It’s TX to NJ Day

TX to NJ

October 28: the 11 year anniversary of my move from Texas to New Jersey. Feels so very incredibly long ago. And I wouldn’t have even remembered today as the exact anniversary, but luckily my dad maintains this super detailed calendar at home, complete with world and family events and milestones. And, apparently I share the anniversary of my move with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which was completed 49 years ago today!

I moved to Houston right out of college, ironically, because I didn’t want to follow suit along with the rest of my graduating class and move to Chicago. It’s just what Illini do, it seems. (And it just took me nine years to later join them.) So I chose Houston. It probably wouldn’t be some people’s first choices, but aside from my pipe dream of moving to New York City, there wasn’t anyplace else in particular that I had much desire to be. So I bunked with my sister and her husband and their growing family for a bit, and then I moved into my own place. It was my first time being out on my own. And in hindsight, Houston was probably a fine choice. Life there was easy. And easy was good, considering it was the first real “city” I ever lived in.

After spending three years in Texas, I thought I was getting settled there. I had a solid group of friends. I generally liked my job. I bought a condo. But then I got a job offer in New Jersey. The stars somehow aligned because the job sort of found me; it wasn’t something that I had applied for. And all I heard was, “20 miles from Manhattan.” I didn’t really think twice. I just thought I’d be going from one big hair state to another. More importantly, I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity that presented itself, I’d always wonder, what if? Fortunately, I haven’t found myself ever wondering,  what if I’d stayed in Texas?

Illinois to Texas was culture shock. But Texas to New Jersey was even more culture shock. While both states may like their big hair (and fake nails), there’s not much more that they have in common. My early days in Jersey were not easy. And they were not fun. And I had never heard so many people — well-educated, intelligent people — drop F bombs in the workplace. So much of what I thought I’d like about Jersey — the fast pace, the no-nonsense attitude, the big city life — was so intimidating in those early days. I remember crying, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into and why it had to be so hard. I was a wee 20-something from southern Illinois, after all.

My first apartment in New Jersey was in a high-rise just across the Hudson from Manhattan. Being a somewhat naive 20-something, I was focused on being as close to Manhattan as possible without being in Manhattan, and a modern building with amenities that I was accustomed to in Houston. In addition to culture shock, I suffered from sticker shock. Apartments with swimming pools and gyms cost a lot more in New Jersey than they do in Texas! But the most devastating blow I was dealt in my new home was my first electricity bill of the winter… I was certain there was a mistake when I read my bill, which said that my electricity for one month cost $600. Nope, no error. Apparently living along the Hudson River and having lots of windows in your apartment can be a bit pricy to keep warm in those cold winter months.

But in time, things got better. I ditched my fancy apartment and moved into a really sad — but vintage! — apartment in Hoboken, a town so much more my speed. I think the word my dad used to describe my apartment was “sketchy.” The word I’d use to describe it is “affordable.” I spent my weekends and then some in Manhattan. I made friends. I partook in bagel Fridays at work. I spent summer days down the shore. I may have joined in the F bomb dropping in the office a time or two. (I still blame Jersey for the foul mouth I have to this day.) I grew to really love Jersey and defend it with pride whenever someone would knock it (I still do). And for a long time after I left New Jersey to move further up the East Coast, I felt like I was going home every time I drove back to New Jersey, oddly.

It’s funny how life has a way of working out the way it’s supposed to. When I was nearing college graduation and firing off cover letter after cover letter to companies in New York and New Jersey and hearing rejection or worse — nothing at all — I got discouraged. I truly thought the East Coast wasn’t meant to be for me, so I moved on. And then just when I got comfortable — maybe too comfortable — New Jersey came knocking.

I’ve written this much about New Jersey without a single Bon Jovi reference, but I’m not quite finished. Jon Bon Jovi once said, “New Jersey shaped who and what I am. Growing up in New Jersey gave you all the advantages of New York, but you were in its shadow. Anyone who’s come from here will tell you that same story.” I concur.

The Week That Was: October 24, 2014

Autum in ChicagoSorry about the one-week hiatus. We have been busy indulging in all things autumn here in Chicago — and Indiana, as it were. I baked my first batch of pumpkin gooey butter cakes (do yourself a favor and make these now), we went to County Line Orchard (and only visited the Country Store because it rained rained rained) and ate their amazing pumpkin doughnuts, we got our obligatory pumpkin (which has been finger painted versus carved into a jack-o-lantern), we went to a pumpkin festival and Nora visited her first makeshift petting zoo! Lesson learned — she prefers her farm animals at somewhat of a distance.

