Sunday, May 30, 2010

It Was My Birthday...and I'll Smile If I Want To

Yesterday was my birthday…and oh, what a birthday it was!

It started off with many, many birthday wishes on Facebook (I’m telling you, Facebook has made birthdays even more fun). There was even an ADORABLE video posted by my sister, of my little niecey Nora Lu singing "Happy Birthday" to me.

A little while later, I was treated to the classic “Birthday Dirge” song, sung by my sister-in-law Anna on our answering machine. I LOVE the birthday dirge song. It goes like this:

Happy Birthday,
Happy Birthday,
Pain and suffering everywhere,
Happy Birthday.

It makes me laugh—and so every year, I feel like my birthday is not really here until I hear that song. Too funny!

Oh, also, my friend Diane sent me a “Biker Kitty” paper doll postcard. Yes, it is what it sounds like. It’s a cut-out of a cat with biker clothes that you can put on it. I don’t know where she got it from, but I found it sooo funny.

I also received some great gifts from siblings, from my Mom & Dad, and from Iwanski…but that wasn’t really what I loved so much about the day.

First of all, it was sunny and like 80 some degrees yesterday…perfect weather for Miss Healthypants!

Then, we stepped out the door and enjoyed a parade in my honor—okay, so it wasn’t really in my honor—it was Chicago’s Memorial Day parade—but still, it was pretty cool. Lots of marching bands playing patriotic music—so fun!

After spending some time at the parade, Iwanski and I went to my favorite Indian restaurant—India House. The lunch buffet at India House is the BEST—I love it! It’s also very overpriced—but hell, it was my birthday, and that’s where I wanted to go. Yum, yum, yum!

Then, Iwanski and I took a long walk—as we love to do—to our favorite place, the awesome but free Lincoln Park Zoo here in Chi-town. My favorite part of the zoo lately is the kangaroos—I love seeing them hop about in search of plants to nosh on.

After enjoying a lovely afternoon at the zoo, Iwanski and I decided to walk a bit along the lakefront. It was SUCH a beautiful day, and the beaches were crowded with locals and tourists in colorful swimsuits—it was quite a sight to see. We ended up walking all the way home, stopping along the way at the grocery store for hot dogs to grill for dinner (I had seen a guy eating a hot dog at the beach, and suddenly that’s all I wanted was a good Vienna Beef hot dog).

We arrived home, collapsed on the couch for a while, resting our tired, sore feet…and then Iwanski grilled up the hot dogs, and we enjoyed a yummy summery dinner. Along with the hot dogs, I enjoyed some potato chips and a fresh arugala salad (I recently tried arugala for the first time, and I LOVE it). Dessert was peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies. YUM!

After dinner, Iwanski and I played the Seinfeld Trivia Game that he bought me for my birthday—soooo fun! And I would challenge any of you who think you know a lot about Seinfeld, to try your luck against Iwanski and me—it turns out that we know A LOT about that t.v. show. (It’s a skill that we carefully cultivated while sitting on our asses on the couch—we earned all that knowledge!) Anyway, we played three rounds, and I won two of the three—which is how it should have been, since it was my birthday and all.

Then Iwanski and I settled back with a couple of cold beers and enjoyed some country music t.v. shows—including our favorite, the Marty Stuart Show. Dolly Parton was the special guest on the show and sounded as lovely as ever.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.

And as usual, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Explosive Evening

Have I mentioned that I love living in this city?

Last night, Iwanski and I were walking near Millennium Park, when we heard something that sounded like a big explosion.

“What the heck was that?” I said.

“It sounds like fireworks,” replied Iwanski. “I wonder if there are fireworks somewhere downtown tonight?”

We walked on, talking about our days, as the barrage of explosions (which sounded like bombshells) continued.

Suddenly, Iwanski stopped walking and turned to me.

“Isn’t it funny?—we’re so used to hearing strange sounds in the city, that we don’t even question them. There could be a terrorist attack and we wouldn’t even know it.”

“I know,” I laughed. “It’s crazy. But anyway, like I was saying…”

We walked along, talking about mundane things, as the explosions continued to get louder.

“It has to be fireworks,” said Iwanski. “I’ll bet they’re doing fireworks over the river tonight.”

“Yeah, let’s go check it out,” I replied.

We meandered over to the river and immediately saw the spectacular fireworks display that was going on right over the river, just a mere block from our apartment building. It was amazing-looking…and amazingly loud!

I covered my ears slightly and turned to Iwanski.

“Why is it so loud?” I yelled.

