Three Real-Life Updates! 4/24/2014

Hi there.  It’s been a wonderful week in the real world, but I’ve been a little quieter than normal here on the internet.  Here’s three real-life updates for you!

  • I’m still having some tech troubles.  I bought a new laptop early last fall, and while it is quite good-looking, I’m finding Windows 8 to be incredibly frustrating when problem solving.  I’ve been running tons of diagnostics and we ended up buying a new wireless router, but I’m still not connecting at 100% and I have to re-enter my wireless network password every single time I turn on my computer and hope that I’ll connect.  It’s annoying, and I’m on the hunt for a solution.  (If you’ve experienced this error please comment here so I can benefit from your solution!)
  • I was really excited to watch Morning Joe’s coverage of the 100th Birthday of Wrigley Field yesterday — did you see it?  I went to my first cubs game earlier this month and even though I typically find baseball pretty boring, I had a wonderful time!  Wrigley Field was old-school in all the right ways.  [Sorry SS.  I know how much you love the Cardinals.]  Also, I’ve selected a new catch phrase for Chicago weather:  Ernie Banks’ weather assessment on a chilly, sunny morning:  “Let’s play two!”

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  • As the days get sunnier, I’m loving Chicago more and more.  We had a few warmer days last weekend (Easter Sunday was the most beautiful day I can remember!) and now that it’s cooler again, my fellow Chicagoans have been mumbling in the elevators about how chilly it is.  But I don’t even care!  A cold sunny day is my favorite kind of day.

I’m doing some work behind-the-scenes to hopefully build an even better space for you here, but that work is slow and time consuming so don’t worry if it takes a few more weeks before you start to notice.  I’m still here, and posting regular updates to the blog’s facebook page, so be sure to stay in touch!

DC Weekend Play-By-Play

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It’s weird, how they say you can’t go home again and yet — you can.  You just purchase a plane ticket and pack a bag and there you are.  This weekend we traveled back to Washington, D.C. (our home for the previous five years) and spent a few days in our favorite city, visiting with our favorite people and eating at our favorite places.  This isn’t a recipe for a perfect tourist weekend, but here’s a DC resident’s perfect weekend in our Nation’s Capitol.

FRIDAY NIGHT:  land in city and sleep in the guest room of your bestie’s house.

SATURDAY MORNING:  eat Bethesda Bagels.  Recommendation:  bacon, egg, and American cheese on an everything bagel.  Grab coffee at Quartermaine next door.  If you go with a friend one of you should order coffees while the other stands in line for bagels because, unless it’s snowing or raining the bagel line will be out the door.

SATURDAY ERRANDS:  close your old bank account.  Or, you know, whatever.

SATURDAY MORNING HANG-OUT: meet your best law school buddy for coffee at Politics and Prose Bookstore‘s Modern Times Coffeehouse, the place where you studied for all of those finals before they instituted completely unacceptable laptop policies that ruined everything forever.  Recommendation: London Fog.

SATURDAY LUNCH-ISH: brunch/lunch at Open City in Woodley Park.  We learned that the music makes babies dance.  The service can be a little slow so make sure to tell the waiter exactly what you want the first time.  Recommendation: Greek Pizza, BLT, iced mocha.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON HANG-OUT:  Smithsonian’s National Zoo.  Avoid boring pandas but be sure to see the Lions.  They are awesome.  Best part of America are the Smithsonian’s river otters.

SATURDAY DINNER: Coal Fire Pizza in Gaithersburg. Recommendation:  Dark and Stormy, Ring of Fire Pizza (Italian sausage, banana peppers, and spicy marinara).

SATURDAY POST-DINNER:  Celebrate your friend’s birthday back at her house with carrot cake and red wine.  They are a perfect pairing.

SUNDAY MORNING:  Grab a coffee and cheer for your husband and friends as they run a ten mile race around the National Mall.  Take in the monuments for a bit while it is sunny and relatively warm, but head toward brunch by 10:30.  It’s definitely time to eat.

SUNDAY BRUNCH:  Ted’s Bulletin on Barracks Row is a bit of a wait, but totally worth waiting for.  Recommendation: homemade poptarts (strawberry is the best), sausage biscuits and gravy.  If you’re lucky you’ll see the cadets marching around with their giant guns.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON: After a shower for the runners, head down to H Street to hang on the back patio of the German Biergarten.  Recommendation: the hefe-weizen that is “very carbonated,” pretzel buns with mustard.  The mustard is the best part.

