Saturday, December 11, 2010

I'm Sending Out Personalized Bookplates...

... to any awesome-cool people out there who bought my book for themselves or are buying it for someone else as a gift. There's no expiration date on this offer, either!

Details on how to get one are over on the Zero-Sum Game blog.

I really appreciate the support of those who've purchased the book. And I'd also like to thank everyone who's read it and subsequently written me with their reactions -- I am so, so pleased when I hear from people who are outside the financial services world but still got a kick out of my story. Since I never actually explained what my book was about on this site, if you're curious you can read this post over on Long Live Locke where I spill the details.

I still intend to finish recapping my publishing journey (which I started doing back in August here), it's just that the promotional part of the book launch process has turned out to be much, much more time-consuming than I ever dreamed. So stay tuned, there's more to come on "A to e" in the future. I also plan to write about my recent "vacation" (quote marks because it was NOT restful in the slightest) to Belize sometime soon as well.

I hope everyone is enjoying their holiday season so far!

- e

Friday, November 19, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I

The situation is grim and the mood is dark in the penultimate Potter film. Perhaps some fans of the series will enjoy tagging along on Harry, Ron and Hermione's slow, tedious search to find the remaining Horcruxes (until they're distracted with the Hallows), but most will find themselves checking their watches and wondering when something's actually going to happen.

You all know that I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. You might remember when I went to the midnight release party for the final book. When I was still in grad school, I camped out for midnight screenings of the first few movies. And I've enjoyed most of the novels' accompanying film adaptations thus far (with Azkaban being my favorite). But I was not pleased with director David Yates' take on Hallows: Part I. I need to give it more time to sink in, but right now it's my least favorite of all of the movies. Even though I read the book, I still found myself lost by the overabundance of characters (who ARE all these bad guys?) and thrown by the disjointed narrative. Worst of all, I was bored stiff and left the theater feeling like I'd just wasted 2.5 hours of my life.

It was certainly wonderful to see the characters we love so much back on the big screen -- but where was the action? Is this what happens when source material is split in half in order to make more moola from two films? Even two of the most tension-filled parts of the story were pretty lifeless (one's a battle in the sky right at the beginning, and the other is the capture and torture of one of the good guys (you'll get no spoilers from me!))... and these scenes were over before they even got going. When I read these same sequences a few years ago, I remember being tense -- thoroughly scared about what might happen. While watching the film I felt no such emotions. So if Yates couldn't get the best parts of the first half of the book right, then you can imagine what the rest of the adaptation was like. Because no one can deny that much of the final Harry Potter book wasn't that compelling to begin with.

Yates kicks the movie off by reminding viewers of how horrible the state of the world is because of You Know Who's return. Muggles are being killed left and right, and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) watches as pseudo-brother Dudley and his parents leave town. Hermione (Emma Watson) erases her parents' memories of her to spare them the pain of her upcoming disappearance, which she knows might end in her death. Ron (Rupert Grint) stares out at the burned field behind his house -- the field the Death Eater Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) torched in the last film. The trio is aware that the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better, and they have to find the remaining Horcruxes (pieces of You Know Who's soul) in order to put things right. So they've dropped out of Hogwarts to do just that.

What transpires over the next two and a half hours is the search for the Horcruxes. There's a burst of excitement here and there, but mostly there's just a lot of wandering around, bickering, and waiting. This is exactly what happened in the novel, and my disappointment with the film closely mirrors my disappointment with Rowling's final installment of the series (I'll spare you a repeat of my frustration with specific plot points... it's all there in my book review). Perhaps, then, it's really not Yates' fault that the adaptation is so slowly paced. When you take the kids out of Hogwarts, the school's charm -- or, if I wanted to be corny, I might say the school's magic -- disappears, and at this late point in the series, the plot is too convoluted and the action too spread out to keep viewers' attention.

Was there anything I liked about Deathly Hallows: Part I? Of course. While it's a downright shame that the vast majority of great characters (Snape, Hagrid, Draco, etc.) got almost no screen time, the three leads have really come into their own (after rocky starts) and there were a few of their segments I absolutely loved. One involved Ron's increasing frustration with the mind-numbing pace of their journey (perhaps I liked this scene because I was feeling the same thing?) and his growing insecurities about Harry and Hermione's relationship. Grint is turning out to be a wonderful comedic talent, but HP7 proved he has some dramatic chops as well.

In another lovely scene, viewers were treated to a semi-awkward but 100% endearing moment of bonding between Harry and Hermione at the lowest point of their quest -- it actually brought a tear to my eye.

But for the most part, the film just limped along, going through the motions, trudging toward its completely random conclusion. I mentioned above that the narrative was disconnected -- scenes were pieced together in a way that would make non-Potterheads struggle to figure out what's going on, and even the look and feel of scenes differed dramatically, like they weren't all a part of the same movie -- but nothing epitomized this more than the ending. It was so bizarre and so out-of-nowhere, that when the credits started rolling afterward, the theater I was in was completely silent. No clapping, no reactions, no nothing. I can only assume everyone was in shock at the mess they'd just witnessed. Or they'd already been lulled to sleep an hour earlier.

