Friday Faves: February 28, 2014

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Week one of being a stay-at-home mom comes to a close. Although, I don’t really count this week since Nora was in and out of daycare before she’s officially finished with that early next week. Once daycare days are done, I have to figure out a way to maintain this gym routine, though. I went three days in a row this week. Unheard of. Not sure what go-getter took over my body, but I like her and she’s welcome to stay.

My weekend is likely going to include an unwelcome guest called snow. While I wallow in our never-ending winter, you enjoy these links from the week.

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I was really wowed when I ordered prescription sunglasses from Warby Parker. What an innovative idea. At least check it out and play with the site (you can virtually try on sunnies!)

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I know it can’t stay winter forever (although Mother Nature’s really pushing it…), so once it warms up, I’ve got my warm weather nail polish picked out. Took OPI strawberry margarita for a trial run recently and love it. Perfect for spring and summer.

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Have you ever been ill at a hotel? I have, and while The Sanderson was a pretty great place to be sick at, they didn’t offer immune-boosting menu items or other flu fighting amenities. Genius.

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Pothole artists. They should come to Chicago. They’d have a heyday.

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In case you need a reason, here are 45 as to why you should live abroad once. (Miss you, London.)

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Learned about this fantastic idea from my friend, Jaime. It’s not too late to start. I tried to do something similar with the new year, but have aborted that mission as I was the only one in my household consistently participating… and how boring would that be to just read my good things at the end of the year?

Five Tips to Entertain Baby on an Airplane

Nora has now officially logged two domestic airplane trips, her first at 13 weeks and her second at nearly nine months. And we’re already thinking about where to go next.

Our recent trip to Texas was by no means difficult. Nora is a good little traveler for the most part and doesn’t get any crankier than I do (my husband might say less so). That said, this trip was slightly easier because we splurged and got her her own seat. Technically, she can be a lap child until age two, but her squirming around doesn’t jive with a two-hour flight in my or my husband’s lap. So we were able to bring her car seat on board so that she could sit in it the entire time, which she mostly did.

Even still, we needed to have some tricks up our sleeves to keep her entertained. None of these things are terribly revolutionary, but sometimes when feeling crazed, you can’t even think of the most obvious things.

iPad entertainment

  • A game of peek-a-boo is totally underrated. Yes, peek-a-boo! Either that, or my daughter is way too easily entertained. She loves this, and all it takes is a Taggie or little blanket. Plus, she lets out one of her big belly laughs that I can guarantee fellow passengers prefer much over crying.
  • Before I had a child, I thought WubbaNubs were the most obnoxious things. I still kind of do, but Nora loves her caterpillar and the poor girl needs something to suck on during takeoff and landing. I prefer the WubbaNub to a regular pacifier for this age (nine months) because she can easily grip it herself and it’s less likely to get tossed on the disgusting floor.
  • I hate the idea of Nora becoming glued to devices at a young age, so we try not to let her have our iPhones or iPad. The one exception? In flight! I will pretty much do whatever it takes to keep her happy when we’re on a flight, and if that means letting her play Peekaboo Barn (there’s that peek-a-boo game again), so be it. We also downloaded a few Laurie Berkner and Sesame Street videos, neither of which were even needed (thank god).
  • If you’re more of a stickler about devices than I am, you can always opt for good old-fashioned books. Nora loves books and the small board books that fit in her little hands are perfect for an airplane.
  • It’s just worked out that our flights have always coincided with Nora’s feeding. Not entertainment, but feeding takes up a fair amount of time and keeps the bambino occupied.

If all else fails, you can always go into a flight prepared to preemptively ask for your fellow passengers’ sympathy like these parents did.

Wanderlust Wednesday: St. Thomas USVI

Co-pilot
Playing co-pilot
St. Thomas to San Juan, August 2010

Yep, that’s me in the co-pilot seat. It’s still frigid in Chicago, and I continue to long for warm, sunny days — like the ones we enjoyed in St. Thomas on our honeymoon.

I had no idea that I’d be sitting next to the pilot on the puddle-jumper on the first leg of our trip home, though. When the pilot pulled out his laminated dry erase takeoff checklist (true story) I got a little rattled. Obviously all went well, though!

