On Holiday’ing

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This is how my day began (via blackberry messenger):
Nina:  Did you put Gatorade in LB’s water bowl?!?
Ryan: I may or may not have thought Luna Bell needed to up her electrolyte count.
Never a dull moment with that one.
The holidays snuck up so quickly this year and this is my excuse for the lack of blogging.  My dad and Kari and my cousin Kalia and her husband Ken were in town for the 3rd Annual Gardner Family Christmas Kickoff the first weekend in December.  This is one of my favorite traditions.  My Dad decided that we needed to create a plan where we meet in Chicago to kick off Christmas–that no matter where Kalia and I are, we’ll grab the husbands, kids, pet hamsters, whatever and make it to Chicago the weekend before Christmas to spend some family time.  The first year, I took the Amtrak from Grand Rapids only to have it stop in Hudsonville due to some other train hitting a truck. The Polar Express it was not.  When I was told that we would be going backwards to GR at 10mph, I made the conductor let me off the train, and I hiked in my Uggs with my luggage through a snowy ditch to the Tractor Supply Company across the street and read my new Vogue next to the topical ointments for udders until Kalia and Ken could come get me.  Everyone got John Deere socks for Christmas that year.  In gift bags with horses on them.
Ryan and I drove up to Crystal Mountain Resort in northern Michigan last weekend for the wedding of Sara Neinas and Travis Young.  The Lambert’s and Neinas’ are like family to my mother and I–time spent with them is time of great appreciation.  They love being together so much and the warmth is just palpable.  And they’re huggers.  I love huggers.  It was such a blessing to spend the weekend at a ski lodge with my mom and celebrate with a beautiful, super fun wedding.
Congratulations to the newlyweds!
I’ve so enjoyed all the hustle and bustle of the last month but I am so looking forward to just being in the city this weekend with no plans.  My favorite thing to do these days is stare at my Christmas tree so I imagine there will be a lot of that going on.  I’m dedicating today to holiday baking.  My dear friend Shana is home today as well and I’m so excited to share in one of my favorite holiday rituals with her.  No matter how busy this time of year is, I love how spending time with people who make you happy and make you laugh is more of a priority than it is at other times.  Part of why I moved to Chicago was to be with my “tribe”.  Community is so, so important and I don’t think people get that.
There is such a need for connection, for communication, to have people around you to go “You too?!?”.  I am so blessed to have my friend family so close by and now, my work friends.
Wherever you are and whomever you’re with, I hope today brings you joys, small and large, a few belly laughs, and time to reflect on good fortune and a bright future.
High Five of the Day: Speaking of community, you know who had an amazing one? George Bailey.  I was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life“, I watch it every year, and I just cried and cried today when the entire town comes to their house with that basket of money.  “No man is a failure who has friends.” -Clarence, Angel Second Class.

Oh, Christmas Tree

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(Please excuse the incredibly generic post title–I couldn’t get beyond humming  “Oh, Christmas Tree” when writing this.)

I had all of these romantic notions of Ryan and I driving to the country (aka the Suburbs), finding a tree farm, chopping down a Christmas tree, strapping it to the top of the car, bringing it back to the city and decorating it while drinking hot cocoa.  Instead, we walked down the block to a bar, looked around the makeshift tree lot, shoved “the chosen one” in the back of my Volkswagen Bug and decorated it while drinking Mild Winter.  Oh and I accidentally bought icicle lights so we had to finagle them around to look normal.   But in the end, we have a beautiful, fragrant tree and Luna Bell has not knocked it over.  Yet.  I was so happy to be in my cozy apartment last night, looking at a sparkling tree, snuggled up with 2 people (well, a person and a cat) that I love.

Without going all Hallmark on you, that’s what the holidays mean to me–whatever religion, whatever traditions, whatever gifts, the holidays are about being with people you love.  I feel so blessed to be spending time with people I love in the next month.  My mom was here for Thanksgiving, Ry and I decorated the tree last night, my Dad and Kari (and Kalia and Ken!) are coming this weekend, Up North w/ the Neinas & Lambert crew for the Young wedding, my BFF at Brooklyn Bagel, the Christmas Eve klan…I don’t care what I do in the next month, I am just so, so happy for the wonderful people I’ll be doing it with.

