3.30.2012

Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In

First I read this and then I saw this and then I read this. So many signs. So many suggestions. I guess it's time to pay attention. All those posts ganged up to convince me that this weekend is finally the time to unplug. I set a social media/internet fasting goal on my listy list and it's time to cross it off.

unplug
{image via Pinterest via flickr}


In case you're new around here, I have actually tried unplugging before. Last time it was only for 24 hours. Last time I was a little bit more strict. Last time success was spotty at best. We'll see how it goes this time. By Sunday afternoon I may be twitching and shaking.

But ready or not, as of 5pm this afternoon, I'm stepping away. If I owe you an email or a retweet or a blog comment or a Facebook "like," I promise to fulfill my obligation on Monday. But until then, I'll be living the simple life. Wish me luck!
Have you unplugged recently? 
How did it go?

3.29.2012

A Brazilian Escape in the Heart of Chicago

What's that, you say? Another FREE activity to keep us busy exploring Chicago? I know, I know, it's the second freebie I've posted this week. I would have saved it for next week, but this one has an expiration date. I wanted to share it with you guys as quickly I could.

Macy's Flower Show - Brazil


Until April 7th, my favorite Macy's on State Street, is hosting their annual flower show. This year's theme is Brasil: Gardens in Paradise, and as always it is free to the public. The show spreads itself out over several floors of the Chicago flagship store while its main exhibition is up on floor number nine.

"Brasil - Gardens in Paradise"

What a lovely way to put a hammock to use - though I think I prefer using one for relaxing...


Yesterday after walking through the main exhibit, I spent a little bit of time exploring the fine china department. There several stunning floral tablescapes on the sixth floor. The camera on my phone was working overtime as I gathered ideas to decorate the dining room we don't have.

Kate Spade New York - Grace Avenue
Kate Spade New York introduces Grace Avenue


Having just stumbled on the flower show, I was surprised how much there was to see. It was a perfect place to wander. My quick trip quickly turned into an hour + of gawking. Over the coming days there are tons of in-store events to keep you busy too! It's not only about flowers either. There are cooking demonstrations and live performances of the music and dance variety. If you're looking for info to also feed the brain while your eyes feast, stop by and visit the Plant Information Booth. There you'll meet with University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. These volunteers provide a network of gardening programs and horticultural activities. They are available every Friday and Saturday from 11am-2pm, and every Sunday from 11:30am- 2pm.

Don't worry if you aren't in the Windy City, we aren't keeping Macy's Brasil: Gardens in Paradise all to ourselves. If you are in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis or San Francisco, click your city's name for local events.

Any time in your schedule to stop and smell the Corsage Orchids?


One might think that I'm being paid by Macy's the way I've been posting about the store lately. But, sadly, I am not. (Though I'm not opposed to that idea, Macy's. Call me.) I'm just sharing this information in case, like me, you're looking for fun FREE activities to fill your time.

3.28.2012

Some Days It's All About the Pretty (and a public service announcement)

Look at the amazingly beautiful underwater ink photograph I discovered on Pinterest yesterday.



I mean, does it take your breath away or what? You should check out Colossal Art and Design for even more beautiful eye candy. Believe me the site will not disappoint.

And as long as I'm on the subject of Pinterest, can I take a moment to make a public service announcement? Please, I beg you, PUH-LEASE check your pins for permalinks, people. When I first discovered one of these pretties it was pinned from the blog's home page instead of the particular post in which this print was featured. Thankfully, I didn't have to scroll back too, too far to find the post. And thankfully there was a lot of beauty to enjoy while I scrolled. But the story doesn't always end so happily. And this is an epidemic that can be stopped if we all just do our individual parts. Won't you please, please do your part?

Ok, back to the pretty.

Source: etsy.com via Molly on Pinterest


Here's another beautiful piece to enjoy, {it's for sale!} in the hopes that you'll forgive me for getting all preachy.

What are you doing to make your Wednesday is as beautiful as these pieces?

3.27.2012

Not all that it A-Piers to Be

Earlier this month, an architectural team was chosen for the upcoming redesign of Chicago's Navy Pier. With its centennial celebration just around the corner, Navy Pier is about to get a multi-million dollar a face lift. Though plans aren't finalized, undoubtedly James Corner (also responsible for the High Line in NYC and Philadelphia's Race Street Pier) and his team have several innovative improvements up their collective sleeve. When we heard the news, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to pay a visit to the pier and see for ourselves what she looks like "before" she gets all of her work done.

