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Survival Skills

There’s a saying about how Chicago has only two seasons, winter and construction*.

My little corner of my western suburb has been experiencing construction year-round for nearly two years now (even through the winter months), thanks to a gutting and extensive reconstruction of a major state route that happens to be one of the few roads that runs through my entire town from all the way north to all the way south. By the way, that state route happens to border my subdivision. The city planners back in the day had absolutely no idea that eventually Naperville would be the fifth largest (by population) city in Illinois and naturally, didn’t plan accordingly for traffic flow.

And now, we pay.

Dealing with construction is never fun, especially in an area that was always clogged with traffic anyway. Sometimes I laugh to myself at how silly we used to be, being aggravated that we had to leave the subdivision via two other options in order to avoid the state route going north during morning rush hour and going south during evening rush hour. We were adorable back then, only having to reroute ourselves twice a day. And we had options!

Now, and for the past two years? We are SURROUNDED by construction and in a constant struggle to reroute ourselves. Not only is the state route under construction, but the other two options that used to save our sanity? Are ALSO under construction. We can’t win. Ever.

We find ourselves zipping through business parking lots and cutting down side streets that zig-zag us through our side of town to avoid the construction at all costs, because the delays otherwise are brutal. Sometimes I’ll choose one of the back ways so I can run to Walgreen’s really quick, and then the curse words fly because I forgot that they just took that road down to one lane the other day and I’m going to be stuck trying to turn left at the light for thirty minutes.

Speaking of delays, getting out of the subdivision through the main entrance/exit is a joke. The light only lets two cars go through at a time before it flashes back to red, and if people on the state route are blocking the intersection (jerks!), forget it.

The good news is, it’s supposed to end eventually.

The bad news is two-fold:
Number one, we have about another year to go on this major project.
Number two, I honestly don’t believe it will end when it’s supposed to, or ever. We are beaten down by this construction. We’re so tired of it. I think we will be surrounded by construction until the end of time. Always and forever.

Luckily, just like people who get stranded on a desert island or in the wilderness with nothing to keep them alive but their own imagination and puzzle-solving skills, we figure out ways to get through.

Someone in the subdivision figured out that if a pedestrian is at the intersection of our neighborhood and the state route and then presses the button for the crosswalk, WE GET A LONG GREEN LIGHT.

I mean really. WHAT?

It’s true.

So in the spirit of survival, folks who live in my neighborhood are jumping out of their cars, running through cones and construction junk to the light pole, pressing that button, and running back to their cars. Someone even made a sign for the newbies. You’re welcome, people who are trying to cut through our hood to avoid construction. Also, high five to my neighborhood peeps!

Long green

You may not think this is an act of extreme desperation, but then again you probably don’t live here. We do what we need to do to survive (and get where we need to go in a reasonable time).

*Of course, that’s not entirely true. We really do experience spring, summer, fall, and winter (varying lengths and extremes for each one every year though!); it’s just that NORMALLY, the bulldozers and traffic cones come out just as soon as winter is over. Except for right here, right now, and all year long. Ugh.

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Return To The Chicago Food Swap

Yesterday, as my title indicates, I returned to the Chicago Food Swap. I used to attend monthly, but it’s been literally a year since I could get my schedule to mesh with the monthly weekend. Yes, it’s a weekend commitment for me. The Chicago Food Swap may only last two hours or so on a Sunday afternoon, by my usual M.O. is to spend the entire day before in my kitchen because I can’t keep from overdoing it.

Even though I was SO! SICK! of my kitchen by Saturday night…

Sick of my kitchen

…I survived my marathon baking session and made it to Sunday. Shew! My sister and I headed to the Broadway Armory Field House in Chicago, where the Peterson Garden Project provides a big and beautiful space for the swap (thank you!).

We set up our little areas with signage, including Julesie’s powerful and true suggestions about how “yummy!” and “so good!” her sticky toffee pudding cakes are. (SO TRUE OMG YUMMY SO GOOD!)

sticky toffee pudding cake

Oh, I brought chocolate chip banana bread and whiskey cake in two convenient sizes.

chocolate chip banana bread and whiskey cake

The procedure is this: everyone sets up their stuff and fills out a little sheet that has information about ingredients you use, what your food can be used for or with if it isn’t clear, how you should store it if you have special instructions, and then space for people to sign up to potentially trade with you. After you get set up, you start eyeing what’s being set up around you, and then eventually walk around and spend about thirty minutes “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over—and sometimes tasting if there are samples!—the amazing goods that have been baked, canned, grown, or otherwise created. (If you see something you want, you fill out that person’s form.)