I know some critics enjoyed Deathly Hallows: Part I, but I've heard from enough Potter fans and have read enough other negative reviews to know that the response is going to be very split on this one. So let me know what you thought! I truly hope you enjoyed the movie more than I did! And let's pray that next year, Part 2 gives the series the awesome conclusion it deserves.

- e

Thursday, August 12, 2010

e's Favorite Things: The "Miraculous" Tea-Maker

There's a sushi place near my condo that my husband and I have been going to for years. Last fall they started bringing these mega-cool individual tea-makers to the tables of anyone who ordered tea, and I just had to have one. After I'd looked online and couldn't find the exact same brand anywhere else, I decided to order one for myself and one for a friend through the restaurant. (Actually, it was listed on Amazon, but never in stock.) I waited and waited and waited for this damn thing to arrive. It took something like three months, no lie. I've since learned that they're made in Taiwan and apparently very hard to get a hold of. But it was worth the $20 and the wait.

Here's why it's better than the other tea-makers I already own: because the tea strains directly into your mug -- you don't have to deal with one of those little strainer-ball thingies or anything else. What you do is heat up water, pour your designated amount of loose tea directly into the device, pour the water in over the tea, and let it brew. It's kind of cool because the tea leaves float around in the water and eventually rise up to the top -- it's like a tea-filled lava lamp or something. Absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

Here are pictures of each of the steps. Yes, I have a POUND-SIZED BAG of Harney Earl Grey tea. I've found that 1.5 teaspoons is the right amount for one large mug of tea.

Here's the tea brewing... ah, the anticipation! It's my favorite part of every day. This is not a joke.

Then I just set the tea-maker atop my mug and it strains the tea through a filter on the bottom of the device. The tea is always perfect. Then I just dump out the soggy tea leaves in the garbage, swirl some water and liquid dishwashing detergent around in the main compartment and it's ready to go again the next morning. Granted, as you can see, the sides of the brewer are seriously stained -- I need to give it a good scrubbing. But I'm lazy and it doesn't bother me, so stained it remains for now.

Do you see the little black circular stand thingy to the left? That's key, too -- other models I investigated didn't come with one of those. I like it because even though the tea-maker doesn't leak while it's brewing (that's why it's miraculous, perhaps?), after the tea has been strained out the bottom there are bound to be a few drops that end up on the stand. Better the stand than your counter or table, right?

I just realized that it was kind of mean for me to write this post extolling the virtues of Abid's Miraculous Coffee and Tea-Maker when it's basically impossible to get one. So ha ha, I have one and you don't! But if you're interested in something similar, here's another option. It may not be Miraculous, but it's still probably better than any other tea-maker on the market. If you get one, let me know how you like it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Book-Writing Timeline, Part 1: From Getting the Idea to Landing an Agent

I've been promising to share more about my book-writing experience, and now that I have one precious week off from juggling pre-publication deadlines, I thought I'd start fulfilling that promise by laying out everything that happened between the day I first came up with the idea for my book (some might call this moment "inception," ahem) and the day I signed with a literary agent.

Before I get into the details, please note that my book is nonfiction. Those who write fiction follow a drastically different process where they usually write the entire book first before trying to find an agent or publisher.

But that's not the case for nonfiction. So, here's what happened:

July 2006: I interviewed at the Chicago Board of Trade. At this point, the idea for a book was already percolating in my head, as it's always been my intention to write about every place I've ever worked.

September 1, 2006: I began my tenure at the Chicago Board of Trade.

October 6, 2006: I knew I was going to write a book about my experience at the Chicago Board of Trade.

In the coming weeks, I'm going to talk A LOT more about what exactly my book, Zero-Sum Game, entails, and then you'll understand what went down on October 6 to make me so sure that I was going to embark upon this endeavor. But for the purposes of this post, all that's important is that I remember the exact moment when I knew I was going to attempt to put things down on paper. October 6, 2006, was when the clock began ticking -- the true Start Date of this project.

August 17, 2007: My last day at the Chicago Board of Trade after its merger with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to form CME Group.

September, October and the first half of November 2007: I wrote the proposal for my book. For nonfiction, you don't write the entire book first. You write a proposal first. Think of a proposal as a sales pitch, or a business case, for a book idea. It includes sections like "Comparative Titles" and "Target Audiences" and "Marketing" and whatnot. It also includes a detailed outline of every chapter, as well as a sample chapter. I had written three sample chapters just to have something on hand in case an agent ended up being interested but wanted to get a better idea of my style. I wrote Chapters 1, 5 and 12 because I felt I kind of had to have the first chapter... and then 5 and 12 were various high points of "action," in my mind.

