Chicago Cheat Sheet: Museum Free Days


Six years ago I moved to Chicago with the intention to take full advantage of all the city has to offer. Not so surprisingly, laziness, Netflix, and the bitter cold have all conspired to keep me pantslesss in my apartment far too often.

As summer draws to a close, I want to be more intentional about how I spend these last warm weeks and make the most of them. Chicago Ideas Week is in October and I’m very pumped to go to this event about neuroscience. Until then, my priority is to find time between work and classes to take advantage of free days at the museums!

There are a ton of museums in the city and all of them offer free admission to Illinois residents on specific days throughout the year. At first I thought to make a post and include the names of all of the museums and the dates that they offer free admission. But that would be kind of long and boring and has totally been done before.

Instead, I asked Caro to help me create a printable calendar.

Caro Cheat Sheet

Originally I envisioned a full-size calendar that can be put up on the wall, but Caro had the idea for a pocket sized calendar which is absolutely perfect. We’re both fond of hand lettering and Caro is a veteran zine maker, so it seemed only right to create a paper version and scan it. Here’s what we came up with! So easy on the eyes, wouldn’t you say? :)

September Cheat Sheet


You can print your copy here!

And if you don’t have a printer but you really really want one and I happen to love you, let me know. I might know someone who knows someone that has a printer (in other words, I just bought a printer and would be happy to print you a copy).

The calendar is just small enough to fit in your wallet (trust me, we measured it!) and includes all of the free dates for some of the major museums in Chicago during the month of September. Keyword: some. After all, there’s only so much info that can fit on a half sheet of paper.

We’re considering doing another one next month because why the hell not? And perhaps we’ll branch off from museums and include other free stuff to do around the city?

Stay tuned. And in the mean time, go to a museum!

Walking: A Gift From My Mother


Walking is something we all do, some more than others. Now that I live in Chicago, I walk a lot more than when I lived in suburb and drove nearly everywhere.

Because of my mother I’m always very aware of my body and its presentation while walking.

“Push your shoulders back!”

“Turn your feet in.”

“Don’t drag your feet!”

For a long time, I hated it when she’d point those things out. She never did it in front others in an embarrassing way, but in my young mind it always felt like harsh and unnecessary criticism. But that’s my mother so I listened obediently.

No slouching.

Feet pointed straight ahead.

No schlepping.

Apart from consciously heeding my my mother’s instructions, I subconsciously inherited the rhythm and essence of her gait–the result of watching and walking beside her my entire life.

Now my walk is steady. Fluid. Pointed yet easy.

I carry myself like a young woman who knows who she is and where she’s going, literally and figuratively.

My feet move with certainty, my head held high. Why should it be any other way?

I’ve even been told that my presence is compelling. Draws people in and sets them at ease. Just typing that out feels arrogant. It’s a weird thing to say about oneself, even if I’m just repeating what I’ve been told. And I find it kind of ironic because for as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with being myself at all times.

I like me. I enjoy who I am. But I feel like certain facets of myself should be reserved for certain times and places. So, at any given moment I’m likely considering how to behave based on the present company and situation.

That being said, I never forget the importance of being authentic. There is a way to to be genuine and honest without sharing too much of yourself. This is yet another thing that I picked up from my mother.

I consider it hugely complimentary that someone would speak so highly of my company, but if anyone deserves credit for this aura of mine, I chalk it up yet again to my mama and what I’ve learned just by watching her.

She’s the type of woman who walks into a room and everyone notices. Not just because she’s six feet tall and gorgeous. She’s six foot tall and gorgeous and assured. And it radiates. The brilliant smile doesn’t hurt either.

Her laugh will fill any room right up. Full to the brim. It’s pretty unexpected.

My mother isn’t quiet or reserved by any means. She’s poised and calculated. And although she can be quite personable, her giant unrestrained laugh catches people off guard and everyone nearby can’t help but to laugh along with her. All of us smiling, even if we’ve no clue what’s so funny.

