Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chelsea Lately Panders

So I sit here watching an episode of Chelsea Lately. I have started to enjoy her show and her usual skewering of pop culture and pop culture icons. The format of her show involves her and a panel of 3 rotating comedians, followed occasionally by some sort of scripted silly vignet and crowned by an interview with a (usually) b-grade actor/actress/reality star.

Now Chelsea's show might be pretty ridiculous, but she trashes the stupid (paris hilton) laughs at the silly (Carrot Top) and trashes the right-wingers, anti-semites and anti-gays on a regular basis. And she is hilarious, even when not tearing anyone apart.

So I was a little surprised to see that tonight her guest was Joe Francis, the 34 (maybe now 35) year old founder of "Girls Gone Wild" and a many-time over millionaire. And what did Chelsea do? Kiss his ass. This guy is a scum bag. He can do what he wants, which consist primarily of making millions of dollars off of prerying on drunk girls who are barely old enough to vote. And little he does is illegal, although he just spent 11 months in jail. Unfortunately only upscale, white collar jail and not in prison where he would have been the one being video taped while partaking in acts he wished he could forget.

I am a firm believer in free will. And women are able to make the choice to bare whatever they have to show and do with it what they will. But "Girls Gone Wild" is absolutely, f***ing pathetic (forgive me, but I've never professed this to be a family blog)

He may be legal in his actions, and free will may dictate that he can do what he wants, but that doesn't negate his being a bad person. Would you be friends with this guy? Seriously, could you sit down to a meal with him?

He is intersted in finding a nice girl and starting a family. That would make a daughter proud.

And now, I'm watching "The Girls Next Door " doesn't bother me half as much for some reason. I'm seeing women who may not be the brightest, but who are sober.

However, all of it makes me occasionally want to pull an Elvis on the tv.

Gloria's


Just a little plug here for one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Gloria's Cafe.

If you're looking for cheaply priced, hearty and authentic Colombian food, you need to check it out. Being around the corner from us doesn't hurt either!

J and I have been enamoured since we first went. It's BYOB and no-frills. The staff is incredibly friendly and the food is great.

J is a little more adventurous than I am. He's had a few dishes, including, most recently the whole tilapia which is served head and all. Delicious!

I on the other hand, eat the same thing every time, the bandejo paisa "Country Plate". It is giant and delicious. Rice, beans, a piece of steak, a strip of pork belly, an arepa, a fried egg and a slice of avocado. It's like a sampler of all the things I love. It definitely is not a meal for the faint of heart. Nor is it a meal meant to be eaten in one sitting, unless you have a hard day of manual labor ahead of you.

Anthony Bourdain did a great show on the country awhile back. The best part was when he went out for breakfast and was served, surprise, surprise, my "Country Plate". It truly was identical to the one they serve at Gloria's.
So if you're in the neighborhood, give it a try. You won't be disappointed.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Plastic

As an aside to my last post, honestly, how many times/week do I need to refuse plastic bags.?

Almost every time I enter a store I feel completely on edge at the check out. Trying to juggle my purse, bags, coat, scarf and gloves while simultaneously trying to prevent the check out person from mindlessly tossing my purchases, no matter how small, into large plastic bags.

Certainly in this season of consumption, I may be finding myself in the midst of this more frequently than usual. Even in Macy's I'm yelling across the counter like a lunatic. I was there on Tuesday, picking up a last minute gift, and indulging in a pair of earrings (on super sale) for myself. At both counters the women looked at me like I was crazy as I stuffed the small boxes into the large bag I always carry as a purse. "I don't need a bag. Thank you. No really, I can fit it in here". Must I explain myself? My card cleared, the receipt has printed**, just give me my purchase!

Seriously, has no one heard that it is absolutely, unequivocally, completely uncool, outdated, irresponsible, not to mention almost always unnecessary to use plastic bags?

The movement does require forethought. You need to remember to bring your bags to the grocery store. J and I first made the serious committment to this when we were in France. There, at the grocery stores, you either brought your bags with or purchased reusable bags. There were no plastic options. These big bags with brightly colored produce on all sides were so great we brought them home and use them still today. And i will admit, it took awhile. How many times we would leave the house to go to the grocery store, only to pull in the parking lot and realize we had forgotten the bags. But eventually, with repeated efforts, it became routine.

It is a revolution in the way we think about our lives. There is not just a "slow food" movement, but a "slowed life" movement. A movement of being more conscious and thoughtful about all of your tasks. After the fast pace, greed and uber capitalism of our society in recent years, people are frazzled, tired and realizing that pace of life does not make you a better person. Being "busy" does not truly mean "important". And being oblivious to the world around you and your impact on it is pathetic.

Granted, I am no puritan within the green movement. I still indulge in Diet Pepsi in plastic bottles and am struggling with how to get recycling done in a Chicago neighborhood that doesn't offer Blue Cart programs and in a condo not large enough to hold onto large amounts of recycling to make the trip to one of the public park district recycling bins worthwhile. I'm taking my actions in baby steps. But I have goals. And hope.

**Walgreens is one of the biggest offenders of this. I can't buy a pack of gum without having to refuse (sometimes loudly) a big plastic bag. Their second offense, the foot long receipt that is printed out with every purchase, no matter how small. Cut back dammit! That means you too Borders! I don't need 3 receipts to buy a book!

Christmas Wrapping

So I have read multiple stats recently which point toward the fact that, by some measures, close to 25% of all of the nation's paper waste is generated between Thanksgiving and New Years. Christmas wrapping anyone?

In years past J and I have stocked up during the post-Xmas sales on cheap as hell wrapping paper. But, over the last year I have also started saving everything I can, tissue paper and gift bags especially. At this point we have almost zero plastic bags enter the house, although a random one here or there finds its way in.

So as my husband is asleep and I am savoring a last few sips of wine and finishing wrapping his presents and the presents for my family which we'll open tomorrow, I've been digging though the "wrapping bin" for saved ribbons, papers, bags etc.

Some of it doesn't look the prettiest, but it's what inside that counts, right? And honestly, it could be alot worse.

However, I was at a friend's house within the last couple of weeks who had spent good money on beautiful new wrapping paper. And I will admit, I was jealous at the piles of perfectly matched, beautifully wrapped presents. Some people's lives have more of a tendency to look like a magazine than my own. But maybe I'm just looking at the wrong magazines. I don't anticipate buying wrapping paper for a long time to come.

Baby steps.

Beyonce

Yes, Beyonce is a very weird title for a blog post of mine. I don't know anything about her, I don't listen to her music, I've never seen her in a movie.

But, tonight, I saw her on an Oprah rerun (long story, family gone, cleaned up as much as possible, having a couple of glasses of wine and relaxing in front of the tv). She had a quote I liked as Oprah was relentlessly pushing her, trying to get details on her wedding which she obviously did not want to share, and questioning her on whether she enjoyed being someone's "wife". Her only words of advice were:

"Make sure you have a life before you make yourself a wife"

Good advice.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Open House

I really enjoy throwing parties. Sometimes, I think I enjoy having parties more than going to other people's parties. I love the prep work that goes into it, whether it be a small BBQ or the 45 person Holiday Open house we had this weekend, complete with homemade appetizers and a big, glorious ham! We used this recipe for a country ham and apple slaw sandwich with bourbon mustard for inspiration and laid out the spiral ham with mini rolls, the slaw and mustard so everyone could make their own mini sandwiches.

My "fake family" has been having a Tree Trimming Party since before I can remember. We would all get together, go to my aunt and uncle's, eat appetizers, trim the tree and then go to China Town for dinner. As the kids all got older and the size of the group started growing we stopped going to China Town and just had a party. I used this party as the inspiration for my own. I love the idea of getting to see all of your friends right before the holidays and wishing them a "Merry Christmas" in person before we all go off to our respective families.

I think everyone had a great time. Kids running around, wine flowing, crostini, dips, the ever addictive rosemary roasted cashews and the aforementioned ham made for quite a night! Only 1 broken glass and 1 pair of children's shoes left behind.

