Sweet Home Chicago

Chicago: Five Years and Counting

Chicago

Nowish marks our five-year anniversary of living in Chicago. I don’t remember the exact date that we moved in, just that it was the end of June 2009, and shortly after we arrived and dumped the few belongings we had with us, we promptly boarded flights to San Diego for a wedding over July 4th weekend (happy 5-year anniversary to Ryan and Maria!). Do you know what made me even realize that it’s been five years? All of the hype about the five-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. I vividly remember hearing of his passing when KP and I were sitting in our empty apartment in South Boston, waiting for a friend to come over so we could go out for a farewell dinner and drinks. The death of Michael Jackson will forever make me think of our move from Boston to Chicago.

For me, living someplace for five years is a lifetime. Ever since I graduated college, I’ve lived a few years here and there. The only other place I’ve lived remotely as long as I’ve lived in Chicago was Boston for three years (excluding seven months in London), and if you count my years in New England in total, then it was four years. But five years in Chicago feels like a milestone.

Our decision to move to Chicago was an easy one. I’ll briefly rewind to how we got here, which takes us back to early 2009. My stint in London was over and I had just returned (begrudgingly) to Boston. KP and I had just started dating. I knew–despite this new relationship–that I didn’t want to live in Boston anymore, and luckily, he wasn’t too set on it, either. We didn’t have a specific place to move in mind, so we came up with a few options. If memory serves, our short list included Chicago, Washington D.C. and Austin. We agreed that wherever one of us landed a job first would be where we moved. I got a job here in early May, and KP got one shortly thereafter. And that was it. We packed up our lives and headed to Chicago.

You know how they say traveling with your boyfriend/girlfriend for the first time can make or break your relationship? Well, moving halfway across the country is like that times 1,000. KP and I hadn’t even been dating six months when we moved from Boston to Chicago (calm down, we were friends for about two years prior to becoming an item). Admittedly, the move was probably much more trying on him than it was for me, in terms of our relationship. I’m not, how do you say… the calmest, most patient person in the world… I haven’t asked (I don’t need to), but I bet he had plenty of moments thinking, who is this head case I moved here with? Yeah, there were a few little bumps along the way in the move, but here we are. (And, in case our move wasn’t enough of a test for our budding relationship, we traveled to Europe just two months later…)

I’ve always found it somewhat difficult to find my footing in a new city, but not in Chicago. I think that’s mostly because KP and I did it together. With a partner, it was easier to venture out and check out the scene, not that we’re “scene” people. Venturing out mostly meant trying new restaurants, and where better to do that than Chicago? Nearly everything about our move to Chicago seemed easy — well, after the schmucks who delivered our furniture left — and we settled in quickly. There were definitely things that we didn’t love right off the bat — the traffic, the sketchiness of our neighborhood — but as big cities go, Chicago had a lot going for it.

Our first home in Chicago
Our first home in Chicago

KP and I have built a life here. In the five years that we’ve lived in Chicago, we started new jobs, quit jobs, found new jobs, got engaged, got married, adopted a dog, lived in two different neighborhoods, bought a townhouse, welcomed a daughter, staycationed, survived the winters, shook hands with the mayor, got pesky red light tickets, hosted lots of visitors and ate out way too much. We have our favorites — favorite deep dish, favorite Thai delivery, favorite gym, favorite kennel for Daisy, favorite dry cleaner, favorite frozen custard, favorite neighborhood restaurant and so on. And being able to get from point A to point B in this city in my car without needing GPS just makes me feel home. I know this place. And I’m comfortable here.

We used to somewhat frequently discuss where we’re going next. Because, inevitably, there would be a “next.” But now that we’ve started a family here, have some wonderful friends and simply feel grounded, it’s not such a sure bet. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. But for now, we’re perfectly happy in sweet home Chicago.

The Week That Was: June 27, 2014

Lake Ozark
Lake Ozark

Vacation starts today! We’re trekking to Missouri and this will be our gorgeous view for the next week. Hoping to return refreshed and recharged.

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I love France, and I’ll continue to visit regardless of how rude the natives are. But what do you think? Are the Frenchies as rude as everyone says, oui or no?

