Thursday, March 26, 2015

#177 He Endures Jazz Clubs

I hate when vacations are over. I always find myself thinking on and off throughout the following week something like this: "Last week at this time, I was here (fill in random place or excursion of my trip), doing this (fill in related action). Now I'm stuck back here (New Jersey, work, home), doing this (something not so fun) instead." 

It doesn't help that today was a miserably yucky, humid* and rainy day in New Jersey while last Thursday was an almost spring-like day in Chicago.

*It did reach 65 degrees, which was nice, but the exchange for warm weather from cold included stickiness and a spike in allergens.

Getting our car at the parking lot that protected it all night.**
**Confused? Read my last post for understanding.

For the morning, we planned to do a little laid-back shopping. I'm slowly learning my shopping preferences for when I'm traveling in new cities. Though I love shopping in general (chances are I would be content shopping even in a dollar store), when I am on vacation I prefer shopping in two kinds of places: 1. Outlet Malls 2. Independent Boutiques

We managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the Fashion Outlets of Chicago on Saturday before our flight.* From the massive amount of options, we were able to find plenty of boutiques to browse around, and even had time to stop into some luxury shops with ridiculously overpriced items that we may never in our lives be able to afford, nor want to afford.**

*Note: This outlet mall had the best parking lot I have every experienced in my life. Digital signs of how many spaces are left in each area, plus a red or green light over spots to show if they were filled or not.

**Second note: I’m totally lying. If someone offered me the $500 Armani jacket I was drooling over, I’d wear that puppy in a heart-beat. 


Armitage Avenue in Lincoln Park was our first shopping stop. It was lined with all sorts of novelty stores and boutiques, my favorite were the Green Goddess Boutique and Laudi Vidni.

Laudi Vidni is a custom leather handbag store and I was resisting all desire to splurge on one of their 21 originally styled handbags, custom made with fabric and finish of my choice. I took one of their cards to taunt myself with and so that my inner fashionista can have something to crave for the next time we visit Chicago.


Green Goddess Boutique had everything from clothes to antiqued furniture to funky jewelry. With prices ranging from fair to crazy expensive, I managed to find myself two pieces of jewelry that will now and forever always remind me of our trip. The only thing that dragged us away was the need for coffee, and of course, pastries. (Read about it at The Orange Strainer). Here’s a sneak peak of some of our goodies:


Guess you’ll have to read the post to see what was inside…

We spent the early evening shopping along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which was basically made just for me. One whole mile of high end, low end, and every kind of designer in between--be still my heart! 

I basically butchered this pretty simple name, each time choosing a different 'M' word to attach with ‘mile’. I wish I could say that they were all at least adjectives, but I'd be lying: Marvelous, Millennium, Maleficent...yeah I have memory commitment issues. 

Simplest way to spread love. Cold? Need a scarf? Take it.

Though its crime rate is surprisingly higher than NYC (at least according to, the streets of Chicago had a more open and cleaner feel (which I suppose translates to me as safe). Though Hubby swears Chicago had a distinct smell to him upon exiting the airport, I felt overall that this city is doing a pretty good job at dressing to impress.

Naturally, one cannot go to Chicago without trying pizza, and as a Jersey girl it wasn’t just a ‘Should do’ it was a ‘Must do’. We ate dinner at Giordano’s, and though I’ll be blogging about it eventually let me just say this; Chicago puts up a good fight against New Jersey.*

*Don’t worry, Jersey. We still win. You already knew that, I’m sure.


Jazz Showcase was a solid ten-minute walk from Giordano’s. Any longer and this girl might’ve needed a cab because as soon as the sun went down the spring tease we had been getting all morning instantly transformed back into the brisk chill of winter.


Reviews of Jazz Showcase said to get there early for good seats, so naturally we got there early….45 minutes early. In the NYC world, 45 minutes early usually means you will get a good seat, but you might not be the first one there. In Chicago, it means you are the first one there.* The trio was still practicing, so we waited in the lobby with not only some of the staff of Jazz Showcase, but also the founder, Joe Segal, who can be found in the same spot for every show, greeting his guests as they arrive.

