My Kind of Town

Yesterday I returned from a 4-night business/conference trip to Chicago – one of my favorite cities. On the way there I figured out that it has been about 2 ½ years since my last visit, a tragedy on all accounts. Only a 4 hour drive from Toledo, we used to visit quite often. Being “married with child(ren)” makes it hard for a quick trip to the windy city but this trip showed me that we all need to go back soon. I saw it for the first time through a mother’s eyes and saw how walkable the city is, how safe most of the streets feel and how kid-friendly it can be.

But I was on my own for this trip (with two colleagues whom I consider good friends and a host of others from my department) and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The weather was incredible – a bit of Indian summer with 80-degree days featuring crisp blue skies. We stayed at the Sheraton, which although showing a bit of wear around the edges, had a great location and my room faced Navy Pier. The first night after a nice long walk down the Lakefront Trail from Ohio Street Beach to East Chestnut and back down Michigan Avenue we indulged in a movie, Dark Knight. Since my coworker is male and both Chicago baseball teams were playing we ended up at ESPN Zone for dinner. Not much to talk about there, but if you need a testosterone kick this is the place to go.

Unfortunately, I woke up at 6:30 AM the next morning and was unable to fall back asleep.  Luckily I had Mark put 30 Day Shred on my iPod so I got that hooked up to the TV and got to work (yes, I packed a set of 5 lb. dumbbells in my suitcase).  Level 1 rocked and I felt so good afterwords I decided to hit the lake trail again for a few miles.  By the time I checked out the cafe at Fox & Obel for a chai my muscles were screaming at me.  That Jillian ain’t no joke!

That afternoon included some power-shopping and lots of walking with my boss who was in search of a formal for an upcoming event. We took to the State Street area and hit Loehmann’s, Nordstrom Rack, Filene’s Basement, TJ Maxx and finally Macy’s (in the beautiful Field’s building) where we found the perfect dress. We then meet some others for drinks and a light bite at Su Casa – good drinks, crappy food. After heading back to the hotel for a quick change we ended up with everyone from my office – 12 people in all – at the Terrace at Conrad. The drinks were extremely pricy but the vibe was great and a vendor who is also a friend generously picked up the tab. This is a rooftop bar and had some pretty views and comfortable seating. Several people ordered from the tapas menu, but I wasn’t hungry. It’s a cute place if you’re looking for a place on Michigan to get away from the crowds.

On Friday afternoon we headed to Giordano’s on North Rush to satisfy a deep-dish pizza craving at lunch. Good food and the lunch special “personal dish” was cheap and relatively fast since they were pre-made. I guess it would be a good spot if you’re in the mood for deep dish but I really don’t have much to compare to.  After a session or two I managed to eek out another round of 30 Day Shred before I headed out to Navy Pier with a colleague. We ended up at Riva, sipping drafts, soaking up the sun and watching dozens of sailboats and hundreds of people go by.  I had been there years ago with my Uncle and it was a nice place to return to.  You can’t ask for a better view and their hummus was delicious.

That night I went up to Andersonville to have dinner with a college friend, Tom. It was great to leave the downtown area for the evening and, of course, to catch up. It’s been way too long since I’ve seen him and we had a fantastic time gabbing away. As he showed me around the neighborhood we passed Hopleaf, which Danielle had recommended as one of her favorites, so we stopped in. Danielle specifically said “You MUST go and get the mussels” and she was right – they were perfect! Paired with a Bell’s Amber and I was very, very happy. After dinner we strolled up the street to another bar for cocktails so we could continue our conversation. It was a perfect, relaxed time and I’m so happy to have seen Tom. I can’t wait this long for our next visit.

Saturday was the last day of the conference and after a quick jaunt the the West Egg for a very hearty and delicious breakfast we wrapped up our “official” reason for being there.  After that I strolled over to Uncle Julio’s to meet an old neighbor to catch up over some standard Mexican fare.  Their shrimp quesadilla was very good and the sopaipillas were better.  I made my way the 3 miles back to the hotel, patting myself for not getting lost once on all my walking adventures, and caught some of the college football on TV with a friend. After an excruciating session with Jillian I dragged my travel partners to my favorite Chicago eats: Shaw’s Crab House.  We were seated in the bar right away and had a couple of good, strong fruity drinks.  But what I had been looking forward to all week was the lobster roll and it did not disappoint.  I’ve never been to New England for the real deal but this thing has to be close – a toasty, buttered roll loaded with huge chunks of sweet lobster lightly dressed in a mayo dressing.  It’s about as close to a religious experience as you can have in a restaurant.  Everyone was happy, even the guy who “doesn’t eat things that come out of the water”.  Even though I was very full, I had to take another of Foodmomiac’s suggestions and get the raspberry pie.  I DID share mine but have to say that it’s everything Danielle said and more.  Even if you don’t like seafood, if you are in Chicago go to Shaw’s for the pie.  

