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Friends First.

Momo and I met online seven years ago, at some point in 2008. (In Internet time that’s virtually 575 years ago.)

We met in real life in June of 2009, when I helped bring a van full of meat to her house. (The Momo’s Meat Wagon story is here.)

We’ve been close friends ever since.

I became her contractor at BlogHer three years ago, and for every day of those three years I have been one half of a total Dream Team.

#BlogHer13 Chicago, in the shirts I bedazzled. Don't ever let people take pictures of you at this angle. Also, look at HER hair, not mine.

#BlogHer13 Chicago, in the shirts I bedazzled. Don’t ever let people take pictures of you at this angle. Also, look at HER hair, not mine.

I don’t think every pair of friends could have a successful work relationship, but we do. We have worked together seamlessly, with excellent communication and just the right balance of fun and professionalism. It really has been a dream.

Now she’s leaving (tomorrow’s her last day), and I’m so sad. I’m beyond sad.

Wait. Let me clarify.
The opportunity that she has accepted is so wonderful for her and her kids that, had she told me that she was going to turn it down, as her close friend I would have knocked her block off. She would have been a total idiot to turn it down. Luckily, she’s very smart.

When she first told me about this opportunity nearly two weeks ago and said she was considering it, well, that’s the first day I cried. As her friend? I’m THRILLED for her. As her co-worker/teammate? I’m DEVASTATED.

I don’t like major change. That said, every time I’ve experienced major change in my life, everything turns out fine. Those transitions, though. They’re tough.

That’s why I’ve been a hot mess for nearly two weeks. I’ve cried at various levels of helplessness and desperation nearly every single day. I’ve cried by myself and I’ve cried on the phone with Momo while she wailed along with me. Because we were friends first, I know she forgives me for having this tantrum that could rival a three-year-old’s. I keep telling myself, while I cry, that I’m probably making her feel really GOOD by having a fit about this.

Not to be dramatic (Who, me?), but I have been immersed in the seven stages of grief, with an especially long stop at Depression.

And then last night happened.
Momo sent me a video via Facebook message. She said that she made it for someone else but that she thought I’d want a copy too. And then that wickedly sarcastic and morbid sense of humor she has that I truly love so much when it doesn’t affect me, came out to play.

Facebook message

While we were messaging, we were texting.

Momo text

Then, feeling especially goofy, I told her I was going to tweet her so we could be on three platforms at once.

Momo twitter

She followed up with an Instagram. Four! Four platforms! Ah-ha-ha!

I emailed her. Five.

Momo email

And then tagged her on Google+. Six.

Momo Google+

I would’ve gone on LinkedIn to make seven, but I really can’t stand LinkedIn. Besides, six was funny enough.

Last night brought to the forefront what I’ve always known but have been trying to focus on extra hard for the past two weeks. We were friends first, and we will be friends forever. We won’t be on the same team at the same company anymore, but she’s not really going anywhere. We’ve only worked in the same room for seven days each year; everything else has been on the phone. She’s not getting rid of her phone, and neither am I.

I still cried last night, but I think I just might be on the way to the seventh stage of grief, Acceptance. Our friendship is for keeps. I’m still going to talk to her all the time. I’m still going to be annoyed at her when she doesn’t say BYE! at the end of a text conversation. I’m still going to see her at the conferences, only she’ll be an attendee (probably making fun of me for having to work). I’m still going to expect that, if I call her late at night after she’s taken her Ambien, I may only have four minutes before she falls asleep on her end of the phone while I’m talking. I’m still going to visit her in Columbus now and then, and when I do, I’m STILL going to kick her a$$ at Ms. Pac Man when we go to the Barcade. And possibly Donkey Kong too, because of my patented reverse grip strategy.

Friends first, friends always.

Momo, I’m so proud of you. You earned this and BlogHer’s loss is Nationwide’s gain. I’m so happy for you and your kids that my heart is bursting for you. I will miss you at work something awful (GAH SO AWFUL OMFG MY HEART HURTS PLEASE DON’T GOOOOOO) (But I know you have to go gahhhhh), and because your wickedly sarcastic and morbid sense of humor has rubbed off on me just a little bit in the last seven years, I truly hope you are ugly crying your eyes out as you reach the end of this post, just like I am.

Days since my last tear-free day: Zero.
I love you, Momo.


Chef’s Tasting at Rural Society: So Decadent!

The last time I visited the new-ish Loews Chicago hotel in the Streeterville neighborhood, I was with Liz and her middle daughter and we were too busy with the sightseeing to enjoy a meal at Rural Society, their Argentinian steakhouse. It was a bummer but I made a promise to myself that I’d get back there as soon as I could, to try it out. As it turned out, it happened even sooner than I thought it would!

The kind people at Loews Chicago wanted me to come back too, so they offered to treat Jim and me to a Chef’s Tasting. Naturally I said yes. (You would, too!) I told them I’d be happy to write about my experience, and so here we are. All opinions are mine, of course.

