Sunday, September 30, 2012

Condo Renovations: My Bathroom

Scott and I had the entire afternoon today with no major plans (Bears aren't playing til MNF afterall!)  and decided to do the second to last project on our condo to-do list: replace my bathroom faucet.  After a quick trip to Menard's for supplies, we were ready to tackle the project.

I had some errands to run, so Scott dropped me off.  I thought he'd wait to do the project with my help, but instead he (kindly) did the entire project without me.  He said it was mostly easy, but that the pedestal sink made it a challenge because it didn't allow much room between the wall and the sink... I think.  Anyway, here are before and after shots:

It's tough to tell in the picture, but it's a huge upgrade.  My old faucet was fine, but this one is like a piece of jewelry sitting atop my sink.  Plus, it doesn't leak like the old one.. so that's a plus :) 

Anyway, thanks to my capable and hardworking Scottie for doing this for me! 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

blog recommendation

My parents are currently traveling across Europe, jetting from Athens to Venice to Nice and beyond.  If you're interested in following their travels, my mom is blogging their trip:

My mom is great with words, and their pictures are making me crazy with travel fever.  I am loving their blog and thought you might enjoy, too!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Quote of the Day: Desire Distilled

"When all your desires are distilled, you will cast just two votes:  to love more, and be happy" - Hafiz of Persia

on Obama: WTFU

My brother Joe sent me this clip, and I love it.  Thought you might enjoy, too.

Be warned, however, that the title of the clip is "Wake the F*** Up"... so maybe don't watch it if you can't get over that :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Happy birthday, Matt!

Twenty six years ago today, my brother Matt was born and I took on one of the favorite roles of my lifetime: sister.

Twenty six years (and three more brothers) later, I'm thrilled to be a sister to such great boys men.

Happy birthday, Matt!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spaghetti Squash

Scott and I made Spaghetti Squash tonight and it was healthy, easy and delicious. A triple threat.

This will definitely be going in to the Special Fam dinner rotation.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Photo of the Day: Dinner Edition

Scott whipped up a random and delicious dinner the other day that I just had to show you.  Not only did I come home to a delicious and hot-out-of-the-oven dinner, but he also took pictures for me because he knows I'm always looking for blog material.  

So without further ado, Scott's famous asparagus wrapped roll-ups.  A thick stem of asparagus with a small piece of sharp cheddar wrapped in a crescent roll.  Cooked in the oven for a few minutes and boom.  Done.  Delicious.

Add that to a homemade spicy broccoli slaw?  Dinner perfected.  A little carb, a little green, a little heat.  

Thanks Scottie, you rock.  Thanks for keeping me from eating Lean Cuisines and cereal every night.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Ranks in Chicago

I have mentioned before how much I like my family, and this weekend was no exception.  Friday night brought my cousin Josh and his wife Laura to Chicago a triple date with Matt and Kelly and Scott and me.

We had lots to celebrate - Matt and Kelly's engagement, and Laura's birthday.  We visited three different places in Chicago (none of which I had been to before) and it was just a great night with family.

on will

My cousin Laura gave birth to a son yesterday, William Joseph.  I can't even type that sentence without awkwardly tearing up at my desk.  I am beyond thrilled for their entire family - my lovely cousin and her husband, of course, but also the overjoyed aunts, and grandparents and extended family.  Welcome to the world, Will!  You are so loved.  I cannot wait to meet you.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

on princess kate and photographers

Much was made last week over Princess Catherine's nude photo scandal.  (Two things: one, I realize I'm a week late in writing this.  And two, she'll always be Kate Middleton to me).  People across the world decried her invasion of privacy, and spoke of how despicable the photogs were that took such intimate and intrusive photos.

While I agree with much of that sentiment, and can't imagine making my living in a way that harms  someone else so personally, I also think there's another perspective: if you don't want topless photos of you taken, don't take your top off.

I am almost always on the side of the victim, and I certainly feel for Kate.  But c'mon.  You're among the most recognizable women in the entire world, you're a princess, and photographers are pounding down your door to get the best shot... and you sunbathe topless?  Outside?

