Friday Faves: August 30, 2013

It seems like just yesterday I was packing up my desk preparing for maternity leave, and here we are, about to celebrate the unofficial last weekend of summer. It seems like this weekend is reserved for one of two things — barbecues or one last summertime getaway. Luckily for me, it’s the latter.

While I enjoy some R & R in the beautiful mountains of Colorado before heading back to work in — gasp! — a little over a week, here are some fun links from around the web.

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If your weekend will include a barbecue somewhere in the mix, I highly recommend this favorite of mine, courtesy of Rachel Ray. Love her or hate her, this mac and jack pasta salad is always a hit when I serve it, plus it’s so easy to prepare.

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Although this will be our first major trip with the baby, I’m still optimistic that I might get to do some reading while we’re away. It’s about time I wrap up Marriage Confidential, seeing as how I started that one a whopping two years ago!

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Have you also been dispensing Tic Tacs incorrectly your entire life?

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Last weekend we went to the Bucktown Arts Festival and saw lots of cool artwork (and drank some delicious sangria). Here’s hoping there are some equally interesting pieces at the Lakeview East Festival in a few weeks. Bill Bartelt had some of my favorite paintings, and yes I’m biased because they were of Chicago.

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Not too long ago I got an email from Pottery Barn, inviting me to visit one of their sister companies, Mark and Graham. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock, but I’ve never heard of Mark and Graham. They have super adorable monogrammed stuff — bags, jewelry, linens, etc. I’ve been eyeing these gorgeous necklaces, in particular.

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Speaking of jewelry, I popped into World Market the other night and for the first time ever checked out their jewelry. I had no idea they had such cute stuff, and so affordable! Three pairs of earrings later…

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Hopefully while we’re hitting some of the touristy spots in Colorado, I remember to pick up some maps, because I think this is the cutest idea. And Martha, it needn’t be used only for wedding favors. You could use maps for any kind of wrapping and any occasion.

Wanderlust Wednesday: London, England

Starbucks London mug

Every now and I again I get super nostalgic about my days in London. When I lived there — on Peter Street in the heart of Soho — I went to Starbucks nearly every morning for a taste of home… which is actually very unlike me; typically I try to be more like a local, but I didn’t get on the Cafe Nero bandwagon and something about Starbucks just drew me in everyday.

Finally, the airlines got something right

Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve traveled by air and by “a while,” I mean seven months or so. Don’t worry, I plan to make up for lost time as soon as I can. But I forgot to share a nugget from my last plane trip out of O’Hare.

When I arrived there for a flight to Salt Lake City months ago, something that I’ve never before experienced happened to me. I was barely out of the cab and in the door when an American Airlines representative immediately stopped me to ask if I needed help. I told her I was just looking for the baggage drop — and sadly, not first class, for which I could clearly see signage a’plenty.

She offered to check me in and take my bag right there — right inside the doorway.  Okay…  I gave her my record locator which she was so impressed that I knew off-hand (how can you not memorize it when it’s YADOOR?), punched my credentials into her convenient hand-held device, swiped my credit card and I was finished. I didn’t even have to wait in line for the bag drop; she did it for me.

Now, if you’re going to charge me $25 to check a bag, this is least you can offer. I don’t know if anyone else has had the pleasure of experiencing that before, but it’s the little things that impress me when it comes to airlines. Because let’s be honest, there’s not much that they do these days that’s impressive.

Couple that with the fact that the TSA didn’t even hassle me when I requested a pat-down versus the x-ray screening. Win-win.

Fridays Faves: August 23, 2013

TGIF. I’ve got a relatively low-key weekend ahead of me, save for drinks and dinner with a girlfriend tonight. But otherwise, it’s time to mentally — and maybe physically — start prepping for our first official vaca with our little munchkin next week.

Next Thursday, we leave for Colorado Springs for a long weekend. I’m equally excited and anxious. We intentionally booked Springs since the flight time from Chicago isn’t too terribly long, but still, I must admit being a little apprehensive taking our daughter on her first flight at just over three months old.

To that end, my faves for this week consist mostly of things baby travel-related. Happy Friday!

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I’m not sure that I’m ready to sit apart from my husband on the plane just yet, but I love this tip to order diapers and supplies and have them arrive at your destination. Genius.

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Nora has only recently grown accustomed to being worn, but I think the Baby Bjorn will be a must for the airport. And of course I wouldn’t use the airplane bathroom water for anything other than washing my hands. Yuck!

