A Heart Shaped Weekend

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valentines day 2016 dinner party

I spent Thursday through Sunday in Michigan with my family. My sweet grandmother is making her transition to heaven after a pretty incredible almost 99 years on this planet. She never likes to miss a party so she has hung on through several days of storytelling and gatherings. At one point, there were 9 past and present staff members of her assisted living center in her bedroom; apparently there is a Hazel text message chain compromised of these kind women alerting each other to her condition and to come say goodbye. Time laughing and sharing and toasting was not in short supply and it was pretty damn special.

One of Hazel’s core values is hosting and with a Valentine’s Day dinner party planned at my house in Chicago, my mom insisted that my grandmother would have insisted I go home so I hit the road early and headed West. Several hours spent passing spaghetti and meatballs and pie around our table and really great conversation as we all curled up in front of the fire, nibbling on heart-shaped Rice Krispie treats and M&M’s as snow continued to fall outside was just the ticket. Having people in my life that I love as much as I do is my greatest blessing and an entire weekend, as all over the place emotionally and geographically as it was, to spend just loving them up…well, that is Valentine’s Day.

And I think Luna Bell was happy to host a heart-shaped party too.

Luna Bell Valentine's Day 2016

Valentine’s Day: A Little Effort Goes a Long Way

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Felt Hearts Valentines Day

It seems that Valentine’s Day is either loved or loathed, nothing in between. I stood neutral on this heart shaped holiday until my (now) husband and I had our first official date(s) on Valentine’s Day weekend. He took me to a tapas restaurant and was super excited because there were heart shaped ice cubes in the urinal (eww), I was excited because champagne sangria (yum) and to complete the romance trifecta, the restaurant has since been demolished in order to make room for a Williams-Sonoma. But we did have a blast and we did end up getting married so my Valentine’s neutrality has shifted toward festive-light, a belief that despite the hype around what Valentine’s Day is “supposed” to be, it is entirely possible to spend heart-themed time with people you love that is enjoyable and not entirely forced. Because real talk: it’s February aka freezing and waiting for a cab while wearing tights to go to a dinner where you are forced to order from a prix fixe menu that claims to contain aphrodisiacs is not what you want to do. It’s just not.

A little effort goes a long way and showing someone you care about them isn’t accomplished by some grand gesture you will never do again. Some suggestions:

Valentines Day Ideas

  1. The Murder Mystery Company hits the sweet spot of being dinner and an activity. I went with girlfriends a few weeks ago and from the second we walked in, we were a part of a theatre production aimed at solving “Whodunnit” after the host of the event is mysteriously murdered. Guests are given roles of suspects and what I loved about it is that you could be as involved as you wanted to be- people ran around asking for clues and others were spectators, both being equally as fun. Drinking wine and laughing with friends is always good too…and we totally won “Detective of the Night” for solving the crime. Thumbs up.
  2. Two words: Dive Bar. Having fun and not taking things so seriously is always romantic and there’s nothing more fun than eating tater tots while hurling pointy objects at a dart board (even if you are as terrible at it as I am.)
  3. Gummies are the new chocolate and the same rules apply as they did in the 4th grade- heart shaped anything for the win.
  4. Coco Chanel said “I only drink champagne on two occasions: when I am in love and when I am not.” So there you have it, the answer is champagne.
  5. Going for a run and helping others always makes me feel good and Cupid’s Undie Run achieves both. At 2pm this Saturday, run in your undies (really) through Wrigleyville to raise money for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Cocktails before and after optional but probably necessary.

On Broadway and Babies

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My best friend had a baby yesterday. !!!!!

When I got the word that I was an auntie and saw the little nugget’s perfect face, I promptly burst into tears and in a mix of emotion over how much I love my friend and how much I already love her daughter, I thought about who I will be for this brand new person on the planet.

The usual: Unconditional love. A devoted cheerleader. Travel itinerary consultant. Deep dish pizza provider.

And musical theater educator.

My mom raised me on a steady diet of the classics; one of my first memories was at our local theater belting out “O-K-LA-HO-MA” as a touring troupe performed and movies at home were almost exclusively Broadway musicals; who needs Disney when you have Camelot, The Music Man, Cats and Phantom of the Opera?! Musicals made me feel alive and inspired and like playing full out.

In college, there was a fall when new baby girl’s mom and I would sing the entire score of Wicked in the car when coming and going from our hometown. We would each take a part and just sing our little hearts out. Excessive hand motions and/or car choreography included. In a conversation last week with colleagues about what our “pump up” playlist was, well, let’s just say I was the only one to offer up her Spotify playlist full of selections from musicals. I can’t sing worth a damn, as hard as I try, but this music is one of those things I don’t have to be good at to love with all my heart. Which is something I have to remind myself: being good, achieving isn’t always the point; sometimes the point is loving something (or someone) with your whole heart.

So, sweet baby girl, your parents are going to adore you within an inch of your teeny little being and I will come bearing deep dish, high fives and Broadway showtunes. 3 Wise Men in one, if you will. And the one thing I can promise is your entire home team, your family and all who come with it, are going to love you with their whole, whole hearts. We’ve got you.

