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  • Eucalyptus Steam-Room Hack

    Allergies and sinus-infections are rampant right now, and lately at the gym, all I really want to do is hit the eucalyptus steam room. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to do an hourlong detox bath ritual, but when you've only got a few minutes to spare, this refreshing and sinus-clearing eucalyptus shower is a great sub. Not to mention, it wakes you right the hell up. See DIY instructions below.Buy a bunch of eucalytpus; flower shops and floral departments at grocery stores keep them behind the counter as filler; a bunch is $5-$8. Mount it somewhere around your shower (using floral twine if you've got it; rubber bands or string otherwise). Sprinkle 15-20 drops of eucalyptus and any other of the essential oils listed below on the sides of the tub. Turn the shower on hot, close the door, wait for five minutes and return to your own personal spa/steam room. Breathe deeply. 

    Supplies: 

    Fresh eucalyptus
    Eucalyptus essential oil
    (Opt) Peppermint essential oil
    (Opt) Rosemary essential oil

  • Essay in Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology

    Photo credit: http://beltmag.com/product/pre-order-rust-belt-chicago-anthology/

    I'm honored to have an essay in this excellent upcoming Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. Editor Martha Bayne at Rust Belt Publishing has assembled a stellar batch of writers, WOW: Aleksandar Hemon, Zoe Zolbrod, Naomi Huffman, Kathleen Rooney, Kevin Coval, Eileen Favorite, and Bill Savage. The fiction, journalism, essays and poetry in the book explore how Chicago's "foundation of meat and railroads and steel" makes for a complicated political and cultural ecosystem. My essay, "Illiana," is about decades spent living on the Indiana/Illinois border, and includes the phrase, "feral Indiana girl with big hair."

    Even better than just buying the book, please consider PRE-ORDERING it, which helps small publishers enormously. Plus, you'll get a tote bag.

    Pre-order here

  • How to Take a (Deluxe and Healing) Detox Bath

    Along with almost everyone else I know, I’ve got a bad cold right now. To cope, I'm planning on spending an exciting Friday night in my bathtub. I realized that with all my years of reviewing spa treatments and learning about handcrafting body products, herbalism, and self-care rituals, I’ve got a lot of accumulated knowledge, so I’m sharing tips about taking an detoxifying bath at home. This type of bath is particularly helpful if you’re sick, because it can help you clear your sinuses (see eucalyptus mention below), sweat out toxins, and just cleanse the lymphatic system. And it's much less weird and extreme than the (INVASIVE) Calistoga mineral mud baths or "meditation color-therapy" baths I've written about in the past. 

    I always emerge from my detox baths renewed and I hope this helps you, too!

    Ingredients:

    Epsom salt
    Baking soda
    Essential oils (whatever your favorites are; I like neroli, rose, lavender)
    Body brush (with stiff bristles)
    Moisturizer (I recommend jojoba or shea butter)
    (If desired) Ground ginger
    (If desired) Himalayan or sea salt
    (If desired) Dried herbs like rose, lavender, rosemary
    (If desired) Muslin bag for dried herbs
    (If desired) Badedas Classic Bubble Bath has fresh, woodsy scent notes like chestnut, cedarwood, and light patchouli, and basically makes me feel like I'm taking a bath in the middle of the forest
    (If desired) Kneipp Sweet Dreams Herbal Bath with Valerian and Hops has sleep-inducing valerian infused in the ix. It turns the water a disturbing shade of blue but does seem to help me sleep

    How-To: 

    1. Set aside 45-60 minutes so you’re not rushing, and defeating the purpose.
    2. Get a huge bottle of purified water to drink while you soak.
    3. Set the tone: i.e., light candles; dim lights.
    4. Put on some chill music. Lately, I like Solange, Cecilia Bartoli (Italian opera singer), Charlie Haden (jazz bassist), Cesaria Evora (Cape Verdean ballad singer), Paco de Lucia (flamenco), Lhasa De Sela (Mexican-American chanteuse), and Jose Gonzalez. But you know what relaxes you best: If it’s Enya, Sinatra, or Massive Attack, godspeed.* Alternatively, listen to a guided meditation or 45-minute meditation talk by Tara Brach, Washington, DC-based Buddhist teacher and therapist. They are 45 minutes and filled with insights, funny/goofy stories, and Brach’s trademark empathy.
    5. Start filling the tub with warm (not super-hot) water.
    6. Dry brush your skin while you’re waiting for tub to fill: If you’ve never done this, find out more here. The most important thing to remember is to start at your feet and hands and use long strokes, sweeping towards your heart. The idea is to help your body shed dead skin layers and help the lymphatic system eliminate waste.
    7. Add Epsom salt to water (recommended amount for adults is 2 cups; when I’m stressed or achy I do more like 5 cups).
    8. Add 1-2 cups baking soda; (it softens skin).
    9. Add a handful of Himalayan or sea salt (the cheaper alternative). 
    10. Add your favorite essential oils and/or bubble bath. To de-stress, I use neroli/lavender/rose/ylang-ylang. To clear sinuses, eucalyptus and rosemary are helpful. Dry herbs like rose, mint, lavender, or rosemary are nice too—just put them in a porous bag like this muslin one, so they don’t leave a mess in your tub.
    11. (Optional) Add a small amount of ginger (1-2 Tbsp) to help you sweat out toxins.
    12. Swirl the water around to dissolve the salts.
    13. Soak for 20-45 minutes.
    14. Brush your skin again (in the same motion, from the outer limbs towards your heart), with the dry brush or just your hands.
    15. Apply a moisturizing lotion like shea butter or jojoba. (Or, for deluxe moisturization that also can be kind of messy, rub a mixture of olive and castor oils all over; stand there for two minutes, and then shower it off.)
    16. Drink lots of water—with lemon if you’ve got it. 
    17. Sleep like baby.
  • Crain's Chicago Business story on executive physicals

    I wrote this piece recently for the Crain's Chicago Business "Mind/Body" supplement. The gist? If you rise in the ranks at your organization, you can perhaps look forward to a super-comprehensive bells and whistles physical what tackles everything from bloodwork to vision to radiology...in just one day. 

  • Traveling to Israel for Orbitz

    Last summer, I wrote about my recent trip to Israel for Orbitz. It was 8 days of the northern portion, (Tel Aviv, Haifa, Tiberias, Jerusalem). Months later, it's now published, along with my photos. 

  • Artisanal Soapmaking Class

    Last week, I took a Soapmaking 101 class at Abbey Brown Soap Artisan.  The class covered the "Cold Process method of soapmaking wherein we will learn about lye safety, necessary equipment, vegetable and plant based oils, and essential oils for scenting bars naturally." It's a basic course that combines lectures, demonstration, and a hands-on portion in which students make three large batches of soap together. Each student comes away with handouts, a bar of olive soap, and the knowledge of how to make basic soaps safely. This last part was exciting to me because I'd wanted to make soaps for a long time but had been intimidated by the process of working with lye, which is extremely toxic. Now, though, I'm confident I can do this safely, and in my own kitchen. I also appreciated Deborah Kraemer's advice around sourcing oils (both essential and olive) and the strong emphasis on using the right ingredients to make products suitable for sensitive skin.

  • Summer Perfume & Aromatherapy for Mosquito Magnets

    Any other mosquito magnets out there? I've been researching what scents repel mosquitoes (apart from citronella). Turns out the varmints love florals but hate "green" smells, citrus, lavender, cedar. (They also hate bananas, so I'm taking blueberries in my cereal until October.) Since I love good smells so much, nixing perfume--or wearing Deep Woods OFF--all summer isn't an option for me, and I've been investigating non-floral scents, opting for woody/cedar-y, green, citrus, and lavender smells instead. Based on some internet research, I snagged appropriate samples from Nordstrom, along with some lemon oil and lavender body wipes. So far, this INCREDIBLE Aqua Di Parma scent makes me feel like I'm on the Italian Meditteranean with the Clooneys, and does seem to keep the critters at bay with its basil, cedar, and myrtle. The other two samples are Guerlain’s slightly more flowery Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca, hearkening an English garden with notes of lemon, spearmint, green tea, and cyclamen, and Guerlain's strong, fresh, Aqua Allegoria "Pamplelune" Eau de Toilette, with vibrant notes of citrus (grapefruit, bergamot, neroli, and with a base of vanilla and patchouli). 

    And, for quick/easy application of lavender, I'm stocking great-smelling Herban Essentials towelletes in all my purses. 

    I'll also be making an essential oil blend this week, using knowledge from my natural botanical perfumery class. Herbal blends are less effective and have to be applied more often, but it's worth it to not smell like the strong DEET repellents. If all of this sounds extreme, keep in mind that the critters throw a party when I step in the vicinity and start swaming around me immediately. If any other mosquito-magnets wanna try out my home-blend, let me know & I'll send a sample!