“It’s echoing off the buildings,” he replied, setting his camera into place on the concrete ledge above the riverwalk and starting to take some pictures. “And I think it’s part of the movie that they’re filming across the street.”

I looked across the street and saw a humongous light suspended from the top of a crane, pointed near where the fireworks were going off.

“Yeah, I think you might be right,” I said, leaning on the concrete ledge and watching the show.

For the next fifteen minutes, we were treated to a nonstop beautiful, spectacular, booming fireworks display. It was freakin’ awesome!

As we stood there, enjoying the show, people began to gather around us, snapping pictures and just enjoying the beautiful night and the amazing display. I also noticed people gathering on the other bridges up and down the river. There was just no way that a passerby could resist stopping and checking out the show. It was just so cool.

I also noticed the huge clouds of smoke floating up and between the nearby skyscrapers. To me, it looked like the smoke from a gigantic fire had enveloped the city. It was definitely an amazing sight.

Finally, the show ended, and immediately a huge applause and a chorus of “Whooooooo!”s rose up from the crowd of spectators. I joined in with my own “Whooooo!,” smiling from ear to ear.

It was just such a great impromptu city moment, and I am so glad that I got to be a part of it.

Photo credit: John Iwanski

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Bavarian Cream, Laughing in Church Kind-of Weekend

I’m really really really really tired right now…but it was a fun weekend, and it went by so fast!

And yes, there was Blue Moon beer and Episcopalians.

There was also red wine, two bottles of “real” maple syrup won at the Farmer’s Market, a delicious “salmon” pate sandwich made entirely of raw food (mostly nuts and vegetables), tasty Mexican food, and best of all, a delectable dessert of Bavarian Cream with Almond Praline and Custard Sauce, made lovingly by master chef Jonathan. Oh my gosh, I am so full!

Jonathan’s Bavarois aux Praline (Bavarian Cream with Almond Praline and Custard Sauce), his latest Julia Child creation, was sooo good, and the best part was that he totally surprised me by topping it with really cute lit birthday candles (shaped like stars) and walking into the room, singing “Happy Birthday” to me. (My birthday’s in a week, but we celebrated it a bit this weekend.) I thought that was so sweet and thoughtful of him! I was tickled pink.

My bestest girlfriend Diane also surprised me with a fun birthday gift which included, among other things, a Trader Joe’s gift card (one of my favorite stores) and cute little yoga-themed sticky notes. They’re adorable! And so fitting, since I’ve been a bit obsessed with yoga lately. (It’s the one exercise besides walking that I actually like doing.)

And of course, we all really enjoyed each other’s company and laughed a lot.

I even got the giggles at the Episcopalian church we attended (we attended the church in support of Jonathan, who sings in the choir) this morning. For those who don’t know, the Episcopalian church service is very very extremely similar to the Catholic mass, so it was pretty easy for my Catholic-raised self to follow along.

Of course, there was a female priest, so that was different (and kinda cool).

And there was one difference that I wasn’t completely prepared for, even though Jonathan had mentioned it to us earlier. In the Episcopalian church there’s a “communion rail” in the front of church—and the people process to the front of the church, kneel down in a line, and receive communion. The part that I wasn’t sure about was how to take communion in the Episcopal church.

Jonathan had told us ahead of time that some people ate the host, and then drank from the wine cup—as is common practice in a Catholic church. However, he’d also said that many other people, rather than drinking from the communal wine cup (you know, germs and all that), instead did the “chip and dip” method—where you dip the host in the wine and then eat it.

Well, this presented Diane and me with a quandary: Should we drink from the communal cup, or should we do the “chip and dip” method? After thinking about it for some time, we decided that we’d do the “chip and dip.”

So the time for communion came, and Diane whispered to me, “I don’t think I’m gonna do the chip and dip—I think I’ll just drink from the cup.”

I nodded, watching the people in front of me go up to the communion rail.

But then, a moment later, she turned to me and said, “Wait, I think I am gonna do the chip and dip…because otherwise they hold up the wine cup to your lips and make you drink it like a little kid.”

Well, for some reason this made me laugh a little…but I stifled my laughter, since it was my time to go up to the rail. I kneeled down, and Diane kneeled next to me. The priest gave us our hosts and we both held them for a minute. I stared at the host, just sitting there in my open palm, and made a split-second decision. I looked at Diane and went ahead and popped that sucker into my mouth. Taking the cue from me, she did the same. Then we drank from the wine cup and waited…and then stared at each other, like “when should we get up?” Suddenly I saw the priest coming toward us with yet another host, and I nudged Diane. “Get up!” I whispered loudly. We hightailed it back to our pew before the priest tried to give us second helpings.

