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There’s No Place Like State Street for the Holidays

For some unknown reason, it’s been a couple of years since I have gone into the city and visited State Street when it’s all dressed up for the holidays. I’ve visited the city itself in December, but I’m typically at the Christkindlmarket, on Michigan Avenue, or at some other area of town for a blogger event.

Over the weekend I was invited to see the group Straight No Chaser (they were amazing, by the way), Because the weather was supposed to be rather hellacious, I kept an eye on my weather app all morning and chose to head in much earlier than I needed to be in order to miss the blowing snow and icy roads, at least for the inbound leg of my commute.

I decided to hit State Street, because although it’s gorgeous year-round, it can be breathtaking during the holidays.

There's no place like Chicago for the Holidays

I made my way to Marshall Field’s to see the holiday windows and was not disappointed. They were simple and pretty for 2016, and the Cubs made an appearance in the one titled “Celebrate”. OH I HAVE BEEN. GO CUBS GO.

Marshall Fields Holiday window 2016

Marshall Fields Holiday window 2016

After spending a few minutes looking at the windows (and truly, only a few minutes: it was positively frigid outside), I entered the store and walked to the cosmetics department so I could gaze at one of my very favorite things in Chicago: The ceiling made of Tiffany Favrile glass. It was the first ceiling made like that and is the largest as well. I took the elevator up to the fifth floor, which is the ideal place to get up close and personal with the ceiling. It’s almost touchable! (Almost.) I wrote about it a few years ago.

Marshall Fields Tiffany ceiling

After snapping a few pictures and some video of the ceiling, I went to the seventh floor to buy some Frango Mints. (YUM.) As luck would have it, they were more than half off for one day only, so I stocked up.

I noticed the line to get a table at the Walnut Room was insanely long, and that’s when I remembered the Great Tree. My friend Jen arrived and I took her to the eighth floor, which is where you can view the Great Tree (and everyone eating at the Walnut Room) from above. It was absolutely stunning.

Marshall Fields Great tree

I took a moment to remember how my Grandma took us to lunch at the Walnut Room when I was a little girl. That room brings back magical memories for me.

I’m so glad I made the decision to drive in early. An hour at Marshall Field’s on State, even with all the holiday crowds, is such a fun time. I need to visit more often.

Oh, and before you go, check out this bonus picture. It’s the Calder Flamingo outside the Federal Building. I love how the color basically flips the bird (ha, see what I did there?) at any typical dreary winter evening. That vermilion red will not be silenced.

Chicago Calder Flamingo

Tomorrow? We’re talking holiday cookies.

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This post is sponsored by the Illinois Treasurer’s I-Cash Program. Messaging and images were provided but anecdotes and opinions are mine, as usual.

When I was a kid, two of my very favorite board games were Payday and Monopoly. Both games were based on the ability to get ahead financially, and I suppose it might be a little weird for a kid to be so attracted to such a grown-up thing (I loved the game of “Life”, too!), it is what it is. I liked money. Don’t judge: I bet you do too. Payday was similar to Monopoly in that it had its own version of “Free Parking”, the Lottery.

Winning the Lottery or landing on Free Parking was always very thrilling, and the notion that money could just show up without warning in real life was pretty romantic.

It feels weird to type the word “romantic” and then start talking about the state of Illinois, but bear with me on that awkward segue.

I recently learned about the Illinois Treasurer’s I-Cash Program, and I was transported back to my childhood and those board game as, suddenly, a real life windfall seemed possible. Did you know that the Illinois Treasurer is safeguarding $2.5 billion in recovered cash belonging to millions of Illinois residents and wants to return it? The Illinois Treasurer’s I-Cash Program helps tens of thousands of people each year discover and claim old bank accounts, uncashed paychecks, unpaid insurance benefits and other unclaimed property.

icash logo

All you have to do to find out if the state is holding your windfall is visit IllinoisTreasurer.gov/ICASH. One out of every four Illinois adults discovers property to claim, and the average paid claim is $2900 (!!!!). It takes about four weeks to receive a check after submitting a signed claim forma and authentication of ownership.

icash 1 in 4

The Illinois Treasurer’s Office secures unclaimed property from banks, insurance companies, utilities, and other institutions across the country that have been unable to be returned to their rightful owners. The Illinois Treasurer’s Office is legally required to hold property until it is claimed by the owner or heir, no matter how long that takes. Fun fact: The largest claim in recent history was $2.2 million, in 2015!