  • Mud Baths in Calistoga, CA

            

    (Above and below image from http://www.drwilkinson.com).

    I love spa treatments, and over the course of my life I've done a lot of unusual ones: Aromatherapy "color baths" with light lasers, a gong bath, cupping, a facial with a "tesla wand," high-end seaweed wrap, no-touch reiki massage, etc. But immersing in a 4-foot tub of volcanic-ash mud last week in Calistoga, CA was by far the oddest treatment I've ever undergone. Dr. Wilkinson's has been around for over 60 years, and the retro look and feel of the buildings and locker rooms doesn't hide this fact. 

    Here's the procedure: You lock up your things, grab a bathrobe and are escorted by attendants (of your gender) into a large tiled room that has two large, rectangular tiled baths, mounted a few feet above floor level. They're filled with sulfuric-smelling "volcanic-ash" mud. THIS IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH. You strip down and the attendants assist you into the oozing, bubbling, stinky tubs, while reciting some science-y factoids to try and convince you that this is not the most disgusting thing that has ever happened to you.

     Sinking into the mud is not as easy as it sounds: It's very thick (and did I mention BUBBLING), and it takes about a minute to get yourself fully immersed, up to your neck. If you're me, this is where some mild panic sets in, (AS THE MUD SINKS INTO EVERY CORNER OF YOUR BODY). Your attendant then gives you a pillow to rest your head on, and places cucumbers over your eyes, and instructs you to relax for ten minutes (easy for her to say). Once the time is up, you are escorted out of the tub and proceed to take the most complete shower of your life. Next is the wet-sauna (the attedants hand you glasses of cucumber water through a little window), for another ten minutes. Then, you head to an old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub behind a curtain (in the same room), which is being pumped full of hot-spring water. Last, the attendants have you shower one last time, and lead you to a relaxation cube, where you're wrapped loosely in towels for ten more minutes, while your body temperature returns to normal. 

    You can't take pics inside the spa of course, but my pal and I stayed in one of the cottages Dr. Wilkinson offers, and hit the outdoor tub later that night. And if you're curious about what the tubs look like, you can see images here.

    The below pic is of a late-night moonlit tub, which we welcomed with some local CA bubbly. 

  • Booty from Jaffa markets in Tel Aviv

    Last week in Tel Aviv, I explored the markets in Old Jaffa. The olives and dried fruit made me drool, but it was overwhelming with so many to choose from. So, I confined my purchases to an olive sampling and some irresistable dried roses--that cost mere pennies--pictured below. They smelled divine, and now that they're smuggled home (Tel Aviv security either didn't see them rolled up in my t-shirt, or decided not to care), I'm not sure what to do with them, apart from making sachets for my lingerie, sock, and sweater drawers. I'm taking ideas!

  • Custom Perfumer in Tel Aviv

    I'm in Tel Aviv for a travel story, and went to this Jaffa perfumerie, Zielinski & Rozen, that offers custom-blended perfums based on not only your scent preferences, but also one's own personal scent and lifestyle--exactly the way I like to pick out scent. It's tucked away on a side street, (and basically doesn't advertise), so going inside feels like discovering a secret. The owner, Erez Rozen, compares building an individual scent to building a pyramid, using the traditional concepts of high, middle, and base notes. Apart from the Dead Sea and the desert fortress Masada, this was probably my favorite experience in Israel. 

  • Interview with women's health advocate Christine Baze

    UR Chicago / Sounds section

    Interview with: Christine Baze
    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Christine Baze wants to reach every “woman and every man who has a woman in their life that they love” so that she can scare the hell out of them. With good reason -- she's trying to prevent other women from suffering as she did in 2000, after being diagnosed with cervical cancer and having a hysterectomy 10 days later, throwing her life and musical career into disarray.

    During recovery, Baze learned about cervical cancer and HPV (high-risk types of the virus cause cervical cancer and low-risk types cause genital warts). She also watched Harold and Maude, a film famous for its humorous morbidity and spirited, 79-year-old Maude. Inspired by Maude's yellow umbrella, Baze began playing music again and decided to incorporate cervical cancer awareness into her message. She started the nonprofit organization Popsmear.org and the Yellow Umbrella tour, an annual musical benefit that educates women about preventing cervical cancer.

    HPV is extremely common -- almost 80 percent of women will get the virus by the age of 50. It gives no symptoms and is transmitted through sexual contact. Annual Pap tests are supposed to catch precancerous cells but they don't always do so, and Paps don't test for HPV, so it's important to get both the liquid Pap and HPV test. “People say, 'It's too invasive to get in the stirrups or get a finger up my butt,'” Baze says. “But you know what's really invasive? Getting a radical hysterectomy or internal radiation. Getting a Pap or an HPV test -- that's going to save your life.”

    Having HPV doesn't mean you'll get cervical cancer: The immune system usually fights off the infection. But when high-risk types of HPV persist, precancerous cell changes can occur and cause cervical cancer. However, because it is one of the few types of cancer for which the cause is known, Baze says it's beatable. “We've got the answers and we can't say that about any other cancer.”

    Baze's initial reaction to her own diagnosis was disbelief. “I was healthy and having the time of my life,” she recalls. “After the disbelief was incredible horror and anxiety.” But her compassion made her an activist. “Cancer disempowers you because your own body is betraying you,” she says. “But after chemo I felt so empowered and started getting onstage saying, 'Hey ladies! Pay attention! This can save your life.' It worked -- and now I'm in my fourth year of touring around the country doing essentially the same thing.”

    This fall, Baze and headliner Kaki King (previous lineups featured Ben Folds and the Samples) will perform in 35 U.S. cities, including Chicago. The tour is also sponsored by companies doing work related to cervical cancer, such as Digene, the makers of the HPV test.

    Baze, whose new album, Something New (Lime Green), mixes jazz with electronica, says her musical sensibilities shifted post-cancer. “I was trained as a classical pianist and did that for 20 years, then just before cancer my music had a nonsensical, whimsical attitude,” she says. “Now the songs come from a place of deep appreciation of my life. These days I think about the gift of cancer, the enlightenment that comes with it.”

    The tour reflects the same spirit. “We're celebrating the passion of music and the passion of life,” Baze says. “Even the venues and promoters have been so supportive; these guys come up to me at the end of the night like, 'Hey Christine, what's that test? HPV? I gotta tell my wife.' And they write it on their hand to remember, which is so cool. If that happens once every show, everything I'm doing is worth it.”

    Words: Gretchen Kalwinski

    The Yellow Umbrella Tour hits Schubas (3159 N. Southport; 773/525-2508) October 14; Something New is out now

    For more SOUNDS coverage, pick up the latest issue of UR Chicago in streetboxes now

  • Natural Botanical Perfumery class at Chicago Botanic Gardens

    I've taken soap- and candle-making classes at various organizations including Abbey Brown, and I'm also very interested in natural botanical perfumemaking. A year ago, I read a wonderful book about the history of NBP, Essence and Alchemy, by perfumer Mandy Aftelier. Among other things, it goes into the "primal" nature of scent, the history of perfume and why she chooses not to use synthetics (a unique perfumery choice.) 

    Today's natural botanical perfumery class at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, taught by the talented and generous Jessica Hannah, (who has studied with Mandy and is influenced by her). I learned so much, and love the vetiver-heavy custom perfume I made today.  Jessica spoke passionately and emotionally about the proper and sustainable use of essential oils, and got me even more excited about delving into this world of NBP.  Now, I feel ready to make some blends of my own; starting with a mosquito-repelling blend (using things like cedar, lavender, citrus--all proven to repel the pests).

  • Writing for Time Out Chicago: "DIY Acupressure"

    DIY Acupressure 

    I’m an acupuncture devotee, but getting several treatments each months is pricey—I’d rather funnel that cash into my footwear habit. So I decided to teach myself acupressure, which mimics the pressure-point system of acupuncture sans needles. Acupressure Techniques: A Self-Help Guide by Julian Kenyon (Healing Arts Press) includes instructional drawings organized by ailments. After bookmarking relevant pages (foot pain, insomnia). I apply direct pressure to the correct points for each ailment—the inside of my foot and my inner ear for foot pain, and points on my shins, ankles and wrists for insomnia. After three days fo doing this twice daily, my heel pain has eased a tad and my insomnia has improved slightly (but that could also be due to my new nighttime ritual of hot apple cider with rum.) All told, it’s no substitute for the spacey, peaceful feeling I get while my acupuncturists’s needles work their magic. Still, it’s a decent option for those frigid winter days when I can’t muster the energy to leave the house. –Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Lake Tahoe story for Orbitz

    I wrote this travel piece for Orbitz, and realized that winters don't *have* to be terrible (IF you go to Lake Tahoe where hot mineral springs, sleigh rides, skiing, dogsledding, and gorgeous vistas abound).

