OyChicago blog

Millennials and Minimalism

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08/04/2015

Millennials and Minimalism photo

I am a Millennial and I am fascinated with the idea of minimalism. And no I'm not talking about the art form or furniture style -- I'm talking about a lifestyle.

Through literature and real-life examples, I actively expose myself to minimalist ideas/principles for a few reasons. Besides it being a freeing experience both physically and mentally, practicing minimalism is a catalyst for growth. It's a journey to discovering a hidden treasure. But this journey is not long and arduous -- it gets easier along the way; instead of gems, this treasure contains the most powerful gem of all: a freeing state of mind.

When I think about minimalism, I think about living life in its purest form. To think that the key is as simple as simplifying life is a refreshing revelation, to say the least.

Sometimes it's just throwing stuff away, donating or not buying that hot new item, but the more I discover, the more I realize that minimalism is all-encompassing -- it's so much more powerful when applied to all facets of life. The moment I apply it to decisions about my relationships, work, passions and future; almost immediately, I get mental clarity.

What did my math teacher always say when I stared blankly at a scary, complex math equation? "Break it down." When I looked at the problem as a whole, it was intimidating, paralyzing even. But as I broke apart the pieces of this long, scary-looking equation, I realized it's just made up of many very basic mathematical rules.

And it's like that with everything. If you want to understand your finances, break down your expenses. If you want to be healthier, evaluate your diet.

When in doubt, simplify, simplify, simplify. You'll discover so much in the process.

"Simple is always better." This statement resonates with me, and I do my best to  actively practice it. I seek simple. I say seek because we live in a complex world. And so, to experience simple, I clear and create space for it.

There's nothing like walking home instead of taking the bus on a sunny day. The city is breathtaking, the people are free energy, and Vitamin D is fuel for the body and soul.

A perfect Friday involves talking, thinking, asking and listening to close friends. A perfect Saturday morning is waking up to natural sunlight and enjoying every sip of my green tea while writing till my thoughts run dry.

These are simple, effective and most importantly, mine; my pure moments of happiness and clarity.

Contrary to popular belief, basic is not boring. Basic is fruitful. Less is more.

For many established individuals, those that garnered immeasurable "success," minimalism is a Zen destination, a realization later in life and sometimes too little too late.

For them, monetary success, and all its stickiness, precedes this realization that money, power, fame, and even respect are not everything. Minimalism embodies this very idea.

And Millennials get it.

You know, we get a bad rap sometimes; we're often called lazy, entitled or cocky. But this generation is redefining success. We're not easy. You can't buy us with money and fancy titles. We're just not that impressed.

We want depth. We want meaning. I am proud to be a part of a generation that is enamored with culture, consumed by curiosity, and hungry for change.

And change requires evaluation. Evaluation requires what? You got it. You need to break it down before you can build it back up, and in this process, you may discover that some things, many things, can remain broken down. Not everything has to be complex to be cool or right.

It's the little things that matter. And it's the little things you'll remember. Minimalism is a way of life -- a life of meaning, a life of purpose.

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Dear Netflix

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A pitch for a Maus series
08/03/2015

Dear Netflix photo

Netflix, I see you have branched out from live-action into animation with, ahem, BoJack Horseman. But you also might want to develop an animated series targeted at adults that does not have an alcoholic anthropomorphic horse as the main character, whose best friend is a humanoid dog named Mr. Peanutbutter.

You know, something with a touch more … class.

You will run into a problem. Most works that could be animated -- comic books and graphic novels -- would probably end up being for children, like your many other animated series.

Those works that are not for kids, however, almost always contain adult humans, and so lend themselves best to live action. Take Sin City, Ghost World, American Splendor, V for Vendetta, or even Hellboy. Like those, most in that small category have already been developed into movies, including animations such as Persepolis.

Where will you find a property that is for adults, should be animated … and hasn't been, already?

The first that comes to my mind is Maus. The subject is the Holocaust, which is treated respectfully in the graphic novels -- respectfully enough to be treated honestly.

Moreover, all its characters are depicted as animals. Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, Americans are dogs, and so on. The only way to put this work on a screen would be to animate it.

Maus is a major property with worldwide recognition -- it was just in the news again for being pulled off the shelves in Russia. It has won the Pulitzer (the only graphic novel ever to do so) and was a bestseller, so it comes with both critical and popular adulation.

