Part 3: SWAN Week

Heart Alive Logo

Heart Alive Logo

Happy 8th Annual International SWAN Day! SWAN Day stands for Support Women Artists Now and gives us a chance to celebrate the great work of women in the arts throughout the world.

To celebrate this amazing and important day, I am publicly launching my website for my oral history projectIt Will Keep Your Heart Alive: Conversations withe Female Artists in Chicago.  Since July 2014, I’ve been conducting interviews with women from different fields, backgrounds, and neighborhoods to learn about their work and experiences as female artists in Chicago. So far, I’ve conducted fourteen interviews with three more scheduled. Several more are in the process of being scheduled. My ultimate aim is compile at least fifty interviews into a book.

This website will change with time. Right now, I want people to have a little bit more background information on the project. Eventually, I’d love to put up some of the content, either audio or excerpts from interviews.

Check out the project website here:

So go on and explore the website. But don’t forget to go out and celebrate a woman artists today and everyday. There’s so many ways to do it. Go rent/buy/see a movie directed and/or written by a woman, go to a show by a women, buy/borrow/read a book by a female author. The opportunities are endless!

(Thanks to Dan Carroll of for the logo design)

That’s all for now!

Part 2: SWAN Week

For the next installment of SWAN Week, I’m going to talk about books that I have read recently that are by female writers.

1. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Karen Abbot is one of my favorite historians. She writes about incredible women in American history. She made me realize that Chicago history was interesting; she introduced me to the Everleigh sisters. This new work of nonfiction is about four women acting as spies, etc during the Civil War. Two support the Union while two support the confederacy.  One woman dressed as a man and fought as a solider. One woman, a true Southern Belle, raced across the battlefield to give a general a message. Impressive women!

2. Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
It’s a comic about a girl and her unicorn, nicknamed Heavenly Nostrils. I think there’s a webcomic and two trade editions. The comic isn’t not cutesy. It’s being described as like Calvin and Hobbes. It all starts with Phoebe finding her unicorn staring at her own reflection. Unicorns are so narcissistic that they can get caught by their own reflection. The girl snaps the unicorn out of it and the unicorn grants Phoebe a wish Mischief and fun proceed from there.
3. Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
This book hurt to read but in a good way. It’s about a woman struggling to deal with being an adult. She’s trying to figure out how she hasn’t written her second book, deal with her child and husband. Ultimately, she’s trying to figure out where her life went wrong. But it’s more than that. It’s composed of short poetry like paragraphs that contemplate life. She talks about Greek philosophers, Rilke, and more. My heart was beating at the end.
4. The Ouija Interviews by Sarah Becan
This comic is based on a series of encounters on a Ouija board in 2006. It’s short but a true gem, even if you don’t believe in the afterworld. So much about people’s lives is explored in very short, poignant bursts.
5. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
It won the Man Booker in 2013. The book focuses on the New Zealand gold mining country. The plot centers around an incident that happens one night. All the characters are impacted by it. The narrative flows in and out of different view points. A strangely compelling book.
6. Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
I love Marjane Satrapi. Perspeolis still remains one of my favorite books. At the Chicago Humanities Festival in Fall 2014, she said that Chicken with Plums was her favorite work. So naturally, I had to read it. It’s about her uncle who decides to lie down and die. It’s an interesting tale about love, art, and life. Beautiful and heartbreaking.
That’s all for now!

Part 1: SWAN Week

This Saturday, March 28th, will be the 8th annual International SWAN Day. SWAN stands for Support Women Arts Day. All over the country and world, groups are getting together to celebrate women artists. This is an issue close to my heart. You can read more about the history of the day here:

So leading up to SWAN Day, I’m going to focus on women in the arts and history in my blog. On SWAN Day itself, I’ll have an important and exciting announcement so stay tuned!

I’m going to start with this incredible documentary film that just came out called She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. Two weekends ago, I attended a special screening with the director and some other special guests at the Music Box. It was also a SWAN day celebration put on by the Chicago Area Women’s History Association (CAWHA).

The film focuses on the US women’s movement in the late 60s until 1971. While I’ve definitely seen films and have read about the movement, I learned a great deal from this film. One of the things that the film did was talk about the messiness of the movement. It brought in diverse voices including minorities and LGBTQ activists. They talked about how the movement left them out or ignored their issues and how these groups tried to bring their work to the forefront.

