The Night Alinea Came To Us

Those of you not from Chicago might not be familiar with the restaurant Alinea. Basically it is THE restaurant in Chicago. It’s the only restaurant in Chicago with three Michelin stars. It’s got a AAA Five Diamond, has won a James Beard award, and routinely makes lists of top 10 restaurants in the world. People fly to Chicago just to go to Alinea.

I’m sure eating there would be an amazing experience, but it is also an expensive experience. For just me and Sara to go, we’d be looking at between $800 and $1000, minimum. For that price, the meal would literally have to change my life. And on top of that, this is like the fanciest of fancy dining….what if I didn’t like it? What if I accidentally used the wrong fork, or wore the wrong tie, or just stood up in the middle of the meal and screamed, “I AM AN IMPOSTER, HOW DID I EVEN GET IN HERE??” and ran out the door?


Thanks to everything that is going on right now with Coronavirus and restaurant restrictions, Alinea began, for a very limited time, offering take out for $50 per person!! Needless to say, Sara and I jumped on it immediately.

Fresh off our winning A Labyrinth and looking to celebrate, we originally planned to include the kids. As we excitedly described to them what an awesome opportunity this was to have an experience from possibly the best chef in the United States, their response was, “UGH, can’t we just have hamburgers??” And Sara and I said, “You know what? Yes. Yes you can.”

So the kids got Medici and an early bedtime, and Sara and I had probably the first “date night” we’ve had in, what, 3 months?

I’ll get into the specifics below, but I don’t want to bury the lede: it was everything I could have hoped for, and more.

The dinner came with FOUR PAGES of instructions on how to properly prepare and plate everything, but honestly that was part of the fun. It was so relaxing to do it at home too, where I didn’t have to worry if I licked my fingers.

Blis Steelhead Roe, with Coconut Pudding, Carrot, Turmeric, and Passionfruit Gel

Okay, so right out of the gate, we had something that I think is safe to say is out of my normal wheelhouse, but it was AMAZING. Each of the flavors was very strong, but very complimentary. This might have been my favorite course, actually. I just couldn’t help thinking about how I definitely, definitely am not a world class chef because how could you think to pair all of these different things and have them go together just so absolutely perfectly?

Along those lines, you know we were just drinking our own wine with this, and once I tasted this dish for the first time in my life I realized what it meant for everything to pair together the way it is supposed to, and how very, very wrong the wine was with it. A moment before I had been thinking it was a perfectly good wine, but all of these things were just so perfectly balanced, and the wine was very discordant with it.

But hey, that’s what you get when you do it at home!

Anyway, I can’t tell if I loved this course because it really was that good, or if it was because it was just the first one and right away I knew we were in for a treat. It exemplified how a good chef really is on another level, it was out of my comfort zone but still good, and it really just did set the stage for everything that was to come.

Chilled English Pea Soup with Chamomile Compressed Cantaloupe, Yogurt Custard, and Nueske’s Ham

So at this point I was thinking, “Chilled pea soup? Seriously?” I mean the first course seemed so fancy, and this sounded like unheated leftovers.

But of course, I was wrong, because it was amazing. The soup was almost peanut buttery, with a great texture, and once again, everything went so well together. This was a pretty decent sized portion, and Sara and I both finished every last bite.

Spicy Gulf Prawn with Cucumber, Thai Curry Sauce, and Thai Aromatic Salt

This was probably my least favorite course, but mostly only because I dislike cucumber, and that was a strong flavor. It was still really good, though, and I ate every last bite (even the cucumber itself).

The best part about this course is that it came with a container of aromatic salts to be heated and presented with the course, so that the aroma could heighten the experience of the dish. This was exactly the weird kind of fancy dining thing that I hoped for! I don’t know if it made a difference in my enjoyment or not, but it was hilarious.

“Rootbeer” of Braised Beef Short Rib, with Fennel, Vanilla scented 50/50 Potatoes, and Dark Dried Fruits

Okay, this one was absolutely amazing. So the “rootbeer” flavor was a combination of various seasonings, anise, raisins, and a plum, and, combined with the creamiest vanilla potatoes in the world, it absolutely reminded me of a rootbeer float. It was wild.

