Wednesday, December 18, 2013

CSA Fun!

This fall Rob and I signed up for a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) with Genesis Growers, an organic farmer in Illinois. We did it for the fall/winter starting in November and ending in mid December. We tried SO many new things! We got lots of sweet potatoes, beets, cabbage, greens, carrots, apples, pears, cranberries and parsnips. We also got TONS of different kinds of squash. We got butternut, delicata, carnival, acorn, queensland blue and some giant one that rotted before we could use it. We got some weird crap we'd never even heard of like kohlrabi and white carrots. We really loved the sweet potatoes, making fish tacos with cabbage and carrot slaw and trying new squash recipes. I baked pumpkin pies from real pumpkins and I made 3 batches of cranberry brownies. I cheated though - store bought crust and box brownies. Rob learned how to make kale and beet chips. Each week we had to go and pick up the box from a nearby restaurant. The farm would email me on Tuesdays to let me know what to expect in our box which really helped me plan out our menus. I mostly utilized Pinterest for recipe ideas and sometimes we just would have to wing it. The only downside - besides finding time to pick it up every Wednesday - was we wasted some of the food. Even though we really cut back on what we were buying at the grocery store, we just couldn't get through everything! We had to throw out cabbage, beets and a squash that went bad before we could use them. This really broke my heart, but I'm also really proud of us for getting through as much as we did. By doing the CSA we really had to adapt our normal diets and it definitely left lasting results. I'm now eating a mostly vegetarian diet and Rob discovered he actually loves some veggies he didn't think he would. I don't think I could commit to doing a CSA all year round, but it was great for 5 weeks. I hope we can do it again in the future!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Summer Nostalgia

On this snowy and cold day, I was thinking back to summer and all the fun I had! Top moments of Summer 2013 are: 8. Festivals and Farmers Markets! Burger Fest, Maifest, German American Fest and Lincoln Square and Logan Square Farmers Markets were so fun as usual! 7. The Nature Museum Food Truck Rally and Free Night with Rob with one of the prettiest sunsets I've seen in a long time.

6. Pitchfork & Lolla - Even though it was a billion degrees for Pitchfork this year - it was super fun! I had a great time seeing Rob in action, enjoying free Chipotle at after parties and seeing R.Kelly!!! I got to go to Lolla with Tara for one day and it was SO fun! We broke all sorts of rules and I loved seeing Grizzly Bear and Phoenix.

5. A few trips to Michigan including a crazy hot day in New Buffalo, a breezy day in St. Joe's and a visit to the Fernwood Botanic Garden in Niles.

4. A lovely visit to Chicago Botanic Garden on the most beautiful day in June. Looking back this is still one of my favorite days of the summer.

3. A perfect birthday celebration with friends and family including a trip to the Maxwell Street Market, LUSH Wine Bar with friends, family dinners and Brown County with Rob for the weekend!

2. Hunky Dory! Hunky Dory is always a highlight of every summer. It's so relaxing and so fun to spend time with the whole family. It was a bit cold this year but that just allowed me even more time for quality rest.

1. Germany & Italy! This was definitely the most memorable part of the summer. We had the best time to celebrate Ness and Tobi's wedding in the most beautiful setting in Germany and we also got to visit Merano, Italy for the most extravagant little getaway we've ever taken. It was an incredible trip!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Boston with Mom!

I got to visit Boston for a work event and my mom was able to join me which made it so much more fun! We arrived on a sunny, warm Monday and got to do tons of walking and soak up the city. We walked through the Public Garden and the Boston Commons after having a delicious lunch at Parish Cafe. Then we went to Faneuil Hall which had little shops and an armory or artillery museum to check out. Then we walked to Little Italy and got sweets from Mike's Pastry - so good! We also visited the Paul Revere Mall (what we'd call a square or park) and his house. Then we rested a bit before going to dinner at a nice Italian spot that had a great wine selection - perfect for us! The next day I was slow to get going and squeezed in a work out while Mom got coffee. Then we went to Neptune's Oyster for a lobster roll (awesome!) and then walked really far in the cold to the contemporary art museum which is beautiful! They had some really interesting pieces but we mostly enjoyed looking out to the water. Then we had to head back to get ready for my event that was at the Hampshire House. The event went well and afterwards we peeked into the original Cheers and then had dinner at an Irish Pub in our hotel. The next day we did an awesome free tour of the public library that reminds me of our Cultural Center (a former library). The guide was so informative and we saw so many beautiful things. It was such a treat! After that we got incredibly delicious salads for lunch and then walked around Newberry street and got manicures before heading to the airport. We squeezed in a lot in just 2 and 1/2 days! It was great to see a new city with Mom and I hope we can explore somewhere again soon!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Our 1st Anniversary!

