December 30, 2008

In 2009, I will...

Last year, I made my New Year's goals public. I'm doing it again this year. But before I tell you what I have in store for 2009, let's review what I did (or did not) accomplish in 2008.

Goal 1: Do a physical activity lasting at least 20 minutes, four times a week.
This goal was up and down, but I can't say I tracked it enough to know how consistent I was. I think the percentage of weeks I made this goal is incredibly low. But I feel like I worked out more this year than the previous one. Plus I found a new gym and a routine that seems to work for me. So I may have not been strong with this goal the entire year, but I'm ending strong. For that, I'll give myself a .4 on my success rate.

Goal 2: Make an educated vote for president.
Done. And if you read this blog at all from September to November, I hope I helped you make and educated vote too. My success rate equals one.

Goal 3: Volunteer one day out of the month at a charitable organization.
I did not volunteer one single day at any charitable organization, so this one was a big fail. But I do donate to Chicago Public Radio on a monthly basis, so I gave a little. I give my success a 0.1.

Goal 4: Take violin lessons.
Done. I took two fiddle classes, so this was a completely successful goal. I get a one out of one.

Goal 5: Learn about my family's history.
This one is hard to define in terms of success. I remember having conversations about my family with my family this past year. I learned I'm one than one-half German (I always thought I was a quarter), my great grandfather on my mother's side used to smuggle alcohol from Canada during prohibition and my dad is actually a second, having been named after his grandfather. The thing is I know I learned more than this, but I have forgotten most of it already. At best, I can only rate my success at 0.4.

I've given myself a 2.9 out of five for my goals accomplished. Better than 50 percent, but not as good as I'd hoped. Here's hoping 2009 is more successful. I've once again, set five goals for myself. I've tried to make these as concrete as possible so I'll know for certain if I've reached them or not.

And now, my list.

Goal 1: Find out and fix my credit score.
It is absolutely terrible, but I have no idea what my credit score is. I've never looked into it, mainly because I haven't had the need. And given the number of credit card applications I receive on a weekly basis, I've always assumed my score is pretty good. But I don't know my score. Nor do I know what errors it may contain. I have friends with horror stories about fixing their credit ratings. These stories generally are set under dire circumstances, like buying a house. I figure before I make any major purchases (nothing planned now) where my credit may be a factor, I'd like to get my credit score in order.

Goal 2: Learn the history of my violin.
My violin wasn't purchased by me or my parents. It was passed down in our family and eventually rescued by my mom years ago from my grandparents garage sale. The story I know about its history is vague.
Some grandfather (great or great-great) on my mom's side ran a hotel and a man
came to stay one night. The man couldn't pay so he left his violin as payment. He said he'd come back with cash in exchange for the violin. He never did.
See vague. I'd like to know names of people, locations, the name and location of the hotel, when exactly this all happened, etc. This goal stems from my fifth goal of 2008, but it's a little more concrete this time around.

Goal 3: Run the Shamrock Shuffle in under 50 minutes.
I am nervous just typing that. I've run the shuffle two other times. I came in around 57 minutes both times. It's my standard, jogging pace of 11+ minute miles. By cutting my time to under 50 minutes I will need to cut more than a minute off my per minute mile pace. I don't know if I can do this, but I'm sure as hell going to try. My inspiration is my friend Kelsa who is running her first marathon in less than three weeks. We used to run at the same pace, but now that girl can sprint past me. That's because she's diligently trained and cut down her time. I plan to do the same.

Goal 4: Play vibrato.
This is an extension of my fourth goal from last year. I have gotten back into playing violin this past year. A lot of my skills have returned but I'd like to expand my playing abilities. One thing I've never been able to do is play vibrato. Vibrato is the difference between long flat notes and the sweet, pretty vibration of a note. For some reason, my wrists and fingers have never been able to move in a vibrato motion. I've wanted to know how to do this ever since I started playing. My main motivation now will be the wedding I'm playing at in September. Wedding songs just sound so much prettier with a vibrato.

Goal 5: Cut my student loans in half.
I owe close to $9,000 in student loans. That is not a lot compared to what most people owe, but I'd like it gone sooner rather than later. I've always paid more than the minimum, but I can contribute more. And really, it's the only debt I have so why not get rid of it.

So that's it. Stay tuned in 2009. I'll be sharing my triumphs and challenges as 2009 progresses. Wish me luck!

December 24, 2008

Silent Night at Home

I am sitting on the couch right now wrapped in a blanket. In the apartment, there's a soft glow from my mini-Christmas tree and my laptop. Mike's watching ESPN, and I'm putting off packing right now. Hence, this post.

We were supposed to be on our way to Michigan right now. The forecast, however, scared us in for one more night. The thought of fighting traffic on Christmas Eve all the way to Michigan while driving through a wintry mix was too much. It made sense to wait it out one more night.
Waiting comes at the expense of one of my favorite Christmas traditions, though. My sister and her family attend a beautiful, old church in Detroit, and it holds an absolutely lovely Christmas Eve service. I look forward to attending this service as a staple of my holiday traditions. Nothing puts me in the Christmas spirit more than ending the service by singing Silent Night with candle in hand. It warms my soul.

This year though, there won't be any of that. I'll have to settle for the glow of my few decorations and a silent night at home.
Happy Holidays to you all. I wish you the happiest of holiday celebrations.
I'll be in Michigan through Sunday and off work Monday and Tuesday. Expect some posts then of my holiday hi jinks.

December 22, 2008

Somewhere Far From Here

I love this photo. I especially love this photo right now. It was taken about six months ago, on the fourth of July. It was a day that was about 80 degrees warmer than today, which is to say it was 80 degrees that day. It is bitterly cold in Chicago right now, but this photo takes me back to a sunny day spent with my family on a lake in western Michigan.

My family has gone to this particular house on this particular lake for many Fourths. It belongs to friends that my parents have known since high school. We have a lot of memories associated with that lake. I remember the year my dad cut his ear sailing the Hobie cat and had to get stitches. I remember the Fourth a storm swept across the lake so quickly we almost lost our tent to the elements. I remember several frustrating games of tether ball with my sister (I just couldn't win!). Memorable also was the summer my dad got a bunch of illegal fireworks and lit them off over the lake. As kids, we used to color the "Happy Fourth of July" sign every summer. We were greeted by one of these relic signs this year (with dot matrix lines still intact). I could pick out my wobbly, bubbly markings on the "4."

I loved going to the lake this year because it was the first time in quite a few years that my entire family made it. Mike and I came from Chicago, and my parents and sister's family came separately from the Detroit-area. We had a fabulous time, and I hope my nephews associate that lake and the fourth of July with happy memories like I do.

This photo above was made possible by my six-year-old nephew Jordan. He went hunting for snails in the lake and started lining up the empty shells on the dock. He aligned them just so. So perfect to my eye that they were photo-worthy.

December 20, 2008

Cats, You've Been Warned

Holy crap. I'm not going to lie. I've spent all morning playing with my new toy, and holy crap is it awesome. You know what this means? More and better photo shoots with the cats. Because I don't have enough photos of the cats already.


I just realized, this post currently makes it the third cat-related entry on this page. Whatever, call me a crazy cat lady all you want (Nicole!). I can take it.

December 19, 2008

Just As I Suspected

Mike and I did get our helicopter toys this week. I haven't played with mine yet, but Mike couldn't resist opening his as soon as he got it. Before he burnt out the motor (after 15 minutes of play - stupid cheap POS's!), he had some fun. And just as I suspected, it was the at the cats' expense.

