a week in Chicagoland

Well, I’m done with work! I quit my job last week and now I have a few days to relax while Daniel finishes up his school year, and my mom and sister visit Seattle. After that, we’ll have just over a week to pack, clean, and say goodbye to Seattle.

Two weeks ago I flew to Chicago to look for an apartment. My awesome friend Pamela volunteered to drive me around all week.

As soon as my flight got in, we headed to Logan Square for a late night bite at the Longman and Eagle; we had some sort of corn-on-corn churro thing for dessert that was delicious.

at the Longman & Eagle

After noms, we headed up to the North Chicago/Waukegan area to spend the next 5 days apartment hunting. We put a ton of miles on the car, driving from suburb to suburb (more like ex-urb really) looking for a place to rent. The whole Chicagoland area is so different from Seattle; it’s going to take some getting used to. We also took the opportunity to sample the food and culture in the North Chicagoland area.

First we stopped at RFUMS for bumper stickers and t-shirts:

RFUMS swag

We also discovered that apparently it is ok to park on the grass when all the parking spots are taken:

Parking

Then we took in some nightlife in the nearby town of Libertyville:

Pamela

Then we spent a  whole bunch of time just driving around the city of Waukegan, Illinois, looking for FOR RENT signs. This is all old Saunders stomping-grounds, since Pamela’s dad grew up in Waukegan.

Pamela approved of Joplin’s Java, the only independent coffee shop in Waukegan (for the love of dog, please correct me if I am wrong here and Waukegan is full of secret local coffee shops – this is the only one we could find!) The coffee shop is really cute and it overlooks a beautiful ravine.

Joplin's Java

Anyway, so after lots of running around, a few disappointments, and some tears, I found an apartment! It is is Waukegan, in a safe, but working class area. It’s less than 2 miles from the elementary school where Daniel will be teaching, and it’s about 7 miles from RFUMS. We’re excited to have such short commutes in an area where it seems everyone is willing to commute miles and miles to work every day. We really don’t want to have to get a second car, at least right away. Also, Daniel is really happy about our close proximity to lots of taco shops and Mexican groceries.

Anyway, the apartment is a 3-bedroom, 1 bath with hardwood floors and a nice big porch/balcony area. I will have one whole bedroom to myself for an office, and we are also planning a guestroom for when family and friends come to visit. It will be so nice to have more space to spread out and set up a proper office. One of the biggest perks of living in the suburbs – you can get a 1400 square foot apartment for less than you were paying for your 525 square foot place in Capitol Hill!

Thanks for a great week Pam!

Pamela and me

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Awesome shelving unit

(This is an old post I started writing back in November 2011. Even though it is not very timely, I thought you all might still want to read it!)

When we started making plans for decorating our current apartment, Daniel asked for some websites to read for inspiration. You see, my blog feed reader basically consists of equal parts design blogs and feminist/womanist/progressive blogs (with a sprinkling of critters sites, of course), and I’m also on Pinterest regularly. Daniel mostly reads about fashion and food, so while he isn’t design-illiterate, he literally just didn’t know where to look for ideas and inspiration. The first place I sent him to was The Brick House. Morgan’s blog has been a major inspiration for all the projects we’re attempting in the new place. Her aesthetic is spot-on and she is a major deal-hound.

So I promised a long time ago I would show you how we built the shelving unit in our living room. I have to be honest and admit that we ripped off the whole concept of the shelf from The Brick House. When I showed Daniel a picture of her unit and told him I wanted to copy it, he was immediately on board.

Shelving unit from The Brick House

shelving unit

Our version

Despite the fact that Morgan had pretty much laid the whole thing out for us, this was still a beast and we made so many (expensive!) mistakes. But it is just awesome, don’t you think? Here is how we did it:

First, we planned some changes to the inspiration unit to better fit our needs. We added an extra short shelf on the right to accommodate all our books, and then to keep the whole thing balanced-looking, we shifted the lowest shelf to the left side.

The whole shelving unit is built with steel plumbing/gas pipes and pine boards from Home Depot. It is only attached to the wall at the top with 4 screws in each flange, but since the poles are all steel and completely inflexible, the unit is really solid and stable.

After we had our favorite design sketched out, we planned how many pieces of each size pipe we would need. Here is our final* shopping list:

Assorted lengths of 3/4″ black gas pipe (you can totally use cheaper 1/2″ pipe for a slimmer look)

  • 20 – 6″ pipe (for shelf supports)
  • 4 – 8″ pipe (for the top pipes that go to the wall)
  • 11 – 12″ pipe
  • 2 – 18″ pipe
  • 2 – ~32″ pipe (custom cut & threaded to the same length as 18″+tee+12″)
  • 1 – ~43″ pipe (custom cut & threaded to the same length as 12″+tee+12″+tee+12″)

(You can buy one big 10′ pipe and have the guy at Home Depot to cut and thread it into our three custom-length pieces).