SUNDAY EVENING: Return the rental car and grab your last dinner at The Silver Dinner, airport edition.

We landed in Chicago late Sunday night and it was technically early Monday morning before we were back in our Condo in the South Loop.  We both worked today and we are exhausted, but our wonderful weekend was worth every minute.

On Looking Professional without Sacrificing Productivity

Being successful at work is really important to me, and I’m at my best when I am completely focused.  If I’m in “the zone,” you might find that if you walk past my cubicle and say hello I’ll jump a bit, completely startled that anyone else was in the room.  (Thankfully we have security doors, so I don’t have to worry too much about someone sneaking up behind me!)  That’s just how I roll: I sit down, dig in, and get things done.

But here’s the thing:  if my sweater sleeves are itchy, if my pants are ill-fitting, if my bangs fall in my eyes or if my shoes are uncomfortable, I can’t do my best work. My mind will be distracted by how much I hate my outfit or how uncomfortable I am.  I’m not sure men have these problems.  But that’s not what this blog post is about. 

To do my best work, I need to be comfortable. A dress with a cardigan or blazer is ideal, so long as hosiery isn’t rolling down or bunching up. Slacks and a sweater or blouse can also be great, if the pants fit well and my cubby isn’t too hot or too cold. I really like to wear heels at my desk – partly because they feel fancy and partly because I don’t have to wear socks so my feet don’t get too hot.  I try to wear layers that can be stripped off without scandal in case I get too warm.  My ideal work set-up requires changing from flats to heels and a sweater to a blazer just like Mr. Rogers did.  (Dreams do come true, kids.)

If this all sounds a little crazy to you, that’s okay – my productivity makes me a fantastic employee, so if comfortable clothes and fancy shoes are what it takes for me to strategically plan broad organizational change or write and edit convincing and accurate reports on a deadline, I’m down for a little craziness.

This past week, however, a blog I read was talking about the difference between wearing clothes that make you feel good, and wearing clothes that make people think of you as the boss. As young female professionals, we want to do whatever it takes so that our management thinks of us when developing the organization’s succession plan, filling vacancies, etc. And what this blog post and the comments that followed boldly stated was that the best way to be empowered in your workplace is not to feel valued and loved and comfortable in whatever position you hold or clothes you wear. The most effective way to be empowered in your workplace is to have actual power in your workplace — a.k.a. to be the boss.

While I absolutely want to dress in a comfortable way that allows me to do my best work, I also want to look like someone who should be in charge. If someone new walked into the room and scanned the people sitting around the conference room table, I want that visitor to assume I’m already holding a management position.

Spring is coming (slowly but surely) and each day I’m edging closer to 30 and farther away from 25. It’s time for a[nother] closet overhaul.  It seems like I need one of these every now and then!  I’m not sure if fashion posts are your thing, but I’ll be checking in for the next few weeks on my 2014 closet revamp.

To kick us off, today I’m linking you up with my favorite fashion blogs:

1. Capitol Hill Style – Belle’s a former Capitol Hill Staffer, and she provides realistic and specific advice for a professional wardrobe on a variety of budgets, and she includes plus size options and hair and makeup recommendations.

2. Corporette – Fashion, lifestyle, and career advice from former firm attorney turned full-time blogger, Kat. The comment sections here are incredible, and if you have a question about how to navigate a difficult work situation or what to wear to work-ish events, this is where you want to go.

3. The Small Things Blog – For hair and makeup and all-around beauty, Kate’s blog is the place to go. I used one of her hair tutorials for my hairstyle during one of my best friend’s weddings last summer, and she gives honest reviews of products to help you find what works for you. She also just had a very adorable baby. Kate’s archives are gold.

 

Okay, so tell me where you fall on the spectrum:  do you dress for comfort or to make a positive impression?  Maybe a little bit of both?  Does hearing this perspective on empowerment make you re-evaluate your own wardrobe choices? 

It’s Already/Only Thursday?

This week has been much too slow and much too fast. I thought that yesterday (Wednesday) was Friday, and was none too pleased to discover the truth. But somehow minutes are also flying by so quickly! I can barely keep up.