  • Exotic Feline Rescue Center cover story, Chicago Reader

    This was such an amazing place to research, travel to, and write about: The Exotic Feline Rescue Center, in Center Point Indiana.

    "Joe Taft wants his bedroom back. For four months it's been inhabited by a baby tiger named Max, while Taft, who's 60, crashes on the couch. "I can't get him out of my house until I move these other cats into the new pens being built," he says. "Then I can finally have a bedroom. The walls are pretty raggedy in there." He means claw marks, like the ones in his kitchen and living room. Download PDF [for full article.]" May 20, 2006.

  • Venus Zine: Spring 2006: ”Guerilla Drive-Ins”


    "One of the most organized groups is the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In in Santa Cruz, California. In 2002, they started showing films such as The Third Man and The Gleaners and I  on vacant walls of abandoned buildings for friends and strangers to enjoy. [for full article, click here.]"

  • Venus Zine-"Listen Up!"

    Venus Zine / Fall 2006
    Listen up! 

    Audio artist Julie Shapiro shares her thoughts on the current radio renaissance and shows how you can get in on the action

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    As managing director for Chicago’s Third Coast International Audio Festival, an annual and on-going celebration of documentary and feature audio works, Julie Shapiro is an expert on fascinating radio segments, but her girlhood listening was uber-ordinary; "Typical for a white Midwestern Jewish girl,” she laughs. “Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Peter, Paul, and Mary." Shapiro began working with TCIAF in 2000. There, with executive director Johanna Zorn, she chooses radio documentaries for their competition, hosts "Listening Room" events, and travels to worldwide radio conferences, which has been life-changing: “It’s opened my ears and mind to audio work from all over the world, and stretched my mind about the power of sound.”

    Shapiro did a college radio show at Transylvania University, where she played typical indie stuff of its time; Husker Du, Uncle Tupelo, The Slits. During the 90’s, she lived in Boulder, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, and Durham, North Carolina, where she worked in a record store and public radio station and played drums, which helped her become “more receptive to sound” and led to her appreciation for experimental artists like John Cage and Meredith Monk. "I got into composition and very beautiful spacey sounds."

    An audio artist herself, Shapiro produced a tribute to model-horse collectors titled, “Are There Any More Rare, Plastic Ponies?,” which was picked up by TCIAF’s Re:sound. (thirdcoastfestival.org/resound_2005_june.asp). She also runs an audio-blog called notetheslantoftheovals.blogspot.com, and, apart from TCIAF, hosts Lissenup!, a listening event that began as a potluck, where she plays beloved audio pieces including one by Benjamen Walker (about a Darth Vader impersonator) and another in which Brooklyn student Natalie Edwards does a tongue-in-cheek investigation of prostitution. She’s currently considering new Lissenup! venues and the use of blindfolds to engage the senses.

    Shapiro claims that we’re in a radio renaissance, evidenced by the number of younger people, journalists, and filmmakers exploring the field. “Radio's being recognized as an art form as well as a source for news and information, like in the pre-TV days. And, being surrounded by radio stories at TCIAF, I'm constantly learning--whether about blood feuds in Albania or one guy's encounter with a blind dog in Wyoming. Being able to help bring these stories to many more ears has been such a privilege. And a blast.”

    Julie’s Advice on Producing Audio Segments

    --Equipment
    There's tons of used equipment online. The basics are: a microphone, recorder, and editing software, such as Audacity. (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/).

    --Choosing a Story
    Listen to many different styles of radio, and learn to be critical. (See transom.org, prx.org, and radiocollege.org.) Be careful with personal stories - they're often not that interesting to others. Make sure your story's really a contender for audio, and isn't just a spoken print piece. Think about stories that will surprise people or show them something new about the world.

    -- Interviewing
    Ask simple, straightforward questions. Watch for sounds that may disrupt conversations, like barking dogs, or humming refrigerators. It's ok to ask someone to repeat something or to stop wriggling in a squeaky chair. Always gather more tape than you think you'll need, and keep recording as long as possible. (Very often the best tape materializes after the "real" interview ends.) 

    --Putting Words Together with Music/Background Sound
    Use the medium to its fullest! Sounds can play as important a role in telling your story as the narrative, [because] they're crucial to setting scenes. Music can add a lot to a listening experience but can also be a huge liability; don’t use the same songs you've heard in dozens of other radio stories. (No more Yo La Tengo!) In general the old adage "less is more" applies.

    -- Editing 
    Writing is very different for radio than for print. Write like you talk - keep sentences simple and use words you usually use when you speak. Cut out every bit of tape you don't absolutely love. Then cut some more. If you're using narration keep it minimal and let the subjects of your story speak for themselves and move the story along. But don't leave out crucial information that'll help a listener understand the full context the story takes place in. Try to show, not tell. This is easy to do in radio, because you can actually include a clip of, say, a dog barking.

    --Where to Send Your Finished Audio Segment
    My advice to someone who wanted to get a serious start in radio would be to get an internship somewhere, not to start making stories cold and sending them around. That said, it's much better to contact any show or station you're hoping to work with BEFORE you produce anything, to find out what sort of work they're seeking; (most stations and shows' websites have contact info for this). Besides getting work onto airwaves, you can make a podcast and, or post it at prx.org, (a web-based marketplace for public radio pieces), where it can be reviewed by peers, and possibly picked up by a radio station. You can also just invite a bunch of friends over for a potluck, open a couple bottles of wine and beer, and have a listening party. ----GK

  • Venus Zine: New Year's Eve 2006

    New Year’s Celebrations 2006: Off the beaten path 

    Some festive DIY options for ringing in the new year without breaking the bank

    OK, so it’d be easy to head to your favorite bar or your neighbor’s New Year’s Eve party and nurse a splitting headache the next day while you crawl around looking for hangover food. We’ve all done it before and we’ll do it again. However, if you’re broke or simply looking for an alternative to the standard bar or hotel New Year’s “bash” — which is, let’s face it, usually overrated —Venus is at your rescue with some creative alternatives for welcoming 2006.


    FOR OUTDOORSY TYPES OR THOSE ON A BUDGET
    Gaze at the moon and stars reflecting off the water 
    Find a beach, any beach. Bring friends and arm them with cheap champagne and lots of blankets — or hats and gloves if your beach happens to be in a cold climate. Build a fire if you think you can get away with it, watch the stars, and wish upon them. Count down to midnight. Dance madly on the sand when it arrives. 


    Enjoy a mob-ridden light show
    In many cities, there are free fireworks shows. Although the idea of a large crowd may be off-putting, it may also be a great way to feel the humanity. Ring in 2006 with an elated mob. 


    See a quirky theater production
    Many theaters don’t have shows on this night, since they don’t want to force actors to work on a holiday. But some eclectic, smaller theaters put on a show for the fun of it. The Neo-Futurists in Chicago, for example, offer a $30 theater-n-appetizer combo for their brand of speedy, off-the-wall, somewhat-improv short plays.


    Gaze at your navel
    Yoga studios all over the country host non-alcoholic New Year’s Eve nights that include yoga and meditation, chanting, drum circles, Bikram sessions that end at the stroke of midnight, massage, and Reiki. If you are tired of waking up with the dizzy residue of heavy partying on the first day of the New Year, check yoga studios and spas in your neck of the woods to find out how to have a holistic, conscious beginning to 2006. 


    PARTY IDEAS
    Not feeling like investing a Benjamin to drink the night away at a bar on NYE? You can put that money toward a marvelous party with yourself as the generous host. Your guests will thank you for saving them money, and you will be proud to display your DIY talents at the last/first party of the year.


    Create a residential transformation
    • Nothing says it’s the holidays like a whole lotta lights. Swear against switches and lamps tonight and set the room on fire with strings of lights strewn across tables, bookshelves, and chairs. They cost little but they add a huge element of merriment and celebration. Also, decorate surfaces with glittery confetti to give things that extra party feel. It doesn’t take much effort but you’ll feel like you’re in a sparkly world that looks nothing like the home you’re used to. 
    • Most of us have at least two screens in our homes: a television and a computer. Don’t save the TV for the last 10 seconds of 2005. Use it in your design scheme tonight. Display some DVDs on those screens. Choose some with interesting visuals (anything from an old Japanese movie with big robotic monsters to the work of Michel Gondry) and play them on mute. 


    Set the mood
    Weren’t iPods created to show off your awesome musical tastes at a party? Create a splendid playlist for your friends to enjoy and admire you for. Or else, make it seasonal with some jazz — Ella Fitzgerald Wishes You a Swinging Christmas always does it for me!