Yes, that is a North Pole village behind my tree.  Yes, I have been collecting it since I was 12 because, apparently, I have been 60 years old since I was born.

High Five of the Day: The Christkind at the Christkindlmart in Daley Plaza.   Until I googled this, I thought she was the Christmas Queen and I wanted that job (I love hugging and posing for pictures!) but I just found out she was chosen for this when she was 18 years old in her hometown in Germany.  So high five to her–she was so nice and friendly and gold.  Everyone should check out the Chriskindlmart and have some spiced wine while ornament shopping.

Let There Be Light

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I love the holiday season.  I love Chicago.  I love all things Disney.  Therefore, the Magnificent Mile Lights Parade was pretty much joy on steroids for me.  Last Saturday was the official start to the holidays for Chicago.  Mickey rolled down Michigan Avenue with a mini Water Tower behind him, with the lights on the trees turning on as he passed.  Ryan and I had prime spots right across the street from the Hancock Building and with the hot apple cider the church behind us handed out, I was so excitable–I think Ryan even got a kick out of the cookie cutter holiday experience.  At least he kept the eye rolls to himself.  In any case, the Magnificent Mile looks truly magnificent, we had great drinks at Tavern on Rush, made friends with a 3 year old on the train up to Southport, and had an amazing dinner at Tango Sur (even though I don’t enjoy Argentinian steak, Ryan was in 7th heaven/a meat coma for hours and the atmosphere was way worth the 2 hour wait).  Oh and did I mention that it was unseasonably warm? 50 degrees at the end of November?  I love this city as it is but being able to walk around not shivering so close to the holidays was such a treat.


High Five of the Day: Sarah’s Pastries and Candies.  I found this gem last Saturday when I was looking for a carrot cake cupcake for Ryan’s birthday.  Tucked in between the designer boutiques on Oak Street, this delightful bakery had rows and rows of cakes, cupcakes, handmade candy, pies, cheesecake–I got a sugar high just from walking in the door.  Oh and the carrot cake was reviewed as being perfect by my carrot cake expert. 🙂

It’s here!!!

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We have officially entered my favorite time of the year.  As far as I am concerned, Halloween kicks off the holidays.  This means it is totally acceptable to listen to “The Christmas Song” radio on Pandora, start hunting down perfect gifts for loved ones, compile a detailed, daily itinerary for the month of December, order a gingerbread crinkle house for your pet and choose holiday themed recipes.  I mean, just for example.

I am totally tired of my cookbooks so I went to Barnes and Noble last night, sat down with a pile of cookbooks, holiday magazines (and “Fancy Nancy’s Splendiferous Christmas“), a pumpkin latte and got to work finding some cooking inspiration.  “Timeless elegance with contemporary ease” is how the Food Network describes Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa)’s recipes.  On my best days, I sort of fancy myself to be timelessly elegant with contemporary ease so it was decided– The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook was going to be my new go-to cookbook.

The Lobster Pot Pie is going to be my first endeavor.  As the weather gets colder, comfort food is a must-have and making a traditional dish with a decadent twist sounds like the perfect holiday recipe.  When I was young, my mom would let me stay home from school on the day of the first snow.  I would watch “Little Women”, start playing Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas cd and bake my little heart out (when I was super young, the baking was done Easy-Bake Oven style–lucky Mom).  To this day, the first snow is the epitome of fresh, pure perfection and I think the lobster pot pie is the perfect thing to make to celebrate.

Speaking of celebrating, I am making it a point to do it more.  I am coming out of a season where I haven’t felt I’ve done anything worth celebrating or deserve to celebrate.  Well, that’s just crap.  Celebration seems to be relegated to birthdays and holidays and big news but the first snow, friends making time to get together, an impactful yoga class, a mistake that teaches you something–I think it all deserves to be celebrated.  I want to be more present and grateful and aware.

High Five of the Day goes to The Herlein Family.  I can’t think of a family who exemplifies courage, grace, love of family and steadfast faith more than they have the last year and it is an honor to be witnessing their journey.