Long story short: I was blown away.

The end.

Just kidding (about the “The End” part).

The dining experience we had was completely decadent and truly one of the best in recent memory. Easily. But let me back up for a second and give you some background on Rural Society. This is from the website:

Rural Society is a contemporary Argentine steakhouse from nationally renowned master of Latin cuisine Chef Jose Garces. Inspired by his travels to South America, Rural Society is at once rustic and luxurious, bringing the energy and sophistication of Buenos Aires to Chicago. Our menu and primarily South American wine list, combined with our warm hospitality and welcoming décor, transport you far from the bustle of Chicago to the sweeping cattle ranches and grill-fired kitchens of Argentina.


The restaurant itself is lovely, and you can tell when you walk in that you’re in for something special.

Rural Society Chicago

We were told upon being seated that we would also enjoy wine pairings with the Chef’s Tasting. We didn’t argue.

Rural Society wine pairings

And then, the experience began. Ian, our server, explained that he would be bringing us a pre-course, three main courses, and dessert, with a wine pairing for each course. The plates are all “small” but there was SO! MUCH! FOOD! (Again, we didn’t argue.)

Ian brought out plate after plate, explaining what everything was as we went along. Some things he explained twice, at my request, because I just couldn’t wrap my head around everything. Just to name a few things we tried:

~Carpaccio de Pulpo (Braised octopus, and no I can’t believe I ate it either but it was SO GOOD)
~Morrones (sweet red peppers, whipped eggplant, and anchovies)
~Mollejas (lamb sweetbreads, otherwise known as lamb pancreas and no I can’t believe I ate it either but it was also SO GOOD)
~Fugazza Alcachofas (Argentine foccacia with grilled artichokes, black olives, and fontina cheese)
~Remolachas Rescoldo (Ember roasted beets with orange coriander viniagrette OMG)
~Papas Nury (Crispy roasted potatoes, black truffle Hollandaise)
~Chuletas de Cordero (Lamb chops)
~Picanha (Tri-tip beef)

That’s only part of it. I’m drooling so just look at this nifty collage I made while I grab a napkin for the corners of my mouth.

Rural Society collage

I mean, this isn’t even all of it. AMAZING, RIGHT?

Honestly, each dish was better than the one before. Every time I declared one to be my favorite, Ian placed something else in front of me and my fickle food brain forgot about what I had just loved. I tried all kinds of things that my typically picky palate would turn away from. What a joy it was to keep an open mind and just go along with this random food journey.

One of the things I loved the most–besides the food, of course–about this deliciously decadent experience was that it was so relaxed, and it took a lot of time. We were there for a little more than two and a half hours, and I can’t remember the last time we had a dining experience into which lingering was built-in and expected. It was glorious.

Another thing I loved, besides the food and the lingering? The outstanding service. Ian and his co-servers Anthony and Lamar took great care of us. At one point about halfway through our meal, Anthony chatted with me for a few minutes about how he loves his job, not only because Rural Society is a fabulous restaurant, but he loves coming in every day and seeing the chefs (hats off to Harol, our chef that evening!) use their creativity to come up with beautiful and great-tasting dishes for their customers. In fact, because we don’t eat pork or shellfish, Harol had to do some impromptu switcheroo magic on that evening’s Chef’s Tasting especially for us. It was so appreciated!

When it was all over (insert sad trombone sound here), we were completely full but very happy. I mean, look at that face.

Rural Society coffee

We will definitely visit Rural Society again to try other parts of the menu, and I see another Chef’s Tasting in our future: maybe for our wedding anniversary this December! Thanks so much to Loews Chicago and Rural Society for letting us come in and be spoiled for the evening, and thanks to our team of servers and chef (Ian, Anthony, Lamar, and Harol) for an unforgettably decadent dinner!


Coping Skills For Mostly Happy People

I’m lucky in that I don’t have too many bad days. I’m constantly counting my blessings and I realize all the time that my life is pretty darn good.

I am a completely normal human being though, which means that I’m not happy all the time. Life is a roller coaster: ups AND downs are part of the deal. Yesterday? Was a downer.

Being a mostly happy person, I tend to freak people out when I’m having a bad day. It’s not that my friends think I cannot have a bad day (or am not allowed a bad day), but when I’m walking around living a 21st century Pollyanna life, it can be disconcerting for others to find out that I can ugly cry with the best of them.

There are two main categories of coping skills that a mostly happy person can use to get through those icky days: reaching outward and reaching inward.

Reaching outward is pretty self-explanatory. I am lucky (again!) to have a huge network of people who care about me. I have a husband who will drop what he’s doing at home to wrap me in a big hug or, if he’s at work when I’m having a rough time, will step out of a meeting room to chat or text. My kids know at first glance that I’m not myself and will ask me what’s wrong. And those friends. They help me pull myself up, all in their own ways.