Navy Pier - Chicago


We were excited to take advantage of another free Chicago activity. Spending a day outside exploring the pier seemed like a great way to capture a different view of the city. We were right and wrong. The weather was great. The company was fantastic. The views were spectacular. But the pier itself? The pier was meh. There was one (or five) too many churro stands for my taste. Though I was surrounded by the beauty of Lake Michigan and the city skyline I was completely underwhelmed by the cheesy "tourist trap" vibe that permeated the pier.

Navy Pier - Chicago Ferris Wheel


Chicago Ferris Wheel - Navy Pier


A View from the Pier - Chicago


So while I can't give the current Navy Pier a rip roaring recommendation, I can say that I'm excited for what is to come. The potential is most definitely there. I look forward to seeing what the pier's governing board and newly selected design team create. And I can't wait to say, "I remember it when."



3.26.2012

Mmm Mmm Monday: Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar


There are a few problems in life that are really nice to have. Lately we've been wrestling with a problem of just that variety. Chicago is overrun with fantastic places to eat. Trying to narrow down the field and choose where to spend a special evening, can be a chore. It certainly isn't a chore that you'll ever hear me complain about, but is a chore.

This weekend, we narrowed down the field and made our reservation at Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar on the Near North Side of Chicago. Located at the corner of Erie and Franklin, it was, for us, a quick train ride away and its bright orange entrance made it a snap to find. (OK, so maybe we walked right past and tried to walk into an apartment building instead. But at least our mistake kept the patrons inside entertained.)

Chef's sashimi selection @ union sushi Chicago

Although we arrived a few minutes before our reservation, we were seated immediately and offered our choice between a table by a window, seats at the sushi bar or a place at the grill. Opting for a table, we were shown to our seats and served complimentary edamame to snack on as we made our decision. As huge edamame fans we made quick work of it while we decided to play it safe with the Chef's sashimi selection. Despite a moderately full dining room, we were served very quickly. My favorite on the platter was the white tuna. It was fatty and flavorful and left me excited for what was still to come.


Black Rice Sushi Sampler - Union Sushi Chicago

Next up we had the Black Rice Sushi sampler. This was a great way to enjoy a few old favorites (Spicy tuna and Dragon Rolls) and try some new rolls (Hokkaido and Devon Rolls) too. The sampler consists of four half rolls made with black rice. Having never had black rice before, I was excited to learn that in addition to being delicious, it has fewer carbs and calories than traditional white rice. I liked the texture of the black rice and flavor-wise it didn't pull my attention from the real stars of the show, the fish and vegetables it contained. The surprise of the evening was how much I enjoyed the Devon roll. The Devon roll contains tempura sweet potato, curry mayo, chive, pickled radish and eel sauce. For me, sushi without fish is usually a waste of my time, but the crunch of the tempura and pickled radish made this roll a stand out.


Kangaroo Kabob

Because I'm on a mission to try 25 foods that might make other people gag, next we ordered a kangaroo kabob. I'll start with the good. The meat seemed to be prepared properly as it was juicy and tender. But there was something off about its flavor. We couldn't really put our finger on why it was wrong. It was just wrong. It was gamy, but not pleasantly so. It unfortunately, left an unpleasant aftertaste too. No amount of orange and lime zest were going to counteract it, though the chef tried. As I was chewing, all I could think was that it was funky - and I'm not talking about George Clinton style funk.


Tsukiji Market Roll @ Union Sushi Chicago

We finished off our meal on a much higher note. Last up we ordered the Tsukiji roll. This roll was as beautiful as it was delicious. The cilantro and radish wrap gave the roll a fantastic freshness. The wasabi tobiko delivered my very favorite sushi experience - pop, pop, pop. Oh how I love the pop of roe.

Not only was our food first class, the service was stellar. Our waiter was attentive, honest and funny. Our water glasses were constantly attended to and the manager stopped by to greet us and describe in further detail the black rice sushi sampler. I loved the urban decor and kept turning in my chair (I chose the window view when we were seated) so that I could enjoy the graffiti wall and enormous silver sculpture in the center of the restaurant. Is it a flame? Is it a flower? Either way it's intriguing.

As we finished our meal we realized we'd come across yet another wonderful problem to have. In a city filled with fantastic places to eat, when you find a restaurant you know is a winner, do you return to it repeatedly or keep trying out new ones?