Dinner at Christopher’s World Grille

Every year we try to escape the Chicago cold over President’s Day weekend and go someplace warm. It’s a much needed reprieve for the seemingly never-ending winter, especially this year (any day now, Mother Nature…). We decided to visit family in College Station, Texas this year.

Being Valentine’s Day weekend, and considering we had my niece and nephew as built-in babysitters, we planned a fancy Valentine dinner out with my sister and brother-in-law at Christopher’s World Grille. True to form, I read all about the restaurant and studied the menu before we even left Chicago. Aside from seeing my family and the warm weather, I was really looking forward to dinner at Christopher’s!

Christopher’s sits in an old house that’s been restored. It’s warm and cozy and was pretty crowded the evening that we were there, the day after Valentine’s Day. There’s a great little bar that you can sit at and enjoy a cocktail and piano music while you wait for your table. No one was playing the piano but the ambiance was still lovely, as was my pre-dinner cocktail. Almost too pretty to drink.

The menu is a little overwhelming in that everything on it sounds good. I had such a hard time deciding but Christopher’s is known for their beef, and when in Texas… But before I sank my teeth into the filet, I started with a bowl of roasted corn and crawfish chowder. I’m a sucker for corn soups, especially spicy ones. Drizzled with chili oil, the corn chowder at Christopher’s ticked both of those boxes.

Roasted Corn and Crawfish Chowder

I’m a glutton for punishment. I know what happens when my meal starts with a thick, creamy soup like this — I’m already full. But when the next course is a medium rare filet that looks like this, I somehow find room.

Christopher’s House Filet
Side of lobster mashed potatoes not pictured

Like I said, this place is known for its beef, and the filet was cooked to perfection. I loved the crispy little crawfish tails on top and the not-pictured lobster mashed potatoes… wow. I really had to stop myself from devouring those.

Don’t judge. I know I said I was already full with the chowder, but we collectively agreed that dessert was in order. It was Valentine’s Day, after all (okay, a day late), and we were on vacation! So when the waitress came over with the dessert tray, a la the Olive Garden, we quickly zeroed in on the heaven and hell cake and ordered it with four forks. Everything we ate that evening was really incredible, but this cake is worth raving about. I’m honestly not much of dessert person when dining out; I find that few restaurants really get it right and then I’m just annoyed at myself for wasting calories on mediocre dessert. That was not the case with this cake. Quite honestly, I felt a little bit like Audrey Griswold but I could not stop eating the cake. It does not bode well for me that my niece found a recipe online and I’m about to have a lot of free time on my hands.

Heaven and Hell Cake

Friday Faves: February 21, 2014

Today I mark two lasts and one first. It’s my last day in corporate America (for a while) and Nora’s last Friday at day care. And it’s our first anniversary of living in our new home.

Goodbye, old Chicago post office. I won’t miss this view from my office too much, especially when it includes snow.

Old Chicago Post Office

I’ve been looking forward to this day since I resigned three weeks ago, although I’ll admit I have a tiny bit of anxiety about what lies ahead, mainly because it’s new. I’ve never not had a job in my adult life. It feels scary and liberating all at the same time. My new “job” will probably be 100 times harder than the job I’m leaving, but a different, much more rewarding kind of hard.

We’re celebrating the end of my answering to “the man” with two of my favorite things tonight — sushi and bubbles! Whatever you’re up to this weekend, make it a good one… and enjoy these links.

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Did you catch The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon? Aside from U2, the best part of the show was the Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing with Will Smith.

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I have mixed feelings about TripIt, but will have to check out some of these other travel apps, especially Gate Guru.

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I’m still dreaming about wine country after my trip to the Willamette Valley last month. And then I learned about Farmhouse Inn, which is now on my must-visit list.

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Italy was on — and then off — our list for our big vacation next year. After seeing these gorgeous pictures, it might have to be back on the list.

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With months of winter remaining, these tips on tying a scarf will come in handy to mix things up.

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The best part of our Valentine’s Day dinner was the decadent dessert: heaven and hell cake. The recipe sounds complicated (because it’s not from a box), but if it tastes even remotely as good, it’s worth it!