I have a friend who will let me unleash completely, telling me “Better out than in!” Usually I’ve left the tears way behind after a few minutes of that therapy.

I have a friend who will profusely apologize for my misery even though it’s not her fault 99.99999999999999% of the time, and follows that up by pointing out all the ways my life could be way, WAY worse, which makes me laugh and subsequently I feel much better.

I have a friend who is loose with the emoticons. Sometimes she’ll hit me with them twice in one day, once as an initial attack on my mood and then a second time later, just to let me know she’s still thinking about me and wondering how I’m doing.

Emoticon love

I have a friend who sends me the most ridiculous and funny gifs that force me to laugh. Like this:

…followed immediately by this:

Taylor Swift Heart gif

I have a friend who intentionally annoys the bejeebus out of me, telling me how lucky I am and how my life is really just a vacation in disguise, until she breaks through.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. (Told you I was lucky!)

I’m not sure if it’s harder to reach out to others for help or to reach inward; I guess it depends on the crisis du jour. When I’m reaching inward, here are a few things I do to turn myself around:

1. Count those blessings.
2. Try and focus on other things.
3. Take a break, whether it’s a full day sabbatical like I did last summer or just an earlier-than-usual walk in the peace and quiet, before the rest of the neighborhood gets up and ready for their day.

early walk

4. Iron. (Really.)
5. Take a nice, long shower, crying optional.
6. Crank up the music, possibly Pitbull or possibly my “Release” playlist on Spotify.
7. Take a nap.
8. Get some exercise.
9. Most importantly, reassure myself that it’s only one day, that I’m allowed to be miserable sometimes, and that tomorrow is an opportunity for a fresh start.
10. Believe that. ^^^

Today’s a new day, and I’m well on the way back to my mostly happy self. (Thank goodness.)
This stuff works. Honest.


Wet Hot American Summer: #StreamTeam Goes To Camp

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!
Everyone’s headed back to school so I figured this would be a GREAT time to talk about summer camp, amirite???

Actually, I had intended to make this post coincide neatly with the July 31st release of “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” on Netflix, and I DID do the binge-watching in two days so I was ready…but somehow now it’s the third week of August and, welp, don’t we ALL want to revisit summer just a little bit at this point? (Say yes.)

If you’re unfamiliar with the cult classic movie “Wet Hot American Summer”, you can easily catch up on Netflix. (In fact, I highly recommend you watch the movie first before the “prequel” episodes that were just released as a Netflix Original.)

The movie was in theaters back in 2001 and was written and produced by David Wain and Michael Showalter. (If you’re familiar with MTV’s “The State”, you’ll recognize those names.) It takes place at a fictional 1981 summer camp called Camp Firewood, and the entire movie is about the LAST day of camp. That’s one of the funniest things as a viewer, realizing time and time again throughout the movie that it’s still the same day. One of the other hilarious elements is that the main characters, the crazy, dysfunctional camp counselors, are all supposed to be sixteen or seventeen years old and the members of the cast were all clearly too old for those roles at the time of filming. Just go with it; it’s part of the joke.

The cast is an eclectic mix: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper (in his debut movie role!), Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, Ken Marino, Marisa Ryan, Molly Shannon, and lots of others including (my favorite) Paul Rudd.

The movie is ridiculous, and completely hilarious. It’s one of those films for which it’s best to just sit back and let yourself laugh at the insanity. Jim and I have watched it countless times and its awkwardness and silliness never gets old.

The news that an eight-episode series called “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” would be streaming on Netflix made Jim and me very happy. All eight take place during the one day and tie up some loose ends (and yes, create a few more unanswered questions). The original cast came back for it, and now that they’re all fourteen years older but still playing characters that are sixteen or seventeen years old takes the insanity to a whole other level. Additions to the cast for this go-around include John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Lake Bell, Jordan Peele, and more. We LOVED the series, and I’ve already watched it all the way through a second time.

I didn’t have to go far to look for more where that came from. Also streaming on Netflix? “Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot”. This hour-long documentary is a glimpse into the making of the original movie and includes hilarious footage of all the stars (fresh-faced Bradley Cooper, waxing poetic as a fresh college grad? AWWW!) interacting as if they were truly at camp together. It’s clear how much fun they had on set, and it’s clear why they all came back for the series. This documentary is a must-see for true fans.

So while all of the kids are headed back to school, here’s YOUR assignment: hit up Netflix for Wet Hot viewing in THIS ORDER:

1. “Wet Hot American Summer” (the original movie)
2. “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” (the prequel/eight episodes)
3. “Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot”

You just might find yourself putting “Return to summer camp” on your bucket list. Apparently you’re never too old!


Pretty Happy About The Blues

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time at all, you already know that I’m pretty crazy about my husband. We’ve been married for nearly 28 years (back then it was legal for four-year-olds to marry, ba dum bum!) and we’re still making people sick with our hand-holding and happy togetherness.

