In celebration of July 4th, I found a recipe on the Food52 website (https://food52.com/recipes/28811-american-flag-cake) for baking a cake that, when sliced, looks like the U.S. flag. Though it seemed a little daunting, I decided to do it. My finished product didn’t come out quite as clean cut as theirs, but the reaction from my family was definitely worth baking all day for. And I mean all day—with one 9″ pan to make 5 cakes (I wanted to make it 9″ but couldn’t find disposable pans at that size), I was literally mixing, baking, cooling, cutting and icing for over 9 hours. I may not be the most skilled baker but I’ve got heart.
I’ve had some past technical issues with this blog which is why I haven’t posted since almost a year ago, but it seems appropriate to recommence now with a special post about a bike ride I took across the state of Iowa one month ago called RAGBRAI.
RAGBRAI is an acronym and registered trademark for the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and it’s largest bike-touring event in the world. It took place this year from July 19-25, starting at the Missouri River in Sioux City, IA and ending at the Mississippi River in Davenport, IA. The last time the ride started in Sioux City was in 1973, and there was much celebration of having them back in town after being gone so long. The ride itself spans 7 days, but riders can opt to participate as many days as they choose. I believe the ridership was somewhere around 10,000, but on certain days, it swelled up to about 20,000 with day/partial riders. Partial riders are people who chose to only ride one day, or less than the entire week’s tour.
My intention of this entry is not to give a history lesson into what RAGBRAI is or how it functions—you can visit their site or go to Wikipedia to learn that. Instead, I want to try and convey a fraction of the excitement and emotions I, and many others felt, taking part in this unbelievable, unforgettable experience.
There is so much I want to write about this trip that I don’t even know where to start or finish. I’ll begin by saying that RAGBRAI was my first time in Iowa, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do this—what better way to visit a state than riding your bike across it, stopping at quaint little towns along the way. How I actually got involved in it was completely by chance. I was telecommuting on a freelance project back in November 2014, working with a writer name George, and our only communication was by phone and email. During one of our conversations, he told me about RAGBRAI and how he had been wanting to do it for years. He was planning (or hoping) to do the 2015 ride in July—he and his friend, Michael, were going to sign up and he proposed the idea of me joining them. At the time, I had only started to begin riding my bike on a regular basis and the thought of riding across Iowa was a little too ambitious for me. And let me just state for the record—IOWA IS NOT FLAT. There are many, many rolling hills that may look like nothing when driving in a car, but on a bike, they can break even strong cyclists.
Fast forward to March 2015, I had then been riding my bike all throughout winter and was gaining confidence in my ability to persevere through the elements, especially wind, as difficult as it was at times. I started to feel and believe that I could actually do this ride in July if I kept up with training. So months after my freelance project had ended and I lost touch with George, I reached out to him to see if he and his friend Michael were still planning the trip. Turns out that they were, and I joined their team Abiding Dudes (yes, a homage to the Big Lebowski).
We officially commenced training in April, as that’s when RAGBRAI had recommended starting it—according to their suggested training guide. The goal was to train about 500 miles prior to the event to ensure you would make it through the entire tour. Fortunately (and unfortunately), I was not working full-time during the period leading up to the ride and was able to log over 1,100 hours of training. Even though every mile I trained was well worth it, in hindsight, for people that work full-time and have families, I’m not quite sure how they could fit in 100 hours of riding per week.
I knew this ride would be momentous in so many ways, and it did not disappoint. We went, what I like to call, the ‘purist’ route, camping out almost every night (instead of staying at hotels or people in the host towns). The reason I call it that is because I believe in order to fully experience RAGBRAI, you need to at least do the entire week riding 65+ miles a day, then carry a 50lb bag to a crowded camp site, find a spot to set up camp, take a shower in a gym locker room with strangers, find dinner in town, and then come back to your tent to sleep, only to start the day over again at 5am—all over the course of a week. My teammates and I did this 6 out of the 7 nights (one of the nights we stayed with a host family), and I couldn’t believe how far I had pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. I had never camped in my life, and the only practice I had of assembling a tent was in my small apartment a couple of weeks before the ride. But by the end of the trip, I could set up camp and break it down more efficiently than I thought I ever would. And taking a shower with strangers—after sweating for 8+ hours, getting dirt kicked up on you, using porta potties with no toilet paper—was more than welcome if it meant being clean.