In the spirit of giving we also collected coats, hats, gloves and scarves to donate to the Night Ministry, an organization that provides services to homeless adults and teens in the city. Given the fact that it was below zero this weekend, the cause seemed appropo. And people brought piles of clothing! I'm really overwhelmed. Now we just need to get all of it dropped off so hopefully it can be distributed before Christmas.

I will post some photos as soon as I get some!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Blago on my Blogo

Overheard in my office Wednesday, in reference to our governer (although maybe not for long) Rod Blagojevich:

"Talk about losing your job right before Christmas!"

Monday, December 1, 2008

Punica Granatum

I hate winter. I hate it with a passion. Being cold is one of the worst sensations to me in the world. I also don't really like fruit. I just don't eat it. I will go through a week here or there where I will have the random granny smith apple or two, but in general, I am more of a vegetable girl.




However, with winter does come a bounty of beautiful, juicy, tart and crazy citrus fruits, my favorite of which is the pomegranate.

Now, I did not just jump on the pomegranate bandwagon with the advent of the inclusion of the pomegranate in the "superfood" category or the proliferation of pomegranate flavored beverages in the natural foods juice section of the grocery store.

I have eaten pomegranates since I was a child. Every winter I have cleaned up the fine mist of red juice which decorates my kitchen after delving into the glorious fruit to free its lvoely arils, no matter how carefully and how well I have honed my practice of opening the forbidden fruit over the years.

A forbidden and mythical fruit, just ask Persephone.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Twilight




OK, who would have thought? I am never on the cutting edge of anything trendy (see my last post).


However, I read the entire Twilight series. And enjoyed it. And now, it is poised to be the blockbuster of the holiday season.


And so, my wonderful, intelligent, independent, some having children of their own, 6 girlfriends and I got tickets to opening night. I am never on the cutting edge of anything. I never want to be. I don't like the crowds. However, we did not buy tickets at the ghetto City North 14 by my house. We bought tickets at the Muvico. And not just any seats, but "Premier VIP Seats" So, no lines, assigned, plushy love seats and a restaurant to order food from. In short, no mingling with the hoi polloi as we like to joke.


We bought these about a month ago. And I have to admit, I have lost all sense of time. I live in some sort of time/space warp, being stretched over mulitple axes bending the space/time continuum. So, of course, I forgot and planned a trip to NYC this weekend.


Granted, this was the only weekend J and I could make it to NYC and I would not have prioritized a movie over a weekend in the Big Apple. I was just upset that I had not even put the conflict together. I can't believe it's November, let alone the week before Thanksgiving!


So, to all my friends and the teenie boppers who will be there on Friday, enjoy! The actor cast as Edward is nothing like I imagined in my mind, but I hope he does it justice. Because, really, the first book is all about him.


I'm almost happy i'm missing it. I have almost never enjoyed a movie version of a book that I have already read. I've peeked at the trailers. The Cullens in these novels are described as so breathtakingly, achingly beautiful, I feel as though they cannot ever be represented on film. And certainly not by some unknown actors and actresses. I think we will be especially disappointed by Rosalie. I'm already disappointed by Edward.


And J has promised he will go with me to see it when we get back. I expect you all to bear witness...

Friday, November 14, 2008

I love ergo I am

This afternoon, instead of actually working, I read this review of Roy Blount Jr's Alphabet Juice in the New York Times.

I am a fan of Roy's from "Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me" and I have to say, I found the review itself to be a most pleasurable read!

As I went to forward the article on to a couple of other word-loving friends I found myself struggling to come up with the word for "lover of words". Which lead me to this list for words of love and attraction

I therefore declare myself a dendrophilious philalethist and logophile!

Never to be confused with a neophile or cynophilist, although this picture does seem to contradict that last sentiment








Thursday, November 13, 2008

Library Update

My most recent library book was due on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it was also unfinished.

I went to the library and renewed the book. Can you believe it?

Progress, indeed. Yes I can!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

More Observations


I have seen this man outside the Thompson Center for months now. He is there every time I actually take the train to work. He never moves, never says a word. Just stands there.
He is always dressed in this suit. However, today he had on very clean, new looking jeans, a turtle neck, jacket and a hat.
Today was the day I almost asked him what he meant. Is this a statement on the war? Does he want Obama to pull the troops out? Or is it something else entirely? But I chickened out. Maybe I just didn't want to deal with whatever compulsion drives this man.
I mean, who goes to the same corner every day and stands unmoving holding a sign for months on end. I've seen reports of him being spotted in other areas of the city as well.

Observations

As I was walking to my local Walgreens last night a man rode by me on his bike.

He was wearing one of those bright yellow vests that the street crews wear and on the back had handwritten

"Kill 'em all and let God sort them out"
USMC

Um, maybe I should take someone with me when I go to Walgreens at night.

Monday, November 10, 2008

ZEN STEW

Here is one of my favorite new soup recipes. I have modified it a little bit, especially cutting back on the amount of miso the recipe I found recommended since the sodium content was unbelievable!

2 carrots thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
2-3 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms sliced
2 cups water
2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
4 oz tofu diced
1 cup cooked brown rice
2-3 Tbsp miso paste
1/2 cup warm water
Spinach (several large handfuls)
Green onion sliced
**optional red chili sauce

Add the 2 cups of water and 2 cups of vegetable broth, the carrot, red onion, mushrooms and cooked rice to a large pot. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Mix the miso paste with 1/2 cup warm water and stir well.  Add the miso and tofu to the pot and continue heating for another 5-10 minutes. 

Remove the pot from the heat and add as many handfuls of spinach as you would like. Stir until the spinach wilts. Taste, you may want to add a little more miso paste or even some red chili sauce for a kick.

Serve in bowls and sprinkle with the sliced green onion


Enjoy!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Twilight (or I was a Teenage Vampire)


OK, I will admit, I was pissed off when Twilight was our bookclub pick this summer. I've been feeling a little out of sync with my bookclub and our selections and this one almost pushed me over the edge. I was mired in bad attitude and pretty much went to bookclub to eat, drink and smoke.


Teen horror/romance novels? Had we sunk so low?


If you haven't heard of the Twilight series, it consists of 4 novels by Stephenie Meyer. A teenage romance with a vampire as one of the main characters and the heroine's love interest. The story revolves primarily around the struggle for this human-vampire couple to establish their relationship in the face of, obviously, some complications. Hiding this from the human population, the vampire's ability to resist the sweet smell of the human's blood, other vampires who are not so civilized, and eventually werewolves.


Due to a member's giving birth on that day, the meeting was cancelled and we never formally met to discuss this novel and I was happy.


But then, I was in a reading funk. I couldn't find anything to sink my teeth into (no pun intended) and borrowed the first novel from my friend ADG.


And I was hooked. I am now on the fourth and last novel in the series, and have enjoyed each one even more than the last. This is the first time I've been looking forward to getting home and reading in a long time. They are a bit repetitive, the heroine is kind of ridiculous, and the story-line a little far fetched, but I am drawn in, and can only imagine how fervently I would have followed this story if it had come out when I was in Jr. High. Pre-teens are suckers for star-crossed lovers.


So, I need to apologize for my bad attitude. I will stand by my contention that this is not an appropriate selection for an adult bookclub. But I am happy I was able to see through the red glow of my anger and try out the books on my own.


Oh yes, and we already have our tickets for opening night of the movie.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Great Socio-Economic Divide

I feel terrible about this Jennifer Hudson thing

We have celebrities in this country. And from what I've seen, most of the current Hollywood Glitterati have been spawned from other Hollywood big shots. Not to mention the useless children of the rich and famous whose existence we have the misfortune of even knowing about, such as the Paris Hiltons, Nicole Ritchies, and any other washed up, has-been or never-been star on any reality show you may be subjected to if you have the misfortune of turning on the tv.

These days it seems to be really rare to find an actual talent that arises from an abyss, based solely on their talent. Most of the people we come across in magazines, tv, moveis, etc. can give thanks to their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc for paving the way for them.

I am not incredibly well versed in Jennfier Hudson's body of work. I don't watch American Idol, and haven't seen Dreamgirls. I did see her in "Sex In the City" movie. And have seen her in a fwe interviews and appearances and have found her style, and lack of pretension completely refreshing.