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Ha! I love the second tip, as I’ve been thinking that now that we have the stroller bag, we really need to practice with it before we get to the airport.

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I have to admit, when I initially heard about Jessica Alba’s eco-friendly company and corresponding book, I brushed it off as celebrity fluff. Then, when recently watching a rerun of Ellen where Alba was a guest, I was intrigued enough to check it out. She’s not just another celebrity slapping her name on something; she seemed genuinely dedicated to healthy living and eco-friendly products. I’ve only thumbed through the book thus far, but I like what I’ve read. She has some seemingly common sense tips, too, especially when it comes to babies. For example, take a roll of dog poop bags and keep them in the diaper bag for when you don’t have a place to dispose of a dirty diaper. Seems so intuitive, but I would’ve never thought of that with my mommy brain.

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These maps are fascinating — with the exception of #6, which is just sad, sad, sad.

Wanderlust Wednesday: St. Thomas, USVI

Today marks three years for my love and me. We said our I Do’s on a hot, sticky August evening amongst our dearest family and friends in Southern Illinois.

Mr. and Mrs.And while the wedding was lovely, everyone knows the best part is the honeymoon when it’s just the two of you and nothing else.

Ours was in St. Thomas, USVI, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I must admit it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. Maybe the supreme stress of wedding planning makes the R & R that much sweeter?

We splurged and stayed at the Ritz Carlton, which was mostly worth it. The pros: just as luxurious as you’d expect, the location on the island/proximity to St. John, the decadent spa (best. massage. ever.) and the poolside/beachside drinks, served by the most diligent staff. I witnessed cocktails served to guests in the ocean. Yeah, the staff walked right in, tennies, fully dressed and all. That’s service! The cons: some clueless staff members, nickel and diming for silly things like printing boarding passes and lots and lots of kids (yes, I feel differently about that now but at the time, not so much!). Still, it’s hard to find fault in much when this is the view you wake up to on a daily basis:

Ritz Carlton St. Thomas

When we planned our honeymoon, we debated between St. Thomas and St. John. Ultimately, my husband pushed for St. Thomas because he felt like there would be more to do, more restaurants, etc. Um, it’s a honeymoon. I had no plans to do much of anything in that respect. But I was cool with either place. Plop me on a beach anywhere and I’m pretty much content.

Plus, we went on two different sails to St. John, which was so easy to do from where our hotel was in St. Thomas. One was a day sail complete with snorkeling — a wedding gift from a friend who travels to St. Thomas annually. Despite the fact that I was super high-maintenance about the snorkeling at first, that ended up being probably my favorite day of the trip. Granted, the boat ride over included plenty of cocktails. Rum punch, anyone? The other was a sunset sail aboard the Ritz Carlton’s catamaran, Lady Lynsey, also lovely, also booze-filled.

Not that I’d done much studying up on St. John prior, but I didn’t realize that only 20% of the island is inhabited. The other beautiful 80% is protected by some law that prohibits anything from being built. So there’s a stretch of beach, some restaurants and a few hotels, but otherwise that’s it. That is precisely why St. John got my vote when we were planning the trip, but that just gives us a reason to go back.

St. John

Graze in Madison, Wisconsin

Baby-friendly Dining in Madison, Wisconsin

Now that we have a baby, I’m slightly paranoid about dining out. Having been on the other side of the fence for a long time, I don’t want to be one of those people who takes my daughter to a clearly non-kid-friendly establishment. I can’t bear the evil glances and quite frankly, I’d like the other diners to be able to enjoy their dinner not alongside a crying baby (not that she’d ever cry, ever). So I did a little research before our recent weekend getaway to Madison, then quickly remembered that L’Etoile had a much more laid-back, casual sister restaurant next door — Graze.

When we strolled in around 5:30 on a Friday evening, I breathed a sigh of relief seeing the rest of the stroller brigade as well as some elementary school-aged kids. Well, it was 5:30 after all. But there they all were, dining in harmony with the after-work happy hour crowd. The place is loud, so it works.

No, our dinner wasn’t nearly as elaborate as it had been at L’Etoile two years ago, but it was definitely just as tasty. I don’t know why on earth we skipped the fried cheese curds starter, but we did; we opted for the market tomatoes instead. The fried squash blossom that accompanied the tomatoes was a nice salty, crunchy addition to a standard caprese salad. My husband had their award-winning burger and I had a vodka battered fish fry. Our daughter had a nap.