Sometimes I open my mouth to laugh and hear my mother. The tone, the cadence, the size of her laughter all come spilling out and it startles me. Has it always been this way and I’m just noticing?

As time passes, I see just how much she is weaved into who I am. In some places the stitching is intentional and precise. In other places I’m surprised to find her there. Though 900 miles and several states away, my mother is with me wherever I go.

These days I can even see her face in mine. It happens mostly when I’m walking past a shop window or a mirror and catch a quick glimpse of my reflection. I see her near my jawline. The cheekbones. Eyes. And definitely the smile.

I was given a lot as a kid. Spoiled for sure. My upbringing was privileged in that I never wanted for anything and as an only child and grandchild, I always made out like a bandit on birthdays and gift giving holidays.

Pink Barbie dream car. A bike that I didn’t learn how to ride for the longest. A Nokia brick phone, complete with bejeweled rhinestone cover. And even though my first car was a shitty ’87 Corolla that used to belong to my grandfather, my mom and grandma bought me a new Mazda before I started my senior year of high school.

They gave me so much.

As an adult, I recognize that the most valuable things they’ve given me are intangible.

From my grandmother I received a love of words: poetry, reading, writing. She taught me to enjoy learning at a very early age.

My mother has given me an infallible sense of self worth. Even when I question myself and path in life, it never takes too long to regroup and find my center. My resilience, consideration for others, and the unmoving belief that I can do anything are all gifts that were given to me early on and will continue to impact my life every day.

We haven’t spoken in a few months, my mother and I. But we will. I think of her often, especially when it comes to walking.

Many times we’ve laughed together while observing someone whose stride doesn’t quite match their frame. Plenty of times I’ve been without her, seen a person walking and thought, “Mommy would get a kick out of that.”

And sometimes I think of her randomly. On my way to the bus stop or walking back to work after lunch.

Shoulders back. Feet pointed straight ahead. No schlepping.

I’ll hit my stride and think, “I bet I look just like my mom right now.”

A thought that always brings a smile.




Stay Rested, Eat Breakfast, and Prosper


Time management and self-care are the top two skills that all college students possess.

Yeah, riiiight.

The life of a college student varies. However, there is one constant that I’ve noticed during my time spent enrolled as a full-time student: when the end of the semester approaches, self-care gets put on the back burner. With final projects and exams looming, it can be difficult to effectively juggle all of our school responsibilities along with jobs, and still make time to get sufficient sleep and eat sound meals.

Neglecting oneself in the face of a jam packed schedule is not an issue exclusive to college students. Busy people everywhere complain about a lack of energy, all the while skipping breakfast, eating foods devoid of nutrition, and failing to maintain a regular sleep schedule.

I know first hand that when I skip breakfast, it is hard for me to focus and function at an optimum level. On days where I’m tired and neglect to eat a meal before heading out of the front door? It’s not pretty. However, a well-rested Lex who has eaten a nutritionally sound breakfast is bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to conquer the day with a smile and spring in her step.

So what exactly is it that happens inside of our recharged bodies when we eat breakfast that provides us with energy to attack the day with vigor? I’m so glad you asked and even more excited to explain (I know, I’m a nerd). Let’s start with sleep. Sadly, our bodies require rest. Totally inconvenient, but also totally gratifying. While asleep, our body has the opportunity to repair tissues, replace dead cells, and store energy for us to use when we’re awake. There are various stages of sleep and the deeper the sleep, the better quality the quality of rest. Think of your body like an iPhone battery–the more time it spends charging, the more power it has.

credit: science.How Stuff

In the same way that a fully charged phone will last all day without dying, a person who regularly gets a good night’s rest will remain energized through the day. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep has a negative effect on brain function, making it difficult to focus and causing mood swings. Lack of sleep can also weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to viruses and infection. In general, people who don’t get enough sleep tend to consistently feel run down and it’s because they don’t allow their bodies time to rest. 