Sunday morning I was up at 6:30 AM again (damn it!  why can’t my body let me sleep in when I have no responsibilities to tend to?) so I dragged out the weights and tacked the Shred again.   That’s right – I did it every day I was there.  If that’s not a testament to it being a workout you can fit into any schedule I don’t know what is.  By the time I was done the sun was rising so I decided to head south on the lakefront trail and took my football-fan friend with me.  We walked down past the harbors and parks so he could see Solider Field – a round trip trek of almost 6 miles.  It was an okay day but cloudy with a stiff breeze blowing off the lake; a signal that it was time to head home.

Since I ate my way through the city I was a bit nervous about the damage I had done.  I was pleased to find out when I got home that not only did I not do any damage, but I lost weight on my trip.  I guess walking several miles a day along with getting your ass kicked daily by Jillian is the way to survive a trip to your favorite city when you have an expense account and vendors picking up the tabs.  I highly recommend it.

*I also highly recommend getting dining suggestions from Foodmomiac if headed to Chicago.  Then do exactly what she says, she won’t disappoint!  I was bummed I didn’t see her while I was there, ironically she was in Ohio.

Advertisements

Happy Birthday, Maggie

Today is M’s second birthday and I’m a bit in shock that we have arrived at this date so quickly.  She is such a fun kid that I couldn’t wish for her to be anything different.  Outgoing, quick to laugh, easily adaptable, independent, daring and sweet.  She loves to read, climb, run, play with her baby dolls and animals, color, sing and explore.  Two years ago her arrival rocked our world and taught us that we never before knew our capacity to love.

Tonight we decided on an impromptu night in Little Italy – dinner at Mama Santa followed by gelato at Presti’s Bakery.  Then we walked around the area, with M insisitng on swinging from our hands in between us, and came upon what looked to be a brand new playground where she ran off all her energy.  It was a delightful evening of quiet celebration.

Her big bash was this past Saturday and we had a houseful of about 17 people to help us celebrate.  M loves having other kids over so having her cousin’s here as well as her friends was celebration enough.  It was a great time.

She helped make her birthday cupcakes.

Having tricycle races with her cousin.

Devouring a cupcake with Aunt Jill (AKA “JMH” from comments).

Playing Project Runway with Grandma & Daddy.

Writers Block

My job often involves writing and usually I’m writing on subjects about which I know little.  I write fund-raising letters that are about medical advances in research and treatment.  Sometimes these letters are easy and fun to write – the topic strikes a chord and the people I collaborate with are full if information and ideas.  Other times these letters are dreaded and pushed back, mostly because the content is in no way sexy.  It’s tough to write a compelling fundraising letter when the talking points you are given include bolus movements or glomerular filtration rates.  I know to some people these terms are very important and part of what they live with everyday, but my goodness it’s hard to write about them for a mass mailing.

There are three people on my team and we work in a cubical farm with about 20 others.  We’ve always been louder then the other others, but when we are all facing deadlines and are staring down one of the harder subjects group procrastination becomes a big part of our day.  We do anything but write.  One person has a jammed printer – hooray! – we can all spend the next 20 minutes trying to fix it.   A quick question to another about the correct use of a semi-colon turns into a conversation that digresses into a 10 minute discussion of today’s headlines. Our desks have never been more clean and organized.  Inevitably paper airplanes and crumpled up papers with jokes on them start flying over cubicle walls in an effort to alleviate the stress. We design elaborate plans for a nap space under our desks like George Costaza. We make up our own definitions for medical terms we don’t know and laugh too loud, annoying the others on the floor.

Eventually there is no more time – you have to finish what you are working on and get it off to the proper parties for approval.  We hunker down and slog through the process and the departments always love what we do for them.  But procrastinating deadlines can make a day stretch out forever.

Updates and Such

There is so much going on right now that I feel like we are zipping through weeks at a time.  Our vacation seems to be the carrot at the end of the stick right now.  We will be spending a week in Hilton Head in late October; we’ve never been down there in the fall and we wanted to take advantage of having no school schedules to check out a favorite destination in a new season.   We’ll also be visiting a college friend on the way home.

