Google flight tracker

I recently stumbled upon something on Google which I’m now obsessed with whenever my husband travels.

Instead of going to the airline’s website, finding the “flight status” section and entering the flight details, I can just go to Google and enter the airline and flight number in the search box. And voila — there are the details of the flight! For example, if it’s American flight #91 from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare, you can just enter “AA91” into Google and the flight details will appear. No need even bothering with the airline’s website anymore.

Better yet, if you have a flight in your Google calendar, it will automatically appear in your search results simply by searching for that airline. Bravo, Google!

Google flight tracker

 

 

Friday Faves: Friday, October 25, 2013

It seems like time ramps up to warp speed right after Labor Day. Between then and Christmas, it feels like time just flies. How is it possibly the end of October? And cold and flu season… I managed to catch my first cold of the season, which is a real bummer because a) I don’t really get sick that often, and b) I feel like I shouldn’t kiss all over Nora when I’m constantly blowing my nose or popping a Halls to soothe my raw throat. I’m going to blame my two recent trips for how lousy I’m feeling.

Luckily the weekend is a blank slate, for a change. And I intend to keep it that way! Looking forward to some R & R to make me feel better as we get ready for the calendar to flip to November.

Whatever you are up to this weekend, have a good one… and enjoy these links.

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Last weekend was pumpkin overload. Not only did I have my first PSL of the season (and then quickly decided I just don’t care for it much anymore), but I finally made a pumpkin treat for Nora’s Halloween lunch. It’s one of my favorites so I’m making it again today to take to Nora’s Halloween party at day care (how is it that our five-month old has a fuller Halloween party schedule than we do?).

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With the fall chill really in the air (we had to turn on our heat last weekend!), I’m snapping up warm, cozy pieces which are perfect for fall layering. I really love this one from one of my new faves, Lands’ End’s Canvas collection.

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I make no secret about the fact that I’m not a football fan. I am, however, a fan of food that most people eat while watching football. Crock pot Italian beef is one of my faves, and perfect for fall. The best is when you throw it all in the crock pot in the morning before work, and come home to a warm, hearty dinner ready to go.

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I think all of these terrible drivers live in Lincoln Park. And let’s not forget the ones who have no clue how a 4-way stop works.

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Cute kids in funny Halloween costumes. Never gets old.

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So many things to love about fall. Like those rustic white pumpkins!

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One of my mom friends posted this in our Facebook group. So sweet.

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I’m only working three days per week right now, so my time in the office is precious. Sadly, I often find myself feeling like this.

Apples and Pumpkins and Doughnuts, Oh My!

County Line OrchardCounty Line Orchard in Hobart, Indiana

Apple picking has been on our fall agenda for a while. That, and choosing Nora’s first pumpkin. Sadly, we’d yet to visit any apple farms or pumpkin patches in greater Chicagoland since we moved here, despite having talked about it every fall. There are plenty within driving distance in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, but I was looking for someplace that met a few basic requirements. I didn’t want it to be too far from Chicago (no more than an hour, max) and I wanted apples and pumpkins both. So when a friend told me that not only would I find all of those, but also doughnuts (!) at County Line Orchard in Hobart, Indiana, I Google Mapped it and we were on our way.

Pumpkins at County Line OrchardGetting to Hobart from Chicago is a breeze, and it took us right around an hour (and that was with a little Chicago traffic). Hobart reminds me of the town I grew up in — actually, maybe a tad bit bigger. But it’s definitely small town U.S.A. Cute. Once we got closer to County Line Orchard, I realized we weren’t the only ones with the genius idea to visit on a gorgeous, sunny fall day. But we were quickly signaled  into the parking field (similar to a parking lot, only in a field!) and were ready to pick some apples.

Don’t let yourself get distracted from the task at hand by the yummy smell of freshly baked doughnuts; it will hit you right away. Keep walking past the general store until you’ve got your apples and pumpkins and are ready to pay — and treat yourself to apple doughnut goodness.

Mmm... doughnutsAdmission to County Line Orchard is $1 to $10, depending upon how you want to spend your day there. We just wanted to pick apples and get a pumpkin (and eat doughnuts), so we scored the economical $1 admission. That got us admission to u-pick fields, free u-pick bags and the tractor ride to/from the fields.

The tractors that drive you to/from the fields come very frequently — usually two at a time — so you don’t have to wait long after you pay your admission to get going.  And the fields are a very short ride from the main barn and general store. We got off at the first (of three) stop to pick apples. I am by no means an apple snob nor an apple connoisseur, but County Line Orchard definitely seemed to have a good variety: Fuji, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold, McIntosh, Gala, Suncrisp and plenty of other varieties that I’ve never even heard of (like Keepsake — what a charming name!).

