Inspo: Making Mainbocher, “LaRose” and words on the street

Mainbocher exhibit at the Chicago History Museum

Mainbocher was a Chicago boy who eventually became America’s first couturier. (Couturier is a word I had to Google before I went to this exhibit and it means he was America’s first “fashion designer who manufactures and sells clothes that have been tailored to a client’s specific requirements and measurements.” But not, like, clothes for the basic classes. Think more like Gloria Vanderbilt, of whom he was a fave.)

Mainbocher’s also famous for designing for the Girl Scouts and the uniforms for the WAVES, the volunteer women’s naval reserve of WWII. The WAVES were the first military women to be paid the same as their male counterparts, and part of the appeal of being a WAVE was getting a tailor made designer uniform, which sounds kind of dumb now but was a big deal post-Depression, pre-fast fashion.

Mainbocher didn’t want to be paid anything for these designs, considering it part of his duty as an American. However, all government contracts required payment of some kind. So Mainbocher charged the US Navy exactly $1.

The Chicago History Museum’s “Making Mainbocher” exhibit included a one-night showing of “Homefront Heroines: The WAVES of WWII,” a documentary with interviews starring these interesting women and incredible old footage from their training and work. I loved hearing about what drove them to volunteer for the WAVES–a need for adventure, a sense of independence, a longing to see more than their hometowns, a want for life beyond desk or house work. The strings that pulled them then seem like the same kind wrapped into women like me decades upon decades later. Beyond admiring them, I get these girls.

Director Kathleen Ryan discusses the making of the film with CHM curator of costume Petra Slinkard.

“LaRose” by Louise Erdrich

Currently reading: “LaRose,” the aching story of two families affected by one tragedy and an old native American tradition that might help them heal. Erdrich is a fantastic writer, obviously, and I’m so moved by the way she’s able to make transitions in this novel. I feel like I’m in a dream when I’m reading–or a nightmare, maybe, considering the story. There’s a lot of dialogue, but she never uses quotes, which adds to the steady but unusual flow of things.

While researching the bookstore she runs with her daughters, I found this, her blog. She writes about what she’s reading and manages to make even those small sentiments feel otherworldly:

After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, my daily walks are an entirely different experience.  I see the details of a tree’s struggle, the tree’s heroic attempt to repair a slashed limb, to repel invaders, or how so often a root flare buried by a careless landscaper will eventually suffocate the strongest.  I see how hard it is to live on a boulevard and not in a forest composed of  myriad types of tree with a magical underground connection that can choose to harden against invaders or to sustain young trees with extra food. “The Hidden Life of Trees” is a marvel of understanding and science.

Words on the street

As seen at Goddess and Grocer in River North. Just cute. Happy Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day! Say more with cupcakes.

For those of you who don’t have a city subway, spots like this are located on train platforms. They are where you stand to stay warm (or at least warmer than you would be otherwise) courtesy the heat lamps overhead. That’s why the copy on this Salvation Army ad is so effective. Literally, this is where to stand if you need a place to stay warm, but it also lists the address of the closest Salvation Army, where a person who is homeless for the night can get even warmer. Subtle. Strong. Emotional but informative.

OK, this seems simple but I’ve never seen it before, maybe because I usually go to Facebook to see a location’s hours since I always know where to find it. The hours for the Museum of Science and Industry’s are listed on the hero banner of its home page. So smart. And if the museum has already closed for the day? Then it shows tomorrow’s hours. That’s so helpful, especially when Google or Facebook aren’t updated with holiday hours. This is a great example of copy information users need worked smartly into web design.

Notes-ish: FemComPod show notes, Episode 18

Topic 1:

Audi panders to feminists and we Eat. IT. UP. Meanwhile the NFL cheerleaders sue the league for wage discrimination.

Adweek’s list of best ads from the latest Super Bowl.

USA Today’s list of the best ever.

Doug Stanhope, American patriot.

Topic 2:

Berkeley cancels a speech by an alt-right blowhard after protests turn destructive of university property.

Agent provocateur, according to Wiki.

Women in computing — or the lack of them — as told by NPR.

