Chicago and the Blog Love Fest That Was

Chicago.

I don’t even know where to begin. Chicago was…crazy, fun, exhausting, laughter inducing, glee-infested, good food stuffing, plain old AMAZING. This recap will probably not do it justice since it fell in January and January is the month where I forget how to write and publish shit that a monkey could write. With their toes. But I’m going to give this my best shot.

First, some things I’ve learned:

1. Chicago is in another time zone so it is not necessary to wake up at 7am to get there by noon. You will arrive an hour early and feel like an idiot for unnecessarily missing out on sleep.

2. No one really knows who I am or what my old blog was. If you are curious, I will email you what my old blog was.

3. I apparently look nothing like my twitter and blog avatar.

Being that I was early into the city and didn’t realize it until I hit the city limits, I went out for coffee with Matt from Life Without Pants. He probably thought I was a pretty huge idiot when he got the text being all ohhh wait i’m in the city early because I didn’t remember the time difference. Yet he still met up with me and we chatted about my move and blogging…you know what us bloggers usually talk about. It was awesome to meet him and I was so glad I was able to swing by on the way to Jenn’s place! And ok, fine, glad I was retarded and got to Chi-town early.

Friday was kind of a time warp/bermuda triangle type of day in which time was eaten and I had no concept of what time it was at any point during the day. I know I went to lunch with Jenn at Panera, made a header for her blog and ate dinner with her family. I also know we got all dressed up in new party dresses and heels, did our makeup and tried finding necklaces that weren’t eaten by our boobs (we both failed). We then drove down to her friend Mo’s house and that’s when time gets a little fuzzy. I swear it had nothing to do with the champagne and wine we got drunk off of there. Ok maybe it had everything to do with it.

After a lot of laughter and some great stories, we headed out to the bar where Derek had parked himself at. He’s leaving us for Canada (damn Canadians) so this was his goodbye thing. Derek was awesome of course and I am not just saying that because he told me I was a celebrity, like Lady Gaga famous. (That was once he figured out who I was in regards to my old blog.) I am so not famous. He obviously was drunk. But I can’t say I wasn’t tickled by that.

I proceeded to mix vodka into the wine/champagne mix and you can imagine just how drunk I got. We closed down that bar which I’m assuming put us at 2:30 when we got to the next bar of choice which was insanely packed. At some point we abandoned that one too and ended up back at Derek’s old apartment with a few of his friends. There were card games, talking about 20SB and how I don’t look like my avatar at all and there may have been some Mary Juana involved. All of a sudden, Jenn looks at her watch and is all IT’S SIX THIRTY.

Say what?

I had been up 24 HOURS. I wasn’t tired before, amazingly, but as soon as it was realized just what time it was, and the sun started coming up, we became walking zombies. We drove back to her house, instead of going to sleep, with a quick stop at McDonalds for some greasetastic breakfast sandwiches (which we of course screwed up the first time. Who eats a sausage sandwich? My brain automatically goes dirty with that one but i had to write it. Sausage sandwich. Teehee) We then crashed for a few hours before heading to Erin’s Glee party. I was half alive at that point and pretty sure I was still drunk/high and my body was having difficulty deciding whether it wanted to be hungover or not. I’m all about first impressions among some of my favorite bloggers.

It was great fun and these ladies are seriously hilarious. There was video making, blogger round tables, song singing, a lot of Glee watching, doggy loving and I may have eaten my weight in dips, rice krispie treats, donuts and chips. Thank god for conveniently non-form fitting sweaters to hide it all. It was another time sucking day where we all exclaimed at 10:30 at night how we had no idea where the time went!

Renee and Jenn performing Defying Gravity for Ben and Peter

I could have gone out that night but once we walked into Jenn’s house, my extreme lameness came out and I passed out like a brick on my bed while Jenn went to party with her friends. Which was probably good because the next morning we drove downtown to have my very much missed meal of the day (BRUNCH) with the lovely Jamie. There was champagne and chocolate chip pancakes involved and it was all sorts of awesome. Not to mention the restaurant was VERY pink and very cute.

Have I mentioned I’ve never been to Chicago before? I mean, technically I have. I was there about ten years ago for an auto show that I went to with my best MSU girlfriends and we got lost downtown. That was the extent of my first “Chicago trip.” Which is why I never count it, I didn’t see ANYTHING of the city. Sunday after brunch we went down to Millennium Park and the Bean, took lots of pictures, wandered down Mag Mile and then, sadly, parted ways. I wandered back down towards Grant Park to hang out with an old friend from FIT who moved to the city at the same time I left NYC for Europe. She apparently loves Chi more than NYC but it still hasn’t convinced me that I need to move here. I AM convinced that all the Chi bloggers need to move to Colorado with me though.