But also after this course, I was definitely full. And we had two more courses to go!!

Wild Mushrooms and Green Asparagus with Lapsang Souchong Tea Emulsion and Pickled Shallots

I thought this course was only okay. It was fine, in fact, better than most things I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant. But at this point, 5 courses in, just a good, regular dish wasn’t cutting it anymore! I thought that the mushrooms were really good, but Sara is not a fan of mushrooms, so I think this one didn’t do much for her either.

It also wasn’t helped by the fact that I was seriously getting stuffed at this point!

Chocolate 64% on Your Table with Strawberry, Vanilla, Hazelnut Praline, Blueberry, and Lemon

Alright, desert is tough to beat at any time, but this desert was just unreal. In addition to the instructions, we had to watch a youtube video on how to properly prepare this one, but honestly I feel pretty proud of how it turned out! It looked great, and it tasted better. It was a lot of desert for two people, but honestly it was pretty light! It would have been hard to eat that much if it were all heavy chocolate or something, but flavors, as usual, were all perfectly balanced.

We finished the whole thing in, I think, just under 2 hours.

I feel like I am repeating myself a bit, but it was just a great, great experience, and Sara and I had so much fun doing it. I highly recommend anybody who can to take advantage of it while they can; I don’t think they’re going to be offering it for long. I see they’ve already rotated out the menu we had, but they have some new options up.

In fact, I would say it’s a once in a lifetime experience but…did I mention they have some new options up? 🙂

A Labyrinth

About a month ago, we got an email through the kids’ school saying there was a….game? Contest? Escape room? Thing? we could be a part of. It was called A Labyrinth, you had to be associated with the University to participate, and we qualified. It was all sort of confusing, but I got the impression it was something designed for University students. At that point, quarantine was already starting to wear thin and it was already starting to come out in creative ways around the house (see the Getty Challenge), so we figured we might as well sign ourselves up as a team. Hence, “The Oracles” were born (named after our logo, the Getty Challenge we did based on the painting “The Oracle”, and also thematically appropriate for a labyrinth-themed game!)

The Oracle


It’s hard to explain how exactly it all worked. Basically there were various kinds of “quests” or activities that you could complete. Each week more quests would be released, and you could do the activities described and turn them in for points. Some quests had potential for bonus points if you were one of the best submissions, or if you included a certain element in your submission, or…well, or anything. You really never knew what a quest was going to be until you opened it up.

There were seven types of quests:

quest types

But within those types you never knew what you were going to get. It might be running a mile, or making a meme, or writing a research paper, or solving a puzzle, or building something, or drawing something, or making a workout video, or reenacting a scene from Shakespeare, or having a dance party, or planning a heist, or playing a whole D&D campaign set in our neighborhood, or…or anything at all. They were suitably vague enough that half of the fun was in figuring out how exactly you wanted to fulfill the quest! Most of the quests assumed your team was not quarantining together (though we happened to be, since we were entering as a family), and so they were often designed to take place remotely, for example, over Zoom. Sometimes that added an extra degree of difficulty for us personally, since we did happen to be together, but sometimes we were able to play with that and work that into our quests.

On top of the quests there was a weekly livestream which was kind of a combination choose-your-own-adventure movie and chat, where we could work with other people to help navigate a “labyrinth” on campus by controlling a Minotaur named “Taur”. Depending on the choices we made, we could unlock additional quests, including more involved “hub quests” that were worth 4+ points. The kids enjoyed this part quite a bit, and really looked forward to Sundays, even Alex.

Many of the quests were (Greek) Labyrinth themed, and some of them were (Bowie) Labyrinth themed, two types of Labyrinths of which I am VERY, VERY familiar.

There was also a theme of what the world might look like in 2050, but they generally insisted on utopias; no distopias allowed!

In short, all of this was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY. Not only did it keep us occupied for 4 weeks with a never ending stream of creative activities, but it was also just a force of positivity. Research something new! Imagine a better future! Learn how to paint! Be a better you!


The entire experience was absolutely perfect for me. I have an absolute need to express myself creatively, and there is not a creative muscle that I did not stretch as part of this. I composed songs, I played guitar and accordion, I used photoshop, I wrote poetry, I learned how to program in Twine. I loved every second of it.