Then again, if the host represents Jesus, would there be a problem having a second helping of Jesus? Wouldn’t that actually be something you’d want to have?

These thoughts were running through my head as we went back to the pew. Then, as we sat there waiting for communion to be over, I thought, “I just couldn’t do the chip and dip.”

And for some reason, this really hit me funny. I started laughing—although thankfully quietly enough that I don’t think most people heard me—and Diane whispered, “What’s so funny?”

I just sat there shaking with laughter, trying not to laugh out loud.

Isn’t that just what seems to happen when you’re in church or at some other solemn occasion? I just could not stop laughing…so I bit my cheeks and tried really really hard to concentrate on what the priest was saying. Luckily, finally, the laughter subsided. Thank God.

Thank God, indeed. Thank God for my wonderful friends and husband, who give me so many new, interesting, fun, and funny experiences.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

There Will Be Blue Moon Beer and Episcopalians…

This weekend, my bestest girlfriend Diane is coming down to spend some time here in good ole’ Chi-town.

We’re planning on doing some girly stuff like shopping, and some human stuff like eating and drinking…I have a feeling that we’ll be consuming several Blue Moon beers!—unless, of course, Jonathan decides to make his famous watermelon daiquiris (always a favorite).

Oh, and also, we’re going to an Episcopalian church. Jonathan sings with a bunch of Episcopalians in a church choir every Sunday, and this Sunday, we will be there to cheer him on. Hmm…I wonder if you can actually cheer, out loud, in an Episcopalian church? Maybe I should test it out and see how it goes over. Nah, then again, maybe not. We wouldn’t want Jonathan to be all embarrassed…or would we? (Mu ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…)

Who knows what the weekend will bring? Regardless of what happens, I’m sure we will have a fantastic time and laugh a lot. We always do.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Magical Place

The minute we thought that we had seen just about everything there was to see in Chicago, Iwanski and I discovered something new.

Twice now, we have visited my new favorite place in Chicago: The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, on the city’s north side. I love love love this place! It’s a large, beautiful forested area with many trees and tall grasses, and a variety of unique birds and other woodland animals.

When Iwanski and I first found out about the bird sanctuary a couple of weeks ago, we were astounded to find that it was so big, and so secluded-feeling. The numerous walking trails weave through fifteen acres of beautiful forest and prairie grasses—I’m quite sure you could get lost there (or at least I could, since I was seemingly born with no sense of direction), if it weren’t for the lake that comes into view every now and then. I’m telling you, I thank God for Lake Michigan. It has helped me find my way many times in this city. (And actually, the stretch of the Lake Michigan beach near the walking trails is a part of the bird sanctuary, as well.)

Anyway, my very favorite part of the bird sanctuary is an area called “The Magic Hedge,” a 150-yard stretch of shrubs and trees that is called “magic” because it attracts an amazingly high number of migratory birds. And believe me, we’ve seen the magic at work. Just in the two weeks we’ve been there, we’ve seen at least twelve different types of birds, as well as several other forest creatures.

Today, as we arrived at the Magic Hedge, we almost immediately saw some unique yellow birds, a black bird with yellow and orange/red on it (which I later found out was called a “red start”), a pair of frolicking chipmunks, and two fat rabbits. As we continued through the Magic Hedge, trying to be quiet so as not to scare off any birds, I whispered to Iwanski, “I feel like I’m in the movie Snow White.” Seriously, it just really seemed magical to me.

So without further adieu, I would like to share some pictures that Iwanski took within our past two visits to the sanctuary. I already can’t wait until we can get back to this magical place again!

Caspian Tern (winters in Central America and summers in Canada)

Wilson's Warbler (winters in Central America and summers in Canada and the Northwestern U.S.)

Grey Catbird (winters in Central America and the eastern U.S. coast, summers all over the U.S. except for the West Coast)

Downy Woodpecker (lives year-round all over the U.S. and Canada)

Magnolia Warbler (winters in Central America and summers in Canada)

Red Start* (winters in Central and South America, summers in the eastern half of the U.S., and in Canada)
*Note: Iwanski did not take this picture—but this is the bird we kept seeing today, that wouldn’t sit still for a picture. Photo is courtesy of

Cute-ass chipmunk (not the technical name…lives all over the U.S., all year round)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Going (Supper) Clubbin'

This weekend, Iwanski and I were watching “Discover Wisconsin,” a show about interesting tourist destinations in Wisconsin, that we Tivo every week. (We have traveled a lot in Wisconsin and love the natural beauty of the state, especially in Northern Wisconsin.)