(I'd suggest turning down the volume before you play these. The sound it set pretty loud. Also, even though only Mike can be heard laughing, please know that I was as soon as stopped recording.)

video

video

TGIF

I was going to blog about how terrible this week has been. How I haven't worked out in almost two weeks. About how I'm just now finally getting over a cold that set in shortly after my cookie baking commenced. How Mike and I slept in different rooms all week on account of all the sneezing and snoring attributed to our colds (he was sick too). How two snow storms struck Chicago and the only upside to that was testing out my new kick ass snow boots. Other than that, this week pretty much felt like a wash. It was just a blur of sneezing, sniffling, restless nights, lazy evenings, unproductive work days and a home that would not clean itself.

Then Mike and I exchanged our Christmas gifts tonight. And when I saw he got me a fancy new camera I had been molesting in electronics stores every chance I got, it all melted away. My week was over. Sure it wasn't great, but it sure as hell ended on a good note.

December 15, 2008

Not Like Mom Used to Make

My mom makes the best sugar cookies. I am sure your mom makes some type of delicious dessert, perhaps even sugar cookies. But I can assure you that my mom makes the best sugar cookies. Ever.

Christmas is always the best time of year for almost any child. Presents and candy and songs and pretty dresses and all that. Secretly though, I also loved it because it was the time of year when my mom would make her sugar cookies. These cookies I believe were actually my grandma's recipe, but in the years my mom's had the recipe, she's mastered it. I cannot stress enough how good they are.

As much as I love these cookies, I had never attempted to make them on my own. I'd helped my mom on occasion, my sister and I offering our sifting or rolling skills. And of course, there was always the matter of decorating. We were master decorators. Sprinkles, red hots, icing, you name it, we could decorate with it.

I have not done a lot of baking in recent years. The main reason for this is my last two apartment kitchens were so old, I don't think I could have fit a baking sheet in the tiny ovens. Not to mention, they just looked like fire hazards. This year though, I am living in Mike's place, on his kitchen surrounded by cherry wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. It's heaven. So if there were ever a year to tackle my mom's sugar cookies it was this year.

This past Sunday, I took out my mom's recipe and followed it to a tee. But that is not to say it was without mishaps.

My first problem came with mixing. I added the egg, sour cream, butter, sugar and mixed with Mike's electric mixer. No problem.

And then I slowly added the flour mixture I had previously sifted. I added bit by bit and by the time I got to the last of the flour, the mixer was barely moving under the weight of the dough. Then it stopped all together and started to smoke. It was at this point that I remembered there was a mixing part in the recipe that involved a wooden spoon, not electric mixer.

I put the mixer on the concrete back step (less of a fire hazard)...


... and grabbed a wooden spoon.


The next step was easy. I let the dough refrigerate for a five hours.

The day before I picked up all the appropriate supplies at the grocery store. I needed a sifter, a rolling pin, a big cookie sheet and lots of cookie cutters. The cookie cutter supply was disappointing, to say the least. The store only had Christmas trees so that was the only shape I could make. I made up for it by buying different color sprinkles and sugars.


The first batch of cookies went into the oven and I set my kitchen timer. When the minute warning beeped, I started to smell the cookies. But by the time I got them out, the bottoms were burned. Completely burned.
I threw those out, considering them a test run. I got the next batch ready, put them in the oven and set my timer for two minutes less than the first batch. They turned out so much better. And by so much better, I mean edible.

I repeated this a few more times to great results and in the end wound up with about 30 cookies to take into work. I tried one of my cookies this morning just to make sure they were edible, and they tasted OK. Only OK because they didn't taste as good as my mom's. There's something to that special mom touch I wasn't able to recreate. It's probably all the years of wisdom gained from outsmarting your kids. That and maybe better sugar.

I plan to make these cookies again but I'll tweak the recipe slightly. Next time I'll use granulated sugar and try to ground fresh nutmeg. That makes the difference according to my sister. I still don't think they will taste as good as my mom's cookies, but I'll get as close as I can. Even if I don't, they are apparently better than edible because my co-workers devoured them today.

This is all that's left. Just some crumbs and sprinkles.

Stimulating the Economy, One Brookstone Purchase at a Time

I just bought two of mini helicopters (see photo) from Brookstone - the store of miscellaneous crap you don't really need. That may not be its official slogan, but it sure as heck should be with stuff like this and this and then of course this.

I was not at all in the market for toy helicopters, but Mike was. He almost bought one while we were in Radioshack the other day, but my quizzical, furrowed brow talked him out of it. However, when I got a reminder email from Brookstone yesterday regarding my $25 off gift card, I told Mike to see if there was anything he wanted. I bought Mike a really nice barbecue set this fall from Brookstone for his birthday, and thus began the multitude of Brookstone catalogs beings delivered to our home. With that BBQ tool kit also came a $25 gift card to use toward my next purchase, so long as it was made before Dec. 24.

Mike took a look through the miscellaneous crap we do not need at Brookstone and settled on this remote controlled helicopter. The kicker, though, was a deal for one at regular price or two at a discounted price. So of course, I got two. What's better than miscellaneous crap we don't really need? Double the miscellaneous crap we don't really need.

I already suspect the main use of these mini helicopters will be freaking out the cats. Because the loud noises, sudden movements and plastic bags that already scare the living piss out of them on a daily basis just aren't enough.

December 12, 2008

Grade A Winnings

Last night was my firm's annual Christmas party. It was held at a colorful, loud Latin restaurant just west of downtown. There was food there was drinking, there was dancing, general merriment, and of course presents. You can't have a Christmas party without presents.

The firm has always been exceptional at showing its appreciation for the support staff (all non-attorneys), but never more so than during the month of December. At the party, two of the top partners raffled off several prizes to the staff - $250 gift cards to various department stores, box seats to Cubs or Sox games, six month wine club subscriptions and the big one, two round trip tickets to anywhere in the continental U.S. Even though I did not attend the Christmas party last year, I still won something. I won meat. This year. I won something again.

I won meat.

Something I did not know about myself until last night? I have a knack for winning top quality animal by-products.

Mike won something too. He won an overnight stay in a downtown hotel and theater tickets. Something there got mixed up. Mike is not a theater goer. My mom took my sister and I to see The Phantom of the Opera before I hit my teens. And sure, I'll eat a steak here and there, but only if Mike makes it for me. Mike on the other hand, eats steak at least once a week. We're already negotiating trades. More than likely though, we'll end up dining on steaks together, seeing a show and sharing a hotel room - not necessarily all in the same day. So even though neither one of us won the prize that suited us best, together we cleaned up at the holiday party.

December 9, 2008

Say It Ain't So

Every evening on my way to the train station I cross a bridge over the Chicago River. And almost every evening on the bridge come rain or shine, sleet or snow there is a man banging away on a homemade set of drums. He's pretty good, this man with his drumsticks and plastic buckets. He always does his best to get the passersby involved by chanting "Go! Go! Go! Go!" or shouting something topical at a pause, like "Cubs win!" or "It's the weekend!" (on Fridays). Today it was "Blagojevich sucks!" Pretty fitting on the day when our governor was hauled into court by the feds. See, he's topical.

For any of you who did not catch any portion of any news segment today, Illinois' governor Rod Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff John Harris were arrested at their homes around 6:15 a.m. on fraud and conspiracy charges for things like.... well, oh, you know nothing too big he thinks. Well except the gov he a huge fan of bribery. He then well he tried to get dissenting editors of the Chicago Tribune fired in exchange for help with the sale of Wrigley Field (owned by the Tribune) to the state. He also threatened to rescind state funds to a children's hospital because he didn't get the $50,000 in campaign contributions he wanted

The worst by far though was his attempted sale of the president-elect's vacant senate seat - a seat he and he alone can fill via appointment. His pay to play agenda for this seat was the straw that broke the camel's back. The feds had been investigating the gov for more than three years and his comments regarding this seat were what sent the feds to his home. According to Blagojevich, this seat was his golden goose. In his words, "(It's) a f*cking valuable thing. You just don't give it away. ... I've got this thing, and it's f*cking golden." Aside from a corrupt moral character, he's also got a bit of a potty mouth.