*It was Thursday, so perhaps weekends are different.

The ten minute wait before they opened the doors was worth it. There are two different pricings for Jazz Showcase: $25 general seating, $35 reserved. We went for the $25 seating since most of the reviews said that there isn’t really a bad seat in the house, but that you should arrive on time to actually get a seat. They were right. We were escorted in and told we could sit anywhere that didn’t have a ‘reserved’ sign. Half a dozen tables at the front of the room had reserved signs, but the cozy, over-sized couch seating four in the middle of the room was sign-less.

As we settled into our couch I was certain of two things: 1.) I was glad I had purchased the $25 tickets; 2.) I was glad we got there early.

Wouldn’t it have stunk to have to sit on a boring ordinary chair for $10 more when there was an open opportunity to sit on a comfy couch?


Going to a Jazz club always spells love for me because Hubby has a deep, deep hate for the genre in general. This always makes me sad because in another life I would have been a jazz pianist, I’m sure.

Our entertainment for the night was pianist Chuchito Valdes accompanied by bass and drums. I’m always amazed at how these three instruments can blend to make such a smooth, enjoyable sound. As a violinist, I’m fascinated by bass players. Most of the time they aren’t the spotlight, but when they are they shine by covering the neck of their instrument with stretches of their fingers I didn’t know were humanely possible. Towards the end of the performance Valdes played a solo with such a combination talent and emotion that the room was frozen for just that moment in time, awestruck with the place he had taken us and the saddened stillness he was able to convey.


I think, just maybe, even Hubby enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#176 He is a Chicago Bulls Fan

Last week, Hubby and I went to Chicago. 


Our expectations were low, but it isn't Chicago's fault. You can't really have high hopes for the second city when you have the greatest city practically at your doorstep. Truthfully, we were only there for a much needed visit with my brother and sister-in-law. Even still I might have had the teeniest speck of regret over not booking a trip to the Bahamas instead. After the winter we have had, going to the Windy City prematurely chilled me to my core.

Though it takes second place in city size ranking (and truthfully, now sits in third, behind LA), Chicago proved itself to have an allure and appeal close, I stress the word close, to that of my beloved NYC.

Instead of flying out of Philadelphia or Newark as we usually do, we decided to try the Trenton/Mercer airport that we have heard tell about from family, friends, and coworkers. The highlight of the airport is location, ticket price, and speed (only two flights go out at a time, therefore check-in is phenomenal).

The highlight for me?

Five extra inches of leg room and an empty seat beside me for our two-hour flight.

This is what luxury looks like.
I was in heaven. It was basically the best flight of my life.

Hubby and I stupidly skipped breakfast (we had to be up and out by 5:00 am) and were starving by the time we reached our family. This led to a trip to a local bakery, Bravo Bakery, which Joel and Mallory had cased out before our arrival. You'll have to wait to read about most of our foodie adventures over at The OrangeStrainer but I’ll give you a peek into how well we ate during our trip:


That right there is a basket full of heaven.

While I was booking our flight to Chicago, Hubby was checking to see if the Bulls would be playing. Thank goodness they were or I would have heard about that for longer than I would like.

Once we sugared ourselves up with pastries and coffee, we were ready to head into the city. Our hotel was about thirty minutes from the city center which had its ups and downs. The major up was that we were on a quiet highway, near some great coffee shops (a Caffé Bene to boot!). The major down was what followed at the end of our night.

It's pretty good*, so read on, dear reader, read on.

*Good meaning horrible.

We decided that since the basketball game was that night, we should probably connect with a train to get into the city. There was no way we were going to park at the stadium--that madness was certainly not what we had signed up for with this trip! So, we parked at the closest train station to our hotel. 

Mistake number one.

Jefferson Station of Chicago is one spot I will never, ever forget. Nor will I forget the self-park lot across the street.

More to come on that.

Are you sensing the terrible horrible thing that happened?