However, that is not to say the kids did not enjoy it as least as much! Certainly there is some part of me that hopes they grow up to be just like me, but I  absolutely loved to see them participating in just this explosion of creativity. Ollie was a wiz with the art and creating games, and Evelyn seriously has a knack for creating songs and poems. I mean seriously, she can create an absolutely stunning song in less than ten minutes! Even Alex got in on the game, and participated way more than I expected him to! (There may have been the occasional bribe with gummy bears…)

Evelyn in particular was truly the Taskmaster of the whole thing. If one even DARED to spend their free time doing something unrelated to a quest, oooh you better believe she was on them. She was really the one driving us forward (see the song “Evelyn the Taskmaster” in our musical, below!). And she had some tough editors, too! I can’t tell you the number of quests Sara and I sent back to her, saying, “it’s not good enough, you didn’t understand what they were asking, it needs to be longer!” The Oracles have high standards!

But it was so fun to just come together as a family and figure out how we were going to work together, figure out what it was going to take to pull off a quest, and then to execute on it.

On top of everything else that we’ve done, we also wrote and composed a 5 song musical! WE WROTE AND PERFORMED AN ENTIRE MUSICAL. This is something that I think we’re all pretty proud of, especially considering how quickly we had to put it together. Everybody contributed (even Alex!), and I think our family’s love of musicals really shows through.

You can listen below:

I kept telling the kids, “This is a fun thing we are doing, but we can’t win. We’re just in it for the fun. This is designed for college students; we’re just in it to have fun.” So much so, that it became a running joke. “We can’t win guys, seriously. We can’t win. Just enjoy doing the quests.”

So…imagine my surprise when we won the whole thing!

final score

73 teams, ranging from 4 to 24 members, and the five of us beat them all!!! I still can’t believe it, to be honest. Not to say we didn’t try hard, and not to say we didn’t do some phenomenal work, but…us! Our little family! Beating teams twice our size and twice our combined ages!


A lot of the best stuff we cross-posted on our regular social media accounts, but you can see additional stuff at our Instagram account for The Oracles. Additionally, there are just a few quests that are just too good not to share here!

Of course, who could forget the Robot Dance?

Or the Pandemic Pentathlon?

Honestly I am struggling to even decide which quests to show on here. There are soooo many good ones! How can I pick and choose? Here is a SMALL sampling of some of my favorites:

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button pushers

The Halbachs, pushing the buttons we most like to push around the house

Oh my goodness, I could go on and on. Where do you draw the line? With our Tik Tok dance? (song and choreography by Evelyn, of course)

My argument with Ryan Gosling?

With the lullabye Evelyn wrote to an imaginary Minotaur?

My “spooky coronaviris” story?

Any way you look at it, it was a blast! Not only did we have a great time (and we won!!), but we made so many memories. Years from now, when we look back at this weird Corona-spring, A Labyrinth will be all tied up with our memories of this time. It really did make an unbearable time bearable, and we are so, so happy to have been a part of it!

Hey Shane, there’s not enough going on right now, how about we throw a chronic disease on top?

I have a bit of a confession to make: since about last July, I have been having trouble my hands. It started out with some sore knuckles on my right hand. I didn’t think much about it; I just figured it would go away eventually. Was only really trouble if I needed to grip something hard, like if I were trying to open a jar or tighten a screw or something. As time went on it was getting worse, not better, but I didn’t really want to admit that.

Starting by about November, my hand would be so sore and stiff in the in the morning that I started having difficulty doing things like brushing my teeth or taking off my shirt. At this point I realized that I needed to see a doctor. I couldn’t really pretend that it was going to get better anymore, but I think I was still just a little bit in denial. I was also coming up on my 40th birthday, and (it sounds stupid in retrospect, but) I really just thought I was getting old. You get old your knuckles hurt, you know? I just kept thinking, “Man, getting old sure crept up on me.”

I called and made a doctor’s appointment, but of course it was a 3 month wait to get in to see her. In the meantime I really just stopped using my right hand for a lot of things; it was just easier (and less painful) to get by with my left hand. However, I remember the specific morning in January when I woke up with stiffness and pain, not only in my right hand, but also in my left hand (well, it doesn’t hurt that Ollie and I were sleeping on a WWII submarine that day, so it kind of sticks in the old memory).