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fall chi

Walking over to Liz and Shay’s for our weekly Friday morning coffee/Oprah/gab session, I got caught up in a windy, whirly tunnel of leaves.  I didn’t get my camera out in time to catch it but this was the scene–bright yellow leaves, street lamps still on, a Halloween scene if I’ve ever seen one.  It’s oddly warm here today, which adds to the Halloweeny’ness.  This time of year has always been one of my favorites.  My birthday is close to Halloween so my Mom would throw me these awesome Halloween themed parties, I would dress as something the other kids had no idea about (what 5th grader is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With The Wind for Halloween, really?) and my Dad would take me Trick or Treating, helping me strategize which houses to hit up for the most candy (he felt it had to do with speed).  And even though my parents would try to ruin my life by making me wear my snow suit under my costume because back then it would usually snow by Halloween, there was always a magic about Halloween that I loved.

Trolley this Saturday for Halloween.  I feel it will be different from the trolley for my 11th birthday.  No booze or friends dressed as the Kiss army on that trolley.

High Five of the Day: There is this house near the corner of Racine and Diversey that is decked out for Halloween.  Big metal cutouts of witch silhouettes with lights behind them in the front yard, spider webs, cauldrons, and at night, they turn on blue lights in their living room. Anyone who is willing to have all that crap those decorations in their yard and sit in a blue space for a month all for the sake of Halloween festiveness deserves a high five.

On Yoga

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Yoga 1. A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquillity.  2. A system of exercises practiced as part of this discipline to promote control of the body and mind.

Up until a few weeks ago, I would have respectfully disagreed with Mr. Webster’s Dictionary–nothing about my prior experiences with yoga made me feel spiritually insightful or tranquil.  More or less, yoga made me cranky. “Man, for all the stretching, I could be on a treadmill burning calories/grocery shopping/checking PerezHilton.com for the millionth time today” was more my reaction to yoga.  I don’t know if yoga has changed (but being a 5,000 year practice, I doubt it) or I have changed but I am ready for yoga in my life.

I took a “Sculpt” Yoga class at Core Power Yoga Gold Coast last week and was sore for 3 days.  Using weights while doing yoga poses forced me to use my core for stability and to get those 3lb suckers in the air.  Wowza.  Did I mention the room was heated to 90 degrees? Yeah, I should have looked into that before blowing drying my hair and putting on makeup before class.  I still had my preconceived notion of yoga just being some stretches and didn’t figure I would sweat at all.  Wrong.  I felt like I had really used and, dare I say, connected to my body.  I went back a few days later for “Hot Power Fusion”.  I have done hot room yoga before but the kind folks at Core Power Yoga weren’t kidding with the word “hot”.  105 degrees and an hour and fifteen minutes later,  I had contorted my body in ways I didn’t know it could go, centered my thoughts and sweated glowed more than I ever have in my life.   And I felt amazing!  All of that “you feel so centered” and “you become so calm” I had heard before about yoga was true!  If I had walked out the door and been hit by a cab, I think I would have probably said “Thanks, can I have more?”, that’s how centered and calm I felt.  It wasn’t pretty, that class.  All that heat and sweat made my poses extra slippery and slidey and I probably looked really silly.  But the opportunity to take an hour of my day to spend some time with me–the me that has nothing to do with any outside force–and become more aware of my body and what’s good and less aware of the the excess thoughts I have or things I am worried about or if global warming is really going to keep Chicago from being so freaking cold…well, I would say that opportunity is pretty stellar and one I am going to continue to take.


High Five of the Day: I was unaware that NHL players were also supermodels but after seeing the Nashville Predators in their swanky suits shopping downtown, I am considering becoming a hockey fan.

Run, baby, run!

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This is my first fall in Chicago and while I have had friends run the Chicago Marathon in the past, I had no idea what a big deal it was.  The streets were lines for the entire race with spectators and cheerers.   I have never seen anything like it–tons of people: people with signs, flowers, balloons, cow bells, whistles.  People cheering, people hugging, people yelling encouragement to every runner as they ran uphill the last .2 miles.  I was walking around with this huge smile on my face.  I seriously almost cried 3-4 times watching complete strangers finish this race.  I’m a softy as it is but it was just so inspirational.  Whether people were running, walking, or crawling past the finish line, everyone was putting a HUGE accomplishment under their belt today.  Well done!

