An afternoon in the Chicago Botanic Garden

I have spent the majority of my life living in or just outside of the city of Chicago. You would think that by now, I'd have seen most of the major attractions, and truthfully I thought I had. When my aunt was visiting from out of state a few weeks ago, my mom suggested we go to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I realized that I had never been there before. Well, I was certainly missing out. 

Am I the only one who didn't know about this incredible place? I asked a few other friends and most of them hadn't been there before either. It feels like a hidden gem, maybe because it's not actually located IN Chicago - it's in Glencoe, about 20 miles north of the city. 

We went on a Sunday afternoon, and while busy, it didn't feel terribly crowded. The grounds are massive (365 acres) so you can always find a quiet corner. The Botanic Garden is actually divided up into 26 different garden areas, each with a theme - naturally, some are more popular than others. The Japanese Garden seemed to be the busiest, maybe because the plants and styling of the garden are so different from what people commonly see here. One of my favorite sections was the English Walled Garden, with its separate "rooms" designed and manicured in six different ways popular throughout British history. Despite the popularity of both of these gardens, it wasn't hard to find a quiet place to sit. 

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

The Botanicals: Intimate Portraits exhibit at the Regenstein Center. Photo by Laurie Tennent on Instagram.

It's not all gardens, however - there are exhibitions too. It was such a beautiful day that I chose to sit outside in the gardens while my family explored some of the exhibits, but I wish now I had seen the Botanicals: Intimate Portraits photography exhibit they had. Luckily for me, it's there through September 25th, so I'm going to have to plan a trip back. My brother said that the furniture exhibition called The Hidden Art of Trees was also really cool.

We ended our day with an (expensive) snack on a beautiful patio, but they do allow picnicking in a glen adjacent to one of the parking lots. I did see some people breaking the rules and eating snacks on various lawns, which I am sure you could get away with as long as you aren't a terrible human being who leaves garbage behind in a botanic garden. 

It's surprising to me that I haven't heard more people talking about the Chicago Botanic Garden, considering that it's free to go. While the parking fee is admittedly a bit steep ($25-30 per car, so make sure if you're driving you consolidate vehicles), you can take the Metra there from Chicago. There's even a $2 trolley in case you don't want to walk from the train station once you get there. You can also purchase memberships that include free parking for a year. 

Maybe it was the beautiful weather or maybe my affinity for plants has just grown stronger (seriously, my apartment is starting to resemble a ill-watered jungle)... but I LOVED it. I'm already checking Metra schedules so I can take a book and spend another summer afternoon there wandering around and reading. 

Heart Eyes: Sugar & Vice 😍

Wow, I am a truly miserable blogger. I have finally edited some pictures from my trip to Montreal in FEBRUARY, but I haven't managed to finish writing about what I did there. Also, since so far this blog has been largely travel-related, I thought it might be nice to mix it up and write about something totally shallow and unimportant - but fun.

I first discovered Sugar & Vice on Instagram, when someone I follow posted a picture wearing these Crescent Moon earrings.  A quick scroll through their feed and I was pretty much ready to give them all my money - if you know anything about me at all, I'm sure it's easy to see why.

As I get closer and closer to 30, I wonder more often how much I can get away with in terms of wearing cheesy band merchandise.  I guess I'm just old enough to feel silly or out of place sometimes wearing it.  I hardly wear all those band t-shirts smashed into my dresser anymore (though I do have a David Bowie shirt from high school that's been worn almost to shreds that I refuse to give up).  Maybe I'm just getting boring in my old age, because I feel like my style has gotten so basic and repetitive.  But those earrings, or the pin?  Not only would I feel anything but boring, I think I could stroll into the office wearing those and no one would bat an eye.  Even the Aladdin Sane necklace wouldn't feel too "teenager" if it was worn with fairly subdued clothes. It feels like a nice compromise. 

While I was obviously drawn to the Bowie jewelry, I also browsed through some of their other stuff.  They do have a small apparel section, though their focus is clearly the laser-cut acrylic accessories as well as a selection of enamel pins.  Some of the necklaces and earrings do veer into tacky instead of kitschy - I know that 16-year-old Allyson would have LOVED them, which means I would feel a little too juvenile wearing them.  But some of their simpler stuff would really make my uniform of black pants, a plain t-shirt and my trusty hat far less meh, and all but the craziest necklaces would look great with a solid black dress.