This weekend I did some of the things that make my weeks awesome — I put together a rockin’ meal plan (blog post coming soon!) did laundry and cleaned my room. I didn’t pick outfits, so I’m basically wearing different colored versions of dress-cardigan-tights-boots every day, but that’s okay. We can’t win every battle.

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(This is today’s lunch. I wasn’t kidding about our food being awesome this week. Curry chicken on quinoa with broccoli.)

My family is driving up today for a last-minute weekend in the city, and while surprises are typically not my jam I’m really excited! The weather is looking great for mid-March (although it did snow for one hour this morning), and since I’m starting to really love this city I’m happy to have them see it too.

So, I’m putting together a new Choose-Your-Own-Adventure plan for the weekend. It’s one of my favorite things to make! I had already put fajitas on the menu, but today Deb at the Smitten Kitchen has a recipe up too. Clearly this weekend is made for fajitas. We’ll try to get seated at Little Goat and might stop by a jazz club.

Any big plans for you this weekend? I’ll still have a Five Things post tomorrow, but I’m excited to take a little break from the usual.

#50daysawriter Update: The Half Way Point

As I’m typing this post, it’s the middle of the twenty-fifth day of my 5o-Day commitment to thinking of myself as a writer.  This won’t go live and you won’t be able to read it until sometime Monday morning, which is technically past the half-way point of this journey and eight hours into Day 26.  Let’s agree to ignore the actual math involved in defining the “middle” of a journey the way we agree to accept that television chefs always have perfectly baked final products ready to pull out of the oven and taste at the end of their thirty-minute episodes.  The middle of a journey is really whenever you end up stopping for lunch, isn’t it?

I’ve learned a few things about myself, written words and paragraphs in my journal and on my computer, and wasted a lot of time during these first 25 days.  I’ve been focused on my writing but also completely absorbed in my actual job, which is keeping me so incredibly busy during these early spring-ish months.  My brain is buzzing with stress and deadlines and ideas, and that seems like the perfect mix to me.

  • I tried a few coffee shops/writing locations near my apartment in Chicago and have adopted a location three blocks away.  There are outlets everywhere, the espresso drinks are delicious, and the coffee shop is operated by some church so I feel better spending $5.00 on something I could make for myself at home.  I’m here now, and a poster from an event at the Ryman Auditorium is hanging on the wall that faces my table.  I’m sitting in the sun, looking at the words “Nashville Tennessee” and drinking a latte with chocolate, hazelnut, and cayenne pepper.  I can’t think of a better way to nurture my creative insides.
  • During a ten-day bootcamp with my writing group, I chose a topic for my writing project (even if I’m not quite ready to call it a book), told my writing group what my topic was, and felt the soothing coolness of positive feedback and acceptance calm my nerves.  I also mustered the courage to reach out to a few friends about my silly dream, so I’ve taken the first few steps toward using the “w”-word [writer] with my real-life friends and family.
  • I have 4,000 words, notes, and research in a highly rough and scattered word document that has the headings and pagination of a non-fiction book proposal. It’s not actually a book proposal today, but I’m using that structure to sketch out my project.  Working in this format is oddly comforting, because it is exactly what real writers do for every book they write.  I’ve found the language of the world I’m walking in, and I’m ready now to meet people without feeling like a fraud:  I can spend the next five years saying that I’m “working on a book proposal” before anyone that doesn’t know me well might become suspicious.  It’s completely normal for that process to take forever and for “real” writers to get distracted for months, discouraged for years, or otherwise lose focus for a long while before getting a final proposal together.  I know how to introduce myself and vaguely describe my project, so I’m ready to rent a car and drive to Grand Rapids and meet other writerly people.  That goal is officially accomplished.
  • My friend Abby has scheduled a public event at the end of the conference in Grand Rapids where my writing group will take turns reading our work out loud.  To strangers (and worse, to our friends).  While the pre-#50days me would say oh, no, I’m not really a writer and so I will just cheer the rest of you on, the me that is 25 days into being a real writer has [unfortunately] accepted the challenge and promised to find something, anything really, to read.  I’m much more driven by external expectations of those I love than my own secret dreams, so I think this is actually the perfect thing to push me during the second-half of this journey:  I have an idea and some draft-quality words, but now I need a chapter-ish length piece that is good enough to share, along with a gallon of confidence and a cute new outfit.  In the next three weeks I need to finish a draft piece so I can edit it, and then prepare to present it with/to my people.