In an era of Facebook updates and iPhones and news spreading by the second, we all need to be aware of the fact that our photo could be snapped at almost any given time... and especially if you're a princess.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quote of the Day: Bread Edition

"Many toil hard to earn a loaf, when a slice is sufficient" - Dutch Proverb

*Found this quotation in my Grandmother's "From Thy Bounty" cookbook

Quote of the Day: Brains Edition

“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow" - Woodrow Wilson

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Quote of the Day: Exceptions Edition

“The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions" - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Firefly Run: Soundtrack

I mentioned that I loved my soundtrack to the Firefly Run, and after a gentle nudge from two of my faves, here it is:

1) Springsteen (Eric Church)
2) Rain On the Roof (Chad Warrix)
3) Slice (Five For Fighting)
4) Somebody That I Used To Know (the cover by Daniel Rosa from The Voice)
5) Just Say Yes (Snow Patrol)
6) Everybody Talks (Neon Trees)
7) If You Could See Me Now (The Script)
8) Good Ol' Days (The Script)
9) Six Degrees of Separation (The Script)
10) Mr. Jones (Counting Crows)
11) Dirt Road Anthem (Jason Alden)
12) Let It Rock (Kevin Rudolf + Lil Wayne)
13) Slow Jamz (Twista + Kanye)
14) Shattered (OAR)

I started with "Everybody Talks" and set it on random.  I loved it and will definitely be using it for other runs.

Quote of the Day: Exclamation Point

“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke" - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

23) Participate in Fantasy Football

I participated in Fantasy Football last year for the first time, and finished the season in the lower end of the spectrum (but not dead last:).  I don't remember the exact ranker, but maybe sixth or seventh out of ten.

This year, I am determined to do better than that... and the season is off to a great start.  I'm currently third out of 12.  (And if it were based upon points only, I'd be in second place, trailing the first place by less than 2 points).

Participating in a FF league sure makes the games more interesting - it gives me a reason to pay attention to games other than my favorite Bears.

Quote of the Day: Winning Edition

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next" - George Steinbrenner

Monday, September 17, 2012

Quote of the Day: Walk Tall

“Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak arabic, love music, and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers, and warriors" - Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Race Recap: Firefly Run 10K

Last night Scott and I did a couple things that we've never done before: we ran a nighttime race and we ran a 10K.

The race was the Firefly Run, and the race was unique in that it started at dusk (7:30PM) and snaked around the Lakeview lakefront with all runners wearing neon, glowsticks, and blinking lights.  As part of the registration packet, each runner was given two stretchy bands with bright red blinking lights - I wore them both on one arm, Scott wore them on his leg.  Other people did combinations - legs, arm, neck, hair, ankle.  

Before the race, I was wavering - do I try my first 10K or do I stick with the "safer" (and definitely easier) 5K?  Scott was going for the 10K and I couldn't let him show me up, so 10K it was.  

It was a gorgeous night for a run - low 60 degree temperatures and very little breeze.  

The first mile of the race I flew through, and beat my previous single mile record.  The adrenaline was pumping, and I was surrounded by really legit runners.  (I must say that the difference between the 5K run/walkers and the 10K runners was astonishing... the 10K'ers were just so physically fit!)  It was inspiring, and it really gave me a renewed desire to be a runner.

Mile two was the hardest mile for me, and I haven't figured out why.  I really struggled through the second half of the mile, and at this point I'm thinking "four more effing miles?!"  After mile two, I cruised through 3-5.5, not at my fasted speed (it was definitely a slower paced race for me, but to my credit it was double the length of my normal runs) but slow and steady, one foot after the other, and found myself actually enjoying it.  I was rocking out, the people around me where cruising, and I just felt good.  This was the first race that I enjoyed running - and that's a benchmark worth celebrating.

Scott recently told me that he typically runs a race "for" someone - that he has a person in mind while he's running, and that inspires him to kick it up a notch, and push through even when he gets tired.  I loved this idea, and first put it to the test during my run last Tuesday night... and it really worked for me, so I did the same thing for this race.   I ran each mile "for" someone in my life - it kept me running when I wanted to walk and provided a little extra oomph when I was dragging.

The other thing that helped was that we each created new playlists for the race, so I was loving my race music.  It included a couple of songs that I was talking about yesterday, plus a new-to-me favorite by Neon Trees.

While I loved the race atmosphere and ambiance, I did have a few criticisms (the ooc gear check line and lack of water at the finish line were the two biggest) but I will give the benefit of the doubt to the organizers and say that it was the first year of the event... undoubtedly, they will have those issues figured out by next year... right?  :)  Hope so, because Scott and I both thought the environment made the race truly unique - and fun.

Next race - Hot Chocolate 5K!

Quote of the Day: Football Edition

“He loves football. He just doesn’t know it yet" - Buddy Garrity

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Quote of the Day: The Script

"In the future these will be the good ol' days" - The Script, Good Ol' Days

I love the Script, and bought the entire album (called #3) literally the day that I heard about it.  I turned it on yesterday, and  listened to it straight through, every single song without skipping a beat.

The Script are spectacular story tellers through their music, and through the songs you can just picture them - in love, in loss, in life.