    Class up your beverage
    Whether or not your guests want to get liquored up tonight, they can still look great sipping (or chugging) it down!
    • Make it a sweet year by wetting the rims of their glasses and stick on some sugar crystals or crushed-up peppermint candies.
    • A little garnish goes a long way: Keep some maraschino cherries and orange, lime, and lemon slices handy for whenever someone wants a cocktail refresher.


    Tasty morsels to chase the hangover away
    You can always go with the standard crudités with dip or hummus, but why not spice things up a bit? 
    • Head for the heat-and-serve part of the supermarket for this one. Just buy those pre-made crescent rolls (usually in the dairy case), and use the dough and your imagination to make some interestingly shaped hors d’oeuvres. Sprinkle on some diced bell pepper, onions, and cheese, or stuff them with broccoli and cheddar. Then put ’em in the oven for the appropriate time. 
    • Another not-from-scratch idea: Some supermarkets, like Trader Joe’s, sell pre-made pizza dough. All you have to do is spread it out on a pan, apply olive oil, add some sauce, cheese, and your choice of veggies or meats. Pop it in the oven and when it’s ready, cut into squares. This one can be easily veganized. 
    • If turning on an oven is too much cooking for you, how about providing your guests with some homemade trail mix? You can make all sorts of mixtures — sweet and savory — and set them in bowls throughout your digs. For instance, jazz up trail mix with chocolate chips and almonds, mix up a bowl of saltiness with pretzels, peanuts, and rice crackers, or indulge your sweet tooth with a bowl of chocolate chips, toffee bits, and marshmallows. 
    • And, hell, everyone loves a potluck!


    While away the time
    It’s always fun to exploit the New Year theme. Here are some ideas of how to get your guests jazzed about the year ahead:
    • Give everyone a few pieces of paper. Tell them to make up a few “top 10 of 2005” list ideas and write them down. For example: “top 10 hook-ups of the year” or “top 10 new foods I tried this year.” Put them all in a hat, shake ’em up, and have each guest choose one and list their choices.
    • Reserve one table as a shrine to old man 2005 and another to welcome baby ’06. Have your guests bring a brand-new candle and a relic of 2005. It could be a magazine cover showing Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt or the Gwen Stefani CD they wish they hadn’t bought. Place the objects on the 2005 table surrounded by pre-lit candles and put the new candles on the 2006 table. Once the clock strikes midnight, blow out the candles on 2005 and ignite 2006 with the candles your guests have brought.


    HOMEBODY OPTIONS
    Host a Steve Carell Fest
    Who didn’t love Steve Carell playing Brick Tamland inAnchorman and Andy Stitzer in The 40 Year Old Virgin? Watch the two DVDs back to back with your other Brick-and Andy-loving friends with snacks and drinks. Try to remember the best lines from the movies and bring in the New Year by speaking “Brick and Andy.” For example: 
    “So how was your 2005?” 
    “Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident!” 
    Another example: “What happened to [insert girl’s name]?”
    “That girl was a ho … for sho’.


    Whip Up Delectable French Drinks
    Make do with cheap beer, white wine, or champagne, but splurge on some strawberry or cassis (black currant) liqueur to concoct quasi-luxurious drinks with some friends. There are no strict rules for how much liqueur you use, so just mix according to taste.
    • The French combine strawberry liqueur with beer to make demi-fraises, which sounds bizarre but is uniquely tasty. Even those who do not normally care for the taste of beer may take a liking to the demi-fraise. It is possible to be creative and compose a demi-cassis or demi-any fruit. 
    • For a kir, combine a bit of cassis liqueur with white wine. This cocktail is usually enjoyed in France before a meal, but armed with a kir, you can bring in the New Year with some sass and class. 
    • Or take it up a step and ring in the New Year with akir royale by combining cassis liqueur with champagne. The New Year will look good with pinkish-purplish, sweet champagne.


    SOME OTHER EXAMPLES OF DIY AND HOMEBODY IDEAS FROM CORRESPONDENTS AND COMPADRES ’ROUND THE GLOBE 
    • "I was born and raised in Hawai'i and when midnight comes around, tons and tons of firecrackers are set off. The tradition is probably due to the large Asian population on the islands, and so many firecrackers go off that a lot of the time, there are asthma and air pollution warnings. I remember one New Year's where the smoke was so thick, it was dangerous to drive. The next day, there's usually a story or two on the news about a firecracker injury and someone being taken to the hospital on account of their hand being blown off." — Kristina, Chicago
    • “In south Dallas they fire their guns in the air — oftentimes they sound quite automatic. My family stands at the door but we don't step out — we want to hear, but not get impaled by falling bullets.” — Robert, Dallas
    • “I was in Edinburgh, Scotland, a few years ago for Hogmanay [Scottish street festival with music and fireworks], which should be known as Snogmonay, since everyone on the streets kisses (snogs) each other and teenagers are puking up hard cider in the parks. Thousands of people turn out for it.” — Meghan, Brooklyn
    • “I remember one New Year’s Eve, where I was a driver in a car full of friends. I forgot where we were heading, but we passed several small towns along the way — it was a good two-hour drive at least. During that trip, as we passed each town, we got to glimpse their firework display from the interstate. It was really quite an experience — town after town, each one lit up along the way. Definitely something I'd recommend, although it sucked to be the driver, as I missed a lot.” — Felix, Chicago
    • “Last year I went to a huge AA party in SoHo where only soda and water were served and we danced the old year away to a DJ in a church basement. Celebrity sightings and the like — can't tell you who, of course. Got hit on by a guy in Debtors Anonymous, who told me I looked like a Russian princess.” — Kasia, New York
    • “I joined the Chicago polar bear club [a group of people who jump in the icy water of Lake Michigan] a few years back, and the year before that I went canoeing.” — Erik, Chicago
    • “My mom always made pigs-in-blankets at home, and then my parents bark outside at midnight. My sister and I, of course humiliated, would stay inside, content with all the mini hot dogs and canned croissants.” — Mordecai, Chicago
    • “I’m not sure what we’re going to do for New Year’s Eve, but I bought the DVD for Kylie Minogue’s concert for a friend, so we’re gonna pre-party it up with Kylie at home.” — Amy, Chicago
    • “My family and I pile into the basement best-suited for a party and eat tons of food before we dance for hours. At midnight we count down and then congratulate each other on a year’s worth of living gone well — decided by the amount of life left in us. All the while, the young’uns are trying to steal Jell-o shots only to realize how much of an acquired taste they are. We then dance and drink until we are all spent, and the next day, the strong will gather to eat the leftover food and regale in stories of the previous night.” — Tony, Chicago
    Whatever kind of New Year’s merriment you choose, we at Venus send you good tidings and well-wishes for 2006.

  • Time Out Chicago; Article; Pierogi Festival

    Published in Time Out Chicago / Issue 22: July 28–Aug 4, 2005

    Stuffed with fun 

    Fill up on pierogi at this surreal street fest

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Northwest Indiana's prosperous industrial days may be gone, but there's still a reason to celebrate: really good pierogi. To bolster community pride, the small town of Whiting (so close to the Illinois/Indiana border that the neighboring town boasts the "Illiana Yacht Club") honors its Eastern European heritage each year with its three-day Pierogi Fest, where the tried and true Polish/Slovak dumplings are fried or steamed with butter, and chock-full of different fillings like meat, cheese, potato, mushroom, berries and apricot.

    On the main strip you'll find newly erected "old-fashioned" lampposts just down the street from a grade school and church with a primitive wooden antiabortion sign on the lawn. Farther down the street, amidst dozens of pierogi stands, there will be costumed polka dancers, drunken bystanders, a magic show, carnival games, booths selling pierogi paraphernalia, a beer garden under the pavilion and a John Waters–esque show by the Mr. Pierogi Musicale Players (mostly preteen girls in tights with curled hair and stage makeup, directed and choreographed by the town's drama guru), performing "Whiting, Indiana" to the tune of "Gary, Indiana."

    The dumplings come mainly from nearby delis and restaurants in Whiting and Hammond, as well as Hegewisch, Illinois. Those made by the Slovak ladies at St. John Catholic Church are also sold frozen if you need to stock up. The festival's motto is: "We're stuffed with fun." Come for the irony, stay for the food.—GK


  • Northwest Indiana Times; Colds vs. Allergies

    Nose plugged up and coughing?
    BY GRETCHEN KALWINSKI
    Times Correspondent | Monday, March 20, 2006

    Ah, spring. With warmer temperatures approaching, most of us are thinking happily of spending more time outdoors amidst the trees and flowers.