A reason why I won’t be moving to Chi anytime soon

The night was capped off by a four hour drive back through the dark to Michigan and involved a lot of singing at the top of my lungs along with Glee. Lets just say I had no voice by the time I got home and was also convinced that Glee needs to cast me in their next season. Watch out Lea Michele. It may have been the only reason I didn’t pass out and drive off the road to my death and when I got home I passed out and my mom yelled at me for not coming downstairs and telling them all about my weekend AS SOON AS I GOT HOME.

I had SO much fun in Chicago and cannot wait to visit again. Of course the people were the ones who made this city and this trip so great and I am so glad Jenn convinced me to come down there! It wasn’t hard to twist my arm though. 🙂

Now I must go figure out a new avatar.

Old Friends, Bargain Shopping, Chicago and a New Lens

I went out for coffee with one of my very best friends yesterday, one whom I don’t see nearly enough. It’s always an adventure with her and I constantly laugh, which is always appreciated. The two of us together usually is a lethal combo of fun, crazy and questions about what drugs we are currently on.

We always meet halfway and usually I am the one who has issues with GPS or Mapquest giving me the wrong directions. If I remember correctly, the last time I almost got in an accident because my GPS was taking me in the wrong direction and the time before that? The GPS man was telling me to turn around and get back on the highway while I was pulling into the parking lot. But this time, Mapquest failed BOTH of us and we ended up doing a search and rescue which ended up with me in the Kohls parking lot and her in a cemetary. Neither of which housed a Starbucks. Eventually we found each other, held up traffic and then made our way towards shopping.

At the mall we found a Starbucks (not THE starbucks we had been searching for) and proceeded to leave the baristas laughing hysterically at with us as we asked them for their addresses. When you’re with us you never know what’s going to happen.

Like when we were in Coach and talking about the prices of jewelry and comparing them to house and car payments. Those sales ladies are still thanking us for making them laugh. And when we were in Macy’s and I tried on a ridiculous pair of sunglasses, made a comment about how I wore them when I was 8 and made some random stranger laugh at me in them. Or when we were in another store discussing Ryan Reynolds and how HOT he was and Sarah insulted the girl behind the counter by saying he hasn’t ALWAYS been hot. (INSULTING, right??)

Maybe this stuff is only funny to us. Or you have to be there to appreciate us. That’s probably it. My retelling abilities? They kind of stink.

I did participate in some retail therapy, which I haven’t been able to do in a while. Got some nail polish with large chunks of silver glitter in it which makes me feel fifteen again and fabulous and a new journal in this years color of choice: teal. But the best purchase, la piece de resistance, has to be this lovely, sexy thing:

That dress was originally $120 at Banana Republic. I only paid….wait for it….$1.50. You read that right. ONE DOLLAR AND FIFTY CENTS. Thanks to a great sale, an extra 30% off and $30 in coupons. I am so proud of myself. I’ve had my eye on this dress for at least a month so when I saw it in my size? I grabbed that shit up. My boobs look fantastic in it.

I plan on parading this dress around Chicago this weekend. You also read that correctly. I said CHICAGO. If you haven’t heard the news via Twitter, I am taking over Chicago by storm this weekend with Jenn. Since I got a new car, it was decided I would drive that down to the Windy City, the city I have never been to before. Might as well make use of my close proximity and ample free time right now! I already have my soundtrack picked out for the drive down (the Glee Soundtrack. I predict epicly horribly sing-alongs) and a lot of plans involving every blogger I can find and old friends from NYC. I AM SO EXCITED. Especially about the fact that I’m totally having a sleepover with Jenn. How jealous are you? 🙂

I don’t predict much sleep happening, but who needs that when you have a good bottle (or two) of wine and some really awesome people, all under one roof?

In other exciting news, I got my new lens, a Nikon 50mm, in the mail a couple days ago and I couldn’t be more excited. I haven’t had the chance to reallyyy play with it so I will definitely be dragging that bad boy out and about with me in Chicago. Be prepared.

I can use my DSLR again!! Ashley is a VERY happy lady.

Have you signed up for my Be My (Blog) Valentine? You totally need to. Last date to sign up is January 19th and that will be here before you know it!

It Isn’t Christmas Until Someone Throws Up.

First of all, Merry Christmas! That’s a very young me on Santa’s lap circa 1984 and I’m pretty sure that must have been my dentist since we were at his office, sitting in that dreaded chair.