So despite Jennifer Hudson's rise to fame, and despite what her personal worth might be on this date, she and her family and not immune from the cycle of crime that plagues the lower-income neighborhoods of major cities.

For work, I deal with lots of families who live in these areas, such as the Englewood area where Jennifer Hudson's mother lived. I've been in these neighborhoods and in people's homes. But let's be honest, I'm a white girl from the suburbs. I might be exposed to these areas a hell of a lot more than anyone I know, but I can't pretend to know or understand it. Or to have an idea on how to solve the problems of poverty, racism and violence that are absolutely intertwined.


So it doesn't really matter how far she has risen. This poor woman and her family have been reduced to a terribly too prevalent stereotype in Chicago of African American families torn apart by gun violence.

I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say about this, except, this shit doesn't happen to Angelina Jolie's family.

And while I'm sure Jennifer Hudson has made lots of friends in Hollywood, I'm sure none of them can udnerstand what she is going through. She will probably have to go back to her neighborhood for that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Library

I have a problem. I really think it might be a genetic flaw. I am absolutely, indubitably, 100% incapable of returning a library book on time. The same thing goes for movies but thankfully Netflix and On Demand take care of that, and honestly, I don't watch very many movies.

As a result of this flaw I am reluctant to use the library at all. I really cannot be trusted.

But I read a lot of books. And being in a book club I often read books I didn't pick out and I'm not sure that I will like. And being a Gemini and slightly schizophrenic at times, I will find myself momentarily obsessed with some random event in history, person, place or idea and be compelled to amass reading material about this topic, only to lose all interest a week later.

So, often times, I am stuck having purchased books that I will never read. Or books that I started and couldn't stand. I feel bad since it is a waste of money when that same book is available to me for FREE at the Library 2 blocks away from my house.

A sane person would use the library to the fullest extent, saving purchases for those special items you know you are going to love, want to hold onto as a keepsake and the such. Or at least limit purchases to once/month and get everything else for FREE at the library 2 blocks away from my house.

There are a few problems with that:

1. The aforementioned genetic flaw. I just returned a book that I have had since April. It is a vicious cycle. As the due date kept receeding further and further behind me, so did my shame. What was wrong with me that I couldn't return this book? Any day was a day I could have walked in, admitted my mistake, paid my fine and cleared my name and record. Instead, I buried the book under a pile of other books on my nightstand.

2. I love owning books. I love everything about books. I love the way they look in my bookshelves, piled up on my nightstand, on top of the piano, in the window sills and anywhere else I can place them. I love bookstores. They are so beautiful. Floors and aisles filled with book on every imaginable topic. And they are all so clean, beautiful and nearly untouched! The first requirement for my dream house is a library (ok, maybe not the first, but definitely a requirement). My second bedroom had been crafetd into a reasonable facsimile of an in-home library until Wilson and wedding planning hijacked the space. I'm going to be trying to finish reclaiming it tonight.

So my fine was only $5. After all these months of worrying, fretting, and most importantly buying silly books that there was no reason to purchase (case and point the Chelsea Handler book. I got a couple of laughs, but will never re-read it and finished it in 2 days).

Luckily friends have been lending me all of the Twilight series.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Smoking Update

My update is that I'm not. Smoking that is. In case anyone was wondering. Tomorrow will be 6 weeks.

I can't even begin to describe how liberated I feel. I'm seeing the world through new eyes.

At this point I only want a cigarette once a day. Or maybe less. I've been sick this week and didn't even think about smoking once today. Back in the day it didn't matter how sick I was, how bad my allergies were, I still would manage to smoke.

I realize that I forget to breathe. It seems so silly, forgetting to do the most natural thing in the world. Luckily we don't need to think about making our hearts beat. But if I pay attention, I notice that I hold my breath a lot. And really, the more I hold my breath, the more I want to smoke. I think that the desire to smoke has been tied to the desire to take a deep breath as ironic as that might sound. I'm relearning how to inhale deeply without taking a drag. I've really been trying to be cognizant of this. And to breath.

One major life task down, so many more to go!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Parkways

I have been enthralled by this idea since I first came across it. Started in Bogota, I believe, the concept of taking major urban thoroughfares and turning them over to foot, bike, and other non-motorized modes of transport for a few hours on Sundays.

Sunday Parkways has come to Logan Square. Jason and I got up early and went for a run.

I had imagined entire streets shut down and children playing, people sitting, running, laughing and dancing. Kind of a giant block party that would stretch from Logan to Pilsen.

Unfortunately, it was less populated, and more highly regulated than that. But Jason and I went for a 30 minute run and it was fun. I loved having the streets to ourselves, being up early in the neighborhood and waving hello to everyone. And I loved running. It was fun and I'm getting better at it! There is a second Sunday scheduled at the end of the month and we'll be out there again, running, smiling and waving.

Ever since I've moved into Chicago, I've been trying to find that neighborhood I want to be a part of. i want to know te people in my local stores and see familiar faces on the streets. I love Logan Square for providing me with a taste of that. If you can ignore the hookers in the alley, the graffiti, and the broken water main I've been calling the city about for 3 days.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Belief and Technique in Modern Prose

I've been thinking more about writing these days. Obviously, I started a blog. I fear it may appear to be more out of narcissism than anything else. But really, at the heart of it was a desire to start re-exploring my creative side.

I have never enjoyed writing. Words such as "creative writing" made my skin crawl. I have tried to journal at various points in my life with no success. I hated the sound of my voice on paper and just lost interest.

And while I love reading, I enjoy it for its entertainment value and don't usually like to think of the craft aspect. Often, I enjoy the escapist component more than anything. While I can remember where on the page a certain detail can be found in a text book, 8 times out of 10 I can't remember the ending of any fiction I have read.

But I'm enjoying this. I enjoy my writing better when I shift my focus to writing for an audience instead of writing for myself. Sometimes I even think i'm funny. Not that I have any audience here, but I can have dreams, right? And while I keep waiting for the fabulous, pithy, entry that will prove somehow that I am an interesting person, with incredible insight, I haven't been able to create it yet.

I came across this in my horoscope in a copy of New City I picked up today. Supposedly, a list of tips for writing from Jack Kerouac.

Of course I read it. And to be honest, I found them to be as applicable to belief and technique in modern living as much as writing. But that might be where I'm coming from right now.

I'm feeling suffocated right now. I hate my job, hate the fact that my biggest concerns right now are car payments and new storm doors, and hate my complacency in my current situation. I'm yearning for something new and exciting. Yearning for a magical life. Yearning to throw off the constraints of the bourgeois life I seem to be entering into.

So while I am not much of a writer, maybe I can be better at living. I think I'll try to start with #4


1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Don't think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You're a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven



Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Baseball in October


I was raised a Sox fan. My family would go to games pretty frequently when Michael and I were little. This is back in the day when it was actually Comiskey. Back when Harry Caray was announcing there (hear that Cubs fans?)
I am from the kind of family where the men might take just as much pleasure in the Cubs losing as the Sox winning. And I married someone who often feels the same.
In high school, our entire senior class was given tickets to the Cubs game by one of the big donors to the school. I remember lying to my dad about where I was going that day, fearing his disappointment.
Sometimes it is hard to be a Sox fan living on the north side. Not tonight.
GO SOX!!!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

WaMu

Nothing like finding out about the biggest bank failure we've ever seen in our lifetime after a nice evening of sushi and wine.

What is going on? And should we really have our $$ under the mattress?

Monday, September 22, 2008

I am the Champion


My first 5k was Sunday morning. I am the champion! I didn't win the race, I was actually about 84th in my age group (out of a little more than a hundred timed runners) but I ran the whole thing!

The race was out on the new runway at O'Hare which was cool. Very cool. Much cooler than I had expected to have planes taking off over your head. I'm sure the view from on the plane of thousands of people running must have been pretty intense as well.

Lots of the friends were there and it was a great way to spend the first half of a Sunday!
I think I might be turning into a runner! How about that? Running has never been one of my strengths. I was always faster in the water than on land. But, I have always fantasized about being a runner. So simple, lace up your shoes and go. I love it.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Jr. High Reunion


So I'm old. I attended my 20 year Jr. High Reunion tonight. I get far too nervous when it comes to events like this. I've ditched about half of my high school reunions for that reason. But I kept a good attitude about this one and really had a great time. I guess the jey is keeping it all in perspective.
The party was supposed to happen at the Scout Cabin but due to inclement weather, the cabin is under a few feet of water. So luckily we were able to secure the Berwyn VFW hall last minute!