If sleep is king, breakfast is queen bee. The word “breakfast” literally means to break the fast. After sleeping for seven or eight hours (“fasting”), our bodies are hungry!

The human body literally uses food as a source of energy, breaking it down, taking and using what it needs, and disposing of waste. So, not only is it important to eat breakfast, it’s important to eat a nutritionally sound breakfast so that our bodies can make the most of what we eat.

A well rounded breakfast includes complex carbs, protein, and bit of “good” fat. From the time that we begin chewing, our bodies are already breaking down the food and preparing it for digestion. In the mouth, saliva helps to start digesting carbs. Food moves through the digestive tract to the stomach where it’s mixed with digestive enzymes and churned into liquid, then passed into the small intestine. It’s in the small intestine where most of the nutrients from carbs, protein and fat are digested and processed into fuel that our bodies use to function.

How exactly do our bodies use food to create energy for us to function? That explanation is far more intricate than the material covered in an intro to anatomy class. But, to summarize, within a cell the mitochondria create ATP–adenosine triphosphate. When ATP is converted to ADP–adenosine diphosphate–energy is created.

Want a more thorough explanation that’s much more interesting and fun to watch? Great. Here’s a video for that.

The science behind how our bodies produce energy is intricate, but the overall concept is very easy to grasp. Stay rested, eat breakfast, and prosper.

Mader’s Understanding Human Anatomy & Physiology

#ThePlaylistProject: Birthday Edition


In 2009 I moved to Chicago to attend college. I was an eager 22 year old who had never lived in a *big city* before. I knew no one here, but I had this idea in my head that I’d get to school and meet lots of friends and everything would be perfect.

That’s not exactly what happened.

Yes, I met people, but I didn’t organically gel with them like I’d hoped. Don’t get me wrong–I made friends, but not close ones. I ended up with a handful of acquaintances and often times found myself very lonely, wondering if maybe I’d made the wrong decision by moving to a city that is 900 miles away from my family and loved ones.

Then, during my second year of school, I met Charrise.

First I met Spif when I interviewed her for a class assignment. She invited me to a natural hair “tweet-up” event that Charrise had planned. To this day, I’m so happy I went. The event was held in an adorable art gallery space; the turn out was fantastic, and I met some amazing women, including Charrise. Not only was I impressed by her ability to plan a successful event, but she was well dressed and had this great energy about her. I was like, “I want to be friends with that girl.” So I introduced myself, we started following each other on Twitter, and the rest is history. I’m not quite sure how we transitioned into the kind of friends who spend hours on the phone several times a month and end our phone calls with “love you” but she’s become the sister-cousin I never had. After the tweet-up, I got home and called my mom raving about how wonderful it was. Beyond having a great night at the event, I gained a lifelong friend.

Today Charrise turns 25! Feel free to seek her out and buy her liquor/send strippers to her apartment. Or, I guess you could just simply wish her a Happy Birthday but that’s kind of boring…

Yesterday she texted me: “I want people to truly celebrate with me when they listen to the list. It has a lot of my favorite party songs as well as songs that have meant so much to me over the past quarter century of my life.”

You heard her! Turn on the music and get to celebrating in honor of my sister-cousin. It’s going to be a good ass year.

#ThePlaylistProject: Album Cuts


I’d never heard the term “album cuts” until Charrise suggested that we do a playlist full of them. Naturally, I googled the term, and the top, most relevant result was on Urban Dictionary. Go figure.

A song that is found exclusively on an album and was never released as a single. Sometimes filler, sometimes under-appreciated, sometimes well-known and equally amazing, album cuts are what fill the spaces between the singles you may have initially bought the album for.

Sometimes under-appreciated–totally.