The transit system in Chicago is not at all like NYC. First of all, the obvious, it isn't underground. Which is actually a little trippy. It is so much louder that my ears were singing afterwards. In NYC all roads lead to the Subway. In Chicago, it is more like 'some' roads. The strangest part was that it was busier at night (as in, 10:00 at night) than the afternoon hours.

It was well past lunchtime when we began searching for DMK Burger to help sustain us until dinner. If you can call it dinner. Due to the time of the game, we had to make our dinner reservations for 5:00 pm. Which in my world is insanely early for dinner.* Add in the fact that it was about 1:30 pm and we still hadn't eaten lunch, and you've got one confused set of tummies. 

About ten minutes into searching for the DMK burger Hubby had chosen (we realized last minute that there are several locations in Chicago) we realized it was in the Soldier Field stadium. Naturally, instead of calling it quits, we walked around about half of the stadium until we could speak to a live person who could tell us what we already feared. 

What's the saying? If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans? Yeah, that's the one. We were really cracking God up that day.

Our next plan was to head to the Flower Show at The Navy Pier, but that was a good half hour away. So instead we headed over to The Field Museum which was featuring a Viking exhibit. Hubby has some sort of Scandinavian heritage and therefore has a healthy curiosity of Vikings. We grabbed a bite at the museum's cafe so that I didn't turn into a Viking myself and attack everyone. The food was...typical. Let's just say I won't be blogging anymore about that part of the trip. 

If you want to feel like you have stepped into the movie "A Night at the Museum" you need only visit a natural history museum such as The Field Museum. Visitors are greeted by "Sue" the T-Rex who is "the largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found. Sue measures 42 feet long from snout to tail and 13 feet tall at the hip. She boasts 58 dagger-like teeth...".


Sue is truly a magnificent sight to behold, as were the other dinosaurs in the dinosaur exhibit.

The Viking exhibit was packed with information and mind blowing artifacts such as sewing needles the size of small pencils, a millstone which really put Matthew 18:6 into perspective, and Viking ships.

Viking Age Burial Boat

If you are into this sort of museum (I'll be the first to admit, it isn't everyone's cup of tea) plan your morning and afternoon around it. We were still adjusting to being in the city and to our packed to-go-to list that we didn't get to spend too much time there.

Our dinner reservations were calling, and even though we had eaten only a few hours ago the craving for a quality meal was rising. Again, you'll have to read about Little Goat Diner and our amazing dining experience over at The Orange Strainer, but trust me, this is one meal description you'll want to read!
It was either an eight minute, $10 taxi or a 30-minute walk. 

Can you guess which one we chose? That's right...the taxi. There was no way our full bellies would get there in time walking.

I hadn't been to a basketball game since high school, which also means I haven't been to a professional basketball game in...ever. 


For someone who isn't anywhere near being a sport enthusiast, I enjoyed myself immensely. We were only a few rows from being as far as possible from the court, and it only added to the fun! At half-time, we walked over half of the stadium in search of their main store so that Hubby could search for a jersey. Thank goodness they had it! We also picked up Jon a Benny the Bull mask, because how couldn't we get that for him?


It was somewhere around 10:00 when we finally reached the train station to head back to Jefferson Station and our car. Like I said before, the ride back was far more entertaining than the ride into the city. It started with a few other Bulls fans marked by their Bulls gear of ski hats, jerseys, and t-shirts, and quickly became a mixture of far more colorful individuals. There was the one gentleman wearing a red bandanna who conspicuously took it off and pocketed it about five minutes before getting off the train (that was my personal favorite). A few rows in front of us sat a group of oddly matched women with ages ranging mid-twenties to late forties. Mixed between was a random scattering of couples, friends, and acquaintances. By far, the most hysterical, was the last group of men to board the train. Four men with a certain boy band reject flair about them got on and stood holding tightly to the straps hanging from the ceiling. There weren't any other seats available, but as they opened up three of the men immediately sat while the fourth, remained standing. This was fine by me, because it gave me extra time to take in his greased back hair, and dangly earrings made of Lego pieces, gears, and something that I'm certain may have been bone.

