My 5 Favorite Posts of 2012

I published - and I'm sure you read every single word of - 205 posts in 2012. That's a whole lot of blogging, huh?

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Some were better than others. But these 5 were a few of my favorites:
  1. The one where I compared myself to a Bachelor contestant.
  2. The one where I realized this blog has ventured down an unanticipated path.
  3. The one where I realized that even the ordinary is extraordinary in Chicago.
  4. The one where I got a new job.
  5. The one where I witnessed a birth.

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But if you're keeping score, these 5 were the most popular:
  1. The one where I realized when the Art Institute is free for Illinois Residents.
  2. The one where I imagined my Ideal Day.
  3. The one where I Dared to Dream.
  4. The one where I shared my favorite bits of Academy Award Fashion.
  5. The one where I went on a Meetup walking tour.
It's obvious that A Foreign Land has headed in a different direction since early 2012. To the new friends I've made this year, I'm so excited to have you as a part of my bloggy world. And to those of you who have stuck around since the early days, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! You make this little space a fun place to share our Chicago adventures.

2012 has definitely been chock full of great memories for us and I can't wait to see what 2013 brings!

How will you remember 2012?
What are you looking forward to in 2013?



Small (and Not So Small) Christmas Reminders

The Holiday Season might be the most magical time to wander the streets of Chicago's Loop. Around every corner, down every street, little (and not so little) pops of Christmas joy are there to surprise and delight.

I'm a wanderer at heart, so discovering these surprises has made this season - they began to appear weeks before Thanksgiving and will stick around until the New Year, I suspect - so very, very special. Despite grey skies and the disturbing lack of SNOW it hasn't been difficult to remain in the Christmas spirit this year.

On the 12th day of Christmas, I'm remembering just a few of the sights, sounds and smells that have made my heart sing this season.

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Brownstones festively decorated | Unexpected mid-morning concerts
Shopping malls decorated to the nines | Reminders to "Keep Christ in Christmas"
Pretzels at the Christkindlmarket | Architectural gems all lit up
Shiny shop windows | Carols along State Street
A gingerbread covered oven at the Palmer House | Twinkly lights lining the streets
Unexpected pops of red and green | Bell Ringers on every corner

It's like they say, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. And our first Christmas in Chicago did not disappoint.

I hope your holiday preparations are winding down and celebrations are in full force!


Chestnuts Roasting in A Closed Oven

On the 11th day of Christmas I cracked into a few chestnuts. Actually, eleven.

Unfortunately, the only "open fire" was on the television.

In For the Night

Thankfully, according to Martha, an open fire wasn't required. But a chestnut roasting pan was.


I used a cookie sheet and it worked out fine. Whew.


Having never made or eaten roasted chestnuts before I wasn't too sure what I was getting in to. After finding the chestnuts at Whole Foods, I sent the hubby the most ironic text ever.

"Do we have a nutcracker?"

The process was super easy. It was just 4 steps. And it turns out a nutcracker wasn't even necessary.

  1. Make a slit in each shell using a sharp knife.
  2. Roast the chestnuts in a 350° oven for 35 min.
  3. Once they're out of the oven and still warm, crack open the shell and harvest the meat.
  4. Eat them up.

Eating the chestnuts reminded me of eating crab legs. It was a lot of work for a relatively little bit of meat. But it was very worth the effort.

Is this a Christmas tradition you've adopted?


10 Spectacular Illuminations

On the tenth day of Christmas we're wondering if ComEd is giving the Lincoln Park Zoo a discount rate on the electricity needed to light up all those bulbs?

Last weekend we took advantage of the mild weather to wander around Lincoln Park Zoo Lights. It was definitely... wait for it ... a zoo! There were plenty of people crammed into the park to see the spectacular illuminations.

But who can argue with a price tag that reads FREE?!?

Christmas Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo Wrapped Tree

Nutcracker Row
We're partial to Nutcrackers in our house... so this was a particular favorite.

Holly Jolly Holiday

Happy Zebras

Santa Without The Wait
I didn't even have to wait in line with the screaming kids to nab this shot.
Thank you, Santa!

Dragon Lights
Of course this reminded us of our nephew that will be born in a few weeks!
(...his dad has an inexplicable dragon obsession)

Cheetah Lights

Mouth Breather
This guy - one of just a few live animals we saw - was asleep as far as we could tell. 

