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Oakbrook Center is the Place to be…Right Now!

This post is sponsored by Oakbrook Center.

Oakbrook Center logo

Full disclosure: I have loved Oakbrook Center (on the corner of Route 83 and Cermak Road just off of Interstates 88 and 294) for all the days I’ve lived in the western suburbs (that’s more than twenty-one years). I love it for many reasons: the shops, the restaurants, the environment, the outdoorsy element of it all, and especially because it reminds me of Park Forest Plaza, the shopping center of my childhood. These shopping centers that aren’t enclosed were the mothers of modern malls, and I think they’re totally fun.

While you might think that the best time to visit Oakbrook Center is in the spring when all of the tulips are blooming or in the summer when they have car shows and other kinds of fun in the sun, December is also an excellent time to check it out. In addition to all of the sales that assist in your saving money on your gift list, Oakbrook Center has a bunch of holiday-themed activities for the whole family.

Oakbrook center ice

(Speaking of sales, when I was at Oakbrook Center on Monday I conquered my very favorite area of the mall: the little corner where Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, LUSH, L’Occitane, Restoration Hardware, Teavana, and Bath and Body Works are ALL located. One corner-stop shopping FTW!)

Where was I? Oh right: holiday activities for the entire family:

1. Adventure to Santa: Back by popular demand, Oakbrook Center and DreamWorks Animation are again teaming up to present Adventure to Santa, with this year’s narrated tour featuring the cast of Kung Fu Panda. Adventure to Santa elevates the traditional mall holiday visit by blending the latest technology with captivating stories while Kung Fu Panda and his friends guide family members on an unforgettable adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa.

Oakbrook Center Po

Reservations can be made online at www.adventuretosanta.com with the purchase of a photo package. Adventure to Santa will kick off the holiday season on Saturday, November 5, and will be open during extended Oakbrook Center holiday hours through Saturday, December 24.

Oakbrook Center Adventure to Santa

2. Holiday Market: Oakbrook Center has a Holiday Market nestled amongst the alluring shops of the Village Green lawn area near Crate & Barrel, offering a variety of locally-made specialty products. Gifts such as hand-crafted jewelry, adorable children’s items, fun treats for a favorite pet, beautiful hand-made apparel and much more will be available for visitors’ perusal. Winter treats, such as donuts, cider, hot chocolate and adult beverages, are available to satisfy all tastes.

Oakbrook Center Winter Market

I know, I know: not much to see here. I took this picture on Monday when the Winter Market was closed. It’ll be bustling this weekend, trust!

Holiday Market vendors this week include:

Christmas in Chicago
Shen Yun
My Donut Lady
Completely Nuts
Gotta B Crepes
Mario’s Cart
Main Street Candy & Toys
City Winery
Ms. Tittle’s Cupcakes
Rebellion Bags
Sweet P Doll Studio

3. New retail options: Two new athletic stores provide great gift options for both fitness enthusiasts and casual exercisers. Fabletics brings shoppers on-trend designs that inspire an active lifestyle with stylish and high-quality gear at an accessible price point. Providing more than just a class, a cycling studio and a bike, the new Peloton location at Oakbrook Center delivers an engaging experience with the technology to make every workout effective, and the social connection to make every workout addicting.

Oakbrook Center also welcomes two new fashion-forward retailers. A globally-minded company dedicated to creating a unique, inspiring retail environment and philanthropic efforts, Altar’d State offers a place of respite with the latest fashion finds and the most sought-after accessories, along with charming home décor and gifts. ALEX AND ANI creates meaningful, eco-conscious jewelry and accessories to positively empower and connect humanity. The brand’s products are proudly designed and crafted in America and made with love.

For those looking for sweet holiday gifts, Sugarfina’s shelves are lined with colorful artisanal candies in Lucite cubes, any of which can be packaged into three, four or eight-piece bento boxes. Guests can mix-and-match or buy a themed ready-to-go gift set. Sugarfina offers complimentary holiday gift-wrap ribbon with purchase and phone orders for in-store pickup.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started. I didn’t even mention The District, a new dining area, as well as the on-site AMC Theatre that you can visit as a reward to yourself for having so much fun finishing up your holiday to-do list. Make sure you check out Oakbrook Center this week: it’s always a great time!


Let’s Make a #HousefulOfCookies!

Today I’m participating in the #HousefulOfCookies blog hop, hosted by my friend Natasha of Houseful of Nicholes. You can follow the hashtag on Twitter or Instagram to find the recipes that have been posted so far, or if you like to make your life a little easier you can just go to Natasha’s post that lists everyone’s cookies and links.

Today I am delighted to share one of my favorite holiday cookies (both to make and to eat), Chocolate Mint Sugar Cookie Drops. The recipe is by Nestlé. I started making these cookies more than twenty years ago and their biggest fan in our family is my older son, Dylan. They are so super easy and quick to make that they have become one of my three go-to cookies on the years when I’m just not into making fifteen different cookie recipes.

I used to be able to find Nestlé mint chocolate chips (combined flavors, brown chips) in the stores during the holiday season, but the last few years my search has been fruitless and so I have to get their seasonal “mint and dark chocolate chip mix” (light green and brown chips). It’s okay. The mix is good.

Nestlé mint and dark chocolate chips

I don’t think I need to go into any detail about mixing the recipe ingredients, but I will give you two helpful hints.

Number one: get a cookie scoop.

Cookie scoop is the best

The cookie scoop is one of the best inventions EVER. With the scoop in my right hand, I pack the dough into it, and then (I have clean hands, by the way: PLEASE wash your hands) I pop the dough balls out into my left hand and with heavy concentration, because I’m not nearly as ambidextrous as my mom is (fun fact!), roll them in the sugar and place them on the cookie sheet. I’m my own efficient production line. (Another fun fact: this recipe contains vegetable oil rather than butter, making it the only raw cookie dough I will not eat.)

roll the cookie ball in the sugar

Number two: If your grown kid happens to be a huge fan of the cookies, he’s probably also a fan of the mint and dark chocolate chip mix. If he has made it a habit to snack on said chip mix after dinner, you might find this in the freezer where you thought a full bag would be*:


*For the record, son did go to the store and purchase another bag because he’s a good guy like that.

If that happens, you’ll probably be able to locate (under a bunch of random stuff in the freezer) a bag of Andes Crème De Menthe Baking Chips, which are available in the baking aisle all year round and actually–in your (err, MY) opinion–make prettier cookies because they’re chopped up smaller than the chocolate chips.

same dough, with Andes

Either way, the cookies are a big hit, and will make you famous (maybe). Enjoy!

Nestlé Chocolate Mint Sugar Cookie Drops

Chocolate Mint Sugar Cookie Drops
Yields 36
Write a review
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
11 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
11 min
  1. 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  3. 3/4 teaspoon salt
  4. 1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  5. 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. One 10-ounce package Nestlé Toll House mint and chocolate morsels (or Andes, your choice)
  1. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  2. In large bowl, combine 1 cup sugar and vegetable oil; mix well.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
  5. Stir in Nestlé Toll House morsels.
  6. Shape into balls using rounded teaspooonfuls of dough; roll in remaining 1/4 cup sugar.
  7. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 9-11 minutes.
  9. Cool completely on wire racks.
Suburban Scrawl http://suburbanscrawl.com/

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


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!


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?


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.


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!)


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!