As a Chicagoan, it's embarrassing. I am incredibly proud to live where I live. Nov. 4 was an amazing day for this city and the state of Illinois. To have our image tarnished a little more than month later makes me angry. My mother called me tonight to talk about pretty boy Rod's arrest. My Michigander mom, fresh off Detroit's coverage of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's obstruction of justice conviction, pointed out that at least Michigan's corrupt politics stay at the city level. We're big time here in Chicago though. Our corrupt politics are statewide!

But the really embarrassing part is that Blagojevich ran on a election platform of cleaning up corrupt Illinois politics. This was a winning slogan because his predecessor, former Illinois governor, George Ryan, is barely into the second year of his 6.5 year jail sentence on federal corruption charges. It cannot be proven that Illinois is the most corrupt state in the U.S but as Robert Grant, special agent at the FBI Chicago office said today, "If it isn't the most corrupt state in the United States, it's certainly one hell of a competitor."

As I listened to NPR today, coverage of the governor's arrest was thorough. It was the second story on the BBC's 10 a.m. new hour, for Pete's sake. This overabundance of coverage left me a bit peeved as I walked home, so that's why as I passed over the Chicago River on my way to the train I couldn't help but shout out "Blagojevich sucks!" during the drummer man's pause. I still think this is an amazing city in a wonderful state. Most days I will talk up its attributes to anyone who'll listen but today it was easier to scream that in fact our governor does sucks.

December 8, 2008

One Cat With Many Names

This here is Mozzarella.

Or Fruit Loop. Or Fatty Paddy. Take your pick. He goes by all three. Currently though, his alias is Fatty Paddy due to his very large mid-section. You can't tell by the photo, but he’s 85 percent belly.

He lives on Mike’s sister's farm in Wisconsin with fellow cats Smudge, Tiger and Whiney. Mike and I met Fatty Paddy the last time we were in town, but he stole our hearts again over Thanksgiving. And if we didn’t already have three good-for-nothing cats at home, Fatty Paddy would have been ours. It was really hard to look into his two-toned eyes and say no. I mean, look at that sweet, little precious face.

Fatty Paddy is an outdoor cat, and he's pictured here stealing some warmth on a chilly November day while nestled in Mike's coat.

December 7, 2008

My Absent Week

Where on earth has this week gone?

I'm sitting on my couch. It's Sunday night, and I can't believe I have to go to work tomorrow. I was just at work. On Friday. And on Saturday. Yes, I went into work yesterday morning. Yuck. Saturdays at the office always throw off my internal clock, but I saw no way to avoid going in. I had too much to get done this week even though I worked 8+ hours each day including one that was closer to 12 hours. This past week I had a lot of bonding time with my office but not really my home.

As a result, I haven't left home at all today. I've done a lot of couch bonding, some movie watching, Internet surfing and I talked to my mom about Christmas plans. My family may go skiing! I did manage to peel myself from the couch long enough to clean, fold laundry, make dinner and get out Christmas decorations.

We've got a few Christmas trinkets here and there and my mini-tree is lighted and decorated. I was a little hesitant to put it up after the melee that ensued last year. This year though, the cats will have a hard time reaching it. It's on the top shelf of a six foot tall shelving unit in our living room. And for those of you who remember, the baby Jesus is on the tree. A few months after I took down my tree last year, I found the baby Jesus under my couch. Oscar will hopefully have no contact with the baby Jesus this year. Amen.

As productive as I managed to be during my day at home, there was something I did not do. I didn't work out. I'm not beating myself up too terribly though. Even without making it to the gym this weekend I did still accomplish one personal goal. I worked out before work three times this week. I went Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and I'll be going again tomorrow before work. I plan on this being my regular routine. It amazes me to say it, but I think the reason I didn't make it this weekend is because I couldn't go either Saturday or Sunday morning. I am a morning gym attendee, and I would have it no other way now. I still want to hit my four days a week gym goal so what I may end up doing is trying to go four days during the week and taking the weekends off. Thoughts? Encouragement? Discouragement?

So now with the waining hours of my weekend, I'm going to lay out my gym clothes for the morning and read my new Health magazine. Speaking of Health magazine, if you don't have a subscription and would like one, let me know. I can sign up four people for free when I renew right now. If so, leave me a comment and I'll get in touch with you.

Hope you all had relaxing, fun weekends. Or you know, maybe instead of fun and relaxing, you added a new member to your family. Congrats again, Lexi! I'm overjoyed for you all.

December 2, 2008

The Paper Trail

I save things, lots of things. I've always been a pack rat by nature. It's a bitch when moving, but my tendencies to hoard have helped me a few times. I'm not saying that I save everything. I don't hold onto nick-knacks and trinkets until they've lost all meaning and I no longer know what they are. I save useful things. I save paper.

I am the kind of girl who saves credit card payments to credit cards that have been closed for years. I have a paper copy of several of my old newspaper articles - some back in my college newspaper reporting days. I have kept old apartment leases, paperwork to any membership club I ever joined, and insurance policies for a car I haven't owned in years.

When I moved into Mike's place, I sorted through some of these old files in their appropriately labeled folders and found pay stubs and tax returns from 1997. I threw these away but with some hesitation. Yes, I know you can only be audited for the past seven years, but old habits die hard. Another set of docs I kept without fail are old utility bills. I had ComEd and People's Energy bills and payment receipts that went back as far as three addresses ago. I didn't feel the need to keep these in my and Mike's home so once I had paid my final bills, I threw these old ones away.

I hesitated when I threw these away too. But I have reason to hesitate. Hoarding paper has proved beneficial to me because I seem to be one of those people whom other people try to take money from, many times over.

Let me provide a few examples, if you will.

There was the time I unknowingly joined a Bally's gym and then had to fight my way out of paying for the first month. Seeing as I didn't know I was a member, I didn't think it was fair I paid for something I didn't even know I could use. Then there was the time I joined another gym with a seven-day trial period. I canceled after seven days but it took two months to get my $100 deposit back. I practically had them on speed dial that last month. Then there was the time I was charged a late fee three times over by my credit card. I had paid off said card and was trying to cancel it for months. The only thing stopping my cancellation was a service fee for a service for which I had not signed up. I canceled the service and then accumulated three months worth of late fees while they took their sweet time removing those fees from my account. That was fun.

The worst though, by far, was Cognitive Arts.

I worked for this evil company in 2005 on a six-month technical writing project. To make this very long and complicated story short(er), let me summarize this way: Girl works for evil company. Girl signs "Independent Contractor" contract. Girl files taxes in 2006 and pays lots of money because she was an "independent contractor." Girl goes to paralegal school and finds out that according to employment laws, she was not an "independent contractor." Girl was an employee. Girl submits paperwork to the I.R.S. saying she overpaid her taxes because she was an employee, not an "independent contractor." Six months later, government sides with girl (not evil company). Girl gets tax money back. Six months later in 2007, girl gets W-2 from evil company. W-2 claims girl worked for evil company in 2006 and earned thousands of dollars in wages. Girl files 2006 tax return saying she did not work for evil company that year. Approximately one year later, girl gets certified mail from the IRS saying she did not claim thousands of dollars worth of income she made in 2006 at evil company. Girl files amended tax return saying evil company is wrong AGAIN, and she did not work there in 2006. Government sides with girl AGAIN. Currently, girl hopes saga with evil company is over.

Yeah. All true.