Fittings for 3/4″ gas pipe:

  • 20 – elbow joints
  • 16 – T-joints
  • 8 – base flanges

Wood:

  • 2 – 1″x12″x88″ pine boards
  • 3 – 1″x12″x48″ pine boards

(We bought three 1″x12″x8′ boards and had Home Depot cut them to the lengths we needed).

    Other stuff:

  • black spray paint
  • drill and spade bit (I think we ended up with a 1 1/4″ size bit)
  • wood stain – we used Minwax wood conditioner and stain in Special Walnut 224.

After a trip to Home Depot, we came home with a ton of greasy, dirty black gas pipes from the plumbing section. We decided to use black gas pipes instead of the shiny steel water pipes because gas pipes are a little cheaper and we knew we were going to paint them anyway.

Daniel laboriously peeled the sticker off each pipe and washed them in the bathtub with lots of soap. Then he spray painted them black. (Pro tip: assemble the pipes or tape off the ends before painting or you will muck up the threads).

building the shelving unit

Meanwhile, I sanded and stained the shelf boards and drilled holes for the pipes to go through. Each shelf needs 1 hole for each upright that goes through it. The holes go along the front edge of the shelf.

Once all the components were prepped (and we caught and fixed all our mistakes!) we laid everything out and got to building:

building the shelving unit

In the photo above you can see how all the components come together. The elbow joints sit at the back of each horizontal shelf support. Each shelf rests on top of the flat ends of the elbows and the top of the T-fittings. Four of the flanges are used as flat bases at the bottom of each upright (they’re not drilled into the floor) and the other 4 flanges sit flush against the wall and are screwed in.

There were a few tense moments before we were sure everything would lock in place, since there’s not a lot of wiggle room. But the assembly part came together so much quicker than all the tedious prep – it only took about 10 minutes total to build.

building the shelving unit

building the shelving unit

Ta-da! Our giant, awesome, custom shelving unit. It takes up the whole wall and it only cost a couple hundred dollars to make, including the cost of our errors. Speaking of mistakes…

* Here are all the things we messed up at first, and their approximate cost to fix. Homemade may be better, but it is only cheaper if you don’t fuck up.

  • Bought 3/4″ black gas pipe instead of 1/2″ like we planned to (and like the Brick House unit). I have no idea how that happened. Cost difference: +$60
  • Bought 8″ pipes for shelf supports, drilled the holes in the wood shelves, and then I realized I drilled the holes as if for 6″ supports. Since we had already washed and painted all the 8″ pipe, we couldn’t return it. Cost: $50 and an extra trip to Home Depot
  • Bought the wrong size spade bit to drill the holes in the boards. Cost: $5 and an extra trip to Home Depot
  • Realized we forgot to buy a board for one of the shelves we had planned. Cost: An extra trip to Home Depot, plus the cost of the board we were already planning to buy.

Yes, that is 4 extra trips to Home Depot over the course of a week. Later that week, we blew a fuse in the kitchen and had to run to HD again before we could make dinner.

back from hiatus

Well, I stopped blogging for a good long while, and right in the middle of NaBloPoMo. I kind of got overwhelmed with med school applications, plus feeling like I was bad at blogging. I was not in a super-awesome place last November. I mean, I was fine, but I felt like I was in such a rut.

Well, just about everything has changed in the last six months. Most importantly, I got into medical school and we’re moving to Chicago in August!

Daniel and I are so excited, even though it means we’ll be moving away from Seattle and our beloved Northwest. And after reading back over the blog archives, I realize there are still so many things I wanted to share about our apartment that I never wrote about, and even a bunch of pictures I never even uploaded to Flickr. I have some blog drafts that I wrote and never posted. So if you’ll excuse things being a little out of date, I think I’ll try to get some of those up soon. Maybe I can ease back into blogging that way.

I feel so much more confident now than I did 6 months ago. By Christmas 2011 I knew I needed to start making some changes in my life, because I was certain I was going to be rejected from med schools again. Daniel and I even bought season tickets for the Seattle Opera 2012-2012 season. I got a few interviews, but after being rejected from almost everywhere, I felt completely demoralized. In February I enrolled in an EMT training program because I was sure I wouldn’t get into med school and I hated my current job so much. I found a mentor doctor to shadow and really started to feel like I was finally making some positive changes in my life. Then on May 1, 2012, I found out I had been accepted to the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University. Bam – everything changed.

Now, a month later, after all the the congratulations and booking a mover and putting in my notice at work, I think I’m ready to blog again.

The thing is, I love going back and reading through the blog archive. But at the time I am trying to write for the blog, everything feels so clumsy and stupid and boring. It can be so hard – with everything I’ve ever written, really – just to get it out in the first place. It’s the main reason I end up taking such long unproductive breaks from blogging. So I am going to try to be more confident in my writing.