Today was Ryan’s first full marathon; he ran the Baltimore half-marathon in 2007.  Even with his insanely busy schedule and a trip to Las Vegas, he ran today and did awesome!  I AM SO FREAKING PROUD OF HIM!   It was so cool to see all the runners finishing and meeting up with their loved ones afterward and I was so happy to be a part of the hugfest myself.


High Five of the Day: Aside from all the awesome runners who rocked out today, the high five of the day goes to the small child holding a sign that said “Run Like You Stole Something”.  Seriously, this little girl was like 6.  Hilarious.

On Goals

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As someone almost always focused on “getting there” or “making it”, I’ve been struggling lately with 1) the idea that my destination may be different than I had always imagined it and 2) that I have no idea where in the hell I even want my destination to be anymore.  Which is a good thing–I don’t want to make choices for my life that I feel I am “supposed” to make, like the time when I was 12 and got bangs just like the most popular girl in our class (bad, wildly unattractive decision).  So to avoid the awkward growing out period again, I’m doing a lot of questioning and evaluating and reflecting.

I need to set some goals–some real goals.  Not off-the-top-of-my-head goals, like how I want to scale Mt. Kilimanjaro or wear less stretch pants–you know, the stuff that sounds cool or that you know you should do. I found these questions on a website and am using them to frame my writing exercise today.

Time to pull out that notebook, skeptic, and start penciling in some goals. Here are seven questions to get the ball rolling:

1. What are the eight things you value most in life?

2. In 30 seconds or less, write down the three most important goals in your life right now.

3. What would you do if you won $1 million?

4. What would you do if you only had six months to live?

5. What have you always wanted to do but have been afraid to attempt?

6. In looking back at all the things you’ve done, what gives you your greatest feeling of importance?

7. What one great thing would you dare to dream if you knew you could not fail?

Sounds like some pretty solid questions to me.  Do you have set goals–the kind you have written down, the kind that other people know and will hold you accountable for?  Please share–I’m interested.

I’ll keep you posted.

High Five of the Day: The man waiting for the Red Line at Fullerton wearing a “Binford Tools: Real Men Don’t Need Directions”.  You know, like from the 90s tv show “Home Improvement”?  My Dad and I used to watch “Home Improvement” religiously and still love watching reruns together.  How awesome that this guy 1) procured a shirt advertising a fictitious tool show and 2) still wears it in public, 10 years after the show went off air.

Eating my way through this city…

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Having grown up with a big Italian family, I am a huge fan of dinners that last for hours set to the soundtrack of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra or any sort of jazz.  This past Saturday night, I had the pleasure of devouring this sort of experience at Rose Angelis at 1314 W. Wrightwood Ave.  My recently engaged friends Susie and Brian were in town from Baltimore and were so kind as to invite Ryan and I to join them and their families for dinner.  Rose Angelis is this adorably quaint Italian restaurant at the end of the street I used to live on–one of those places you pass by so often to the point where you feel like you go there all the time but have never actually been inside.  When I say quaint, I mean it–Rose Angelis is an old house.  Nooks and crannies and this loud, laughing buzz to it…even if we had been there on a date with just the two of us, it would have felt like we were at a big family gathering.  We sat on the patio, a fact that my cold natured body completely forgot about with a few glasses of Chianti and a steaming hot bowl of pasta.  I had the homemade spinach ribbon noodles (think little girl’s ruffley hair ribbons), artichokes and the most authentic tasting marinara sauce I’ve had since I’ve been to The Boot.  Ryan got the linguine del mare with an impressive amount of huge shrimp, scallops and other seafood-y wonders.  Since this is the dish I sampled in 7 different cities in Italy, I feel I am the utmost authority of what’s good and what isn’t but boy, Rose Angelis hit the spot with their version–perfect white wine sauce.  Between the delicious food, the group of super friendly people we were with and getting to spend time with my new friends Brian and Susie, it was a fantastic evening.  I can’t wait to bring my parents there–they will totally eat up that authentic Italy, family, stuff yourself with carbs vibe. 🙂

In other news, I’ve decided that the best one of the best things about having a partner/special man friend is food sharing.  If food sharing was an Olympic sport, Ryan and I would at least silver medal.  We have this rhythm to grabbing things off each other’s plates and reviewing the dishes and giving seconds of things we know the other likes.  I dig it (Baby, that’s a hint to not order meat dishes I can’t eat.  Nice choice on the Linguine del Mare.)

