The other day while out running errands, I wound up at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which is the Metra hub downtown. I ran my errand, ate some lunch, and headed back toward the station. Along the way, I noticed signs for “Chicago French Market.” Color me intrigued.

Inside I found, not French food (which is what I expected), but a full local market, complete with produce, meat and cheese, little food vendors and, yes, even some macaroons.

They had a seafood counter that reminded me of the famous one in Seattle (though of course much smaller), and little areas with gorgeous chocolates.

There was, after some wandering, a good group of other little shops selling flowers and small trinkets, and international/gourmet dry goods, which I enjoyed pouring over.

All in all it was a very neat place and I’m glad I discovered it. If you want a quick bite with multiple options available, or if you’ve got a little time to spend at the Metra station, you should check it out.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about how I’d started re-reading Lord of the Rings for the first time in close to a decade. I’d gotten burned out on them, and the ubiquitous nature of things related to the movies (which, to be clear, I love dearly, but maintain they are their own entities, though that’s probably another post for another day).

At any rate, because life is busy and because it’s been nicer outside, it took me two months to read through the whole trilogy. I’m not sorry about that, either. It gave me the time to rediscover things about the story, things I’d forgotten or maybe never noticed in the first place (hey, those are some dense books and the more you learn about Middle Earth lore, the more you find in the novels). And the best part of the whole trilogy? Return of the King.

Why? Because I had forgotten nearly all of it. Oh, I definitely remember what happens in the book, and I remember certain aspects distinctly, but the details (and entire interactions with characters) and humor (yes! there is humor!) and the beautiful way Tolkien switches from the colloquial conversations and observations of the hobbits to the epic style (and I use “epic” in the literary sense here) is just wonderful.

I know it’s old and I know some people think it’s boring, but I really love these stories. They are classics for a reason. And I’m glad I was able to finally finish them (again) and make them fresh in my mind in a way they haven’t been in years.

Thanks, Professor.

End note: In the spirit of this, and after how much I enjoyed these books, I’m going to give Harry Potter a go to see if I can get a fresh reading on it. I’ve read it much more recently, but it’s also been shifted in my mind to be mostly movie imagery, so I’m hoping I can go back and recapture my own imagination’s version of Harry and Ron and Hermione and the rest. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Beavers Donuts, mini doughnutsToday is National Doughnut Day in the US, one of our multitudinous holidays celebrating things that are random about mostly involve food. Not ones to pass up an opportunity for a good doughnut, though, we happily participated at a new-found gem: Beavers Donuts + Coffee in the French Market in downtown Chicago. We got a variety to try: from left to right, the June special (Oreo cream), cinnamon, and powdered sugar. So, so good. No-one does mini doughnuts like they do in the midwest. I have to give them credit for that.

This will mostly be a photo post, because I think there is plenty to see and I couldn’t add that much to what already exists. This weekend we went to the Chicago Botanic Garden to see the early spring blooms.The garden is free, though there is a per-car fee to park, except for military, which get in for free. Thanks, Botanic Garden! ^_^

Just the first bulbs are up right now, the rest of the garden still sleeping after a long winter, but those first bursts of color are hope physically formed after all the snow.


We walked along the water where the white trees are still waiting for their leaves.


And we sat in a field of giant crocus, running rampantly out of their plantings.


All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend the day before Easter.

(Even MORE photos below.)

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So here’s a confession: I suspect I might be a Middle Earth hipster.

Now hear me out! Before you go rolling your eyes and ignoring the rest of this post, let me explain a bit.
I read Lord of the Rings before it was a movie.

This is true of a lot of people. A whole lot of people! People in fandoms and online RPGs and book clubs and Led Zeppelin and Stephen Colbert and the list goes on and on and on. I know this because the internet kind of happened around the same time I was first geeking out over Frodo and Lothlorien and trying to learn Elvish and all of those other things geeky kids do. There were fan sites! Other people passionate about Lord of the Rings! Who, like me, had an Annual Reading (Christmas break, every year beginning in sixth grade).

People who remember the last line of The Two Towers (“Frodo was alive, but taken by the Enemy.”) and who probably flung the book across the room like I did and scrambled for Return of the King.

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I remember the thrill of first finding a small website,, with just a handful of images and a couple of maps… and the news that they were filming a movie. A MOVIE. Middle Earth was coming to the big screen! I was in high school then, and being the dorky kid I was, I printed out all of the teaser posters and handful of pirated images of sets and covered my notebooks in them. (I wish I could find that first image, of a single Nazgûl looking down over Bag End.)

To be clear, there were a lot of other fans out there.

But no-one I knew.

My mom had read the books years before, and it was her copy I first borrowed, but otherwise I knew no-one who’d read the books. And then, in 2001, that all changed.

The Fellowship of the Ring came out December 19th of that year, when I was a Freshman in college. I saw it no less than 8 times in theaters, and even though I had some terrible NerdRage over the changes made to the story, mostly I was enchanted.

And there were tie-in products! For the first time in my memory, I could buy Lord of the Rings merchandise! Keychains! Book marks! A replica of the One Ring! It was like a dream came true!

And then….

Suddenly it was everywhere.

Everyone had seen the movie (and saw the other two installments). A lot more people read the book. I was excited to have other people share in the magic, but at the same time… shared magic seemed to make the whole thing a little less magical for me.

Maybe it was because I went so long with nothing but my own imaginings of the characters. Maybe it was simple over-saturation (much like with Frozen these days). Maybe it was something else. But suddenly this wasn’t my thing anymore.

And I found I couldn’t read the books anymore, either.