Per usual, Charrise put me on to some songs I’d never heard before. The Emeli Sandé song is fantastic. And the M.I.A. joint at the top of the list is a banger. It could actually fit in well on the workout playlist as well. I was also reminded of the non-stop movement that occurs when I listen to “Millionaire” by Kelis and Andre 3000. Actually took a ten minute dance break while typing this post. It’s that serious.

I’d write some more, but let’s be honest–you came here for the music. Not the 200 words that I write above the  playlist ;)

Enjoy the list. Happy Tuesday <3


#ThePlaylistProject: The Sampler


Nothing is truly original. Keeping that in mind, it should not have been so surprising to me that “Cherchez LaGhost” includes a sample from the 70s hit “Cherchez La Femme.” Yet and still, my 20-year-old mind was blown when I went into the office one day and heard the original song playing. Unfortunately, my only coworkers were two men over the age of 50, neither of whom had ever heard of Ghostface, so they couldn’t appreciate the magnitude of the situation.

Fast forward five years:  recently I was riding around with my 17-year-old sister and “Poetic Justice” came on. Imagine my shock/surprise/horror when I discovered that she had never heard “Anytime, Anyplace.” I quickly filled her in, explaining that Kendrick’s hit song samples a classic Janet Jackson track. I was also floored when my two other youngest sisters told me that they thought Brandy was solely an actress until they heard her sing, but that has nothing to do with this post, so let’s move on, shall we?

It must be mentioned that this playlist–and this project, essentially–is Charrise’s baby. I came up with the idea of hosting #ThePlaylistProject on my blog, but I was inspired by Charrise, whose mental musical catalogue is crazy expansive. She straight up schooled me with this list, and it’s been a joy to come up on some musical knowledge. Did you know that Justin Timberlake sampled Prince? And Destiny’s Child sampled Stevie Nicks. Cam’ron sampled The Commordores, and the list continues.

Literally…the list continues. Down below. Go listen. Then go thank Charrise for putting you on! Happy Tuesday <3

#ThePlaylistProject: Johnny Cash


This week’s edition of #ThePlaylistProject is courtesy of my friend–and Johnny Cash enthusiast–Caro. She took time out from her internet home to diversify our musical tastes a bit and drop some knowledge about a folksy, country, rock & roll legend from Nashville. Enjoy! –lex

As anyone who tried to have a conversation with me last week quickly found out, a new Johnny Cash album was released on Tuesday and I’m having trouble focusing on anything else.

The posthumous release isn’t that out of character, as it’s his third. What sticks out about Out Among the Stars is that unlike the other two, it’s not a continuation of the American Recordings series he worked on in the last decade of his life.

Instead, it’s an album that was originally recorded in 1984 during a period of discontent between Cash and his label. They shelved the record before it was even finished and that’s where it sat for the last three decades. His son John Carter Cash recently dug it out of the archives AND THANK GOD HE DID.

Pre-80s Cash (husky, bluegrass-y) and post-90s Cash (gritty, stripped down) are very different animals and Out Among the Stars is an interesting album because it’s smack dab in the middle both chronologically and musically. It’s not exactly cohesive (which is to be expected) but there are a couple gems that I’m glad we’re not living without. “She Used to Love Me A Lot” has quickly become one of my all-time favorites.

Even if you think Johnny Cash isn’t your thing, I encourage you to give him a try. He’s one of the most prolific artists of all time (96 albums!) and his genre-spanning sound means there’s really something for everyone.
[Hey, it's lex again. So, Johnny Cash isn't "my thing." Charrise's either. But after listening to the music and to Caro gush about Johnny's relationship with his wife June, I found an appreciation for the music and Johnny Cash as an artist. Plus, he performed concerts for prisoners. It's hard to not develop a soft spot for the guy.]

I admit to being partial to his later albums, but I made an effort to include not just my favorite songs, but ones that accurately sample his varied sound. But first, let’s watch a few videos.