Too often movements are depicted as these monolithic entities; instead they are often times made up of people with their own prejudices and failings. The film didn’t spend a lot of time on personalities of the movement like Gloria Steinem. It did talk a little bit about Betty Freidan but it really didn’t focus on her as a personality, just noted the impact of her book and some of her later actions. It really tried to show the women’s movement as populated by people, like you and me, not just led by larger than life folks. I really dug that.

For me the most important scene was when one of the women interviewed talked about how radical history needs to be talked about. Change doesn’t just happen; radicals push for it. People need to know about this history because people get so convinced that they can’t do anything to change the world. These movements show what folks can do. Beautiful.

I also learned about some funnier elements of the movement. There was Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell or W.I.T.C.H.E.S.It was a mix of guerrilla theater and activism. Women in this group would go around hexing people. Hilarious and apt. There was also the “Ogle-In” on Wall Street. A woman was employed on Wall Street in the 60s who was receiving a lot of unwanted attention from men and newspapers. Newspapers wrote about her attractiveness, publishing her measurements; men would line up near the MTA station to catcall her when she left work. So a group of women decided to walk up and down Wall Street and catcall men to turn the tables. The footage is hilarious.

Another great thing about the film was that it talked about a variety of cities including Chicago. I learned a little bit more about the women’s movement here. It was nice to see the film try to give a larger perspective than just New York and San Francisco. In the Q&A, it was repeatedly mentioned that Chicago could have enough to make a documentary about Chicago itself. I certainly hope to see that.

So seriously, go out and see this film. It’s really an important film for all people, not just women.

Here’s the link to the documentary website:

That’s all for now!



Part 3: Madison

That evening, we went to the Fireball Masquerade in Madison, Wisconsin. I’d describe it as a variety show with lots of burlesque, some circus and other performances. It’s been going on for several and years and occurs in the last Saturday of January. Each year there is a theme. This year’s theme was the Seven Deadly Sins.

Everyone was encouraged to dress up to that theme. I decided to go hyper literary so I went as the Red Masque of Death. Red mask and all. My fiance went as Envy in his chartreuse suit and one friend went as blasphemy in a monk’s robe with a book of heretical teachings. It was an impressive assortment of costumes! One guy did dress up as Mars with a fairly neat set of armor. Several people wandered around with mirrors in their hands to represent Vanity.
It started with a rather inspired burlesque act. There was a person dressed as mummy, covered in wrappings, while slowly consuming three victims on stage. It was on point and well constructed. The mummy slowly revealed her wrappings while gorging on blood covered organs. Eventually the dancer revealed a muscle outfit covered in sequins. (When I say muscle, I mean a map of the muscles of the human body). Really dug this bit.
Another act that I really adored was the Sloth acrobatic act. Gruff and Tumble decided to take a new twist on the theme. It was a comedic acrobatic act with a trainer and his two sloths. It was really cute. The sloths were appropriately lazy; moving slowly to do these incredible feats of acrobatics. Power dynamics were played around with as well. I really enjoyed this piece. This act was when we realized that a good contingent of audience members were also dressed up as sloths. Nice job!
There was a lyra act that was pretty neat. The theme was greed so the music was appropriately brash and avaricious. There was a delightful burlesque act for greed. As she took off pieces of clothing, coins flew through the air. I liked the consistency of the theme! There was also this amazing male burlesque act that was probably one of the funniest bits to the show. It was as if Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd was asked to do burlesque. That’s pretty awesome.
The rest of the show was okay. I soon got tired of fake (or real) blood in the acts to be honest. Too many acts seemed to focus on wrath and lust. I wanted more variety of acts. There was a bizarre burlesque act for gluttony that ended with the male performer in a pigs head dumping beans on himself…  It was also a little too long for me (I’m getting old!) to stand. (Ice skating did a number on my back but it was worth it.)
The following day was the Sunday of the Great Blizzard. We had gotten notification from concerned parents and friends that the blizzard was going to get really bad after 2pm. As soon as we woke up, we got on the road. Very interesting ride. We had no issues (thank goodness); my friend who drove was a rockstar. But it was strange travel. There were definitely cars that had slipped off the road into awkward areas. We couldn’t see very far out in any direction. The wind kept the snow off the road for most of Wisconsin but conditions really got bad as soon as we got to Chicago. Snow blew in from all angles. We were fortunate to leave when we did. I didn’t want to be traveling in that weather at night.
Nothing like a snowstorm in Madison though. I miss them actually. I have very fond memories of walking home from campus in blizzards. There was this amazing hush over the world. Once I think I saw a person skiing down the road. Too bad it hadn’t been on Saturday! We could have gone sledding.
But it was a good trip. I can’t wait to go back!
That’s all for now!