There's a few other things I liked about Sugar & Vice right off the bat - one, their products are massively affordable; nothing I looked at was over $30 USD. Two, I recently saw a gorgeous version of the raindrop necklace (above) on Instagram in purple to honor Prince. They haven't put it up on the main website and are taking special orders for it only, because they didn't want to profit off of Prince's death. I think he would have appreciated that.  Both the special order Purple Raindrops necklace and all of the David Bowie items have a percentage of proceeds donated to charities.

New Gallery: Seattle, WA

I've added a section on here called Travels that I'll be using to post some of my favorite photography from past trips. Eventually I'd like to do a full post about each one, but that's a bit more time-consuming and obviously I haven't really gotten this whole blogging thing down yet.  I've only sorted through & edited photos from one trip but I'm excited to continue to add some more - right now you can view pictures from a trip last year to Seattle to visit my aunt & uncle, sister and cousin!



2015 Book Report

One of the most satisfying things I accomplished in 2015 was to fall in love with reading again. I had always been a voracious reader - my parents actually used to punish me as a kid by taking books away - but somehow, particularly during a tough period of my life, I stopped reading almost completely. I decided a few years back that I wanted to read Modern Library's Top 100 Novels, and from 2012-2014 all the reading I did was various attempts at struggling through Ulysses, and that was pretty much it. 

Then, this past year, I realized it made way more sense to start reading from the BOTTOM of the Top 100 list. I also put together a book club with some friends, which provided some great peer pressure to actually finish what I started reading. It really helped me to reintroduce reading back into my life, and I once again have piles of books all over my apartment because my bookcase is too small. 

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  • GOAL: 12 books
  • READ: 12 books! I actually thought I had only finished 11 and was really disappointed, but then I remembered that I read Coming Clean on Kindle at the very beginning of the year, before I really started using Goodreads. 
  • BOOKS BOUGHT AT INDIE STORES: 9 - going to local bookstores is one of my favorite things and I willingly shell out money to buy my books there. #hipster
  • FAVORITE:  Easily Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.
  • HATED:  The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy. This is supposed to be a "wildly funny" novel, according to descriptions, and the first couple dozen pages involve the main character beating his wife and trying to strangle his kid. Har har. I can't believe this made the Top 100 Novels list; it's awful. 
  • LONGEST:  Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - 447 pages. 
  • SHORTEST:  The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain - 116 pages.
  • FUNNIEST:  Most of these books were not at all funny, so definitely One More Thing by B.J. Novak, though I wasn't a huge fan of it.
  • SADDEST:  Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli, told from a child's point of view during the Holocaust.  Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller is a memoir about a childhood spent living with hoarder parents; very sad in a totally different way.
  • BEST COVER:  I bought The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman entirely based on the cover, so that's a clear win. Honorable mention to The Postman Always Rings Twice.
  • WORST COVER:  The Ginger Man's gross illustration matches its repulsive interior.
  • MOST OVERRATED:  I know everyone loves Devil in the White City, but it left me cold, despite being from Chicago and loving the history of the city.
  • READ OFF MODERN LIBRARY TOP 100:  4 - I made it through books #100-97 (I finished #96 a few days into the new year).
  • GOAL FOR NEXT YEAR:  I'm being ambitious and going for 24, double what I finished this year.  I'm on track so far!

There's a starman waiting in the sky...

It's really hard to put into words what David Bowie meant to me. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it feels too personal to share on social media, mixed in with dozens of posts from people just talking about the latest trending topic. 

David Bowie changed my life, as dramatic as that seems. There was a marked change in my life from the first time I heard "Rebel Rebel" as an angsty teenager. Discovering Bowie pushed me to find the courage to unapologetically be myself instead of trying (usually unsuccessfully) to just blend in. When I felt ugly, weird and rejected, I felt like there was someone else who not only understood, but celebrated it. Better to go it alone than to blend in with the boring masses. 

I don't cry often, and I've never gotten weepy over the death of someone I didn't know personally, but I did cry pretty hard when I first learned that he was gone. So many people messaged me last night and this morning to tell me that they immediately thought of me and as sad as the news was, I felt really happy too, and honored to be so strongly associated with my hero.

Thank you for everything. RIP.