Last night was our big family dinner. By big? I mean my grandfather, his wife, and my Great-Uncle joined my parents, my brother and I. Usually it involves my mom’s entire side of the family (which means DRAMA) but this year people called in sick with excuses like they had to work during the day or their neighbors were having something so they were feeling lazy and just going there.

Fine. Whatever. I’ll hang out with the old folks for a night.

Sounds kind of boring, right? Except that my grandfather, who is very Italian and likes to think he’s Frank Sinatra,  can be quite the character and my Great Uncle…well “character” doesn’t even begin to describe him. The evenings festivities included deciding that my grandpa and I are going to write his memoirs, listening to my Grandpa sing Christmas carols (that he made up. I tell ya, Frank Sinatra wannabe), and trying to keep my Great Uncle from discussing politics.

There they are sitting by the tree that I picked out and that finally got decorated two days before Christmas. Poor thing.

Theres the rest of the crew sitting by the fire on the opposite side of the tree. Isn’t the back of my brother’s head nice? He resisted having his picture taken.

We ate a ton of good food–lasagne and italian sausage, I ate too much possibly bad cheese and got violently ill, revisiting everything I ate that evening. This lead to lying around the rest of the evening moaning to myself about how I was “dying.” I’m kind of dramatic.

Besides my little foray into death, I did learn the secret ingredients in my Italian Great-Grandmom’s pasta sauce, heard some interesting stories about my Great-Grandpa delivering turkeys in his truck during the Depression, and how my grandmother’s maiden name is German for bag and how that last name is plastered all over Women’s bathrooms for the sanitary napkins to be placed into. That’s just…special.

The evening was capped off by a game of Balderdash that I perked up just enough for a game and a half, before everyone took off. If you’re not familiar with that game, you get a word and a definition and the rest have to make up a definition and decipher which is the correct definition.  The first time I played this game we used a dictionary and kept track of the score by points. This game had little figures you moved around a board, but same concept I suppose!

Some definitions that stood out included: “the beginning form of leprosy that is caused by eating a lot of bad cheese.” (That was aimed at me. Thanks, brother.) and “Dhole: The disowned son of Bob Dole who could never spell his last name right.”

Here’s a picture of my uncle unable to contain his laughter trying to read the definition that involved leprosy:

And no my Uncle is not freakishly tiny, my brother is really just that much bigger than my uncle. Than all of us, really. Whenever I see a picture of him with any of us, it always looks like he’s been photoshopped in at the wrong scale.

At around midnight we decided oh what the hey, lets open some presents. Or how about all the presents? Who wants to wait til Christmas morning? Apparently, not us.

Except there was a small problem. I hadn’t wrapped ANY of my presents (I know, I was supremely lazy yesterday.) and two of my presents? Were on my computer, still waiting to be burned onto a CD.  Whoops.

Besides the unwrapped presents and late hour and the fact that I was still not feeling great, we had a good time opening gifts. I got a new pair of snow boots, a nice purse, some sweaters, two books (including Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by my new favorite author, Jonathan Safran Foer. Can’t wait to read it!), a Julia Childs cookbook, the requisite socks (but surprisingly, no pajamas. Every year I usually get a pair of pajamas because my mother never approves of the shirt and yoga pants I always wear. I guess she just gave up this year.) and a gorgeous white leather, huuuuuge jewelry box, which I’ve already filled to almost capacity. I have a lot of jewelry, what can I say?

I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas and that Santa was as good to you as he was to me! 🙂

Getting in the Spirit with Gingerbread Bears and Powdered Balls

This weekend, in an effort to try to bring some much-needed Christmas spirit into my house, I decided to do some holiday baking. That usually does the trick–along with snow, christmas tree decorating and holiday music. Since those three just weren’t cutting it, I decided to go with baking.

Round one was friday night and involved Gingerbread Bears. (Bears being the only stencils I had) I had bought a box of gingerbread mix from Trader Joes (cheating, I know!) and set to work in my mother’s large kitchen. Can I tell you how much easier it is to make things when I have about 5 million countertops?! That little teensy kitchen in my last apartment just doesn’t compare. I’m thinking my next apartment needs a gourmet kitchen. I’d never use it, but it needs one.

Once we got to the part of rolling out the dough we realized we had a problem: my mothers two rolling pins were missing. As in, she took them both to the lakehouse and left them there for the winter. Never fear, my mother had a genius idea. Let’s use a wine bottle! Coming from a family of Italian vinos, it wasn’t hard to find a bottle (or ten.)

My mother demonstrating how we are rolling out the dough:

That’s a Yellowtail Cabernet by the way.

The little bears WERE really ridiculously cute and really fun to make.