I got suckered into going to a big, giant, Riverside bash after the reunion. Definitely an interesting experience since despite having worked at the RSC I really haven't seen most of any of the people I know in close to 20 years. But it was super fun. So thanks to Lisa and Cydney for convincing me to go out. And thanks to Jason for going along with all of it.

I might write more about the whole thing later. But now, after several beers and a couple of sangrias, I need to go to bed. I'm running my first 5K early tomorrow morning. Oops.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bodyguard

Um, yeah, I knew there was something else I watched last night. Yes, "The Bodyguard", starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. I didn't watch the whole thing, came in during the second half.

Guilty pleasure, I really liked it. Please don't judge me too harshly.

Chicken Stock

J doesn't travel too much for work, but last night was one of those nights. With the house all to myself I had grand plans of finishing my closet organization project, folding the rest of the laundry and finally getting to those wedding Thank You notes (those of you who have not yet received one, you know I love you, I'm just lazy).

I accomplished none of those tasks and instead spent hours watching Scrubs reruns, the Office and ER finales from last season and Good Will Hunting, all the while doing a book of very difficult Kakuro puzzles http://www.kakuro.net/

The one thing which salvaged my waste of an evening was making chicken stock.

Earlier in the week we bought a rotisserie chicken from Dominicks. I LOVE rotisserie chickens. I didn't even know how much I loved them until the last year or so. We get them infrequently, but every time we do, I can't wait to finish carving the meat (or, let's be honest, for J to finish carving the meat) so that I can take the carcass and make a big pot of stock.

Now, the problem I have encountered in the past is that I save that carcass. I keep it in the fridge and have grand plans. And then the week gets busy, and then I get distracted from my goal, and then I completely forget about the carcass until J points out the smell in the fridge.

This time I kept my eyes on the prize

Here's my stock
Chicken carcass
2-3 carrots
2-3 stalks celery
3/4 onion
parsley
1-2 bay leaves
lemon juice
salt
pepper

Put it in the pot, fill it with water, bring to a boil and simmer for a few hours. I realized just now that I forgot bay leaves. Oh well.

After I'm done I strain everything, return the liquid to the pot and put the pot in the fridge overnight so I can skim off any fat the next day. Freeze in small batches and use for the next month or two.

Week 3

Yes, I'm going to pat myself on the back for a few minutes here. Actually, I've been patting myself on the back a lot the last few weeks.

Today is 3 weeks non-smoking!!!

I have to say, I feel great. There have been some ups and downs for sure. The first week and a half was tough. I would be fine all day until about 3pm. That's when the craving would start. The thoughts would not stop. From 3 until I would go to bed here is what would go on in my head in an endless loop every 5 minutes

"I want a cigarette"
"You are choosing not to smoke a cigarette"

"I want a cigarette"
"You are choosing not to smoke a cigarette"

You get the picture. This would continue until I was literally getting into bed, at which point it would change to

"I want a cigarette"
"You are going to bed. You can revisit this topic tomorrow"

I will admit to some irritability. OK, I had some uncontrollable rage, that first week especially. One night, I made J hold a pillow so I could punch it for about 5 minutes. Felt good. I'm also a little more emotional. I seem to be tearing up at stupid TV more often than before.

But mostly what I feel is relief. Relief and total liberation. I guess I finally understand what the phrase "getting the monkey off your back means". I had no idea I would feel so free.

Firefly with the Girls





I'm struggling with my weight a little bit. I wonder if there is any correlation between that and the number of restaurants I seem to be frequenting these days!


Girls night this past Saturday. We decided to deviate from our normal haunts and try something brand new. Firefly on halsted


We were 6 tonight. One not available due to a wedding, but celebrating the return of one of our long lost travelers who had been in Europe the last 5 months!


I will admit, I am a bit of a homebody. At one point this summer I declared I was only going to eat and shop and socialize within Logan Square. I don't usually go to Boystown or Lakeview any more simply because these neighborhoods are kind of a pain in the ass to get in and out of.


I'm glad my friends are not so close minded as I am! Dinner was great.


First and foremost, the company could not be beat. Just a fabulous evening in a cozy booth catching up on everyone's lives over a few bottles of wine. Our dinner M.O. (modus operandi) os not to each order a meal, but to order a variety of appetizers, salads and entrees for the table.


I'm writing this about a week after the fact, so I can't remember everything we had, but let me try.


For appetizers we started with:
Scallops

Duck Spring Rolls
Baked Brie
Mac & Cheese


What's not to love? The Mac & Cheese was particularly outstanding. Obviously not your run of the mill Kraft product, penne with a blend of white cheeses. Not too gooey or too much. Although, in all honesty, I challenge you to present me with someone who does not like any form of mac & cheese. Out of the box, or made from scratch it's the best thing out there.


For our second round we ordered the 4 specials they were offering last weekend:
Cabbage Salad
Eggplant slices, shaved very thin, stuffed with a cheese (ricotta?) and a slice of prosciutto

Tuna

Veal Medallions


The tuna was forgettable, but the veal was incredible! Most of us aren't big veal eaters. It was served with a venison sauce that was out of this world.


We started off out evening with a bottle of sparkling wine. Trying not to break the bank, we ordered a bottle of the Chandon. Moderately priced in stores, here, of course it was about $30. We followed that up with 2 bottles of red. The first, a Cote Du Rhone. We expected something bigger and a little spicier, more like a syrah. Interestingly enough, it was a pinot noir. The second I can't recall.


DESSERT: I am not a big dessert person. I crave salty, not sweet. Calamari sounds like a good dessert to me. In the last year or so I have come more to appreciate a bite of chocolate after a meal. That craving seems stronger now that I have quit smoking.


Since we were celebrating, we went for dessert. Two desserts to be exact. One, a chocolate lava cake which is probably pretty much as you would imagine it. Dark, decadent and delicious. I love flourless chocolate cake, I know it is not everybody's thing, but for me, the darker the better.


The start of the night though were the cinnamon beignets. Let's start by saying that they are not traditional beignets. For those of you who have eaten at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans http://www.cafedumonde.com/, please, keep your mind open.






They were fantastic. Tiny little cubes of cinnamon goodness, all stacked up in a cube and topped with a dollop of icecream. I would go back just for the dessert, even if the rest of the meal hadn't been so great!




We finished off the night at Matilda's, an old favorite. I hadn't been to matilda's for years. I have hazy memories of going up and down the steepest staircase in Chicago in order to go to the bathroom. I could never figure out how more people hadn't died in that bar going up and down those stairs. Luckily, I stayed for just one drink and didn't have to even try.






Friday, September 12, 2008

I Need Some Sleep

I need some sleep. But instead of sleeping I have been laying awake itching and examining welts on my body. There are a few possible causes

1. Spider bites. However, this would have been one prodigious spider as I have swollen, itchy spots on both arms, my left hand, my right eye and my left shoulder blade

2. Hives. But what did I eat? Lunch was a veggie sub from the Simply Fresh by my office, and dinner was a concoction from left overs and some extra veggies.

3. Detox. Could this be a result of nicotine detox?

I'm waiting for the sun to rise a little before I head to the 24 hour Walgreens. No matter what the cause, I figure some benadryl should help.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oysters




I just came across this article about oysters. http://www.novusvinum.com/education/oysters_and_wine.html

I love oysters. Whenever I am somewhere I can get a few, I will indulge. It is one of my most decadent treats to myself. When my family and the rest of the Riverside gang used to go to Florida every year, we would go to a place that would serve them by the dozen on lunch trays. Nothing makes me happier than looking at a menu and seeing that they serve individual oysters as an appetizer (since I'm rarely out eating with someone who wants to split a whole dozen with me!)

On my "Day of Freedom" (first day as a non-smoker) I met J and a friend at Pops for Champagne http://www.popsforchampagne.com/ after work for an impromptu celebration.