I could have slept right there amid the motley crew of train riders, but our stop came and I realized how eager I was to get off. Until we stood before the parking garage with its gate down, locked in place, and the words "Cash only, Open until 10:00 pm" nastily glaring in our faces.

One of my biggest fears had come to life. 

After the twenty minute wait for a taxi, and a price tag I'm not willing to talk about yet, lesson learned. Loud and clear, Chicago. Lesson learned. 


Monday, March 16, 2015

#175 He Believes in Me

                                                                 Weekend I’d Forget
These events are in no particular order.

1. I ate nachos.


Hubby has a running list on his phone of places to go to eat. It ranges from local places to places in New York and LA. This is partially to due to watching far too many episodes of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, but also due to the fact that we love trying new places.

Since we were in the area, 10th Avenue Burrito ended up being our lunch option on Sunday. I had sworn off any form of Mexican food because of the 7-layer-nacho experience, but didn't want to be a party pooper.

I can't say that I have had a better nacho in my life. They are obviously homemade as they have a greasy delicious crunch to them that you just don't get out of the bag. They were loaded with cheese and meat and all other necessary nacho delights. I could have used a little more sour cream though, maybe some salsa, too.

The burritos, however, for which the restaurant is named, weren't all that. I ordered the chicken stir fry burrito thinking it would be a milder burrito.

No. Not at all.

I could only take about two bites because the spice was so overpowering. If you like spicy, I suppose you would be thrilled.

Our waitress was pretty horrible too, but I'll save you from that description and leave it for my Trip Advisor readers.

2. I cut my hair.


I have been cutting my hair every six to eight weeks for the past year, so that isn't so exciting. But I did get a completely different style and color this time. Blonde, even just highlights, have been too much upkeep for me so I decided to make a change. But apparently I can't resist I asked my hair stylist to throw in a little purple.

My thoughts?

Where has this been all my life?

3. I celebrated the start of Spring Break.


I heard tell of the deliciousness of the Cucumber Basil Smash at Seasons 52. It tasted like I was drinking the healthiest cocktail ever, Prairie Organic Cucumber Vodka will do that, I suppose. I know what you're thinking--is that good thing or a bad thing? In this case it was definitely a good thing! If you are a cucumber fan, as I am, and can enjoy a hint of basil, this is a drink for you!

4. I went to see Cats with my SIL, Sam, and Jonathan.


If I hadn't been familiar with the music, I might have been a little confused. Afterwards I did a little reading and realized that because T.S.Eliot's book, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, is the inspiration and text of most of the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber was given permission by the Eliot Estate only to use the original poems as the text, which from the start of the show in 1981 caused confusion among cast members over the plot.

Regardless, the performance was well-done for a local theater group. The costumes and scenery looked comparable to any pictures I have seen of the show on Broadway.

5. I spoke to a woman with a 56-year-old brother with Down syndrome. She just so happened to be sitting behind us for the entire show.


Jonathan loves shows. He is, let's say, overly enthusiastic about them. He isn't disruptive, but he does like to bounce with excitement, gasp enthusiastically, and shake his dolls back and forth to the music. We've never had a problem in the theater (we have in church, but that is a different story for a different time), but I'm always overly cautious and as considerate as I can be of those around us. Translation: I spend half the night trying to make Jonathan 'like everyone else'.

Boo to that.

When the play finished, the woman behind us said, "Is he your brother?" She then told me of her brother, how he is nonverbal but would have been enjoying the show just as Jonathan did. We both felt it had been meant to be that she was behind us. I told her that I was one of Jonathan's guardians and she excitedly told me that she was for her brother also.

She gave me a positive outlook on what aging will be like for Jonathan.

Like everything else with those with Down syndrome, it looks like it will be awesome.

6. I took an obnoxious number of pictures with this cutie.


Speaking of obnoxious, I made the mistake of quoting the seahorse from Finding Nemo who says, "I'm obnoxious" when introducing himself to Nemo. To which Jonathan proceeded to say, "I'm obnoxious" for the entire ride home from the show. However, it slowly transformed from "I'm obnoxious" to "I'm noxious" to "I'm nauseous".

Thankfully, it was just an interpretation issue and not literal.

