Monthly Archives: October 2013

Spooky Saturday: Casket Races

casket racesLast Saturday, Forest Park hosted its second annual Casket Races. Forest Park is sometimes known as the “village of cemeteries”–our dead-to-living ratio is 30 to 1–so it is only fitting that we have a race of caskets as a fairly new annual Halloween tradition. Basically, contestants build a “casket” (or a casket-like car) and one person rides in the casket while the other four “pall bearers” push it down the block. It was a super-fast moving race (in most cases), but the best part was checking out the different designs and costumes of each team. I love events like these, especially when regular people, organizations and businesses take part and create awesomely themed “caskets”. casket racesThe casket above is made from a refrigerator…it totally lost (refrigerators have way too much drag to be real contenders!) but coming from an appliance store (Grand on Madison) it was the perfect casket for the race. Blackhawks at the Casket RacesThis one was my personal favorite…the Stanley Cup casket was brilliant. McCaffery's Casket Race entryThe Grateful Dead casket was an entry from a local bar, McGaffer’s. Their runners were decked out in tie-dye, of course. The ice cream “trough” casket (peeking out from behind the Dead casket) was from Brown Cow Ice Cream Shop.
spookiest casket, casket racesThis team won for Spookiest Casket for the second year in a row. There were also trophies for first, second and last place, as well as funniest and coolest caskets. Casket Race AwardsIf I owned a local business, I would totally be taking a part in this community event. As a matter of fact, I think I might have to encourage my fellow community gardeners to participate next year. How fun would a garden vegetable themed casket be?

(For more–and better–pictures, check out the Forest Park Review’s article here!)

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My Own Mail Call

mail callYesterday, I finally finished opening all of the mail call letters from my fellow volunteers. I’ve been opening a few each day since the flight…it’s been a really sweet way to read them. I left them on the sideboard in the dining room and every day picked up one or two to read…like a tiny uplifting break in my day.

I don’t know about you, but it’s really hard for me to read nice things about myself. I think even sitting alone and reading those nice comments made me blush and feel all “awe shucks” about things…

Mr SnuffleupagusMaureen, Honor Flight’s longest serving volunteer, gave me the vintage Snuffleupagus card. She said she couldn’t find her plain stationery, but I think she should know that vintage Sesame Street makes me ridiculously happy. This card is going to hang out on my desk for awhile. vintage war mail

And this card wins the award for making me laugh out loud. Paula pasted (actually pasted!) my face on this old WWII mail picture. It was so unexpected, I actually did a double-take, saying out loud, “Wait, is that meeee?”

My volunteer season is coming to an end this month. Tomorrow, Barb and I are packing up the mail one last time for 2013, next Wednesday is our last flight. I’m ready for a break from being the “postmistress” and I can’t wait to reclaim my home again (even with having the mail collection off-site, there is a lot of stuff to manage here at home), but I’m going to miss the warm hearts of my fellow volunteers over the long, cold winter.

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North Shore Distillery Tour

Ethel at North Shore DistilleryA few weeks ago we went on a distillery tour of North Shore Distillery. North Shore is located in an industrial area all the way in Lake Bluff, Illinois, quite far from Forest Park, but totally worth it!

Last year, I tried North Shore’s Gin No. 11 for the first time in a simple cocktail at a local bar and I fell in love. I always try to research new-to-me gins and bourbons, so I went home and looked up North Shore and added it to my gin wish-list. When I found out North Shore hosts distillery tours and tastings, I couldn’t wait to go! North Shore Distillery TourDerek, the North Shore distiller, gave us a tour of the distillery. We got to meet Ethel, the handmade German still (seen at the top in all of her copper glory). Ethel really is the star of the show. She does most of the work at the distillery, and she even has her own Twitter account. She and Derek are quite the team it seems. Derek is a chemical engineer, so he brought a little bit of science to the discussion, but mostly talked about the craft and his passion for creating tasty gins, vodkas, absinthe and aquavit. Everything about North Shore is done by hand, from the creating of the spirits, to the bottling to the labeling–Derek even hand-signs each and every bottle. North Shore Distillery Tour & TastingAfter the tour, we got down to business in the tasting room. We started with the vodkas, North Shore and Sol, a citrus vodka. I really loved the Sol. North Shore uses actual citrus and chamomile. And, unlike other flavored vodkas where the flavors are added at the end, the citrus peels and chamomile are incorporated in the vodka during the distilling process. The taste is really fresh.