Roxane gay pulls book deal and shows all of how to be the modern wave feminists we so desperately long to be

For fun, here’s Roxane’s list of books she suggests you read  (presumably instead of fame-whoring Milo’s). She’s as obsessed as me with “Evicted.” She says, ”My God, what [Evicted] lays bare about American poverty. It is devastating and infuriating and a necessary read.”  

Topic 3:

Glenn close as Hook! #dresslikeawoman

Katharine Hepburn as Sylvia! #dresslikeawoman (If you’re interested, the movie included this kiss between two female actors (not actresses!) that was considered super controversial at the time. This kiss is more like a peck and you don’t even see it because of the way their heads are framed. We’ve come a long way, America.)

And while you’re at it:

List-ish: Five writer’s tools to get you motivated this weekend

John Legend interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates about writing

Hemingway App

Paste your copy into this app and it will help you break up dense copy, slay passive voice and find alternative sentences that are easier to read. H-man, it seems, was onto something. Verbose prose is so 19th century.


Story Grid Podcast

Gah. I just can’t bring myself to pay for an MFA in creative writing. Not after finally getting my bachelor’s paid off after nine long years of monthly bills. Thus, I’ve had to find other educational tools about writing a good story. This podcast is definitely one of the best I’ve come across. In each episode, a publishing world vet and a fledgling author discuss the formula for a good novel—the story grid. It’s full of practical advice I’ve never heard before (like how knowing your genre can be more important than knowing the backstory of your characters).

Helping Writers Become Authors (dot com)

The site’s design is a little overwhelming, and nearly every gad dang link opens a new tab, but hang in there. has A LOT of great information and tools for new writers. I’m all for taking short cuts without cutting corners. Here’s an example of a helpful structure chart to use when you’re outlining.

The Starbucks App

Three things. 1) It gamifies your coffee addiction, letting you rack up rewards through the app. 2) It tells you what song’s playing in your store so you can save it on Spotify and listen later (or Google the lyrics because you’re an emotional sap… raises hand…). 3) This.

Notes-ish: FemComPod show notes, Episode 17

Topic 1:

A more nuanced look at Uber vs. Lyft.

FBI studies KKK in the police, per Justin’s argument.

Topic 2:

SNL writer Katie Rich loses her job for a joke on her personal Twitter account.

Here’s an argument from NY Times about quitting social media to save your career, but the reason might surprise you.

Topic 3:

TFW you watch the Super Bowl for the ads.

And while you’re at it:

Right now, this is hilarious.

Inspo: “The Trespasser,” Chicago in the forties, and words on the street

This paragraph by Tana French

As seen in her new novel, “The Trespasser.” I have loved TF since “In the Woods” came out in ’07. Her work’s a great example of how commercial writing’s intrigue and literary fiction’s finesse can live in one hell of a thriller. I’m a quarter of the way through this new book. While I typically re-read her paragraphs a couple times because I’m struck by how she manages to say so much in four or five sentences, this one is worth pointing out. It’s one of the freshest descriptions I’ve ever seen a no-bullshit female character.

Found Chicago-in-the-summer footage

Summer, can you hear me?! This is must-watch research material for anyone writing a story about Chicago during this time period. Everyone else, take a hit and hit play. 😉

Words on the street (and the paid content bar)

This ad for the tattoo exhibit at the Field Museum made me look twice. Clever.

And then this. Too soon? #whocanturnthegraveoverwithhersmile

Inspo: Words on the street

As seen at a house show.

Just when I thought I’d seen every spirits sandwich board sign in the books, this one shows up.

Love this trend of showing recipes right on the product’s package. It’s hard to see from this pic but there’s an arrow and copy that points to the Triscuit topping. “Top with cottage cheese, peas and mint,” for example.

Brute is my new favorite word! Although, points deducted for “raw”…. eeee….

Notes-ish: FemComPod show notes, Episode 16

Topic 1:

Social media arguments are can’t win propositions.

If you must do it, here are some tips from Mashable.

Women’s March Unity Principles 

Topic 2:

The FBI arrested the wife of the Pulse Nightclub shooter, according to the New York Times.

Here’s what we know about her involvement (or lack) in and knowledge of the shooting, according to CNN.

I’d like to second this CNN-ran opinion piece by Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of Crazy Love, about why women stay in abusive relationships and why we have to be careful punishing them for the actions of their husbands. Her TED Talk on why domestic violence victims stay has more than 3 million views. You should be one more.