I loved the atmosphere. It was super casual and comfortable, loud and buzzy. And despite what I had read elsewhere online, it definitely was baby-friendly (and kid-friendly). And the view of the capitol building was gorgeous.

Madison, Wisconsin capitol building

“Babies are not permitted in the lounge”

Madison, Wisconsin with a Two-Month Old

Ever since we moved to Chicago four years ago, Madison, Wisconsin has quickly become a favorite weekend getaway destination. Only about two and a half hours from Chicago by car, Madison is just about the right distance in terms of how much time I want to spend on the road for a weekend jaunt. And it’s just an adorable city.

Our agenda is pretty much the same every time we go. We always stay at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club on the club level so that we can people-watch in the lounge while enjoying pre- and post-dinner drinks. We always go to the Madison Farmer’s Market which is one of the largest farmer’s markets in the country (if not the largest in the country). We always eat at a super restaurant, typically one that serves local farm-to-table fare. Oh yeah, and we always eat cheese curds at some point over the course of the weekend.

This summer’s weekend in Madison was going to be a little different from our standard, though. It had to be; we would have our two month-old daughter in tow. There would be no drunken nights in the hotel lounge, no fancy schmancy dinner at L’Etoile and absolutely no sleeping in! Still, we wanted to go. We needed to go — we were in the middle of having new kitchen cabinets installed which made me want to climb the walls.

This sink is not conducive to bottle-making.
This sink is not conducive to bottle-making.

Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club

So we booked a room at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club, per usual. The funny thing is, when I called to make a reservation and mentioned in passing that our baby would be with us, the reservation agent made it clear that our baby was not allowed in the lounge. Of course, I wouldn’t fathom trying to take her there, anyway! No, instead my husband came up with the genius idea to take our baby monitor with us so that we could enjoy the lounge while she slept. More on that later…

Now that we have a baby, hotel amenities have become extremely important — especially baby-friendly amenities. And the Concourse didn’t disappoint. They had pack ‘n plays available so we didn’t have to lug ours along — music to my ears. Granted, it took some time for the pack ‘n play to be delivered once we checked in, despite being told it was on its way multiple times, but luckily our sweet girl wasn’t ready to go down yet, anyway.

Something that would’ve been nice to have is a bathtub. Every other time we’ve stayed at the Concourse, our bathroom has had a bathtub. We booked the same type of room we always have in the past, so I’m not sure how we got a room without a tub this time around, but that just meant no bath for the little one. I know, at two months old, how dirty can she be? It’s not so much a matter of her being dirty as it is a part of her bedtime routine, but she’s resilient so one night without a bath wouldn’t be the end of the world. One night without a rocking chair, however, might be the end of the world. Sadly, I have not yet mastered manual rocking (and despite all my practice, my arms still don’t yet qualify as “guns”).

Back to the baby monitor/lounge plan of my husband’s… Since the hotel isn’t very big, my husband had this great plan that we would take our daughter’s baby monitor with us and when she went to sleep (ha, sleep…), we would simply take the monitor with us to the lounge and enjoy a cocktail or two. Aside from the fact that that idea made me slightly uneasy (I kept having flashbacks to that tragic Madeleine McCann story), our daughter simply wasn’t going to sleep like she normally would at home. But we made do. There are no rules about not taking wine from the lounge to your room, so that’s precisely what we did.

Our stay at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club was a piece of cake with the baby. We even took her for a brief dip in the pool on Saturday morning before we checked out. The pack ‘n play did the trick for a night but seriously, hotels should really think about adding rocking chairs to their assortment of baby-friendly amenities.

Friday Faves: August 16, 2013

Holy cow this summer is flying! I can’t believe it’s already mid-August and I’ve got less than a month of maternity leave at home with my sweet little girl. After lots of visitors throughout the summer, we’re trying to keep these last few weeks low-key and quiet, and will round out our summer with a long weekend in Colorado in a few weeks.

While I peruse some mommy blogs for tips on traveling with infants, enjoy these favorites for the week.

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What would famous celebrities look like as mere mortals like the rest of us? Frankly, they all look like they belong in the “people of Wal-Mart” collection.

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My sister turned me onto Sanuks, these ridiculously comfortable flip flops made out of yoga mats. Why I wait until now, nearly the end of summer, to buy them is beyond me, but I think they will be my “around the house” shoes year-round.