Next we tasted the gins. No. 11 is big and bold and No. 6 is light and flowery…I used to think I liked No. 11 more, but once I tasted them side by side, I realized how much I enjoyed them both and that they each have a place in my cocktail repertoire.

Then we learned about Aquavit and tried it for the first time. Aquavit is originally Scandanavian and it’s a savory spirit. Caraway, cumin, coriander and other botanicals are distilled in the alcohol and then the Aquavit is aged in oak. It’s definitely something different. I kind of wish I had tried it in a cocktail (North Shore has some ideas here) so I could see how it works with other ingredients.

North Shore Distillery TourLastly, we tried the Sirène Absinthe Verte. My only experience with absinthe is in a sazerac, so I kind of knew what to expect. North Shore’s absinthe was good–we drank it with a bit of icy cold water. 

After the tasting, those of us who weren’t driving (thanks for taking one for the team, Brett!) enjoyed a cocktail. Because of liquor laws, North Shore Distillery cannot serve other companies’ alcohol. This limits some of the cocktails the distillery can serve. But don’t think this is a bad thing–it just means the cocktails are crafted with homemade liqueurs and fresh ingredients. All of our cocktails were amazing handcrafted creations.

If you live in Chicago I highly recommend a North Shore Distillery tour for a unique Saturday adventure. Thanks for having us, Ethel!

(And I definitely recommend taking along a designated driver!) 

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As If I Needed More Stationery…

stationery picks from GreerPart of the fun of going to the Halloween Mail Art Party was getting to shop at Greer afterwards. For those of you who might not know, Greer is the place to go for stationery in Chicago. There is something for everyone: elegant, quirky, masculine, funny, exquisite, serious, sentimental… Chandra Greer has excellent taste in paper and she is a huge supporter of small, independently-owned businesses. I always have a good time shopping there because I see something new and unexpected from tiny stationery makers all over the world.  le typographe neon cardsIn addition to a single greeting card (made by La Familia Green) and a box of Halloween cards (made by Rifle), I got these neon yellow notecards from le typographe (the same company that made this insect stationery I love so much). They are flat cards, one side is neon and the other is white. The envelopes are white with neon on the inside. I sent out some neon mail this summer and apparently a lot of my pen friends are fans, so why not have another go? I think they might be the perfect cards to send during the long, cold winter (which apparently is starting today…snow in Chicago??)Fig. 2 Design watercolor notecardsIn subtler stationery selections, I picked up these gold foil, dip dye flat cards (from Fig. 2 Design Studio). Pool blue is my color and I fell in love with the gold K and the tiny arrow…they were made for me, obviously.3P4 Penpal Society keychainAnd finally…the item that made me squeal with delight–a PenPal Society key tag (made by Three Potato Four)! I’ve had my eye on these for awhile and I was so happy to find one locally!

Of course, there were a thousand other things that I wanted to buy, but those will have to wait until the next visit. I definitely need to go back to work on my Christmas list!

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Halloween Mail Art Party

Halloween mail artConfession: I haven’t written a letter since the beginning of August. But when I saw that Donovan was hosting a Halloween Mail Art Workshop at Greer on Saturday, I knew that making some creative Halloween envelopes would be just the thing to jump start my letter writing again. I’m pretty excited to fill up these envelopes with responses to letters I received back in August and September. Halloween Mail Art Party at GreerDonovan had the table stocked with orange, black and purple papers, washi tapes, envelopes and plenty of spooky ephemera, rubber stamps and labels. The four of us in attendance had  great time poking through everything and sticking and pasting the bits into mail art creations. I love to watch other people create mail art. Sharing ideas and mail stories are the best parts of these events. You can tell from our completed collection that everyone had different approaches and lots of creativity.
Halloween Mail Art
One of my favorite pieces to use was the Frankenstein napkin. Donovan showed us that you can peel the napkin layers and use the images for mail art. They are delicate but fun to work with, and we all used “Frank” in different ways…I especially love him on the black envelope (above left, made by Emily)…the black background gives it a spookier effect! Halloween Mail Art vintage postage and ephemeraDonovan sent us each home with a goodie bag filled with labels, tickets and amazing vintage postage. I’m determined to use it all up on the rest my mail art envelopes with the exception of the Alfred Hitchcock stamp…I get a little hoard-y when it comes to this stamp. I love Hitchcock and the stamp has a tiny little cut out of his profile…so good!

I am excited to write some letters this week and get back on track with my correspondence. My mailbox has been lonely lately and the only remedy for that is to send some mail out into the world knowing it will be returned in good time. And, if I don’t catch up completely with my letters this week, the Letter Writers Alliance has a Halloween letter writing social at Pieritz on Saturday. It’s as though the universe is telling me to make time for mail again.