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Visiting a landmark on your summer vacation? Here are some tips on how to do it best, and I second the “go at night” recommendation — best time to visit the Willis (Sears) Tower here in Chicago, in my opinion.

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The 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest submissions are due on the 30th, and there are already some incredible entries.

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I’ve cut back on coffee significantly and drink more tea. But now that summer’s here, I need my iced coffee. Rather than shell out more dinero to my friends at Starbucks, I’ve decided that I’m going to give the Pioneer Woman’s recipe a whirl when we return from vaca.

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Don’t let anyone else tell you how to travel. Period.

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Nora is an okay car traveler, but gets restless. Well, used to get restless. We recently bought this iPad holder which was a real game-changer for our road trips. KP just downloaded some baby-friendly videos from the app store and she’s all set. And even though the pics show it on the back of the front seat, we managed to attach it to the front of the backseat (since she’s still rear-facing).

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Love this sweet piece on marriage.

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All for this week! Enjoy your weekend.

Travels with Mom

Today is my mom’s 75th birthday. It’s kind of bizarre to think of my mom as 75 years old because she definitely doesn’t seem like she’s 75 to me. Maybe what she always says is true — “my kids keep me young.” You’re welcome, Mom.

I have my mom to thank for my love of travel. I can’t think back to a summer when we didn’t go on a vacation. And that’s pretty incredible. All of my friends didn’t go on annual summer vacations, but we did. What a lucky kid I was.

The earliest summer vacations I remember are when my mom, grandma, sisters Julie and Jennifer and I would pile into our Ford Granada and drive to Aunt Marge’s in Miami. That was the late 70s/early 80s, so of course there was no such thing as a seat-back TV. We had coloring books and “travel” versions of games like Connect Four. I can still remember that horrid hot-but-not-quite-melting crayon smell. I was prone to car sickness, too, and would usually throw up at some point along the way. Those trips are chock-full of memories — my first time stepping on burning hot sand, the taste of salt water, the feeling of waves crashing over my head.

And when I got a little older, we frequented Branson, Missouri. Those trips were usually with my mom and dad and sister, Julie. It was a much shorter drive, as compared to Florida, and I don’t recall ever getting carsick! I vividly remember staying at a place called Twelve Oaks Inn in Branson, which was brand new back then. We’d spend our days at Silver Dollar City (and eat our fair share of funnel cakes) or White Water Park. And Julie and I would swim in the hotel pool until we had prune hands.

My mom was good about making sure we always went somewhere. As I’ve gotten older, I love taking trips and making new memories with my mom. And oh, some trips we’ve had… Interestingly, she’s always the one throwing up now, usually after she’s eaten something seemingly normal that just didn’t agree with her.

In honor of my mom’s birthday, the one who instilled in me my love of travel, here are some of my favorite travel memories with her.

Branson, Missouri, 1983

I went to Branson many, many times as a kid. Those trips were the rare times that my mom would break out her swimsuit and play in the water with us. She never went to the pool with us at home, but she always did on vacation.

Wave pool at White Water
Wave pool at White Water (that’s me in the water wings and Mom in the black swimsuit, in the center)

The Cotswolds, England, 2002

One of my mom’s best friends from high school, Sandy (a.k.a. sandyloveslondon, her email alias), loved London. She went all the time and in 2002, my mom decided to join her group of travelers, and my sister, niece and I tagged along. It was my first trip to London and it was love at first sight. While there, we took a day trip via coach to the Cotswolds. The coach made stops at lots of villages in the Cotswolds and we had our share of traditional English pub fare. This is when my mom’s travel tummy troubles began. Thank goodness someone had a paper bag full of souvenirs — quickly emptied and handed off to Mom!

Cotswold Arms
Cotswold Arms

Bar Harbor, Maine, 2005

Shortly after I moved to New England, my mom and sisters came up and we road-tripped from Providence, Rhode Island, to Bar Harbor, Maine. My mom always wanted to go to Maine, and it was such a great pick. Although our plans were to be leaf peepers, Mother Nature had other ideas in store, as it rained nearly the entire weekend. Still, we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. This picture is my favorite memory from that trip — shopping in downtown Bar Harbor in crazy rain and wind.