I am not going to lie: that shook me. Bad.

For the first time I realized that something was really, really wrong, and getting worse. My hands were aching all the time and some of my knuckles were swelling or had developed lumps. I was having trouble buckling Alex into his carseat, and I was avoiding playing with the kids because even a small bump of my hands was really painful. I couldn’t even think of doing something like playing guitar.

The stiffness was lasting longer morning, too. Both hands were difficult to use for about an hour after I woke up: kind of like wearing big oven mitts. I couldn’t really bend my fingers, only kind of pinch with my thumb, like a crab. I started taking Aleve morning and night, and it came in a sad, “easy to open” top. The saddest part is, I was truly grateful for that “easy to open” top.

In fact, this is going to sound like toxic masculinity horseshit, and maybe it is? But here it is anyway: throughout this whole thing, there have been a few times when I have been unable to open something up, and I will ask Sara to do it, and she is easily able to open it, and it has made me cry. Not because I felt emasculated, but because opening up jars was my job. Your hands are your identity. Who am I if I can’t play guitar, or knit, or write in notebooks, or do my assigned duties around the house, like open jars?

It seemed pretty clearly like it was arthritis, but I was afraid to even google it. Sometimes I would make Sara google it, but if she tried to tell me about what she was reading I would get extreme anxiety, and I couldn’t even listen (and I definitely, definitely couldn’t look at pictures!)

(Weird, writerly side note: around that time I picked up a story I had partially written about 6 months before, and upon rereading it, I was pretty startled to find not one, not two, but three references to the sore knuckles of the (older) main character! I didn’t realize it had been on my mind so much, all the way back then. Wonder what other kind of subconscious stuff has shown up in my stories over the years!)

Finally, my doctor’s appointment came toward the end of January, and by that point I was really scared and basically counting down the hours. It seemed like it was just getting worse and worse, all the time, and I just…needed something. Some answers. Some help.

The doctor ran a bunch of blood tests, x-rays, etc. and I breathlessly waited for my results. Everything came back negative. The x-rays showed some “degenerative cysts” on my knuckles, but those are not definite enough for a diagnosis. The doctor was like “Great news! Everything is negative!” and I was like “Um, yeah, only not so great? Because wtf is even going on??”

Even though I know it wasn’t true, it just felt like they didn’t believe me. I just wanted to say, “This is really happening! I don’t know what’s wrong, and it’s getting worse!” but it felt like without a test result, I was just making it up you know? I am a man of science; sure X% of people don’t register as positive on this test or that one, but…I’ve never been lucky, you know? I just couldn’t believe I was in the X%. I loathed those test results.

This was a really low time for me. I felt very, very helpless, and depressed.

I really should say that this was not my doctor’s fault; she was fine. I do have a bit of a quibble with it taking 3 months to get an appointment at a time when I really needed one, but that’s more the medical establishment at large then my individual doctor. No, most of this was going on inside my head. And to be honest I wasn’t ready to talk to anybody about it (besides Sara of course, so shout out to her for dealing with me through all of this!), at least until I had a little something more to go on.

So after the ambiguous test results (or should I say un-ambiguous because they turned up a big fat nothing), my doctor referred me to rheumatology. Of course that appointment took ANOTHER 2 months, which took us into March.

By the time that appointment came along, I had mostly climbed out of my hole and moved pretty solidly over to acceptance. My hands hadn’t gotten better, but they had at least stopped getting worse. I was taking a bunch of Aleve and I had learned to work around them a bit. The morning was bad, but I could kind of shave with my razor balanced on my thumb. The only time it was really bad was if I unthinkingly tried to grab the blanket too fast in the morning, or if one of the kids accidentally smashed my hand. In other words, I just…got used to it I guess.

Rheumatology did another whole bevy of tests (which also all came back negative — seriously, you have never seen such perfect lab work in your life), but that’s not to say they learned nothing: it seems unlikely to be Rheumatoid or Osteo-arthritis. Turns out there’s a whole slew of other kinds of arthritis. Who knew?