I cannot believe it's already been a year since our wedding day! Rob and I decided to celebrate year one in the south just like our honeymoon. We flew into Greenville, SC this time and explored a bit of their downtown area. We loved Falls Park - pretty cool to have waterfalls in the middle of your downtown! We grabbed coffee and treats at some of the local shops and then we went to Bacon Bros for lunch. We enjoyed some cheddar biscuits, boiled peanuts and split a waffle with pulled pork. We loved this place because everything was locally sourced and organic. It was super tasty but very filling! Then hit the road and headed for Cesar's Head State Park which was about an hour away. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for a hike at the beautiful state park. We basically had the trail to ourselves and we enjoyed hunting for fall leaves and listening for wild life - we only spotted a bunch of chipmunks and a raccoon and lots of birds. We saw the beautiful waterfalls from an overlook and then hiked back to our car. Then we drove to the Asheville, NC area to check into our B&B, the Honey Hill Inn in Candler. It was so perfect! I'm so glad we found this place and got to stay there. We just loved it! We rushed and got ready for dinner and we even had to push back our reservation at Cucina24 a bit. I went in to get our table while Rob looked for parking for about 40 minutes!!! Luckily they were so understanding and Rob is the most patient and calm man alive - I was losing it! It's worse than Chicago! The meal was certainly worth the wait. Probably the best meal I've had in months. We enjoyed local Greenman beers and started with the burrata app which was heavenly. Then we got a pork and veal potato gnocchi dish - AMAZING - and a pork belly dish. We wrapped up the meal with a complimentary dessert - olive oil cake with berries and ricotta. DIVINE! We couldn't get over how tasty the whole meal was! so perfect. Then we rushed off to a show at Isis Music Hall which was SO cool! Great venue! We saw the Stray Birds - bluegrassy folk. They were so talented and we just loved every minute of it. It was all around an incredible day! The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the B&B before walking around their beautiful property. Then we got ready to go white water rafting! But first we stopped by White Duck Taco - foodie hot spot in the River Arts District in Asheville. We got 3 tacos and tried each of them. They were giant and so good! Then we went to the rafting post - we had to wait awhile for an obnoxiously late couple but they had goats on their property to keep me entertained. Then we headed to the French Broad River and started our journey. It was the most gorgeous day I can remember! The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. Our guide Noah was great - very informative and nice. We went through a couple of minor rapids and then they let everyone jump off some rocks into a deep part of the river. I opted out but Rob ofcourse did it twice and was so happy! We also got to float down the river together which was super fun! It made me so happy to see Rob's smiling face the whole ride! We did about 5 rapids that were either 2's or 3's. We got stuck a few times but that was even fun. We just loved it! After that we went back to the b&b to change and I napped before we headed to Greenman brewery for a few beers before dinner. it was a really cool setting and we got to sit outside and take a load off. Then we headed to downtown Asheville for dinner. We had a lot more luck with parking this time and we were able to get to our reservation at Curate early. It's a tapas restaurant and we tried all sorts of stuff - we had patatas bravas, jamon trio, manchego on tomato bread, garlic shrimp and asparagus with lemon. We loved the ham and manchego dishes best. We did find it to be a bit pretentious - she told us one of the hams came from a "blackfooted hog that only feasts on chestnuts" or something hilarious. We could barely keep straight faces but it did taste incredible! They also gave us a complimentary dessert - a crazy chocolate sculpture! After dinner we went to this crazy haunted forest near our hotel. It was so fun! The lady at the front called ahead to tell them we were from Chicago so they could add that into the act. One of the guys touched my hair which really threw me off because they definitely don't do that here! I was really really scared from that point on! The proceeds went to charity and all the villans had adorable southern accents - it was too fun! The next day we ate another amazing breakfast at the B&B and then checked out before hopping on the Blue Ridge Parkway to go hiking at the Graveyard Fields. It was such a gorgeous drive! We saw so many great leaves at the high elevation and so many great views. We made it to the fields and started hiking. We quickly found the lower falls which were awesome! Then we tried to find the upper falls but failed but enjoyed the views and scenery anyway! Then we hit the road for the airport had tbell for lunch - classy :) and then waited for our flight because it was a short delay. We made it home after a long day and Rob gave me the most beautiful diamond earrings and really sweet card before we went to Bistro Champagne for a romantic dinner. He had roses sent to the table for me! I'm SO spoiled! And they greeted us with complimentary champagne. So nice! They had all this cute fall harvest decor and we just loved it there. We enjoyed the baguette and butter and split a bowl of french onion soup. I got steak frites and Rob got a croque madame - his fav. It was so nice! It was such a special anniversary and I truly love Rob more and more as each day passes. I'm the luckiest.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Munich & Merano Trip 2013

Rob and I journeyed to Munich this August for my best friend's wedding! It was such a great trip and we got to do so many fun things and end the trip with a beautiful celebration of Vanessa & Tobi's love! Here are some highlights from our trip:

Day 1

We got to spend lots of quality time with Ness, Tobi and her niece Izzy in Munich before anyone else arrived. We got to check out their apartment and then we went to the English Garden to relax and enjoy the sun. We also looked at the surfers that hang out on the river, got ice cream, toured around the city a bit, napped and then reconnected for sangria and tapas for dinner. We took a nice walk around the city center after dinner before going to bed early.

Day 2

Tobi picked me and Rob up to go to Dachau, a concentration camp just outside the city. It was huge and a bit overwhelming, but we all learned a lot. After that we picked up the girls and went to the Starnberger See for more relaxation and sun. It was so pretty there and I'm so glad we got a chance to see it! We went to a big biergarten for dinner and live music that night. We tried obatza (delic dip) with pretzels and radishes, schnitzel and roast chicken and ofcourse bier!