You can read about the 2012 Halloween Mail Art Party here.

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Cocktail Perfected: The Martinez

Martinez cocktailNaoto is working a ton. We don’t get to see each other a lot during the week, but Thursday nights are sacred. Naoto comes home at a decent hour and we have a little week night date night. Last night our date consisted of dining on spaghetti squash (my recipe needs a lot of work), watching the Blackhawks lose and drinking a Martinez. (Yes, we are very wild around the Adami Hasegawa household.)

Upon returning from The Girl & The Goat, I immediately began researching the Foghorn cocktail I had enjoyed (gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino, bitters). I found the Martinez, a precursor to the martini. The original Martinez is heavier on the sweet vermouth than the gin (often a 2:1 ratio), but of course, I prefer the taste of gin, so I have been making the lighter version of the cocktail. I’m not sure either one is exactly the Foghorn, but it’s a good make-at-home substitute that I can always enjoy (since it involves staples from my bar and very little effort!)

The Martinez

2 oz gin (I used Letherbee)

1 oz sweet vermouth

1/8 oz (or 1 barspoon) maraschino liquor (Luxardo)

2 dashes orange bitters

Stir all ingredients with ice until thoroughly chilled and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange (or lemon in a pinch!) twist. Enjoy on the couch on a weeknight date.

For more “Cocktails Perfected” click here.

Have a good weekend! I’m super excited to attend an LWA Halloween Mail Art Party at Greer tomorrow! I can’t wait to share next week!


Community Garden Pizza Night

fire pitI haven’t blogged about the garden lately…Naoto and I have become gardening slackers–I already regret not taking advantage of our mild, summer-like autumn, but once we came home from Japan, it was like we lost our garden mojo. Don’t get me wrong, we are still totally on board for gardening next year, we just lost the drive to continue poking around the garden for one last tomato and lima bean this year. But that hasn’t stopped us from hanging out with our fellow community gardeners at the garden events. We went to a barbecue at the garden at the end of September. It was fun relax in the garden and eat grilled foods and the garden-y dishes we all contributed. (Naoto and I brought this…it was a hit!) Michelle and Andrew explain pizza

Last weekend, we went to a grilled pizza event. We all loved the grilled pizzas from the progressive dinner so the garden held another event to teach everyone how to make them. Michelle and Andrew basically held a cooking show in (the other) Michelle’s dining room. They demonstrated how to make the crust and how to cook the pizza on the grill so it crisps while the cheese and other toppings cook evenly. (It is harder than it looks.) Naoto and I don’t have a grill–it’s against the rules to grill on our balcony–but we are hoping that some kind friends invite us over to try our hands at pizza grilling. In the meantime, we plan to perfect our crust and use our oven. Naoto at the pizza partyThe best part of the night (well, second to the pizza, I suppose) was when Michelle lit a fire and we turned up the music and had a sing-along to awesome old songs like Total Eclipse of the Heart and Faithfully and Oh Sherrie…there is nothing like a chilly night, a fire and classic rock ballads…I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night. kimberly at FPCG pizza nightAnd with that, I’ve written 300 posts. Thanks, everyone, for reading and for commenting and for encouraging. It means a lot.

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Honor Flight, Chester and Me

John, Kimberly, Chester Honor Flight ChicagoWhy did I wait so long to go?

I’ve been volunteering with Honor Flight Chicago since 2009 and have been asked to go on the flight as a guardian for a World War II veteran several times. I kept putting it off, mainly for silly reasons. Although my grandfather served in the war, I am extremely unknowledgeable about the details of the war and military jargon in general. And, as someone who is pretty shy and extremely introverted, I was worried about being “on” all day long and having to make small talk. Plus, I was nervous about being responsible for a ninety year-old veteran all day. What if he fell? What if I didn’t notice that he was suffering from heat exhaustion? What if he wandered off to a bar and got lost in DC?