When I got in the car this morning, Sirius radio’s best station “On Broadway” (Channel 72) was playing “76 Trombones” from The Music Man (beyond classic) followed by “I Can Do Better Than That” from The Last 5 Years (it breaks my heart so much and it is so great- can’t wait for the movie), followed by “One Song Glory” from RENT (I hate to play favorites but this show has had my heart for years). I could not have wished for a better trifecta of musical gloriousness to start my day. So, for your listening enjoyment, see below.

With love, jazz hands and big hugs for my best friend’s new baby girl.

(and lots of congratulations for my best friend and her darling new family!)



The Time the Cubs Won A Game

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The day before our wedding, we took all of our guests to a Cubs game. Part of why we had such an intimate wedding was so we could do things like that- we love our city and giving our guests a full Chicago experience was high on our priority list!

After a some bloody Mary’s and sangria at our condo, our party o’30 walked over to Wrigley and settled in for what turned out to be an awesome game. Home runs! Bases loaded! Actual points being scored! Cubs win!

It’s safe to say that I have not been to many games like that.

I was going through the last bag of wedding things this evening when I found the above newspaper clipping. My parents saved the paper from our wedding day that had the Cubs score on it. Such a momento, for so many reasons.

Sigh. Family love.

Chicago love.

Cubs love.


National Donut Day

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I think we’re all pretty clear here on my great love for donuts, right? Well, it’s National Donut Day tomorrow so I thought it was important to give you the heads up so you could plan accordingly.

Here is a list of national chains doing special deals (free donut with coffee at Dunkin’!).

Here, again, is the list of Best Donuts in America. If you’re in one of these cities, make it happen and report back (I’m looking at you, Minneapolis and Brooklyn).

I don’t know of any specials in Chicago but Do-Rite Donuts and Dinkel’s are my current favs.

Fun fact: the first Donut Day was in Chicago in 1938 as a fundraiser to help people suffering during the Great Depression.

And as my Dad and I always say, “You know what’s better than going to get a donut? Going and getting a box of donuts.”

My work here is done.

(Image taken at Dandee Donuts in Fort Lauderdale, FL- the first stop after my parents pick me up from the airport)

An Open Letter to George Clooney

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Dear George,

I wanted to be among the first to send my congratulations on your recent engagement. Since everything written on the internet is true, I have to assume that the reports are accurate and you are indeed engaged. My fiance was actually the person who alerted me to this development. Again, since everything written on the internet is true, I think you getting engaged constitutes breaking news for men since there has been much reported about your alleged aversion to marriage- there’s a bit of a “last man standing” fist bump men reserve for you. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that I think your happiest days are ahead of you. This engagement thing is good stuff.

Before I got engaged, I was in a very happy, committed relationship. People who were engaged or married asked frequently when we were getting married and regardless of my reply, I was told that “It’s totally different when you’re engaged/married.”

I wanted to punch those people in the face.

I’m happy! Marriage isn’t necessary for happiness! Leave me alone!

But you see, George (I can call you George, right? Please- call me Nina), there is something to be said about taking that love you have for someone and declaring that this is the person you are choosing to spend your life with. I know, I thought that it was just words or a piece of jewelry too but in the 10 months since my fiance dropped to his knee in our kitchen at 9am on a Friday morning, I have felt a sense of…peace. Calm. Love magnified times more than I thought possible. Is it my really nice ring? No. Maybe. Kidding. It’s knowing that my partner and I are on the exact same page about growing old together (for the record- you look great, haven’t aged a day and I doubt wrinkles are going to be an issue for you) and we get to shout from the rooftops that we are choosing to spend our lives with our best friend.

We have to find rooftops- so nice that you have US Weekly to shout your news for you.

The moral of the story, George, is that being engaged has been some of the most fun months of my life and I wish you as much fun, excitement and paparazzi free days as humanly possible. And really- congratulations. Finding someone who lights you up to the point where you absolutely must spend your life with them is magical and no trivial endeavor.

Also, just to throw it out there, we are honeymooning in Italy and have a spare 3 days in the middle of our trip- if the Lake Como house is empty, I am totally willing to go check on it for you.

Love, light and wedding planning,



An Un-Shower Shower

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I was pretty against having a bridal shower.

Ryan and I aren’t 23 (spoiler alert) and have lived together for almost 3 years; the idea of a party designed to help us “set up house” didn’t feel quite right. And God help me with the shower games. The idea of being quizzed on how well I know Ryan gives me an anxiety attack just thinking about it and being stared at while opening gifts sort of does the same.

But my mom’s friends kept asking her how we were going to celebrate so my mom talked me into a luncheon with no mention of “bridal” on the invite. Celebration luncheon. A champagne celebration luncheon. I could do that. I wanted to do that.

Moral of the story: let the people who love you do nice things for you.

It was the most wonderful day. Women who have been influential in my life came together for bite sized food and mimosas and bellinis. It was so wonderful to see everyone, thank them for the mark they’ve made in my life and acknowledge that I am getting married and that is a really exciting thing.

Oh and guess what? I opened gifts and it was fine. It didn’t make me nervous, probably because I had known everyone in the room since I had a perm and I was so touched by the generosity and thoughtfulness of everyone who came.

Bubbly and dessert with people you love, all before 2pm? It was the best day.

Also- the Garrett’s Popcorn favors were a hit! It makes me happy to think that people enjoyed a bit of Chicago after they left.

Peace, love and desserts with tiny spoons,