Day 3

Rob and I did a bit of sightseeing on our own this morning and went to the Viktualienmarkt for shopping. Then we shopped for souvenirs and a new shirt for me from Zara - my fav - and saw the glockenspiel work its magic around noon before meeting the crew for drinks at Hofbrau House. It was super crowded so we went to a Hacker Pschor brewery for food. We walked along the Isar (the river) and got cupcakes before heading back to their apartment for some crafting. It was so great to have 3 whole days with my best bud and gear up for her big day!

Day 4

Rob and I checked out of our Munich hotel, took the train to the airport, grabbed our rental car and then drove 5 hours to Merano in Italy. We thought the drive was going to take about 3 hours and 20 minutes but it just didn't work out that way! We drove all the way up a mountain and then back down to get to Merano. It was absolutely gorgeous but a tad stressful/frustrating. When we finally arrived we went to The Gardens of Trattmansdorff Castle - a huge botanic garden set in the mountains. We grabbed a bite to eat and then toured around in the hot sun. It was really beautiful there and we had a great time. Then we drove to our hotel, The Miramonti Boutique Hotel, that was up in the mountains. We have NEVER EVER stayed anywhere so luxurious/fancy in our lives. It was such a treat! They upgraded our room and it was gorgeous overlooking the mountains and town of Merano. We had dinner in their "stube" that night - incredible pasta for me and goulash for rob.

Day 5

We woke up and enjoyed a decadent breakfast at the hotel before driving into the city to the Thermal Baths. We had NO idea what to expect but when we arrived we discovered it was basically a pool facility that had heated pools and that there were pools with different purposes (i.e. helping with circulation, helping with vericose veins). It was an absolutely gorgeous day and we loved our time there. Definitely a highlight of the trip. After that we just walked around the city soaking in the sites. We even dipped our feet in the rapid river in the center of the city - it was freezing but so awesome! We got gelato - banana and nutella for me and vanilla and nutella for Rob. It was so nice! Then we went back to the hotel and did a little hike around the hills there and then enjoyed the pool and tried to do it up in the sauna but it was a bit out of my comfort zone (close quarters with naked strangers). Then we went to the fancy restaurant for dinner that evening and enjoyed some incredible food and views of the mountains. We shared an awesome caprese platter and Rob had a deer burger and I had a ravioline with mushrooms and truffles. It was a lovely last night.

Day 6

After another amazing breakfast we made the drive from Merano to Oberdarching for the wedding! It took over 4 hours again :( so we arrived a bit late. The wedding venue is a gorgeous mansion overlooking the mountains and there are cows! We got to work - Rob helping with bar set up and me helping with pom pom assembling. We helped with decorating and other set up needs and then went to our apartment to get ready for the night before dinner at the hotel. It was so nice to be reunited with Ness and Tobi and finally connect with Darcy, Frank, Ry and Megan! We had such a great time at the dinner - Rob had Ox and I had fish. It was all delic!

Day 7

Wedding Day finally arrived! We woke up bright and early to a gorgeous day and met Ness and Tobi at the venue for a beautiful breakfast outside. Then Ness got ready in her gorgeous courthouse dress and we went to the courthouse in town for their ceremony there. Then we went back to the house for an awesome lunch and then got ready together for the church ceremony. Rob and the boys got to visit another lake and have lunch together while relaxing before heading back to meet us for the ceremony. Ness looked absolutely gorgeous in her gown and Tobi very dapper in his suit. The church was gorgeous and it was a beautiful ceremony. Then we went back to the venue to partttty!!! We had a great time at the cocktail hour and worked up an appetite for dinner. Some super sweet toasts were made (tobi's made me sob) and then we got to enjoy an awesome Argentinian buffet with tons of choices and cupcakes and treats for dessert. Then we danced and danced, enjoyed outside and danced some more. It was such a fun, special celebration!

Day 8

The next day we went to a biergarten in town by our apartment and they were having a celebration so they had cheap food and beer and live music! It was just what we needed. Then we went back to the venue to help with finishing touches of cleaning up and did some fun photos. Then we drove back to Munich and relaxed at Nessa's apartment for awhile watching funny videos before walking through the English Garden, grabbing a bier and more obatza and pretzels and then going out for pizza. Then we all crashed at Ness and Tobi's before we had to leave for the airport in the wee hours of the morning. It was SUCH an amazing trip - total whirlwind filled with great sights, good food and lots of love.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


