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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

Hey Halfstackers! Design intern Shaylee here. Need some new shoes? Check out some great trending shoes in this round up we have put together for you. Shoes can be so expensive but we found affordable styles for ever day looks. Hunter boots are great for a rainy day! These stripy high heels are good to dress up or down. Fall will be here before we know it so we have our eyes on these chic tall boots. Men, we have great, affordable dress shoes. Along with some more casual style shoes. Check them out!

Image Credit

Check out these shoes from brands like Hunter, Michael Antonio, Toms, Dolce Vita, Steve Madden, and more!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sex Trafficking in America: Interview with Nita Belles

America is suffering from the spread of a nationwide outbreak of sex crimes, and we don’t even know it. I had the enlightening pleasure of interviewing human trafficking expert, Nita Belles, who explained how truly dire this situation is. According to her, sex trafficking is the newest form of slavery, and its cruelty exceeds that of slavery in the 1800s. In the 1800s, the price of a slave would be equivalent to approximately $40k today, yet a victim of sex trafficking is acquired for around $100; hence, there is no motivation to keep the slave healthy. Despite how mistreated a slave may be, he or she is often traumatically bonded to the trafficker which inhibits their ability to escape, even when they seemingly have an opportunity. 

This deeply troublesome subject is too vast to cover completely in a short article, so I suggest you read Nita’s book, In our Backyard on the subject, to further educate yourself on what’s going on and what you can do to stop it. While the content is troubling, the information is eye opening and a reality that we must face in our community. The following is my interview with Nita:

  • What is the definition of “sex trafficking”?
Sex Trafficking: A Commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which person performing the act is under age 18.

  • Is trafficking a major problem in America?  
Absolutely. And it’s not a problem just in the big cities, it’s also in small towns and in rural areas.

  • Why do we not have consistent statistics available for the public to see how REAL child sex trafficking is in the US? 
  • True statistics are hard to come by because of the nature of this crime. Those who are being trafficked are not able to self-identify for many reasons. Many modern slaves are killed and no one ever knows what happened to them. It is a tremendously under reported crime.
  • In what states/cities is this problem most prominent?
  • Again, we don’t have good statistics on this. There are claims from nearly every large city that they are somewhere in the top of sex trafficking per capita or they have the most cases, etc.  However, most of those claims are often based on one or two national sting operations. What each city is trying to say is “Trafficking is bad here” and I would agree and support their efforts. Human trafficking is a problem throughout the United States.

  • If someone suspects they’ve found a victim, what should they do?
  • If it is an immediate and critical situation, call 911 and provide as much data as you can to help the police identify what you saw. (However do not try to intervene, it may be dangerous not only for you but the potential victim.) If it is just something that a person saw in passing they can call 888-3737-888, the national human trafficking hotline.

  • What are the physical and psychological results of being involved in sex trafficking?
  • Again, it’s difficult to make a general statement but human trafficking involves unspeakable torture and atrocities too horrific to mention. A survivor of sex trafficking may have many of the same challenges as a veteran of war who has experienced extreme torture and/or seen horrific atrocities.

  • How are victims usually preyed upon/kidnapped?
  • Although some victims of human trafficking are kidnapped, that is a small percentage. The majority are lured by a charming trafficker who discovers their potential victim’s needs and weaknesses and plays on those. The trafficker sells the victim on the idea that they are the best solution for those needs. They gradually win the victim’s trust, then isolate them, then maintain control by psychological means, physical abuse and threats to the victim or their loved ones.

  • What happens to a victim once he/she is rescued?
  • Hopefully they are not arrested and treated like criminals, although that still happens all too often. It is a long process of healing and recovery. There are some facilities (although not nearly enough) that offer services and support to survivors of human trafficking. Healing from the psychological and sometimes physical injuries sustained in human trafficking involves a long, arduous and painful process.

  • What happens to the pimps and buyers once discovered?
  • Hopefully they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but since the prosecution of this crime is relatively new, stricter laws are needed to adequately bring justice for these abominable crimes.

  • Is law enforcement making any particular efforts to prevent and seek out child sex trafficking?
  • Yes, I am pleased that there are nationwide efforts, stings, and a move to educate law enforcement and prosecutors about human trafficking. However, there is a tremendous amount of work yet needed in this area.

  • For how long have you been involved in the investigation of child sex trafficking?
  • I have been involved in anti-human trafficking efforts since 2006. I would not call myself a human trafficking investigator, although I have often helped in investigations.

  • Has it ever affected you or a loved one personally?
  • Thankfully no, although I have some dear friends now who are survivors.

  • What brought your attention to this problem and how did it change your life when you decided to focus your efforts on illuminating it?
I was working on my Masters Degree in Theology with a Concentration in Women’s Concerns. Obviously with 80% of human trafficking victims being female this is a concern for women. 
When I saw the atrocities of human trafficking I knew I had to do something and I felt like I was supposed to write a book which was quite a challenge for me because I didn’t consider myself a writer. I began researching and some of the people I met in my research are people I still work with in anti-trafficking efforts. The commitment to do this work has changed my life completely.