Waking up at dawn every day and riding so many miles may sound daunting but it was the only thing you had to do everyday. That’s it. There was no commuting on crowded trains, no checking email (especially since service was very limited), no texting, no deadlines or meetings, just riding your bike through beautiful scenery, stopping to eat and drink whenever you needed and wanted, and enjoying the entire experience.
It’s impossible to pinpoint one favorite moment during this trip. From the towns we passed through, the delicious food we ate, to the endless corn fields and thousands of people and towns we encountered, I couldn’t have imagined all of it, nor will I ever forget it.
I took the below video at the top of a hill because I wanted to capture the scenic landscape and the riders going downhill. I wanted to remember that moment and how I felt experiencing this. Watching the video, it might seem as though no one is having a good time. There aren’t many people smiling, and it appears they’re just trying to get from point A to B. That may be true for some (maybe those who have done it before), but I guarantee you there were many of us, including me, who were filled with so much excitement that we were actually doing this. The months of training and planning were finally coming to fruition and it was surreal. Yes, the rides were tough at times, many times, but to know that when you woke up all you had to do was ride your bike, eat food, rest, and have a good time, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so hard.
Some of the people, food, landmarks and towns we came across.
This year marked the 9th anniversary of the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor’s Island, and my first time attending. The event, a prohibition era inspired celebration, was first conceived by composer Michael Arnella of (Michael Arnella and his Dreamland Orchestra) as a small gathering, and originally produced by Governor’s Island. However, after three years, Michael Arnella took the reigns and grew it into one of New York City’s most memorable and enjoyable annual summer events.
For $37.50, you gain general admission where you’re welcome to picnic on the lawn in style. But the celebration is more than just a throwback party which takes place two weekends a year. Michael Arnella, as well as all of the performers and vendors, pay homage to the era by being as accurate as possible in their delivery and execution of everything from the music they play to the food they serve. And while dressing in the period attire isn’t mandatory, floating through a sea of people who look like they’re headed to a speak easy, makes the pretend prohibition era feel that much more real and magical.
I’ve been volunteering with Bobbi and the Strays (BATS) animal shelter in Freeport, Long Island for a few years now (they also have a location in Glendale, Queens). And though I don’t post all of my animal outings on my blog, this is one I wanted to share.
Most of the dogs at BATS are pit bulls/pit bull mixes. Many are either found wandering the streets that people bring in, or they’re tied to a pole outside of the shelter. Because of the stigma associated with this breed, it’s often difficult to adopt them out. Add to the fact that many of these dogs are not puppies, the barrier to adoption is compounded.
Volunteering at a shelter can at times be heartbreaking. You see these animals (dogs and cats) who have been abused, neglected, are sick or a combination of all. As an animal lover, you are overcome with sadness and helplessness that you can’t save every one, or at least be in a position to find each of them a loving, stable home. But it’s so important to try to put your emotions aside to be selfless in the time you spend with one of these animals. Due to limited space, the dogs spend 22 hours a day in small kennels. For most dogs, the kennel they stay in are large enough to at least stand and move about a little, but it’s still a harrowing effort in adopting out an animal caged all day long with little socialization.