This effort hasn’t been on my mind every minute, and for the last few days at work my brain has been swimming in deadlines and spreadsheets and official communication materials, but I’m here on Sunday afternoon, as scheduled, thinking about this project.  I’m thrilled with how far I’ve come in these first three and one-half weeks and am proud to share with you that I am working on a book/something proposal and preparing a mystery piece to read at my first ever reading as a [writer].  Nothing really has changed just yet, but I am starting to believe my own truth.

Thanks for joining me on this adventure.

St.PattyDayShoutOut

 

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Lucky Family!  AOT 

Three Things for Wednesday

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Well, Chicago has more snow. About five inches last night brought this winter’s snow totals to the third-highest ever or, according to CBS News, an inch over Michael Jordan’s head. Apparently we are measuring weather patterns in local sports heroes these days.

I have red fingernails today. It’s a small thing, but they make me feel cheerful which is much needed in this wintry weather. My friend Megan recommended the julep maven box, and in my first box I received a beautiful classic red color called Myrtle. (To be honest I feel a little less cool now because the name Myrtle reminds me of someone’s grandmother.) I’m not sure I can really use a monthly nail polish subscription, since I usually purchase nail polish maybe twice a year, but the first one was free and really fun.

We’re eating a lot of fish and shrimp this week and I am loving it. Fish, rice, and veggies is my perfect dinner because it’s pretty healthy, so there are tons of calories left for evening chocolate.

That’s three things random for this Wednesday morning! What’s going on in your week?

Las Vegas Adventure [Photos]

It’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m away on travel for work.  I’ve signed up to start receiving daily emails from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (courtesy of prestonyancey.com) beginning today, and hope to read these devotionals each day during Lent and beyond.  If you’re interested, you can sign up to receive these emails here

Today I have photos for you from our January trip to Las Vegas, which have been sitting on my computer for about six weeks waiting patiently for this moment.

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#1 and #2, the Las Vegas Strip.

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#3 and #4 Red Rock Canyon.

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#5 I am completely in love with old vegas.

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#6 After brunch at the Bellagio, which was decorated for the Chinese New Year (the year of the horse).  Geez my hair was long!

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#7 Red Rock Canyons continued.

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#8 I had all of these wild hopes for the Luxor (the pyramid).  They were dashed.

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#9 Red Rocks again; me and my favorite DC-ite!  (Yes those are Old Navy Rock-Star-Super-Skinnies.  You’re welcome.)

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#10 We watched the fountains at the Bellagio and I thought our friends might get engaged there.  They didn’t.  I was disappointed.

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#11, #12, #13, #14  OH MY GOSH HOOVER DAM IS SO BALLER.  I LOVE AMERICA.

Well, there you have it.  If I had to do it all over again, or give you recommendations for a first-time trip to Vegas, I’d recommend these three things:

(1) Go to the Hoover Dam.  Seriously, it is amazing what we can do when we work together.

(2) Stay in a hotel in Old-town Las Vegas.  I loved The Beat coffeehouse/bar/record shop we stopped at, and there were so many awesome cover bands playing in the street!  I could have danced to fake-Bon Jovi and fake-Bruce Springsteen all night long.

(3) Eat tacos at Tacos El Gordo.  It’s kind of by Circus Circus (which is hilarious and you should totally go there too) and these are the greatest tacos in the entire world.  I know tacos.  Bring cash.

What are your favorite spots in the Las Vegas area?  Any recommendations for travelers headed in that direction?

Date Night: Cooking Class

As part of our three-day Valentine’s Day extravaganza, H reserved us two spots in a weekend cooking class.  [Don’t make too many assumptions here.  We don’t really do that lovey-dovey holiday stuff, but it was a great excuse to try a few new places and do something fun.]