After that, it’s announced that swapping can begin and you use the sign-up sheet by your items to figure out who you might want to start trading with, and then you negotiate. The sign-up sheet isn’t binding; if you don’t want to trade with someone for any reason, you don’t have to.

The stuff that arrived yesterday was awesome. There were Yucatecan pickled onions, hot sauces, biscuits, jams, cookies, organically-grown vegetables (including the most beautiful pumpkin I’ve ever seen in my life), syrups, and so much more.

Chicago Food Swap collage

One of the things I love about the Chicago Food Swap is that kids can join in on the fun. Farmer Jim, who brought the incredible pumpkin and assorted squash (squashes?) was accompanied by a young lady who I think was his daughter. A woman brought spicy soup, some delicious cookies, and her son who is clearly a marketing wizard. My sister and I were thoroughly impressed by his signage.

food swap spicy soup

I came home with a great haul and lots of interest from my Chicago-area Facebook friends, a few of whom might be joining in on the next Chicago Food Swap in January. (Follow the swap on Facebook to keep an eye on things!)

Here’s what I got: spaghetti squash, acorn squash, apple bread, Kolacky, Kombucha tea, ginger and pumpkin cupcakes, chocolate Hanukkah lollipops, pear and cranberry jam, sweet potato and corn chowder, Greek oregano, quince paste, lemon curd, apple chips, apple pie bites, and OF COURSE a sticky toffee pudding cake because OMG YUMMY AND SO GOOD! For real.

Chicago Food Swap

In January my plan is to figure out something delicious to make that doesn’t keep me standing in my kitchen all day on a Saturday. Something simple.

That said, I think we all know what’s really going to happen.

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Sunday Reading

I’m super happy it’s Sunday for many reasons, not the least of which is that today being Sunday means that tomorrow is Monday, and Monday is the day Roxie finally gets her stitches removed so we can put the Cone of Shame away. It’s been a long week and a half. As much as I wanted to give her breaks from her post-surgical collar, she couldn’t last longer than thirty seconds before making attempts to lick where her stitches are. So annoying (for BOTH of us, I get it!). On Friday night I took the collar off and distracted her for a good twenty minutes by giving her a much-needed neck scratch and mini massage. Oh yes I did. And then the collar went right back on.

scratch scratch

So anyway, yay Sunday!

Last weekend I shared the links to a few posts written by friends that I enjoyed so very much, and since it was pretty well-received I’m doing it again. I read some REALLY good stuff this week.

That reminds me, I need to update my Blogroll. Oy.

*scribbles “update blogroll” on to do list*

I’ll get to that later. Anyway, here’s some Sunday reading for you. I hope you love these posts just as much as I do!

The creativity of Deb (on the) Rox always slays me. Her post, “The Hashtag Psalm” was featured on the latest installment of Five Star Friday but I want it on record that I had already decided to feature it here way before Schmutzie got a hold of it. Just sayin’.

I am always telling Rebecca at Foodie With Family to “Shut your mouth!” because her recipes (and posts) are so gorgeous and mouth-watering, but in truth I hope she never shuts her mouth. This week the post that made me drool the most was the one featuring Simple French Toast.

Terra at Zoeyjane and Co. was a part of my OG blogging group of friends, back in the days of Cre8Buzz. This week she wrote about why she originally started blogging, why she stopped, and why she recently started up again (yay!). I commented that she amazes me every day, and I think if you read that post, you’ll likely feel the same.

Tara—ahem, pronounced Tah-rah, not Terra (as in Terra just above ^^), thank you—from Thin Spiral Notebook is also one of my original blog buddies. She is an amazingly talented photographer AND writer. The short and sweet post she wrote about her kids this week touched my heart because it made me think of my own two boys, who are actually starting to initiate hanging out with each other, without ME even. It’s an amazing thing to see your kids grow up and want to spend time together!

I absolutely adored peeking into the wedding journal of RoiAnn from Are You The Babysitter? not only because I know her in real life (She’s a LTYM Chicago alumna!), but because it just exudes joy. RoiAnn and her wife Kelly were married last month on National Coming Out Day and although I saw a couple of pictures on Facebook, her personal, written account was so sweet and fun to read. She had me at “I’ve embraced my giddy.”