Being able to give one or two hours, or any length of time, with an animal really does make a world of difference for them, especially with these dogs since they are pack animals that inherently thrive on socialization and interaction with other dogs and people. As often as I can, I will go to BATS and take one of the dogs out for a day’s adventure. Since I am not allowed to have dogs where I live, I plan ahead so I can figure out a place to take them. On this particular day, I decided to spend time with Tony, an American Staffordshire tied up to a pole outside of the shelter along with another dog, which the staff had named Carmella. Carmella was adopted earlier this year, but Tony was still waiting for a home. I took Tony to my favorite dog-friendly place – Gardiner County Park in Bayshore, Long Island – where I had taken other BATS dogs in the past. This park is amazing. I’ve been there many times and have only seen a tiny fraction of the 231 acres which sit along the Great South Bay. The Park has everything you could want, whether or not you have a dog. It’s clean with endless meadows of green grass and trees, has various paths to walk along, there’s a nice covered picnic area, and of course the beach, which the dogs absolutely love, even if they’re afraid of the water! You get a clear view of the Robert Moses Bridge and can see the Fire Island Lighthouse across the bay.
I urge anyone who is contemplating volunteering at a shelter – even if just to give one dog a short walk, or to sit and pet a cat – to do it. Not only is it therapeutic for you, but the animals will enjoy every second, even if they can’t tell you that themselves!
Tony is STILL UP FOR ADOPTION. He gets along with all dogs, but because of his playful nature he’s best suited for medium-larger dogs as he gets overly excited with smaller ones. He’s calm, obedient, great on a leash, and loves being around people. See the pics and videos below and learn more about him on the BATS website
While I don’t get to work with paper that often in my projects, it’s definitely my favorite medium. Nothing feels quite like it, and paper can evoke so many memories through touch. Whenever I hold a piece of colored construction paper, the kind used in elementary school, I get transported back to the sensation of drawing on it or cutting it out for a project.
Going to the Art Director’s Club 2014 Annual Paper Expo wasn’t exactly that, but it still inspired. What I would consider the best part, and the main reason I went this year was to hand crank my own limited edition letter pressed print (along with 499 other people) of the ‘Livin the Dream’ design from illustrator Scott Biersack (aka @youbringfire). Scott was the winner of Aldine’s Featured Artist contest for the ADC Paper Expo. In addition to the print, which I patiently waited 40 minutes to get (20 of which were spent fixing the letterpress after they ran into some technical problems), I of course picked up some samples from most of the vendors.
A year ago if you Googled Monument Valley, you’d come up with well-known images and wiki entries about the place in Southeast Utah (on the Arizona-Utah state line, near the Four Corners area). And perhaps even now, your top 20 hits might still be about one of the most photographed locations in the world. But if you searched a little further, or added ‘app’ or ‘iPhone’ after it, you’ll surely come across results that welcome into the world of the beautifully designed and engineered app game from UsTwo Games.
The game, which many compare it to something out of an M.C. Escher dream, is mesmerizing in every way possible. UsTwo has woven adventure, logic, storytelling and beauty all into one amazing game. At first, I didn’t even realize it was a story, but by the time I had completed the game (which was only a couple of hours later) I was in awe. The fact that I could become attached to some little character living in an imaginary world that has no place in reality, was mind-blowing. This game really sets the highest bar I can imagine for smart phone apps.
One of my absolute favorite scenes from the game is when one of the characters, Totem, bursts through a wall in hopes of reuniting with his friend. As a tribute, I created a GIF of it. I don’t know if I’ve broken any copyright laws by doing this, but I will say that this GIF is derived directly from the game. I own no part of any of it, except for the fact that I created the GIF.
I recently visited my close friend from Portfolio School (Creative Circus), Rose Quasarano, in Chicago, where she now lives. Like many people I graduated the Circus with, Rosie made a huge leap from being an advertising creative in as an Associate Creative Director at a well-respected agency, to being an entrepreneur diving headfirst into the unknown of owning and running her own coffee shop. Ironically, though, the industry she left to pioneer her entrepreneurial dream, armed her with an arsenal of resources and connections to help her get started.