Here’s to the next 8 weeks in Seattle, and after that, the next 4 years in Chicago!

Valentines ranunculus

Sunday Walt

I love it when he delicately drapes his paws over the edge of something:

IMG_0041

What does he think about in that little brain of his? Cheeky lil’ bastard.

Can you believe that cheeky smirk?

Sunday Walt

new purple coat

Walter models his purple coat. The days and nights are getting chillier!

new purple coat

What’s next – booties?

Incommunicado

The cabin where we are staying this weekend has no internet and no cell phone reception, so the blog will be going dark for a day or so while I chill out here:

What I’ll be eating this weekend

This weekend marks the reprise of Camp Squid! Instead of going to the ocean this time, we are packing up and heading for the mountains, where there will be a firepit, a hot tub, and, hopefully, some snow!

A cozy weekend calls for cozy food, most of which will be supplied by Daniel, natch.

But I am not completely useless in the kitchen, so I will be making a specialty of mine – smoked salmon corn chowder:

smoked salmon chowder!

Although I love a good New England chowder, this is a more Northwest version. It isn’t thick and creamy like New England clam chowder, but milky and briny. The stars of the soup are salty, smoky salmon, and sweet corn, with tender red potatoes and celery. Sometimes I add carrots too.

Like most good soups, there isn’t really a “recipe” because it is so simple, but here is my ingredient list and simple description of how I usually make it. I have no idea how much of each ingredient I use; that is something you can just eyeball as you put together the soup. If you want a really indulgent chowder, increase the smoked salmon and add some heavy cream. If you love potatoes, add more! If you like the way some of the potatoes disintegrate and thicken the chowder, try adding some starchy potatoes like russets in with the waxy red potatoes. This would be great with fresh corn, but frozen is perfectly acceptable, too.

Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder

  • 1 onion, 3-4 stalks celery, and 1 carrot, all diced (carrot optional) (mirepoix!!!)
  • some fat – butter or bacon fat are best
  • maybe some white wine would be nice in here…
  • about 2 tbsp flour
  • 8 oz. smoked salmon (or more! It is delicious with more!)
  • half a bag of frozen corn
  • 4-6 cups chicken stock (if you want to be a BAMF, warm the chicken stock in a separate pan so it is not cold when you ladle it into your mirepoix-roux).
  • waxy potatoes, cut into 1/2″ dice (red potatoes add a nice color)
  • half and half (milk is ok if you don’t have cream, but don’t boil it!)
  • salt (never forget the salt!)

In a big pot, melt the fat and cook the mirepoix over medium heat until the carrots are mostly softened. Now, I would normally salt here because it helps the veggies release their moisture, but since the salmon is probably pretty salty, just give it a little sprinkling of salt.

At this point, you can deglaze the pan with a little white wine. Then stir in a little bit of flour and let it cook until it is golden. If you don’t let the roux cook a little, your soup will taste floury. (The flour coated veggies will look pretty gross right now. I am pretty sure you aren’t technically supposed to make a roux with veggies in the pot already, but do you think this honey badger cares?)

Once the roux is golden brown, slowly ladle in some of the chicken stock. Whisk the stock around so it is absorbed by the flour with no lumps. Scrape the bottom on the pan to get all that good fond off.

Pour in the rest of the chicken stock, then add your salmon, potatoes, and corn. Bring to a boil and let the soup gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, but not disintegrating (maybe 15 minutes). At this point, it is best to turn the heat way down (or off) and just let those flavors sit and mellow. Salt the soup!

Just before you are ready to serve, turn the heat back up and add the half and half. You don’t want to boil it once the half and half is in, but you can simmer a little. Taste for salt one more time, and serve. Daniel the garnish king suggests topping the soup with some chives for maximum pretty.

smoked salmon chowder!

Bring your dog-ter to work day

Last week my boss let me bring Walter to work with me for a day. Walt was a big hit at the office and he was such a sweet boy all day. The only thing that doesn’t really work is that there is NO grass within a 5 block radius of my office, so Walt had a hard time finding a suitable place to pee.

hard day at work

Basically, that is what his day looked like: sit around, roll around with his mouse rat, lie around and nap. I wish I could do that at work!

Here is a little video I made of him:

Are you sick of all the Walter posts yet? Too bad!

Contrast

Today when I was bored at work I decided to take some pictures of my hair. The way I had my hair pinned up made my wild white blonde streak lay right next to the dark hair by the nape of my neck, so I wanted to capture the color contrast. Sometimes I think my ashy, dark blonde hair is pretty boring, but I do have some pretty cool natural color variations:

My hair

Check out those highlights – it’s like it’s 2002 again!

My hair

(By the way, this is how you know I am having a hard time coming with stuff to write about every day: I start taking pictures of random crap.)

always more Walter

Well, since everybody likes the new couch, how about a video of Walter being hilarious on it?

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