I love a good “response” blog post, and this week Vikki at Up Popped A Fox responded to the post I wrote last year about how to survive NaBloPoMo. The post included the suggestion to liberally use your draft folder, and Vikki gave us a peek into the highlights of hers, which made me laugh my head off. I should add, “You’re welcome, Vikki, for inspiring your NaBloPoMo Day 15 post. I hope you’re REALLY ha ha-ing at my winky face emoticon now, LOL.”

What have you read this week that you loved? Leave it in the comments!

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Ring Ring

You know how you wake up on a Saturday morning and although you have a busy day of baking planned, you’re excited to write your NaBloPoMo Day fifteen blog post but you decide to get some of your other necessary tasks out of the way first, like working out and some of that baking?

And you know how you end up being in the kitchen for five hours in the afternoon because you forgot that the very worst part of participating in the Chicago Food Swap (something you haven’t done for a year because it wasn’t meshing well with your schedule) is that you simply lack the ability to ignore your life’s motto (“Go big or go home!”), and so you end up making something like eighteen loaves of chocolate chip banana bread and a bunch of mini whiskey cakes?

And you know how you go outside to check on your husband, who is taking a break from mowing the lawn/mulching the leaves, and he is sitting on the porch saying, “I’m too old to be doing this. I used to be able to do this with no problem but now I’m already sore, ugh” and you reply, “Me too with the baking all day! My back is killing me and I’m SO READY TO BE DONE” and then you both chuckle because you’re really not too old but you’re just tired?

And you know how your husband finishes the leaves and burns up some of the stick pile because it was getting out of hand and then he comes in and says, “I bet neither one of us feels like figuring out dinner tonight so why don’t we go out?” and then you go out and totally have no intention of having a drink because you might have already had a couple while you were standing in the kitchen baking all day but then you notice that apparently Justin Timberlake has “remastered” Sauza 901 tequila and since you know how much Momo loves JT you feel like it’s your duty as a good friend to try it out on her behalf, but not before sending her a text telling her all about your good deed?

JT's tequila

And you know how you’re sitting at the table waiting for your dinner and you and your husband are both getting super sleepy and he says, “We’re never making it to ten o’clock” and you reply, “Oh yes we will because I have a blog post to write!” and then you wonder out loud how much someone like Justin Timberlake gets paid to associate his name with an alcohol brand, thinking it has to be a lot but then your brain whips itself back to that blog post which seemed like it was going to be so great when you had it in your head this morning but that was way before the workout and the baking and the drinks and the exhaustion and the longing for bedtime…

Well, that’s why I’m phoning it in today.

Ring ring

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Tea For Two. Or Four. Or Sixteen.

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy tea?

Oh, right.

Because I haven’t shut up about tea for nearly a month now, one of my friends—who I haven’t seen in forever—sent me a Facebook message saying that she wanted to go to Teavana with me.

Again, this post is not sponsored.

I could think of nothing more fun than meeting her at Teavana, getting her completely addicted to their tea, and then heading across the mall for a bite to eat so of course I said, “Absolutely!”

Sabrina and I met as planned, grabbing a sample of tea on the way into the store.

The whole time I was in the store, by the way, I was repeating to myself “You don’t need anything today. You don’t need anything today. You don’t need anything today.”

We tried another tea sample and then went to check out the infusers. On the way, I discovered what looked like travel tea containers. They were very sparkly.

macaron tea tins

Sabrina and I laughed and laughed and laughed at the idea of packing tea to go in one of those containers and while I was all, “Oh hahahaha there’s no way I would ever buy one of those,” secretly I was thinking, “If only they weren’t so sparkly, I’d buy one right now…”

We tried another tea sample while we stared at this sign, wondering aloud if the monkeys really are picking the oolong tea.

Monkey picked oolong

It may have been the tea making us giddy but I think I may have even acted out “monkeys picking tea”. I told Sabrina I would not be able to rest until I found out if Teavana was using, as she said, “monkey labor,” so we asked the saleswoman. As it turns out, monkeys don’t CURRENTLY pick the oolong tea. What we were told is also on their website, with the exception of the part about the monks “definitely having a bananas-for-tea trade situation with the monkeys”:

“As legend has it, ancient Buddhist Monks trained monkeys to gather the youngest leaves from the tip-top of wild tea trees for this special Imperial Reserve blend. The legend lives on, now with the deft hand-plucking of the broken, evenly sized leaves that unfurl to create a light, orchid aroma, and the highest grade of oolong in the world.”

Okay.

We had another tea sample, and debated whether Oprah’s Chai tea was strictly for the holidays.