Topic 3:

Numb your brain from the first two topics with this helpful timeline stalking JLo and Drake’s relationship. 

Here’s a pic of Justin’s pick, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

And while you’re at it:


Notes-ish: Photos from Women’s March Chicago

Instead of carrying a sign at the Women’s March in Chicago, I carried this. It’s the sash the Women’s Studies department at my university gave me to wear with my Honors cords at graduation. It reminds me how important education is and how grateful I am for the people who fought for it to be forbidden to no one (here at least) by the time my little life came around. I’m happy to continue the push against prejudice, injustice and unequal opportunity… yesterday, today and everyday.

The platform at Belmont was packed. Trains were overflowing with people heading to the march. The positive energy was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

Shout out to all the men who marched today too. My favorite chant today was when the men yelled “Their bodies. Their choice.” and the women responded “Our bodies. Our choice.” The fight for human rights will take every kind of human. Thank you!


The Women’s March Unity Principles are as follows. Read more here. 


“We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women – including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, disabled women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.


Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies. We believe in accountability and justice in cases of police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. It is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system.


We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.


We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes.


We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. All women should be paid equitably, with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, paid family leave, and healthy work environments. All workers – including domestic and farm workers, undocumented and migrant workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage.


We believe Civil Rights are our birthright, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


We believe that all women’s issues are issues faced by women with disabilities and Deaf women. As mothers, sisters, daughters, and contributing members of this great nation, we seek to break barriers to access, inclusion, independence, and the full enjoyment of citizenship at home and around the world. We strive to be fully included in and contribute to all aspects of American life, economy, and culture.


Rooted in the promise of America’s call for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin.  We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.


We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed – especially at the risk of public safety and health.”

Interview: 10 questions for Author Rich Garon

Who better to translate the DC roller coaster into a great political fiction than someone who has spent decades enmeshed in the gridlock of the country’s capital?

Rich Garon is just the guy.

In the eighties and nineties, Garon worked as chief-of-staff of the US House Committee on International Relations. When he retired, he began writing books to capture the stress and struggle of policy work, but also the incredible good deeds that can come it.

Clearly his life’s earlier work affected his writing — from the character development of his stories to the fact that he’s donating all the proceeds of his debut novel, “Felling Big Trees,” to WhyHunger?, a non-profit organization that works to fight hunger and poverty across the globe.

“Felling Big Trees” is set in the 1990s and follows a disgraced and widowed congressman who seeks redemption in America’s heartland. Small-town anonymity intrigues him as he recovers from political disaster and tries to free himself — and his teenage daughter — from the grips of his politically powerful mother in law.

A story of romance, power and second chances, “Felling Big Trees” proves that compassion and tolerance are not only possible in a time of strident tone, but essential for survival.

Below, Garon answers 10 questions about his work and writing style. Purchase the book here, and continue following the “Felling Big Trees” blog tour tomorrow over at A Sky Filled With Sparkling Stars.

Author Rich Garon

Did your work as a chief-of- staff for the US House Committee on International Relations influence your work on Felling Big Trees? How so?

Yes, it did. In that position, I had the opportunity to be involved in policy-making on some of the critical issues of the day, such as arms control, human rights, and development assistance issues. Working on Capitol Hill for more than 25 years also gave me first-hand knowledge about how things worked, and an insight into the personal lives of members of Congress, such as how they juggled family with the demands of the job.

What inspired you to write Felling Big Trees?

I believed some of the things I referred to above were worth sharing. I had just retired from my position on Capitol Hill and I thought I could bring an authenticity to things I wrote about in a novel. Themes in the book, such as helping those with few resources and stepping out from apathy when large problems demand action, were themes I wanted to share.

How did you marry compassion and tolerance with a story that also has intrigue and pace?

I believe the essence of a good policy-maker is compassion — a concern for those who need help. I tried to develop characters whose actions could show the importance of compassion against a backdrop of forces that challenged and threatened these individuals. Felling Big Trees is also a romance novel, showing how two individuals develop a relationship of love and hope. It also showcases the importance of father-daughter relationships.

Why use writing as a tool to support ending hunger?