I turned 29 on July 2nd and even though I'm a bit sad to be nearly 30 - life has been great and it was an awesome birthday! I started celebrating the Sunday before with a big group of friends coming to the Maxwell Street Market for delicious quesadillas and tacos and sunshine. It was so nice to spend the afternoon with so many buds! That night we got to go to Cody's bluegrass show and have dinner with the Jensens. They got me a air popper and popcorn accessories and a book to read on vaca! I also received a book and some pretty paper from the Liebls! On Monday everyone sang happy birthday to me at bingo and Joe and Lee got me birthday cards. On my actual birthday, a bunch of my girlfriends helped me celebrate at LUSH Wine & Spirits. We all got bottles of wine and ate some awesome food and caught up. It was such an easy, low stress celebration. It meant a lot to me! My DePaul girls all donated somewhere on my behalf - Shalva picked Cardz for Kidz - brilliant! Tara picked Breakthrough Urban Ministries - my favorite place to volunteer! Cait adopted a freaking polar bear for me! And Ry and Mar donated to DePaul on my behalf. I have the most generous and awesome girlfriends! I also received some lovely gifts from the other ladies - Meg got me a paper cutter and some other crafting goodies - so awesome! And Darc got me a super cute Betsy Johnson wristlet. Cait brought delicious cupcakes, Mary brought an awesome balloon, Ry brought pretty flowers and Tara got me a gorgeous succulent. I got sweet cards from Leah and Mary plus a pretty mug from Mar. They are THE BEST! I'm totally the luckiest! I celebrated with my family on the 4th of July. It was such a nice day! My bro got a pinata and he also got me 2 different types of Jenga! My parents got me this grownup coloring book that I'm obsessed with - it's all paisley designs and it really relaxes me at the end of the day. They also got me a veggie noodle maker that we've been using non stop. I also got a banana republic gift card from them, a Michaels one and nice plant from my aunt anne, winning lotto tix from my cousin Carrie and tea towels and accessories from my cousin Kate. Honestly - I was so spoiled! The next day Rob and I went on our amazing trip to Brown County! Such a generous gift from my babe. I hope the rest of the year is as fabulous as my birthday celebration was!

Summer Travel

This summer is filled with travel for me and Rob! For my birthday, Rob took me to Brown County in Indiana for a little getaway. We went over 4th of July weekend and had the best time! My parents honeymooned there so I've always wanted to go and check it out. We stayed at the beautiful and perfect Robinwood Inn. We stayed in a cottage right next to adorable mini horses, Stormy and Rusty, who I hand-fed everyday. Each morning we enjoyed a home cook breakfast and recommendations from the owners on what to do and see. We absolutely loved staying there! We walked around downtown, watched lots of movies, visited an apple orchard and petting zoo, visited the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Hall of Fame Museum, had some delicious meals and spent a lot of quality time at the giant and beautiful state park. We hiked several miles and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We visited their fabulously retro nature center. The signage and displays clearly haven't been updated since the 70s and it was great. Lots of cool stuff in there including lots of snakes! We loved it and we can't wait to go back!

This Saturday we'll head to Hunky Dory for our annual week long getaway with the Jensen family. I am SO looking forward to it! The Liebls are coming so we can spend lots of quality time with Amy, Tom and the little ones. I'm really looking forward to clearing my head, eating tons of good food and ice cream and soaking in the beauty of Lake Clare. And ofcourse getting some New Glarus!

Shortly after that we'll depart for our big trip to Europe for Vanessa & Tobi's wedding! We'll fly into Munich and have the chance to spend a few days with them before anyone else arrives. We're staying in a hotel in the city center and it'll be great for Rob to explore since it's his first time there. I haven't been back since 2008! We'll go to Merano in Italy for 2 days as well. We're staying in a swanky boutique hotel in the mountains! Such a treat! Then we'll reconnect with Ness & Tobi in the Bavarian countryside for their wonderful wedding! I cannot wait to celebrate them and spend so much time with together! Rob and I haven't been to Europe together since 2010 so it'll be a great treat and adventure for us!

THEN to wrap up the summer we'll be flying to San Francisco to spend Labor Day with the Liebls! We're so glad we could squeeze in a trip there despite my lack of vacation days. It'll be a great way to kick start September and we're so glad we can spend more quality time with Amy, Tom and the kids!

After that we're hoping to take a first anniversary trip to North Carolina to Asheville. We did some research and discovered how beautiful it is there in the fall and how many cool things there are to do there! We'll see if we can make that one happen after all of these other trips. After all of this travel we'll need to have some quality time with our own wonderful city.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Adventures in Service

I've been able to really dive into service lately and try out several new opportunities and projects. I'm still doing bingo and hanging out with my boys Joe, Lee and John every Monday. Joe has gotten a bit crabbier and fiesty about the callers inability to "shake 'em up." Lee's health hasn't been too great and he is less alert and sharp but still jolly and sweet. John continues to have his very cute delayed response when he gets a bingo - he's the luckiest one at our table though and wins all the time. I still love my Monday bingo nights and cherish the time I get with the boys. I've been doing Best Buddies since March. I've been partnered up with Connie who is a 40 something woman that has Down Syndrome. She is very silly and has a great sense of humor. She's likes to say some inappropriate stuff to push some boundaries - most recently asking if my mom wore a bra. How can you not smile when someone asks you something like that?? She's very curious about Rob and our marriage. She asks me nearly each week if I've had kids yet. I always have a smile on when I'm with her. We've had a great time doing some different activities. She particularly enjoys going to Dairy Queen for Blizzards and she's very good at arts and crafts. We chat each week on the phone and we spend time together twice a month. I look forward to taking her on many adventures this summer and fall. Last month I helped at the New Life for Old Bags project for Vincentian Service Day and was really impressed with the community that has been built around this effort to make mats for the homeless out of old bags. I've also been able to try some new Chicago Cares projects over the last few months. Rob and I prepared a meal at Breakthrough Urban Ministries' women's shelter. He was the burger master and I sliced veggies. I also prepared a meal at Deborah's Place in Old Town and last night I helped at the Sunlight of the Spirit's food pantry in East Garfield Park. That was probably my favorite so far. It reminded me of the pantries I helped at in Cincinnati on my service trip. I'm excited to go back again and start to form a relationship with the staff and the clients they serve. Next I'll be serving a meal at Cornerstone Community Outreach with DePaul alumni in a few weeks. So far I've been reminded that I'm lousy in the kitchen, but reminded that you can still get an A for effort. I've been reminded that a smile and eye contact goes a long way. Mostly importantly I've been reminded that service is good for the soul. Whatever project I'm doing I always feel more fulfilled, good and grateful afterwards. I'm reminded how lucky I am to lead the life that I do. I'm looking forward to trying new projects and continuing to learn new things!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Most memorable concerts