Anyhoo, there’s a commercial that comes on during the show every week for Capital Supper Club beer, a beer made by the Capital Brewery in Middleton, Wisconsin. The commercial is set in a “supper club” in Wisconsin—and for those of you who don’t know, a “supper club” is basically just a restaurant that, according to Wikipedia, present itself “as having a high-class image, even if the price is affordable to all.” Also according to Wikipedia, supper clubs are mainly found in “the Upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.” Nope, there are no supper clubs in Illinois, at least as far as I know.

For a long time, Iwanski (who did not grow up a Cheesehead, as I did) thought that supper clubs were exclusive clubs, where you had to be a member to go there. I thought that was hee-larious, since I had gone to many supper clubs when I was a kid.

So anyway, this particular commercial for Capital Supper Club beer reminded me SO much of growing up in Wisconsin, and the tradition of going to a supper club or other restaurant on a Friday night. It was the Friday night fish fry! And my family would often pile in the car on a Friday night and drive to a fish fry at some local restaurant.

As a kid, I loved to eat fried perch (still do) and I really loved the salad bar (still do). But above all of those things, what I think I loved most of all was when we were sitting at the bar waiting for a table to open up, and I would get to drink a kiddie cocktail.

Remember those? It wasn’t until I was older that I found out that a kiddie cocktail was just 7-Up and maraschino cherry juice (or grenadine syrup). But I absolutely knew what one of the ingredients was—my favorite—lots of maraschino cherries. Yum! I love love loved kiddie cocktails.

Isn’t it amazing what little things it takes sometimes to make kids happy? I wish that nowadays, I could just be thrilled by drinking a kiddie cocktail. (Nowadays, an adult cocktail is a little more up my alley.)

And then, of course, after consuming mass quantities of maraschino cherries, it was time for the fried perch with french fries, and the iceberg lettuce from the salad bar, with lots of cheese and French dressing (that’s the way I liked it when I was a kid). Perhaps not the healthiest of meals, but then, I haven’t always been Miss Healthypants.

Tonight, Jonathan supplied Iwanski and I with a large portion of Coq au Vin, a rich, delicious French concoction that contains chicken, wine, Cognac, mushrooms, onions, and plenty of bacon and butter. (Yum!) It was sooo good, and Iwanski and I gobbled up the whole darn thing in one sitting.

I wonder what 7-year-old small-town self would think of my frou-frou French food, my love of Cabernet Sauvignon, and my 21st floor apartment in downtown Chicago.

I don’t think I could have ever imagined how my life would turn out. But I’m glad that I’ve spent some time in my life as a small-town girl in a Wisconsin supper club, sipping on kiddie cocktails.

By the way, the "Capital Supper Club" commercial is sooo cute--check it out!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

El Dia del Pulpo

Some days, I feel like the world is my lobster (lobster is so much better than oysters, don’t you think?), and I can do no wrong. I seem to do everything right, and everything goes swimmingly. (Lobster-swimming pun not intended.)

On other days, like today, I feel like the world is not so much my lobster as it is my squid. SQUID. Yes, I am having a SQUID day.

Anyway, today, in addition to several smaller transgressions relating to work and all that hullabaloo, I did something that Iwanski has warned me about probably about ten thousand times. I left the oven on for hours after I finished cooking a pizza. Thankfully, we have an electric stove—but still! Three hours later, when Iwanski cleared his throat and pointed at the little red light shining away on the oven, I was horrified.

I mean, what if we did have a gas stove? Ack…I don’t even want to think about it! But the thought that is almost equally as horrible in my mind is, “Oh dear God, now I will have to listen to Iwanski’s warnings even more often now!”

But I have to admit, it does make me realize that it’s a good thing that Iwanski is as annoyingly cautious as he is. Because clearly, I cannot be trusted not to burn the house down. (Damn it! I hate it when he’s right.)

It also makes me realize that sometimes I just need to SLOW DOWN, stop moving for one freakin’ second, and just BREATHE. My carelessness is often just a result of my hardly taking a break during the day. Clearly when I’m preoccupied with ten thousand things, I make mistakes.

And thus, tonight, I will begin again to try to do a daily meditation. Ten minutes. Ten minutes a day—that’s all it would take. Obviously I have ten minutes. I’ve been sitting here writing this inane drivel for the past ten minutes…

Hmm, perhaps my time would have been better spent meditating.