Apple tree at County Line OrchardYou can easily get carried away with apple picking. So unless you plan to do some serious canning or baking, practice a little restraint! We could’ve had two monster bags of apples in a matter of minutes.

If you get back on the tractor pull, the second stop is the pumpkin patch and sunflower field. When we were there, the sunflowers were mostly all gone but there were still plenty of pumpkins for the picking.

IMG_2663The last stop is the maze (which pays homage to the Chicago Blackhawks this year!), but we skipped it in favor of the doughnuts which were calling our name. They were well worth the wait. Both apple and pumpkin doughnuts are available, and I highly recommend the apple ones. The general store has plenty of other goodies like jam, queso, popcorn, olive oils, cider and a whole bakery that offers pies and other baked goods.

Good to Know:

  • County Line Orchard is located in Hobart, Indiana, about an hour’s drive from Chicago.
  • Great for kids.
  • Arrive early if you visit on the weekend. We arrived around 11 a.m. and by time we were leaving, it was uncomfortably crowded.
  • If you’re taking your baby, leave the stroller at home. It’s too difficult to maneuver through the orchards. Opt for a baby carrier instead, if you have one.
  • Try to remember where you parked your car, somehow. You literally park in an open field, so it can be difficult to find when your visit is done.
  • Splurge and get a box of doughnuts to take home! We didn’t, and I’m still dreaming of the delicious apple doughnut.
  • Admission is $1 – $10; children under two are free.

Friday Faves: October 18, 2013

One work trip down, one to go. I can’t decide if it’s better or worse when they’re back-to-back like this. What I do know is that I’m really glad I don’t do this very often!

This is one of those rare relatively plan-free weekends. I intend to spend some small portion of my days napping. I’ve had a really difficult time sleeping lately (and it’s not even Nora’s fault!). Aside from that, we’re going to lunch at one of Nora’s friend’s houses on Sunday with some other families and kids from our class at the hospital this summer. I will most likely take my favorite fall cheesecake if I can get it together to do some baking. If not, Sweet Mandy B’s, here I come!

Here are some of my favorite links for the week…

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I’m embarrassed to say when I began reading the two books I’m currently reading, because it’s been that long ago. And I know I need to read more. And the benefits are great. But to find the time…

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I’m not much of a beer girl, but I like it occasionally and I have a penchant for seasonal brews. So this past weekend when my husband and I went to our favorite local spot for dinner, he tried the Pumking beer and I wish I’d opted for that instead of my old standard pinot noir. It’s fall in a glass.

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Speaking of pumpkin, I’ve surprised myself by the fact that a) I haven’t yet had a single pumpkin spice latte this season, and b)  I haven’t made a single pumpkin dessert or other baked good. Something is definitely up (and her name is Nora). These pumpkin muffins will be on my list to try. I can get on board with anything described as “fall heaven.”

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It’s time for a fall boot refresh in my closet. I’m really loving these magenta ones, but damn you, Lucky, for not listing who makes them!

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Their’s no way you won’t find this funny if you’re a grammar nerd like me.

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Here are some cute dogs to start your weekend.

Two Days in Amboise, France

During the cold, wintry months in Chicago, I daydream about being on a beach somewhere — anywhere — probably once a day. It’s not that I hate winter, it’s just that it lasts so long here. In fact, I vividly remember visiting Chicago over Memorial Day weekend before the summer that we moved here, and it was so cold — albeit, not quite winter-like — that we needed pants and jackets.

So, it’s a little unusual, then, that my husband and I chose to go someplace else relatively cold at the end of December. We headed to beautiful Amboise, France in the dead of winter.

Amboise, France
Even though it looks cold and dreary (and it was), it was still magical. Because it’s France, after all.

Rewind to August of that same year when we got married, and debated about where to honeymoon. I wanted to go to a beach. My husband wanted to go to Europe. So we compromised. Aww, just like a newlywed couple would… We decided to go to the beach for our honeymoon and then take a second “mini honeymoon” later in the year, somewhere in Europe. We landed on France because we wanted to be in Paris for New Year’s Eve.

But we’d both been to Paris before, so we wanted to go somewhere new, too. We chose Amboise because it was only about an hour and a half by train from Paris, and it’s a significantly smaller city then Paris with just enough things to do for a day or two.

Le Manoir Les Minimes

We stayed at Le Manoir Les Minimes, which sits right on the Loire River.

Le Manoir Les MinimesSeems cliche to refer to it as charming, but it was. It’s a restored 18th-century mansion which has just 13 guest rooms, each of which is unique and features various antiques.