There were several songs in particular that resonated with me, the strongest being "if you could see me now" and I think it will hit many people who have lost loved ones.  There's a lyric about how "I still look for your face in the crowd" which just killed me.  The song was described as a page from the diary of one of the band members, who lost both parents when he was 12.

Just love the album.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Photo of the Day: Dinner Edition

I've been loving Caprese salads lately, to the point where I've probably had seven in the last seven days. So basic, so easy and so delicious.

I make mine with a couple of healthy handfuls of spinach, casually torn apart (otherwise each bite is too big, IMHO). Then a big amount of cherry tomatoes, cut in half or thirds. Add in some chopped up fresh mozzarella. For dressing I use a healthy splash of balsamic and usually some olive oil.

And that's it. Easy and tasty. Oh, and beautiful:

Photo of the Day: Mudslide Edition

Scott and I made homemade Mudslides a few weeks ago with our friends Pam and Nathan, and also made a batch that were Mint Chocolate.  Delicious! 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GPOYW: Rome Edition

That outfit was the unofficial uniform of the trip.  It was 20 degrees colder than I had expected, and I packed exactly two long sleeve shirts - and the other one was a hoodie.  

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries: tutorial

For the party immediately following Matt and Kelly's engagement, one of the first menu items that I decided on was cheesecake stuffed strawberries.  When I think of cheesecake, I think of the two of them.  The only problem with making a cheesecake is that I was hoping that all of my appetizers would be fairly finger-food friendly, and well, cheesecake isn't.

I was perusing Pinterest, and came across a recipe for cheesecake stuffed strawberries and I thought - PERFECT.  Problem solved.

I used the recipe on Iowa Girl Eats as an inspiration, and used it almost exactly (I only used 2 sheets of graham crackers, and had some left over).


- 2 pounds strawberries (there's about 24 strawberries in each 2-pound container, so you can increase or decrease the recipe depending upon how many strawberries you have... for a party of 20 people, I did four pounds of strawberries, but we had so many other sweets that I ended up with a lot left over).
- 8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 full sheets graham crackers, crushed

- Wash the strawberries well, and pat dry with a towel.

- Cut the tops off the strawberries, and cut out the white insides.  (If you want a lot of cheesecake in each bite, hollow more of the insides... if you want less cheesecake, leave more of the insides).

- Combine softened cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla together in a bowl, and mix by hand.  You want the ingredients to be very well mixed.

- Scoop the combined batter in to a ziploc bag and cut the corner of the bag (making something point-y that you can use to inject the batter into the strawberry).

- Using this method, put the batter in to each strawberry.  Fill each strawberry completely.

- Crush the graham crackers, and put them in to a bowl.  Then dip the top of each stuffed strawberry in to the graham cracker crumbs, covering the top of the strawberry.

- Refrigerate until shortly before serving.  Note: I forgot to take a picture of the final project, but you can kind of see the strawberries on the middle shelf on the left hand side:

I made several batches of these as testers before the party,  and found that you can easily make the cream cheese / sugar / vanilla mixture the night before.  Similarly, you could crush the graham crackers and cut the strawberries in advance, and simply assemble the day that you want to serve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Quote of the Day: Hero Edition

"You go into a burning building, down a hallway, you see what we call the red demon, and that red demon's fingers are reaching out for you, and they're saying 'C'mon. C'mon. I've got something for you. C'mon.' And you put your head down and you just keep moving."

--Reggie Julius
Retired FDNY Captain

on home and the hawkeye state

I lived in Iowa for the first 22 years and ten months of my life.  Then I moved to Chicago (by way of Hinsdale) where I have been for the past five years.  And I love Chicago, I really do.  I love the big city, and how much the city has to offer for someone my age.  Every night of the week I could find something unique and new to do - four professional sports teams, the ballet, theatre, live music, adult sports teams, book clubs, bar crawls, festivals, two international airports, museums, countless colleges and universities, public transportation, a Great Lake.  There is so much to do, and so many possible friends to do it with.

And speaking of friends, several of my very close friends also moved to Chicago shortly after graduation, and got jobs as accountants and teachers and nurses and consultants.  And it's been a thrill exploring Chicago and adulthood and friendship with them.

And I have truly loved living here.  But by now, my friends have mostly left the city and ventured to the suburbs and beyond.  And as I edge closer to thirty and another new chapter, I've begun evaluating what makes a city your home, and the truth is, while Chicago may be my adopted and current place, the answer to "where are you from" will always be Iowa.

As much as I love Chicago, this isn't home.

And when I look around, and try to pinpoint it, there isn't one reason.  It's just not Iowa.