To learn how to write a proposal in the first place, I bought a few highly recommended "How to Write a Nonfiction Proposal" books and also took a class on this same topic from, which I found very helpful. (The class was like $50, lasted a few hours, and was taught by a literary agent in Chicago, but I signed up for it through

Last half of November - early December 2007: While my husband and I were sailing the high seas to Antarctica, I had a group of people (maybe 12 or so) review my proposal. Because of the nature of my book -- as in, it's a true story involving real people -- my proposal-critiquers were those I knew I could trust to keep things under wraps. Some of them were in the target demographic for the book, some were totally outside the target demographic (on purpose, because I wanted to make sure I was explaining certain concepts clearly), and some were chosen because they are total grammar nerds.

During my two-week vacation, while friends and family members were reading my proposal, I went through books dedicated to helping writers find literary agents (Guide to Literary Agents was one of them -- it's freakin' HUGE) and negotiate book contracts. By this point I had also signed up for a paid service ($20/month) from Publishers Marketplace. Through this service, I get an emailed list of all book deals closed every single day (nearly four years later, I'm still a customer). This, combined with the guide books, helped me figure out what agents represented projects like mine.

By the time I got back from my trip, I had A LOT of feedback to review. If I were to do it all over again, I would not have given my proposal out to quite so many people. This isn't because I didn't appreciate their feedback... it's because it was just really overwhelming to go through 12 sets of edits. Especially when I started realizing that there were two distinct camps emerging: those who liked the personal nature of my story, and those who thought I needed to drastically reposition things and rethink what I was trying to achieve with the book. (Spoiler alert: the latter group won out.)

Late December 2007 - early January 2008: I tweaked the proposal according to the feedback I agreed with from my friends. I also compiled a short list of agents I was going to contact based on extensive, extensive research. I looked at literary agencies' web sites, read gossip about agents on message boards, etc., etc. I wanted someone who not only had experience repping business books, but who also was around my age and could deal with email. Yep, peeps, you read that right. There are still a ton of literary agents who want everything mailed to them the old-fashioned way. And, well, they don't call me "e" for nuthin' -- paper-based communication is just not how I roll.

Mid-January 2008: I constructed personalized "query letters" for a small number of agents -- I think less than ten. Like I said, I'd done my research on everyone, and I wanted to show that I had valid reasons for reaching out to each of them. Apparently a lot of wannabe authors just mass-email agents... like in the same message. ?!?! People are on crack. ANYWHO... back to the query letter (or, in my case, "query email"). Its purpose is to tease the agent enough to get him or her to ask you for your full proposal. You're supposed to start off with an enticing hook, tell a little bit about the book and yourself, and -- ideally -- why you're contacting him or her in particular.

My funny story is that the agent I ended up with was NOT who I originally sent my query email to at his agency. This is because I am a rule-follower (well, most of the time) and on the agency's web site -- at that point in time -- The Guy Who Eventually Became My Agent indicated that he was not accepting any new clients. I was disappointed, because he had repped a business book and a few other books that weren't in my genre but that I liked and were bestsellers, he had an MBA like I do (a VERY rare background when you're talking about literary agents), and from his profile I could tell we had a few other things in common. I'd read nothing but good things about both him and the agency, AND he accepted email. But just not new clients. D'oh!

So... since I still felt the agency overall was a good fit, I sent my query email to another agent there. And wouldn't you know it, he wrote back within a day and said, "I think this is actually a better fit for The Guy Who Will Eventually Become Your Agent." Now I had the inside track, and within three days, my Target Agent asked me to send him my proposal. Score!

I won't bore you with details about the other agents who responded, since this post is already really long. And I'm not including the name of my agent because I don't want him to get bombarded by randoms who Googled something like "How to write a book" and came across my post. There are a lot of crazies out there, folks!

Anyway, five days after receiving my proposal, Target Agent wrote back and asked if I would be open to revising it. I was very open to revising it, and it just so happened that I was going to be in New York (where he was) in mid-March, so I asked if perhaps we could meet in person at that point so we could discuss his ideas. So that's what happened.

Mid-March 2008: I was in NYC staying with my Big Apple-based friend Miss M after she was nice enough to let me tag along on a trip to St. Martin/Maarten courtesy of her ten bazillion Westin points. On a semi-related side note, it was during this trip that redbox first contacted me to see if I'd be interested in doing a trial run for the movie blog they were thinking of launching. In retrospect, mid-March '08 was one for the record books! But anyway, once Miss M and I returned from the island (not THAT island), I met with Target Agent as planned, and he dropped the bomb that I was kind of expecting: I needed to drastically reposition my book. The whole proposal needed to be rewritten in a new light, and I needed to revise my sample chapters... and ideally write a few more, to boot.

What Target Agent said was not too different from what my husband and some of my friends (those in the target demographic for the book) had tried to tell me months earlier. My book was reading too much like a memoir. I had to take myself out of the action as much as possible, because I was getting in the way of an absolutely incredible story about companies that affect people's lives on a daily basis. I'm no diva (when it comes to my writing) -- I can definitely take criticism well. Blogging about Lost since 2004 gave me a much thicker skin than I had before, that's for damn sure. So I vowed to redo everything and get back to Target Agent with updated documents within a month.