Le Manoir Les Minimes guest roomOur guest room on the second floor had exposed beams which, while (here I go again) charming, were a bit of a safety hazard; I kept waiting for my 6’2″ husband to decapitate himself. Luckily he survived.

Le Manoir Les Minimes’ location makes it easy to explore Amboise. We didn’t have a car and I can’t imagine why you’d need one even if you visit in the middle of winter, like we did. We had to take a taxi from the train station to Le Manoir, but once there, there are plenty of restaurants along the river within walking distance, as well as tourist destinations.

Amboise Day One

Our first day in Amboise was spent getting acquainted and doing a bit of sightseeing. Perhaps one of the more popular sights to see in Amboise is the Chateau d’Amboise, which is registered as a World Heritage site by Unesco. One of the chateau’s most famous guests was Leonardo da Vinci (more on his last residence in Amboise in a bit). Chateau d’Amboise is just a short walk from Le Manoir Les Minimes.

Chateau d'Amboise

The grounds and gardens of the chateau are pristine. And I can’t imagine where you could get a better view of Amboise.

View of Amboise

The Chapel of Saint-Hubert on the grounds of the chateau is where Leonardo da Vinci is buried.

Chapel of Saint-HubertWe were there shortly after Christmas, and the chapel was still subtly dressed up for the season.

Chapel of Saint-Hubert

After touring the chateau, we walked to the main part of the town for lunch and shopping. There are loads of restaurants, gift shops and of course, patisseries. Pâtisserie Bigot is a sweet spot worth a visit. Skip the chocolates and go right for the macarons. Most of the shops offer exactly what you’d expect to find in France — specialty foods, artwork, all things lavender, pillows and other decorative items emblazoned with fleur de lis.

That evening, we had one of our better dinners of our trip at Le Lion d’Or. The servers were so friendly and it seemed like there were some regulars which is usually a good thing. It’s hard to go wrong finding good food in Amboise, though.

Even though it was relatively quiet and seemingly desolate at nighttime, we didn’t think twice about walking everywhere and wandering the streets. Amboise seems like a safe place, even for semi-clueless, non-French-speaking tourists like us.

Amboise at nightAmboise Day Two

After our continental breakfast at Le Manoir Les Minimes, we set out for our second day of exploring Amboise. This time, we walked to Château du Clos Lucé, the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. Confession: prior to arriving in Amboise, I had no idea that da Vinci had so many ties to the area. Who knew?

Château du Clos Lucé is less than a mile from Le Manoir Les Minimes, and an easy walk, so that’s what we did.

Chateau du Clos LuceChateau du Clos LuceWhen we visited, much of the chateau was closed off for renovations, but several of da Vinci’s inventions were on display in the basement, which was still open to visitors. Confession #2: I didn’t realize that da Vinci was such a jack of all trades. I knew he was an artist, but as it turns out, he created plenty of inventions around engineering and hydraulics, too.

Da Vinci aside, the grounds of Clos Lucé are just so peaceful and beautiful, even in winter. I can only imagine how pretty it is in spring or summer when things aren’t quite so drab.

Gardens at Chateau du Clos Luce

If you’re visiting Paris and want to take a one or two-day trip outside of the city, Amboise is a good option. It isn’t too far by train, and there are just enough sights to see in a matter of days. Then you can pack it up and head back into the City of Light or continue onward to explore more of the Loire Valley.

Friday Faves: October 11, 2013

Well I did it. I survived being a single mom for a week. Queue the applause.

And Nora survived her first week of day care. They wore. her. out. And she created her first piece of artwork, a masterpiece, naturally — a finger-painted leaf.

Needless to say, my weekend will be spent relaxing and maybe getting outside a bit if mother nature cooperates. Apple picking and selecting a pumpkin to carve are on the “maybe” list for Sunday. With the Chicago marathon going on, I will be happy to escape.

Whatever your plans are, enjoy the weekend and enjoy these links.

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These are the people who make me hate other people when I travel.

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A girls guide to one of my favorite cities on earth.

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I’m trying to persuade my husband to do more practical gifts for Christmas this year — gifts for us and our home versus personal gifts for each other. Like a Vitamix blender and a featherbed. I think he’s coming around to the idea, which is great, because I just discovered WishList and have already started mine. I like that you can load wish list items from any website. This would be great for my nieces and nephews so I’m not racking my brain every Christmas and birthday (a-hem…).

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… but why be practical when there are beautiful new Louis Vuitton handbags to splurge on? Only in my wildest dreams, but I absolutely love…

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This will definitely be added to my wish list.

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These costumes for 80s girls really bring back some memories! But not enough to inspire me to dress up for Halloween. I save that for my adorable daughter and dogter.