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I love a refreshing watermelon salad in the summertime. My go-to is pretty simple and consists of a bed of arugula topped with watermelon and feta cheese. But this version with quinoa sounds like something I need to try.

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I can think of a few additions to this list of things I hated as a child but love now — like cantaloupe and clam chowder (though not together, of course). I can thank my mom for depriving me of those two eats growing up; she decided that since she didn’t like them, she’d simply tell me I didn’t like them, either, I guess so as to not have to ever buy them?

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When we moved this spring, I had a hell of a time finding a return address stamp that fit our last name plus our address, seeing as how our last name has a whopping ten letters and so does our street. But I finally found one that I liked and that accommodated our massive name and address combo. It’s by Three Designing Women and I just discovered they also have photo stamps. Tre cute.

Trip Down Memory Lane: Providence, Rhode Island

My dad is like a walking farmer’s almanac. He has every date of every noteworthy event in my family’s lives documented on a calendar at home. It spans the mundane, such as, “new water heater, 2003,” to more major events like, “JKG graduated UIUC.” And some days I’ll get a random email from him when one of these events involve me. Today’s was titled “MEMORIES?” and the body of the email simply, “AUG 15, 2005 JK NJ TO RI :-)” (His emails are always in ALL CAPS.) That translates to me moving from New Jersey to Rhode Island on this day in 2005. Memories, for sure…

At the time, I accepted a new job which prompted the move further up the east coast. So what kind of memories do I have of Rhode Island? To say my memories are mixed would probably be the most accurate — a mix of good memories but also less good memories, for lack of a better way of putting it, although not “bad,” per se.

I was 27 years old and single when I moved to Rhode Island, and I moved to Providence. Living in Hoboken, I had grown accustomed to New York City life — big city, lights, action — and I loved it. Providence, though, was very different from that. Obviously a much smaller city, it didn’t seem to have the hustle and bustle that I was used to and thrived on, but I was ready for the change.

I have a bad habit of making a new city prove itself to me; I’ve done that nearly every time I’ve ever moved. So while I was excited about the new opportunity with my career and living in a new place, I also wanted Providence to show me what it had. And sadly, to a singleton who thought she was one of the Sex and the City cast members, it didn’t seem to have much. The nightlife wasn’t exactly my cup of tea and there was a very young, collegiate feel to the city, naturally, given Brown University and RISD. I felt like it was better suited for college students or families, because those two groups of people seemed most prevalent in Providence. And I was neither of those. Consequently, I spent most of my weekends in Boston.

Still, there were definitely things I grew to love about Providence in the year that I lived there. Not surprisingly, most of these things revolve around food or drinks…

Federal Hill was very close to my apartment, and is essentially the Little Italy of Providence. I’ll never forget having lunch at a restaurant there with my mom when I first moved to Providence. We were nearly certain there was some kind of mob deal happening at the table next to ours. Oh the things you have to witness for some good Italian food! The neighborhood is teeming with good eats, but Constantino’s was one of my favorites when I lived there.

Also within walking distance from my apartment was Providence Place, which, at the time, was a big deal since it was such a nice, new shopping mall. Or mawl, as the natives would call it. The fact that I could easily walk over whenever I wanted certainly did my credit cards no favors.

Since I spent so much time in Boston on the weekends, I only witnessed Water Fire a few times, but it was kind of fascinating. Everyone made such a big to-do about mini bonfires floating along the river, and while it was cool to see, it was also kind of bizarre. A sight to see for sure.

Thayer Street, over near Brown and RISD, was a favorite spot for a few different needs. Both the hair salon I went to and this fabulous place called Therapy Beauty Bar were on Thayer. Sadly, I think Therapy is no more. There’s also a great little shoe store called Berk’s on Thayer Street. They always had the best selection of unique looking shoes. With my hair styled and new shoes on my feet, I could then pop into any one of the great restaurants and/or watering holes. Two of my favorites were Paragon and Andreas. Granted, it’s been years since I’ve been to either but they were both faves back in the day. There were one too many after-work drink gatherings at Andreas…

And while I’m on the topic of after-work drinks, I’d be remiss not to mention Wild Colonial. I absolutely loved this dark, cozy tavern. And apparently I’m not the only one, as it’s won all kinds of “best bar” accolades.

… and for fancy schmancy after-work beverages, paired with a fabulous raw bar, Hemenway’s was the go-to.