And when I zoom further out and contemplate the future and where to raise my children and build my life, it's tough to visualize anywhere but home.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Italy, in summary

So, now my trip is over and the pictures and posts have all been published.  (Well, not ALL the pictures - we have about 600 "keepers" from the thousand we took... and I'll likely continue posting one once in a while).  It was a "trip of a lifetime" as they say, and was a chance to spend 8 days nonstop with my husband, disconnected from the internet and my BlackBerry and work and the mortgage and grocery shopping and laundry.  And explore another part of the world.

And the beauty of the trip is that while I was learning about another part of our huge world, I kept wanting more.  I want to see Paris, and Japan, and Egypt and London and Spain and Hawaii and Ireland and Vietnam and Peru and Costa Rica and Alaska on and on and on...

The world is big and deep and there is so much to see and do, and so much life outside of mine in Chicago.

And if there's one more thing I learned through my week in Italy, it’s this: we’re all really the same.  You might speak Italian or Chinese or Pig Latin instead of English, but you breathe in and out, and eat breakfast in the morning.  You still get stuck in traffic and get wet when it rains, and carry a briefcase.  You still get stuck in traffic.  You still wait in lines, and help your Grandma up the stairs, and curse when you forget something at home.  You run chasing after your bus has started pulling away from the curb, and you still want the best deal on groceries.  You celebrate and mourn and laugh and cry, and live and seek happiness and love and fun and adventure. Though the differences were visible, so were the similarities… the humanity of it all.  We have so much more in common than we do different.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Italy 2012: Rome - Day Three

The final day of our vacation and our time in Rome was upon us, and the most important thing on the agenda today was seeing the Colosseum.  We woke up, and having 12+ hours in Rome in front of us, we decided to take a walk around the city and explore.  We walked to a nearby fountain (in the "Plazza Popolo" or the "people's plaza" where they held public executions back in the day.  We walked up the big steps on the side of the plaza, and encountered a fabulous (and free!) view of the city, complete with St. Peter's Basilica in the distance.  I highly recommend this short walk for anyone in Rome looking for a great (and free!) city view.  

After a stroll around town (complete with a visit to the famed shopping district) it was time to get down to business: the Colosseum.  Because of where we ended up on our walk, we elected to take the Metro (the subway) to it, and wouldn't you know, there's a stop right outside.  When we got to the stop and walked the steps up to ground level, BOOM.  It was directly across the street.

The Colosseum was one of my very favorite parts of the trip, and I think it's because the history is so visible.  I was looking out at the scene in front of my eyes, and kept thinking about the hundreds and thousands of people who lost their lives (for sport, nonetheless!) right where I stood.  We took the audio tour at the Colosseum, and it was interesting.  (It was also $5, and you could easily save that $ if you just did a little research on the history ahead of time... something we did not do, so it was money well spent for us). 

After the Colosseum we continued on to Circus Maximus (where the ancients held chariot races) and then on to the Forum.  In that area of Rome, there were ruins upon ruins upon ruins.  Everywhere you looked there were artifacts, drawing the picture of ancient Rome.  

It made me feel so small and the world so big.  I loved it.

Italy 2012: Rome - Day Two

On our second day in Rome, we participated in a super long tour .  It was broken out in two smaller sections: during the morning, we saw the Trevi Fountain, a bunch of other lesser known fountains, the Pantheon, and the Vatican/Saint Peters.  During the afternoon, we saw the Vatican Museum, and the Sistine Chapel.

Our first stop in the morning was the Trevi Fountain.  Tourists typically throw coins in to the fountain, and if you do, the legend says that you are ensured to return to Rome.  (We threw in three coins - one for my parents, one for Scott's parents, and one for us).

As we were walking towards our next stop - another old and beautiful fountain - we passed a huge obelisk.  Rome has the most obelisks in the entire world - several from ancient Egypt, and several from ancient Rome.  This particular one was 3,000 years old - can you believe that?  The thought just boggles my mind.  3,000 years old!  It was from Egypt and was brought by river to Rome.  If you look closely at the picture, you can see markings etched in to the side.  Seeing this was definitely a highlight of my trip.

From there we moved to the Pantheon, which was beautiful and fun to see.  

After that, we moved on to Vatican City, and St. Peters Basilica.  The first thing you notice is that it is just overwhelmingly beautiful... and that's just from the outside.  The twelve apostles and Jesus across the top of the Basilica, the Papal Residence to the side.  It's literally the center of the Catholic world.  

After waiting in a line to go through security (tip: if you're planning a trip, get to St. Peters early in the day, or wait until after 4pm... organized tour guides can't come after 4pm), we entered the church and it was just breathtaking.  Ornate details in every corner, every inch from the floor to the ceiling was beautiful and detailed.  Scott used the word "opulent" and that really describes it well.