Part 2: Madison

The following day, we headed out to the Henry Vilas Zoo. This was yet another thing that I had failed to do while living in Madison. It was even in walking distance from my apartment; few things not in central Madison were. But it was in the opposite direction from campus. Which is a terrible reason not to go. I loved animals then as I love them now. So it was time to right that wrong.

And off we went! It’s a free zoo so we just walked in. We also learned that it was open in the winter though some attractions weren’t. We first spent some time looking at the goats. Lots of goats. Nearby, we discovered a small mammal house with two very active red pandas. Unlike the ones at the Lincoln Park Zoo in the past, you could see these bright red creatures. They were very active, wandering around their habitat, in and out, sometimes scenting the terrain. It was super cool to see them up close and in the snow! They also had an exhibit with porcupines with giant quills.

Red Panda

Red Panda

After the small mammals, we found ourselves in the reptile and amphibian house. I didn’t love it. It seemed very small (yes, I’m comparing it to LPZ) but it seemed a cross between a museum and a zoo. There were some live animals and then some specimens to examine. They also had those chongololo that I saw in Namibia! Eew! But one of the things that depressed me was the giant turtles. These were the largest turtles on earth. However, they stood on mats in a small habitat. It didn’t seem to sit right with me.

Then we went off to see the giraffes…which were the hardest to see. There were two giraffes, separated in a small enclosure. After seeing giraffes wandering in large groups in the wild, sometimes running, it was hard to see just two giraffes in such a small place. We quickly moved on to another habitat.

Then things seemed to turn for the better. We saw a  tiger, wandering around its habitat. We also saw some very active lions. We aren’t sure what they were annoyed about, but they were active and vocal. (Probably more active than all the lions we saw in Africa). We also enjoyed the tropical area with bright beautiful birds! We also had a good time in the ape house. At one point, one of the chimps straddled the ceiling using the bars on a skylight. Very impressive. And there were South African penguins. More penguins please.

Active Lion!

Active Lion!

Obligatory photo of penguins

Obligatory photo of penguins

All in all, it was worth going even if some enclosures were a little small for my taste.

Near the zoo, there were several bodies of water. One was a lake and another was pond. Both were frozen over and people were enjoying winter on them. We ran out on to the lake, which felt crazy. It was fairly solid. You really have to imagine that there was water underneath. My Madison friend said that sometimes you can hear the water underneath but not this time. I decided to try lying down. Because frozen lake.

Then we decided to go ice skating on the pond nearby. This was another thing that I had never done. I’ve been ice skating at various rinks around the world but I had never skated on a pond. So we strapped on our rented skates and went out. It was an interesting experience. The ice is not flat; it’s kinda bumpy. But the pond was so much bigger than any other rink that I had ever been on.I also had the pleasure of looking under a bridge from below! People were playing pick up hockey games. We raced each other. It was simply magnificent to ice skate. I never skate enough during the winter.

That’s all for now! I’ll talk about the show that brought us to Madison tomorrow.

Part 1: Madison

Since I’ve returned from our amazing safari, the adventures have continued. At the end of January, we went to Madison for the weekend. Scott’s brother was performing in a revue show with two other friends so we decided to make a weekend of it to support them. I’m calling the trip “That Which I Should Have Done (In Grad School) I Did Do.” There were a variety of things that I just never got around to doing when I lived in Madison. Many times I didn’t because I didn’t really have someone to do it with or more likely, I left things undone for no good reason.

This trip fixed some of that.

We drove up on Friday night after work. We arrived around 10pm but we decided to make the most of it so we went out to one of the bars on the Capital Square. I think I was there once as a graduate student but definitely not at night. It was quite crowded but we managed to get a table. We hung out with old friends; I enjoyed their cider selection. We lost track of time and suddenly it was bar time. 2am. Most of the bars close at that time so there is a great exodus. This was a time that I generally never witnessed while living here. I don’t think I ever stayed at a bar that late while living in Madison.