Mid-April 2008: I sent Target Agent my revised proposal and a new chapter (Chapter 2).

Mid-May 2008: Target Agent had been traveling and was otherwise swamped, so a month after I sent the new proposal, he let me know that it still needed significant work. D'oh! But he gave me very, very specific guidance on what he was looking for, which helped immensely. He went through my chapters with Track Changes on in Word and wrote notes about what he thought should be changed... and more importantly, why. I went back to the drawing board.

End of June 2008: I sent him Take Three of my proposal.

July 1, 2008: He asked if I would like to become his client. Yahoo!

And so, my dear friends, you can see that I spent the better part of a full year getting my proposal just right and finding an agent. If you're asking why I didn't send my proposal straight to publishers, you missed a huge point of this post. I would've been rejected immediately, as almost everyone is who makes such a silly move. First off, agents know what publishers are looking for. My agent was right in that my book would NOT have been picked up had I not gone through all of those revisions. Further, agents get hundreds of queries a day... and publishers get even more. So publishers use -- nay, need -- agents to act as a filter and only bring forth the most promising projects. I don't care what kind of book you're trying to write: unless you are already extremely famous or your name is something like Stephen King or Nora Roberts or Tom Clancy, you need an agent.

OK, that's enough for now... because we still have two more years to cover!

More soon,
- e

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Have Faced My Ultimate Temptation

Those of you who've been hanging around this site for the past few years might remember that in the summer of 2007 I wrote about how I hardly ever go to the grocery store. Peapod delivers everything to me.

Now, this used to be because my husband and I didn't have a car. Here in Chicago, you don't really need one. If we didn't get groceries delivered, we'd have to haul our nerdy granny cart several blocks -- usually in either below-zero or above-ninety temps... there never seems to be an in-between anymore -- in order to get what we needed. But in February, someone from my husband's sales team left the firm and my husband was given his company car. Bonus! But guess what? We still don't go to the grocery store -- Peapod's just too convenient.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't LIKE roaming around in a supermarket when I get the rare chance to do so. That's the only way I can learn about the latest and greatest snack innovations that the food-marketing geniuses have come up with. Like yogurt with a little bowl of crushed Oreos included on top (defeating the entire purpose of yogurt, right? Isn't it supposed to be semi-healthy?). I couldn't believe this when I saw it in King Kullen out in Hampton Bays with Miss M a few weekends ago. I came across waaaay too many curious new items to mention in this post, though... especially since the point of this entry is something else entirely. I'm writing to let you know that I have faced what is perhaps the biggest temptation I could ever be faced with, and I have emerged victorious. Victorious... and stronger.

Here is my biggest temptation: an entire WALL OF ICE CREAM TOPPINGS.

Sure, I'm smiling and appear happy in the photo above. But inside, I am fraught with conflict. How could I face this Wall o' Toppings and NOT lose all self-control and break into one of the jars or bottles and dump it all over my face? Further, how could I calmly peruse the offerings and then walk away... with nothing in hand?

It was tough... but I did it. Maybe it's because I knew that the S'mores treats I wrote about yesterday loomed on the horizon -- I was confident there would be chocolate and marshmallows pumping through my system within a matter of hours. So I was able to take a deep breath and continue on to aisles that harbored no such siren calls. Aisles with stuff like, you know, butter or cold cuts.

Are you proud of me?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

S'mores, Minus the Campfire

One of the coolest things Miss M and I did during my trip to New York was make s'mores. But there wasn't any chopped wood, fire or long twigs involved -- we cooked them indoors with the help of her ingenious S'mores Maker.

At the trendy restaurant N9NE in Chicago, Vegas and Dallas, you can make s'mores for dessert using a similar set-up, but Michelle found the home version. You just light a little Sterno thingy and voila! You're ready to roast some marshmallows without having to smell like smoke and ash for the rest of the day.

Sometimes the marshmallows would catch on fire if either of us held them in one spot over the grill for too long. After a few milliseconds of panic, you realize all you really need to do is blow on the flaming white gob and the fire would go out. Then you'd be left with a nicely charred treat.

The end result is below. I downed two of these bad boys within minutes. Yes, I felt kinda ill afterward -- should've paced myself. But I have no regrets.

We used dark chocolate, which I highly recommend. Because, you know, it's healthier.

I had the urge for another s'more yesterday and went to get one at this crazy candy/ice cream shop by my place that I've passed on the sidewalk countless times over the past 14 years and never went inside until last week. Bad move -- now I'm in there all the time. Anywhoo... they have pre-made s'mores that are ridiculously expensive -- like $4.50 for one. But because I'm a fool for sweets I bought one last night, took it home, microwaved it for 10 seconds and then devoured it before my dog even got a chance to fully sniff at my plate and try to figure out what was going on. Same consequence as before: I felt kind of sick later. I need to learn to slow down when I eat dessert. But anyway, it was still tasty, though I prefer the "real" kind of s'more that I made with Miss M. That's as close as I'm ever going to get to cooking something.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tide to Go Pen: Where Have You Been All My Life?