Last night Rob and I saw The Rolling Stones! THE STONES!!!!!!!!! They are THE band I've been dying to see for years and I finally got to see them live in concert and it was AMAZING! We had SO much fun and they put on an incredible show. So excited that I get to cross that off my bucket list. The show got me thinking about other epic shows that I've been to and I started to make a list. The most memorable concerts for me have been:

1. Stones for sure

2. Daft Punk at Lolla

3. Madonna at the United Center

4. Snoop Dogg

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lolla

6. Phoenix at Park West

7. Weezer & No Doubt - first concert in 7th grade

8. Grizzly Bear at Metro

9. Steve Martin & Punch Brothers at Ravinia

10. Cake

I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but these are the ones that stand out. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Cool Kids are ones that almost made the top 10. I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to go to these great shows!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thursday Happy Thoughts

It's my favorite type of weather - 70s and sunny!

It's almost Friday!

2 babies were born within the last week and we even got to drive Lydia to the hospital after her water broke on the dance floor at Lovelyn & Mike's wedding. It was quite memorable and her baby Nina is perfect and we're excited to meet Megan & Drew's baby Oliver who arrived on Sunday. Jamie is due in less than a month! We have to wait until October for Stef & Jeff's little one. Babies everywhere!

I'm getting back into my health groove thanks to more free time to cook and workout.

I'm getting to volunteer a lot more thanks to more free time and opportunities at work. Excited to volunteer with Rob at Breakthrough Urban Ministries in a couple of weeks and see my buddy, Connie soon!

In 3 months we'll be in Germany to celebrate Nessa & Tobi's wedding!!!

We're going to my favorite place next weekend - Michigan!!

My favorite fest is coming up in 2 weeks - MAIFEST!!!!

We're booking a trip to San Francisco to visit the Liebls for Labor Day! Can't wait for some quality time with Amy, Tom, Luke & Sofie!

All around, things are good and there's a lot to be grateful for!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

If I had a day off...

Lately I have been working nonstop like most of my colleagues because it is such a busy time of year for us in Alumni Relations. I will range 1-4 events per week until June so there is not much down time on my calendar. With free time so sparse - I was thinking about what I would do if I had some. Here's a top 10 list of how I'd spend a day off: 10. Working on our wedding video and album. Pretty low on my priority list these days... 9. Go to the Art Institute because my membership expires soon! 8. Cook a real meal. Lots of "event food" dinners these days - cheese & crackers, bruschetta...doesn't cut it! 7. Do something spontaneous - even just an impromptu drink with a friend that can be impromptu with me 6. Drive to Michigan for the day to enjoy my favorite things in my favorite weather 5. Normal life things like get a hair cut, go grocery shopping, get a mani/pedi, clean our apartment. Sad but there is absolutely no time for any of this! 4. Volunteer more. I haven't been able to give back nearly as much as I'd like due to my busy schedule 3. Go to the zoo because our membership expires soon and it's my favorite place. 2. Go on a date with my man! 1. NOTHING AT ALL. Lounge and nap and veg. All seems pretty reasonable - hopefully I can actually do some of it someday soon!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Break Service Trip 2013

I had the privilege of going on another service trip this year with DePaul students over Spring Break. This year I was asked to take a group of girls to Cincinnati. I was very excited for this because it was a new trip and because it was such a short drive! I got to meet with our group a few times before the trip and I was really impressed with all the girls, especially my leader, Tina. We stayed with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's volunteers in their house and they took very good care of us! The trip addressed many issues, but mostly focused on poverty and homelessness. There are too many highlights to count but a few of the most meaningful moments are below:

Food stamp challenge - we were challenged with creating a healthy and tasty meal for a family of 4 on $6 which is the standard amount per meal for those on food stamps. This was eye opening and challenging. We went to the closest grocery store to the house we were staying at and found it to be really small and structured in a strange way. All the produce was along the back wall and there wasn't much to choose from. All of the processed/junk food was in the front. We walked back the 2 or so miles to the house to experience what people living in the area without a car have to do to get their groceries. We got a tour/explanation of the West End neighborhood on the way back. Even though it was snowy and cold, we all really enjoyed this eye opening experience.

Selling Street Vibes - We had the opportunity to shadow a former Street Vibes newspaper salesman and try to sell our own. We learned that it's done through the Homeless Coalition and homeless people that get jobs selling the paper have to buy the paper for 50cents and then sell them for $1.50 and earn $1 off each sale. Many of us really struggled selling the papers and realized how hard they have to work to make so little. We all came out of the trip realizing we need to be more open and friendly to the Street Wise sellers in Chicago.