I don't even know how many hours of my life were spent dealing with all the crap in the paragraphs above. Between the evil company, my gym misfortunes and credit card problems (not to mention all the other things I'm forgetting), I have probably spent at least two month's worth of lunch hours dealing with other people's clerical errors. So when I received a "priority message" on Nov. 10 saying I was delinquent on my ComEd account by $21.25 I had to chuckle. Really? That's all you got ComEd? Bring it. I've beaten a truly evil company many times over for thousands of dollars. I see your $21.25, and I will not pay it!

It needs to be said that I have been successful in dealing with the many minor and major headaches mentioned above because I have held onto my precious paper. I save bills, receipts, correspondence and anything I sign. And when I make calls to get something straightened out, I always ask for the name of the person and then record the day and time I spoke to them. Then I save those notes in my appropriately labeled file folder. Yes, I am that girl. I have learned it pays to be that girl. As I said I did throw away all my old ComEd receipts but I've managed to trace my story through old bank statements and the company's own reimbursement checks made out to yours truly.
Tonight I composed my letter to ComEd's collections people. They will be receiving my one page letter complete with six attached exhibits tomorrow morning via fax. I am ready to fight this. Granted it's only $20, but darn it, it's $20 worth of my money that they do not deserve. So I'll take on yet another company, just little, old me and my paper.

December 1, 2008

Rocky Mountain High


While tooling around Colorado in our rented H3 Hummer, Mike and I saw a lot. We rented a room out in the mountains in the small town of Dilion, not too far from Keystone and Breckenridge. Driving from Denver into the mountains to south of Denver and then back again, we logged around 1,000 miles in our rented car during our four-day stay.

As we drove back and forth and back and forth again on I-70, Mike told me stories from his childhood. He spent part of his youth in Colorado. From his time in Colorado he came away with stories of camping the mountains, chasing and catching critters and playing pee wee football in the snow. He mentioned that one of the greatest things about growing up in that setting was the abundant wildlife.

On our first night in Colorado during the drive to Dilion we passed a herd of mountain goats. They looked amazing but we couldn't stop in time to get a picture. I spent the rest of our trip in the Hummer looking for more goats. It wasn't until our second to last day in Colorado, as we were driving by Vail, that we saw another herd. Mike did some maneuvering in the Hummer and got close enough for me to get some shots. This ram was the only one in the herd, but it worked because he was magnificently photogenic.

November 29, 2008

Doing What I Didn't Know I Can Do

It's a nice feeling to learn that you know how to do something you didn't know you knew how to do. For example, Internet, I can ski.

The last time I went skiing was probably about a decade ago. And at that time, I remember graduating to an easy green trail after spending a good portion of the day on the bunny hill. And as I said that was about a decade ago. I have probably skied less than 10 times in my entire life and the majority of that time was on bunny hills all across Michigan.

Mike and I spent Thanksgiving at his sister's home. His sister's home is located about 45 minutes from a Wisconsin ski resort. We decided a good way to spend the day after Thanksgiving would be on said ski hill. Mike's a better skier than I am, so, you know, easy for him to say. I was game to try skiing again but really did not have high expectations for myself.

There was definitely an adjustment period. I forgot how weird ski boots were to walk in. Mike had to help me get on my skis and demonstrate how to get them off. But as we made our way to the bunny hill from the lodge, skiing came back to me with each small step.

I started slow by working my way up the bunny hill. I side-stepped upward higher and higher and skied farther and farther. Eventually feeling confident enough in my stopping ability, I headed down the entire length of a bunny hill. I surprised myself because after abut 30 minutes on the bunny hill, I was ready for something bigger.

My first pass down the green run was slow. I went down the entire way in a plow position. But after a few more passes I started gaining speed and even tried weaving in an easy zig-zag pattern downhill. By the end of the day, having only fallen twice, I felt comfortable. I could steer. I could stop. I could control my speed. I didn't need to fall to stop. That used to be my only mode of stopping.

Mike and I were both pretty happy with how well the day went. He was pretty excited to have a ski buddy, and I was pretty darn excited that I could fulfill that role.

November 26, 2008

My Favorite Holiday

I worked until 4:30 today and then took the 5:03 train home. Usually that statement would be preceded by me bragging about how I early I left work. But today was a day when the firm said everyone was free to go at 2 p.m. The catch to that offer was that we were only dismissed if we had no work. I had work. I didn't have attorneys breathing down my neck for said work, but I knew if I didn't put in a little extra time today then I would have that problem come Monday. So I stayed a little later and grumbled about it all the way home. Now, five hours later, sitting comfortably at home in my PJs watching the Daily Show, it no longer seems like a big deal.

I'm glad it no longer seems like a big deal because tomorrow I get to celebrate my favorite holiday. I've always felt like Thanksgiving is an overlooked holiday given that Christmas officially permeates the entire month of November nowadays - parts of October for that matter too. But I love Thanksgiving, always have. It's fantastic. I admit it doesn't involve elaborate light displays, FREAKING INFLATABLE LAWN ORNAMENTS(!), songs, presents and a month of justified gluttony in any way imaginable. But you know what? That is precisely why I love Thanksgiving so much. There's no pretension. There are not sky high expectations. There isn't excessive planning and priming and preparing months in advance. There's no pressure. At least for me. Those of you making a turkey tomorrow probably would beg to differ. Thanksgiving is just so easy. And what other holiday encourages not only forgiving pants but napping after a good, hearty meal. It's a beautiful thing, Thanksgiving. A holiday that is one single day and the only requirement is enjoying company, food and reflecting on a few of the things that give you thanks.

And in the spirit of my favorite holiday let me say I have many things to be thankful for - most of all my friends and my family, their good health and the ways that they continue to inspire, amaze and love me. I honestly do feel blessed many times over.

November 23, 2008

Wedding Update

This past weekend was fun, really fun. My best friend Jenny and her mom came into town to do some wedding dress shopping. This was Jenny's first round of wedding dress shopping. It went very well, so well that Jenny fell in love with a $4,000 dress that she has no intention to buy. I am pretty sure she is online right now researching fabrics and searching for gowns to see if there's any way she can find a similar dress or a way to have her seamstress make it cheaper.

As for me, I am now preparing to be Jenny's maid of honor. It turns out her intentions for visiting this weekend were two-fold. Sure she wanted to try on some dresses but she also wanted to ask me to be her maid of honor. I of course accepted, after she made me and her mom cry by the very sweet way she asked.

This offer makes it official that I will be in two weddings this coming year. I also said yes to Dorrie's offer to play the violin at her wedding. We've selected four songs and I've been practicing them for about a month already. (Yes, poor Mike is loving my four-song repertoire these days.) In a few months I'll send her recordings and let her determine if I'm good enough to provide music for her walk down the aisle. If not, then Dorrie has promised I can be the person to tell the guests it's time to start by yelling, "Hey! Sit your punk a$$es down, b!tches!" Either way, I'm in the wedding.

November 20, 2008

I Even Had Time For Coffee

You know what I did this morning? I worked out! (I am so proud of this that, yes, I am blogging on my lunch hour.)

And I did not puke and/or pass out. Not at any point did I feel puke-y or pass-y out-y. It was fantastic. I even surprised myself because I was able to do more than I expected. I didn't make it to the yoga class on time, so instead I did 30 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of strength training.

The crazy thing is I got home at a time that's earlier than the time I usually get up. I even had time to make coffee before I caught the train.

So all in all, it went fantastic. Better than expected. Dare I say this may become routine? Yes, yes I dare. This may be the start of a routine for me.

November 19, 2008

A Monumental Try

I am going to attempt to do something tomorrow that I have only attempted a few times before. The very thought of it scares me, makes me a little nervous. It's hard, I hate it and one time while attempting it I almost puked and/or passed out. What is this you ask? What is this huge scary, thing I plan to attempt?

I, Internet, am going to work out tomorrow morning. (Gasp!)