Many women like to shop. I am not one of those women. But this past weekend, Miss M and I visited the Tanger Riverhead Outlets on Long Island and I went all out. You must keep in mind that I really haven't bought anything for myself in nearly a year because I've been in lockdown writing my manuscript, so when I had nearly every major store at my fingertips on Saturday, I became a woman on a mission. I bought: new workout gear, three pairs of shorts, a jean skirt, a comfy nightgown, a Coach bag, a few Christmas gifts (yes, already!), a bathroom rug and two washcloths, and a bunch of totally random kitchen gadgets (those will get their own post one day). Here's the best part: on top of everything already being marked at outlet prices... that weekend all products in the entire complex were another 40 - 50% off. WHAT?!?!


It was awesome.

We were on our feet for a total of 5.5 hours, during which I sorely regretted wearing flip-flops instead of my tennis shoes. About halfway through our excursion I had to stop and refuel with a big ol' waffle cone of ice cream. Once we were on our way again, I looked down at my light-colored shorts and realized that I had dripped chocolate all over them.

"Awwww, CRAP!" I whined to Miss M, and was then surprised to watch her whip out a Tide to Go pen within seconds. "I always carry it with me," she explained.

I'd heard of these miracle-workers, and had even tried to find them in Chicago probably over a year ago, but for whatever reason I never could. I don't know if they're only carried at big grocery stores in the suburbs or something, but they're never at Walgreens or available through Peapod or at my neighborhood mini-mart. (I just checked again on Peapod and there's only something called "Swash by Tide"... which looks like it's supposed to accomplish the same thing as the Tide to Go pen, but on the Tide web site they are listed as separate products. Anyone know the difference? I also see there are Tide to Go Mini pens. Cool!)

Anyway, I'm sure a bunch of other shoppers wondered what in the heck we were doing, because right there in the middle of the sidewalk Miss M started rubbing the stain on my upper thigh with the Tide pen. Eventually we realized that I could probably do this myself, and so she gave the pen to me to continue the effort. Now, yes, it looked like I'd peed my pants for the better part of the next half-hour, but who cares, because the stain came out completely! It was like it never happened. I was truly amazed. And I am hardly ever truly amazed.

At the end of my multi-night stay at her place in NYC -- even though it was HER birthday -- Miss M gave me a brand spankin' new Tide to Go pen of my very own. Now I want to pour something on myself just to watch the pen work its magic once more.

I'll close by saying that if you do not own one of these pens, stop what you're doing and go get one. You will not regret it, especially if you're prone to clumsiness and spills like I am.

Friday, July 09, 2010

e's Out East

I flew to NYC yesterday (and was only 35 minutes delayed -- a near miracle when both O'Hare and LaGuardia airports are in the mix...) and will be here until late Tuesday night. I'm running around like crazy trying to get some freelancing gigs lined up, sort out some things related to my book, and of course meet with friends and family. So I just didn't want you to think I'd thrown in the towel on this blog and had disappeared forever. That will not happen! But I probably won't be able to write again until I'm back in Chicago.

Last night I met up with my uncle, my cousin and his fiancee. We all watched the ridiculous LeBron James spectacle together and had some take-out pizza, so that was fun. Today I went back to The Man I used to work for from '03-'06 to talk about a potential freelancing project. It was kind of surreal to be in the building again, but thankfully I didn't have a meltdown or anything. Probably because I was meeting with the people I liked working with the most back in the day.

Then I caught up with my literary agent, and we realized the only other time I'd actually talked to him in person was in March 2007 when I originally tried to pitch him my proposal. Yes, that means I've been working on my @#)$*#%* book for OVER THREE YEARS. But the end is nigh, my friends. Oh yes, the end is nigh.

Next, I returned to my friend Miss M's place in the West Village (where I'm staying), dropped off my laptop, changed into casual clothes, went out to a diner for lunch and then got two cupcakes -- one with vanilla frosting and one with chocolate -- at the famous Magnolia Bakery. They were good... but of course now I'm regretting eating both within an hour of each other.

In about 15 minutes I'll be headed to Penn Station to start the trek out to the Hamptons for the weekend. I join my friend at her family's place out there each summer, and it's one of the things I look forward to every year. There's an EXCELLENT Whole Wheat Everything bagel place we go to in the mornings... there's the beach... there's shopping. It's usually the most relaxing Saturday and Sunday I have the entire calendar year.

Monday and Tuesday I'm booked solid with social and/or work stuff, so I'll be back with stories from my trip after I'm home on Wednesday.

Until then,
- e

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Taste of Chicago 2010

Another Fourth of July has come and gone, which means I've made my annual trek to the Taste of Chicago, as this event is always held the week before and week of Independence Day.