Jail Tour - near the end of the week we went on a tour of the county jail. Quite the experience! After being told all week that a smile and eye contact goes a long way with people we were told to not look or talk to any of the inmates. The best way to describe the experience is to say that I felt like we were zoo animals and so were the inmates - on exhibit. We got shouted and laughed at and the whole experience was incredibly uncomfortable. We learned a lot about the inner workings, politics and hierarchy at the jail.

Simulations - SVdP put together 2 simulations for us. First, they did a poverty simulation. We each got a packet with our "situation" and character, some fake money and what we needed to accomplish. For example, pay rent, get groceries, get medicine, etc. They set up all the different social services around the building and you had to figure out how to utilize them and take care of your list. We were all running around trying so hard and none of us completed our tasks. I was $2 short. We all realized how much work it is trying to make ends meet and how limited organizations' resources are. The other simulation was a rent/utilities simulation. SVdP can assist with 8 (i think) rent assistance requests and 8 utilities requests. People fill out a form explaining why they aren't able to pay, how much they can pay, if they'll be evicted or have their heat shut off, etc. We had to review applications and decide who got the help. It was torture. It's so hard to decide who gets help and who doesn't. Who's too poor to even help or who's not poor enough. It's a crazy, crazy mentality and really hard to wrap your head around.

Resurrection Food Pantry - One of the most powerful experiences was at the Resurrection Food Pantry. This place has so much spirit and love! The volunteers are incredible and their love really rubs off on the people that come there. I had the opportunity to assist several clients select their food items from this choice pantry. I really enjoyed my interactions with everyone but a few stood out. The first woman I helped started crying and said how much their neighborhood needs this pantry and how grateful she was. I couldn't help but tear up too and once I started the rest of the day was filled with tears often! One man, Clarence had a limp and a cane and he told me that it was his first time coming so he needed some extra help. He informed me that he had started dialysis that day but he was grateful to learn he wouldn't have to do it permanently. So many of the people we met had such positive attitudes. It really puts things in perspective! I took him through the pantry and I would say you can have 4 cans from this area and he'd think it was 4 per shelf instead of 4 total - it was really tough to experience this new reality with him. Overall it was a meaningful experience for me even though it was really challenging at times.

Respite Care - This experience probably had the biggest impact on me and I get choked up every time I think or talk about it and I'm still not entirely sure why. We went here after the food pantry and I was already quite emotional! Respite Care is in this big old mansion and it's run by a doctor that quit his practice to assist with the long term care of homeless individuals. Patients live there during recovery and they assist with finding housing once they're released. It's pretty incredible. We prepared a meal for the residents and ate with them. I ate with Troy and he told me about his life and challenges. He chatted and chatted and I was really enjoying getting to know him. After about 25 minutes he told me that this was the longest and nicest conversation he's had in a long time and that he didn't have any friends or family anymore. Not only did this break my heart but it also touched me and reminded me to be more open and friendly to others. I basically cried the entire rest of the day and still think of Troy a lot.

There is so much more that we did and experienced during the week including hearing a talk from a former homeless woman, sharing a meal with people at a soup kitchen, going to a lot of mass for Holy Week, praying the steps at Mt. Adams for Good Friday, visiting the Cinci Art Museum, hearing from former inmates and so much more. I am so grateful to SVdP and the girls I got to experience this with. It was a total roller coaster and really powerful for me. There are so many things I learned and now view differently. Now that I'm home, I'm trying to be more friendly to homeless people and Street Wise sellers-and giving the change or food I do have on hand to homeless people and buying the newspaper when I can. Rob and I are going to donate items to different shelters and organizations each month - so far I dropped off a bag of tooth paste and tooth brushes to the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. I still want to volunteer at more organizations that support homeless and poverty initiatives but I don't have much time these days - hopefully someday!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ireland 2013: Part 3

Mom and I gladly disposed of the rental car in Dublin and got our free shuttle ride back to the airport and then waited and met up with my cousin Kate and bff Vanessa. Ness flew in from Munich and Kate from London. We finally all connected after a bit of confusion and we took a cab to our cool hotel nearby Grafton Street and Trinity College. It was very swank and a big change from our b&b's. Then we went for a walk on Grafton street and found a very lively pub to get some lunch. We stayed there for a long time before going back to Grafton and poking around some shops. We found a nice quiet bar to spend the rest of the night. When we got back to the hotel, Ness and I grabbed some wine in the hotel bar to catch up some more. The next day they were both leaving that afternoon. We went to Bewley's Cafe for breakfast and really enjoyed our croissants and hot beverages. Then we were able to go to St. Stephen's Green. Even though the weather was unpleasant we really enjoyed strolling through. We saw an intense swan chase too! Then we stopped for more coffee to warm up and then poked into the National Gallery for a bit. Then we grabbed lunch by the hotel. I really enjoyed my food but the service was terrible. I had to yell at them to get a move on. Then we had to say our goodbyes to Ness and Kate. They shared a cab to the airport. We were sad to see them go but so grateful we could all spend time together. I don't fully remember how we spent the rest of the day but I think we went to their archaeology museum which was really, really cool. I had very low expectations and it blew my mind. Great for a rainy day! Not only was the building beautiful, the exhibits were so cool. We both were really impressed with the bog people exhibits which showed pretty intact remains of people found in bogs. Gross, but cool! Then I think we hit up some shops before returning to the hotel. Then we just grabbed dinner there that night and I think we watched really funny Lifetime like movies the rest of the night. The next day was our last full day in Dublin so we had big plans. We went back to their National Gallery and really enjoyed the galleries and also tore it up in their gift shop. We also went to Trinity College's art gallery which was very unique. We went into the Trinity bookstore and walked on their quad too. We bought more Butler's chocolate and then we went back to Bewley's for lunch. They were supposed to have a mini play but no one knew what we were talking about so we just enjoyed lunch. Then we went back to the hotel to dispose all our purchases and relax for a bit. Then we walked to the castle and did a tour which was great! We really loved our guide and enjoyed the tour a lot. He went over his time so we missed the opportunity to get into one of the cathedrals we wanted but we did get to go to St. Patrick's which was a great experience! It was a bit of a hike but definitely worth it. We really enjoyed seeing it and we got to catch part of the choir performing! We snuck out before they officially started and grabbed dinner at a place called the Queen of Tarts. boy was it delicious! Such a great way to end the trip. The next day we went back to Bewleys for a quick breakfast and then we took a shuttle to the airport. Overall it was quite an adventure and a wonderful time! I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Ireland with my mom!

