2012 Reading Update

2012 Reading List – the goal is one book per week, which I’ve amended to an average of one book per week. Titles below marked with an asterisk were started in 2011 and finished in 2012. Those titles which are bolded are my highest recommendations for the year.

  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  2. The End of Overeating by David Kessler*
  3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling*
  4. Bossypants by Tina Fey*
  5. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  6. Then Again by Diane Keaton
  7. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  8. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan*
  9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  10. Tomatoland: How Modern Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook
  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  12. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  13. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  14. From Dead to Worse: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris
  15. Delicacy by David Foenkinos
  16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  17. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  18. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  19. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
  20. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes (re-read)
  21. Let’s Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  22. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
  23. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  24. Dead and Gone: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris
  25. Healthy Tipping Point by Caitlin Boyle
  26. The Color of Bones by Tracy Edward Wymer
  27. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  28. The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life: (Go Away!) by Meghan Rowland and Chris Turner-Neal
  29. Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Lisa Randall*
  30. Dead in the Family: A Sookie Stackhouse Novel by Charlaine Harris
  31. Time and Tide in Acadia: Seasons on Mount Desert Island by Christopher Camuto
  32. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  33. Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
  34. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (re-read)
  35. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  36. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Are we friends on Goodreads yet? http://www.goodreads.com/cassieirwin

Urban Kayaking

My trip to Maine was the first time I’ve gone kayaking, but I was almost-immediately in love. So when Isha wondered if anyone wanted to go kayaking while she was in town, I was all over that. We went with Urban Kayaks, on their Historic Chicago tour.

I know Isha from my days on Tumblr and internet friends become real life friends pretty easily when brunch is involved.


Pancakes are always bringing people together, you know.


Kayaking on the Chicago River was, at first, a bit more intense than I had anticipated, so I’m glad we went with a tour to start. With all the architectural tour boats, and other boat traffic downtown, it was good to have a few seasoned kayaking instructors with us to manage navigation. They did a great job of teaching us the necessary skills to manage it though without being dramatic – much more fun than stressful, I promise.

Cloudy weather = beautiful colors.

Our overall experience with Urban Kayaks was pretty good. Everyone was super friendly and the historical tour aspect of the trip was engaging and interesting. They had three instructors out with us, which is good as we were a pretty big group. That part became a bit frustrating near the end – not everyone picked up kayaking at the same speed. I spent a lot more time braking to avoid other kayaks than being able to steer while moving forward. Based on my only other experience kayaking, I did expect a smaller group based on the cost of the trip.

Wolf Point, Chicago

I would use Urban Kayaks again for a tour though – with the expectation that it’ll be kind of an easy, calm, fun trip. It’s a little pricey, but there are not many “cheap” tourist activities in Chicago. I would say, even, it’s imperative that your first time kayaking on the downtown portion of the river is with a tour group. Until I own my very own kayak, I will definitely rent from these folks, too.

This is really one beautiful city.

Note: all photos courtesy of Isha T. as I refuse to even try to take photographs with my camera phone anymore.


I seem to listen to primarily male singer-songwriters, broken-hearted and angsty young men. Damien Rice is a favorite. Sufjan Stevens. Mumford and Sons. More Damien Rice. Even more Damien Rice. Sometimes I need a break, though, and my friend Jason is replete with recommendations for female musicians to listen to and through him I have found some very lovely music. A few months ago, I asked very specifically for something I could listen to at work… not too sad, not too happy…and a female, please… and he recommended Meiko.

I listened a few times, here and there. I liked it. But listening to music at work is not the way to give a new artist a fair shot. I couldn’t tell you any specific songs I liked; I certainly didn’t retain any lyrics. It fades into the background for most of the day (which is how I listened to Lana Del Rey on loop for 8 hours without realizing it last week).
A few days ago, a friend offered a free ticket to the Meiko show at Lincoln Hall. I know that name! I thought, looked her up on Spotify and instantly remembered that, yes, I like this. So I jumped at the ticket and headed the beautiful Lincoln Hall venue Wednesday night for what turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in months.
Meiko is just seriously so adorable. I can’t help it – I’m a little in love with her. She was phenomenal live. I’m just waiting for a live album to release because it was so much better than a studio album. That sounds terrible but I mean it as a compliment. She has a lovely voice and was just on all night. Great music, super charming – I was swooning, I can’t deny it.


She was so sweet and genuine and accommodating at the merch table. I picked up a super cute t-shirt, snagged her autograph, and yet somehow resisted from just putting her in my pocket and taking her home (that’s how we talk about about things that are adorable, ok). Just a wonderful night all around.