This was the first year that I was joined not only by Nerdy P (who is usually with me), but also her parents and her son. I think they might've been a bit overwhelmed by the heat and the crowds, but Nerdy P and I are old pros and can whiz in and out of the masses like nobody's business. So much so that we had one round of snacking on Friday and then a second with our remaining food tickets on Saturday.

Here's me with a very high-end salad that I absolutely loved. It was from The Grill on the Alley, and its official description was: "Grilled Anjou Pear salad with walnuts and maytag blue cheese." Good lord, it was awesome.

Nerdy P tried some gazpacho ("with avocado and chopped chives") from this same station and really liked it. Here she is with a selection from Carbón -- a restaurant that has never had a booth at the festival before.

It's kind of hard to see, but it was a tilapia taco. It looked really good -- and she confirmed that it was.

Other things I had were some of my old standbys -- deep-dish spinach pizza, cheesy garlic bread, baklava -- as well as some newbies like an upside-down caramel cupcake (awesome), the aforementioned salad, and a popcorn ball from Chicago's famous Garrett's Popcorn.

After we'd had our fill on Friday, we walked off the calories by trekking over to Navy Pier. I thought it would be a 15-minute stroll and it ended up being much longer -- oops. All the more reason for me to get an ice cream sandwich along the way!

Once at Navy Pier, Nerdy P, her son, her mom and I went on The SeaDog. If you don't remember what The SeaDog is, you can read my prior post about it here.

I don't know WHAT was going on that day, but we ended up getting thoroughly soaked. I've been on this speedboat ride several times, and this has never happened. It was seriously so crazy -- at first I was covering my head with my arms and mock-screaming over the loud, blasting '80s music they play... but then I just started laughing. It was pointless trying to fight it. I was worried Nerdy P's son would either be scared or mad because he got drenched, but as you can see from this picture, he was like a little puppy with its head out of the window during a car trip. He couldn't get enough of it and didn't seem to be too jazzed whenever the boat slowed down. Ah, to be young.

Once back on land, we rode the Ferris Wheel. It was a beautiful, sunny day and there's no view of the Windy City like the one from 150-feet above the ground.

Another successful holiday weekend! I hope Nerdy P realizes that I expect her to continue this annual tradition until we're in our eighties and hauling our walkers through the crowds...

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Book Review: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Last October I was sent a review copy of Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home, shortly after it came out in hardcover. I had a chance to read it a month later when on vacation in Turks & Caicos -- when I should've been working on my own book. (I had this brilliant idea that a change of scenery would inspire me to write... when all it did was inspire me to want to lay under an umbrella, drink fruity drinks, gaze out at the beautiful ocean and do anything BUT write.)

I truly enjoyed this book, but once I returned home I had no choice but to kick my manuscript-molding efforts into high gear and so I never got around to reviewing it. When I heard that Mennonite came out in paperback a few months ago I made a mental note to myself that I had to remember to tell my fellow book-loving peeps about it. And so now I finally will.

Allow me to steal a line from Publishers Weekly's review in order to summarize the plot: "At first, the worst week of Janzen's life—she gets into a debilitating car wreck right after her husband leaves her for a guy he met on the Internet and saddles her with a mortgage she can't afford—seems to come out of nowhere, but the disaster's long buildup becomes clearer as she opens herself up." The crash Janzen survived was truly horrific, and it forced her -- a woman in her forties -- to move back in with her Mennonite parents. The narrator had long ago left the religion in which she was raised, but this didn't seem to be something that bothered her parents -- or at least it didn't bother them enough to refuse to help her in her greatest time of need.

I was most interested in this book because -- truth be told -- I had no idea what a Mennonite even WAS. I probably should be embarrassed to admit that, but I'd rather be honest because I have a feeling I'm not alone in my ignorance. Since much of the book involves anecdotes about the Mennonite religion and culture (there's even a very fun "Mennonite History Primer" included at the end), I'm not going to attempt to explain it here, except to say that this particular Christian Anabaptist denomination is kind of known for its nas-tay food. And seriously, some of Janzen's descriptions of certain dishes had me gagging.

The best character in the book is Rhoda's mom Mary, who is totally blunt and has a thing for singing songs, passing gas and never thinking twice when it comes to talking about bodily functions or parts. She is an unfailingly optimistic rock star, and in many ways she reminded me of my own mother-in-law, who has the uncanny ability to always, ALWAYS look on the bright side of life. We need more people like that in the world. But of course Rhoda's mom also has her own opinions about her daughter's checkered romantic past and what kind of man she should now be looking for. Apparently her first cousin Wally, who "drives a tractor in his spare time," was a top pick.

So here are three reasons why I think you should check out Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: 1) You will learn a lot -- but in a subtle and fun way, 2) you are guaranteed several laugh-out-loud moments -- stories from Janzen's childhood are particularly chuckle-worthy, and 3) no matter what might be going on in your life that you wish you could change or improve, you will feel better about your situation after reading this book. It's crazy how many hits kept coming for Rhoda -- the things that happened to her would most likely be unbearable to a lot of people -- but this is by no means a "poor me" memoir. If anything, the author uses the book as a chance to dig deep within herself to figure out how she can do better going forward.