I often wonder how I got so lucky, but then I correct myself and think about how luck probably had just a little bit to do with it. Good relationships are hard work, and we really do work on our marriage a lot.

Whenever I butt in on a conversation about marriages or relationships in person or on Facebook (and oh, do I!), I usually tell people that communication is the most important thing in a good relationship, but it’s really only one important thing. Another is compromise.

Compromise is not only “Hey, since you made dinner I’ll do the dishes!” or “If you cut our kids’ fingernails and toenails, I’ll clean up ALL the vomit from now until they’re old enough to do it themselves” (that’s an actual pact we made; I DEFINITELY got the better end of that one. Nail clipping FTW!). It extends to other things, too. Like activity selection.

I happen to know, because I have an amazing husband who is super sweet, that Jim will go out of his way to accompany me to places and activities that he wouldn’t choose in a million years if I weren’t around.

Compromise has to go both ways, though. That’s why, when he excitedly told me a couple of months ago that Walter Trout, currently his favorite Blues artist, would be playing at Chicago’s Buddy Guy’s Legends in August, I was more than happy to be his date.

Even after he told me Walter wasn’t going on until 10:30 p.m.
Even then, I was all in.

Disco nap

And you know what? Aside from the teeny tiny snafu that involved us arriving at 9:00 for the opening act and thinking that we’d totally get a table or at least a seat but really we didn’t because 9:00 was too late for that and we were part of the crowd that had to stand from the time we got there until Walter Trout finished at 12:30 a.m. and OH MY BACK, how it was on FIRE by the end, we had an awesome time. He was SO, SO happy and for me, seeing that huge grin on his face while Walter played was worth the price of admission all on its own.

It was fun to step out of the box and go somewhere we’ve never been, at a time we’d normally be going to bed, enjoying live music in a genre that we BOTH enjoy (*waves to Walter*) but never really considered seeing up close and personal before. (It was also pretty romantic.) We’re definitely going back to see other Blues acts.

When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? I highly recommend it. It might prevent the blues. See what I did there?

Enjoying the blues with my sweet hubby

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How To Organize Your Inbox, My Way.

Email, which is mostly awesome, has altered our perception of what is an acceptable speed of every day communication to the point where the idea of waiting two or three days for a piece of snail mail is almost totally preposterous unless you’re waiting on an old-school wedding invitation or a package from Amazon.

The way I see it, there are two bad things about email: the way it has totally reduced our patience level (see above) and the way it can clutter up an inbox beyond belief so that you A) can’t find anything and B) lose your marbles over the sheer volume of it.

Or is that just me? Anyway.

I hate clutter.

Yes, I just quoted Simon Cowell. Seems like I found another spirit animal.

My inbox fills up quickly.
Wait, can an inbox FILL UP? I don’t want to know.
I bet yours has a lot of activity too. And yours. And yours.

The bolded number of unread emails gives me anxiety, as do the nearly 2000 read emails that I leave sitting there until the next spring (or summer, or fall, or winter) cleaning.

I can tell you that, when I make time to clean it all up, the deep sigh of relief is worth it every single time.

If you’re wondering how to organize your inbox, I just want to say one word to you. Just one word*.


Email folders and sub-folders have saved my sanity and, when I use them, keep all the parts of my life nicely compartmentalized.

I have folders for each of my jobs, and sub-folders within. Let’s take LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER as a good example because what looks like a hot mess filing system makes total sense to me. Here’s an outline of my LTYM folders (each heading is a folder), to show you how they all nest.

I. LTYM (main folder)
      A. LTYM National Business
      B. LTYM Chicago
           1. 2012
           2. 2013
           3. 2014
           4. 2015
      C. LTYM New Cities
           1. 2015
                a. Albuquerque
                b. Anderson
                c. Bangor
                d. Baton Rouge
                e. Evansville
                f. Lehigh Valley
                g. Pittsburgh
                h. Providence
                i. Rochester
                j. San Francisco
                k. Seattle
                l. Southwest Michigan
           2. 2014
                a. Atlanta
                b. Baltimore
                c. Boston
                d. Charleston
                e. Little Rock
                f. Nashville
                g. North Jersey
                h. OC
                i. Portland
                j. SE Texas

Dizzying, isn’t it? And that’s only one category (but honestly, it’s the one that’s most involved). I have a main folder called “Blogging” with sub-folders for website backend stuff (emails from my hosting company and my web guru, etc.), brand campaigns (each company has its own folder), and blog redesign stuff. I have folders for receipts that I file by year so I’m all ready when tax time rolls around. I have a folder for vacation info, a folder for Jim’s business trip itineraries, recipes, and J’s college info (invoices, schedules, book rentals, etc.). I have a folder where I keep all payment confirmations, and of course my Keepers folder, which I wrote about in detail last year. I also have a main folder called “Z Inactive Folders”, and that’s where I shove old folders that I don’t need to see or access all the time. I slide those folders under that heading and because of the “Z”, it keeps everything at the very bottom of my folder list.