7. I was spoiled with a new violin by Hubby.


You might recall two years ago when I went with my friend, Amy, to help her pick out a violin. Ever since I came home from that experience, apparently, Hubby had been planning on having me return to the same violin shop.

When I decided I wanted to go to college for violin, I began the dreaded task of auditioning for schools. When auditioning for my top pick, in front of the associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia orchestra no less, I was advised to major in music education (which later caused me to switch to a music minor) and to get a new violin.

The best argument to get your parents to shell out cash on a new violin is to say the associate concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra told you to.

That was more years ago than I want to admit. I finished school. Time passed. I stopped playing. I played here and there. I stopped playing. I taught beginner violin lessons. I played for church. I stopped playing.

Until I decided enough was enough and started taking private lessons again.

This naturally spurned the desire for a new violin, but it also brought up realization of mistakes and improvements I needed to make in my playing.

It has been a little under a year and I am still going strong with taking lessons. I have learned so much more in this short amount of time than throughout all my high school or college years combined. Even though I would have said I'm not worth investing in a new violin, I have a husband who still wanted to do so.

My new violin is beautiful, it has character, history, and will only continue to help the progress I have begun. It is also a constant reminder of how much my Hubby not only loves me, but believes in me.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#174 He Takes Care of the Mess


Every Tuesday, my brother Jonathan comes over my house for dinner. This past Tuesday night, after we had eaten and watched a little TV, Jonathan said he wanted to go home. Usually, he will cling onto every possible moment to stay at my house, but tonight I could tell something was off.

As I stood up from the couch to get ready to leave, Jonathan leaned over on the couch and let out a cough that can only be defined as a violent mixture of phlegm, wheezing, and intense gut action.

We know this cough.

A few years ago, we were at the mall with Jonathan and Joel. Jonathan had been acting tired and cranky towards the end of our trip. As we walked out to leave the mall, Jonathan debuted this very same cough. The mall was closing, but the cough was so out of the ordinary for Jonathan that Joel instantly turned around to buy a water bottle.

The cough walked with us to the car. With my hands seconds away from opening his car door for him, Jonathan looked up at his reflection on the window and vomited all over the door.

It was all I could do not to jump for joy at the sight of Joel running across the parking lot with a bottle of water in his hand. Jonathan got a few sips, then the rest of the bottle was given to the attempt of getting the vomit off the car.

So as this eerily similar cough was coming out of Jonathan’s mouth Tuesday night, Hubby sat up and said, “He’s going to throw up”.

I was in denial, so I didn’t seize the moment quite as quickly as I should have and seconds later my rug was covered in vomit with a look and smell distinctly related to the 7-layer taco dip Jonathan had asked me to make for dinner. Hubby ran upstairs stating that “he almost just threw up too” and I thought he was leaving me to fight the battle alone.

Stupidly, I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the two bowls that our tortilla chips had been in from dinner. Jonathan threw up in one, and then in the other, and as this beautiful process was occurring I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t just grabbed the trashcan that was two feet away from the bowls.

With no other option left, I ran the filled bowls back into the kitchen and exchanged them for the trashcan. Of which, you guessed it, he expelled two more rounds of 7-layer taco dip scented barf. It was around this time that Hubby came down with a bucket of soapy water to take care of clean up.

I'm sure you are wondering why I am sharing with you my Tuesday night from hell. You’ve had your own share of rounds with stomach bugs. And if you have children, I’m sure you’ve done more than any human should have to do of cleanup duty.

But I promise, I have a point.

When we were fairly convinced he wasn’t going to let anything else out, we got him together to go home. He was shivering yet warm, his face pale and confused, breaking my heart with each second that passed. As I was trying to comfort him, I told him he was going to go home and rest.  I grabbed my phone to tell my mom what happened so that she could give his job coach a heads up that Jonathan was sick and probably wouldn’t be able to go to work the next day.

When Jonathan heard that he immediately said, “I see Mr. Chris tomorrow.”