Rain day in Bah-Habah
Rainy day in Bah-Habah

Scottsdale & Sedona, Arizona, 2007

I’ve been fortunate to have visited some nice spots thanks to work trips, including Scottsdale, Arizona. My mom came and met me on this particular trip and we spent a sunny afternoon in beautiful Sedona.

Scottsdale AZLondon, England, 2008

London with Mom, take two. I was living in London at Thanksgiving in 2008, and there was no way I was going home (couldn’t afford it, plus I was moving back to the States a month later), so my mom was nice enough to come to me instead. We had a great few days wandering around London together again, like we had done years before. And since it was nearly Christmastime, we saw the magical lights along Regent Street and in Covent Garden. My favorite memory from Mom’s visit was taking her pubbing after work one day.

Mom in London

Seville, Spain, 2008

While Mom was in London for Thanksgiving, we decided to take advantage of where we were and take a weekend trip to Spain. I specifically chose Seville because the weather was typically nice that time of year. Mother Nature got in the way again, though — it just so happened to be an unusually cold weekend. Oh well — good excuse for us to buy new scarves!

momseville

My mom still travels on a regular basis, luckily. It doesn’t take much to get her to make a trip to come see us in Chicago (although let’s be honest — Nora is the real draw), and next week our whole family will be together at a beautiful lake house my parents rented for the week. I like to think we’ll get a London v3 trip squeezed in at some point, too!

Happy birthday, Mom!

The Week That Was: June 20, 2014

Small town charm

You might recall that last week I was feeling a little apprehensive about our weekend to see my parents, since it was right on the heels of our trip to New York City. We were home merely to rest our heads before getting in the car and going again. But, it was great. The little weekend getaway turned out to be exactly what we needed in terms of R & R after a few days in the Big Apple.

A few more thoughts on our New York trip and then I promise I’ll move on. It was an okay trip, but I guess I’m hanging onto it because I’m so surprised at how differently I feel about the city now. I still like Manhattan, but definitely not with a baby. I kept comparing it to Chicago now that I’ve lived here for five years — and I like Chicago better. Even as we were driving out of Chicago on our way to my parents’ last weekend, I got this odd sense of pride. “Doesn’t Chicago have the prettiest skyline?” “Isn’t it great how we can drive along the lake and actually drive (versus sit in traffic — not that Chicago’s without its traffic problems!)?” Poor KP had to listen to me wax poetic about Chicago practically until we were in Kankakee. Don’t get me wrong — I often have plenty to bitch about when it comes to our fine city. But going to New York was one of those trips that really made me glad to be home. And, even after getting home, I was happier still to visit my first home.

This weekend we’re staying put. Nora has music class tomorrow and we need to start preparing for our big family lake vacation next weekend. Yippee!

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Remember that road trip app I told you about, iExit? Love it. We used it last weekend and not only does it give you specifics as far as what’s at upcoming exits (actual restaurant names), but my favorite part — you can add notes. So, after stopping at a really grody Phillips 66 in Paxton IL (exit 261 off I-57, if you must know), KP promptly noted in the app, “don’t stop here.”

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I just finished Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, and like nearly everything she’s written, I loved it. She touches on all of the heavy topics — marriage, friendship, religion, mortality — but in a light, relatable way. Her take on these topics validated a lot of my own thinking and feeling.

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Looking for something new to sip this summer?

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I truly believed — thanks to some teacher who’s “always done it that way” — that two spaces after a period was correct. Not so. Thank you to my cousin, Kenny, for educating me. But can I convert?

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I don’t love my iPhone. So maybe it’s time to switch to the new Amazon Fire… that is, when it’s available through Verizon.

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It’s a tough call as to which is more appealing — the sandwich or the view.

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I love finding unique gifts from markets or bazaars while traveling. These days, you can do the same without even leaving your couch by shopping global boutiques online. We’re fortunate to have a Ten Thousand Villages storefront in our neighborhood, which is where Nora got my beautiful birthday gift.