We headed over to The Wooden Spoon in Uptown Chicago for a class called Cook and Eat Like a Francophile.  I was expecting bistro sandwiches, things to pair with brie on a cheese platter,  or some kind of pastry since it was a lunch-time class, but I was really wowed by the menu.  We “made” shrimp bisque, fancy chicken with sauce, french-style bitter lentils, the most delicious green beans ever, and a weird pudding-berry-custard dessert.  Or, as the French would call it,

  • Shrimp Bisque;
  • French Lentils with Honey Cashews;
  • Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes;
  • Poulet Sauté Chasseur; and
  • Mixed Berries Gratin (not pictured).

Wooden Spoon Meal

Cooking classes are, overall, kind of weird but really fun.  We didn’t fully cook any one single thing, because about a dozen people were helping with different stages of preparation.  Everyday cooking would be so much easier if I had a half-dozen sous chefs to do all of my prep-work and measuring for me!  We were tasked with chopping a few things, stirring a few things, and draining the lentils — but, most importantly, we got to eat everything.  I would have perhaps liked a little more hands-on time than this class size provided, but we made some new friends and had a lovely time.

Sharing our love of food with strangers was comfortable and warm.  A few other couples, a few friend groups, and two adult sons with their dad on his 68th birthday chopped and sautéed and ate this beautiful meal with us.  (I remembered again how lucky I am to have such an awesome mom while watching a young woman search for help when asked to stir the pot, but not so often that the veggies wouldn’t brown.)  Even the vegetarian we were partnered with loved learning about each of the recipes and promised to cook the bisque again for her fiance if he would handle the shrimp-y parts.

It may sound unimpressive, but our favorite dish of the day was the green bean salad.  The green beans were blanched (well, more like double-blanched because they were almost done when they came out of the boiling water), chilled, and then tossed in a freshly made Dijon vinaigrette and served alongside sliced, salted tomatoes.  It was perfect spring/early summer picnic food, and all-in-all a pretty healthy dish.

The Wooden Spoon has a cooking tools shop (and provides knife sharpening for their customers for only $3) so we purchased a little salad dressing bottle to take home with us for storing our own homemade vinaigrettes in the future.  H has been mixing up balsamic and olive oil for our salads for the last few weeks and I’ve been food-dreaming about the vinaigrette recipe in Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine, which is pretty close to what we made in class that day.  This weekend we’ll be purchasing some red wine vinegar and eating this dressing on everything in sight.

Would you ever go to a cooking class?  Have any favorite salad dressing recipes? 

The Haircut, Revealed

I told you on Monday about my big Chinese New Year haircut, and how good it felt to start fresh again. You can understand why my first New Year did not have a triumphant feeling if you saw my January calendar.

Last month I wrote about adding sparkle to my daily life and ATTACKing 2014, but that was pretty hard to implement while battling winter weather and a weak immune system! That’s hopefully all changing now.

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As promised, here’s a snapshot of my new ‘do. I took my sweet time sharing because my skin has been so horrifyingly terrible since I started getting sick and I just didn’t want to share that part of my month with you!

I gave up and ordered the new proactiv+ and so far it has helped a lot. It’s a lot more moisturizing than the original formula. I’m one week in and my skin has responded well. If that’s something you struggle with too, it might be worth giving it a shot.

Happy weekend, y’all.

Being Alive is Baller

I have a quick note for you before I head to bed.  I’ve been getting into work earlier than normal this week and my blogging schedule is a little off.  But, today is an anniversary of sorts and I thought I would share a few memories and some photos with you.

Six years ago tonight my mom was in surgery and my college got destroyed by a tornado.  Today, my mom is cancer-free and my alma mater is looking way better than it did while I studied there.  It’s almost like that night was a scary movie that we watched and then when it was over, we took it out of the DVD player and sent it back to Netflix along with all of those DVDs of the Wire.  Except, I have a friend who has some health issues that stem from that night.  And while I remember this tornado as a crazy thing that we all survived, I pray for her health and healing.  Friend, if you read this, you matter to me.

It’s easy to forget.  Our clothes are wrinkled or we spill coffee on a notebook or, my personal daily recurring problem of late:  I rub the makeup off my nose while blowing it incessantly but still have makeup on my cheeks and chin, which looks so awkward, oh man my life is over… Except, it isn’t.  Because I am alive.  And makeup or no makeup, being alive is baller.

Click through the two links here for photos from my tornado experience.  These photos are posted on Union’s Flickr account:  tornado night // the day after.

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