“No Jon, you’re sick, honey. You probably won’t go to work tomorrow. You need to rest. You just threw up a lot,”

“I all better. I see Mr. Chris tomorrow. I go Praise and Worship (at church).”

“I don’t think so, we’ll see how you feel,”

To which, during our drive home, we had the same exact discussion about four billion more times. He was convinced he was all better, despite having just thrown up five times (and about six more later that night at home). Regardless of what his body was going through he knew two things: he still wanted to go to work the next day, and he still wanted to go to church that night.

Especially this morning, after losing an hour sleep last night due to daylights savings time, after waking up half an hour late and having the teeny tiny desire to skip church, I find myself put in check by someone who most people often overlook.

How many of us look for excuses out of work? How many of us want to sleep in on Sunday, or play hooky on our other church responsibilities? How many of us choose laziness over productivity? How many of us choose selfish desires over helping others?

My hand is raised.

Yet here, someone that is often labeled as a burden to society, incapable of serving a purpose, amidst shivers and bending over the trashcan, wants nothing more than to work and go to church.

When I see Jonathan’s passion for life, it makes me ashamed of who I allow myself to be when I’m angry, not feeling well, or just in a bad mood. He makes me realize that I will forever be working on putting my priorities in an order that God would be pleased with because my humanity time and time again will always cause me to fail.

I say it often, but I’ll say it again, Jonathan is my hero. He may not be society’s definition of perfection, but the unprejudiced love within him, the sincere care and concern he offers, and the joyfulness with which he approaches all circumstances makes me aspire to let go of myself and become more like him.

Friday, March 6, 2015

#173 He Never Takes Pictures

We had another snow day yesterday.

Hubby's desire to live in LA is starting to rub off on me, just a bit. Have I mentioned that before? While I do appreciate the beauty of a snowstorm, enough is enough.


Perhaps it isn't even the snowstorm that really gets my goat.* It might just be the single digit temperature I woke up to this morning.

*How on earth did goat become synonymous with anger?


After shoveling and trying to clear my car for around fifteen minutes, I wondered why my hands were beginning to feel numb. I came inside, where the warmth of course confused my frozen body, shivered my gloves off, and had to refresh my phone to believe that it was actually 8 degrees outside.

Wasn’t it just 41 degrees two days ago?

Hubby has been sick for the last couple of days and I feel like my body has been working overtime to fight off the lingering germs that fill the air around me. But regardless, he is the one who is doctor-approved sick which means that yesterday and today I shoveled for the first time this season. 

I can't say it enough; I am blessed to have a man who takes care of snow for me.


Yesterday might have been the first snow storm ever that we made no attempt to leave the house. Around lunchtime, Hubby suggested I move my car from the street to the parking lot beside our house. Begrudgingly, more so towards the storm than the audacity of Hubby’s suggestion, I threw on my Uggs, shoveled a pathway to my car, and moved it the fifteen-feet distance from the road to the lot.  It wasn't quite as cold then, so I thought I'd be whimsical and grab my camera to take artsy shots of the snow. After about five minutes I decided three things:

1. Trudging through inches of snow for the perfect shot isn't worth it. 

2. Trudging through inches of snow for the perfect shot while it is still snowing heavily is certainly not worth it.

3. My little corner of the world doesn't hold enough beauty to make trudging through the snow while it is still snowing heavily worth it.


I marvel at people who can capture that perfect shot of snow. Actually, I marvel at people who can capture perfect shots of any form of nature. I often see landscapes while I am driving that I think are breathtaking, perfect photo opportunities. I'm sure the true photo enthusiast would screech to a halt and capture that moment regardless of traffic, weather, or personal pride (yes, sometimes snapping photos of random things like trees or your dinner will raise eyebrows).

For myself, I think more than not wanting to pull over the car, I choose not to photograph a gorgeous sunset or a field covered in snow because some things I don't want to miss a moment of in exchange for sharing it with the world. Some things need to be spurts of beauty that we keep to ourselves. Beauty that in that still small moment was meant to be for you and you alone.

Sorry to expose such anti-photography, bohemian-like thought. It won't happen again.


Or...maybe it will.

I make no promises.