The subject is certainly weighty enough to stand alongside House of Cards and Marco Polo. It would automatically have the gravitas to win back the critics turned off by BoJack. And it would attract major voice-over talent.

Maus is a finite series, true, but there is enough material in the two novels to stretch to four seasons. And author Art Spiegelman is still alive, so you could bring him on as a writer and consultant -- even director or producer -- so fans would know the work is being given its propers.

Turns out, I'm not the only one clamoring for a Maus series, so the audience is already there.

Spiegelman has been approached about this before, and gone on record saying "no" to an adaptation, as that other article notes.

But Netflix, he's never been approached by you before. As a streaming service, you present the unique opportunity for his creative control. As an adapter and savior of other series, you have shown the sensitivity and respect for an artist's vision that few, if any, other studios have. Spiegelman may listen to you when he has rebuffed others.

Besides, he's in his late 60s now and may realize that he'd rather be around for the adaptation than leave it to others once he's gone. Because it's going to happen. As I noted, it's one of the few major unproduced properties of its type, and people have been begging to see it made for decades.

Think of an animation with the profundity of a Shindler's List on your cue. Think of being hailed as the network that dared put a show about the Holocaust on. Think of the acclaim you'd get from being the ones who taught several new generations about the Holocaust -- and at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, globally.

Netflix, give Spiegelman a call. As our people say, it couldn't hurt.

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Punk Gratitude

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07/30/2015

punk rock clipart

A new commercial for Choice Hotels sort of caught me off guard. The background music is The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." It was a little freaky to hear the song being used for a commercial. Maybe punk is coming back? If so then I'd like to share two stories.

The first I overheard at a high school party back in 1988:

A preppy teenager walks up to a punk rock teenager with a Mohawk and asks him "What's Punk?"So the hardcore punk teen kicks over a garbage can and say '"That's punk!" The preppy teen proceeds to kick over another garbage can and says "That's Punk?" The punk kid looks at him, smiles, and says, "No that's trendy!"

I love this story because it shows that it's not only our actions that define us, but our attitude when we perform those actions.

We can give meaning and emotion to what we do. Acts of kindness, good deeds or performing a mitzvah have an effect. To follow the crowd without thinking about what or why you're doing something isn't always the best plan. Plenty of people, myself included, fall into the trap of doing things by rote, even when it comes to mitzvot. Raising money for a cause, volunteering for a JUF project, making a blessing over food, hugging our children or a loved one -- these can become empty actions. They can also be really meaningful experiences. It's all about what you do and how you do it.

I'm guilty of not putting thought into my actions, but I'm not alone. These days I find more and more people are on autopilot, and that's not punk.

Here's a second story, paraphrased from the Artscroll biography of Rav Dessler, by Yonoson Rosenbloom:

When Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler came to America in 1948, he met up with his son, Nachum Velvel, in New York. Rabbi Dessler asked his son who had helped him during his years alone in America. His son mentioned several people in New York along with Rabbi Eliezer Silver, the head of Agudah Israel (a national organization that services Jews) and the rabbi of Cincinnati. Rabbi Dessler said, "We must thank him."

His son offered to place a telephone call to Rabbi Silver, but Rabbi Dessler wanted to show personal "hakarot hatov," gratitude and thankfulness,  to Rabbi Silver. Nachum Velvel and his father then took a nine-hour train ride to Ohio, arriving at 5:00 a.m. in Cincinnati. They went to Rabbi Silver's home and waited on the porch to meet him as he left his house for morning prayers. Rabbi Silver met his two guests when he woke up and they all went to shul and then back to the Silver's for breakfast. After a bite to eat, Rabbi Silver said, "So, Rabbv Dessler, what brings you to Cincinnati?" Rabbi Dessler said that he had only come to show appreciation to Rabbi Silver for all he had done for his son.

Rabbi Silver thought about this and again asked, "So, Rabbi Dessler, what really brings you to Cincinnati?"

Rabbi Dessler said that he had no other purpose that to show "hakarot hatov." Rabbi Silver said, "Rabbi Dessler, what can I really do for you?"

Rabbi Dessler, for a third time, repeated that he only wished to show gratitude to Rabbi Silver in person.

Rabbi Silver finally gave up and muttered, "This must be the greatness of Mussar (a movement within Judaism that focuses on ethics and growth)."