  • What do you think the public needs to know about this growing issue that they currently don’t know?
  • The public needs to become aware of what human trafficking looks like and what to do if they see it. That is why I wrote my book In Our Backyard. 

  • How can the community come together to help fight against human trafficking?
  • Awareness is the key to changing the face of human trafficking in our community. There is a concept called “slave proofing” our communities. We can do it one community at a time, and eventually we can eradicate human trafficking from our communities, our nation and our world, but it will take all of us linking arms against it.

  • What are the signs that someone may be a trafficking victim? 
Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question
  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
Source: PolarisProject.org

Cheyenne Hendricks
Lifestyle Blogger

Lolla-spa-looza : Red Door Spa Pop-up Shop

Last year was my first Lollapalooza experience, and what an experience it was.  Other than the $250 I forked out for a ticket; tired feet, aching muscles, and less than festive hair was the price I paid for three days full of great music.  It was honestly one of the most amazing weekends, so I am not complaining, but what’s a good music festival without a little pampering?

This year, Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa has us covered!  From July 25th to August 3rd, the dream team of Red Door Spas is helping festival goers get revived and ready at the pop-up Lollashop, 108 N. State St. 

The following “speed services” are available to choose from!
Mini Mani / $10
Pony, Braid & Bun Bar / Complimentary
Hair Tinsel, Feather or Quikkes Extensions/ $20
Chair Massage / $10
Cooling Oxygen Blast / Complimentary
Collagen Eye Treatment / $10
Makeup Refresher / Complimentary
Lip Facial / $5

I decided to get a head start on my Lolla preparations with a little bit of pre pampering this past weekend!  My first express spa service was a cooling oxygen blast with Britta.  I had never had one or even heard of it before, so of course I had to try it out!  The combination of pure oxygen and a refreshing serum created a cooling affect that was surprisingly relaxing.  Sunburned and sweating more than any human should…ever?  I definitely suggest this service as a mid-day pick-me-up!

If you have been preparing your festival outfits since before last year’s Halloween costume, then you want your look to be on point!  A mini manicure with Dee Dee and a color hair extension applied by Martina, were the perfect final touches.  Now, I just need my floral-printed skirt, a lacy crop-top, and my pair of Deena & Ozzy boots (yes, I’ve been planning too) and I am good to go!

Check out these services and more for yourself this week, July 29th-July 31st, 11:00am to 2:00pm and August 1st–August 3rd, 10:00am to 4:00pm.  

Studio Paris Keeps the Party Going: Lollapalooza weekend

The biggest music festival of the summer is upon us. Thousands will flood Grant Park for

Lollapalooza this weekend and as always it’s sure to be epic! The party doesn’t stop there though. It gets crazier after Lolla shuts down for the night. The Lolla after parties are in full effect after hours at Studio Paris, Chicago’s premiere nightlife destination for the sexy and stylish!

Studio Paris
has one of the best nightclub spaces in the windy city boasting an unparalleled audio-visual experience in a modern space! Studio Paris also features an outdoor lounge seating area under a retractable glass roof that opens up to showcase the Chicago cityscape! It’s undoubtedly the place to party after Lollapalooza!

The Lolla weekend events at Studio Paris are selling out fast! So make sure to check out www.studioparis.wantickets.com and for table reservations call 312-377-9944 or email studioparis@leye.com. Make it an epic Lolla weekend !

Location: 59 W. Hubbard Street, Second Floor, Chicago, IL 60654

Wednesday, July 30:
· Studio Paris – AcE

Studio Sessions welcomes Will Smith’s son, Trey Smith, better known as DJ AcE, to officially kick off Lollapalooza weekend with a night of vibrant house music.

Thursday, July 31:
· Studio Paris – Rev Run and Ruckus

Known as a hip-hop legend and Run-D.M.C. founder, Rev Run combines forces with Ruckus, who has been hailed as “the most sought after DJ in the world,” for what is sure to be one of the most energetic and entertaining performances of the weekend.

Friday, August 1:
· Studio Paris – Iggy Azalea and VICE

Australian recording artist Iggy Azalea, who’s best known for her new song “Fancy” will bring her unique vibe to Studio Paris alongside VICE, one of THE hottest DJs, for an Official Lolla Aftershow.

Saturday, August 2:
· Studio Paris – Calvin Harris

Following his festival performance, hailed Scottish DJ Calvin Harris – whose raw talent finds the balance between electro house and dance-pop – will perform a special DJ set at this Official Lolla Aftershow.

Sunday, August 3
· Studio Paris – DJ Jazzy Jeff

Studio Paris regular, DJ Jazzy Jeff, is known for his flawless turntable skills and musical versatility, and will host the Lollapalooza Weekend Closing Party.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fashion Essentials for Men and Woman

Hey Halfstackers! Design intern, Shaylee here. Today we have 5 must have garments for every man and woman. Every woman needs some chic aviator ray bands and gold watch. Check out these trendy, brown booties to give a little more height. You can dress them up or down. Black jeans with a distressed look adds great style to any outfit, along with this leather black jacket. We also have some great style tips for men! Colorful ties and nice button downs are a must haves for every wardrobe. Along with some colorful polo shirts and dark jeans.