I know that I can set up filters so emails get filed automatically, but I think my filing system is too detailed for that so I do it manually. I know there are programs you can buy, but I’d rather spend money on other things.

I apologize if I have nauseated you.

Keep in mind this is what works for ME.

I check email all the time and delete what I can, like Facebook notifications after I’ve acted on them (for work). It’s similar to bringing in the mail from the mailbox outside and immediately recycling all that junk mail before it sits around, making you crazy. One more thing I suggest? UNSUBSCRIBE to any email catalogs, newsletters, or other miscellanea that you aren’t excited to open when it pops up.

I save anything that I consider an action item as “unread”, so I remember to go back later and take action. The unread ones stack up until I find time to clean it all up and file file file. Typically after a big clean up I stick with daily filing until my work life gets crazy busy again and then it builds up until I start to think about it all the time and will myself to dig in. Like yesterday.

send chocolate

Laughable Inbox

Nobody email me

It’s a process, you guys. A PROCESS.

Will my system work for you? I have no idea, but I bet if you take the parts of this strategy that you like and add some game of your own, you’ll be a lot happier about your inbox than you were before you read this. Now go forth and file!

*I might be the only person on earth to quote Simon Cowell and the movie “The Graduate” in the same blog post.

They Come Back.

Jim and I spent today driving up to Madison, Wisconsin, grabbing a moving truck, and moving our older son back home. Nothing bad happened; it’s just that the six-month internship he took on ended (as did his lease) and he hasn’t found a new place of employment yet.

Most parents probably don’t think, when they send their kids off to college (or a non-college alternative), that they’ll be back. If they did, I know there would be far fewer tears and less anxiety about the process. In an ideal world, the kids leave home, get their traditional (or non-traditional) education, find great jobs, support themselves without a problem and then live happily ever after.

We don’t live in an ideal world.
Sometimes, they come back.

It's amazing how a 23-year-old can fit all of his day-to-day belongings in the world in half of the smallest moving truck U-Haul rents out.

It’s amazing how a 23-year-old can fit all of his day-to-day belongings in the world in half of the smallest moving truck U-Haul rents out.

I don’t think any of us are absolutely thrilled about this new arrangement. How many twenty-three year olds do you know who WANT to move back home? How many Empty Nesters have adjusted to life without kids in the house but suddenly dream of having them back?

Leave it to Life to keep things interesting, and though the three of us may have had occasional thoughts about how that ideal world situation sounds pretty…well…ideal, this arrangement also isn’t the worst thing in the world by far. We’re happy that we are in a position to help him out when he needs it, and I know that he’s happy to be able to land here for a while.

I had to move my childhood desk back out of D's room but discovered on the way to the basement that this wall in my dining room is actually the PERFECT spot for it. I'll see it all the time, which makes me happy!

I had to move my childhood desk back out of D’s room but discovered on the way to the basement that this wall in my dining room is actually the PERFECT spot for it. I’ll see it all the time, which makes me happy!

D is thrilled to be done with the house in which he lived for the last six months. He rented one bedroom and that is literally the space he used. The house was, to put it lightly, gross, and his roommates (who he couldn’t stand) had such a lack of regard for cleanliness (to put it lightly) that D only used the kitchen once in six months, to cook a frozen pizza. The rest of the time he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and other non-perishables that he kept and ate in his room, plus the occasional meal out. One of the first things to come out of his mouth this morning was how he was looking forward to eating “real food”, and you can bet your sweet bippy that Jim grilled salmon for dinner tonight, which is D’s favorite. I’m sure there are other creature comforts he’s excited about while living back under this roof and looking for that great job that will allow him to skedaddle back out of here on his own.

As for Jim and me, we joke about how short-lived our time as Empty Nesters was, but it’s not that big of a deal. The boys are grown now. We don’t have to do anything to take care of them, really. It’s just a matter of getting used to preparing a little more food and communicating about what everyone’s plans are now and then. They do their own laundry, generally clean up after themselves, and respond well to the rare request to cut the grass or do some other household chore. It’s just another change, and like always, we’ll roll with it.

In fact, on the way back from Madison this afternoon I found myself getting excited about having D home. That feeling was cemented as J–who’s home for another week of summer before heading back to college–and I helped him arrange his old room. There was such ease in chatting, talking about Foo Fighters and cars and the dog and whether Lenny Kravitz actually had underwear on that perhaps fused itself to his leather pants so it all ripped in one shot at that concert last week or if he really was going commando (which was likely but the other theory was hilarious to discuss), I found myself in a little part of heaven I had forgotten about, or at least stored in the back of my mind, because it had been so long. My boys are both home, and it’s kind of glorious.

Like anything else in Life, this isn’t forever. Kids are meant to grow up and leave home, but sometimes they come back for a while, and you know what? I’m okay with that.