Now, I know that you’re chomping at the bit wondering if you’re going to become an instant millionaire. Let’s face it, the odds of that are pretty slim. That said, isn’t any amount of money that you weren’t expecting a great amount of money? When I went to search for myself (and Jim and both boys), I was absolutely certain that I would find nothing. And then, hello cashola! I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had an old Home Depot refund waiting for me (just over fifty dollars) and Jim had money from an old UPromise account (over fifty dollars) waiting for him! I mean, who wouldn’t love to accidentally find a hundred bucks? We filled out the claim forms immediately and with any luck that money will arrive in time to take with us on our trip to Key West next month. A hundred dollars is equivalent to multiples of our favorite Key West things: twenty slices of Kermit’s Key Lime Pie or eleven Goombay Smashes at the Hog’s Breath Saloon or two breakfasts at Blue Heaven.

Here are the specifics on discovering what might be waiting for you at the Illinois Treasurer’s Office:

1. Visit IllinoisTreasurer.gov/ICASH and click on the I-Cash link. Enter your name and city in the search fields. You may have to search a couple of different ways (full name, last name only, etc.).
2. Identify your properties and provide your contact information online.
3. Within minutes, I-Cash will email you the claim form to sign and mail along with proof of ownership to claim your property.
4. Mail the signed claim form and ownership proof; your check will arrive within weeks.
5. You can check back every six months in case new money shows up!

Pass this on to anyone you know in Illinois: you might be helping them end 2016 on a high note, and who doesn’t want to be the bearer of awesome news? If you find money under your name, let me know! I’d love to know about your personal windfall!

icash discover

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All Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! at the Adler Planetarium

I was going through some old photos to get some quick inspiration when I found the pictures from Kate and “Bean’s” visit to Chicago in the summer of 2010.

For those of you who haven’t been here long, Kate is my close friend from high school and Bean is her daughter.

I have spent lots of quality time with Bean and her family over the years. I went to Europe with them for a week when Bean was a toddler. I spent a week at their house shortly after Bean’s little brother (formerly known here as Squeaks) was born. (Dinner conversation with five-year-old Bean is here, Kate.) That visit to Chicago in 2010 was a few days long and I hung out with Bean while Kate was at a conference. Of course there have been many short visits, whenever I’m in Knoxville.

By the way, Bean is now a very grown-up twelve. I’m feeling super old over here.

Going through the photos from that visit was a blast from the past. We did all the tourist stuff, and one day when it was just Bean and me, we spent hours and hours at the Adler Planetarium. The Adler Planetarium is a place that everyone should visit. That day, Bean and I had a blast. We found a huge play area for kids right after lunch and that little girl made friends and built things and crawled through tunnels and played games; it was well worth the price of admission.

Right outside of the Adler Planetarium happens to be a spectacular view of the Chicago skyline. Before we went to find a cab to go meet up with Kate, we spent some time on the grassy area. Bean ran around after the seagulls, imitating their calls: “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!”

It was the cutest thing. I have it on video and can’t wait to show Kate now, years later, along with all of the pictures I took.

Reviewing that visit, I’m filled with warmth and feeling so lucky to have great relationships with the children of my friends. I can’t lie, playing the cool “aunt” is pretty fun.

I think that’s a pretty nice way to end this month of blogging (almost) every single day: grateful for the youngsters in my life and the way they make me smile.

Outside the Adler Planetarium

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

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Currently Breaking My Heart: Gatlinburg

You may not have heard until around lunchtime today because for some reason the news outlets weren’t covering it, but Gatlinburg, Tennessee was on fire. Actually, it has been on fire for a couple of weeks–East Tennessee has been experiencing its worst drought in about a decade–but yesterday the winds kicked up and some fires that were simmering in the Chimney Tops area blew out of control and caused terrible devastation. Hundreds of homes, dozens of businesses, gorgeous, beloved areas of Smoky Mountain National Park: torched to the ground. It’s upsetting for anyone who has ever set foot there because truly it’s one of the most beautiful areas of the country, and naturally it’s disastrous in many ways for natives of the area and those who live there currently.

Not too far from the Chimney Tops in Gatlinburg is the Chimneys Picnic Area. It’s gorgeous and full of huge boulders through which the river runs. The sound is amazing. We have taken countless pictures on those boulders.

Gatlinburg Chimneys

The Chimneys has been my favorite area in the park since I first set foot there in 1981. My family has picnicked there. When we hosted a German exchange student in the summer of 1982 we took her there. Jim and I spent time hanging out there when we dated, and after we had kids we went there for picnic breakfasts with Jim’s parents. We still go there whenever we can; in fact, we were there last month after Jim recovered enough from his accident to take the drive up.

Melisa and Jim October 2016

Naturally I am so sad for the people who lost homes and businesses in Gatlinburg: those losses are the ones that most deeply affect people’s lives. I’m also so sad about the losses in the Park, though. The thought of going back someday and seeing what damage the fires have done gives me a terrible feeling.