Image Credit

Check out our fashion essentials from brands like Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and more!
Aviator RayBans, Booties, Leather Jacket, Gold Watch, Black Jeans, Tie, Polo Shirt, Jeans, Collared Longsleeve, Khaki Pants 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Fashion - HSM Style Icon - Meet Rachel of Suburban Style Challenge

Rachel of Suburban Style Challenge truly proves that you don't need to live in the city to be chic, cool or on top of fashion. She's a blogger based out of Hoffman Estates, IL and style blogging is more than a hobby to her, it is a way of life. She's fun, quirky and isn't afraid to poke fun at herself. 

She doesn't take herself too seriously and that's what we here at Halfstack love most about her. Rather than being an overly serious, stuffy and a slave to trends, Rachel pushes herself to find her own style. It's a challenge she isn't afraid to face and we hope you readers are inspired by her lead. Enjoy today's Friday Fashion & Style Icon and don't forget we are accepting submissions through the end of this year! Learn more HERE.

Can you tell us more about you and where you are from?

I grew up in Deerfield, IL and after graduating from Bradley University, moved back to the Chicago ‘burbs. Currently, I live in Hoffman Estates and work in Schaumburg. At Bradley, I majored in communications with an advertising focus. I’m 32 years old and married with a wonderful rescue mutt-dog named Trixie (and no kids). I used to be a big car enthusiast, and still am by association thanks to my husband, who works in that industry, but I’m not into it as much myself any longer. I love to read, spend time outdoors (especially with the dog), do crafty stuff, shop, and laugh (even if it’s at myself). I don’t particularly like doing laundry or dishes, and currently my fridge has more beer than food in it. I’ve also discovered that I really enjoy yoga, and have been trying to do it more often.

Can you tell us more about your blog, how long you’ve been blogging and why you started it?

I started Suburban Style Challenge about three years ago. I’d been blogging in one form or another for years, but noticed that most of the local style blogs were written by girls who lived or worked in the city, making their blogs very city-focused. At the same time, most of the suburban-based blogs were very mom-oriented. Friends and family have long complemented my style and my nose for a good deal, and at the urging of a few close friends, SSC was born, filling a void in the bloggy world (or at least I like to think that’s the case).

Do you blog for a living or do you have a day job, if so what do you do?

Blogging is my “whenever I have time” gig. By day, I’m a Creative Marketing Manager for a company that makes computer peripherals. I’m in charge of everything from website and sales collateral design to packaging design and the overall management of the company’s brand. It’s a pretty awesome job, and not only is my inner nerd allowed to come out and play, but I have the freedom to wear pretty much anything I want to the office (within reason, of course).

Can you tell us more about your personal style and how it developed over time?

I’ve had a long, interesting personal style journey. I once longed to fit into the “cool” crowd, and then gave up and started wearing what I wanted to wear. When I graduated college and got my first job, I had to start dressing “business casual” (a term I can’t stand, to be honest), and II interpreted that as “boring”. My closet became filled with yawn-worthy clothes that fit the dress code more than my style. Eventually I changed jobs and went somewhere where my creativity was, to some degree, allowed to show in my dress. I used that freedom to figure out who I was, style-wise, and in the past couple years have really begun to realize what I’m comfortable in and why. I read a book called I Have Nothing To Wear!: A Painless 12-Step Program to Declutter Your Life So You Never Have to Say This Again! (by Jill Martin and Dana Ravich) that I recommend to everyone struggling with their style, which helped immensely with that journey and figuring out that my style leans more towards “rockstar” than anything else.

I’ve always been a little more comfortable in worn, easy items (like jeans and a tee with Chucks or boots). Currently, I’m digging fun, unique, thrifted finds, as well as the sporty-chic look that’s on trend right now. I like mixing things--textures or patterns--and I like skulls, layered necklaces, and things that remind me of the 90’s. I own a lot of black, though I’ve been trying really hard to move away from that lately, and realize that the amount of shoes I have is ridiculously impractical. Admitting it’s the first step, right?

What are some of your favorite brands to shop?

Well, I love thrifting lately, and seem to have really good luck at both Savers and Goodwill, but I’ll wander into Salvation Army or any of the local shops too (Home of the Sparrow, Wings, and Shelter Inc. are ones I frequent). Plato’s Closet and Clothes Mentor are also resale shops I’ll go in (both to buy and sell). For trendy stuff, I usually turn to Forever21 first, but I shop often at H&M, Kohl’s, and Target, with frequent trips into GAP, Old Navy (I love their active line), DSW, and Express. I’ll even peek into Discovery if there’s something trendy that I don’t want to spend a lot of money on. I used to be big into Marshalls/TJ Maxx, but feel like I can find better deals elsewhere now. I also shop online a lot, with UrbanOg and GoJane being my go-to shoe haunts, and 9th & Elm being my number one stop for jewelry. Reality is, I’ll meander into any store that has a sale sign out, and have no qualms about going into stores that I’m clearly not the target market for (like Wet Seal, Hot Topic, and Urban Outfitters), and frequently peruse the boys’ and men’s sections. Largely, I’m more concerned about how something looks or fits over where it’s from or who it was “designed” for.