Both of her albums are great but I am looping The Bright Side like crazy – happy, upbeat, cheerful songs that are guaranteed to make you smile. She loves love, y’all! And it’s fun!

And yes, I asked her where she got her dress and then I bought that dress. We’re surprised? (No, we’re not.)


Those readers who also have to deal with me in person know that for the last six weeks, I’ve been awkwardly walking slightly off-balance in an effort to let a stress fracture heal. Actually, if you’ve been reading the blog, whether you know me or not, you know this – because I’ve used many opportunities to elicit pity by mentioning this dreaded walking boot ruining all my summer plans.

Summer’s best fashion accessory – really.

Well, I paid my dues. I wore the boot. I took my calcium supplements. I stopped working out for six weeks. My left calf muscle has atrophied into just a remnant of its former glory. But my six weeks are finally over and I am de-booted!

I have six more weeks before I can hope to be back to where I was six months ago. This week, I’m only allowed to engage in “normal, everyday” walking activities. And then it’s a few weeks of physical therapy and a lot of finger-crossing that my bones are strong. By mid-September, I should be back to my five to ten hours of dance each week.

But first things first – just normal, everyday walking, and I”ll try it out in Boston. Yes, another weekend trip to Boston. This time: walking through the Common, of course, a housewarming party, a kayaking trip, suppertime reunion with my favorite botanist (or are you a phrenologist now?), and much more! What happy and lucky timing that this trip occurs now, the day after the de-booting!

I will miss being able to pre-board my flights, though.

Who Has the Better Summer? Round 2: Stuff To Do

Wisconsin is where Chicagoans go to escape the city in the summer but it’s also where I spent my first 24 summers. The novelty that city slickers find in small town Wisconsin is just my normal. But after a few summers in Chicago, this feels normal too. So which is better? If you had to spend summer in just one place, which promises a better summer: Chicago or (my) small-town Wisconsin?

Summer Festivals
In my hometown, we have two summer festivals really – Walleye Weekend and the fair. The first is at the large park on Lake Winnebago and has formed around a three-day walleye fishing tournament. I know it better as the weekend we eat all kinds of fried food and watch the younger ones in the family play soccer. Just like any other summer festival – terribly unhealthy but delicious food, beer, bands, and the real purpose is something no one pays attention to. The fair is, of course – the fair. Come on. Carnival rides, animals in a large barn-type thing (um, I’ve been informed it’s just called “a barn”), and more fried food and beer.

In Chicago, summer festivals are much more compact – just a few blocks of space, at most. They’re typically not free; they’re suggested donation-admittance. Of course, here you’ll also find your fair share of fried foods, but many festivals are held in celebration of some heritage and so you’ll get a sampling of new foods too. Chicago’s festivals are so phenomenal though because there is literally something for everyone all summer. Lincoln Square’s Maifest (like Oktoberfest in spring!), Printer’s Row Lit Fest (used books for sales, author talks and readings!), and Wicker Park Fest (hipsters and music!) are a few of my favorites. And there are several fests every weekend, so it goes without saying if you have nothing to do – you’re wrong, there’s something to do.

Point Chicago.

This one is easy. You can’t camp in Chicago. Point Wisconsin.

Lazy Summer Porch Drinking

Yikes, this is harder. There are not many porches in Chicago. We have a back staircase that has a landing which we could theoretically put out one, maybe two, folding chairs and drink some beer. The view is lovely – the roof of the apartment building next door or into my neighbor’s kitchen. But Chicago has some pretty amazing local breweries that give perfect summer beer options – nice and light, crisp and a bit fruity.

Eh, you can buy Goose Island anywhere now. Wisconsin has New Glarus, big backyards, decks with grills and plastic kiddie pools. Point Wisconsin.

Outdoor Dining
It feels unfair to even write out a comparison here. There is no comparison. Point Chicago.

The Lake

Contenders: Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. I realize much of Wisconsin has access to Lake Michigan but we’re talking about my Wisconsin. My small-town Wisconsin has Lake Winnebago. A lake I’ve never swam in, maybe once canoed in, and often mocked. That said, I’ve only been to a Chicago beach once and certainly did not go in Lake Michigan. Tied.

Oh no, tied overall. Who guessed that would be the case? Truly, the winner is usually wherever I am not. When Chicago is too hot (and dirty), I crave a Wisconsin summer. And when Wisconsin gets boring, I itch to be back in Chicago. Luckily, it’s easy to go between the two.