Amy does not do morning gym exercise. I've always maintained that I would rather work out at 10 p.m. than 8 a.m. I think that still is true. The problem is I never want to leave my home come 10 p.m. to work out. It got me to thinking that I might be able to muster up the energy earlier, rather than later in the day.

My rationale for the morning work out is three-fold:
1. If I work out in the morning, I will not have time to talk myself out of working out. It will be get up and go without giving myself the time to formulate reasons for not going (other than more sleep that is).

2. The sun sets at about 4:30 p.m. these days in Chicago. Given the pitch black night I just can't say I feel comfortable riding my bike to and from the gym. And that's on days without snow. If I go early in the morning, I can take Mike's car because in the morning there is ample parking by the gym and home.

3. By getting this out of the way early in the day, things like staying late at work and making after work plans will have no effect on my gym schedule. My nights will be free to do whatever I please with them (like blogging!).

My concerns, however, are one-fold:

1. I may puke/and or pass out.

My plan right now is to wake up at 6 a.m., eat a little something, throw on my gym clothes and get to there by 6:30 for a yoga class. (I figure I can ease in the first day with yoga.) The class is an hour so I can get home in enough time to shower, get ready for work and catch the 8:30 train downtown - 8:50 if I'm running a little late. I really did not think this is something I'd ever consider. But the more I think about it the more it makes sense for my schedule.

I was talking to a coworker of mine one day and she mentioned how she can't work out at night. I said the opposite was true for me. Her response surprised me: "Oh, I used to never be able to work out in the morning. And then I told myself I'd try it for 30 days. I haven't gone back." It just made sense. How could I write off something I have never tried?

I can't commit to 30 days of this right now. But I'm committing to tomorrow morning which seems like a pretty honest start.

OK. That is all, dear Internet. I am off to get my gym clothes ready and pack my lunch. If this is to be a success, planning will be involved.

And if there are any of you out there who are morning gym attendees, I'm welcome to any suggestions (please).

November 18, 2008

Not A Yes Or No Answer

I listen to NPR all day pretty much every day at work. Even though the programs change on the hour, there are weeks where certain news topics will dominate in some way almost every program on the station.

When the mortgage bubble burst, the topic was the housing crisis. Before we elected a president, it was who were we going to elect as president. After we elected a president, the topic shifted to how do you feel about having a black president. When stocks went tumbling, news coverage of this topic soared. And now the latest question posed to the national conscience that has overtaken the airwaves - should we or shouldn't we bail out the auto industry?

My sister and dad both work in the Detroit auto industry - my dad as a tool and dye man for 30-plus years and my sister as a mechanical engineer for the past eight. I do not take discussion regarding this question lightly. Having gotten to where I am today by way partially of a GM paycheck, I can't answer yes or no without envisioning the immediate impact of either response. Yes and my family keeps their jobs, their pensions and food on the table. No and I wonder how my parent's retirement will be hit. With a no, I feel for my sister's family who was just getting accustomed to becoming a two salary household. But I can't say yes to a bailout without thinking the obvious - aren't these companies responsible for the terrible business decisions they made? As a government (and taxpayer) should we really get into the business of bailing out businesses?

In talking to my sister about the sorry state of the Detroit auto industry, she is quick to point out that competitive foreign markets are subsidized. Japanese automakers have been on the cutting edge because the government has supported them in doing so. That is a distinct advantage and one that in some ways has created a very uneven playing field.

The playing field though has warped at our own doing. As much as American auto companies produced in mass giant, unnecessary gas-guzzling SUV's, we bought them without regard to their abysmal fuel efficiency. Yes, they were pretty, they were fancy, they hogged roads and parking spaces across the country, and we bought into it all. And now we pay the price (literally) at the pump.

This failing of the auto industry has been in the works for some time though. As a kid, I can't tell you the number of times my dad was transferred from one plant to another, put in the jobs bank, taken out of the jobs bank only to be put on midnights, then on strike, then put back in the jobs bank and taken out again only to switch to another plant. As a kid it was too much to keep track of, so I didn't. Most kids can probably tell you where their father works. I, on the other hand, growing up was surprised every few years to drive by "dad's plant" only to find out that it wasn't dad's plant anymore. I couldn't tell you the location of where he works right now. As much as I may not have understood the location, I knew enough to realize that his irregular job patterns where a symptom of the larger company problems.

That brings me back to my original question - should we bail out the auto industry or not? I say no, but only because I don't think bailout is the right word. I think the big three deserve an infusion of cash, but not so they can keep doing more of the same. Detroit and its imaginative, engineering minds need to do different, do better, do efficient and reemerge to once again be pioneers in the field they created. I know it's impossible to say 'Hey you, car makers, here's $25 million, now you go make something we can be proud of.' It's not that easy. But as one of the last industries in this country that actually makes something, I think they deserve the opportunity to try.

A favorite blogger of mine summed this up more eloquently than I ever could. As someone who's made it their mission to document Detroit, his words mean something to me. He said (and I encourage you to read this entire entry as well as the comments):
One thing I like about GM, Ford, and Chrysler is that they are companies that still make something. What do the vast majority of the Fortune 500 companies even do? What does Goldman Sachs do? What do all those companies in Silicon Valley make? They shuffle paper, sure, transmit blips of binary code, attend important meetings, and make "deals." Maybe brown people somewhere across an ocean will make whatever it is they're selling or shuffling on paper or e-mailing each other about. But in Detroit, and in plenty of other industrial cities across this country there are still people making things without exploited labor, and believe it or not that still means something.

November 17, 2008

A Web Cam of Cute

I was sitting in my office this afternoon when two of the secretaries near me started cooing and oohing over one of their computer screens. I of course had to see what the fuss was about. And of boy was it ever worth the look.

One of the secretaries was sent a link to a live puppy cam. I am not sure why these guys are up, where they are or how much they are but holy good lordy lord are they adorable. And I can guarantee I'll be turning to them whenever my mornings or afternoons are feeling a bit bleak. Thousands of people must fee the same because right now about 18,000 other people are watching these puppies.

Go join the thousands: http://cdn1.ustream.tv/swf/4/viewer.49.swf?cid=317016.

Look puppies!

November 16, 2008

Third In a Series

Here it is. The third photo hanging on my and Mike's living room wall. I chose it for the blues. That was the theme I was going for with these three photos - blues and a vertical composition.

I took this photo this past father's day. Mike and I went to visit his dad who lives 30 minutes outside of the city. We took him to dinner but before that went fishing at a small forest preserve not too far away.

I should mention that Mike, his dad and I have a terrible fishing record. Whenever the three of us have gone, we've gotten skunked - not a single fish caught. That father's day was no exception. We had been fishing for about 45 minutes and I was getting restless. I hadn't even gotten a nibble, but I had reeled in about 10 pounds of weeds.
I brought my camera and so I took it out to see if I could get some cool macro shots. I did, but in the end I liked this photo best. It was taken as a storm was rolling in and cut our outing short. But that storm provided the good blues in this photo and ultimately was what got it on our wall.

Gym Goals

This whole working out consistently thing hasn't quite stuck yet. Since I joined the gym about a month ago, I have yet to go a full week without making it to the gym, so I have made progress in that sense. However, my goal when joining was to consistently go four times a week. I've made it consistently two or three times, falling short of my goal. I think the problem may be my goal though. I know I want to go four times a week but to do what? And why?

My reason for rejoining a gym was to get in better shape, but I'm not training for anything. The only time I've ever gone to the gym consistently was when I was training for a five mile race. Given that it's November now and Chicago running season is more than five months away, I can't see that being a motivator. Plus, I know I'm not a huge fan of running any more, so five months of running will not make me want to go to the gym more. It would probably be a deterrent.