Table for Four.

Table for Four.


Homegrown Inspiration at Loews Chicago Hotel

As many of you know, my dad spent more than forty years in the hospitality industry, as a hotel manager. I loved being the daughter of a hotel manager for many reasons, and I know that spending so much time as a hotel kid contributed greatly to who I am today (someone not fond of camping, for one thing! *insert rim shot here*). I even blogged about my childhood hotel history, if you’re interested in reading it. The links are at the bottom of this post.

Since I lived in hotels for months at a time when I was a kid, it’s understandable that I feel right at home in a hotel as an adult. I mean it; for me, walking into a hotel lobby is like going home. Weird? Maybe.

Anyway, I am always beyond appreciative of the work that is done when providing excellent customer service, keeping a property maintained and clean, and giving customers an unforgettable experience because I grew up seeing it from behind-the-scenes. Nowadays I look for every opportunity to experience new hotels, even in Chicago, which is only a thirty-five-minute drive from my house in the western suburbs. Staycations are awesome!

When Liz’s daughter first made plans to come and visit, she mentioned that she would love to stay overnight in the city. I was totally down with that. Then when Liz made her flight reservation, I knew she’d be all in on staying downtown too. Yee-hah! Mom, Daughter and Second/Substitute Mom (or honorary Aunt, whatevs) Weekend! I knew exactly where I wanted to book a room: the new-ish Loews Chicago Hotel.

It's pretty inside AND outside!

It’s pretty inside AND outside!

I first heard about the Loews Chicago Hotel from my friend MJ Tam, who is the “First Lady” of the hotel. I’ve been enjoying lots of social media sneak peeks from her since before the hotel was open for business. A couple of months ago I attended a recording of ChicagonistaLIVE! there and fell deeply in love, especially when I learned that when Loews builds a hotel, they use the city location to inspire the design.

If you know me, you know I AM Chicago. I LOVE Chicago. Anything that is inspired by this city of mine makes me very happy. The design elements in the Loews Chicago Hotel are exquisite, and exquisitely Chicago.

Railroad, uh, rails twisted into art create a beautiful fireplace frame in the lobby.

Railroad, uh, rails twisted into art create a beautiful fireplace frame in the lobby.

This wooden wall sculpture representing the skyline is something I'd love to have (in a smaller version) for my own family room wall. Seriously.

This wooden wall sculpture representing the skyline is something I’d love to have (in a smaller version) for my own family room wall. Seriously.

A flower motif inspired by architect Louis Sullivan can be found in the elevator bank and on the ceiling of the lobby, just to name two places.

A flower motif inspired by architect Louis Sullivan can be found in the elevator bank and on the ceiling of the lobby, just to name two places.

TThe lobby, with simple lines inspired by Mies van der Rohe and those Sullivan flowers, is a bright and beautiful meeting space from bottom to top!

The lobby, with simple lines inspired by Mies van der Rohe and those Sullivan flowers, is a bright and beautiful meeting space from bottom to top!

Even riding the elevator is a Chicago-centric experience; the walls are covered with the words from Carl Sandburg's poem 'Chicago'.

Even riding the elevator is a Chicago-centric experience; the walls are covered with the words from Carl Sandburg’s poem ‘Chicago’.

Check-in was a breeze, and once we made it to our room, we weren’t sure what to look at first.

Chicago map wallpaper on the accent wall in the guestroom bathroom! Cool, right??

Chicago map wallpaper on the accent wall in the guestroom bathroom! Cool, right??

Those beds though. OMG.

Those beds though. OMG.

Our view wasn't too shabby. (It was SPECTACULAR.) Navy Pier and Lake Michigan are out there, and to the right--not pictured--is the Chicago River.

Our view wasn’t too shabby. (It was SPECTACULAR.) Navy Pier and Lake Michigan are out there, and to the right–not pictured–is the Chicago River.

Liz originally wanted to take a selfie/ussie with the view in the background but the sun just wasn’t having it so we faced the window with lovely results. Thanks Loews and Liz, for one of my favorite pictures ever ever ever! (Yes, I’m giving Loews partial credit. Also Liz because filters.)

Love. That was a good day.

Love. That was a good day.

Just a few things I loved about the Loews Chicago Hotel experience, besides the design and the room:
1. Every single staff member we ran across greeted us, smiling.
2. Every time I called downstairs to ask questions I was greeted by my name on the phone. (I know this isn’t magic and it’s not a Loews exclusive, but I sure do love it because it makes me feel special!)
3. The entire property was super clean.
4. The location, in Streeterville, is FANTASTIC and we were able to walk to great places like Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park, and Buckingham Fountain for the light show:

Buckingham Fountain light show

We didn’t have a chance to hit Streeterville Social, the city’s largest outdoor rooftop terrace (on the third floor). NEXT TIME.