What/who are you listening to? Reading? Lusting after?

Right now I’m deep into reading the Game of Thrones series. I’m a big fan of the show and have finally gotten a chance to sit down and start reading the books, which I’m enjoying immensely. Normally I’ll have a few books “on deck” at the same time, but it’s just Game of Thrones right now--it deserves my full attention when I can get to it. I’ve got a very long list of “must read” books queued up though, including some old favorites, like Island of the Blue Dolphins and Of Mice and Men.

Aside from that, all I can think about lately is upgrading my technology. I need a new cell phone, but am trying to wait until November so I can upgrade for cheap. I also really want a new camera, even though I picked up a replacement for my 5 year-old point-and-shoot at the beginning of the year. I regrettably didn’t investigate using a remote with the new camera (it’s 2014, so I didn’t expect that to be an issue), and it’s not compatible with anything, which makes outfit shots a bit more of a hassle than they should be. I also need to upgrade my 9-year-old laptop, but haven’t quite decided which direction I want to go there yet, and we have a desktop at home so there’s no huge hurry.

What are your favorite guilty pleasure shows and why?

I can pretty much always sit down and watch some form of Law & Order (SVU is my favorite). I also enjoy Game of Thrones, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., Hannibal, The Carrie Diaries, Walking Dead, Project Runway, American Horror Story, and recently started watching Penny Dreadful. I also enjoy watching Chopped, but haven’t watched in ages because it always makes me hungry, and I never seem to have much food around the house. I was going to say I don’t watch much TV, but with it all written out like that, I’m thinking I watch more than I think I do.

If you were granted three wishes, what would they be and why?

Uh, this question is one I always struggle with. I want to be selfish, you know, but I also want to be selfless and help others. It would be nice to have the financial freedom to be able to work part-time without struggling to make ends meet or worrying about insurance or future planning. Then I could spend more time on hobbies I enjoy (like blogging, but also painting and crafting), but also volunteer at local animal shelters or charity thrift stores. I used to wish I didn’t need glasses, but recently I’ve grown to not mind wearing them, so perhaps my wish would be that my vision were better so glasses weren’t so darn expensive. And finally, I wish it were easier for women to support each other, instead of putting each other down so much. I’ve been trying to be less negative, both about myself and others, and never really realized just how much “hating” goes on until I started focusing on it. We’re a much greater force to be reckoned with, ladies, if we stand together!

What gives you confidence and do you have any suggestions on how women and men can find their true self and confidence?

A few years ago I starting thinking about how I look at myself, and made a decision to stop looking at myself and focusing on the negative things I saw. Instead, I decided I’d find one thing I was happy with at that moment, and appreciate that. At first, it was really hard! After years of being “trained” to think everything was wrong with myself, it was difficult to find even one thing to think positive about. But each day it got easier and easier, and I quickly discovered that it helped me walk out of the house feeling better about myself. The positivity has even changed how I look at life. So give it a shot… instead of obsessing over [insert something you don’t like here] find something you do like, and obsess over that for a minute or two, and ignore whatever it is you don’t like. And keep at it, focusing on the good things you see instead of the bad.

Finally, where can we learn more about you and follow you on social media?

You can keep up with the blog at www.suburbanstylechallenge.com. I’m also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/suburbanstylechallenge), Twitter (www.twitter.com/sstylechallenge), Pinterest (www.pinterest.com/racheljay), and Instagram (www.instagram.com/racheljayssc). Oh, and the photos for this feature were all taken by Chicago photographer Moe Martinez. You can (and should) check out his work at www.moemartinez.com.

Information on my looks

Naturally broken-in Seven brand skinny jeans (purchased years ago at either TJ Maxx or Marshalls), grey Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars (you can find them various places, including DSW and Kohl’s), a Muppets tee, and a plaid flannel (both of which are probably older than the jeans, and I can’t recall where I got them). My necklaces are mostly old, but the long one is the Stella & Dot Sahara Pendant. My belt is from GAP, and also quite old. The cuff is, I believe, from Charming Charlie. Trixie was adopted from 4 Paws 4 U 4 Ever in West Chicago, IL and frequently adds her own touch to my looks with a dusting of dog fur.

These dalmation print pants are H&M, but came to me via Goodwill. The studded top is Forever21, but was a Plato’s Closet find. The booties are from MakeMeChic.com, but quite a few years old. The denim moto jacket is an old GAP favorite, but they’ve been doing similar ones lately.