Gatlinburg Chimneys

My biggest hope is that the town will rise from the ashes like a phoenix and the Park will become rejuvenated. It will all take time.

Gatlinburg Chimneys

It’s yet another reminder of the message the Universe seems to be trying to get across to me this year: loss can happen in the blink of an eye. I’m paying attention, Universe. I’m practicing gratitude.

Are you?

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The Amazing Race is Amazing.

A couple of weeks ago I was searching for something to watch on Hulu (we do Netflix for movies and originals and Hulu for beloved TV show replays over here) and was overjoyed to discover that alllll of the episodes in seasons one through twenty-seven of The Amazing Race are available to stream.

Amazing Race

We LOVE The Amazing Race in this house. Before the boys went to college it was how we four spent Sunday nights together. At the beginning of every season we pause the show after the teams are introduced and we each pick two that we think might win. Of course, after an episode or two some of us end up wanting to switch teams–and by some of us I mean “I”–but that’s not allowed in the family rules.

After I made that huge discovery we started watching Season 25, since we missed that one originally. Dylan wanted to re-watch the season that featured the Hippies, Tyler and BJ, so we’re watching Season 9 too.

Amazing Race BJ and Tyler

BJ and Tyler

There are so many teams and memories I want to revisit; it’s going to be fun to pick which season to watch next. I loved Charla and Mirna in Season 5, David and Mary in Season 10, Kynt and Vyxsin in Season 12, Margie in Luke in Season 14 (and 18), Bopper and Mark in Season 20, and so many more.

Amazing Race Kynt and Vyxsin

Kynt and Vyxsin

Amazing Race Margie and Luke

Margie and Luke

Favorite scenes of ours are the Swiss cheese roll in Season 14, anything with Harlem Globetrotters Flight Time and Big Easy, when Joyce got her head shaved so she and Uchenna could win the Fast Forward in Season 7, and when Claire got hit in the face with a watermelon in Season 17. (Saying that’s a favorite moment makes me feel dirty, but we were all stunned when it happened. Probably not as stunned as Claire was. She’s okay, by the way.)

Amazing Race Flight Time and Big Easy

Flight Time and Big Easy

With twenty-seven seasons to watch and re-watch, and probably adding Season 28 once Hulu gets it, we’ll be able to stay occupied until Season 29 finally makes it to CBS.

So tell me, are you a fan of The Amazing Race? Give me your favorites.

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10 Things That Made Me Happy This Holiday Weekend

It’s not even Sunday yet and this long holiday weekend has been packed enough for a whole week. It’s been great, too. In fact, I’m wishing it wasn’t ending tomorrow.

Anyway, we arrived home after this evening’s festivities a little late and I need to get to bed soon so I made the executive decision to write up a listicle so I can check “Write today’s blog post” off of my to-do list. Ten things that made me happy this holiday weekend? Let’s count ’em down.

1. Jim and Jason came home for the holiday, so all four of us were under the same roof, yay!

2. Thanksgiving was gloriously relaxed and the food was all completely amazing.

3. My turkey was perfectly cooked and gorgeous. I know I already mentioned the amazing food in number 2 but the turkey deserved its own list item.

4. There was a bunch of laughing in this house. I miss that when it’s quiet, so believe me: I enjoyed it full force over the last couple of days.

5. Jim and I visited the Christkindlmarket in Naperville, where I picked up two mugs and some German candy. It’s always a good time.

christkindlmarket 2016

6. I slept better than I have in ages over the last two nights, which is making me feel more tired. I can’t figure that out except to guess that my body is now so excited to think about catching up on sleep that it’s in that mode. Or something like that; I’m no sleep scientist.

7. I ventured out at 7:00am on Black Friday to get more than half of our holiday shopping done with very little planning but extreme accuracy, and it only took 90 minutes! The mall wasn’t much busier than it usually is, and Target was nearly dead. I might continue that tradition from now on because getting that much shopping done with so much savings in so little time is definitely a win!

8. Today we stayed in bed until 8:30am, which is unheard of. I would love to laze around in bed every day as I did today, but I guess if I were able to do that I might not enjoy it as much because it wouldn’t be a treat.

9. I was able to take the family pictures I need to order holiday cards and will be doing that by Monday. I am totally on top of the holiday card thing this year, which is completely odd since I have been able to stay on top of virtually nothing else this year. Go figure.

10. Jim and I went to Fox Lake tonight, where we enjoyed the Fox Lake Illuminated Parade & Tree Lighting and dinner with friends. It was a lovely evening!

Jim leaves bright and early tomorrow morning and I’ll be spending the day figuring out my week and doing a little more relaxing, including staying offline as much as possible. So with that, enjoy your Sunday and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

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I Know Neen. Do You Know Neen?