This is one of my favorite Rabbi Dessler stories. It embodies what I think is the best of the Mussar movement. You can't preach ethics and not be ethical. For me, this means actions need to be in sync with how I live my life. When I am mindful of this, I'm the nicest guy; when I go on autopilot, I can be the exact opposite.

This is what Rabbi Dessler was about. A simple "thank you" isn't enough sometimes. We need to go out of our way. To show gratitude or do a kind act for a spouse, parent, teacher, or even a child who needs to be acknowledged is the right thing. For Rabbi Dessler, he felt he had no choice but to travel to Cincinnati. For me, walking across the street or just to the living room can make a big difference to someone. We have no idea what effect our actions can have on others.

Being punk means that you don't follow the mainstream sometimes, and focus on an extreme. If your extreme is something that helps others, you're real punk.

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What the Beep?

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The Eyes of the Trucker Go Up and Down
07/29/2015

What the Beep? photo

There's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy -- something I'd never noticed in all my life living here, but made me cringe, like a Q-tip hitting the brain. I'll share with you an incident that occurred less than 24 hours of being home from school.

The way my heart raced, you'd think it had been years not weeks since the last time I'd seen my sister. I was too exhausted to drive, let alone walk, to visit her, my decade-divided twin, so I collapsed on my bed instead and hoped she'd understand. With the summertime luxury of sleeping-in, I woke up after 10 a.m., brushed my teeth and threw on something to wear. I rushed out the door, calling behind me that I didn't know when I'd be back and began the precisely 4.45-minute walk to my sister's townhouse.

Strolling down my street, taking in the familiar birds and 50-degree "summer" heat of Chicago, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a red pick-up truck parked along the curb. Lawnmowers and hand-held weed-whackers filled the trunk and a middle-aged man sat in front looking bored. There wasn't much to take in and I found the squirrels wrestling in front of my feet much more entertaining. I trailed their squirrelly game to the end of the block, and it wasn't until they jumped into the bushes that I noticed the truck cruising alongside me, matching my walking pace.

I figured it was only a coincidence. He must be headed somewhere in the same direction -- maybe he was running low on gas -- who knows? But as I turned the corner and walked the width of two more blocks it slowly dawned on me that the "this isn't happening" situation, was happening to me.

He drove a bit further and parked on my side of the street. With 1,001 red flags raised, along with every hair on my arm, I decided to cross to the other side, putting distance between me and the vehicle. Crossing to the other side helped my nerves as did being a few steps shy of a major intersection, but just as I thought it was over, a heckle hit me hard.

"Shake that ass baby! Shake that ass!"

Over my right shoulder I threw a hard look of shock and confusion, and in a beat, the truck u-turned, fleeing like a torero in a bullfight. The match was done. The red truck drove away and I became the trophy animal -- enraged then gouged in the belly by his words.

As an eating disorder survivor, the metamorphoses of my body from frail-lanky boy, to strong and curvy, isn't just physical, but psychological. Since my ED I've gained over 20 NECESSARY pounds, and it's those pounds that let me get back to the things I love. Whether it's losing the time while roller-blading, counting my chin-ups between breaths or striking my personal trainer with an uppercut during a boxing lesson, its moments like these when I almost forget the girl whose undernourished body physically couldn't get up from bed one morning. It's moments like these when my body and I are finally on the same page.

So obviously I was stunned, to say the least, after this episode. Should I run, cover up, be embarrassed of the body I was so proud of? Would I stand there and let others ridicule my self-worth because I'm a woman? No, because I've spent too long reducing my own body to let others do it for me.

The tally stands at seven now -- seven "nice asses," whistles and honks in the two weeks since I've been home. Don't think I'm strutting around in thigh-high boots and patent leather minis: I literally got honked twice on my way home today wearing a sweaty XL gray t-shirt with and capris from 8th grade.

What's going on?

I believe that women and girls have the right to walk down the street without being made self-conscious, just as men and boys have a right to express their favor. Women do love compliments, but next time, tell your mom/sister/grandma/girlfriend/wife/best friend she looks beautiful today. Tell her how strong and confident she looks. Save the antiquated "a-woogas" and whistles for some cartoon network show or 1920s black-and-white clip. Let's change the way we give compliments.

Yes, there's something new I'm sensing about my neighborhood that's making me uneasy, but it's not about the way I look -- it's the way some are so blind.

Sincerely,
What the Beep?