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I remember occasionally seeing hitchhikers when I was a kid and we were driving (usually to Florida) to our vacation spot, back in the mid-80’s. And, maybe this is “watch your back” city life influencing me, but there’s no way we’re ever picking up a hitchhiker — especially one who’s been eating refried beans.

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Happy weekend!

The Chase Park Plaza, St. Louis, Missouri

Chase Park Plaza Photo credit: Philip Leara
Chase Park Plaza
Photo credit: Philip Leara

I’m told that The Chase Park Plaza used to be the high society luxury hotel in St. Louis. Both of my parents who grew up in the area made that remark, but also said, “it’s so old,” when I told them that KP and I were staying there. None of that influenced my booking. I simply wanted a hotel that wasn’t downtown, and wasn’t outrageously expensive. Voila!

Part of the appeal of The Chase Park Plaza was that it’s just across the street from Forest Park. Not that we spent any time in the park — got our fill of that in New York City. And, as KP commented, we’re always in the park with Nora. Valid point. Still, I didn’t want to be in downtown St. Louis and the Central West End, where Chase Park Plaza is located, is adorable with lots of restaurants, bars and shops.

We arrived at the hotel about an hour and a half before 4:00 check-in, with hopes of checking in early or at least dropping off our bags so that we could take advantage of the sun at the pool. Well, our room wasn’t ready so we couldn’t check-in early, and the pool was so jam-packed that we didn’t bother suiting up. Instead, we opted for cocktails at the poolside cafe. I’ll chalk the slow service up to the fact that it was so crowded. The pool is nice, but a little on the smallish side. Every single chair was occupied and everyone else opted to take a towel and sit on the edge. I don’t think there was a single spot open.

We stayed in a suite on the 5th floor opposite the pool side, so we didn’t have much of a view. And because of where our room was situated, it only had one window in the bedroom, so the living room felt like it was in a basement.

The view from room 544
The view from room 544

KP said it best when describing our room: understated. There wasn’t much style to it or even really any décor to speak of, which is okay. But I guess I expected a little something more from a luxury hotel. The bed was comfortable, the room was quiet and the shower pressure was good. I could’ve probably even slept in a little longer if not for the pesky sunlight peeking in through the small bedside window.

Bedside window
Bedside window

Though I was a little underwhelmed by the Chase Park Plaza, it was a perfectly fine hotel, and I especially liked the location. If we had more time, we would’ve definitely walked through Forest Park, checked out the art museum and explored the gorgeous Cathedral Basilica just down the street. But, our time was limited and we were parents on a baby-free staycation in St. Louis. We had our priorities straight: day drinking while watching the World Cup and napping, followed by pre-dinner cocktails, dinner and bedtime. It made for a relaxing little getaway.

Chase Park Plaza — the good and the bad:

+ Location

+ Comfortable beds

+ Quiet

+ Movie theater on property

+ Complimentary wifi

– Vanilla décor

– Small swimming pool

 

Baby-friendly New York City?

Central Park

I tend to really overthink things and cause myself unnecessary anxiety when we travel with Nora. How are we going to fit everything? Is she going to sleep okay? Where will she sleep? Can I take food on the plane for her? (Duh!) Is the hotel baby-friendly? What restaurants are baby-friendly? Sometimes this stress is completely unnecessary, and other times, it’s valid.

I think stressing about traveling to New York City with a baby was legitimate — even though we chose to take her there. Now, there are plenty of people who rave that it’s a perfectly baby-friendly city, like the bellman at our hotel who, when questioned about baby-friendly restaurants in the area, responded, “all of them!” Oh fantastic! Let me just pop Nora in her stroller and we’ll head right over to Le Bernardin, then. I wouldn’t call New York City un-baby-friendly, but I definitely think other cities are much easier with a baby in tow.