“Hurt” is a haunting cover of the popular Nine Inch Nails song. Recorded just a few months before he followed June in death, the video is often referred to as his epitaph and no, I’m not crying. You’re crying! And so is Trent Reznor, who admitted to tearing up when he first watched the video. “I pop the video in, and wow… [I felt like] I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn’t mine anymore.”

God’s Gonna Cut You Down

If there’s any doubt in your mind that Johnny Cash is an icon, all you have to do is see who turned out for this equally powerful posthumous release.

Out Among The Stars

Continuing the tradition of using other musicians as a mouthpiece for the posthumous releases, this video has Brandon Flowers, Father John Misty, and the Local Natives each picking a song from the new album. The ensuing covers are pretty interesting, but the old pickup makes me particularly nostalgic. My dad had a similar truck growing up and I remember spending many a Sunday peering over the dusty dash, us belting out “Ringo of Fire” on the way to the dump. And now that you’re just as heartbroken as I am (you’re welcome), here’s the playlist!

*If the full 20 track playlist isn’t showing down below, you can listen to the entire thing here.

#ThePlaylistProject: Workout


Supposedly there’s this season called “Spring” that happens.

Legend has it that not only will all of the snow on the ground melt, but no additional snow will fall from sky. Temperatures will be so high that we can actually feel the warmth of the sun versus freezing our asses off while contemplating how it’s possible for the weather to be so cold when there’s so much sun in the sky.

After the most brutal winter of my life, I’m not sure that Spring will ever come, but I’m hopeful. Warmer temperatures call for sun dresses and crop tops–yay! If you’re anything like me, you’ve been (excessively) eating your way through winter and may have picked up some extra pounds that aren’t quite welcome. This week Charrise and I have a playlist that will not only get you through your workout, but it will motivate you to want to workout. At least it worked for us!

Whether your workout includes cardio, dancing, weight lifting, jogging, walking, whatever–we’re positive that this list will get you pumped and in the mood to burn some calories.

Now, go put your gym clothes on and become the envy of all your friends.


#ThePlaylistProject: Before You Were Born


Listen. This playlist? It is full of jams. Full of ‘em!

Officially, this list is titled “Before You Were Born” because all of these tracks were released before Charrise or myself were born. However, here is a list of alternative names I’ve come up with:

  • The Jammin’, Jammiest Old School Jams
  • Best of 70s and 80s Funk and Soul
  • Turn This Shit On At A Barbecue and Let It Ride

My appreciation for older music was already pretty high, but has considerably heightened after really spending time with the music. After a week of blasting this list, I’m still in love! I wish I knew enough about the language of music to tell you exactly what it is that I love about Patrice Rushen’s “Remind Me” or Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman.”

This list is groovy–yes, groovy!–and sexy and if I close my eyes long enough I can pretend I’m at a discotheque somewhere in the past, breaking a sweat, dancing until the wee hours of the morning.

Music and imagination are a lovely combination.

#ThePlaylistProject: 90s Feels


What’s your favorite thing from the nineties?

I know, it’s hard to pick just one.

The nineties are responsible for the golden age of television–Boy Meets World, Family Matters, Clarissa Explains It All, Goosebumps, Moesha, Are You Afraid Of The Dark–I could really go on for days. The final decade of the 20th century also gave us iconic movies like Pulp Fiction, Home Alone, Juice, Scream, Menace II Society, and everyone’s favorite: The Lion King. Seriously–who doesn’t love Simba? Everyone loves Simba, okay?

But if I had to choose my absolute favorite part of the nineties, it is without question the music. I spent many a days of my childhood belting out Brandy, Whitney Houston, and SWV songs at the top of my lungs in my grandmother’s basement. Without question, the music is not only a defining piece of nineties culture, but who I am.

And that’s why this week’s playlist features over 70 songs and lots of nostalgia. Charrise and I have spent the last week loving it and now it’s time to share. We hope you enjoy it!

‘Til next week, y’all–be easy <3