Eliana Block is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, freelance journalist and creative writer studying at the University of Maryland. Read more of her posts at www.collegadoxparadox.blogspot.com

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Grilled and Marinated Flank Steak

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07/28/2015

Grilled and Marinated Flank Steak photo 1

This is the munchkin, a.k.a. Charlie, back about 18 months ago when I first created this recipe. She snuck over and grabbed the over-sized fork just as I was about to snap the perfect shot.

Summer is here, despite the insanely cool weather we saw in Chi-town the first month of the season, so it's time to get the grills going! And there is no better way to break in the grill then with this scrumptious flank steak.

I first discovered this flavor at a cocktail party back when I worked in the city in my glorious early '20s. They had a carving station and were slicing this tender steak oh so very thin and its juices were flowing out with every motion of the knife.

When I placed a slice on my tongue, I noticed tangy, salty, sweet and savory all at the same time. It made my mouth water even as I was eating it -- and it caused me to "mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm" out loud in front of some slightly uptight folk. They looked at me funny, raising their eyebrows and pursing their mouths … until they tasted the steak for themselves and let out the same sigh and loud "mmmmmm" I did. Conversation ensued.

That night I stopped by at the grocery store and bought the necessary ingredients for my version of the steak. They used flank steak, a difficult meat to deal with unless it is cooked and sliced properly. This meat, like many other cuts such as skirt steak and brisket, should be sliced AGAINST the grain.

Look at the pic below. The direction of the arrow is AGAINST the grain. And that is the direction that you will slice it after it is cooked. Make sure you have a nice, sharp knife!

Grilled and Marinated Flank Steak photo 3

I also like to marinade these slightly fibrous cuts of meat. In my experience, it helps make them juicier and more succulent. Plus, with a soy sauce marinade (such as this one), you are creating almost a brine-like environment where the wonderful saltiness of the soy sauce permeates each muscle fiber leaving the flesh moist and flavorful. It's science really: a brine allows for osmosis to occur. All you need to know, however, is that your meat tastes awesome if it's brined. And that is precisely why when I make my roast turkey I brine it.

But back to the steak. It only takes a few ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry to make this steak go from ordinary to KA-POW!

Grilled and Marinated Flank Steak photo 2

Asian-Style Grilled and Marinated Flank Steak
(from Girlandthekitchen.com)

Ingredients

3 pounds flank steak
¼ cup vegetable oil or peanut oil
½ cup LOW sodium soy sauce (I always use Kikkoman)
½ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup teriyaki sauce
¼ cup honey
juice of 1 lime
a few squirts of siracha, depending on how spicy you like it
thumb sized piece of ginger, minced on a microplaner
5 garlic cloves minced on a micro planer.
4 scallions sliced thinly

Instructions

1. Combine soy sauce, balsamic vinegar (this is what gives that tangy, savory flavor) honey, teriyaki sauce, ginger, lime, garlic, a few squirts of sriracha, vegetable oil and scallions into a bowl and mix to combine all the flavors.

2. Then throw all the ingredients in a zip-lock bag along with the steak. Shake, shake, shake. Make sure it's all covered.

3. Place in the fridge for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.

4. If you live in the not so warm parts...like me... you can cheat a bit. Take a large oven proof frying pan and place it into a 500-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Or you can place it in there as the oven preheats.

5. Remove your steak out of the bag and place it on a paper towel, dabbing the moisture off of the steak.

6. Once the pan is heated, place the steak directly onto the pan. You will see it shrink up immediately from the high heat. Close the oven and allow to cook for 5 minutes then flip it and cook it for 2 minutes.

7. For me, this is the ultimate way to sear a steak nicely without clouding my house up with smoke.

8. Place the steak on a sheet pan and cover with foil. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes.

9. Slice into it on a bias, against the grain, as we previously discussed.

10. Sprinkle with scallions and grab some chop sticks! Dinner is served.

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Bring Change to the Diaper Changer!

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07/27/2015

Bring Change to the Diaper Changer! photo 1

We were just wrapping up dinner at a new restaurant enjoying a lovely family evening together. My 1-year-old son, John, had eaten well and managed to get most of the food we offered into his mouth, avoiding the floor. My wife and I managed to complete at least half of a decent conversation. Nobody was screaming yet.

As I was signing for the bill, she was wiping a tiny pair of hands and some chubby cherubic cheeks. She sniffed the air twice and then lifted John out of the seat and went in for closer inspection. Scrunching her nose, she looked at me and said,

"He needs a change."