Once they were all baked, the fun really began. My mom and I made some frosting ourselves and added some food coloring for some festive colors. Unfortunately the red was more pink but I rolled with it.

My favorite was the hula dancer. The bear spoke to me and told me to put a grass skirt on it and a bikini top, who was I to deny it?

They all came out ridiculously cute, if you ask me.

Saturday night I brought a plate of these to my friend Steph and Joe’s house out near Detroit. I’m pretty poor this holiday season and what better way to spread joy than through gingerbread yumminess?

I hadn’t seen these two since Vegas and it was really nice to catch up with them over tacos and The Hangover.  I shared stories of Europe and we talked about everything that had gone on in our lives since we last saw each other. And Steph and I may have drooled openly about Bradley Cooper in his black suit.

Luckily, the cookies were a success! I was really happy with TJ’s mix, it was spicy and just all around very yummy. Even my frosting came out not so bad! (I was a little wary of my powdered sugar and milk combo)

Sunday I was determined to get some christmas shopping done so I headed out with my dad into town but unfortunately came back empty handed. During another shopping trip I managed to pick up a book for my dad and a raging longing for a cat that I saw at the adoption center at Petco but still nothing for my mom. Sigh. I have five days left right?

My mom and I set about on our second round of cookies after a nice walk in the woods with my dogs and a yummy meatloaf dinner (I could get used to living at home. Mom’s home-cooked meals are SO much better than anything I could make!). We decided on two Martha Stewart mixes: sugar cookies and nutballs.

Once again we pulled out a bottle of wine to roll out the cookie dough (this time it was a Pinot Grigio) and I set to work decorating them once they were baked. Again, we made our own frosting and this time added some Almond extract for added flavor. I’m not a fan of almond but shh don’t tell my mom.

It was a messy process. We got a little lazy and decided not to put the frosting in ziploc bags like we had with the gingerbread bears. I was literally using the whisk and the spoons to create my little masterpieces. VERY sloppy.

But they came out cute and they were oh so yummy!

Next up were the nutballs. My mom was pretty much in charge of those but I got the really fun  job of powdering them with sugar. By the way, I should never be trusted with this job. I got it ALL OVER ME, despite my wearing an apron. By the end of it I looked as if I’d dumped the bowl on myself. I rock at baking.

The balls, pre-powder.

This was like, pre-mess. When the powdered sugar was still IN the bowl. I wish I had a picture of me after the explosion but I didn’t want to risk my mom yelling at me for being incompetent in the kitchen (which she does regularly).

All sugared up.

It was overall a very nice weekend and I definitely found a little bit of christmas spirit, even if it’s not one hundred percent here and I couldn’t bring myself to decorate the tree. There are five more days left to get in the mood.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Best of ’09: Best Car Ride and The Horny Elk

This blog post is part of the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge hosted by Gwen Bell.

December 19, 2009: Best Car Ride
For this story we must go back to May of this year. (ohmygod a story that ISN’T part of the big europe trip?? I KNOW) I was in Wyoming visiting Kira, her husband JR and their baby girl Skye. Kira has been one of my best friends for over 8 years now; we first met the summer after my freshman year of college in my home town through one of my other very good friends. I was there for her wedding in the Hamptons a couple years ago, saw her through her pregnancy and then she moved to Wyoming shortly before Skye was born.

We had talked about me coming out to visit since she had moved out there and especially after the baby was born. One day last January I just decided to do it and booked a plane ticket out to Billings, Montana for the end of May. I was so excited to see her and her family, and to see a part of the country I had never been to before. I remember waking up the first morning, after arriving late at night in Montana and driving back through the pitch black, looking out the window and seeing the snow topped mountains right across the way from where she lived.  It was so beautiful and peaceful. Everything I had wanted (and needed) out of a vacation.

One of the big things we had planned was a trip to Yellowstone. We left early in their pickup truck and spent the day driving from geyser to smelly sulfur pits and through all this gorgeous scenery. We had seen moose, buffalo, elk and even a coyote in the parking lot at Old Faithful (and may have screamed COYOTE over and over again…). It was the most nature I’d seen in a very long time, if ever.

We were pretty exhausted by the time we decided to make the treck back to Cody. We had seen Old Faithful erupt three times and had seen all these animals but we hadn’t seen any bears yet and so we were keeping our eyes pealed for any other animals we could see. I’m not sure how it happened, or why, but suddenly we were making these…mating noises. Or what we called mating noises. It started with JR and was quickly picked up by Kira and I, us being incredible goofballs and weirdos anyway. It kind of sounded like….over exaggerated burps? I couldn’t really tell you. All I know is it had something to do with us attracting animals and it had us in hysterics. Kira would make a noise, we would laugh, I would respond with my own noise and we’d be buckled over. All the while JR, the driver, was like what the fuck did I get myself into?