Those worries all seem silly now. The second I met my veteran, Chester (above right) I knew we were going to have a wonderful day. He and his friend John (top, left) both signed up for Honor Flight.

barb kim john & chester, Honor Flight ChicagoMy friend (& Co-Volunteer Coordinator) Barb was John’s guardian, so the four of us got to spend the day together as a happy foursome…it was magical.

gate entertainment, Honor Flight ChicagoBefore we boarded our plane, we had some entertainment–songs from the 1940s–at the gate while everyone enjoyed coffee and donuts. Honor Flights are quite a site to see at the crack of dawn with music and flags and so many veterans and volunteers packed into the gate. We boarded our plane and headed to DC at 7AM…the start of a very long day! empty wheel chair Honor FLight ChicagoWhen we arrived at the Dulles Airport in DC, there was a parade of people, both volunteers and active military, to welcome us. The reason I am pushing an empty wheelchair above is because Chester (who is a spry eighty-six years old) was too fast for me…he didn’t need the wheelchair. (I was jokingly offering Rob-the-Photographer a ride….you had to be there…)

Iwo JimaWe drove past the Iwo Jima Memorial (technically the Marine Corps War Memorial) on our way into DC to see the World War II Memorial. The day was really different than our normal Honor Flight day because of the government shut down. There was some question whether or not we would even get to go into the Memorial, but thanks to our Illinois Senators and Representatives, the barricades were removed. (We were prepared to break down the barricades. Naoto even made me carry bail money.) World War II memorialprotesters at world war 2 memorialSeveral members of the media were there, trying to get interviews with the veterans about the government shut down and how it affected them, and there was a large group of protesters, too. Chester and John were both interviewed by the Washington Post and ABC News. John & Chester Honor Flight Chicago World War 2 MemorialChester and John at WW2 MemorialIt was a little bit sad to see that the memorial’s fountains were turned off (because of the government shut down) but the memorial was still beautiful. We took our time, spending a quiet spell in the shade. It was hot for a fall day. Then all of the Honor Flight participants met for the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem and a moment of silence. color guard at World War 2 memorialgroup picture prep, Honor Flight ChicagoHonor FLight Chicago 10.2.2013After our time at the memorial, our day strayed from the regular Honor Flight program. Normally, we spend time at the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials and the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and then visit a Smithsonian Museum but those were all closed because of the shut down. Instead, we went to the Newseum, a privately owned museum dedicated to reporting and the news. On the top floor, there is an awesome view of the Capitol. Newseum World Trade Center antenna NewseumJohn, Chester, Barb and I cooled off and explored the museum. We looked at the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs from the 1940s and saw the JFK exhibit and the antenna pulled from the World Trade Center on 9/11 (pictured above). Air Force Memorialair force memorialNext, we stopped at the Air Force Memorial. John and Chester hung out on the bus during this part. The day was getting long and the weather was warm. Barb and I popped out just to see the memorial, which is crazy-amazing…you can read more about the design here. It took my breath away. It reminded me a little bit of the Arch in St. Louis and of the Vietnam Memorial because of its simple, but powerful design. Arlington Cemetery Honor Flight Chicago Tomb of the Unknown SoldierHonor FLight Chicago Tomb of the UNknown SoldierAfter the Air Force Memorial, we drove into Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And then it was on to the airport to get ready for the flight back to Chicago. At Dulles, there were many volunteers at our gate to help us celebrate the end of our day in DC. Chester shook a lot of hands that night. Chester at the airportOnce we got on the plane, it was hard for me to concentrate because I knew the “mail call” portion of the flight was coming. I sat in between John and Chester (they insisted) and chatted with them until I got the nod to come up to the front to help pass out the big envelopes of mail. chester, kimberly and john Honor Flight Chicagomail call honor flight chicagoIt was rewarding to see the vets open their mail and read it…all of those hours sorting and packing the mail…definitely worth it!

mail call Honor Flight ChicagoAnd, much to my surprise, there was a mail call for me with an envelope filled with letters from our volunteers. It was a wonderful surprise…I’m slowly making my way through them…everyone who volunteers with Honor Flight is so amazing and kind. Honor Flight Chicago Welcome Homechester at the Welcome Home Honor Flight ChicagoChester at the Welcome Home Honor Flight ChicagoOnce we arrived back at Midway Airport (at around 8:30PM), Chester and the rest of our Honor Flight veterans were welcomed home by an enormous crowd of active military, scout troops, family and friends. Chester was escorted through the parade by the sailor above. It was awesome watching them and hearing people cheer for and thank Chester by name. He shook many, many more hands. He and John could not believe all of those people came out to thank them and the rest of the veterans!

It was such a long day, but worth every minute. I’m so glad I let Barb talk me into going. It was such an honor to spend the day with Chester and John and the eighty-eight other veterans on the flight. I’m so thankful…not only for the opportunity to go on the flight, but that I’ve had the opportunity to do this work and meet so many amazing volunteers and veterans.