Then we had another tea sample and Sabrina decided it was time for her to make some purchases. She stood there listening to our saleswoman provide tons of helpful information in a highly accessible and friendly manner, which EXACTLY is how I got addicted started, that day in New Jersey with Liz. The first one’s free, kid.

Sabrina tea

Another two or four tea samples later (frankly, I stopped counting), I was laughing uncontrollably as Sabrina picked out some tea to go with the infuser she was buying. Have a nice day indeed, Teavana.

Teavana Tea

We chit-chatted all the way across the mall where we met Tracey for dinner, and at first she couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I blame the fifteen or sixteen tea samples we ingested, and the excitement over Sabrina’s bag of tea goodies because OMG TEA!

I was in hysterics again when she showed Tracey her new infuser and explained how it works. I mean, look at this.

Showing off the tea gadget

It was such a fun evening sharing the Teavana experience with Sabrina (and later, Tracey). By the way, I didn’t buy anything for myself, though I am sort of wondering if I need a sparkly travel tea container.

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Stepping Out.

I am all about stepping out of my comfort zone these days.

I haven’t always been that way and it’s still not always easy but I firmly believe that many of the things I have and things I am able to do have resulted from my “getting uncomfortable” at times, and setting things in motion somehow, by either taking action or just putting the ask out there.

Magic

I just realized that this week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the day I put the wheels in motion for the thing that has affected just about every element of my life ever since: my marriage.

Melisa & Jim

Thirty years ago this week I ended months of stalking Jim from afar in high school when I decided to drive by his house—cough cough, as I had done so many times before, without his knowledge—and actually stop this time. He was alone on the driveway playing hacky sack, and when I pulled up I screeched to a stop and jumped out of my car. I speed-walked over to him, handed him a note and said, “Here, this is for you,” and briskly made my way back to my car and sped away, my cheeks burning hot.

I can’t tell you what the note said.

I mean, I could, but I’m not going to.

post-it

He called me that afternoon, and the rest is history. We have never celebrated the anniversary of our meeting, but I thought that the thirty year mark was well worth a mention. A lot has happened in those thirty years, and it’s mostly great stuff. We’ve been very lucky.

Jim, although I initially chose you, I’m ever so glad you chose me back. I love you.

spring dance

For those of you who are on the fence or scared about taking a leap, DO IT. Whether it’s making your own love connection, trying to get ahead at work, starting a new venture or countless other things, you’ll never know how much your life can change for the better until you get to steppin’!

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Those Shoes.

I smile a lot.

I know, it can be sickening to the people of the world who aren’t so happy-go-lucky. Sorry/not sorry.

I just try to spend lots of time appreciating the little things as much as the big things.

Here’s one little thing that always always always makes me smile, no matter how many times I’ve seen it–and I’ve seen it hundreds of times:

Jim's shoes

Those are Jim’s shoes (Keen sandals) on the garage floor right behind his car. He wears those shoes from the house out to the garage, where he pulls his bike off of the ceiling hooks and leans it up against the brick wall outside. Then he slips his Keens off and puts his feet right into his cycling shoes, which don’t get to touch the pavement very much if he can help it. He puts his Keens in this exact spot on the floor so they’re waiting for him when he gets back, puts his helmet on, shuts the garage door, and rides away. The process is, of course, reversed when he returns home.

I LOVE when I’m out somewhere and then pull up into the driveway and open the garage door…and see those shoes.

Those shoes are there because he hates being barefoot. (Oddly enough, I love being barefoot.)
Those shoes mean he’s out doing what he loves. (Cycling freak, in the best way.)
Those shoes mean he’s out doing something that is good for his health.
Those shoes mean he’ll be back soon.
Those shoes, for some reason, make me feel all mushy gushy about my husband.

And that makes me smile.

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Record Regret

After lunch on Sunday we walked to the next street corner where we found a record store.

As in vinyl.

As in albumins.

As in “Big CDs”, which was the term I used when trying to explain to my two boys what record albums were, way back in the late 90’s and before they became interested in vinyl themselves.

These days, all three of us are suckers for a cool record store. (Jim’s lukewarm about it but will absolutely spend some time happily browsing if you ask him to.) We’ve all spent time with my sister on Record Store Day, tracking down colored vinyl or special releases or other treasures. D has a wall full of professionally framed record albums and although he spent more money than he needed to on framing vinyl while he was still a college student, his apartment looks damn good and he will carry those with him no matter where he lives for years to come. My plan is to frame some of my favorites someday, perhaps for one of my offices. Anyway, the hunt can be pretty thrilling, especially when it ends with the discovery of old, err, I mean VINTAGE treasures.