We came across these female elk on the side of the road and we pulled over so that we could take some pictures. The windows are rolled down and JR just lets one of these mating calls out. One of the female elk’s heads pops up so fast, all “where’s the penis at, yo?” and we lose it. The whole ride home we make these noises, keeping Skye (and ourselves) entertained. I even have audio clips of us making these noises (which I just listened to and started laughing so hard, I cried, again. I wish I could share it with you but I can’t seem to get it off my phone). We started just throwing them into a random conversation, combined with words when we decided we needed to make the noise. By the time we got back to their house, we had lost our voices and were splotchy from all the laugh-crying we were doing.

It’s moments like these that really stick out in memories. It was just a simple car ride back from Yellowstone. It was dark, there was no scenery to be seen past the headlights yet it was one of my favorite moments from this year. A good–no, GREAT–laugh with great friends. One that I can still laugh about.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from that day:

Kira and I (and a bears butt.)

Kira and Skye

Buffalo!

Old Faithful erupting

Sleepy Skye

Kira, Jr and Skye

Kira will hate me for posting this!

The moose after hearing JR’s mating call

At the end of the ride through Yellowstone, we came across this fox which we figured was racing us. We won.

Best of ’09: Moroccan Whiskey That Looks Like Pot

This post is part of the Best of 2009 Blog Challenge hosted by Gwen Bell.

December 16, 2009: Tea of the Year.

If there’s one thing the Moroccans eat its bread. A whole TON of it. If there’s one thing they drink? Mint tea. It’s what they affectionately call their Moroccan Whiskey. The very first night I was in Fes I was hanging out with this hilarious spanish couple, Nani and Rodrigo, whom I had met in line at customs when I got off the plane. We decided to share a taxi, which lead to us getting a pension to stay at together right in the Medina. After wondering the streets of the Medina (Fes has 9,500 of them.), and somehow not getting lost, we ended up at this restaurant where we had to try two very Moroccan things: Mint Tea and Shisha.

I was instantly hooked on both. Especially the tea. I had to get them to cut back on the massive amounts of sugar they used but once I got it to the right sweetness that didn’t put my teeth in jeopardy, I couldn’t get enough of it.

While I was in Marrakesh we wound up in the spice markets, getting the royal treatment at one particular stand. Free tea, smelling all sorts of spices and Anneke even got a facial. She ended up with several bags full of cooking spices and while I couldn’t justify getting half a kilo of cumin or cinnamon, I could justify getting half a kilo of mint tea. I mean, where else could I get something so yummy?

The only problem was that it looked eerily like marijuana. All green and crystallized and shit. I knew I’d have a problem with it going through US Customs but I thought I could use it up before then. I pulled it out in the hostel in Seville and had a tea making party right there in the lobby that caught the attention of the owner who was watching on a video and came in to see what all the fun was about. Once you smell it you know immediately that its NOT pot (i wish it was. That would be one hell of a big bag of pot!) but it still draws a lot of attention.

I had completely forgotten about it by the time the end of my trip came up in Paris and when I was halfway across the ocean, filling out one of those customs sheets, I realized IT WAS STILL IN MY BAG.

At customs I was asked to go over to the side table to have my bag checked. I was sure that I was going to get thrown into lockdown and yelled at by the FBI for smuggling drugs from Amsterdam (the stamp I was positive they must have seen in my passport). Two women were my handlers and I thought I was in for it.

They then asked to see the tulips I was carrying.

Oh. Yeah those. Never had to show the rest of my bag and I managed to come into the country with a bag of Mint Tea That Looked Like Pot without them even realizing it.

PHEW.

Now if a FBI agent shows up at my house in the next day I’ll know why…

Best ’09: The Best Place

This blog is part of the Best of 2009 blog challenge hosted by Gwen Bell.

Best Place: A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?

Place: Coffee shop in Barcelona where I sat for hours on a daily basis, drinking cappuccinos which turned into glasses of wine, reading a book, having therapy sessions with The Messenger. I wasn’t bothered by the waitstaff to have more and I could just relax. Out of all the places I could choose from–the living room of the hostel on the Isle of Skye that felt so much like home with its fireplace and friendly people, the rooftop terrace of the hostel I stayed at in Sevilla where I could lie in hammocks with a glass of wine during my siestas–this one, this place, really stood out. Its my goal to find a place just like this to hang out in, wherever I end up.