    For others, however, the season also beckons massive amounts of sniffling, sneezing and general misery in the form of seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever that may be mistaken for a cold...[click here for web story]...or read the pdf version here



  • Venus Zine; DIY article, Guerilla Drive-Ins


    Venus Zine; DIY article, Guerilla Drive-Ins

    Venus ZineSpring 2006Guerilla drive-ins These groups are reviving the lost pleasures of the drive-in movieBy: Gretchen KalwinskiWhen was the last time you watched a movie with a bunch of strangers under the stars? Drive-in movies have been phasing out since their heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. They were popular because of the inherent romance in watching a film under the stars, snuggled up with siblings, friends, or paramours under blankets. Contemporary technology allows an extremely high-quality home entertainment experience, but it has come at the cost of estrangement from fellow movie-goers. So some radical folks began their own “guerilla” drive-in movie collectives as a DIY way to enjoy the intimacy and communal nature of drive-ins, with the added bonus of being able to show whatever films they damn well pleased, usually free of charge.

    One of the most organized groups is the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In in Santa Cruz, California(guerilladrivein.org). In 2004, they started showing films such as “The Third Man” and “The Gleaners and I” on vacant walls of abandoned buildings for friends and strangers to enjoy. The Santa Cruz drive-in doesn’t actually involve cars, however — movie-watchers bring lawn chairs and blankets to the given location, where they view the film via a projector and high-powered speakers.The nation-wide MobMov collectives — short for Mobile Movie — (mobmov.org) take the term “drive-in” a bit more literally. They use technology similar to that used in ye olden days, utilizing an FM transmitter to broadcast the movie’s sound into car radios, so that, as organizer Bryan Kennedy notes, “there is no sound pollution at all.”

    Because of this, says Kennedy, they are rarely bothered by law enforcement. He thinks that the MobMov idea (now active in 12 U.S. cities) has caught on because of “the sense of community you get when you come, the experience of sharing something unique with strangers.”Most groups have guidelines for if and when they are approached by police or upset neighbors, since, as theSanta Cruz group notes, “good neighborly relations are an important element of DIY culture.” In Kennedy’s experience, a law enforcement confrontation “has never happened--if it did, I would just show them my papers, and if they asked that I stop the movie, I would.”

    The Santa Cruz group notes that the best defense to hassling from cops is to “know the laws restricting amplified sound and rules restricting access to public space after dark, and have people on hand who have experience with non-violent communication.”Most collectives agree that the real issue at hand is one of public versus private space. The Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In notes on their website that; “Beyond showing great movies and bringing a broad community together, our mission is helping to reclaim public space and transforming our urban environment into the joyful playground it should be.”Kennedy from MobMov echoes the sentiment, saying, “A drive-in is much more than just a movie projected on a wall like at your local cineplex.

    In a cineplex, you have this huge public space, yet interaction is frowned upon, so it is not appreciably different than watching the movie by yourself. In the drive-ins of old, some people would roam around and visit each other, while others would sit in the privacy of their car, unperturbed. With a drive-in, you can select the level of interaction you want. It’s a much more customizable experience.”

    Plan Your Own Guerilla Drive-In Location, location, location. The Santa Cruz group suggests that you scout out a dark location near a smooth, light surface, in areas that are either full of warehouses or under bridges to minimize the chance of interruption. 

    The technicalities. Determine whether you’ll use speakers or a radio transmitter, and then scrounge for speakers, amplifier, and projectors. Additional technical information about projecting films can be found on the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In and MobMov websites.

    What ya gonna watch? Make a list of films to choose from. Some groups have subversive or political themes, while others make a specialty of documentary or foreign films. 

    If you build it, they will come. Let people know when and where the screening will take place. This can be done via a website, e-mail distribution list, or fliers on local bulletin boards.

    Dealing with authorities. The Santa Cruz group always has a few “cop tamers” on hand to serve as police liaisons. He explains, “A good cop tamer has experience with non-violent communication and a good understanding of applicable laws.”

  • Northwest Indiana Times, Book Feature, LaPorte, Indiana

    Published in the Northwest Indiana Times, on Monday, February 20, 2006

    An Outside Appreciation
    The book 'LaPorte, Indiana' offers a glimpse into the history of small-town Midwest

    BY: Gretchen Kalwinski
    Times Correspondent

    Only expecting a quick meal and cup of coffee when he first visited a LaPorte, Indiana diner in the summer of 2003, magazine editor Jason Bitner instead found himself with a new book project. B & J’s American Café is a classic slice of Americana with its authentic soda fountain, jukebox, wooden phone booth, vintage Coca Cola memorabilia, and standard diner fare like hamburgers, salads, peach cobbler, and rhubarb pie.

    After ordering one of the famed cinnamon rolls, Bitner took a look around the diner and happened upon a stash of thousands of photos tucked in the back room with a sign inviting patrons to peruse or purchase the images (available for 50 cents apiece). The photos were the remnants of the Muralcraft photography studio located on the 2nd floor of the same building and run by Frank and Gladys Pease from the late 40s to the early 70s. B & J’s owners John and Billie Pappas took the photos out of storage in the early 90s, planning to “clean out storage” but kept them around when they saw how much people enjoyed sifting through them, looking for long-forgotten photos of themselves, friends, or family members. Bitner was entranced by the discovery, and describes the images as, “an enormous visual survey of the Midwest a generation back.”

    To be sure, Bitner already had a propensity for this kind of project. As the co-creator of Found Magazine, (www.foundmagazine.com)--a “show and tell” magazine that publishes found photos, discarded school-kid notes, doodles on scraps of paper, and other found miscellany sent it by readers worldwide—he revels in such discoveries, which he calls, “the accidental archive of an entire town.” For Bitner, a fire had been lit, and he couldn’t get the photos out of his mind. Though he’d only planned to pass through LaPorte for the County Fair and demolition derby, he ended up spending two weeks in B & J’s looking through images in amazement at the magnitude of the archive, and the almost-painterly beauty of the photographs. The end result of Bitner’s enthusiasm is a book of selected portraits titled LaPorte, Indiana, which is being released by Princeton Architectural Press in April 2006.

    Bitner found the book idea to be an easy sell. “People love photos of other people,” he explains. “I was in New York, and stopped at a publisher who I knew was into photo books, and said ‘Hey, I’ve got something that you might like.’ I dumped out the envelope of images on the table, and at first, there were two people standing there, then three, four, five. Right away people got really excited and started trading them around the table saying ‘That looks like my grandfather! That looks like your boyfriend!’ That is also what it’s like at the diner, once you start looking, you just want to see more and more. It’s amazing—I’ve never gone to an archive where I saw photos all by one person.”

    Photographer Frank Pease was by all accounts a nice guy who enjoyed his job. He was also an excellent craftsman and as Bitner puts it, “an accidental historian.” One of Pease’s former clients remembers him as “really nice, down to earth, very patient.” His wife Gladys helped him in the studio by greeting customers in the lobby, and helping to prep them with grooming and makeup before they went before the camera. The photos themselves are interesting not only for their comment on the time and place (mostly 40s and 50s, in small-town Midwest) but because of their old-fashioned formality and idealism. The poses varied only slightly, with 8 or so poses for men and 8 for women, with a few variations for children and couples. Pease obviously had great technical skills, but it is clear that at some point, he zoned in on a certain “look,” and, Bitner notes, “didn’t waver from it in 2 ½ decades.” The poses and lighting are not natural ones but are instead traditionally classical—the men are wearing ties, the women often hold a flower, or tilt their heads in imitation of movie-star glamour.

    Bitner has spoken with several of the subjects of Pease’s photos, including Hugh and Kathy Tonagel, whose somber engagement photograph is at the forefront of the book. “Hugh told me that Pease was trying to impress upon them that this was a really weighty moment. Like, ‘You guys are getting married, and this is the photo that is going to represent that forever. This is a really important moment and I want you to be here and present and understand what it is you’re sitting for.’ [Pease] also had a process in place for setting up the studio, getting the lighting right, people getting their hair done just-so—there was a gravity to the process.”

    Part of the delight of the archive is that it is not limited to only the shots that ended up being used, but also the myriad, back-to-back proofs from the sittings. The mistakes and glitches are all there—a couple bursting out in open-mouthed laughter at the camera, an accidental wild-eyed grin from a teenage boy, and a young boy raising his finger in a politician’s pose. After Pease’s death in the early 1970s, much of his equipment was donated to the local high school or given away and Muralcraft Studios was eventually renovated to become a large apartment. Another striking facet of the archive is how idealized the images are, and that they seem to tell a story about the ideal way that each of the subjects wish to see themselves. “Nowadays, it’s different,” Bitner says. “There are so many cameras around and people are so comfortable in front of a camera. Back then, there was definitely a feeling that film was a little more precious, and I think that when people took a portrait, they were more interested in creating an image for public history; their public face. Nowadays there are a lot of cameras around and people are so comfortable in front of a camera, and that sense of a public face doesn’t seem as important as it was then. But these photos were definitely not intended to be private or intimate shots; these were shots that were intended for an audience.”