Most of the pictures on this post were taken by Rob Williamson, one of our Honor Flight Chicago photographers. More pictures from our day (and when I say more, I mean a few thousand) can be found here

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Japan Does It Better 1: Narita Express

Narita ExpressJapan Month is rolling to the end of the tracks. I’ve been home for a month…you’d never be able to tell based on the fact that my stationery purchases are still lingering in the dining room and my sleep schedule is as dreadful as ever and my cravings for Misdo are coming back with a strong, sad vengeance…but it’s been a month of Japan posts and it’s time to talk about other things (like October and fall and Honor Flight and cocktails). I still have many things that I would love to share about Japan–both observations and products that are unique to the country. So, I’ve decided to introduce another occasional series: Japan Does It Better. JDIB (I’m not completely sold on the acronym) will highlight the products, conveniences and quirky cultural details that I love about Japan. This way, I can sprinkle some Japan love throughout my back-to-normal posts. Kimberly and Naoto train station

So, let’s get started with the Narita Express!

The Narita Express (NEX) is the train that takes you from the Narita Airport (the airport that you fly into when you say you’re flying into Tokyo) into urban area of Tokyo. It takes about ninety minutes and the train makes very few stops along the way. We took it from Narita Airport to Shibuya and then transferred to a local train (similar to the L in Chicago) to get to our hotel. NEX is a lovely little commute. The seats are assigned and there is plenty of space up above and at the end of the car for an international traveler’s luggage. There is a (clean) bathroom on board and the ride is smooth and quiet. In Japan, people do not talk on their cell phones on the trains. If they do, it’s always a quick call and even the sharpest of ears couldn’t hear the conversation because everything is courteously quiet. (When I come home and hop on the L, I am reminded how much I miss Japan and how Japan totally does commuting better!)  Narita Express snack menuTo me, the peace and quiet of the train is enough for the Narita Express to qualify for JDIB, but, there’s more…

There’s a snack cart!

Once the train gets moving, a kind NEX worker comes around pushing a cart of sandwiches, sweets, chips, coffee, teas, cocktails, beer…tiny treats to make your commute to the airport a pleasant one. And the prices? Not bad at all! Under $3 for a beer or some chocolate covered almonds. Narita Express Snack MenuYou can even purchase some dried scallops or a NEX-branded notebook or pen.

(We did not.)snacks on the Narita ExpressWe chose potato sticks, a waffle and an autumn-themed beer. Naoto drank the beer. I ate most of the potato sticks and the tiny waffle. (Surprise, surprise.) The potato sticks are similar to American “shoe-string” potato snacks, but crunchier and the waffle is…a waffle with a little bit of sweetness baked into it (because you don’t have syrup to pour over it). Waffles seem very popular in Japan. We saw several little bakeries serving them in food courts and in shops around Tokyo. The snacks were just enough to tide us over before our pre-flight lunch at the airport.

So, snacks on a train…reason number one that Japan Does It Better.

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Good Things From The Yubinkyoku

Japan Post Office StationeryAs I mentioned in my first post about sending postcards from Japan, I couldn’t wait to pop into the post office for some postcard stamps and postcards. While I was buying those, I scoped out some of the exclusive yubinkyoku (post office) stationery. Pictured above is the classic red mailbox postcard, the classic red mailbox glue stick, the Japan post letter set (including stickers of a mail bike, a mail bag, a mail truck and a mailbox) and a letterpressed postcard. They are all part of the Posta Collect Basic stationery series presented by the post office. The papers used in the letter set and postcards are really thick and lovely. The postal clerk was adamant that the big red mailbox postcard was not for international mailing, but Naoto sent me one a few years ago during one of his solo travels to Japan and I got it…so…mail at your own risk? Japanese Constellation Postage StampsI also bought a sheet of these awesome constellation stamps. Japan is very on-trend with their postage…constellations are everywhere lately!Japanese Constellation Postage StampsIt’s hard to see in the pictures, but the stars are gold foil and the pictures are holographic silver. Apparently these stamps are the third in a series of constellation stamps. (You can see the first set here and the second here, scroll down.) I’m bummed I missed this first two. Japanese Letter Writing Day Postage StampsAnd while I was at the post office one last time, I could not pass up the other Letter Writing Day stamps. I fell in love with the depictions of summer in Japan, especially the somen (bottom left), the roasted barley tea (second right) and the flowers and vegetables. And obviously the little girl writing a letter, the red mailbox and mail truck sealed the deal.

Japan really knows how to do postage stamps and merchandise…I think the USPS should take note!

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