… and the fall fun will continue into this weekend with a “Scary Singalong” at the school where Nora attends music class… and perhaps a trial run of the honey butter pumpkin dinner rolls I’m thinking of making for Thanksgiving.

I love fall.

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I’ve kicked the Pumpkin Spice Latte habit. Plenty of other pumpkin drinks to enjoy.

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40 Halloween candies, from nastiest to raddest. How are regular Tootsie Rolls nastier than the fruit ones? I actually like the regular ones.

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Not surprised to see Dublin on the world’s friendliest cities list.

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I learned of one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard of this week: free nannies to people traveling BY PLANE with children. KP’s response: but you have to connect somewhere in the Middle East. Um, I’ll connect on the moon, if I must.

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Must keep this handy for my next trip to Europe (whenever that may be), and be sure to buy an umbrella in Paris.

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Good tips for fighting in-flight germs.

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Don’t forget to do your civic duty in just a little over a week.

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Have a lovely weekend.

The Westin St. Louis

The Westin St. Louis

I’m in love with The Westin St. Louis. There, I got that out of the way.

KP and I stayed at The Westin St. Louis a few Friday nights ago. A night out for two sleep-deprived parents. The fact that the hotel was so lovely was just the icing on the cake. So, what makes it so great? Where shall I begin…

It’s a Westin, so the Heavenly Bed prevails and guess what — the bed is heavenly. The Heavenly Bed is my favorite thing about staying at Westins (well, that and the SPG points since our stay at the St. Regis bled us dry). For a stay-at-home-mom who sleeps in never, sleeping until 8:30 on a Saturday morning was pure bliss. And, I might add, it was a restful, quiet sleep. It was so very quiet. No elevator noise. No shenanigans in the hallway. No doors slamming. Maybe they had us on the sleep-deprived floor and didn’t tell us.

Our room was huge. Huge. We were upgraded to a Deluxe King — larger than a king room with a little sitting area. The high ceilings gave the room a loft-like feel. And the room was designed smartly; even though the sleeping area was big, they didn’t skimp by cutting into the bathroom space — it was spacious, too (dual sinks, soaking tub, roomy rain shower).

I had forgotten all about this Westin gem until I opened the closet:

Westin Workout

How genius is that? I told myself that I should take advantage of Westin Workout on Saturday morning before we checked out. And then I told myself that brunch also sounded nice.

There’s a restaurant/bar — Clark Street Grill  — adjacent to the lobby. Of course we took advantage and had a late afternoon drink (or two). I was a little surprised at how empty it was given that time of day on a Friday, but who am I to bemoan a seat at the bar?

I can’t forget to mention the perfect location of the Westin St. Louis. It is literally right across the street from Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch and riverfront are within walking distance. We had dinner in Soulard and it was a very quick car ride away.

Can’t wait for our next weekend in St. Louis so we can make a date with my new love.

10 Favorite Travel Websites

I love planning and booking trips. Doesn’t matter if it’s just a weekend getaway or a longer trip across the pond. There are usually spreadsheets involved… And these guys — ten of my favorite websites for booking travel:

  1. Airportparkingreservations.com is one of the cheapest ways to park at an airport. We pay around $8/day to park at O’Hare. The catch is that we park in the garage at the Intercontinental Hotel and they shuttle us to/from the terminal. It’s so easy, though, and good luck finding $8/day parking on site.
  2. Dogwonderful.com will save you from filtering through multiple websites if you’re trying to find a dog-friendly hotel. This was super useful when we took Daisy (RIP) on road trips and needed a place to stop overnight.
  3. Eurostar is the way to go when traveling throughout Europe. I wish train travel in the U.S. was as common and convenient.
  4. Kayak is the site I use most frequently when I don’t know what airline I’m going to fly. Still, after finding the flights I want, I most often book directly on the airline’s website. Sometimes you can find good deals by flying different airlines on each leg of your trip, in which case Kayak is more useful for booking.
  5. OpenTable is where I book all dining reservations mainly because I hate picking up the phone. But you also get points based on the restaurant you reserve, and once you hit 10,000 points you get a $100 reward check (trust me, you’ll hit 10,000 points faster than you think).
  6. TripAdvisor can be hit or miss for me, depending on the destination. I mainly use it to check out what people are saying about a hotel I’m on the fence about, and most times the reviews are pretty spot on.
  7. WhichBudget is, in my opinion, the best site for finding the cheapest flights across Europe. You’ll probably discover a lot of little airlines you’ve never heard of, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  8. Yapta will alert you when prices of flights you’re either tracking or have already booked have dropped.
  9. Hotel Chatter recently published do’s and don’t’s for booking a hotel room like a boss.
  10. Flyertalk is, sadly, a site I don’t visit much anymore as I have no status on any airline… not that it would get me much these days, anyway. But, if you’re one of those lucky jetsetters, then Flyertalk is a useful resource to find out how to best earn and redeem miles, and basically learn anything and everything you want to know about airline loyalty programs.