What makes Manhattan with a baby so challenging? Well, for starters, the people, the crowds. By our last day, it was just easier to let Nora play with her toys in our hotel room rather than battle the crowds with her stroller.  And all of those people want to go to the same shops and restaurants that you do. Trying to quickly grab lunch at Pret-a-Manger was navigating a mob scene. And you know how New York City has earned the title, “the city that never sleeps?” That’s because it’s noisy, all the time. All day and all night there are horns honking, sirens blaring — just noise. Nora got that memo loud and clear and partook by not sleeping much herself on our first night.

That said, I think we did quite alright on our brief stay in the Big Apple. Here is a list of where we stayed, ate, explored and shopped (by shop, I mean for things like groceries!) while in New York City, all of which I found to be baby-friendly.

Warwick New York Hotel

Right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, Warwick New York Hotel is within walking distance of Central Park, one of my favorite baby-friendly spots in New York City. We find it easiest to stay in a suite when we travel with Nora, and Warwick often has deals on suites on Jetsetter. Take “deals” as a relative term — it’s still New York City, after all. Though the lobby is a little cramped, it’s easy enough to maneuver a stroller through, as are the hallways. The elevators are a bit small but we didn’t have any issues. There’s an accessible entrance on 6th Avenue, which is actually better for coming and going because most other guests seem to use the main entrance on 54th Street. We had a premier suite which was incredibly spacious, with more than enough room for our endless amount of “stuff,” and Nora had plenty of space to crawl. Best of all, there wasn’t much baby-proofing that needed to be done, and nearly all of the furniture had rounded edges, save for the mirrored coffee table. The crib that the hotel supplied was one of the nicer ones that’s actually like a mini crib, not a pack ‘n play.

Bistro Milano

We liked Bistro Milano so much that we ate there twice. Admittedly, when Nora and I first strolled by, my knee-jerk reaction was that it wasn’t baby-friendly due to the white tablecloths and the fact that I didn’t see any highchairs. But the bellman at the hotel recommended it for dinner, so we gave it a go. It ended up being a great choice. We sat in the outdoor café, the food (Northern Italian) was good and KP and I enjoyed summer sangria (delicious on that particularly muggy Manhattan evening). Stroller space — both for maneuvering and parking — wasn’t an issue. And Nora devoured an entire piece of pizza (sans crust) — a first!

Ray’s Pizza

One of my favorite New York City spots, Ray’s was a must for a slice. We didn’t dine in since our hotel was so close by, but you definitely could with a baby. There are several locations throughout the city.

53rd Street Gourmet Deli

Throwing all Weight Watchers caution to the wind, I was determined to get my hands on a proper New York bagel with a schmear. I foolishly bought one from a street vendor and promptly threw it in the garbage after one bite. It tasted like a cigarette-infused piece of cardboard. I wouldn’t allow that to be Nora’s first New York bagel experience. So we popped into 53rd Street Deli for the real deal. Nora and I shared a delicious toasted whole wheat bagel with what felt like an entire brick of cream cheese in the middle. They have more than just bagels, though — it’s a full deli with seating inside and out.

Ernest Klein Supermarket

I was stupidly happy to stumble upon Ernest Klein Supermarket, located just across the street from Warwick New York Hotel. It was one of our first stops to stock up on milk, fruit and cheese sticks. In addition to grocery items, there’s a deli, sushi bar and prepared foods. Silly as it may sound, having this supermarket so close by made my day. You never know what you’re going to need when you have a baby…

Duane Reade

Let me reiterate: you never know what you’re going to need when you have a baby… So having not one, but two Duane Reades right near our hotel was very convenient. There are Duane Reades all over the city, though, so no matter where you stay, you’ll probably be covered.

Central Park

I love Central Park. And I loved it even more after this trip since it was right up the street from our hotel, and I often found myself itching to escape the crowds with Nora. So we spent a morning and afternoon in the park. As always, it was so peaceful to just get away from everyone and everything else and enjoy the calm.

I still love New York City, but now that I have a baby and have experienced it with her, I think it will remain a mom and dad-only destination for the foreseeable future. Sure, it could’ve been worse, but it also could’ve been better. We ate some yummy food and I got to see some friends, but I really don’t know that Nora much enjoyed it, so why bother? I’m pretty sure she thoroughly enjoyed shredding the hotel magazines in our room, though, and for that, I apologize to housekeeping.

