Thursday, January 31, 2013

A strong case of wanderlust

It's time to talk a little about the trip that Joe and I hope to take this spring. It's not booked yet, and there's still a chance our plans might change, but we're hoping to travel to Europe this April. My little sister is studying abroad, and it seems like a prefect excuse to hop across the pond. Joe and I both love traveling, especially to Europe, and it's been five years since our amazing trip to the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. We've been working hard, and saving our pennies, and I am pretty close to thinking this trip might become an actual reality. Curious where we're planning to go?

London, baby! It's a city I've dreamed about for years, but I've never made it beyond the airport. I've done a couple trips to Ireland, and have otherwise stuck to mainland Europe. It is time for that to change. Since my sister is studying there, this seems like the perfect time. We plan to spend 3-4 days in London, enjoying historical buildings, bustling neighborhoods, and all the romance that the city has to offer. Joe and I had an amazing time wandering around Paris on our last trip, and I think we'll feel the same charm in London. Even if it's a bit dreary and gray for our mid-April timeline, it still sounds like the perfect getaway.

And then, since it will most likely be dreary and gray, we figured it's probably a good idea to head somewhere a little warmer for the second half of our trip! That part of the trip is still up for debate, but I think we've narrowed it down to two front runners.


First, there's Barcelona. It's big, busy, coastal, and decently cheap. Plus, everyone we know seems to have visited already, so we'll be able to get lots of recommendations on what to see. I really enjoyed Madrid when I visited during college, and Joe's never been to Spain. I'm pretty confident we could have a laid back yet exciting little trip if this is where we ended up.


And then there's Lisbon. Everyone we talk to says they've heard great things about Portugal, and that they had a friend who visited and loved it. But no one we've encountered has actually been there themselves. That makes it a little more exotic, which is appealing to us. It's got a lot of the same appeal as Spain, but might be just a little cheaper and a little warmer. Both qualities that we appreciate!

We don't have to decide our secondary destination just yet, thankfully. We're planning to fly in and out of London, and to fly a low cost airline to our second destination. But I'm pushing to get our tickets to London purchased within the next month or so, just to know it's official. Fingers crossed this all works out...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shutter Happy... or at least trying!

I'm pushing myself to pull out the camera more often. It's not always easy this time of year, when it feels too cold and gray. But I'm starting to get better at figuring out the manual settings on the thing, and I have fun whenever I pull it out. I need a lot of work on how to compose pictures, so I'm going to try to start reading up on that in the coming weeks. Joe keeps encouraging me to take a class, which I do think will help a lot. And I haven't even tried to start editing pictures. Too much still to learn!

Here's a few snapshots from the last couple weeks...

Catching up with friends at a little dinner party.

Hibiscus Chile Margaritas. Sour, floral, sweet, and pretty damn spicy! 

Clowning around in our hood.

We have some fun quirky shops right near our place.
This mysterious place always has their curtains closed, but it looks beautiful
from the few peeks we've had inside!

Chilly & Gray
Yup, that's January in Chicago!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mid-Week Rambling...

I was going to blog tonight. I was going to post a few pictures of recent fun nights with friends, and share some snippets of what's new around here. But then I decided I needed to link up to Pinterest and Instagram. And I spent at least 15 or 20 minutes playing around online until I figured out how I wanted it to look. See those new little icons over to the right? --->

It all started because I made some freaking delicious soup for dinner. It was a recipe Joe and I found online, and it blew our expectations out of the water. So as we were dishing up our servings, I decided I should instagram this perfect dinner. Then, once I ate a little, I was totally sold. I told Joe I needed to pin it, so I would remember it for future reference. Then, I realized I hasn't shared any recipes on here in a while, so I decided I should blog about this lovely soup. And that lead me to decide I needed to link Pinterest and Instagram to this here blog. So, here we are. (A bit reminiscent of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie", don't you think?)

This soup was great. Hearty and warming on a freezing cold Chicago January night, but still really healthy. I tossed in a Parmesan cheese rind for extra flavor, but otherwise followed the recipe as it was written. I think mashing half the beans helped give the soup a creamy texture, and infusing the broth with rosemary and garlic really made the flavor stand out. This is a recipe I can guarantee will make at least a couple more visits to our kitchen before this spring. It wasn't too complicated for a weeknight, either... so overall, I'd declare it a win!

In other news...

I'm reading a Movable Feast, and it's making me reeeeaaaaly want to visit Paris again.

Next week I have a two day conference at work, which will include my first actual professional development in Human Resources. I'm kind of turning into an HR professional, and that's exciting!

I love Chicago, but winter here can suck. I like to beg Joe to get a job in California, but he's yet to be convinced.

I'm off Friday this week, so I just have to push through one more day before I get a day off. Getting weekdays off work is the upside of the crazy retain schedule that I work at my job. Not too bad, most of the time!

That's it for now. Happy Hump day everyone!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Goals for 2013

I am the type of person who likes making resolutions at the beginning of the year. The holidays are full of indulgences-- to much eating, spending, and generally living large. Come January it's back to real life, and I like having this as a time to reassess and focus on how I'm living. I've had large and small goals in years past, and while they might not stick 100%, I do usually feel successful in my resolutions. This year I have three, and for sake of accountability I figure I should share then with this little world we call the internet.