The vintage and well-worn Scottie Pippen Bulls jersey is from Goodwill (a boy’s section gem), and is tucked into an H&M lace skirt. The clutch was purchased at the Shelter Inc thrift store in Schaumburg. My necklace is old, but from Express, the earrings are from ShopBevel (which, sadly, no longer seems to exist), and my watch is the Michael Kors Limited Edition Paris watch via the Michigan City, Indiana Fossil Outlet (yup Fossil makes watches for Michael Kors). My clear wedge shoes are either from UrbanOg.com or GoJane.com (they have a lot of the same styles, and I shop at both often enough to forget where I order things from, ha).

The sports bra is from Kohl’s, and the asymmetrical, oversized striped top is from Discovery (and rather old). The collar necklace and sweatpants (yes, those are sweats, and super comfortable) are both from Plato’s Closet, while my shoes are from GoJane.com. My black leather bag is Coach via the Coach Outlet in Michigan City, Indiana, and it is my go-to everyday bag.

A Holistic Approach to Natural Beauty & Health: Reduce Stress & Chronic Inflammation!

Wouldn't it be something if there was a magic pill that, in an instant, could give you beautiful & healthy skin, hair, nails? In other words, a healthy body instantly?  If we were really honest, we'd love it if we didn't have to work at being our best selves.  But it is every bit worth the time we commit to this goal of treating our "whole" being to health & wellness.  I think the holistic approach not only involves what we feed our bodies, but how we treat our bodies and what we feed our minds.   Meditation, massage, journaling and getting enough sleep are just a few ways that can help keep us in a relaxed state of mind.   All are stress reducers and that's one of the keys: REDUCE STRESS!  On-going stress eventually shows up in any number of ways, including wrinkled, sagging skin; thinning or dry hair; and brittle, split nails. Stress can play havoc with our body's immune system too and contribute to increased inflammation.

Image Link

By reducing stress we can also help our bodies reduce inflammation.   Even though our bodies need a certain amount of inflammation to help with infections and healing from an injury (acute), studies have shown that CHRONIC INFLAMMATION is a problem.  Acute inflammation is our body's healthy immune response, but lingering (chronic) inflammation can weaken the body over time and cause all types of problems with our health!  

On my website, www.balancedbabe.com, I'm a  big proponent of eating healthy which includes foods high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants combat free radicals and it's important to know that the accumulation of free radicals contribute greatly to inflammation.  Free radicals are basically unstable molecules that look for stable molecules with the intent of stealing their stability.  So once free radicals steal from healthy, stable molecules, then all kinds of health problems can start. (By the way, our cells are mostly made up of molecules.)  So getting control of free radicals can boost our immune system and reduce inflammation.

So to recap, stress is bad for our immune system and can cause inflammation which, in turn, can cause all types of chronic disease.   Being mindful of stress reducers: including, but not limited to,  plenty of sleep, adequate exercise, time set aside for rest and rejuvenation; and reducing inflammation by eating foods high in antioxidants (including plant-based) will go a long way in your path to better health and beautiful skin.

NOTE: Studies suggest that consuming yogurt and probiotics for gut health can significantly improve inflammation, since a large percentage of your immune system is in your gut. Check out: NOW Foods Probiotic-10 25 Billion, 50 Vcaps.

There is also a blood test available called "C-Reactive Protein" which can measure the amount of inflammation in your body.  This is generally a test given if there is a history of heart disease.  If you want to know more about this, consult with your health practitioner.

Ways to reduce chronic inflammation  is another example of being mindful of what you eat. The foods you consume can reduce chronic inflammation and even reverse it, if you choose wisely. Remember to always think about where your food came from, how it was produced, and what is in it! Nourish your body!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Deltaz Close Out Their Week in Chicago at Moe's Tavern Tonight

Southern California roots band The Deltaz are enjoying their peaceful stay in Chicago this week, which ends tonight with a show at Moe's Tavern on Milwaukee. Yes, like TheSimpsons, but real. The guys in the band, brothers John and Ted Siegel, are happy with our Midwestern oasis in the middle of a long tour that has shown them the best and worst of America's quirks.

But their week in Chicago has been uneventful. They like it that way, especially when compared with the nightmare imagery they saw in New Orleans recently.

Ted tells it best. I don't need to get all literary an interjection-y with narration.

“We saw two guys get jumped in New Orleans, like, bloody. That was kind of strange. It was horrific. We were coming out of a gig in New Orleans. We'd heard about how New Orleans is kind of crime ridden with violence. We didn't think too much of it. You know, you can be kind of ignorant when you're in a new place. We were coming out of a show and all of a sudden these two big guys, big touristy looking guys, come running up to us and they were covered in blood. It looked unreal. They were like, 'Oh my God, we were just jumped and robbed. Someone call the police.' They were covered in blood. It was actually kind of a frightening experience.”

John, recognizing the robbers could still be around, made a sound decision.

We just hurried back to our car and left,” he says.

They were glad to put that night behind them to focus on the rest of their time on the road.

On one hand, John is excited for their upcoming western swing to the mountainous state of Colorado, but he's also a bit reticent because of its uniquely challenging geography.

I used to have asthma … You get out of breath really easily,” John, the percussionist and harmonica player, says about regulating his breathing at altitude.