Ireland 2012: Part 2

Mom and I decided on Adare on a whim and we're so glad we did! We drove into the quaint village and immediately found parking easily. We stopped by the visitor center for a map of the town and we first went to the Trinitarian Priory which was a beautiful church. Across the street were adorable thatched cottages. We tried to follow their map to see some other sites but we got a bit confused so we walked to their visitors center and shopped like crazy! Who knew that their little visitor center would have such good items?! Mom found a great scarf for my aunt, a scarf for herself, a keychain for my cousin Carrie and hat for dad. I found Irish wool socks and I splurged on a gorgeous wool blanket. We also found some Fitzpatrick items like postcards and stickers. Then we cruised through their beautiful park and took a walk to try to see the castle but we stumbled upon a creepy abandoned monastery instead! It was still one of my favorite stops the whole trip! Then we drove on to Limerick. We visited their art museum which had an incredible Chinese photography exhibit from the late 1800s. I really loved it! We admired King John's Castle from afar and then we went to St. Mary's Cathedral. We saw a protest along the way! We found a nice gourmet sandwich shop on the way and got some food to go. Then we journeyed to Lough Gur to try to find our B&B. This was another one without an address. But luckily because we got there before dark, we were able to ask a woman where to go and she pointed us in the right direction and we arrived safely and easily. This was by far the best B&B of the whole trip! It's called the Desmond Lodge and it overlooks the stunningly beautiful Lough Gur. Bridget was the most delightful host and she gave us each our own rooms because she didn't have any other tenants. The whole house was filled with candles and was just so nice and charming. She sat and chatted with us for awhile but we also got some time to relax by the fire, catch up on wifi and read. Mom and I ate our awesome sandwiches for dinner and then turned in early. I was thrilled because she had cable and I got to watch Homeland and email Rob while watching it! The next morning Bridget made us a wonderful breakfast with local sausages and I probably also had porridge. Then we talked and talked and talked with her about who knows what! She was too cute and we loved our time visiting with her and she totally loved mom. After we said our goodbyes we checked out the New Church ruins that was built in the 15th century. I got to pet a cute pony on the way to an old tomb close by which made me happy! Then we went to Lough Gur and took a nice long walk around the perimeter and took in the beautiful site. Then we drove to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park which is by far the biggest disappointment of the whole trip. It is like a theme park but a ton of stuff was closed because they were decorating for Christmas which made me so mad! But then we found a bunch of animals and I was happy again. Most importantly we found a mini donkey and mini horse. How can that not make everyone's day better!?? We also saw Irish wolf hounds, red deer, a giant rooster and sheep. We went to the Castle which was done very differently than all the others we'd seen because they decorated it how it would have been done at the time. It was cool to see! Then we drove to Nenagh which is where my mom was told her family is from. We arrived at the Willowbrook Inn which was really easy to find and really nice inside. The owners recommended a spot for dinner that was also pretty easy to find. We both got burgers and enjoyed a long leisurely dinner next to the fireplace. The next day we checked out their Heritage Center to try to find more information and they told us that mom's family were "mountain people" and were probably from Killoscully. We enjoyed checking out their exhibits and then walking to see St. Mary's and their Castle even though the castle was under construction. It's a really cute city center. Then we drove to Galway which was one of our favorite parts of the whole trip! We checked into another great b&b, The Marless House in Salthill just outside of the city. The owner gave us great directions and a map to get to the city center. We parked the car and did lots of sightseeing. First we saw the Spanish Arch - we actually had an encounter with a flasher!!! who ended up in my photo with his pants down. We had the giggles after that for a long time! After we got a PG photo we went to their museum which was fantastic! It was free and had wonderful exhibits. Then we grabbed some treats at a little spot across from the museum and we bought some jams and porridge to bring home. Then we walked to their big park and found a Christmas Market! We just poked around a bit there and then did some shopping on Quay Street. We found a few cute shops and I bought some cards and then we went to the famous and official Claddagh Ring shop, Thomas Dillons and I bought a beautiful claddagh necklace. Then we went to McDonough's, the famous fish and chips stop for dinner. Mom had the fish and chips and I had super delicious salmon. Then we went to a bar and caught really fantastic live music! We were both so happy! The next day we made the journey through the fog to the Cliffs of Moher. We passed the Dunguaire Castle and stopped to take some photos and also at a few other vistas along the way. There was also a cow traffic jam :) We finally made it and I was so mad because the cliffs were completely fogged over! We spent some time in their fabulous exhibit in the welcome center and when we came out, the fog had cleared! It was so gorgeous and it was totally worth the long drive! We captured lots of photos and memories before having a late lunch in their cafe. Then we drove back to Galway and made a stop at the Galway Aquarium. There was practically no one there so we got to get a special tour from one of the staff members. It was a really cool aquarium and very different from ours so I'm glad we could go! Then we drove to the city center and we were looking for a cafe to kill some time and plan our next stop in Dublin but we had a really hard time finding one! Finally we found a nice one above a market - so weird! I got hot chocolate and a giant dessert - always good to have dessert before dinner. All that sugar upset my stomach so I couldn't eat dinner. Mom tried to order a sandwich in the deli in the store and they were closed so then we were out looking for another option. We ended up back at McDonough's and mom got some fried chicken to go. She said it really hit the spot! The next day we walked along the Galway bay. It was so pretty! We saw people swimming though and it was so cold! We were sad to say goodbye to Galway, but it was time to head to Dublin to return the car (YAY!) and meet up with my bff, Vanessa and cousin, Kate! More on Dublin later!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ireland 2012: Part 1