I met them, sat down, had a glass of wine and, voila! oysters appeared as if by magic in front of me. Apparently, Jason had ordered some from the waiter and asked them to bring them to me once I arrived. "I thought you would like congratulatory oysters better than cake"

I love this man!

Marche


Ah, this is why I love the city, random fabulous dinners in the middle of the week!


Jason, myself, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend went to Marche last night. http://www.marche-chicago.com/
This was my first time. I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew it was French but the interior is pretty crazy. Kind of traditional French bistro meets a carnivale with Radiohead playing in the background.
The food was upscale but the vibe was a lot more laid back than I had feared it might be. They have a $28 prie fixe menu on Wednesdays. Any appetzier, entree and dessert off the menu, not a bad deal!
We each had a different first course, escargot in a pernod sauce that were incredible, scallops, a duet of smoked salmons and a beet salad. Eveything was great. For entrees two of us had the filet special (which I'm sure would have cost more than the prie fixe clost alone), one salmon and a beautiful quail dish.
At this point I was stuffed but dessert was included. A banana creme brule, a frozen souffle, a mix of vanilla icecream and strawberry sorbet for J, and I had the flourless chocolate cake.
I love flourless chocolate cake, it seems like one of those things people love or hate. I love how dense and dark it is and was satisfied after 2 big bites. Luckily I had spent some quality time on the elliptical machine and in an Abs class at the gym before dinner.
Our waitress was great. Keeping up with Jason's jokes and funny requests without missing a beat. And of course, great conversation and a lot of laughs.
I had to bring up politics at one point just to check in on everyone. I shouldn't have done it but needed to. Most of you reading this will not be surprised to find out I'm pretty liberal. The thought of the democrats blowing this election was the only low spot to my whole evening!
So, I would highly recommend Marche. And if you're hungry, go on Wednesday for the Prie Fixe menu!

Claustrophobia

So, I know I've been giving Jason a hard time about moving to the suburbs. I'm just not ready for the suburbs of Chicago quite yet. Neither is he really, but the city starts grating on you.

I have to admit city living is wearing on me as well. And as Jason and I meld our lives, we are slowly being squeezed out of my place, there's just no room! I've been starting to feel like the walls are closing in on me at home.

So spending the weekend in Colorado was fabulous. I always forget what an incredible feeling of openness there is. Denver isn't actually in the mountains so you are really sitting smack dab on top of a giant plain with mountains in the distance.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that your dollar goes alot further outside of the city limits of Chicago. The 10.25% sales tax is starting to wear thin. And while the housing market is receeding, what I could get for my little condo would probably get me a 3 bedroom house with a finished basement in a lot of other places.

So, while I'm not ready for the suburbs of Chicago, I did decide that we might be moving to Highlands Ranch, CO. The negatives of the suburbs seem to diminish a little with the Rockies in the background.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Real Tenochtitlan






I'm leaving for Denver tomorrow morning. I can't wait to get out of town, but am sad that J isn't joining me. So, we decided to go out to dinner tonight. I've been dying to try out Real Tenochtitlan.

Some of you may remember Ixcapulzaco, a great restaurant on Milwaukee north of Logan that served authentic mole sauces, focusing on a different mole every night. I took my parents there shortly after I moved to the neighborhood (well, tried to take them, I wanted to give them a big thanks for all of the help they gave me buying my condo, but my dad refused to let me pay, so I guess I got another free meal).

The chef, Geno Bahena, worked at Frontera Grill with Rick Bayless and has received nothing but the highest praise. However, he can't really seem to keep a restaurant open.

I feel like a traitor even saying it. Every review of his new restaurant, Tenochtitlan only mentions his past endeavor under a veil of the highest praise. But Ixcapuzalco eventually closed. They moved into an empty restaurant space on Western. A former Mexican restaurant called La Bonita, whose sign they never even changed. We went one time and the service was a disaster. That closed as well.

And now, Real Tenochtitlan has opened. Great reviews, and, greatest of all for me, it is still BYO.

So, trying to balance the desires to avoid the terrible weather with the need to leave the house and my desire to support the newest place in the 'hood that I still haven't tried out, we went.

The space is great, I really liked it. I am a regular reader of my neighborhood yahoo listserv and have read a lot of reviews of the restaurant (the people on the listserv are not afraid to express their opinions. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll comment on some of it again in the future). Almost every single one praised the food, a few didn't like the interior.

The food was good. If you've been to Ixcapuzalco you would first recognize that the menu is EXACTLY the same. One side with the mole of the day, served with your choice of fish, meat or poultry, the other side with appetizers and other dinner specials. In the exact same format, changing only the name of the restaurant at the top.

Thursday night special is the Verde mole which we both had. Jason loved it. I liked it.

"I liked it" I guess that encapsulates my whole experience.

Forgive me again for being a traitor, but while the idea of mole always drives me wild, the reality of it leaves me wanting. Every time. I think I always want more kick than I get. I guess it's just not really my thing.

I love supporting local businesses. I love the idea of spending good amounts of my money within a mile radius of my home. I love eating food grown less than one state away as well, we'll get into that later.

The service was good, couldn't have been nicer. "I liked it" Entrees were around $20, and with a couple of coffees afterwards it really wasn't so bad. Not the cheapest byo night ever, but not going to break the bank. I liked it.


So, I feel a little all over the place with my review. I guess I want to love the place. But I liked it. I want everyone I know to try it out. There's nothing I love more than supporting my local businesses. So GO! Enjoy it! Bring your friends. I'll probably go with you, unless I can manage to remember that mole doesn't really do it for me. Maybe I should try a different dish.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Cartwheels


So, I quit smoking today. For those of you who know me well, I have smoked for a long time. I have smoked a lot for a long time.

I did a 5 week behavior modification program with a naturapathic doctor in my neighborhood (check out the link to Stellaria Health on the side bar)

I will write more about the whole process later, or maybe not. But suffice it to say that I just smoked my last cigarette ever. I took the rest of the cigarettes in my pack, broke them in half and threw them and my ashtray in the dumpster. I took the box I had to collect as part of week 1 of my program with all other lighters, ashtrays and any other smoking materials in my house and threw them in the dumpster. I did a last minute raid through all of my bags, purses, drawers, and any lighters or matches I found, I threw them in the dumpster.

I have a jar with all of the cigarettes I have smoked in the last 2 weeks (again, part of the process). I dumped the last few cigarettes from tonight in there and filled it with water. For the next week, if I have a moment of weakness I'm supposed to open the jar and smell it. Aversion therapy is what it's called.

Then, I stood in the backyard and did cartwheels. Lots and lots of cartwheels. I did handstands and somersaults. I used to be pretty good at gymnastics as a kid. No more round off, flip- flop backs for me at this age, but I played in the grass. I got a little out of breath. Imagine that.

It felt great.

It was fun.

Thanks for your support.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Are There Hit & Runs in the Suburbs?

So I am diverging from tales from the wedding, back to real life.

One of the last things I said to Jason Tuesday morning was "I don't want to go to work". I had a sore throat, runny nose and was generally a foggy mess. "Why don't you stay home?" "I can't, I really have to get to this meeting"

Famous last words. Heading east on Division, I'm stopped at a red light at Wood St. with several cars in front of me.

Before we get to the good part, let's review the last 6 months of car troubles. End of march, Jason gets the new job with Wilson. His Jetta is not big enough to haul the samples, so he gives the Jetta to his dad and J takes his dad's Subaru Forester. Or Outback. I can't keep cars straight.

The Jetta is leased so we need to ride it out until January. Really what we need is the Honda to make it until then.

Beginning of August, I'm driving the Honda home when I hear a slight hissing noise from under the hood. I park the car and notice a puff of steam. long story short, I finally have it towed to my mechanics at Haas, Inc (formerly the Honda Clinic - they are the best of you have a Honda http://www.thehondaclinic.com/) and it turns out that the repairs required are simply not worth it at this point. The car has become too unreliable and has started breaking down more and more frequently, and seriously, 187,000 miles and 14 years is a good run.

So we face the inevitable, we buy Jason a new car that is big enough to haul his loot (an adorable hatchback, big enough for his needs, but no bigger) and I get the Jetta.