Wanderlust Wednesday: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago lakefront 2010
Chicago lakefront
2010

This winter in Chicago has been miserable. Brutal. Frustrating. (I could think of another F word, too.) You get the point. I know we’re not alone, and I feel equally badly for… pretty much the rest of the country, too.

At times like these, I need to frequently remind myself of the best time of year in our fine city — summertime! Just four months and two days to go… but who’s counting.

$5 Lunch Specials at Bin 36

Grilled cheese & tomato soup

Bin 36 is a staple in my work week lunchtime repertoire, especially when they have their amazing $5 lunch specials. That’s right — a delicious lunch (with wine, if you dare) in Chicago’s River North for $5. You can’t even eat fast food (not that I would) for $5.

The specials run for a week and range from the seasonally appropriate grilled cheese and tomato soup, to the wood-grilled burger, to niçoise salad and more. It’s always completely satisfying and oddly, it often isn’t crowded.

There’s about a month left for this run of $5 lunch specials. You can see the schedule here.

And you can thank me later for letting you in on this apparently well-kept secret.

Friday Faves: February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I find that most people either love or hate Valentine’s Day. You’re either in the, “it’s a stupid Hallmark holiday” camp or you’re not. I’m not. I probably felt differently when I was single, but I’ll admit it: I like flowers and chocolates and gifts. That said, my husband and I agreed to forego gifts this year since we’re going away for the weekend with Nora. That’s right, it’s time to escape Antarctica Chicago for a wee bit and mosey on down to Texas, ya’ll.

While I’m away, enjoy these Valentine links!

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Red velvet cheesecake brownies

I love baking for Valentine’s Day. A few years ago, I made these decadent red velvet cheesecake brownies for my husband. The recipe has been repeated several times since!

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Drew Barrymore’s Find It in Everything is perfect for today.

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I wish you none of these things this Valentine’s Day!

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Paper Source has the most adorable Valentine’s and gifts for the holiday.

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I would wear this coat not just for Valentine’s Day, but all throughout winter to add a perfect pop of color to the otherwise dreariness.

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Tips on choosing men’s cologne for your Valentine.

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XOXO!

The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon

(Full disclosure: this post begins with me whining about winter in Chicago.)

Living in Chicago where this winter, temps held steady below freezing for 182 consecutive hours and we’ve been pummeled with more than 60″ of snow, I was happy to visit any place where the temperature was something, anything, above zero this January.

Snowy Chicago

And while Newberg, Oregon isn’t a balmy, tropical destination that might’ve done me well this time of year, it still provided some relief. I’ve never been so pleased to see green grass and not a spot of snow in sight. Mountains were just the icing on the cake.

The Allison Inn & Spa

Work took me to The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley (I’m still not sure if it’s “uh” or “lam…” “WillUHmette” or “WilLAMmette). Pinot noir country! Newberg is about 25 miles southwest of Portland and a pretty drive from the airport — especially if you’re awestruck by something as ordinary as green grass.

I didn’t get to enjoy much of wine country since I was there for work — to be honest, I didn’t even step foot outside between Sunday and Tuesday. But it was a wonderful place to be “stuck!” It would be such an ideal base for exploring the area, though. The Allison Inn & Spa is quaint; with less than 80 rooms, it’s a nice, quiet place to retreat to after a day of… tasting wine. It’s quite possibly the quietest hotel I’ve ever stayed at, too — and my room was just down the hall from the front desk. My room had a fireplace, window seat and a cozy arm chair for some R & R. And there were lots of adorable little touches, like the water in these cute glass bottles every night at turndown. Charming!

Water at turndown

Since I was at The Allison for work, I had my fair share of meals at the restaurant, Jory, as well as from in-room dining. I loved the house-smoked salmon so much that I had it twice for breakfast. Three words for you: bloody mary marmalade. Oh my… I’d be remiss if I didn’t wax poetic about the wood-grilled pinot burger. Yes, you read that right: pinot burger. As if a pinot burger isn’t heavenly enough on its own, this one is topped with smoky bacon and creamy blue cheese. We (we = my husband) make a delicious cabernet burger, but I’m now on a mission to find a recipe for a pinot burger so “we” can try to recreate this at home.

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I’ve really been itching to go back to Napa, but I think a trip back to The Allison Inn & Spa — when I can actually enjoy wine country — is in order first.