High Five of the Day: Baby at Starbucks wearing a purple crocheted hat with a green stem that made her look like an eggplant.  I forget that it’s creepy in the real world to go up to strangers and gush over how cute their children are.  So, I remained seated.  But that baby deserved a big High Five for her choice in accessories today.  Excellence in that category can never start too young.

Football, friends and…free tickets?!?

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Cubs vs. Reds

It was a beautiful Saturday in September, which meant that college football was the only thing on the menu for the day.  Ryan and I decided to start what would likely end up as a beer and barbecue filled day by going on a run.  Per usual, I wimped out 2 seconds out the door and managed to twist Ryan’s arm into stopping for Einstein bagels first (I know how baby likes his carbs).  Sitting outside, enjoying the Chicago summer that arrived 3 months late, devouring whipped strawberry cream cheese goodness and listening to a random, cheesy guy on a keyboard playing some legit classics (Elton John?  Jack Johnson?  Ella Fitzgerald? Yes, please!) was so enjoyable.  Knowing that  I was going to spend the afternoon with my best friends watching the Spartans and the Irish stride stumble into victory what some may consider not quite winning, I couldn’t have been happier.  But then a lovely lady  noticed my  Cubs shirt and offered us tickets to the Cubs game that she couldn’t use.  The first pitch was in 30 minutes but did we want them?  Ryan loves him some free goods so we grabbed what was left of our bagels, threw our failed attempt at running to the wind and hopped in a cab to the game.  The seats ended up being fantastic, the Cubs made a 7th inning attempt to stay in the game and Ryan & I enjoyed some adult beverages as well as each other’s company after a particularly busy August.

After smiling about my time in the Friendly Confines all weekend, I got to thinking about about great days.  Lately, I’ve been in a season where I feel like I am constantly looking for “fun”, “great weekends” and “luck”–all tall orders when they’re needed.  I woke up on Saturday morning smelling the delicious chicken bbq Ryan had cooked in the crock pot overnight, feeling the sun hitting my face from the shade I didn’t close, and knowing I had an entire day filled with something I love (college football) with people I love (my Chicago chums).   I didn’t need anything else from the day–it was already more than enough.  The Cubs tickets that fell in my lap didn’t make or break the day and so I was just able to enjoy it for what it was–an awesome time in my favorite city with my favorite guy.  Icing on an already delicious cake.  What a blessing and I am so happy I slowed down to enjoy it, for once.

Oh and let’s give a culinary round of applause for the AMAZING food that everyone made for the tailgate!  For a group 24 year olds, we put together a delicious spread–ribs, homemade pizza rolls, buffalo chicken dip, red skin potato salad, wings, cookies, and chicken bbq.  Thanks for hosting, Laura!

Here is the recipe for our Chicken BBQ–I say “our” because I cut up raw chicken,  participation enough if you ask me.

Chicken BBQ

5lbs of chicken breasts

1/2 bottle of ketchup

1 20 oz. Coca Cola Classic

3 T. Lemon Juice

2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

1 Large onion (cut into rings)

2 T garlic (chopped)

chili powder, italian seasoning, salt and pepper and whatever else you feel like to taste


Cut the chicken breasts in to thirds and bake for 20 minutes–you want them not cooked all the way but not raw.  Place the chicken breasts in a large crock pot and add the ketchup, coke, lemon juice, worchestershire sauce, onion, garlic and seasonings.   Stir and turn crock pot on high for 4 hours.   Stir and mix well, using a fork to split apart the chicken into the “strings” that end up looking like bbq.  Cook on high 4 more hours, stirring every once in awhile.  Keep on low or warm as you pick at it all day and occasionally make sandwiches.  Enjoy!