It was so strange to be out in January in the wee hours of the morning with so many other people. It was a whole different world! People were roving all over the streets, on their way to a party, to get food, and other mischief. There were varying degrees of intoxication.

That’s when my friend (who lives in Madison) suggested Pelminis. This name made me unbelievably joyous. While I was in grad school, there was a little hole in the wall shop called “Pelmini” that served Russian dumplings of the same name. You had three choices: potato pelminis, meat pelminis, or both. They served the pelminis with cilantro, hot sauce, sour cream, some spice that I don’t know the name of, and a piece of rye bread. It was my favorite place to go. That’s where I learned to appreciate records too. I’d go on a weekly basis. It was a special place for me. But I only went during the day. My friends told me that it was a completely different place at bar time but I never saw that side. Sadly, the place closed the week I graduated. A tiny part of Madison experience faded into the mist.

That night in Madison, I learned that it was reborn. It had reopened several years later. And yes, it was open. So naturally, I was keen to go. Nothing like walking down Nostalgia Road. And so I finally saw what it was like at night. Packed with a lot of inebriated college kids. Some were fine; some shoved into other people without realizing it. But I would get my pelminis. It was a twenty minute wait. But it was totally worth it. I got my meat and potato mix with cilantro, hot sauce, and sour cream. It was wonderful. Rich, warm, and slightly spicy. Made my heart soar!

Finally a picture of food I talk about!

Finally a picture of food I talk about!

That’s all for now! Tomorrow I’ll talk about two things crossed off my list: the Henry Vilas Zoo and ice skating on a frozen pond!

Part 12: Namibia

And then it was the day to leave. After 6 wonderful days of safari, it was time to return home to Chicago. This time, it would only take us 40 hours to get home. Totally worth every moment.

It took r three hours to get back to the airport. It was amazing to see the country unfold before us. After days with no other cars but the jeeps, there were so many cars on the road! But we saw a bit of the farms as we passed by. We saw herds of goats and sheep. My only complaint about the food was that there was never goat on the menu. I love goat. Oh well. We saw a lot of huge birds of prey as well. It was also interesting to see the various vacation places as we passed by. How many of them were like Erindi? It’s hard to imagine a place as wonderful as Erindi. Sadly, we didn’t go into the downtown of Windhoek so I can’t really speak to the capital city itself. We did pass a taxidermy place nearish to the airport. That would have been interesting to stop in!

The airport was an interesting experience. It was probably the most frightening part of the trip. At the check-in counter, the agent was having difficulty printing our boarding passes. Luggage tags were printed without an issue. After a brief consultation with another gate agent, he decided to handwrite our boarding passes. Yep, handwritten boarding passes. This was quite a first for me. I’ve traveled on five continents (I’ll get to the other 2) and this has never occurred. He got some of that special paper for tickets and wrote the relevant info for each one. He told us it would be fine since he would be the one to take the tickets as we boarded. Passport control and Security rubber stamped the whole thing. So that was quite unnerving.

Our Boarding Passes

Our Boarding Passes

As we boarded the plane, the stewardesses were really unhappy with our boarding passes. One commented: “Anyone could have written that. That’s a security risk.” Yes, we know. But we were allowed on the plane and got to Johannesburg. I got one neat picture of the country from the air.

Honestly, not sure if this Namibia, Botswana or South Africa from the air

Honestly, not sure if this Namibia, Botswana or South Africa from the air

Thankfully, we had checked in online so we would have been recorded on the flight. But that’s such a weird experience!

After 40 hours, we got home to Chicago.


So what can I say in conclusion of the trip? It was one of the best things I’ve done. There is nothing like seeing these amazing animals in the wild. These are incredible creatures. We have to protect them and appreciate them.  I’ll never be able to see giraffes the same way. Now, I’ll admit that within three weeks of returning, we went to two zoos (Lincoln Park Zoo and the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI) to get our animal fix. But it isn’t the same. I’m still aching to go back there. I want to hang out with the elephants again. They were probably my favorite; they are so full of personality!

So if you have any inclination to go on safari, do it. Sure, it’s not a cheap vacation but it’s not prohibitively expensive. And it doesn’t have to be tents or “roughing it.” Erindi Private Game Reserve was a fantastic place to go. It was rather luxurious and the staff were great. Ule is the best.

So do it. You won’t regret it.

That’s all…for now.