First, in 2013 I want to read more classic books. I feel like to often I'm in a conversation with people about books that I haven't read, and I can blame some of this on the years I lost to silly British chick lit. (I'm still a sucker for that genre!) I've already started Hemingway's A Movable Feast, and have promised Joe that this is the year I'll finally read a little Vonnegut. Joe owns at least 10 different Vennegut books, so I should have plenty to choose from! My book club is reading Emma soon, too, and I'm excited for my first Jane Austin experience. This goal is reasonable, easy to measure, and can continue for years if I just sprinkle an older, well known book into my lineup every few books.

The next goal is a little more vague, but important to me. I'm going to use my camera more often. I love playing around with the Nikon D3100 that I bought last year, and after a Living Social deal on a class, I've been almost completely shooting in manual mode. But I'm shy about actually pulling out the camera, and rarely take it out of the house unless we're going on a vacation. I can't get better with the camera unless I use it, so this year I'm going to push myself out of my comfort zone by using my camera out and about around Chicago. Get ready friends... I'm going to document everything!

The final goal is the most vague, but it's a challenge I need to give myself. In 2013, I will push myself to live more simply. This goal is partially financial-- skip the Starbucks, cook dinner at home, host game night instead of meeting at a bar. But it's also a goal of how I want to live my life overall. I like stuff too much. New knickknacks, another scarf/shirt/kitchen gadget, and more silly things to fill my house. But at the same time I value quality items, and hate clutter around our small condo. I would like to buy less, and buy items of better quality. It might be time to try to curb my habit of popping into silly stores like Forever 21! As I try to live more simply, I want to focus on friends and experiences, while also spending responsibly.

It was hard to think of a picture to represent "living simply".
How about our lovely, relatively unadorned couch?
It represents entertaining at home, and limiting clutter.
Good goals, right?

Speaking of responsible spending, we do have a goal for some of the money we want to save. This spring Joe and I are hopefully taking a big trip. A trip that is way overdue, that I've been obsessing about since we first got the idea. But I'll save this plan for a separate post, just to keep you guessing for a bit.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

NYE- Farewell 2012!

2012 was a year full of ups and downs. A true roller coaster of a year!  But we chose to end the year focusing on the good times, and spend the last days of 2012 celebrating with many of our closest friends. My  best friend from college, Danielle, and her boyfriend Daniel (who we lovingly call 'The D's') came into town for the holiday, and we all did a good combination of working hard and playing harder. They're both lawyers and had plenty of work to do during the day, and I was stuck at my job on the 30th and 31st, so we all buckled down during daylight hours. But as soon as the sun set, we focused on living it up like the young folks we still (barely) are!

New Year's Eve Eve (one of my favorite nights of the year), was a serious blast. There's never too much pressure this night, because the next night is supposed to be the really fabulous one. We had dinner at the Hopleaf, which is amazing now that they've doubled in capacity, and enjoyed great food and plenty of craft and Belgian style beers. I love that place! Then we went over to the infamous Lincoln Karaoke, where we met up with a big group of friends from college. We drank more beer and sang our hearts out, in a way that only happens when there are 20 of you crammed into a little room with lots of microphones to share.

For the one and only night of New Year's Eve, we went a little more on the fancy side. We started out at an improv comedy show, which was entertaining but a little too family friendly. We didn't get the memo it was family night (I don't think it officially was) and we were one of the only groups there without kids or teens. It was fun either way, and a good way to start the night. After a casual drink, we headed over to Perennial Virant for the main event. We did a four course dinner with wine tastings, and it was pretty much perfect. The food was really special-- great flavors, beautiful plating, everything we could ask for. The wine was lovely, and plentiful. And the best part was the company. The D's are a great couple, and Joe and I have so much fun hanging out with the two of them. It was the perfect way to ring in the new year. I hope 2013 is at least half as delicious as it started out.

We rounded out the holidays with a hangover brunch on New Year's Day. Joe and I hosted a group of friends, and we lounged around eating and drinking, with football games on in the background. It was lazy and the perfect way to end a crazy holiday season. I kept comfy clothes on all day, and didn't even have to leave the house! I think I might host brunch more often... it's the perfect way to catch up with all your friends while being completely lazy :)

One more holiday post to come-- I have to share my resolutions, for some good old online accountability. Then, it's back to regular old blogging, I swear!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Welcome 2013!

I'm so relieved this holiday season is over. There were fantastic parts of the season, like seeing family in California and ringing in 2013 with great friends, but overall this year the holidays kicked my ass. I didn't have any time off work, and every regular day off for the last three weeks was filled with traveling, visiting with friends and family, and eating and drinking way more than usual. While these are all things that I enjoy doing, combining them into one crazy time of year can be quite exhausting!

Today was my first regular day off in a while, and it has been glorious! After making sure to sleep in, I skipped church to lounge around a little longer, then Joe and I hit the gym for an enjoyable, not rushed workout. Some people might not put "go to the gym" on their relaxing day to-do list, but it's something that makes me feel happy and better about life overall. We grabbed groceries on the way home, and spent the afternoon packing away Christmas decorations and getting the house back into working order. Now the house is clean and clutter free, and I'm getting ready to make a nice dinner and enjoy a little more couch time. There is a place in life for lazy Sundays.

I'm going to get back to blogging more in the next couple days, I swear. Today is just a quick "I'm Still Alive" post, to get the creative blogging juices flowing again. So, expect some more holiday pictures, resolutions, and updates on life in our corner of Chicago coming soon!