He says he's mostly gotten over it through the constant cardiovascular exercise that comes with being behind a drum kit. He says it helps that the harmonica is an instrument that allows the player to breathe both in and out while playing it.

But it's not all challenges on tour. They did a float trip down a Tennessee river and fired their first guns in Texas with a tourmate's ex-Marine brother.

“He heard we're from California and we'd never shot a gun before,” Ted says.

“We didn't just shoot one gun,” John says.

“We shot a whole range of guns,” Ted says. “We did shotguns and rifles and hand guns and all that stuff.”

“We're not really proud of it, but you should shoot a gun once in your life,” John says.

These are peaceful brothers. They're more interested in playing their shows at their local bar, the Old Place, which has been immortalized in their bluegrassy ode, “This Old Place” and where they occasionally get to hang out with Neil Young's touring bassist, Rick Rosas, and talk about the legends of their chosen profession.

“There's two archetypal figures in our genre, that would be Hank Williams, Sr., and Robert Johnson,” Ted says. “You can draw so much from [them].”

They have learned much, from the detailed story songs of Williams to the swampy, pinky slide-assisted blues of Johnson. Their music sounds like it is written and recorded inside a bog, with no over-production to be found, pure bare bones.

“There's this really diluted pop music” currently dominating the country charts, Ted says, and he and his brother look to remedy that, because the tradition they see in country and blues music is stronger than the fleeting songs we hear now about how good girls look in blue jeans.

“It's the most distilled form, American blues music,” Ted says. “We go through all these parts of the South and we get to play with all these different musicians, and it makes me at least proud to be an American.”

So grab a beer at Moe's tonight to send these American troubadours off to their next destination.

Child of Light is now Available on the Playstation Vita!

Does a videogame constitute art? This is a debate that has crossed the videogame industry more than once in it's brief history as an outlet for entertainment; recent releases have began to have a more concrete answer for this question!

Child of Light is one of these recent titles, and with a focus on an art style that is inspired by the Golden Age of Illustration it can truly turn heads as a form of art unto itself. The story follows a young girl from late-19th century Austria(The story lends itself well to it's art style.) who contracts a physical illness that causes her to fall into a slumber, only to awake in a fantastical world that is at odds with a wicked queen whom the main character must confront in a grand quest.

The small team of Ubisoft Montreal responsible for the development of Child of Light used Ubisoft’s powerful "UbiArt Framework," a development engine that allows programmers and artists to work more closely together than they would in a more traditional development environment by allowing the direct insertion and manipulation of concept art. This method has allowed Child of Light to maintain as close a vision as possible to the original concept the artists had. Mix this with the variety of character dialogue, which also uses hand drawn concept art to portray, and you have what could be the very definition of an "Artistic videogame."

With it's art style the game also takes a unique approach to game play that few titles in the past have, it utilizes the classic run and jump platforming of retro-era games with the RPG-esque elements that are common in the Japanese market of videogames.

With a release on all major consoles, Windows, and now (as of this month) Playstation Vita, Child of Light looks as though it is attempting to propose a direct challenge to those outside the mainstream gamer community, and more to those who would likely tell you a videogame cannot be art!

If you would like to know more about Child of Light, you can check out the game's page on Ubisoft's website.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Using Street Art to Get Kids to Stay Hydrated

Children can be difficult creatures. They're little havoc machines. They yell, they're hyper, their hands are sticky with who knows what. And they spill. Boy, oh boy, do they spill. That liter of Coke you had on the table for the family party? It's now on the floor, pooling around the cat. Your glass of wine? A tossed plush bear takes care of that. It may have something to do with them consuming sugar at alarming rates.

It's not necessarily a good thing for them to do that, despite what every television commercial break might make you think. This is something WAT-AAH, a bottled water company based in New York, is acutely aware of.

WAT-AAH's founder and CEO, Rose Cameron, said her kids' unhealthy eating and drinking habits made her rethink her own choices. As someone who used to do advertising and marketing for places like Hershey's Chocolate, Cameron tried to think of positive ways to impact her kids' lives.

“They were consuming sodas, Fanta, Coke, Sprite, [so] I said, 'I'm going to have to figure out a way to convince them [to drink water],'” she says.

Therein, of course, lies the rub. How do you convince children to do anything? Getting them involved and making them feel like they have a stake in their choices helps, Cameron says.

“The foundation of WAT-AAH is always to make water cool and exciting to kids, because to them it's boring,” she says. “The original bottle designs were done by my kids, actually, the boy with the big mouth screaming, 'Drink WAT-AAH!'”

Cameron thought more was possible to make her kids think water was a good, cool idea.

“They wanted something that's not conventional, something that would break the rules, one that would grab kids' attention,” she says.

Three years after beginning the brand, Cameron took a walk with her kids around New York City, where they saw a mural done by street artist Kenny Scharf.

“[Her kids] said, 'Mommy, you gotta put that on your bottle to make it even cooler.'”

Around this time, Partnership for a Healthier America, whose chairperson is First Lady Michelle Obama, began a program called Drink Up, and contacted Cameron about working on it.