Really, my motivation to stop feeling so soft. My muscles are practically non-existent. The time when I felt the most healthy and slimmest was only a couple of years ago, and I want that feeling back in the present. I'd like to lose some overall weight but particularly around my midsection. It would be nice to have more muscle tone in my legs and arms. And if I'm being really honest, I'd like to build my strength so when Mike decides he needs to roughhouse with me I can do more than pull his hair to make him stop.

'm not terribly narrow in my means of achieving any sort of desired fitness results. I have been mixing cardio with some strength training. I think I've tried every strength machine, I've used free weights as well as every type of cardio equipment - sometimes all in one outing. I've found a class I really like and hope that I'll get up the nerve to take spinning class and then hopefully get hooked on it too. I'm just trying to find right now a way to once again make my gym appearance a regular thing. To me regular means going more times in a week than not. I am trying to reach this goal, and in trying I'm getting to the gym more than I had in months. That's enough to make me hopeful that my goal isn't too far away from being reached.

November 9, 2008

Boats

This photo is the second in a series of three that hang on my living room wall. The first is this one.

I took this photo in Morocco, specifically in the town of Essouria. It was an extremely photogenic little Atlantic town. For more evidence, see here.

I took a bunch of shots of these boats. I loved their blues and greens. The composition of this one turned out the best though. These boats were so simple and really pretty even though I'm sure they all reeked of fish. Guess it's a good thing my photos are not scratch and sniff.

My next photo up, the third one hanging on my living room wall. I'll post it later this week. Stay tuned.

A Little Distance

It was the last night of my and Mike's trip out west - night eight of not sleeping in our bed. At this point we had stayed in a full size bed for three nights, a king size for two nights and two very sleepless nights in a couple of reclining chairs. Our last night was spent at a Comfort Inn not too far from the Denver International Airport. I made reservations literally as we drove into town, so my criteria was simple. I chose it because it was the cheapest.

We checked in and as I opened the door I noticed it was a very nice room. And then I noticed there wasn't a king size bed, only two queens. My internal reaction was something along the lines of "awesome." I like sleeping next to Mike, but I was pretty stoked to have my own space.
Mike and I share a queen bed at home. The problem is before I moved in we each had domination over our own queen. Sharing Mike's bed night in, night out has taken some adjusting. He on occasion sleeps diagonally as if I'm not there. I, in turn, require approximately five times the amount of pillows Mike does to sleep. So yeah, there has been adjusting. Sure that last night in Denver we could have shared one queen, but we each took our own. Later while laying in Mike's bed watching TV, I looked up and asked if the room was OK, if he minded that we didn't have a king. "No way. This is awesome," he said, clearly agreeing that not sharing a bed was far cooler than sharing one. And it was. Mike could have slept lengthwise that night for all I know. Me, I was surrounded by a fortress of pillows.

Jump forward to this week and Mike and I once again will be sleeping in separate beds. He's in Atlanta on business. I'm left to tend to the home and care for our three needy, attention-seeking cats all by my lonesome. It will be a little strange. He left only seven hours ago and already it seems too quiet. I've been living with Mike for more than three months so my living alone days aren't so terribly far behind me. But it's different now. I've grown accustomed to living in Mike's place and having him here. Of course there will be perks due to his absence: the place will be cleaner, I can leave as many lights on as I want, turn the heat up as high as I want and sing pop songs at the top of my lungs while dancing in my PJs. That all will be kind of awesome. But it's at the expense of not having Mike to share my day with or accompany me during the morning train ride to work. I don't think the benefits out weight the drawbacks, even if I do get the queen bed all to myself. Well myself and three needy, attention-seeking, heat-stealing cats.

November 5, 2008

The Junior Senator From Illinois

He is our president-elect. And I and the city of Chicago could not be more proud. (See photo at right - taken on my lunch hour this afternoon.)

For those of you wondering, no I did not make it to Grant Park last night. Mike and I decided instead on a dive-y punk bar that was far enough away from madness in downtown Chicago. (Our co worker's band was playing at said bar.) I don't find myself in too many punk bars, but last night as the results came rolling in and we cheered in unison around two small TV sets, it felt right. I saw grown men cry and same-sex couples embrace at the news that Obama had surpassed the 270 electoral votes he needed. It was a beautiful moment - one that left me with a lump in my throat.

I realize not everyone shares my or my city's almost singular enthusiasm for the president-elect. About 56 million people, in fact, do not share this enthusiasm. However if you are in that 56 million, I offer you this slice of hope.

My sister sent me an email this morning. Her boys, 6- and 8-years-old, voted in a mock election at their school yesterday. She coaxed them awake this morning by asking if they wanted to see who one the election. As they watched the news, Jordan, the 6-year-old, says "Yup, Obama won." My sister tried to impress upon her young son the significance of this news. "Jordan, this is a huge moment that he won," she said. Jordan's bored response was "Yeah, yeah, I know ..... the first brown president." As my sister said his dismissal (while funny) is a reminder that her boys are growing up in a generation where the color of some one's skin is not newsworthy.

That right there is hope and a change we can believe in. And I think everyone can agree, regardless of party lines, that hope is a beautiful thing.

November 3, 2008

Those Other Folks

With so much attention being paid to the presidential ticket, it's easy to forget there is a whole other slew of candidates running for state and local offices. If you're like me, you've paid little to no attention to whom may or may not become your new state senator. I am not one of the millions of people who have taken advantage of early voting, so I'll be voting tomorrow and paying the consequence by waiting however long I am destined to wait.

Given that I haven't voted yet though, I have time to cram and make some educated decisions about all those other folks running for elected offices. What's that you say, you need to cram too? May I suggest a Web site: Project Vote Smart. May I also suggest typing in your zip code on the left hand side. It's the easiest way to locate your local races.

Happy cramming!

And lastly....

VOTE.

November 2, 2008

Caching Up With Old Friends

We're back. Mike and I survived our out west adventure and even learned a few things along the way. One of them... geocaching.

My amazingly, wonderful friend, Kelsa, and her equally awesome husband Michael were kind enough to host Mike and I two of our four nights in Phoenix. Not only did they make us some of the best fondu I've ever had, but they also introduced us to geocaching. I had heard of geocaching before but had never tried it. For those of you not familiar, I will let Wikipedia explain (see here). For those of you not wanting to read through Wikipedia's entry, let me say geocaching is kind of like hunting for buried treasure with modern day tools.
Micheal, explained the process to my Mike and on Monday morning we set off on our first geocaching adventure. Kelsa led us to this city park not far from her home and once we were there Mike let the GPS guide his steps. This city park though, given the arid Arizona climate is unlike ones in Chicago. It was sandy, hilly with the only occasional plant life. We got to the first spot and searched in and amongst some trees. Even with three sets of eyes, we saw nothing about of the ordinary. After ten minutes of searching, we considered our first cache a bust. Luckily there were two others located not too far away. That's the crazy thing about geocaches - they're everywhere. Mike and I were surprised to learn they are all over Chicago. There are even a few in parks not too far from our home.

Mike lead the way, GPS in hand, to the second cache. The GPS never made any audible alerts that we had reached our destination. Rather the reading would hoover between one and 10 feet letting us know we were close to the location. We got to that point, stopped and then began searching for our cache. I noticed on a rock to my left an orange jewel that clearly was not placed there by the elements. It was glued in place by a person and it was our geocache.