There were only two things that bugged me about Mennonite, one moreso than the other:

1) A lot is made of the fact that Rhoda's husband left her for "Bob, the guy from" It's sad-funny the first time you read it, but she repeats it A LOT throughout the book, and (spoiler alert... skip to #2 if you don't want to know, though it won't ruin the book for you...) then much later in the story she reveals that she actually knew her husband had been in gay relationships before she started dating him. I felt a bit misled in that the earlier chapters had really made it seem like Rhoda didn't see her husband's affair coming at all, when in fact there had been several, several clues all along -- his dating history being the biggest.

2) Rhoda teaches English and Creative Writing at Hope College in Michigan, and I can only imagine that's the reason why every once in a while she would throw in some big fancy word that I'd never seen before. Now, I know that's my own damn fault that I'm not word-savvy enough to understand all of the terms she included, but she did it enough that I started noticing it, which I view as a negative thing -- I felt distracted from the story because I was like, "What in the hell is THAT word?" I'm sure the more literary types out there, however, might actually enjoy having a few new words to haul out the ol' dictionary for. And feel free to shame me for listing this as something that bothered me, especially since I'm a writer -- I know I deserve the lashing.

If you end up reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, make sure you come back here and tell me what you thought of it. And if you feel you need a bit more info before making a purchase, you might want to visit:

- The New York Times book review (they loved it)


- An excerpt from Chapter One (you'll have to scroll down on the page I linked to, because it also includes a lot of other cool nuggets about the book -- like a few of the author's remaining tour dates in the Midwest. I already have plans the night she's in Chicago, or else I would've tried to attend.)

Finally, I must admit that even after learning all about Mennonites, I still have absolutely no desire to try -- or even come near -- borscht.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

e's Favorite Things: Wrist Sweatbands

After I left Corporate America in mid-2007 and started working on my book proposal, I quickly came to the realization that my wrists were not going to be able to handle my new life as a writer. I was developing nasty purple callouses (for lack of a better term... not really sure what they were) on the inner bases of both palms -- right where my wrists rested on my table when I typed. Something had to be done.

Before you assume that I have some awful set-up that was causing my wrists to become unnecessarily bruised, rest assured that I have a completely ergonomic thing going on and did a ton of research and spent a lot of money to get things just right. One day soon I will do a post on that, because if you want to devote any time whatsoever to writing, you absolutely need to invest in the proper tools to keep your body from revolting after spending hours and hours in front of a laptop.

But for now I just want to talk about the thing that saved my wrists: wrist sweatbands. I suspected that they would do the trick and as a lark I put them on the list of things I'd like for Christmas '07. Yes, I'm in my thirties and still make a list -- but it's done because I'm lucky enough that both my parents and in-laws want to buy me and my husband stuff around the holidays each year, and they'd rather get us things we actually need/want than risk purchasing a gift destined to bear the "Well, it's the thought that counts" label. My mother-in-law took me up on this odd request and got me two or three different pairs. And they have made all the difference. I am never, ever without them when I write. I pack them when I go on trips, too. Sometimes I forget to take them off when I walk my dog in the afternoon and then I look like I'm some hipster trying to start a new trend.

Why it's especially embarrassing when I forget to take them off is because -- as you may or may not be able to see in the picture above -- I wear them inside-out. I learned this the hard way after having stitch-marks embedded in my wrists after a long day. If I wear them inside-out then I still have the pattern of the material running around my arms (it's a thick, plush cotton -- you know what it is... it's just hard to describe), but that will fade more quickly than the horizontal line.

So that's why wrist sweatbands win the honor of being the first of my "Favorite Things" that I've written about in a long time. I don't know what I'd do without them, truly. Perhaps I'd have to bandage up my hands every day as I sip my morning tea?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Let the Weight Gain Begin!

As those of you who read my most recent Lost post know, I shed ten pounds over the last few months while I was finishing up my manuscript. It actually was as much as thirteen pounds at one point, but my eating escapades detailed below have helped me regain some footing.

At first I thought it was just the stress of the writing process that was causing the number on the scale to continue to drop. Then I realized that the situation was more likely caused by my switch to a mostly dairy-free, gluten-free, low-sugar, low-carb, high-protein diet. Those of you who actually know me realize that this undertaking basically meant that I was changing everything I eat. As my husband pointed out, I probably shouldn't have attempted such a drastic overhaul while I was also under the gun to meet my deadline. Because I was already grumpy enough as it was. Then I took away bread and pasta and cheese and ice cream, the four staples of my diet for the past several decades. Dumb move!