The movies’ images got too ingrained in my mind, and I found that I was mixing up details from a book I’d read more than a dozen times. (to see the difference, this some of the only Middle Earth art I’d ever seen, and it largely colored my imagination.) It was frustrating and just not… fun. So I put the books away.

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Over the last twelve years, I’ve tried a few times to re-read Tolkien, but without success. Several years ago I just plain gave up on it. I donated many of my duplicate book sets (though not the fancy anniversary editions, nor the 70s era paperbacks just like the first set I ever read, complete with yellow pages and Tolkien’s own illustrations.). It made me sad, but maybe that was part of becoming an adult. When The Hobbit‘s movies came out, I saw the first two. The third came out in December and is now on Blu-ray, and I still haven’t seen it. It bothers me a little that it doesn’t bother me.

And then something kind of amazing happened.

Last week, I was fishing through my To Read pile of books for a new something to begin, and I found that really all I wanted was to read The Hobbit. I picked it up, expecting to read a few lines and then to get restless and put it down again.

I didn’t.

I read half of it in one sitting.

Bilbo in the book is quite different than Bilbo in the movies. This isn’t bad* at all. Instead it was refreshing. This was the story I remembered! The magic was all still there. The trouble was just with me and my reading of it.

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Suddenly I care about these books again, and I’m slowly making my way through the whole series. I might even dust off my copy of Silmarillion, just for fun.

What a wonderful surprise.


*Incidentally, the Lord of the Rings movies were the ones that taught me to separate the books from the films. People will claim the “books are always better” and in many cases this might be true, but I prefer to look at them as entirely separate things. Changes happen because words on the page don’t always translate well onto screen. They have to be adapted. Sometimes this even works to improve the story; I like the Hunger Games movies a LOT better than the books.

DSC_7779On Monday we got a surprise snowing here in Chicago. At first when I was up at 4:30 with J to bid him goodbye for the day (and goodnight because I certainly don’t actually get up that early) I was irritated. Then when I got up for the day finally I wasn’t sure how I felt about it anymore and spent a good chunk of the morning staring out the window. This was how my day kind of went.

8:00am: Get up. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:13am: Walk into kitchen to feed cats. Stare out window at stupid snow.
8:17am: Make tea. Stare out window at stupid snow while tea brews.
8:24am: Eat breakfast. Stare out window across the room from me where I can still see the stupid snow.

DSC_7789And so the morning progressed. The snow started again, and fell thicker and thicker, to the point where it looked like we might even get completely buried.

10:29am: Huddle by fireplace. Stare out window at stupid snow.
12:34pm: Eat lunch. Stare out window at stupid snow.
1:23pm: Suddenly remember I have a macro lens. Dig parka out of closet where I stuffed it on the first day of spring because I’m done participating in winter, pull on snowboots, run outside like a weirdo and start flailing around taking pictures of snowflakes.

snowflake 8
1:58pm: Remember I have a box of fairy doors that would also be fun to photograph in snow. Run back upstairs and pack up a waterproof bag of Tiny Things including the little doors and run back outside.

fairy door 03
3:43pm: Realize I’ve been outside over two hours total. Figure it’s time to go back inside.
4:00pm: Make tea. There’s always reason for more tea.

I took a lot of snowflake pictures. I mean, a lot of snowflake pictures.

snowflake 17I’m only putting a handful of them here, but they are a general representation. I tried a few different methods, too, including catching them on a plastic bag, which you can see above. The flakes themselves were fairly huge but melted quickly because of the warm air.

snowflake 19
This one was one of my favorites, by far. Another plastic bag catch, and didn’t last long, but I liked the way the edges looked.

snowflake 7 (flake cluster)You can see how light and fluffy the snow was in this one, just lots of little flakes piling up in a geometric sort of way. Much less solid than I expected.

DSC_7853This shows you how big the flakes really were. You can see an individual one on my glove!

snowflake 15 (flake cluster)This one reminded me of those little magnetic building pieces kids use. I forget what they’re called, but the snowflakes built themselves up just like that.

So there’s a tiny peek at some tiny frozen water bits. I will post fairy door pictures another day, because they were fun to photograph, too. As of today most of the snow is melted (much to my relief) so I’m glad I grabbed the opportunity when I had it.



St Patrick's Day J and J on the River

Well. J and I have now experienced our first St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Maybe next year we’ll check out the south side parade, but for this year we just headed downtown to see the green river and catch the (surprisingly short) downtown parade.

Chicago River St Patricks Day

We got there around 10:30 in the morning, so maybe an hour after they dyed the river and it was a vibrant green. Tons of people lined the bridges and sidewalks and riverwalk to get a good view, but it wasn’t difficult to navigate by any means. Until we tried to see the parade.

Chicago St Patricks Day views

Turns out the parade is in the park and only about 4 blocks long. I’m not joking. So thousands of people tried to cram into a four block stretch of road to see. We weren’t close enough to do much other than listen, so we retreated toward the train. Along the way we stopped into the Elephant and Castle pub for a snack and a festive beverage. While there, we were surprised by a roving bagpipe band who came into the pub and gave a twenty minute concert, all of two feet from our little table. Win!

St Patrick's Day J and J EXCITE FACE

Mostly it was just nice to be outside on an early spring-like day. See how excited we were? There was sunshine and the snow’s almost completely gone and I felt like I could really breathe again. We’re definitely still adjusting but the warm weather is helping tremendously.


And I’ve seen flowers. They DO exist! (Pardon the blur of this photo, I was a long way off on my phone but I needed to DOCUMENT.)

SPRING is here! Flowers!


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