Kelsa recognized it as part of a geocache she and her husband had tried before. She said it was the Hansel and Gretel cache -a cache made up of many steps and clues. We had found only this one part and didn't bring directions to find the rest. We pressed on (after the photo op to the right) determined to find a true cache - one where we could leave our mark.
Mike informed us there was another cache 0.5 miles away and we decided to go for it. A half-mile didn't seem so far and I was feeling pretty proud for having spotted the last cache. My pride lessened the more the terrain heightened. This half-mile trek wasn't far, but it was some rough terrain. We walked over two hills on the way to our cache, and I had to stop and rest after each. I was dizzy and a little shaky (I think partially from the altitude change). Mike pressed ahead and reached our third cache's location. There was a small out cropping of rocks embedded in the second hill we climbed.
We knew the cache had to be somewhere in the rocks, but we had to hunt. The thing with caches is they aren't supposed to be apparent. Kelsa told Mike and I of one that she and her Michael had found. They got to the spot and noticed a suspicious looking cactus. Among the plant life, one geocacher had smartly placed a fake cactus.

Kelsa, Mike and I continued searching in and among the rocks looking in every nook and cranny. I reached the base of the rocks and looked up. Underneath I noticed several rocks blocking what looked like something with a hard metal edge. I pushed the rocks out of the way and felt the metal container. I pulled it out and announced to the group that we found our cache.

This particular cache held a bunch of trinkets that previous cachers had left - pencils, business cards and a fake $1 million bill. Mike logged our names, hometown and the date. With that we had found our first cache. And with our first cache, we found a love for geocaching. Don't be surprised if in a few weeks I write that Mike and I have purchased a GPS and have already found every cache within a two mile radius of our home.

As a side note, for those of you wondering I managed to pack quite effectively for our trip. I fit a week's worth of clothes, four pairs of shoes, toiletries and accessories all in one small rolling suitcase. The trick: I rolled my clothes - a method I found extremely effective in my Morocco packing. I should mention that my small suitcase also held both a swimsuit and snow pants. The kicker though is that I didn't use either.

October 22, 2008

Bipolar Vacationing

In two days Mike and I head west. We'll be spending a week with friends, who all reside west of the Mississippi. While I am incredibly excited for a week away from any office or home responsibilities, I am quite uncertain about one thing. I have no idea what to pack.

I am an over packer by nature. Really though, what woman is not. I tend to pack and repack and unpack and then cram things in at the last second. However, this trip will take more care and mental energy than usual. It is a trip of extremes. My and Mike's vacation is a two-part trip. The first part being 3 1/2 days in hot, arid Arizona. The second part being in 3 1/2 days in snowy, cold Colorado. We will be hiking in 90 degree heat one day and two days later skiing in the Rockies. One day we'll be lounging by a pool and a few short days later curled up by a fireplace. How is it possible to pack efficiently for a trip where you plan on wearing both a bathing suit and snow pants within the span of four days? I have never done a trip like this. Usually, I go to one place and generally face one type of climate.

I have not packed a thing yet. I like to call this procrastination. We will leave Friday right after work, so tomorrow is it in terms of packing opportunities. I cannot stall any longer. I will find a way to make it work because I can't ski in a bikini and I can't lounge by a pool in snow pants. Heck, if I can pack everything I needed for a two-week Moroccan vacation in one bag, I can certainly find a way to cram my bipolar belongings in two suitcases. Thank goodness I'll have Mike to carry them.

* Ed. Note: This trip also means posting will be non-existent until I return. Right in time for the election. So, in closing, vote! (In case I don't have time to say it before Nov. 4)

October 21, 2008

Photo Stories

One of the things I'm featuring with my new, sleek blog (thanks, Kelsa) is a spot to showcase some of my photos. Since I am showing them off, I think it only makes sense to explain what they are of and where I took them. So to begin, let's start with this one.

I took this photo in Morocco. We were a few days into the two-week trip. On this particular day we found ourselves in Moulay Idriss, a small, hilly town located on our way between the capital city of Rabat and one of Morocco's most populated cities, Fes.

Moulay Idriss was one of the more photogenic places we visited. This Moroccan town laced with winding, small cobblestone streets gave off more of a Italian or Grecian feel. I loved it. We walked up small streets and down smaller streets and were met with more small and winding streets at every turn. It was a wonderful little place to explore. Not knowing what lay beyond each curve or turn in the road lent to the feeling of discovery more so than tourism.

As we made our way up one street I looked to my left and there was a street meandering up and to the left. Everything on this street was tan and beige with varying shades of brown. The exception was a bright blue door at its end. It was beautiful and as soon as I saw it, it practically begged to be photographed.

This is of my favorite photos from my Moroccan adventure. I liked it so much that an 8x10 print of it is hanging matted and framed in my living room alongside two other photos I've taken. Chances are, I'll feature those at some point too.

October 20, 2008

One Appealing Appetizer

I ate at a new brunch place this past Sunday with a good friend of mine. I am fairly well versed in the Chicago brunch scene, so somewhere new is cause for mild excitement. Brunch on a Sunday morning may be one of my favorite things in the entire world. Chicago has many a brunch establishment, and I am proud to say have eaten at more than my fair share. As far as dining goes, it ranks right up there with a fresh sushi dinner. In fact, I look forward to weekend visitors because it's almost a given that brunch will be included in the plans.

The brunch place of this past weekend, as I said, was one I had not been to before. I tried to go to Orange once before. The problem is that it's a small restaurant with an even smaller waiting area. When I previously tried to dine there, my friend and I were met with a 45-minute wait in the blustery cold. It was a rookie mistake. We went at the height of brunch hours, so given the weather and the wait we went somewhere else. Not this time though. My friend and I arrived at Orange at 9:00 a.m. I was delighted when we were seated right away. I had heard about Orange's orange infused coffee. It sounded intriguing, and it tasted just as good as I had hoped. There was something on the menu that I had not heard of, however. Luckily, my friend had and she got us a serving for two.

What was it, you ask? It was frushi. Fruit sushi. Before you turn your nose up like Mike did at my description, let me explain there is no fish. Just fruit set atop fruit juice-infused rice. It was delicious. How could I not love it, though. It combines two of my favorite dining options - sushi and brunch. It's worth a trip back, so to my next visitor, I hope you enjoy Orange's frushi as much as I do because we're going. Plan on getting there by 9:00 a.m.

October 18, 2008

Economies of Understanding

I know little to nothing about the stock market or global finances for the matter. I don't even balance my own checkbook. So to say I understand the current financial crisis would be a lie. I do not. However, I listen to NPR all day, every day at work, so in the last few weeks when the stock market has taken a nose dive I knew that people were afraid. I felt I too should probably be afraid, but I didn't know why. I had no idea how bad the market it was, how it had gotten so bad or how much worse it could get.

This crisis put me in a panic but I was especially panicked because I didn't know why I should be panicked. It was hard to tell how this financial crisis could impact me personally. I am making the highest salary I have ever made and have more in savings than I ever have. Sure I have some money in my 401K but I consider that a long term investment, so I'm not worried that it's currently in pretty poor shape. Then I saw this article on the Chicago Tribune's Web site. Thankfully, I do not work at either of those firms, but I see in a very real way how I could be effected by this economic fallout. Not to mention, I'll be paying back that $700 billion dollar loan in one way or another.By the way, you're welcome Uncle Sam.

I knew I was angry and frustrated by the financial crisis, but I still didn't know why or if I even had a right to feel the way I feel. I once again turned to NPR and in particular a program called This American Life, produced here in Chicago. It had run two very informative programs about the financial crisis. I listed to both, the first titled "The Giant Pool of Money" produced in May when the worst of this mess was the housing bubble and subprime mortgages. Knowing the public wanted more information, This American Life followed up with a show a few weeks ago with a program appropriately named "Another Frightening Show About the Economy." I now feel more informed then I ever have before. Each show is an hour long, but it's two hours worth your time if you're confused. I recommend listening to each at least one time. This is honestly some of the best reporting I have heard in a long time.