    LaPorte, Indiana contains about 150 images of LaPorte residents in the 50s and 60s in various stages of life. Some were taken for specific events like graduations, engagements, first communions, and anniversaries. Other people posed with objects that conveyed their individuality; a nurse or military uniform, a musical instrument, a radio microphone, or prayer book. Still others simply seem inexplicable, like the one of two elderly men in suits preening for the camera while one affectionately straightens the other’s tie. The end result of the book is a crossbreeding of several genres; because of the beautifully displayed images, it easily functions as a coffee table photography book. It is also of interest to history buffs and found-art aficionados alike. It contains approximately 150 photographs and a forward by both Bitner and writer Alex Kotlowitz who calls the images, “Distinctly middle American. Open. Unassuming. Sturdy.” Kotlowitz goes on to intuit that although the images were taken in a time when the country was perched on intense conflict, the people in these portraits “seemed impervious to the upheaval around them.” Famous Hoosier John Mellencamp weighs in on the book’s back cover, musing that “the grace and dignity one sees in their faces should be a source of hope for us all.”

    With about 22,000 residents, LaPorte is a small town. Incorporated in 1835, LaPorte’s business development began in the late 1850s, after the railroad came to town. The town has six surrounding lakes and some notable architecture, including the Romanesque LaPorte County Courthouse and the Door Prairie Barn, a “round barn” which was recently placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. While agriculture and manufacturing have been the primary industries, the current economy is increasingly relying on tourists who visit to enjoy the lakes and the famed LaPorte County Fair each July. According to Fern Eddy Schultz of the LaPorte Historical Society, LaPorte is going through a time of re-evaluation, “trying to make plans for what is best for it in the future and how to implement them.”

    But aside from water-recreation offerings, and an abundance of maple trees that have earned it the title of “The Maple City,” Schultz notes that LaPorte is otherwise “very much like most towns its age and size in the Midwest.” Indeed, residents and historians alike seem to agree that there is nothing terribly out of the ordinary about this peaceful Midwestern town. These extraordinary photos of mid-century Midwest, then, seem to be extraordinary for their very ordinary-ness. These are people carrying out their lives in the midst of a rapidly changing world. There is a father surrounded by wife and kids gazing worriedly into the camera, a toddler playing with his ears, a girl graduating from high school. These are optimistic portraits of real people with quirks and flaws who gain love and lose it, experience birth, death, and all the rituals of life.

    LaPorte, then, is all of us. We’d value this discovery from any town. But the people of LaPorte happened to have a better archive than most of us, along with the impeccable foresight to preserve it. It is of note that the images were made public via the enthusiasm of a non-native, a testament to the idea that we oftentimes overlook what is right under our noses. With his outsider’s perspective, it seems that Bitner was in a unique position to be able to see facets of the archive that were regarded as everyday by those familiar with them. He notes that, “I think that a lot of times it takes an outsider to make people appreciate what they have. If these were from my town, I know that I’d be looking for photos of family or friends, and I wouldn’t be so interested in the guy at the end of the block. When you’re so close to something you may not understand the greater significance.”

    Several hundred photos were purchased for the book, but most photos remain in boxes in the back room of B & J’s. The count has only dwindled down to about 17,000 from the original 20,000 and the archive is basically intact. “The vast majority are still there,” Bitner notes, “And they want them there; it’s a document of their community.”

  • Centerstagechicago.com; Guide; High Tea

    Published on centerstagechicago.com, January 2006

    Take Your Afternoon Tea
    High tea puts an end to the mid-afternoon slump

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    In 1840 England, the 7th Duchess of Bedford realized that she got a bit groggy in the late afternoon hours (in those days, lunch was served at noon, dinner at 8 p.m.). To combat the fatigue, she began telling servants to bring tea, pastries with cream, finger sandwiches and scones to her room between 3 and 4 p.m. As this became a regular practice, the Duchess began inviting friends to her daily soiree. By the late 1800s, the idea had taken off, and afternoon tea became a widespread ritual for the wealthy. These days, the tradition is carried on in tearooms and upper-echelon hotels across the world...and in Chicago.

    Drink to Old World charm at Russian Tea Time
    Started Klara Muchnik and her son, Vadim, Russian Tea Time is a nook-ish spot located within a two-block radius of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Jewelry Row and the Art Institute, making this a wise choice for an afternoon breather. The mahogany mirrors and candelabras on the wall evoke a true sense of the gothic Old World, and the sweets (sesame crunch and walnut cookies and mini crepes) are fantastic. Tea service, available from 2:30-4:30 daily, costs $19 per person and also includes scones with cream and lemon curd and a savory course of tea sandwiches. Since it is small, reservations are recommended, but the selection of 30 teas is worth it, with the blood orange and passion fruit varieties as standouts.

    Sip on the North Side at Unique So Chique Tea & Chocolate Room
    Tea drinkers first pass through a charming clothing, jewelry and gift boutique to reach this small tearoom, which seats 22 in a plant-filled space artfully decorated with vintage English undertones. In addition to the more than 35 standard varieties of earl grey, green, fruit, peppermint and decaf brews, Unique goes the extra mile by offering a variety of organic teas and a yerba mate blend (a plant known for its gentle energy boosting quality). Tea, available from 3-5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday, takes on a pleasant mix-and-quality here. Options range from the cream tea service (just scones and tea) for $6.95 to the $15.95 full tea exotic service, which steps up the traditional sandwiches with varieties like chicken with apricot and walnut.

    Go the mom and pop route at Urban Tea Lounge
    A true mom and pop joint, owners Cece and Hank Anderson offer a homemade cafe menu stocked with family recipes and an afternoon tea service served any time of day. Though the couch- and easy chair-filled atmosphere is a casual one, the afternoon tea options are anything but skimpy, with 70 varieties of black, green, white, oolong and chai teas. At $15 per person (two-person minimum), you can choose between Tier 1, tea and subtly sweet scones with preserves; Tier 2, creative and tasty finger sandwiches and spreads (cucumber, mint butter, nutella and apple); and Tier 3, a dizzying array of cakes and pastries. The atmosphere is almost like that of a European cafe: customer play checkers and chess, spontaneously start conversations with strangers at the next table, then go back to doing their own thing.

    Take a break from shopping at The Drake Hotel
    Located on the Magnificent Mile, the Drake's afternoon tea provides a haven for overworked shoppers. Standout teas include the chamomile, mint, and Irish Breakfast, and the delicate sandwiches (roast beef and tomato, egg salad, ham and asparagus) are light and hit the spot. In addition to the formal (and pricey, at $28.95) afternoon tea service, an unobtrusive harpist plays classical tunes and jazz standards; champagne is available for an extra $7 per person. Tea is taken daily from 1:30-5 p.m. in the elegant Palm Court room, which has a fountain in its center and a mixture of Eastern and British decor like folding screens with painted birds, antique furnishings and an elegant mahogany bar.

    Ladies who lunch should do tea at the Walnut Room
    There's no mistaking the ladies-who-lunch glamour of Marshall Field's seventh-floor room. The afternoon tea service, available seven days a week from 2:30-5 p.m. (but call to verify), costs $19.95 and offers a champagne option. The Walnut Room pours sturdy teas (green, black, oolong and herbal) from the Whittard of Chelsea line that come sided with the requisite light savories, imported Devonshire cream, cakes and raisin scones. But the real story is the Old-World crowd that turns out for this event. Field's has always been a haven for well-manicured European ladies (rich and poor) who both work and shop there, and one hopes that their no-nonsense and elegant presence won't be lost with the upcoming change of ownership.

    Try the grandiose option at The Peninsula Chicago
    The Peninsula hotel offers similar ambience (cellist, pianist) and menu (extensive green, black and herbal teas and finger sandwiches) as other afternoon teas, but the location in the majestic Lobby room gives the Peninsula an advantage over smaller or more humble locales. The enormous room's sipping setting comes complete with pillars, tall windows, high ceilings, golden draperies and attentive servers. The divine lemon tarragon scones are a perfect match with the gunpowder Chinese green tea. Order this combo, daintily sip and tea, and enjoy the indulgence. The $26 tea service offered 3-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and 4-6 p.m. Sunday; champagne costs an additional $9 to $11.

    Do It Yourself
    Though high teas have a reputation as fancy affairs, it's easy to host one. Gather a selection of black and herbal teas, spread some cream cheese, dill and cucumber on white or wheat bread with the crusts cut off, and make or buy tea biscuits to serve alongside some fresh fruit. Scones from a bakery are optional; serve with an assortment of jams and preserves. Sugar cubes provide another nice touch, and soymilk with honey is surprisingly good in almost any variety of black tea. Arrange a buffet table along with some flowers, plants and reeds, for a decadent feeling. Serve around 3 p.m. to stay within tradition.

