings - HAERTS

An anthem for the arrival of spring.

We have a few family recipes, but none of them mean home as much as these little German Christmas cookies do. Pfeffernusse, or peppernuts, can be made in several different ways with a variety of ingredients, but they almost always contain aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and anise.

There’s a satisfying ritual to peppernuts: you make the dough a day before, and then roll it into logs to cut it into tiny cookies no bigger than the tip of your second finger. It takes patience, laughter, a lot of flour and a lot of baking sheets to get through a bowl of peppernut dough.

But when they’re done baking, what a treat! Mom always dished them off the baking sheet to cool in a tea towel, and we’d grab for them while they were still hot to stuff into our mouths. They’re good like that, but because their flavor comes from spices, they get even better with age. One July we found a tin of them in the back of a cupboard, six months old and ten times better than the day we pulled them out of the oven. Which is good, because one batch makes so many that you can’t eat all of them in one season.

They make great gifts over the holidays, not to mention that they’re the perfect companion for your afternoon cup of tea.

PEPPERNUTS

You will need:

  • 1 cup butter

  • 1 cup corn syrup

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1 cup sour cream

  • 5 cups flour

  • 2 tsp baking powder

  • 1 tsp baking soda

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves

  • 2 1/2 tsp star anise

You can find star anise at some grocery stores, but I have always had the best luck finding it at World Market. To use star anise, place one or two stars in a ziploc bag and crush them with a mallet or the back of a frying pan. You won’t necessarily be able to get them down to dust, but the smaller the pieces are, the better.

Instructions:

  • Mix all the ingredients together. It’s helpful to soften the butter and add the flour one cup at a time, if like me you don’t own a hand or stand mixer.

  • Let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 3 days.

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

  • Allow the dough to come to room temperature. Flour the surface of a large cutting board. Using a spoon, scoop a handful of dough into your palm. On the cutting board, use your fingers to roll the dough into a long log, roughly the width of your thumb. Use a sharp knife to cut the log of dough into uniform pieces no larger than the tip of your second finger. Place in rows on a cookie sheet.

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes at 350. Let them cool for a couple of minutes on the pan, then remove to a tin or tupperware.

  • Yield: a gazillion aromatic, delightfully crunchy cookies.
Poetry seems to have priced itself out of a job; sadly, it often handles few materials of significance and addresses a tiny audience. Literary fiction is scarcely published; it’s getting to be like conceptual art — all the unknown writer can do is tell people about his work, and all they can say is, “good idea.” The short story is to some extent going the way of poetry, willfully limiting its subject matter to such narrow surfaces that it cannot address the things that most engage our hearts and minds. So the narrative essay may become the genre of choice for writers devoted to significant literature.
Annie Dillard on the art of the essay (via explore-blog)

You’ve Got Mail is now a relic of so many things: the early internet, early internet dating, small bookshop owners being able to live in giant beautiful apartments, small bookshop owners being afraid of corporate booksellers, corporate booksellers still being in business, life before e-readers, “on line”, gut feelings, cultural obsession with Pride & Prejudice, Gap clothes being the height of fashion, rom-coms, making fun of Starbucks, Meg Ryan’s acting career

Mandatory Beauty Routine Post

I am vain, but I am not patient. I like to look good but hate to spend any time making it happen. If I were rich, I’d clean my own house and hire somebody to do my hair and makeup every day like some Hollywood nightmare.

In other words, I have very few skills. I do not know how to French braid hair, pluck my eyebrows properly, or apply eyeshadow in a way that does not make me look like a corpse. And to be honest, I’m okay with that, most days. I like to keep things very simple. Unkempt hair, a little black eyeliner and mascara, and blush. Maybe some red lipstick if I’m going out.

As I’m learning, taking very good care of your skin is a game changer when you’re not a huge fan of foundation, concealer, and the works. In the past month I’ve started paying more attention than usual to upkeep just because, well, I’m 26 and it’s never too early to make sure your face never looks like Madonna’s hands. 

Almost no information is more accessible in this moment than the beauty routines of the rich and famous, which tend to start out with the sentence, “My beauty routine is very simple. I use this one cream in the morning and at night, and I swear by it!” And you click on the link and you see that the cream is like $300. Which is when I leave the comment, “Hey Rashida Jones, do you know if Jergens has a comparable product?” 

So, lacking a miracle product, I’ve tried to go back to the basics. And it’s been working pretty well! It turns out that you don’t really need a product to reduce puffiness because drinking a giant glass of water as soon as you wake up generally does the trick. Sleep is never overrated. My mother taught me many things, some of which I’ve ignored to my own detriment (like “stand up straight”) and some of which has been invaluable (“Moisturize every day!”) I found that moisturizing at night really took my skin to the next level. Who knew?!  

The industry does, probably. Then again, if we all started eating vegetables regularly and drinking water like it’s water then they wouldn’t really be in business. But our mothers certainly would.