How do you handle this problem?
Are you a restaurant regular or are you constantly on the look out for something new?



I owe a special thank you to Laura from deux chicago for suggesting both Union Sushi + Barbeque and the Tsukiji Market Roll. You were so right! I'll take your restaurant recommendations any time.


 

3.24.2012

Thankful Things

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it 
is like wrapping a present and not giving it." 
~ William Arthur Ward


Thankful Things: I


This week I'm thankful for so many things
a. Some views of Chicago just never get old. 
b. Stove top S'mores. Roasted marshmallows + Chocolate covered graham crackers = Yum
c. Watching ABT's dress rehearsal for Giselle was one of the most incredible dance experiences of my life.
d. Beautiful blue skies, yellow blossoms, and bare branches that will be green and lush soon!
e. The prairie district is such a stunning place to take puppy walks.
f.  Even waiting for the train can be a stunning experience.
g. Kismet
h. The Hunger Games movie was just as entertaining as I hoped it would be. 
i.  Watching the fog roll in and out has provided lots of entertainment this week.

This week I'm also thankful to have come across these on the Interwebs
* We should make these and wear one of these for tomorrow's Mad Men season premiere.
* Reading this made me hopeful that one day I can cross it off my Ultimate To DO list.
* Sometimes waiting for a blog post is totally worth it.
* Although it isn't groundbreaking television, it's still a little bit of guilty fun.
* What an unexpected way to cross "Write a Love Letter" off my Day Zero list.

What has made your heart thankful this week?

3.22.2012

The Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

A few weeks ago when my mother-in-law was in Chicago for a visit, we decided to run a few errands (during the few moments that we weren't eating). We had to stop by Walgreens and Macy's. Simple enough, right? Simple except that this is the Chicago Loop. The Walgreens and Macy's stores we visited are anything but simple.

Macy's Chicago

The Macy's we popped into is on State Street. It's a flagship store housed in the old Marshal Fields building. This 12 story granite beauty is a National historic landmark. Built around the turn of the century, my local Macy's is one of the largest in the world encompassing an entire city block. Quite simply, it is breathtaking. Filled to the brim with columns topped by ornate cornices, there are moments during one's visit that the structure is more engaging than Macy's product. (Sorry, Macy's buyers and merchandisers.)

Macy's Ceiling - Chicago Flagship Store
Let's face it, until I visited this one, I had never been to Macy's with a Tiffany ceiling.

Macy's Magical Windows - On State St.


Macy's Extraordinary Windows

And the windows? I promise they aren't only spectacular during the holiday season. To kick off spring, there is plenty of window art to marvel over. I anticipate more of the same throughout the year.


Walgreens Flagship store in Chicago on State
The biggest surprise of the day's errands came at Walgreens, however. Yes, I said Walgreens. Right across Randolph from that spectacular Macy's store is the drugstore chain's newest gem. First let me say, there is a Walgreens on nearly every corner of Chicago. They're all right next to a Starbucks and a Bank of America. Walgreens was founded here and its headquarters is out in the 'burbs so there is no shortage of store fronts around town. But let me tell you, the flagship store at State and Randolph is no ordinary drugstore. Having just had its grand opening in January, this 27,000 + square foot phenomenon is unlike any Walgreens that I've ever visited.

Walgreens on State St. - Chicago

When you walk through its front doors your are greeted by a sushi chef. Yes. I said Sushi. It has a liquor department that is quite literally larger than our apartment and houses a bottle of cognac retailing at $2000. There is even a full service salon and the enticing Look Boutique upstairs. (I may have bought a purse there. Yes, at Walgreens.) But what impressed me were the details: the illuminated shelves, the marble floors, the computer displays that allow a shopper to virtually sample any make-up/beauty item they choose. There is a buzz that isn't typical of a Walgreens' shopping experience.

That's what I'm learning about Chicago. There is a buzz about this whole city that isn't typical. Here a simple trip to the drugstore for some tissues can be a memorable experience. Here the ordinary is made extraordinary.

And I'm completely smitten.


3.21.2012

The Joffrey Ballet Tour: A Dream Come True

Guess where we went last week?

The Joffery Ballet signage


Inspired by my FREE peek at the Chicago skyline (thank you again, Heather), I am determined to find other gratis activities to fill our first summer in the city. Thankfully, the Joffrey Ballet provided an option.