We paused and looked at each other with the same concerned expression on our faces.

"Is there a changing table in the restroom?"

We tend to focus our lives on the things that matter most; when it comes to the day-to-day kind of stuff, we don't often pay attention to the things not relevant to our immediate needs. Before we had a child, I wouldn't have thought twice about the layout and accessories inside a public restroom. Now, I keep a mental list of which locales provide the best and worst options for taking care of some often dirty but very necessary business.

Rather than list the best accommodators and worst offenders when it comes to family-friendly bathrooms, I thought it would be more productive to list some basic requests to bring all restrooms that serve families up to a certain level of comfort.

Bring Change to the Diaper Changer! photo 2

Parents' Bill of Rights for Diaper-Changing Stations

1. Have one

Without a place to change a diaper, my three options are change the baby on the dirty, diseased bathroom floor; try to get him to hold very still while I balance him on the edge of the sink; or change him out in the restaurant where his bright baby bum is on display for everyone to see.

2. Have one in the men's room too!

This is 2015 -- men change diapers too. Some guys go out in public with small children and don't bring a woman along. Having the women's restroom as a default location for a changer is not okay.

3. Put it in a reasonable location

Don't put the changer in the doorway so everyone has to uncomfortably squeeze by me to enter or exit the bathroom. Don't put it in a bathroom stall. This is all too common and makes no sense. Having it within arm's reach of a sink and a trashcan is really the most practical.

4. Provide a trashcan nearby

My free-throw percentage is awful. Challenging me to toss a stinky diaper across a crowded bathroom with one hand on my child, keeping him from rolling off the table, is a sure way for all of us to lose badly.

5. Check it every once in a while.

Make wiping it down a part of the regular bathroom cleaning routine. If that strap is broken, consider fixing it because a broken strap just becomes something new and disgusting for my child to put in his mouth. Consider fixing that broken hinge, so I don't have to balance on one foot to hold up half the table with my knee.

Trust me, any parent can tell you that these are really just the bare-minimum requests to ensure a safe, clean and comfortable diaper change for baby and us. It's not much to ask, is it?

Even if you are not a parent, you probably know someone who is! Please comment and share this post with others, so we can get some traction around this!

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A Blogger’s Paradise

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07/24/2015

A Blogger's Paradise photo

Photo credit: Alexanna Cox

It all began on a little island called Maui.

While soaking in the Hawaiian sun on a family vacation, I was schmoozing with one of the other hotel guests, a mother of three who was telling me about her children. As she was explaining her daughter's hopes of attending New York University, she also mentioned that her daughter began a fashion blog.  

I didn't think much of the conversation for a few days. But, then, it hit me -- I could start my own fashion blog! I've always loved fashion and was going to study it in college. Creating a place where I could document my favorite fashion trends seemed like a wonderful idea.

The direction and content of my blog has changed through time. After blogging for about two years, I've learned a lot along the way. I've rounded up what I believe to be the three most important elements to becoming a happy blogger. I hope my advice will help you if you're interested in starting a blog dedicated to whatever interests you.

Find your niche

Do you love dressing your dog in fun outfits? Maybe you should start a blog about canine fashion. Do you love fixing cars? Maybe start a blog that gives step-by-step instructions on how to tune up a car. Find a topic that interests you.

I have a passion for fashion, but there are thousands of blogs dedicated to fashion. I had to figure out a way to differentiate myself. What I love most within the fashion industry is ethically sourced and made fashion, so I've decided to focus on that. Hone in on your passion and blog about it.

Don't compare yourself to others

Don't you dare research how many followers another blogger has on Instagram or compare your content to another blogger's. It's good to research so you can become inspired to better your own blog, but never, ever, ever feel bad about your content. Blogging is a never-ending learning experience.

Be consistent

Post to your blog on a regular basis. Honestly, this is not one of my strong suits. I consider myself consistently inconsistent -- a quality that isn't ideal when you have followers who await your next post. I suggest sitting down with a calendar and planning what and when you'll post. I've found that writing things down holds me accountable.

Most importantly, enjoy blogging. Most of us have full-time jobs and interests outside of our blogs, so don't put too much pressure on yourself and your blog.

Blogging has become one of my favorite hobbies. I hope it becomes one of your favorites, too!

Carly is the founder of Hippie and Heart, a blog dedicated to ethical and Fair Trade fashion.

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