“I said to myself, once I got to know [the organization], 'This would be a great opportunity to bring in that idea that my son had,'” she says. “Why don't I invite all these street artists and see if they're into it as much as I am to incorporate their art and their creativity to develop an original piece that would be translated into a label for the bottles.”

She contacted Scharf, whose mural had captured her kids' attention.

“He right away loved the agenda, said, 'I'm in,'” she says.

Scharf's reputation in the New York street art scene garnered interest from 14 of his peers, and they partnered with Cameron on an art exhibit in New York this past February, featuring the original artwork that would soon be translated into WAT-AAH bottle labels.

“My promise to Drink Up and the First Lady is to take this national,” she says, and they have already started with exhibits in Washington D.C., and last weekend they were in Chicago showing artwork at Moonlight Studios.

Cameron says these exhibits, and the bottle labels they help produce, go a long way toward making children eager to drink water over sugary cans of diabetes.

“Once you see those bottles, young and old, you gravitate towards them, you want to hold them, you want to drink them,” she says. “My kids explained this, 'I can now relate to the bottle even more.'”

This should be music to the ears of the artists whose work made up the exhibit, like New Yorker Smurfo U Dirty, who had two pieces and also pulled double duty as the event's DJ.

“[The pieces are] from a series I'm doing right now, called Monsters of My Mind,” which is inspired by what his mother said when she saw the first pieces in the set. “I'm making a bunch of monsters, taking different styles of cartoons and basically making them into my own versions of my own monsters and characters of myself.”

His work is a cuddlier, abstract version of the Cartoon Network style for WAT-AAH, not the darker places one's imagination might go when hearing those words.

And they, like the rest of the exhibit, are bright. Dayglow yellows, oranges, and reds are placed opposite pastels, with a sense of athletic fluidity to every brushstroke. There's urgency and activity to what Smurfo and his Drink Up cohorts do, and that trickles down to the labels they create.

I respect the whole agenda and the whole movement that WAT-AAH is doing, I think it's actually working,” he says. “I see a lot of kids [and] I'm getting a lot of enthusiasm from adults my own age – I'm 25 – a lot of people are on board with this.”

But Cameron and exhibit artists like Smurfo didn't want to be seen as carpet baggers from afar, and they recognized Chicago's street art scene as nothing to sneeze at. Cameron contacted Chicago artist POSE about doing a pre-show experiment with “young, up-and-coming graffiti and street artists” on a mural at Racine and Lake to promote the event and the brand's hydration message.  They combined with the original 14 artists to have a burgeoning exhibit of 35.

POSE says he spent the time “ kind of mentoring them through the process” of making a street mural, which some of them had not done.

In a weird way it was more fulfilling doing it with them than just doing it myself,” he says.

As someone who's spent his whole life doing graffiti and street art, I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to showcase my work for a good cause,” he says, because he's a father of two daughters. “Being someone who didn't have a preset plan and I was able to find something, it's really fun to be able to help mentor kids who maybe are sort of a mirror image of what I was, to help them see their vision through.”

From POSE's experiences, it sounds like WAT-AAH's and Drink Up's plans are coming to fruition.

“I appreciate them being so invested,” he says.

For more photos of the event, check out Rob's personal blog, Defeating Boredom.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Ms. Cameron had a daughter with diabetes.  It was misheard in transcription.  We regret the mistake.

Seeing Spots Roundup

Hey Halfstackers! Design intern, Shaylee here. We have put together a round up of all things polka dotted! Polka dots are a great way to add some funk to any outfit. We have found some trendy ways to bring polka dots in to your every day looks. Throw on a cute polka dotted headband with a chic dress for any occasion. Try some polka dotted pants with a simple top, or a polka dotted pullover with some trendy cut off jean shorts. Want to bring some polka dots to work? Try this polka dotted blazer with a black pencil skirt or simple polka dotted dress.

Image Credit

Check out our polka dotted items from brands like Forever21 and NastyGal! 

Event Recap – Art & Film Phest at The HUB

Last week I was delighted to attend the first of its kind Art & Film Phest, put together by Damian Moran and Amanda DiCosola with Bartend Chicago, ERA Galleries and Synergy Productions. The aim of this event was to bring together creative minds to network and showcase their work.

It was held at The HUB, an industrial workspace re-purposed as an event space for the first time, which turned out great. The main events for the evening were a screening of the short film Kicking Rooster by Blue Jacket Films and a live performance by ZOO.

There was also amazing artwork and vintage jewelry on display. Artwork by ERA artists Max & TJ and jewelry by EmilyCity.

As a pre-event to Phish playing this weekend, this turned out really good. It brought the community together to enjoy free drinks, food, art, music & film.

Sally Cox
HSM Account Exec & Event Blogger

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Windycity Smokeout Recap

A couple of weekends ago Halfstack had the opportunity to check out the Windy City Smokeout. It was a great weekend of good music and amazing food. This summer festival was one of the hotspots to hit this season for BBQ and country music.