Since I am a Catholic (though I've mentioned how much of the Catholic faith I disagree with), I expected some emotion at being in St. Peters Basilica, and I did feel emotion.  I'll be honest - I felt a little disgusted.  It is so unbelievably over-the-top, and I couldn't help but think that it's contrary to everything that Jesus stood for (giving all of your money to the poor, humility, sacrifice).  St. Peter's was truly remarkable, and beautiful, and breathtaking.. but to me, it wasn't what being a Catholic is supposed to be about.

And I suppose you could argue that if it wasn't as spectacular, that it wouldn't be such a tourist destination or wouldn't provide the pull that Catholics feel toward it, and I get that.  Admission was free, and I think they could easily ask for a "suggested 1 Euro donation" and raise a ton of money each day.  That money could be used to pay for Priest's retirement, or giving to the hungry of the world, or any number of things that would make a real difference in the world, and align with what Jesus was about.

Anyway.  We then went on to lunch and then started the afternoon portion of the tour - the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel!  

The Vatican Museum was something that Scott and I had both kind of rolled our eyes at before going in - but it ended up being very cool.  The Vatican has an insane amount of artifacts from Roman history - the floors are comprised of Mosaics from the late 100s (not a typo) and there are rooms full of tapestries, full of ornate  paintings, and full of carved stone.  They were crazy cool.  (But again, it made me a littttttle crazy to see how much wealth the Vatican controls).  

As we were walking through the museum, we got a view of the Pope's private courtyard.  Pretty spectacular, huh? 

After walking through the museum, we found ourselves at the entrance to the Sistine Chapel.  I was really anxious to see it, and it didn't let me down.  I keep using the word "breathtaking" but it really does apply.  Our guide told us about how Michaelangelo painted the entire ceiling in six years, standing up with his head angled back (like, stand up, and look up at the ceiling above you).  Plus, he did it iby candlelight on scaffolding!  It was crazy being in that room, and knowing that Michaelangelo had been in that same room for ten years of his life (six on the ceiling, four on the back wall).  I loved the Sistine Chapel.  Visitors are told not to take any photos, as the room is still the private Chapel of the Pope (where Papal "elections" are held!) and the flash from photos could slowly cause the paintings to deteriorate.  Many, many people were taking photos (which was kind of disappointing) but we decided to follow the rules, so no photos from that part.  It does cost something to get in to the Museum/Sistine Chapel - I'm not sure what amount, as it was included in our tour, but if I was back in Rome, I'd pay to see it again.  Very worth the money.

That night - after ten hours of walking! - we were completely wiped.  We went to a Roman grocery store, and bought crackers and cheese, peppers, wine, and bottles of water.  Then we sat in our hotel room and snacked, and downloaded the movie "In Time", starring the one-and-only Justin Timberlake. Surprisingly, we LOVED the movie, and it was nice to be able to recharge.  

At this point, we had a little over 24 hours left in Rome.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Italy 2012: Rome - Day One

The night we arrived in Rome we were pretty beat from a long (and hot!) day of traveling, but we took the Roma Metro and thanks to my personal tour guide (Mr. Special) we easily found our hotel and checked in. I'm not sure what happened exactly, because somehow the hotel thought it was our honeymoon and we entered our (very nice!) room to find a bottle of chilled champagne and two glasses with a congratulations note! Hey, I'll take it!

My first impression of Rome was that it was very different from Venice. Venice wasn't just in another country- it felt like another world! Rome felt more familiar - like a European New York City (that feeling ended after I had my first glimpse at the Roman Ruins but you get the idea.

That first night in Rome, we ate a quick dinner and went to bed early- we had a ten hour tour the next day!

Italy 2012 - Florence

We had only about six hours in Florence, but it's a relatively small city so it was a fine amount of time. We originally planned to go straight from Venice to Rome but on the urging of just about everyone, we added Florence as a pit stop. That meant that we had to do Florence on a Monday, though, the day that museums are closed so we did not get to see the David (hey, a reason to come back:)

We explored the many markets, I contemplated a pair of leather sandals, we ate lunch in a plaza, and walked about ten miles looking at gardens, shops and statues. We eventually ended up at the Ponte Vecchio which was picturesque and serene, despite the throngs of tourists snapping photos and eating gelato. Speaking of which, we bought some delicious gelato ion our way back to the train.

The trains we took were easy to navigate, clean, had free bathrooms, and even had power outlets (so I recharged the iPad).

Ninety minutes later, the train arrived in Roma!