Warwick New York Hotel

Warwick New York Hotel
Warwick New York Hotel

On our recent trip to New York City, we stayed at Warwick New York Hotel in Midtown. We booked a suite mainly for two reasons: 1) we got a pretty great deal on Jetsetter, and 2) we really need a suite when we travel with Nora. That is, unless we want to go to bed at 7:30 p.m., which we do not (nor does she, in the city that never sleeps… as we learned).

Before finding it on Jetsetter, I’d never heard of Warwick Hotel. Though when we arrived, I realized I’d passed it numerous times back when I lived in the area. It’s on the corner of 6th Avenue and 54th Street, just south of Central Park, and just east of the Ziegfeld Theater, which is where Marion Davies was performing when her sweetheart William Randolph Hearst commissioned the hotel. Today, there are photo collages of Davis and other high-society folks throughout the hotel, and hints of old Hollywood glamour in the decor.

We stayed in one of the newly redesigned Premier Suites on the 10th floor, and I was amazed by its size. It was huge. Huge! I think the living room was bigger than ours at home. The suite overlooked 54th Street and 6th Avenue and there were big windows to let in a lot of natural light — with big windowsills for Nora to sit on and watch the traffic below. She also appreciated all of the wide open space to crawl all over the place and play — not with her toys, of course, but with the magazines she quickly snatched from the coffee table and other really exciting things she found on the floor.

Traffic patrol
Traffic patrol
Premier Suite living space (plastic bib not included)
Premier Suite living space (plastic bib and car seat not included)

The bedroom was big, too. No worries about stubbing a toe on the crib. It had a king-size bed, two bedside tables, a chair and a dresser, plus a decent closet. The only thing in the entire suite that seemed small was the bathroom. They could’ve easily made the bedroom or living room a little smaller to accommodate a larger bathroom. (And suddenly I’m an expert on hotel room layouts!) Even still, the bathroom was fine. It didn’t prevent Nora from inviting herself in whenever I was using it.

Warwick Hotel New York Premier Suite Bedroom
Warwick Hotel New York Premier Suite Bedroom

Warwick New York Hotel — the good and the bad:

+ Reasonably priced, especially if you book through a deal site

+ Free wifi in some room packages

+ Spacious rooms

+ Excellent location

+ Accommodating, knowledgeable staff

+ Baby/kid-friendly

– Noisy — could easily hear constant street noise (I know, it’s NYC…) and adjacent doors opening/closing

– Small bathroom

The Week That Was: June 13, 2014

NYC traffic

Home from NYC for just a night before we head out again tomorrow. Kind of feeling like — what were we thinking? But it’ll be fun. Just hope Nora does well in the car and at bedtime, the latter of which gave her a little trouble in the Big Apple. But what’s a girl to do with all that noise? And, have you ever noticed how the sirens in NYC sound different? It isn’t just the normal siren sound; there are multiple variations and I felt like I was living inside a video game. Happy to be home, and more on NYC soon.

Really looking forward to this weekend’s getaway, which is multi-purpose. We’re going to my parents’ but KP and I will leave Nora with Grammie and Grandpa on Saturday while we go have a staycation in St. Louis for the night. Looking forward to our night out in the Lou, as always. And then on Sunday, we’ll head back to my parents’ to celebrate Father’s Day.

Enjoy your weekend and happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

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Here are six apps to check out on your road trip this summer. Just downloaded iExit; will report back in a few weeks!

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Goonies turned 29 this past weekend. Was I really that young when it came out?

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I’ve been eating tzatziki like it’s going out of style lately (low Weight Watchers points!). And, though usually intimidated by lamb, these burgers sound tasty and easy.

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This Google Doodler deserves a $30K scholarship. Wow.

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I have to thank my friend Elaine for sharing these five minutes in a mom’s head. I feel like the author recorded my brain one night.

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I’d happily sip a summer cocktail by any of these gorgeous pools — except #10. Yuck!

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I hope someone’s sharing this with my nieces and nephews. I could also share some gems about how/where the “popular” kids from my high school ended up…

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Happy weekend.