Gratitude Neen

Once in a blue moon I lure you here only to send you to read my writing elsewhere. This is one of those occasions. My friend and 2016 LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER CHICAGO alumna Nina Vallone asked me if I wanted to participate in the second annual 30-day Gratitude Series on her blog You Know Neen and of course I said, “Heck yeah! Thanks for asking!”

Then I proceeded to get busy with life and Jim’s accident and I totally missed her deadline by a mile but I apologized and asked her if I could write something anyway, and if she couldn’t use it I’d just post it here. She was still able to make room for me (bless her!), and today’s the day. I wrote about being grateful for self care and you can check it out HERE.

Thanks again, Neen! I’m filled with gratitude for you. *wink* (There I go again!)

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving

I am doing my best to live in the moment today while Jim and I are enjoying a quiet Thanksgiving at home with the boys. Turkey’s in the oven and we’re hanging out in the family room watching TV together in comfy clothes. It’s heavenly. I hope wherever you are and whomever you’re with, you’re enjoying today too! Happy Thanksgiving!

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I posted a picture of what was happening in my kitchen on Instagram this morning.

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

The caption: There are very few holiday traditions I care about, but on Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie for everyone else and my mother-in-law’s pineapple cream cheese pie for myself. (Okay, I share a little.)

This pie is to die for. My mother-in-law has made it for Thanksgiving far longer than I’ve been married to Jim, and on the rare Thanksgivings when we aren’t all together, I make sure to get my butt into the kitchen to bake one. It’s my favorite homemade pie. I got her permission to share the recipe (yay for YOU!), so here it is. It may be too late for you to make it for Thanksgiving tomorrow, but I hear it tastes just as good on any other day. (Actually I know that’s true.)

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie
A Thanksgiving favorite in our family!
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
55 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
55 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 large can of crushed pineapple
  2. 1/2 c sugar
  3. 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  4. 12 oz. cream cheese (that's 1 1/2 bricks)
  5. 1/2 c milk
  6. 1/2 tsp vanilla
  7. 1 tsp salt
  8. 3/4 c sugar
  9. 2 eggs
  10. chopped pecans/pecan chips
Instructions
  1. Cook the first three ingredients in a saucepan until thick and clear. Let it cool.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. Spread the pineapple mix into the bottom of a deep dish pie crust and top with the cream cheese mix. Sprinkle pecans over the top.
  4. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Notes
  1. 1. I always have more cream cheese mixture than will fit in the pie crust so I put the leftover in a small baking dish and bake it along with the pie. When it's done, I hide from my family and eat it.
  2. 2. If your family doesn't like pecans, you can leave them out or use less. If they love pecans, use a bunch!
Suburban Scrawl http://suburbanscrawl.com/
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Martha & Snoop Are Giving Me Life Right Now

Martha & Snoop

Television offerings right now are amazingly varied. From what you can get on the various streaming services to the massive range of shows on cable/satellite, there’s something for everyone even if you’re one of those people who flips the channel while whining about how there’s NOTHING ON the 150 channels to which you have access.

One show that is keeping me in stitches is “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” on VH1. On the show, Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg first make a themed cocktail together and then they each prepare a dish (sometimes it’s a variation on the same dish and sometimes their dishes aren’t the same at all) in dual kitchens that reflect their personalities. Example: when Martha opens her refrigerator, music that sounds like something heralding angels plays and when Snoop opens his refrigerator, rap music plays. Her kitchen is set up in the same quaint, New England style that we’ve seen for years as her trademark, and his comes complete with the hood of a car on the front of the island and an “herb” garden. People magazine has a pretty good description of it.

Martha & Snoop have guests on the show too. In the first three episodes guests have included Seth Rogen, Naya Rivera, 2 Chainz, Ice Cube, Chris Bosch, and Wiz Khalifa. The guests add to the commentary while the cooking is going on, and the show ends with everyone around the table eating and playing party games.

What I love about this show is that we are seeing entirely different sides of both Martha and Snoop. Snoop, though his Cool Factor never goes away and he still fits in a marijuana reference whenever possible, seems positively suburban in this kitchen. Martha, who hangs onto her technique and manners for dear life, is downright bawdy. Snoop is great at coaxing Martha’s wild side out, and that’s why this show works: they are an amazing pair. I also love that you don’t have to be a superfan of either one of them in order to have fun watching this show. It’s pure entertainment.

If you’re looking for a great escape, something that doesn’t require concentration and has the potential to keep you smiling and laughing for thirty straight minutes, tune in next week and let me know what you think. (It’s on Mondays at 10pm ET/9pm CT.)

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