The Joffery Ballet - Students


On the second and fourth Wednesday of every month, the public is welcome to tour the Joffrey tower. Located at the corner of State and Randolph, it has been the home of the Joffrey Ballet since 2008. The tower includes rehearsal studios, a black box theatre (pictured above) and the administrative offices. This tour must be a well kept secret. Either that or I'm one of the few crazed fanatics excited enough to jump at the chance to see behind the scenes of this half century old American institution. When we arrived we quickly realized we were the only ones on the tour! At first I wondered if that was awkward, but then we decided to just go with it.


We were ushered through classrooms, a practice space that doubles as a theatre, the dancer's lounge, and the costume room. We learned about the Joffrey's community engagement programs and even got to see some of the students preparing for a performance. The tour lasted about thirty minutes and we were encouraged to ask questions and oooh and ahhh as much as we'd like. 

If you're a fan of Joffrey or like me, you grew up at a ballet barre; I would recommend taking the tour. To make a reservation or for more information, visit the Joffrey's website.

Anyone else out there ever dream of being a ballerina?


3.20.2012

It's Sprung

Spring!


Happy Spring!!


A Hammock kind of afternoon

Just like most of the country, spring weather came early to Chicago. So even though today's the first official day of spring, we've been transitioning for a little while now. Over the past few days we've been stopping to smell the beautiful blossoms and taking advantage of our mini-porch to work a little hammock time into our not so busy schedule.

Today I'm excited to have a guest post over at This Camera Tells My Story. I'll keep my words short here hoping that you'll head over there to check it out. While you're there tell Jessi, "Happy Spring," for me. 


How are you celebrating the first day of Spring?

3.19.2012

St. Patrick's Day Through My Lens


Chicago River goes Green
Even the Chicago River Goes Green


Bag Pipes a Plenty
Bagpipes-a-Plenty


Trinity Dancers - Chicago
Trinity Dancers


A Real Live Leprechaun?
A Real Life Leprechaun?


A Moment of Quiet
A Moment of Reflection

...I can't wait until next year.

What did the weekend look like through your lens?

3.16.2012

Just a Tad Too Bitter for My Taste

Several years ago while browsing the shelves of a Borders (Yep, that tells you how long ago it was) I was hooked by Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black cover art. I thought the extra long subtitle was clever. I thought Lancaster's literary voice seemed snarky and engaging. I was convinced her book would be pee-your-pants funny. So I wrote down the title and carried it around with me for years.

In the midst of the great purge before our move, I took several loads of books to a local used book store. Against type and in the name of space saving, I accepted the cash instead of the vastly larger trade value for my books. Luckily for me, however, there were a few dollars left that I had to take in trade. With my credit in hand I wandered over to the bargain shelf determined to make the most of my trade dollars. There waiting for me was the familiar cover art of Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black. I picked up the book, and discovered that Lancaster is a Chicago native. I knew at that moment it was finally time to read this memoir.


Turns out, after the first chapter I nearly put the book down. Lancaster's literary persona was insufferable. Self absorbed and vapid didn't even begin to do her shallow, label dropping, inane prose justice. In truth I kept reading in anticipation of cheering on the hardship she was about to face. Horrible, right? How could I help it, Lancaster wrote a character that begged to be disliked.

Having made it through to the end, I'm ultimately glad I didn't put it down early. There was a modicum of growth as her story unfolded. Thankfully by the book's last chapters her grating (and often unoriginal) sense of humor became less off-putting and more endearing. The more I read the more I began to hope that perhaps she was just as unimpressed with the Jen who appeared in the early chapters as I was.

Honestly, I wouldn't recommend this book to other readers. But, Lancaster's transformation throughout the memoir was significant enough to make me curious about her follow up books.

Have you read any of Jen Lancaster's memoirs? What did you think?

3.14.2012

The ONLY Bathroom Photos I Will Probably EVER Publish

There are a few rules that I try to hold fast to. One of those involves cameras in the bathroom. I'm officially going on record to say, that I can't remember very many bathroom mirror photos that I've found either flattering or necessary. And they are most DEFINITELY NOT for public consumption. As far as any other of type of photography in a bathroom, honestly, I'm  not going to let my imagination even go there.

However, last weekend I broke the rules. I took several pictures while in the ladies room and let me show you why.

Hancock Tower - The Signature Room


High above the Streeterville (is that really a neighborhood?) neighborhood, there is a magical ladies room. This magical ladies room has enormous windows. Outside those enormous windows one is privy to a magnificent view of Chicago.