Which takes me back to Division street. Cruising along in a car nicer than any other car i have been able to call mine. The radio works! This alone is a major step up. I come to a stop enjoying my ride, enjoying the beautiful day it promises to be. When suddenly, I see a car barrelling straight at me, hearing it slam on brakes as it smashes into me.

I am screaming obscenities as the few seconds that it took for this all to unfold stretch on and on, as time will bend when you're in a car accident. Then, I'm shaking and about to cry as the adrenaline that is coursing through my body needs an outlet. It appears I am ok, no airbags deploy, and everything still seems to be attached.

I get out of the car in complete shock. And horror when I look at the state of my car. The irony is too great. As is my magnetic core, pulling car disasters toward me from every direction.

Now really, the major damage is not my rear bumper, although it is all banged up. The major problem is the fact that I get pushed into the Jeep Cherokee in front of me which results in a smashed up grill and crumpled hood.

All I can think is that Jason will probably divorce me.

Luis, the man in the Jeep in front of me is out as well, has quickly appraised the situation for what it is and is calling the cops. I get back in the car to call my office to let them know what has happened and to have them cancel my meeting. Of course, as soon as I start talking I burst into tears and start hyperventilating, scaring the pants off of my co-workers.

I am trying to reassure them that i am ok although I sound anything but. I notice through my tears that the car which hit me has started pulling out and realize that yes, we will need to get the cars off to the side of the road. Except, the car doesn't pull over. It pulls away. The people were looking right at us and simply pulled away. They didn't speed away, just left. Just like that. There was a woman behind the wheel who just had a smile on her face. A man in the seat next to her. And apparently, what i didn't see but Luis and the other witnesses saw, a child in a car seat in the back.

I start grappling for a pen and piece of paper to get the license plate number. Temporary plates of course. It is starting to dawn on me that this woman's insurance may not be covering anything. I'm assuming it doesn't exist.

Luis hops in his car and takes off after them. Everything keeps seeming more and more surreal. The accident took place in front of a big hardware store/repair shop and all the guys who work there are out, making sure we're ok, offering us coffee and water. "We saw the whole thing" "Man, I see those people in the neighborhood" "Yeah, I have it out for them already, we'll figure out who they are"

So, I have a posse.

Luis returns and the next hour passes in a blur. He was on the phone with the cops while he was driving and giving them the license plate. "I'm not good with numbers and I know I wouldn't have been able to remember it, and I didn't have a pen so I just took off after them and gave the cops the plate" Apparently when the dispatcher realized he was following after the woman they strongly encouraged him to stop, not interested in any acts of vigilantism. Our friends from the shop are still loitering around and we all rehash the event, examining it from every direction.

I suddenly realize I don't have an insurance card with me. Jason and I just got a new plan for the both of us and the two cars. I don't even know what company it is through.

Luckily, Jason was working from home when I left. I call his cell phone. No answer. I call the home phone. No answer. I call his cell phone again. Still no answer. I leave a message begging him to call me back. A few minutes later the phone rings.

"A? It's J. What's up?" "Did you listen to the message?" "No, I just saw that you called" "I got rear ended" "You're kidding, right?" "No, do we have insurance?" "Yes, the cards are in my hand actually" "You need to bring me one. Now. The police are on their way"

Now luckily Luis is a great guy and totally buys my story of why I don't have my insurance card with me. "I have insurance, but I just got married and my car just died, so we just got a new car, and I'm driving my husband's old car and we just got a new insurance policy for both of us, literally just last week, and i don't have the card in the car but we have a card at home and I swear my husband is on his way right now, he just needs to get here from Logan Square."

"You just got married, congratulations"

Seriously, this guy couldn't be nicer. Luckily the police officer, when she arrives, also buys my story and by the time she is finishing writing up the reports and all that Jason shows up with the insurance card.

The rest of the day proceeds as you would expect, call the towing company. Chill out for an hour, ride with them to the dealer, drop off the car, bus and train it home.

It's Jason I'm worried about now. This may have been the straw that breaks the City camel's back. J has been having a hard time with city living. I feel badly, because I think his frustration grew exponentially after he moved into my neighborhood. Logan Square and Old Irving definitely have different vibes. Gang violence, graffiti, stolen cars, intruders. And I choose to live here.

He was an angel and brought me the card and really wanted to see me and make sure I was ok.

But the look on his face when he looked at the car was a different story. He and the police officer commiserated over the fact that those of us who carry insurance and follow the laws are the ones who get punished in situations like this, since it seems unlikely we'll figure out who did this.

"I hear that hit and runs are down in Riverside"

So don't be surprised if our zip code does not start with 606 in the near future.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our First Arrival

Nancy is here! Our first arrival is somewhere near the train station. We head off to the train, which is not far from the consulate. Unfortunately it has started raining. And seriously, we're not firing on all cylinders still. But finally, after circling for a few more minutes, we spot Nancy at a street vendor buying an umbrella.



Hugs, kisses and all that good stuff. But first things first, we need some lunch! And Nancy needs a glass of wine. Luckily, Nancy is a pro at clipping articles with interesting sounding recipes and restaurants. We scan the clipping on restaurants in Florence she has from Food & Wine and settle on what seems to be the perfect match, Trattoria Coco Lezzone. The description reads



"Just off Via Tornabuoni, one of Florence's fanciest shopping streets, this hole-in-the-wall local favorite is famous for its eccentric chef (his typewritten rules are: no coffee, no credit cards and no steak that isn't blood-rare). But there are few better versions of classics such as osso buco alla fiorentina.

Nulla Osta, off to the US Counsulate

Here's where things almost fall apart.

We leave the magistrate's office, Nadia gets on her phone and next thing we know a cab appears to whisk us away to the consulate. It's funny, you need special permits to drive in the old part of Florence and for as many times as I've walked these streets, I've never navigated them in a car. It's a trippy experience driving down the narrow cobblestone streets.

The consulate is on the Arno about 3 bridges west of the Ponte Vecchio. It is just a few blocks from the apartment I stayed in when I studied in Florence after college.

We pull up and Nadia begins speaking to the two guards at the front. Their conversation seems to be going on a bit longer than we had hoped. And her body language is changing as well. We get the feeling that things aren't going so well. One of the guards goes inside and brings out some other man. They talk, he goes in, he returns. They talk again, he goes in again, he returns again.

At this point we are getting a little worried. Had we been less jet lagged we probably would have been more worried, but we just didn't have the energy for it.

Finally we get the update. When we reserved the Palazzo Vecchio for the wedding back in December, the Nulla Osta was performed on Tuesdays and Fridays and the wedding planner had made our appointment for Friday. At some point in the spring, the days were changed, and now it is no longer performed on Fridays. So, they don't want to let us in.

This presents a bit of a problem. In theory we would be able to do the Nulla Osta the following Tuesday, however, we had a declaration scheduled to be made on Monday which you can only do once you have the Nulla Osta completed.

Nadia is apparently trying to work her magic. They are going to call her. In the meantime we go to a nearby caffe for cappucini and a croissant.

While all of this has been going on Jason and I are trying to fill out a simple one page form that we need to present to the consulate when (and if) we get in. The basics, name, address, citizenship, parents names, countries of citizenship.

I simply could not fill this out correctly. The first time, I fill out the form properly and then sign it at the bottom. Oops! Needs to be signed in front of the consul. Luckily, Nadia had an extra. I fill this one out but write my mom's current last name instead of her maiden name. Figuring it is no big deal I cross it out and correct it. We'll come back to that in a moment.

Nadia also needed some information from us for some other paperwork. We have realized by this point that we forgot the copies of Jason's divorce papers that we carried with us from the US. Nadia says no problem, they just need a few bits of information.

"Jason, when was your divorce finalized?"

Jason looks at her blindly and turns to me with a quizzical look. "Don't look at me, it was your marriage" "I have no idea" "Well, J, it was finalized a couple of months after we started dating" "Right, May, definitely in May" "So what year was that?"

Honestly between the two of us we cannot come up with how long we had been dating! Was it 3 years or 4? Why was I so confused and tired? What in the world had we gotten ourselves into? "Well, it was right before you went to Torre a Cona the first time with the tennis trip." "What year was that?" " I don't know, I think the second trip was in fall 2005. Did you go twice in one year, or did you go in 2004 the first time?"