  • Venus Zine; Interview: Ladyfest


    Published on VenusZine.com, November 2005.

    You've come a long way, lady
    Ladyfests are gaining steam ‘round the globe

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    The first Ladyfest took place in 2000 in Olympia, Washington. In addition to bands like Sleater-Kinney and Cat Power performing, the weeklong event hosted bands like the Rondelles, Neko Case, and Mary Timony, and a dizzying array of varied spoken-word artists, authors, and visual artists, along with workshops and dance partiesOlympia festival, an astounding 80 Ladyfests around the world have been successfully planned, testifying to the need for this sort of event. Ladyfests should not be mistaken for a franchise, however, and the different Ladyfests are not related to one another, except in spirit. The varied places around the world that have hosted Ladyfests include Bloomington, Indiana; Chicago; San Francisco's Bay Area; Nantes, France; Glasgow, Scotland; Toronto; Los Angeles; Stockholm, Sweden; Melbourne, Australia; Seattle; Berlin; Napoli, Italy; and Vienna, Austria. In 2005, approximately 30 Ladyfests were scheduled to take place worldwide. Venus interviewed organizers and performers from this year’s festivals in Brisbane, Australia; Guelph and Ottawa, Canada; Denver; Lansing, Michigan; and Johannesburg, South Africa.

    The Organizers
    Ladyfest organizers as a whole are a determined lot with an idealistic focus and an overabundance of energy. They also are uniquely open-minded about their attendees and welcome all genders, unlike the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, for example, which restricts attendees to only biological females. Sarah Brown of Ladyfest Ottawa noted that their demographic was "definitely young women 18 to 30, but we had audience members of all ages and genders." Fellow Ottawa Ladyfest organizer Natasha Beaudin attributed their good turnout to dynamic and feminist-oriented programming, affirming that, “it was definitely a better turnout than one would get [from] a lecture on feminism, for example."

    Ladyfest Guelph organizer Ashley Fortier was impressed with the event’s large attendance and the variety of ethnicities that were represented, especially given Guelph’s small population. “It was a very diverse crowd, especially at the hip-hop night," she said. Ladyfest Out West organizer Shannon Perez-Darby commented on the queer focus of their festival’s performances. "Over 75 percent of our performers were queer, lesbian, gay and/or trans identified," she said. The organizers of Ladyfest Guelph went a step further by specifically listing their event as"anti-oppressive, feminist, queer and trans-positive, DIY, and collective."

    Local Focus, Broad Appeal
    The 2005 Ladyfests had varied concentrations in their different locations. Some had a heavy hip-hop presence, while others were more film-centric or focused on performance art or workshops.At Ladyfest Ottawa, the closing party with the Gossip was the most popular event, and Alix Olsen was a "big hit" in Lansing, Michigan. The best-attended performance at Ladyfest South Africa was a band called Electro Muse, a string quartet that combines drum‘n'bass tracks to trip-hop.

    Workshops also drew in enormous crowds. Sarah Brown of Ladyfest Ottawa mused that, "A panel discussion on privilege in activism was one of our best-attended events. Bookbinding also had high numbers." Nearby in Guelph, the workshop on urban gardening was hugely popular. Oftentimes, decisions about performers and events were made broadly and then localized, with organizers focused on bringing in as much local talent as possible. "We included similar broad themes like music, art, politics, film, etc., but then tried to re-appropriate it to the Brisbane context," said Ladyfest Brisbane organizer Nikola Errington.

    Similarly, Ladyfest Ottawa included local talent such as Les Alumettes, Sarah Hallman, Daydream Square, and the Hussies. Ladyfest Out West brought in resident spoken-word artists Jeanette Henriquez, Angela Palermo, and Isis, in addition to well-known local activists Ashara Ekundayo and Kelly Shortandqueer MC and the Denver band Supply Boy.

    The Talent
    When asked about their Ladyfest experience, performers often got gushy. Susie Patten was double booked at Ladyfest Brisbane with her bands I Heart Hiroshima and the Mean Streaks, and she enjoyed playing to the crowd’s enthusiastic response. “My bands played first and second, so we thought that there'd be a pretty quiet vibe around, but everyone was really into [it]. The crowd response was fantastic. Maybe that was just because Kate Bush was played in between sets." Patten attended other Ladyfest events while on location and said that "apart from the rad music, the photography exhibition was probably the highlight — so much awesome talent."

    Patten said the only changes she would make for future Ladyfest stints are that she’d like to play last. "And for Cat Power to support us, and maybe even for her to fall in love with me,” she said. “So realistic." Deb Cavallaro of the Golden Circles called the Brisbane Ladyfest an "intimate, beautiful, dynamic, honest, and inspiring gig. As far as sisterhood goes, there was a fair bit of that feeling going around that night and [it was] kinda great … when you look at the stage and see more than one woman out there."

    Organizational Challenges
    The momentum for these festivals seems to be only increasing as time goes by. In 2002, there were 13 Ladyfests; in 2004, the number had reached 26, and in 2005, close to 30 Ladyfests occurred around the globe. This steady growth is encouraging to those of us who aren't having our needs for this kind of event met in mainstream culture. However, there are definite challenges in planning these festivals. First, there is no one source of income or funding for Ladyfests, and one of the first things that organizers are obliged to figure out is how to raise funds through advertising, fundraising events, or auctions.

    Ladyfest Ottawa raised funds via craft sales, bake sales, film nights, rock shows, garage sales, art parties, and bottle drives. Sarah Stollak and Latricia Horstman of Lansing, Michigan’s Ladyfest invested the money from their tax returns to fund their town's festival, in addition to applying for grants and selling ads to local businesses. Ladyfest South Africa secured Jose Cuervo as a sponsor and "used most of the funding to pay the marketing and printing" costs for their festival. There are definite challenges to organizing other than finances. Many organizers struggle with the admittedly valid critique that Ladyfest and events like it can work to marginalize women artists and performers. Being cast as an "alternative" culture can run the risk of alienation, an important point to consider when in the planning process. Others depict the female nonprofit organizing process akin to a series of infighting sessions, characterizing women's managerial styles as too emotional or complicated.

    However, the typical response from a Ladyfest organizer is that although the planning completely consumed their life for the better part of a year, the payoff was enormously rewarding. Most organizers said that they'd do it again but would change small parts of the process. For instance, they suggested a different organizational structure, setting earlier application deadlines, and, as Nikola Errington of Ladyfest Brisbane said, "we would try and make EVERYTHING all-ages."

    When asked if she'd program another Ladyfest, Sarah Brown said, "Hell yes. Organizing this festival is so rewarding. It deeply affects your life, and as an organizer you have the privilege of watching it affect others." Latricia Horstman muses that she set out on a mission to bring Ladyfest to Michigan in a way that changed her community’s mindset, all the while having fun and providing a fantastic opportunity for folks to get involved and learn. “The ultimate goal for everyone participating or attending: to have fun, learn something, and have some money at the end to give to a charity,” she said. “Every year we've done just that."

    Good Deeds, Progressive Values
    Ladyfest South announced on its Web site that it is a forum for "radical and progressive women everywhere" and goes above and beyond the <leo_highlight style="border-bottom: 2px solid rgb(255, 255, 150); background: transparent none repeat scroll 0% 0%; cursor: pointer; display: inline; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial;" id="leoHighlights_Underline_0" onclick="leoHighlightsHandleClick('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" onmouseover="leoHighlightsHandleMouseOver('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" onmouseout="leoHighlightsHandleMouseOut('leoHighlights_Underline_0')" leohighlights_keywords="call of duty" leohighlights_url="http%3A//thebrowserhighlighter.com/leonardo/highlights/keywords?keywords%3Dcall%20of%20duty">call of duty by not only paying their performers, but raising a good deal of cash for local social-service projects that assist women, such as the DeKalb Rape Crisis Center and the Women's Center to End Domestic Violence.

    Ladyfest Mexico will be held in Monterrey in February 2006, and the organizers are calling for submissions of women artists, including photographers, writers, actresses, filmmakers, musicians, and fashion designers. The festival will focus on subjects such as the situation of women in politics, society, and the economy, with a critical reflection of the role assigned to women in the work-field and family by societal and moral values.

    The possibilities of Ladyfest seem endless. As long as there are women producing good work, there is a seemingly endless array of locations and venues for Ladyfests to showcase them. It is of note, though, that what most of the organizers, participants, and attendees are ultimately working for is a world where the kind of work, art, and music featured in Ladyfests around the world would automatically be showcased and valued by a larger and more diverse demographic of society. We've come a long way, ladies, but there is still a long way to go.

    The Future of the Fest
    Some upcoming Ladyfests in 2006 are in Atlanta and Monterrey, Mexico. For more information about past and future Ladyfests, visit http://www.ladyfest.org.