With locals like Elizabeth Lyons (CMT New Featured Artist) and big names like the Eli Young Band, it's not a surprise that the event was packed all weekend long. The lineup was coordinated in partnership with Ed Warm, partner of Bub City and owner of Joe's Bar on Weed Street.

A slew of interesting, unique and hungry people filled a once empty parking lot at the intersection of Grand and River in the loop not too far from the East Bank Club right along the Chicago River. The event was sponsored by: Coors Light, Jack Daniels, Rib Shack Red, Giesen, Joe's Bar, Pub City, Pitmaster Q3, Uber, Chicago Speedway, Lettuce Entertain You, Martins, Yelp, Red's, Redbull, Leinenkugels, Don, La Columbe and Empire Cooler Service. The event highlighted and featured some of the best pitmasters from Chicago and nationwide.

Of all the spots we experienced, one pitmaster stood out from the rest. Lee Ann Whippen is best known for appearing on "TLC's Pitmasters Series" and "Throwdown with Bobby Flay". Yet, she is also the Chef/Partner of Chicago Q - Chicago's very own modern, urban Barbecue experience. The team was pleasantly surprised to see Lee Ann on site at the event and took the opportunity to speak with her about the process of prepping her top dishes showcased at the Smokeout.

The Halfstack team tried Q's smoked ribs with their house spicy BBQ sauce on the side along with their specialty corn salad. When it comes to ribs, typically the sauce is what carries the dish. Yet, when the Halfstacker team took a bite out of the fleshy smoked ribs, there was  a taste explosion. The meat itself was juicy, flavorful and not bland. The ribs carried their own and the sauce was just the cherry on top. When asked what she did to ensure the meat was so flavorful, she shared some insider tips. Rather than utilize gas, they only use charcoal or wood driven smokes. That is what truly helps to ensure their ribs have that special taste.

They also utilize a special cherry wood for their smokes and they always liberally apply their very own pig powder dry rub to the meat with the back membrane removed. The removal of the membrane allows the dry rub to permeate through the meat and the team uses an apple sauce spray periodically to help add the finishing crunch. This special attention to detail really ensured that the end product was genuinely tasty and cooked well.

What struck us most was the fact that Lee Ann was out there in the field doing her thing. As a successful chef,  she truly takes a hands on approach to her work. Rather than staying behind the scenes or running her business from afar, Lee Ann believes that it is important for her customers to see where their food is coming from and to be there to ensure they get only the highest quality product.

Overall, this was a great opportunity for BBQ enthusiasts and music lovers alike to enjoy a weekend out in the city. Event attendees even had the opportunity to enjoy a special meet, greet and tasting with pitmasters like Lee Ann to learn BBQ tips, tricks and secrets straight from some of the nation's most successful experts. This is one event we will be looking forward to for next year!

Storefront Sets Up Shop In Chicago

I have heard of renting a car, hotel room or even a roller rink by the day, but a Store front?  That's a new one!  Storefront is a pop-up retail company that makes it possible for companies to rent out retail space, short-term.  Originally based in San Francisco, Storefront made it's debut in Chicago last week at Lacuna Artists Loft - Reverie Gallery.  

On July 1st, Storefront had a soft opening at Jackson Junge Gallery, 1389 N Milwaukee ave, to officially announce their expansion to Chicago.  Chicagoans were invited to view a pop-up art exhibit while enjoying tasty cocktails and appetizers.  

Private Event Manager/Gallery Assistant, Lauren Brescia co-hosted the event.  

Halfstack:  How did the partnership between Jackson Junge Gallery and Storefront form for this event?

Lauren:  Storefront contacted the gallery in the beginning of June inquiring about event rental.  One of their employees who recently relocated from Chicago to San Francisco, had lived in Wicker Park for a few years and was familiar with our gallery.  She told the Storefront staff that our space would be perfect for their smaller “soft launch” event.  Following the initial inquiry, there was a series of phone calls and emails that both explained the concept behind their company and resulted in Jackson Junge Gallery becoming a member of the Storefront community.  We now have our own profile and event rental listing.
 HS:  How do you think the event turned out?

LB: The event acted as a marketing tool, not only for this new enterprise for Storefront, but for our gallery rentals.  We were really happy that Storefront selected our space for their Chicago “soft launch”, because it brought in a lot of industry contacts that we were able to network with during the event. 

HS: What are your thoughts on the movement Storefront is bringing to Chicago?

LB:  I for one, am tired of Chicago being referred to as the “Second City”.  Chicago is booming in many ways right now, and I think we should have every business venture/opportunity that other big cities like New York and L.A. have to offer.  I really like the concept behind Storefront, in that it gives people a database of unique retail, event, and gallery spaces that are available to rent whether it be for one night or one month.  I am a huge supporter of pop-up spaces, as I actually operated my own pop-up gallery in the loop for three months, a few years ago.  There are so many great vacant and under appreciated spaces in the city that could be put to good use, hopefully Storefront will be able to capitalize on that.  Most importantly, Storefront will be giving small/independent businesses another method of bringing in additional (and often much needed) revenue.

For more information on Storefront and venue rentals, visit www.thestorefront.com