What we did have a chance to hit was the pool. We relaxed in it after dinner on our first day and, the following morning, got some laps in before getting started with the day’s activities. City pools are often an afterthought for travelers. Not in this case: it was on our to-do list!

We ended the first day and started the second day in the pool. I highly recommend it.

We ended the first day and started the second day in the pool. I highly recommend it.

One of the most important elements of a great hotel stay is the comfort level of the beds. The beds at Loews Chicago? Crazy-comfy. In fact, the beds provided me with one of my very favorite memories from the weekend. When we got into the beds, two of us may have started laughing and joyfully cursing/exclaiming how great the beds were, and one of us may have been doing a lot of shushing and saying things like “YOU GUYS, STOP! BE QUIET! I FEEL LIKE I’M THE MOTHER HERE!” I’ll let you use your imagination on that one to figure out the players. I know I won’t forget it for a long time. I’m still laughing, in fact. Oops, that’s a hint.

I am definitely returning to the Loews Chicago Hotel. I’m not sure when, but I’ll figure out something soon because I feel like this hotel needs me there. Besides, I didn’t even get to enjoy a meal at Rural Society (Iron Chef Jose Garces’ restaurant) or a treatment at the spa this time. Unfinished business, you know. If you’re traveling to Chicago anytime soon–or just need a little staycation–I encourage you to check in and check it out! (and then let me know what you think!)

Disclosure: While I did pay for our room with my own money, I received a discounted rate. All opinions and pictures are mine!

The Hotel Diaries: Part One
The Hotel Diaries: Part Two
The Hotel Diaries: Part Three
The Hotel Diaries: Part Four


Blue Man Group Chicago: Now With Even MORE Awesome!

I’ve written about Blue Man Group Chicago a few times since I started this blog in 2007. That’s partly because it’s one of the local activities that has consistently remained in our family’s top five (or so) for the last I-don’t-know-how-many years. It’s partly because it’s just a freaking good show and I want everyone to know about it.

Blue Man Group at Briar Street Theatre

Jim (who is seriously a BMG FANATIC) and I have seen it so many times we’ve lost count. We LOVE taking visitors to see Blue Man Group. In fact, when Jim and I were recently trying to figure out how he and his boss would entertain their co-workers who were visiting from China, Blue Man Group Chicago was a no-brainer. (Spoiler alert: they loved it!)

Sidenote: Blue Man Group is perfectly great for non-English speakers and the younger set because Blue Men don’t actually talk! There are a few sections in the show where there is some, shall we say, narration, but it doesn’t come from Blue Men and the majority of the show is strictly music. Speaking of the younger set, kids three and up are welcome to attend the show!

When I found out Liz’s middle daughter was going to spend a week here with me, I was fairly certain I wanted to get her to a show. When Liz told me she was coming for part of the week too, I made up my mind. WE WERE GOING. (Spoiler alert: they loved it!)

Here’s the thing. The thing is, Blue Man Group is performance art. It’s loud, it’s colorful, it’s funny, it’s surprising, it’s silly, it’s clever…but I can’t tell you exactly what happens during the show because a big part of the joy is in letting it unfold right in front of you.

The experience begins in the lobby, where you’ll find artwork, music, and even “chat tubes” into which you can speak and have a conversation with a total stranger somewhere else in the room. Once you get seated in the theater, you’ll fix your eyes on two LED signs at the front. Read the pre-show instructions and you might start to get the idea of what kind of fun you’re in for. When the show starts…well, now we’re back at my not wanting to ruin it for you. The only thing I’ll say is that while I love the entire show, the finale is still my favorite part and it looks like this:

Blue Man Group Finale 2

But that’s all I’m saying.

Blue Man Group Chicago has two new awesome things for me to tell you about. The first? Free WiFi.

Blue Man Group WiFi

As one who has always sat in the theater ahead of the show, messing with Instagram and Facebook to pass time, I completely appreciate this. I mean really, when you’re sitting in the theater maybe it shouldn’t be your top priority to mess with your phone. Maybe you should talk to those you’re with, and even the strangers sitting near you, if everyone’s feeling friendly! Is that reality? No. (Full disclosure: FOR ME, that is reality. I always talk to the strangers next to me at a Blue Man Group show, to see if they’re first-timers. I can talk to almost anyone.)

So in the spirit of giving everyone what they want, like the ability to mess around freely with their phones before the show if they don’t want to chat it up, the nice folks at Blue Man Group Chicago have made it possible for audience members to access their free WiFi and, well, I’m sure I speak for just about everyone when I say THANK YOU. It’s because of that free WiFi that we were able to send out some pre-show pictures of some lobby art and a Group of Blue Ladies:

The second piece of awesome from Blue Man Group Chicago? Their Autism show that’s on Sunday October 4 at 4:00 p.m. (Chicago was the first city to stage an autism show, last year!) Blue Man Group shows nationwide are working with Autism Speaks this year to provide special experiences for this special community and will donate a minimum of $25,000 towards autism awareness and research to benefit families affected by autism.