Hancock Tower


On the 95th and 96th floors of the John Hancock you'll find the Signature Room and the Signature Lounge. It seems to me that the architect reserved the best views for the restroom. I tell ya, it is breathtaking. As I was snapping photos with my phone, someone said, "I've never seen so many pictures taken in the bathroom before in my life." I wanted to quip back, "Obviously you haven't been on MySpace." But I was too enamored with the view to let the snark pass through my lips. I wasn't the only one. There must have been 3 or 4 other ladies standing at the window snapping pictures.

As a side note, the stalls in the bathroom were empty. 

Hancock Tower - 95th Floor

I'm happy to report that I didn't stumble on this view on my own. Last Sunday afternoon, after the parade, I had the pleasure of a little girl time with Miss Heather of Smart and Savvy Style. Heather and I had a get to know you date over a cup of coffee in the Signature Lounge. {Why didn't we take a picture of the two of us together, Heather? We're bad bloggers.} It was Heather's idea to meet at the Hancock tower. After seeing that bathroom window, I'm so glad she made the suggestion.

Hancock Tower - a View from the Ladies' room

Not only did I get a chance to meet Heather for the first time, I was introduced to an extremely inexpensive way to fall more deeply in love with Chicago. I mean, come on, isn't she beautiful? As I type this my mind is racing. I can't wait to visit the bathroom, I mean the Signature Room at night, or on a bright sunny day, or maybe even when it's foggy. The possibilities are endless. 


This field trip and Miss Smart and Savvy's brilliant invitation has convinced me that there must be lots of amazing ways to discover this city for very little or maybe even NO money. I consider this my newest challenge and I can't wait to share what I discover with all of you!


If you're a local blogger (or non-blogger) that knows about an inexpensive or free activity in Chicago, I'd love to get the chance to meet you too! Leave a comment or shoot me an email.


3.13.2012

South Side Irish Parade

In years past Chicago's South Side Irish Parade has been quite an event. From what I gather from life long Beverly residents, the drinking started early and the festivities went late. Two years ago, organizers of the parade decided to put an end to the party. After 54 arrests in 2009 the Beverly neighborhood's 30 year tradition came to a screeching halt. Two St. Patrick's days came and went without a bagpipe brigade or curly haired Irish dancer doing a jig down Western.


Southside Irish Parade 2012 - Shamrocks a' plenty


But this year, the parade returned. In 2012 though, the parade organizers had a decidedly different agenda. Sure there were plenty of Aran sweaters to be found. Once again Western was lined with red hair and green gear. Bagpipes were the festive soundtrack of the day. But, "family friendly" was the catchphrase heard on the street. Well, "family friendly" and "zero tolerance." And from what I witnessed the re-brand was successful.


Southside Irish Parade 2012 - Aran sweaters for all


Parade organizers report that 150,000 people were in attendance on Sunday morning, many of whom were little lads and lasses. Though the crowds were half what was reported in 2009, there was an air of excitement and neighborhood pride that permeated the whole event. "South Side Irish" t shirts, sweatshirts and other paraphernalia were worn by residents with pride and the Beverly neighborhood was a fantastic host. Its charm and history were evident as we walked to and from the parade route. I was particularly touched by the way the whole event was embraced by multiple generations. It definitely was a "Family Friendly" event.


Southside Irish Parade 2012 - no shortage of bagpipes


We were fortunate enough to be invited to celebrate the day by one of the local families and some really amazing friends. {I'm kicking myself for not taking any pictures of us together, Missi!} Before watching the parade we heard all about the event in years past. We watched as little ones begged their parents to get to the parade route. We laughed and listened to stories and enjoyed the pretty much perfect weather.  And of course we ate. No St. Patrick's day celebration is complete without the corned beef. I swear I ate my weight in corned beef on Sunday afternoon, and I loved every salty bite.


My Honey & Me

The South Side Irish Parade was definitely another great introduction to Chicago. With a bit of Irish blood coursing through my veins, St. Patty's day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Getting to be part of an historic event with such a welcoming and hysterical family was something to be treasured. Plus, the event was a great primer for this weekend's festivities. Chicago's annual Saint Patrick's Day Parade is happening just a mile from our place this Saturday at noon. The river will be dyed green, the bagpipes will be blaring and I plan to find plenty of corned beef and cabbage to fill my belly.

What are your favorite St. Patrick's Day traditions, plans or memories?