Anyway, for about two weeks I was really strict on this new plan (which I did for a combination of reasons I won't get into, but it was advised by a doctor and was NOT done in an attempt to lose weight because I was already right where I should've been... I have never, and will never, go on a "diet"). Those first two weeks were when most of the weight came off and I was a tad alarmed. Then I started hating on almost all of the stuff I'd switched to. Teff quesadillas? Rice cheese? Gluten-free pasta? Soy ice cream? Sorry, but those things are NOT substitutes for the real deal, and I got sick of all of that crap fairly quickly.

Now I've found a nice balance -- I'm still pretty much dairy-free (though I did get a huge waffle cone of ice cream yesterday), but simply cannot stay away from most bread products. At least I always try to choose high-quality 100% whole wheat options.

Since I don't care if I get back to my normal weight, I've been going a bit crazy lately with random treats. On June 11th, the toughest part of my manuscript was behind me and I only had a few smaller sections (About the Author, References, etc.) still hanging over my head (those were due on the 15th), so on the way back from running errands I stopped into Molly's Cupcakes. I quickly spied what I wanted: the Mixed Berry cupcake. And so I got it, as you can see to the left. Unfortunately, the cake part turned out to be a blueberry muffin, but the cream on top was still awesome.

Just a few blocks down the very same street is The Weiner's Circle, a notorious hot dog stand in the heart of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Now, I don't usually seek out meat -- much less any kind of hot dog -- but on that day I just had to have one. So yes, I ate dessert first and then got my actual meal about 15 minutes later. Which was a Char Polish, and it was excellent.

I found myself craving another one this past Friday, but my husband and I were out in the suburbs, so we went to Hot Doug's instead. Since this "gourmet" hot dog joint was featured on Anthony Bourdain's "13 Places to Eat Before You Die" a while back, there's now always a huge line. My husband waited for 40 minutes in 90-degree weather to get me my polish dog (I was in the air-conditioned car, hee hee); he got a chicken rosemary dog, as well as the famous foie gras dog. Yuck!

We also went out to Red Lobster not too long ago, which was a real treat because -- believe it or not -- there's not one in the city. I used to go there all the time when I lived in Michigan, so I was missing it something fierce. We didn't have a car up until this February, and now we just got a GPS system, so all we had to do was type in "Red Lobster" and then off we went! I truly, truly love their cheesy bread rolls (does anyone NOT love those things?) so of course I ate three of those, got the shrimp-three-ways combo and then we also got some really great mixed drinks -- mine was some sort of mango-berry thing (in the forefront). I was surprised at how tasty it was.

This coming weekend I will continue my quest to regain some poundage as my friend Nerdy P is once again making the trek to Chitown, and we will be continuing our almost-annual tradition of going to the Taste of Chicago. I've written about our past exploits at this ridiculous food fest a few times before (my post about my '09 experience has links to my '06 and '07 trips). Now we are bringing her young son along for the ride for the first time, and her parents, so it's gonna be fun. It's quite a crazy event to witness -- especially if you've never been surrounded by millions of people all crammed into a very small area while trying to eat as much as they can before they pass out from heat exhaustion. I can't wait!

- e

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Psst... I'm Back.

So, uh... yeeeaah.

It's been eight and a half months since I last updated poor, neglected 'According to e' -- consider me thoroughly ashamed. As many of you know, I've been working on a book during the majority of that time, and I finally turned in my manuscript a few weeks ago (the state of my desk -- aka "my kitchen table" -- on my deadline date is to the right. That was two weeks ago -- still doesn't look much different). The whole editing and marketing process remains ahead for me to tackle alongside my publisher (Wiley) in the months to come, but I do now feel like I'm slowly but surely starting to see glimmers of my old life returning.

Though I have a multi-thousand-word Lost finale post hanging over my head that I WILL eventually write, I'm more determined than ever to get back into the groove of posting here at least a few times a week. This site was always meant to be somewhat of a personal diary (isn't that what all blogs originally were supposed to be back in the day -- that day being some time in like 2005?), and since I know it's bound to be a wild ride for me between now and when my book is published in October, I really want to use 'According to e' to capture as much of that experience as possible. What's more, I have several readers who are aspiring authors and have asked about the process I went through in order to get a book deal, so my intention is to also travel back in time over the course of a few posts and explain the various steps I took to make it happen.

And then there's the fun stuff I'm itching to cover -- like the books I've somehow managed to read in the recent past, trips I've taken (including finally loading in more pictures from my '07 Antarctica, '08 Galapagos and '09 Turks & Caicos trips... Lord, has it really been THAT long?) and some of the silly things that have happened to me (or that I've done) since last October that I haven't had time to write about until now.

In order to not get too overwhelmed and give up on this endeavor before I really get going, I'm vowing to keep posts fairly short -- at least for the next few weeks or so -- so that I can just simply get back into the groove of writing something that doesn't have to do with where I used to work (the subject of my book), or movies (what I still write about twice a day every weekday for redbox's redblog), or Lost.

So I hope you'll stick with me! More very soon -- I promise. As in, before July 2010... just so we're clear.

- e