My mom and I journeyed to Ireland the day after Thanksgiving for a tour around the country. We landed in Dublin bleary eyed and got our rental car. I was the lucky driver for the trip - it is definitely a strange sensation being on the wrong side of the car and road. I definitely drove on the wrong side a few times in the country that day but I got used to it pretty quickly. We went to Enniskerry first which was about a 30 minute drive away. There isn't much there but we found a good cafe that was filled with locals. We grabbed hot drinks and a croissants before heading to Powerscourt which has a big house filled with shops and lots of gardens. We walked around the gardens for awhile and we were really impressed. There was a beautiful view of the mountains too. We grabbed lunch in their cafe before going to the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall which is very pretty. Then we checked into our B&B in Glendalough. I fell asleep for about 3 hours! I really needed it. Then we decided to walk to a nice restaurant down the street - in the dark with flashlights! Quite the adventure! We both had Irish Stew which warmed us up on the cold night before walking back to our B&B to get to bed early. The next day we enjoyed our first B&B Breakfast before going to the monastic city ruins that Glendalough is famous for. It's at the foot of the mountains and along a river. I was shocked at how beautiful it was! I had very low expectations and it really blew my mind. It was one of my favorite stops. Such a great combo of nature and history. From there we drove to Kilkenny. It was a rainy dreary day but we found good indoor activities. First I think we got lunch and then we went to St. Canice's Cathedral before getting a tour of the castle. We loved our tour guide and we enjoyed the tour. It was the first of many castles we saw on our trip. After the tour we did lots of shopping in their craft store and we found tons of great items. Then the biggest driving challenge of the entire trip - driving in the country to a B&B with no real address. Boy, was that tough and stressful. We were very tense as it was raining and dark and only our 2nd day in the car. Somehow we miraculously found it eventually and were able to check in. Only to find that the heat didn't work in our rooms. They fixed it for a moment but then it was quickly shut off after awhile so poor mom froze that night. We used their wifi before deciding to grab a bite in a nearby town. Our B&B owner's directions sounded quite easy but they were not! We were driving aimlessly foreverrrrr! Somehow we found the recommended restaurant eventually and enjoyed a nice light dinner. The drive back was even worse! We really had a hell of a time but we got home! Then mom suffered through a freezing night while I was upstairs in the loft with a space heater. Not ideal but still one of our favorite places because the owners were SO cool and the b&b itself and their home were incredible. They had farm animals and the place sat above a river. They made us great food in the morning and told us we had to go to Kells Priory nearby. We were able to find that pretty easily and loved what we found - an entire field of sheep in front of the stunning priory. Classic Ireland! We soaked in the view and took a walk among the sheep before heading to Blarney Castle. I was surprised at how cool Blarney was! I figured it would be this silly tourist trap but the castle really is just ruins and there's lots of other fun things to see. It was an incredibly windy day and it made us nervous inside the open air castle as we walked up the crazy stairs. We finally got to the top and had to kiss the stone! Afterwards we walked around their different gardens - my favorite was the poison garden! SO cool! We spent several hours there and then drove to Cork. Our B&B there was great! So easy to find and they had easy parking out front. They gave us a great map and we were able to walk into town. We found a few different things to check out including the market where we grabbed caffeine and treats and then we went to a really cool art museum that had some incredible modern pieces. After that we went to a church and mom lit candles for her Irish fam. We also found our first Butler's where we bought some yummie chocolates. Then we went to the pub that our B&B owner suggested. It was a bit touristy but we were happy. We both had our first fish & chips of the trip and my first Smithwicks. The next day we enjoyed yet another delicious breakfast before making our way to Adare which was one of our favorite little stops! More on that later!