Blue Man Group (2)

From co-founder Phil Stanton:
“We’ve heard from many families affected by autism that their children responded to the Blue Man character in a very moving way. We don’t know the exact reason. We can only speculate that it has to do with the Blue Men communicating in their own unique way — non-verbally, through visuals, touch and sound. Their message often resonates on a deeper, more sincere level. Once we knew that we could be helpful or provide an outlet for those affected by autism, we felt it was important to do more. With our sensory-friendly shows, we want to create a safe and welcoming environment for individuals and families affected by this disorder, in the hopes that they can have an entertaining and joyful experience together.”

More information on the Autism Speaks partnership, when all of the cities will stage their Autism shows, and how these shows will be changed just slightly to ensure the autism community gets the most out of their experience can be found by clicking HERE. Spread the word!

I leave you with this: if you live in Chicago or another Blue Man Group city, you need to see this show. It’ll be one of the most fun ninety minute segments of your life. (I love it so much that I’m going back in three weeks. I CANNOT STAY AWAY.) Blue Man Group Chicago is staged at Briar Street Theatre, 3133 N. Halsted (in Lakeview). It’s close to public transportation and there’s a parking lot right outside if you drive there. More venue info, including directions, can be found HERE.

Have you seen a show? Let’s have some fun. Leave a comment telling me what your favorite part of the show was, without actually saying in detail what it was. Blue Man Style! No spoilers!

Disclosure: I was provided with three tickets to attend the show. All opinions in this post are, obviously, mine. The two performance pictures were provided by Blue Man Group Chicago. Lastly, I absolutely adore the nice folks at Blue Man Group Chicago, and hope they never get sick of me just as I will never get sick of their show.


#StreamTeam Showdown: Tig vs. Tso

Netflix Stream Team

I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and will be happily sharing monthly tips and stories about how my family uses Netflix on a regular basis. (Okay, that’s an understatement. I should say CONSTANTLY. We use Netflix CONSTANTLY.) This post is sponsored by Netflix, of course!

I have been looking forward to watching Tig Notaro’s documentary ever since I heard (back in June) that it was going to be released on Netflix. The problem was, it was available for streaming on July 17, which was smack-dab in the middle of the BlogHer conference two weeks ago. I was going to have to wait.

It occurred to me yesterday afternoon that last night would be a great time to finally sit down and watch it (especially because I had yet to write my July #StreamTeam post), so when Jim came home from work I asked him about it. He had other ideas.

Netflix Search for General Tso

The look on his face when he suggested we watch a documentary about the origins of one of the most famous dishes served at Chinese restaurants in America was that of a trouble-making little boy, and in the spirit of his Netflix discoveries usually being pretty awesome (like last month’s “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon”), I was all in and “Tig” was out, at least for the next hour and eleven minutes.

“The Search for General Tso” was actually pretty interesting as documentaries go.

Full disclosure: Chinese food is “fine” but not my favorite. In fact, the two main dishes I would absolutely eat on a regular basis (like NOM NOM NOM NOM), are sweet and sour chicken and beef with broccoli. I suspect, after watching this movie, that those dishes–like General Tso’s Chicken–are among the more Americanized offerings and have nothing to do with tradition.

The biggest takeaways from the movie were
1) Most of the Chinese people (cooks, restaurant owners, etc.) who appeared on screen would never eat General Tso’s Chicken because it was created as an Americanized dish.
2) General Tso’s Chicken was introduced in NYC in the 1970’s and became such a popular offering in American Chinese restaurants because the kind of chicken they use for it is extremely inexpensive.

Overall, I thought the movie was pretty good. That said, as soon as the credits rolled I looked at my watch and said, “Tig now?”

Netflix Tig Notaro

So “Tig”, we did. Oh my gosh, how I loved this documentary. I first saw Tig at the BlogHer conference in San Jose last year, and she was absolutely hysterical. They didn’t video record her performance there, but BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort Page interviewed her after her set and you can watch that HERE. I became an even bigger fan after watching her bit about Taylor Dayne (click HERE but only if you enjoy laughing) on “This American Life”.

So the documentary–which talks about the four-month period in which everything fell apart for her (C-DIFF diagnosis, her mom’s sudden death, breast cancer diagnosis), her stand-up routine at the Largo (which was audio recorded and then later, sold on Louis CK’s website at a viral rate), the blossoming relationship between Tig and her girlfriend, and her return to the Largo–was amazing and one of the best things I’ve watched in a long time. In fact, I’ll probably queue it up again this weekend to watch again, with J.

So there’s your Friday gift from me: two documentaries to stream on Netflix! Come back and let me know what you think!

Next up, for my August #StreamTeam post? “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” which was released today. I’ll be binge-watching all eight episodes tonight and tomorrow!

Have a great weekend!