Dancing LIghts
These lights were choreographed and danced to the music.
Of course I took the opportunity to shake my thang too.

If you haven't had a chance to see the (did I mention free?!?) Zoo Lights, you still have time. The park will be open (and probably crowded) from 5-9 pm on Dec 21-23, 26-31 and Jan 1-6th.

This will definitely be a new holiday tradition for us! Twinkle lights, holiday tunes and thousands of our closest friends all created a memorable Christmas celebration.

When it comes to Holiday events, do you brave the crowds or celebrate at home instead?


Oh Christmas Trees

I blame it on years of watching the Christmas tree in the Nutcracker grow super-sized. Years of seeing that magical - though entirely imaginary - tree appear has given me an affinity for enormous Christmas trees.

Our current living situation and my ever-present laziness makes having a gigantic tree difficult this year. But thankfully, there is an abundance of super-sized trees around Chicago's Loop that have more than accommodated my evergreen need.

On the ninth Day of Christmas I fawned over nine magnificent trees in Chicago.

Our Little Tree Daley Plaza Christmas Tree
Our Mini Tree | The Daley Plaza Stunner

Intercontinental Hotel Christmas Tree Christmas Tree near Pioneer Court
The Intercontinental Tree | The Tree near the Trib

Palmer House Christmas Tree Walnut Room Christmas Tree
The Palmer House Tree | The Walnut Room Tree

900 N Michigan Christmas Tree Hancock Christmas Tree
The tree in 900 N. Michigan | The Hancock Center Tree

Willis Tower Christmas Tree
The Willis Tower (aka The Sears Tower) Christmas Tree
~ Don't tell the others, but this one is my favorite ~

Sound off: What color are the lights on your Christmas tree?


8 Causes Worthy of Your Gift

If you've crossed every name off your holiday shopping list don't let that stop you from sending a few more gifts. These won't even need to be wrapped!

Why not send a gift or two to people (or organizations) who truly need your support?

On the eighth day of Christmas, I've gathered a list of 8 Chicago(ish) charities to support this season. Each of these organizations is doing fantastic work. Each has impressed me and touched my heart during our first year in Chicago.

CAASE envisions a community free from all forms of sexual exploitation, including sexual assault and the commercial sex trade. CAASE addresses the culture, institutions, and individuals that perpetrate, profit from, or support sexual exploitation. Our work includes prevention, policy reform, community engagement, and legal services.

2. Joffrey Ballet Chicago

The Joffrey Ballet is a world class company with an exceptional history, presenting world-class ballet, dance education and community outreach. The Joffrey strives to bring the best dance to the biggest and most diverse audiences. Every dollar of your donation goes toward continuing this tremendous legacy and ensuring the future success of the company.

3. Chicago Architecture Foundation (aka CAF)

Donations to CAF enable it to present originally curated exhibitions, architecture tours, lectures, and adult and youth education programs including family programming, to Chicago-area residents and visitors. Annnnnd, I might be a little biased.

4. Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (aka LAF)

Each year LAF impacts 50,000 lives by providing free legal help to resolve non-criminal issues like domestic violence, consumer fraud, and unfair evictions. We make equal justice a reality and get people back on track. We rely on private donations to fulfill our mission.

5. Chicago Public Media

As a public media institution Chicago Public Media is deeply invested in the civic life and health of the community they serve. Their programs and services are dedicated to sparking meaningful connections between people; whether it is linking Chicagoans to the wider world or connecting neighbors that might not otherwise meet. (Plus they produce This American Life!!!)

6. Red Cross

The American Red Cross exists to provide compassionate care to those in need. It's a network of generous donors, volunteers and employees that share a mission of preventing and relieving suffering, at home in Chicago, in the United States and around the world, through several key service areas. Most recently they've been involved providing support for the people of Newtown, CT and the Sandy survivors.

7. Chicago Public Library

The Chicago Public Library strives to provide equal access information, ideas and knowledge through books, programs and other resources. Our donations allow the library to support all people in their enjoyment of reading and pursuit of lifelong learning.

8. CARE for AIDS

This one isn't exactly a Chicago based cause, but it's one close to my heart, so I'm including it. CARE for AIDS partners with local Kenyan churches to operate life transforming centers that serve the physical, spiritual, economic, and social needs of men and women living with HIV/AIDS. They're doing good work, you guys.

Is there a cause or organization that you plan to give a gift to this season?