We both start flipping through our passports, the second tennis trip to Italy was definitely 2005 based on stamps in my passport. However, Jason has no stamps that correspond to the first tennis trip.

I think Nadia is starting to worry about the both of us. I'm sure she's thinking that this is some sort of sham wedding, or Jason is not really divorced or god knows what.

Nadia: "Ok, how about your wedding, Jason, when was the date of your marriage?"

Again, Jason looks at me begging for the answer. "Dude, seriously I don't have any idea" "Me neither" "I know it was the same year as Sarah and Lou, you got married before them" "Right, but when was that?" "I have no idea, I know it was Aug. 23rd"

Seriously, this is getting embarrassing. We have almost all of the pieces of the puzzle but we can't put them together. Worst part is, it is 10am in Europe and anyone at home we could call who might know the answer would obviously be fast asleep! Jason's parents are already on the ground so we try calling them. Unfortunately, the phone numbers we have for their Mobal phones are wrong. Both of them.

Suddenly, our phone rings! It's KJo also on the ground in Rome! "Kevin, great to hear from you, glad you're hear, we have a question, what year did Sarah and Lou get married?" "Uh, I have no idea"

Dammit!

Luckily, the next phone call is the charm. It's Karen and Ed calling from Amsterdam. They are able to clarify the tennis trip dates by flipping through their own passports and we have solved the mystery of Jason's divorce finalization.

Stroke of luck number two, Jason's family calls! Luckily Jason's mother has the answers we crave and now we know the date of Jason's marriage.

We really hope all the dates are correct

Atto Notorio

Friday, June 13th


Friday morning. Our first official business of the trip is meeting with Nadia to do the Atto Notorio at the magistrate's office as well as the Nulla Osta at the US Consulate.

We're exhausted. Awake at 7:30am so we have time to shower, drive into Florence (we think we remember the way) and get to the Magistrate's Office by 9:00am. We're not entirely sure where it is, but something in the directions alludes to Dante, so we go to the square where his house is located and Ecco! there it is.

Now, we just need to figure out who in the world is Nadia. This entire planning process from afar has been interesting to say the least. We have a wedding planner, but we really don't have a full grasp of how this is all going to go down, or who is doing what. What we know at this point is that we are supposed to meet a woman named Nadia. We wait for a minute or two and I call the cell phone number we have. "Pronto?" It is Nadia, she tells me she is just a minute or two away.

The next thing we know we meet Nadia, a short, blond, wonderful Italian woman. She has so much energy that I know she will be able to just drag us along with her. She explains, that in addition to assisting us with all of the paperwork, she will also be serving as the interpreter at the wedding!

Into the magistrate's office we go. Up a flight of stairs and down a hallway into one of the weirdest offices I've ever seen. Nadia has some pull and we were allowed in before the general public it seems. The room has two desks, one computer and posters. Strange bizarre 3-D cat posters. We are so jet lagged that it really took us each a few minutes to realize that yes, in fact, the weird cat heads are coming out of the wall and it was not just our eyes playing tricks on us.

Strange as well, the woman stationed in the office is filling in for someone else (or so it seems) and has no idea how to enter our information into whatever database it needs to go to. I mean no idea. So she and Nadia start conferring, huddled over the computer. Then another woman shows up. Then someone pulls out what appears to be some sort of instruction manual. Not a glossy, properly bound printed type of manual, but a battered notebook with hand written notes in it.

Nadia keeps coming over to give us updates and reassure us that everything will be taken care of. Meanwhile, a line of Italians all hoping and needing to file some paperwork or another is forming at the door. Italians are funny about lines. They will get in them, and abide by them, but if they decide that their problem might be more important than someone else's they will just walk right up to the front.

Eventually, they figure it out and we're on our way downstairs with Nadia and one of the other two women from the office. Apparently she will serve as out second witness for the affidavit we need to sign.

We're running, I'm not really sure why. We get to a closed door on the first floor and wait. A woman appears, enters the office outside which we are waiting and shuts the door behind her. Nadia runs in after her. After some finagling we bust our way in, sign some piece of paper and now we are registered with the city of Florence.

At least, I think that's what we've done.

Into the Consulate

So the question of all the dates answered, now we have nothing to do but wait. Nadia is great and she starts telling us about her two kids (we cannot believe she has a teenager!) and showing us pictures. We talk about marriage, life, work etc.

Then, Nadia's phone rings.

"They're going to see us!"

So back we go to the Consulate. At the doors, Nadia hands us the money to pay for the Nulla Osta and informs us that she cannot go in with us because she is not an US citizen.

In we go through security, leave all cell phones in a basket by the metal detector. We get inside and finally a very cranky woman comes to the window to help us.

"Your wedding planner isn't doing her job. We don't do this on Fridays. You're very lucky we're getting this done for you"

Well, welcome to our country and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials to you too!

We hand her our forms. She looks at mine with the crossed out last name and tosses it back at me. "We can't accept any cross outs, please complete a new form"

So I do. And halfway through I make another mistake, putting Jason's name and his dad's name on the same line. My head hurts as I ask for another blank copy.

At this point I think the woman starts taking pity on us and definitely softens up. She takes our (finally!) completed paperwork, disappears and reappears shortly with the US Consul, a lovely, young, American woman. She was great, happily stamping our paperwork and wishing us the best on our marriage.

Back out through security, gather up our cell phones, bid farewell to Nadia with a promise to see her Monday morning at the Palazzo Vecchio.

We're finished! We really hope the hardest part is over!

The phone rings again. Our first arrival in Florence has made it!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fattoria Montagliari 2008

This time, we knew where we were going. Our last stop of the day.

Rounding the curve we spotted the winery! We pull in and enter the tasting room. Who is there, but David? We exchange pleasantries and he pours us the first glass of wine. As we're talking we let him know that we have been here before, describe the circumstances around our last encounter and he remembers us!

We talk and drink and talk some more. Turns out he is in talks with someone in the US and we might be seeing his wine in Chicago in the future. He brings in his mother and daughter. His daughter is about 13 and obviously studying English in school. They were all great.

We bought a bottle of wine. Unfortunately we left it in a hot car one day at the end of our trip and it was ruined. Guess we'll have to go back. Or maybe Jason will run into David in Sam's one Saturday.

Remind me to send David a picture or two of the wedding, we promised we would.

Fattoria Montagliari




Tasting wine in Tuscany is great. You get on the main highway through the area, the 222, and start driving. The area is so beautiful, it's almost indescribable, although countless people have tried. Every so often, you see a sign pointing you toward a tasting room with the tell-tale black rooster. You pull in. Sometimes they're open, sometimes not. If so, you drink wine. That's that. No crowds, no fees, no disneyland air about it. And the best thing about venturing into smaller vineyards, is that sometime it literally is the owner pouring the wines.

Such was the case with David.

The story starts a couple of years ago on our last trip to Tuscany. Jason, Nancy and I had taken off one day to do some exploring. It was October. The weather was beautiful, warm during the day, but not too hot, cool in the evenings, but not too cold.

We're driving the main road pulling into any vineyard that catches our fancy. We are passing through the town of Panzano, turn a corner and there we see Fattoria di Montagliari. Great name, huh? It looks charming, we're thirsty, so we go in.

We enter their tasting room. A great wooden room with shelves full of bottles and pictures and a couple of benches for sitting. I would love to have a library in my house that was like this room, perhaps with some comfier chairs. We start talking to the man behind the counter. His English is good, and from his accent, we determine that he is not Italian, but German. He looks tired. But not as tired as the man sitting on the bench in the corner. Messy hair, rumpled clothing and wine stained teeth. This guy, however, is Italian. We're not really sure what's going on.

So the German pulls out a few glasses and he and the gentleman in the corner start discussing which one of them should do the pouring and explaining of the wines. After a few minutes of arguing over whose English is better and back and forth the German starts pouring us wine, but we can see that the Italian isn't going to keep quiet. He starts talking, and talking. And as he talks, it dawns on us that it is his name on the bottles of wine that we are drinking.