My next step was taking a course of steroids, which MAJORLY, GLORIOUSLY worked! It took awhile to get going, but by the end of the 3rd-ish week, my hands were basically back to where they had been the previous summer. Not cured, exactly, but no pain or stiffness for an hour in the morning, no general aching throughout the day.

It was wonderful, but steroids are not a long term solution. Though we haven’t yet been able to identify precisely the type of arthritis, we know it’s an inflammatory arthritis caused by my immune system (incorrectly) attacking my joints, and it most likely will continue doing that for the rest of my life, potentially causing permanent damage if left untreated.



Perhaps it’s best to focus on the silver lining here: guess who just started on a hydroxychloroquine prescription? You might have heard about it? It’s been in the news a lot lately? And if I’m understanding what people are saying – the best people really – I’m pretty sure they’re saying that I am TOTALLY IMMUNE TO COVID-19 NOW. And you know what that means!

(My doctor says I am not, in fact, immune to Covid-19, but he didn’t take a stance one way or the other on window-licking.)

The stiffness and aching have returned a bit since ending the steroids, and the hydroxychloroquine takes weeks to kick in. I’m currently at about 20 minutes or so of stiffness in the morning, and my right hand is starting to ache throughout the day again. I’m kind of getting back to the point where I’m starting to avoid doing things with my right hand again, or warning Alex to be careful of my hand. My two worst knuckles have remained about the same, in terms of swelling, even when I was on the steroids, so not much change there.

Mentally, however, I am in a much better place. Seeing how well the steroids worked makes me feel confident that we can find something that can work (whether it’s hydroxychloroquine or something else), and my hands can feel relatively normal again. I’m not going to have to give up guitar, or knitting, or playing piano, or lose my job because I can’t type anymore. It’s going to take some time, but so what? I still have the odd moment when I feel sorry for myself, or I find something that I have trouble doing that I don’t expect, but everybody has something, especially now.

City Mouse / Country Mouse

On weekends we have been driving out to some of the forest preserves around the city to get some fresh air and do a little hiking. We’re not going far, usually a 30 – 40 minute drive from our house, but you’d be surprised at how many places there are within that zone once you start looking for them.

There is a wide range of what you find at these places. I don’t really understand the rhyme or reason as to why some of them are extremely crowded and some are desolate. I guess it just depends on the neighborhood around them.

Anyway, this last weekend we went to one that was relatively crowded (though only on the paved parts; we were all alone on the unpaved trails!). So we show up all decked out with our hiking gear and our masks, but I was absolutely *astounded* to see it was mostly only us. In the few hours we were out there I saw easily over a hundred people without masks, versus when I’m in the neighborhood at home I would almost never see someone without a mask visible on their person. It made me feel….weird. Uncomfortable. Like I just dropped in from outer space. I wanted to say things to people we were passing, like, “Oh, we’re from the city. Things are different there.” I just felt very out of place.

As we drove home I was just noticing how crowded the parking lots were (and at a pool supply store of all places!). I’m sure if you were from around there it might seem different than normal to you, but to me it just seemed like…business as usual. It was very disorienting. And here we were only 30 minutes or so outside of the city! How different must it be downstate, to say nothing of the middle of Montana or something.

It really is crazy, even with the internet serving as the great equalizer, how different things are here in the city.

The Getty Challenge

In this time of quarantine, the Getty had a fun challenge to explore your creativity and keep from going crazy. The idea was simple: find a work of art from the Getty and recreate it using items you have around the house. If you haven’t seen these, do a quick search; you will not regret it! I absolutely love the time and creativity people are putting into these!

Ollie’s teacher “assigned” the challenge to his class, and I was positively begging him to pick something with two people in it, so I could get in on the action too. He didn’t go for it, but instead selected and recreated one all on his own. I was blown away; it is just absolutely perfect!

After seeing his I was even MORE determined to create my own, so I convinced Alex to help me out. He was such a good sport. He sat there holding that apple to his mouth for like 5 minutes while we arranged everything. Afterwards I said I would eat the apple and he was like, “Uh…I drooled on that apple. A lot.”

Evelyn missed out on the fun, so naturally she wanted to do one as well. At this point, our staging was starting to get a bit elaborate…

Some of you have done some of your own, and they are *A*M*A*Z*I*N*G*! Keep them coming!