I’ve learned it is important to use as many platforms as possible to make people better aware of some of the larger problems facing our society. From that awareness can come a political will to work with others to develop policies to help end these problems. I first worked with WhyHunger over 40 years ago when it first started bringing attention to the hunger issue. It is a great organization that has been tirelessly working to reduce hunger and poverty. Accordingly, I decided to donate proceeds from the sale of this book to WhyHunger.

What is the biggest misconception about homelessness or hunger in America?

I don’t believe the scope of either problem is well known. While we have made some advances in the past, there are far too many who suffer from homelessness and hunger.

When and where do you write?  Have you found you work better on a schedule or did you write when you felt motivated?

I write at home and prefer to start in the early morning. In my case, I’ve found that I have to write every day, usually till mid-day. There are other times when a great idea occurs or when I’ve realized something I’ve written just doesn’t work. I’ll jot down some notes and work on it when I’m back at the computer.

While working on this book, did you ever experience writer’s block or become stalled in your writing? If so, when and how did you push through it?

Yes, more than once. There are so many things involved in a novel of close to 300 pages. Characters, scenes, plots, so many things must tie together. Sometimes you can make quick-fixes. However, you’re often faced with major rewrites that you just have to accept and develop.

Do you have any tips for writers on how they can channel their life experience into their storytelling?

I found it’s the little things that make for compelling stories. Some small things you can remember about a person or place that are described well can make for a good read.

Will you write another novel?

I have three completed manuscripts (one’s a children’s book) and I hope to have them published.

If you could invite three people, living or dead, to a dinner party. Who would you invite and why?

C.S. Lewis, Graham Greene, and Jesus. The first two are my favorite authors; their writing skill and intellect never cease to amaze me. Jesus has also had a profound impact on their lives and on mine as well.

List-ish: Three binge-worthy, brain-candy dramas on Netflix right now

The request for a Netflix recommendation comes fast and furious (eeeeh?) in the winter.

I watch a ton of TV. There’s so much great work out there, how could I not? So, of course, when the inevitable Netflix (et. al) recc comes, I always prop up TV shows. I love being able to binge a whole series at my own pace (usually in a weekend… gah!).

However, I’m always doling out the same critically acclaimed titles: The Peaky Blinders, Fargo, Transparent, Vikings, Sherlock, Atlanta… These are shows I obviously love and think are worth watching. I enjoy that shows like 2013’s Top of the Lake entertain me while also making me think about social problems, like rape culture in this example. But I don’t think they offer an entirely accurate picture of what I would recommend.

In fact, this winter I have been drawn more toward mysteries and drama-for-the-sake-of-drama than ever before (they run the gamut of prestige, from Scandal to The Fall and The Killing to a cheeky lil’ British mystery from the ‘90s called Midsommer Murders that’s like Murder She Wrote meets Shakespeare meets whatever your favorite soap opera is). This is escapism in full effect, my friends.

Sure, something like critic-fav The Crown is striking in its stoic, scenic shots. But sometimes you just want to gasp.

These potential suitors will get the job done.

Dr. Foster

Show stats: British, 2015

The gist: Professional doctor, loving mother and committed wife suspects her husband is cheating on her and everything unravels disastrously from there.

Why watch: Seedy undertones and a surprise, unforeseen twist every episode. Oh-so compelling! A contemporary trashy novel with fabulous acting.



Show stats: Five glorious seasons, 2007-2012

The gist: A high-street lawyer (Glenn “Glenn Close” Close) and her protégé (Rose Byrne) become personally and professionally entangled, embroiled and — possibly — ended as they deal with cases only a maniac would take.

Why watch: Absolutely ruthless power dynamics on steroids. Its plot is as snaky as Patty Hewes (Close’s character). Non-linear narratives abound, making it entertaining but not impossible to keep up. It’ll remind you why the red herring device is so deliciously useful. Also, Rose Byrne’s outfits will make you excited to get ready for work. YES, even in the winter.


Show stats: British, 2013-now, murder mystery cop drama

The gist: A little boy is murdered in a sleepy coastal town and, of course, everyone’s a suspect.

Why watch: Evocative murder mysteries are always fun and this series has twists and turns even the most seasoned show watcher wouldn’t expect. It travels well into a third season, so it’s got a deep bench of episodes. You can chew on this one for a while.