What are some of your favorite travel websites?

The Week That Was: October 10, 2014

Fall in ChicagoI’m loving the sound and the feel of the leaves crunching under our feet on our strolls these days. Fall is definitely here. Wondering if we’re going to get a taste of an Indian summer, though. Always seems to happen.

More work travels for KP this week. Boo. But only for one night this time. Nora and I were up to our usual shenanigans. And this weekend we’re getting out of dodge with a trip to my parents’ and an overnight — for KP and me — in St. Louis. Nora’s sleep has been so whack lately that I really look forward to a good night’s rest — that is, after a yummy dinner with my cuz and his wife. Here’s hoping Nora gives Grammie and Grandpa a break for the night.

Enjoy whatever’s on tap for your weekend.

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I’ve been to less than half of these 20 places every American should see. Time to hit the road.

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I want this mom to pack my lunch.

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I just ditched the trench I had to buy at Old Navy when we were visiting San Francisco a few years ago. In August. Because the weather there is so horrid that you need a coat in August. Now I need a new one, and have been eyeing this swing version.

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Lordy, these look like a lot of work… but so scrumptious and perfect for this time of year.

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I love these two unexpected ways to use a rug runner. Who’da thunk?

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Red wine under $20? Yes, please. Here are the top 10.

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So many versions of this, but they’re all funny. Nora is guilty of several of the 25 reasons why babies are like drunk people.

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Tips for taking food porn shots.

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Happy weekend.

The Week That Was: October 3, 2014

Autumn in Lincoln Park

I believe I told you these lovely colors would be popping up soon in my neighborhood. And here they are. This is from Monday morning’s trip to the park with Nora. The other sight we saw wasn’t so pretty — fresh graffiti on the playground equipment. Thanks, thugs…

It was girls’ week in our household as KP spent the first half of the week in NYC for Ad Week. I used to get excited about events like that but I really don’t miss ’em at all anymore. They always sound like a good idea when you’re booking time out of the office, but then you realize they’re about 100 times more exhausting than actually being in the office. Oh yeah, and you have to somehow figure out how to work while you’re away, too. No, thank you. Instead of snoozy panel discussions, our week was filled with sunny days at the park, lots of walks, Target and a little visit from relatives from California.

We don’t have much on tap for the weekend, aside from dodging raindrops and hoping for a little pop of sunshine maybe on Sunday. Enjoy yours.

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? But most of us aren’t as funny as the Modern Family director who live-tweeted sitting behind a belligerent drunk on a recent flight.

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Potato pancakes, or latkes, are a tradition in our family, especially at Christmastime. Why have I never thought about preparing them this way, though? Genius! And now I’m hungry.

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Post-trip depression. This is exactly how I felt when I returned from London.

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I often feel frumpy on my morning walks with Nora. Perhaps fall is the time to splurge for this slightly more polished version of a hoodie.

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We’re heading to St. Louis for a weekend getaway soon. I started perusing restaurants then got lost down this rabbit hole of the 50 best in St. Louis. Decisions, decisions.

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I’ve never driven anywhere that I’d consider “far” with Nora, solo. Though I’ve toyed with the idea of driving to my parents’ (4.5 hours away) and always talk myself out of it. If she can do Toronto to Texas, I think I can handle 4.5 hours!

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You have to admit it. Some of these things that our friends in Europe say about us are true.

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Happy weekend!