What began as a life long dream turned into a pop-up shop (at NOSH in Wicker Park/Logan Square Farmer’s Market), then a Kickstarter campaign and finally a brick and mortar business called Cup & Spoon, which now stands at 2415 W North Ave in the WOW district (West Of Western) of Chicago. I was honored when Rosie asked me to design her logo, and in doing so joined a few other Circus alumni whose talent and admiration for Rosie helped nurture her ambition to open this shop (Designer Kiki Karpus and writer RC Jones both generously donated their talent to offer perks for C&S’s Kickstarter campaign). Like many small businesses, Cup & Spoon strongly believes in supporting the community in which it’s based, and sources their brew and sweet treats locally. But what really makes them special is Rosie’s continued connection to artists. Cup & Spoon shares a building with Dreambox Gallery, a contemporary art venue based in Chicago since 2003. Together they formed WOW Frequency, which showcases emerging and established artists in Chicago right inside the coffee shop.
If you’re ever in the area (next to Humboldt Park) and are in the mood for coffee or tea, or if you just want to taste one of Chicago’s best pop tarts (Interurban Cafe & Pastry Shop’s pop tarts, which are sold at C&S, were dubbed by Chicago Magazine as one of the best pop tarts in the city), I guarantee you’ll be happy you stopped here.
I was fortunate to grow up with both of my grandmothers alive during my childhood, and enjoyed diverse cooking between the two of them (Italian and Jewish). And while they both made amazing dinners, especially for the holidays, my Jewish grandmother was favored more by my sister and I as a baker. Anytime you walked into her home, you’d know to go straight to the kitchen to see what was newly baked and sitting on the table waiting to be devoured. Of all the sweets she baked, I think her lemon iced lemon cake was by far my absolute favorite. And it’s likely why I have a penchant for it til’ this day. But aside from the smell of bread or cake baking, there was always another familiar scent that occupied her kitchen. I never knew what exactly it was and just associated it with the baking process.
When my grandmother passed away a few years ago, my family made sure one of the things we didn’t discard was the tool she possessed for over 50 years which helped bring her creations to life – a chrome Sunbeam Model 11 Mixmaster.
It sat undisturbed somewhere, packed away for a few years, complete with the glass bowls it came with it. I can’t recall if it was used since my grandmother’s passing prior to this Christmas but the minute I turned it on, that familiar smell buried deep in my brain woke up. It was then I realized that the scent which accompanied all of her baking came from the mixer. This model mixer, manufactured in 1955/56, still functions perfectly after all these years. I was able to make a cake with it, and while I did I admired this machine as it churned away, thinking about the hundreds of desserts my grandmother lovingly made for her family. I think the motor needs a replacement as it gets pretty hot on the higher speeds, but until it completely conks out I continue using it and thinking of the woman to whom it once belonged.
As a follow-up to my post from October 5th when I attended the New jersey Zombie Walk, I wanted to post a few pics from when I had again went into zombie mode for my company’s informal Halloween party. On this occasion, I had way less time, but still managed to make a pretty convincing zombie, even without the contacts.
It took me 20 minutes in the bathroom, some fake blood, cotton balls and latex to turn into this
It took me another hour or so just to get the contacts in
Saturday, Oct 5, 2013, marked the World’s Largest Gathering of Zombies by Guinness World Record™. It all went down on the Asbury Park Boardwalk in New Jersey. 9,592 undead turned out for the NJ Zombie Walk to reclaim the title from the current record breaking event which took place at the 8th annual The Zombie Pub Crawl in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Midway Stadium on Oct 13, 2012.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there before the gates closed for counting but I was definitely there in spirit and in costume. My boyfriend, who had taken classes in special effects and has always been inspired by the work of Tom Savini (Dawn of The Dead, etc.), decided it would be fun if he got me into character for the event. He hadn’t done makeup in a while so it was partly experimentation, but we both enjoyed the process and transformation and had a lot of fun taking pics.