    All photos courtesy of Nikola Errington of Ladyfest Brisbane 2005.

    Top photo: Stitch N' Bitch event
    Middle photo: Scout Niblett performing
    Bottom photo: Women in Activism workshop


  • Stop Smiling; Article, Third Coast International Audio Festival

    Stop Smiling Magazine

    Issue #27
    September 2006
    The Third Coast

    By: Gretchen Kalwinski

    The Third Coast International Audio Festival (TCIAF) began in 2000 as a Chicago Public Radio project with the goal of celebrating the “best feature and documentary audio work heard worldwide on the radio and Internet.” TCIAF has myriad components including an annual conference and competition, and a website that archives Re: sound, a weekly radio program. TCIAF produced the cd that accompanies the Midwest issue, and here’s what executive director Johanna Zorn had to say about the Midwest tie-in.

    How did you choose the pieces for the cd?
    We wanted to offer a variety of examples, so we picked some favorites that demonstrate the versatility of the radio form. There are four tracks, and three of them were made by producers from Illinois or Michigan. The stories are all over the place! There's a first-person narrative by a young gay boy trying to find his way in the world, and a documentary about a town in Arkansas that's forever changed by the appearance of a bird. The topics are very different, but what they all have in common is that sound plays an essential role in each story.

    Who were some of the producers and artists?
    Some may surprise you--for instance, writer Rick Moody and musician Sujfan Stevens. Artists from other mediums have a growing interest in using audio to tell stories and make art; we're witnessing a renaissance in using radio as a storytelling medium. Now, the tools for audio production are relatively low-cost; anyone can podcast through the Internet, and there are more radio programs out there inspiring folks who never took a journalism class to pick up some equipment and get busy.

    Why did you choose the name “Third Coast Festival”?
    While other cities may stake their claim to the third coast, we felt the title was especially fitting for a festival rooted in the heart of America's Midwest and headquartered on Navy Pier in Chicago, right where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan. So the third coast is literal, another name for our prime location, but since we're an international festival, we also hope it evokes coasts throughout the world. ---GK

  • Time Out Chicago; Feature excerpt; Lake Michigan Activities

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 69: June 22–June 29, 2006

    10 things we love about the lake
    Lake Michigan defines Chicago, both literally and figuratively. We think it’s time this underappreciated wonder got its props.

    By: TOC Staff
    Excerpt by: —Gretchen Kalwinski and Rod O’Connor

    ...2. It’s our own public water park
    The lake offers plenty of ways to hold your own personal X Games. Howza ’bout kayaking? You can join Chicago Kayak  which offers free rentals to members and departs from Leone and Wilson Beaches up north. You can get a yearlong club membership and a free introductory lesson—which is required to join the club—for a mere $130. If windsurfing is more your speed, Windward Sports offers private lessons for $50 an hour from June–September. But for our money, the most exciting water sport is kitesurfing, in which harness-wearing participants combine surfing and kite-flying to navigate a board propelled by a huge kite. Chicago Kitesurfing launches from Montrose Beach, and offers expert instructors, classes and equipment. All that’s required is water and wind (no waves needed). It’s a pricey hobby— a three-hour lesson (with equipment provided) costs $150–$250, and if you decide to buy your own gear, you’ll pay $1,000 to $3,000—but as any adrenaline junkie knows, you have to pay to play.

    Plain, old-fashioned surfing is an option, too. Every day, Lake Michigan longboarders watch cold fronts closer than Tom Skilling, and when the winds hit 25 miles an hour, it’s time to slip on the wet suit in search of the perfect wave—calendar be damned. “I surf all year round, until the lake freezes over,” says Jim Hoop, 43, Chicago’s unofficial surfing ambassador. “I’ve surfed excellent waves on New Year’s Day.” If you wanna join the fun, hit Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo, Michigan (269-932-4575, www.thirdcoastsurfshop.com), for lessons. And since surfing isn’t allowed in Chicago proper, head to Michigan City or Whiting in northwest Indiana, good spots when there’s a west or north wind.

  • Time Out Chicago; Feature; Strange Lake Tales

    Strange but true lake tales
    You may think you know all about Lake Michigan, but we dredged up some offbeat lake lore that is sure to float your boat.

    Excerpt by: Gretchen Kalwinski

    Making waves

    You know how when you look across the lake, the other side looks really, really far away? It is. But some dude swam across the lake in 41 hours. See, ultramarathoner Jim Dreyer was running out of terrestrial body-punishing feats of endurance, so in 1998 he took to the water. Swimming the 65 miles between Two Rivers, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan, in a little less than two days, he smoked the previous Lake Michigan distance record (held by IIT research chemist Ted Erickson, who swam the 44 miles from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana, in 36 and a half hours). Though he was already a marathon-trained athlete, Dreyer had to add “meteorological expert” to his resumé in order to look out for potential hazards on the lake. But his real secret weapon: replaying Aerosmith and Beatles tunes in his head while he swam. (We’re hoping it was the older, pre–“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” Aerosmith.) After a blitz of media attention, Dreyer continued his long-distance swimming in the four remaining Great Lakes and nabbed 13 world records, all to raise funds for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (www.shipwreckmuseum.com) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here’s the kicker: He’d only learned to swim in 1996. Traumatized by water after almost drowning as a toddler, he finally decided to venture to his local swimming pool, where a kindly lifeguard gave him beginner’s lessons. “My swimming career had real modest beginnings, for sure,” Dreyer said. He plans to keep undertaking running and swimming challenges for charity; track his progress at www.swimjimswim.org. —Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Chicago Reader; review, Festival of the Lakes

    I wrote up my hometown's "Festival of the Lakes" for the Chicago Reader, (or, as locals call it, "CritterFest.") May 2006

    FESTIVAL OF THE LAKES

    In its 1980s heyday northwest Indiana’s AugustFest brought the Guess Who, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Koko Taylor to industrial Hammond, but in later years it started to draw a seedy crowd. By the time the city canned it in 2000, it was known locally as “CritterFest.” Its replacement, the three-year-old, family-friendly Festival of the Lakes, focuses on the area’s water—lakes Michigan, Wolf, and George. And since the city has been working on turning brownfield sites into green space, the festival highlights those improvements with outdoorsy events. Wolf Lake has carnival rides and a pontoon outing alongside its music stage (Cheap Trick, the Temptations), and the Hammond Marina showcases a Lake Michigan bird sanctuary and hosts a floating polka party. George Lake has the most weirdly intriguing attraction: the new $40 million Lost Marsh Golf Course. Formerly a slag heap, Lost Marsh is now full of rolling hills and cleaned-up water hazards, though it’s still flanked by smokestacks and oil tanks. Is there anything more American than standing in a fairway that used to be a toxic hill, hot dog and lemonade in hand, watching geese fly beneath a hovering cloud of pollution? Wed-Sun 7/19-7/23, Hammond, Indiana, 219-853-6378 or thefestivalofthelakes.com. —Gretchen Kalwinski

  • Time Out Chicago; Features; 2008 Spas Issue

    Assignment: Get fancy spa treatments and write about them? Yes boss, I can do that. See below or click here for the full article.

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 155 : February 14, 2008 - February 20, 2008

  • Eco-Maniac, Features article; Time Out Chicago

    Time Out Chicago / Issue 129: August 16–22, 2007.  Click here or scroll down to read entire piece. 


  • Venus Zine; Spring 2007, Mother's Day

    Yo mama, you rock!

    Venus Zine gives a Mother’s Day shout-out

    Lately, I've been thinking about how über-DIY my mom is. I have fond memories of my hippie-parents building their own garage and cutting labels off clothing to protest advertising. But my mom's Do-It-Yourself attitude wasn't just ’60s counterculture-nonconformity, it was necessity. She came from scrappy immigrants who re-used every plastic baggie, every piece of aluminum foil. Then her father died when she was 16, and DIY took on a whole new meaning for her family — making their own clothing, canning vegetables and fruit actually helped the 6 of them survive. During my childhood, she managed to work full-time while also making clothing and costumes for us kids, designing her own "Snugli" before they were popular, cooking from scratch, baking elaborate birthday cakes in the shapes of trains and animals, and still attending every game, every dance performance. Even now, when it's no longer financially necessary, she re-uses materials, gardens, and makes clothing herself. I believe that every creative urge, every cooking, yoga, or gardening impulse that my siblings and I have, we owe to the DIY street-cred instilled by my amazing mother when we were kids.

  • Writing for TOC's "DIY" issue

    I wrote a few pieces for Time Out Chicago's recent "DIY issue," including a piece about making your own deodorant (so cheap! so easy!) and another about teaching myself to sing that actually inspired me to start voice lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music. See below or read more here and here

    Dated: Apr 23–29, 2009 / Time Out Chicago; Issue 217: DIY