Updates

Oh hey, look here. This blog looks brand new. Well it's not really new because it has all the same great content it did before, the content you hopefully know and love. I've just rearranged it a little, made it a little prettier and added a few interesting things. I wanted to link to a few of the blogs that I read pretty regularly as well as add a place to display some of my photos. Oh and a word of the day. I like words. Hopefully you like my updated blog. If so, feel free let me know. If not, well if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

October 16, 2008

The Odds

It looks as if 2009 may be a year of weddings. I am not unaccustomed to years where multiple wedding invites show up in my mailbox. And actually, upon closer review, I realize they often happen show up odd-numbered years. I was in my friend Lexi's wedding in 2003 and attended another friend's nuptials a few months later. Two years later, in 2005, I was in my friend April's summer wedding and Kelsa's that fall. Then again in 2007, I was in my friend Wendy's wedding in May, and Mike and I attended his friends James' wedding that December (in Mexico!). So it really should be no surprise that this coming year, 2009, I already have two weddings to look forward to.

My best friend Jenny got engaged on September 12. I was elated for her and her now fiance Luke. In fact, I was as elated for Jenny as I was for Dorrie. Dorrie, my sister's best friend, had called me a few weeks prior to announce her engagement. I am already looking forward to both their weddings next year - Jenny's in August and Dorrie's in September - as both have been a part of my and my family's lives for so many years. Jenny and Dorrie have both been on more than one family vacation. What's even more exciting is that I'm being asked to be a part of both. Jenny and her mom will be visiting in a few weekends to go wedding dress shopping. As the Chicago resident, I'll be leading the charge to various bridal boutiques and promptly handing Jenny's mom handkerchiefs at each location.

My sister will be a bridesmaid in Dorrie's wedding, and I may play my own special part. Dorrie called me tonight with a few details that she has planned for her big day. One being that she doesn't want to walk down the aisle to a musical recording. She wants to walk down the aisle to live music, specifically a violin - a violin played by me.

This proposition took me by surprise because no has ever asked me to play at anything, let alone one of the most important day's of their life. It seems pretty big, so I'm thinking about it. Dorrie and I talked about music selections. I told her I'd poke around and try to find some tunes she might like and I might be able to play. It would be pretty amazing to be a part of Dorrie's wedding in this unique and special way. So although I'm thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I'm going to do it. Besides, I've got about 10 months to perfect whatever song we choose. Besides, I need to build up my repertoire for whatever weddings I will most certainly be invited to in 2011.

October 13, 2008

Mashing Out Our Roles

My man makes some damn good mashed potatoes. We bought a huge bag of potatoes a few weeks ago just so Mike could make a batch. On Sunday, I reminded him that the bag was still untouched and we should probably make something with all that starchy goodness.

Mike agreed to make mashed potatoes, "but you have to peel them," he said.

"Are you serious?" I replied. "I love peeling potatoes!"

It's true. Little known Amy fact: I like peeling produce - potatoes, carrots, mangoes, cucumbers... you name it. I remember when I was young and my mom got an apple peeler. That thing was the coolest. It did most of the work for you, but I loved how it peeled an apple into long, curly spirals.

"Are you serious?" Mike responded. "I hate peeling potatoes. That's the only reason I don't make mashed potatoes more often."

"Well this is a win-win situation," I said. "I'll peel them, you make 'em."

And that's our deal. This household's mashed potato intake just increased ten-fold. And that is awesome, because my man makes some damn good mashed potatoes.

October 12, 2008

Working For It

I tried to keep my promise to join a new gym Friday. Mike and I came home from work, changed, gathered our gym necessities and hopped on our bikes. The beauty of my new gym is that it is less than a mile from our home. I had been planing on this workout all week. It was the first time all week I could make it and it was finally time to start taking better care of my health.

We locked up our bikes, and as we walked in I reached in my backpack for my wallet. No such luck. In my rush to leave, I had forgotten the one thing I needed most. My wallet had not only my debit card and ID but also my last free pass, which Mike was going to use. I was angry, oh so angry. But of course the only person I could be angry with was myself.

As I pedaled back home, I thought about my commitment to get back into shape. I didn't want to let my forgetfulness best me. I also didn't want to turn right back around and pedal back there. I had lost Mike in my failed mission. His only mission now was dinner.

I was frustrated when we got home. The only way I could stop beating myself up was to go for a quick run. I told Mike I'd be back, and I'd be happier when I did. Mike, not wanting to put up with surly Amy all night, agreed to this idea, but tried to make me take a knife as protection. It was already really dark outside and running the Chicago streets alone isn't the best idea. I took my iPod instead.

As I headed out our front door I turned on my iPod, only it wouldn't turn on. I pressed every button on the freaking thing but nothing was making it display my musical options. It was dead. No doubt because I had unknowingly turned it on earlier and let the battery die. At that point, I became even more frustrated. This was yet another obstacle standing in my way of my fitness goals. I hate running without music, but on Friday that's just what I did. And as I ran I thought about how easy it would have been to cop out on working out. I had been given a couple prime example to throw in the towel and chose not to. And as I ran, I felt better because if that's not a sign for my re-commitment to working out then I don't know what is.

After my run, I came home and did some strength training exercises. In total, I biked 1.5 miles, ran .75 miles (it was a little too dark out) and did strength training for about 25 minutes. Not too bad of a start. And in keeping promises to myself, I did join the gym yesterday. I even saved $100 on the initiation fee because they were running a special this month. I'd like to think this monetary reward was my prize for not giving up yesterday.

October 7, 2008

A Taxing Political Season

I am watching the second presidential debate right now. There is a lot of talk of taxes, and with so many figures being thrown around it is hard to determine how either candidate's tax plan will directly effect your wallet. I was reading of the many political Web sites I peruse these days, and I stumbled across a page about the candidates' tax plans. This Web site lays out in black and white how McCain's tax plan will benefit you versus Obama's. Check it out: http://www.electiontaxes.com/.

Plug in your numbers to see what the candidates will (or won't) do for your bottom line. Seeing as I own nothing nor am really invested in anything, this page was easy for me to fill out. If you happen to own things or have a lot of money invested, it may take you longer, but I think it is worth reviewing.

Also as a note, while watching the presidential debate I have this page open. It helps keep things light. Plus fodder is always fun and really goes hand-in-hand with politics.

Still Trying

It was going good. And then it wasn't. I tried to recommit myself to a healthier life and a new gym a few weeks ago. I got four free passes, and I used three of them in one week. I really enjoyed being in a gym again (especially one that has individual TVs on the cardio equipment!). I was feeling really good about beginning to whip my butt back into shape. I went to two classes, used the cardio equipment and even tried my hands at some free weights.

And then the following week hit. I had plans to see a friends' new baby on Monday, fiddle class on Tuesday, Wednesday night I worked, and then I packed on Thursday night so I could head out of town for the weekend. My life got in the way.

Now I know that's not a real excuse. If working out was my priority then it would get done, regardless of my busy life. So while on a week when I had little going on, I was able to get to the gym. When I had a lot going on, it was not.

This week, it's been more of the same. I cannot get back to the gym until Friday, so that's when I'm going. Working out on a Friday night seems less than desirable, especially when contrasted with my and Mike's typical Friday night - pizza and a movie. But this getting back to the gym has to start somewhere. My somewhere is Friday night at the gym, and then hopefully again Saturday morning.

I should mention though that I was active this past weekend. So much so that my muscles were sore Sunday and Monday. Mike and I met my family at Gintaras Resort on Michigan's west side. With a six and an eight year-old nephew to entertain, my family was on the move. We held an impromptu family Olympic games. We played tennis, soccer, basketball, rode bikes, took walks and had a marshmallow fight on the beach. It was a ton of fun, but it left me sore. And remembering that it is indeed time to head back to the gym.