Exhibit A: Back in high school I used to collect those little circular band buttons (pins) that were readily available on the check-out counter of record stores. I still have them: Berlin, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, and many others. When I was in Tennessee last month I hit up my favorite record store from the 80’s, which is still completely in business although most of the vinyl has been replaced by more updated media. Still, after a few minutes of digging I found this awesome, vintage Prince button from the Purple Rain days.

Prince Purple Rain

You never know what you’re going to find or what memories you’ll conjure up, which is part of the excitement. At the record store on Sunday, I flipped through the stacks and found lots of things but not much of what I was looking for (Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Bon Jovi…). I DID find lots of what I wasn’t looking for (Beatles, ABBA, Bee Gees, and Beach Boys). Sigh.

I went into the back of the store and discovered their rack full of 45 rpm records.

45 rpms

Now THERE were some memories. Guess which one of these records I do NOT (still) currently own?

45 rpm collage

Something made me return to the racks in front and recheck for Berlin, and suddenly I had this in my hands and as I read it, I laughed. Excellent marketing.

Berlin 12 inches of sex

Berlin’s “Sex (I’m A…)” was raunchy and controversial. Their live performance of it at the 1983 US Festival was somewhat legendary, and it has been one of my favorite songs…since the age of fourteen.

Note: I turned out just fine, by the way, so all of you parents worried about your youngsters and music lyrics? IT’S OKAY.

Finding this record made me really happy. It was hilarious, it was a 12-inch album that was meant to be played at 45 rpm, and for a second I considered buying it until I thought about how something like that wouldn’t really look good in a frame on the wall. I took a picture and put the record back. And then I grabbed it again, because who cares if it doesn’t have pretty album cover art? And then I put it back again. Rinse and repeat.

I walked out of the store without that record and regretted it almost immediately.

Guess where I’m headed next time I visit my son at his school, right after I hug him hello?
I have a feeling it’ll still be there, waiting for me.

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The Very Best Sundays.

Sometimes the very best Sundays involve skipping your workout, jumping in the car with your husband, driving ninety minutes to pick up your older son, continuing to drive for another forty-five minutes to pick up your younger son, making your way over to a pizza place that your younger son recommends but finding it closed for lunch and instead eating at a place called People’s Park which isn’t a park at all but serves really yummy burgers on brioche buns, and while you eat you’re all ribbing each other but in the most laughter-filled, fun way, and then after you eat you go check out some vinyl at the record store and when it’s time to leave you get a bunch of posed pictures but as usual it’s one of the unposed, goofy ones that is your favorite and will represent the spirit of the whole day, which will leave you smiling for a good long time.

J and Melisa and D

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Catching Up.

What I love about NaBloPoMo is that many of my friends are writing way more often than they usually do.

What’s difficult about NaBloPoMo is keeping up with it all. My Bloglovin’ feed is in a constant state of growth and although I try to read from it daily, I don’t have the time to get through everything during the week, especially when I’m trying to leave comments. I use the weekends for catching up.

Sitting here all comfy on the couch with a cup of my favorite tea, I zip through a hundred, maybe a hundred and fifty (I KNOW!) posts, enjoying every second of this ritual.

And the tea, because duh.

Tea, yum.

Some of my very favorite posts that I’ve read in the past week? Glad you asked.

Ashley at Baddest Mother Ever (one of my very favorite new-to-me blogs OMG) wrote about being pushed–in a good way–by her sister. I triple-puffy-heart-love this post. Read it here.

Natasha at Houseful of Nicholes wrote about how Benedict Cumberbatch ruined her morning. I can totally relate, not with Benedict but you know, I have my own. Read it here.

Stephanie at Adventures in Babywearing wrote a sweet post about her sweet son with a surprise ending that says a lot about how our kids learn to manipulate certain situations for their benefit. Read it here.

Heather at Life’s a Disco Ball (another new friend/fave!) wrote about 26 things she’s do if she weren’t afraid and it got me thinking about my own list. Read hers here.

Phyllis at The Napkin Hoarder wrote about doing things by herself. I’ve written about that topic before too because except for when I’m having a loneliness crisis like I did a couple weeks ago, I really love doing things by myself! Read about her experience here, and maybe you’ll decide to take yourself out to lunch!

Have you read anything super great this week? Leave it in comments and I’ll go check it out, right after I get some more tea!

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