David Migliorini. His family had purchased the Montagliari estate within the last 50 years.

This guy was a nut. Seriously. And to top it off they had just finished the harvest. So he hadn't slept in two days. It turns out that the German is a good friend of his who comes every year to help with the harvest. We realize that there is a picture of he, David and another man in a frame on a shelf, looking slightly toasted. David tells us that was from a harvest years before, back when they were younger and crazier.

So we sat, and we drank, and we talked, and we talked and we talked.

We start talking about the business of importing wines and the difficulties involved for smaller wineries like Montagliari to get their wines distributed outside of the country, and especially in the US. FedEx requires you to purchase giant shipping crates, much bigger and more expensive than one small winery could afford. There are apparently also hurdles and roadblocks in place preventing groups of wineries from banding together. And don't even get David started on the distributors in the US.

"The distributor business in the US is controlled by the Mafia in the United States. It is crazy. I go online, I can order a gun from the US and pick it up at the post office in 7 days. You? you want to buy my wine when you go back home, you cannot. You need to write to your senators about this problem. Write to your senators!"

At the mention of the Mafia, Jason gets nervous and starts looking over his shoulder, as if men in vests with machine guns might jump out from around the corner at any second. David notes his discomfort and reassures him that we are too far north to have to worry about it. In the south, people would never talk about the Mafia, the Camorra or 'Ndrangheta. Apparently in the north it is safe!

Needless to say, this visit was the highlight of our day in the countryside. Also needless to say, we bought wine. Jason and I drank the 1997 (or was it 1999?) Chianti Riserve on New Years Eve. Laurie was in town with us, but she was pregnant, so Jason and I drank it all.

How to Deal With Jetlag

Thursday, June 12th

So we settle in to rest in our home for the next few days, Guardia. This was the house where my parents and Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Jerry would stay for the week. It is adorable, a great kitchen with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room and a backyard area.

However, we just needed to clean up and relax. Oh, and put down the wedding dress.

I guess I haven't mentioned that we carried the wedding dress from Chicago to Florence. And when I say "we" I guess I really mean "Jason" since he did most of the carrying. We started referring to it as "Bernie". One large piece of dead weight we couldn't let out of our sight. When we left I had been worried about the state the dress might be in once we arrived. But today, I was too damn tired to care.

We relaxed for awhile, walked around the property a bit. By 3:30pm we were fading. And fast. We knew that falling asleep might screw up our sleep/wake cycles for the week. We had to think fast. What could we do? The prospect of going into Florence seemed to daunting in our state. But we couldn't stay where we were or we would be sound asleep.

So, we did what anyone else would have done, drove to Greve to drink wine!

The town of Greve is about a 45 minute drive from Torre a Cona, in the opposite direction from Florence. It is the heart of the Chianti Classico region. The last time we were there, Jason, Nancy and I had quite an experience and met some characters tasting wine in Chianti.

So, renewed by our sense of purpose, we took off into the countryside. First stop Vicchiomaggio. http://www.vicchiomaggio.it/eng There, we met a lovely woman named Nancy working in the tasting room. She spoke impeccable Italian, but was a British ex-pat who had been living in Italy for about 8 years.

Stop number two, the tasting room of Villa Calcinaia. Villa Calcinaia was to be the location of our "rehearsal" dinner on Monday. One Saturday afternoon at Sam's Wine, Jason had met Count Sebastiano Capponi, whose family, the Capponi Counts had owned the property since the 1500s and who was in charge of the wine making business. Jason had brought me home a bottle of their chianti but I was curious to taste the rest. So we stopped.

The woman running the tasting room spoke little English, although certainly more english than we spoke Italian. We seemed to get across to her that we were getting married and that we were having dinner with our group on Monday night on the estate. We tasted through all the wines and they were great. I loved their white, the Comitale. We also tried their 3 Chiantis (Piegaia, Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Reserva) and the Super Tuscan, Casarsa which is 100% Merlot. Outstanding. I didn't know how this dinner would all play out on Monday but I was getting excited. To be honest, at this point I didn't even know if anyone was going to show up, if this wedding planner actually existed, if we would really get married. But at this point too happy to care!

Our final stop was the one we had been talking about all year. We were going back to see David.

Torre a Cona

Thursday, June 12th

Why Italy? Why did we drag 32 guests with us half way around the world to get married, you may ask. Well, Torre a Cona is a big part of the reason.

While working at Forest View, Jason stumbled across a tiny little ad in some tennis magazine titled Tuscan Tennis. As you can imagine, he was intrigued. Turns out there is a company that helps tennis pros organize these tennis trips for groups, setting up accomodations and access to clubs in various locations across Europe.

So Jason rounded up 10 members from his club (Jason has a knack for getting people to follow him blindly to Europe!) and took off for Tuscany. I wasn't on this trip but heard the descriptions of the group's reactions upon first glimpsing Torre a Cona. "Amazing" "Beautiful" "We get to STAY here?"

I got to experience it for myself a year later.

The place is amazing, check out the http://www.villatorreacona.com/. An Agriturismo making their own wine and olive oil on acres and acres of land, country living at its best but only 20-25 minutes SE of Florence.

Since the first trip Jason had kept in contact with Livia, the woman who managed the property. She is amazing and made all of this possible for us. She could not have been nicer or more excited when we first emailed her with the idea of having the wedding at Torre a Cona. She recommended the wedding planner to us and reserved the entire property, so that it was just staying there for the week.

Hers was the first face we saw when we pulled up the drive! We were tired, dirty and needed a rest. In typical Italian fashion she didn't dream of bothering us with logistics, paperwork, payments or any of that when we first rolled in. She showed us the newly built tasting room and gave us the keys to the apartment we would be staying in until Saturday, when the guests began arriving!

Arriviamo in Italia!

Thursday, June 12th, Jason and I arrive in Milan at 6:30am! I'm always amazed at the lack of security when arriving in any Italian airport. I can't tell if it just seems lacksadaisical as a ruse of sorts, if there are really strategically placed cameras and S.W.A.T. teams ready to swoop in at the slightest sign of trouble, or if just about anyone can wander into the country whenever they feel like it.

Either way, we make it to the Hertz rental counter to get our sweet ride for the next two weeks, a Smart ForFour. I love this car! The Smart cars we see on the road in the states scare me. They are simply too small in comparison to the behemoth SUVs that litter the roads in even the most congested, urban neighborhoods. But the four dour, four seater Smart car, now that's a different story. I could get behind this car for sure.***

The Italian rental car situation is always also interesting. At home, when renting a car, I always feel like I may have accidentally just signed away the rights to my first born child and am always being coerced into additional coverage for every single potential calamity which could strike. The Italians on the other hand, kind of glance at your drivers license, have you sign a piece of paper and hand you a key and a space number and send you off with a vague point in the direction of where you will eventually find this space in the lot, which will hopefully hold the car you so desire.

But I digress. Off we go for our drive to Florence. We decided to fly in and out of Milan since we would be spending our honeymoon in the lakes region in the north of Italy, about 45 minutes from Milan. So the first leg of our journey involved a 4 hour car ride. Under normal circumstances no big deal, Jason and I usually love road trips, we're really good at them. However, after 14 hours of travelling with minimal sleep it becomes a big deal.


Luckily, there were an abundance of Autogrills on the way. And in the Autogrills there are two necessary ingredients to any long road trip in Italy. 1) a coffee counter with copious amount of delicious cappucino and espresso and 2) PAPRIKA PRINGLES. Only available in Europe, paprika flavored pringles are one of the greatest foods in the world. In a country whose cuisine is prized amongst all others, one of my favorite treats in Italy will always be the paprika pringles. I search in vain here in the US, hoping one day they will be distributed here. Hoping, and yet also fearing it. There is something special about knowing that I must travel to "The Continent" to indulge in this awesome treat. And seriously, I would probably weight 400 lbs if they were sold here. I literally can't stop eating them. I was considering posting a link to the Pringles website and imploring all of you to go and plead that they bring Paprika flavor to the US. But I think I am truly a better person without daily access.

So, with frequent coffee and Pringles stops we wound our way southward toward Florence, San Donato in Collina and Torre a Cona.


We're married!