————

This weekend is the bash to celebrate M’s 2nd birthday.  I can’t believe she will be 2 next week and can’t believe all that’s happened since we celebrated her 1st: a new house, two new daycares and a host of other transitions.  We’ll have about 15 people (including 5 kids) over on Saturday and I’m trying to get ready.  I know I will still be a psycho-Martha-Stewart-drone all morning before the party.  It’s one of the few times I’m a typical Virgo – I love party planning but I get crazy stressed about all the tiny details.  This year I’m trying to be very Zen.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

————

I’ve been doing Weight Watchers @ Work for about 4 weeks and it’s going very well.  My employer is paying for it as part of our wellness initiative.  I’ve lost about 15 pounds (and have more then several left to lose) but am feeling like the last several days I’ve been stuck in a state of inertia.  I need to start working out on a more regular basis again.  So many people have praised the 30 Day Shred that I have it next on our Netflix queue.  I need a few options other than walking to get me back to a regular schedule. 

————

I’m so excited about this.  I hope it pans out because I think it would be amazing!

————

M was about 70% potty-trained via the lazy-parent method at her old daycare (this method is where you let the daycare staff do the training and just follow their lead when at home. I highly recommend it).  We have never really tried to train her but she had been interested in sitting on the potty for several months and in the last month had actually started using it with regularity.  With the switch to the new daycare/preschool she isn’t using the potty at all.  I need to talk to them about working with her some more now she is settled in.  She’s there for 40 hours a week and if they don’t work with her she’ll never get it.  I don’t feel she needs to be out of diapers yet, but I also don’t want to loose all the momentum and interest she had gained before the switch. 

————

I go to Chicago for 5 days next week, leaving the day after M’s actual birthday.  I’m looking forward to it but also hate to be gone that long for work.  It’s a long time to be gone from my family and I feel guilty for leaving Mark as a single parent for that long.  The guilt is all mine, he is a wonderful and more than capable parent who has not said one word about going it alone for that long, but I still feel bad.  Plus, although we get reimbursed, the trip is a pretty big outlay of cash and that’s something we don’t have much of right now (2 more payments and a major debt is cleared and I cannot wait).

Whirlwind

Last week M moved to a new daycare/preschool. After months of trying to decide if we should stay at the previous place – a brand new facility where M was one of the first kids to start but staff turnover was high as they got their footing – we finally decided to move to a Jewish-based* facility with great teacher tenure and education levels. We made the choice to switch a few months ago and in that time the old daycare got it’s act together and M had a wonderful teacher for her last couple of months.  It was hard for us to leave “Miss C” as she and M had a great bond, but we knew the new place would provide a more stable atmosphere for M in the long run.  Miss C was sad to see M go and got her a slew of good-bye gifts including a wheelie Dora backback which M loves.  We made the staff cupcakes and got her teachers gifts as a way to show our appreciation; they were all very caring and affectionate towards M and we tried to make sure they knew we were leaving because of management issues, not teaching issues.  Miss C has offered to babysit and we will be calling her soon.

Moving to a new daycare is nerve-wracking for both the kid and the parent so the new place has a “transition period” that takes place over the first week.  Basically, the child is there for increasing amounts of time as the week progresses.  Day one: 2 hours with parent in the room, Day two: 3 hours with parent still in building, Day three: 4 hours and parent can leave, etc.  In theory this is a great idea as it made for a gradual and easy transition and M adapted very well to her new class without any fuss or crying at all. However, most people send their kids to daycare because they have to WORK and need childcare!  So last week I burned about 24 hours of vacation time to accommodate this kooky phase-in.  Luckily we had some extra work on the past two weekends so I earned about 16 hours of flex time or I would have used up even more vacation time, which is rapidly dwindling.  

So between working both of last two weekends, shuttling between the new daycare, work and home the last week was crazy.  But, I got to enjoy some fantastic one-on-one time with my 2-next-week girl and I truly enjoyed every last second of it.  She has such an amazing personality; she runs full-tilt towards everything she does, laughs easily and talks my ear off.  We had honest two-way conversations, sang songs, took excruciatingly slow walks around the neighborhood, finger-painted and colored, and had a grand time together.  Weekends tend to go by too quickly and are full of tasks aimed at keeping the house from falling apart so having last week was a real joy.

Today, I got some bonus time.  Since Ike still had some oomph left as it passed through last night the new daycare was without power and closed today.   I had gone in to work early to get a jump start on the backlog of projects and got a call from Mark at 8 telling me the news.  Since he has significantly less time off then I do, I was back home today playing with our girl.  

I have without a doubt had a blast playing SAHM these last few days, but I know I have a load of work waiting for me at my office.  I was in the office a few precious hours last week and tried to get some work done in the evenings.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually be IN the office to do some of it.  I’m grateful that I have a boss with two kids of her own and totally “gets it”.  I’m going to miss the “M time” I’ve had but I’m ready to get back to a normal schedule.

*We’re not Jewish and it’s not a religious school but they do teach the culture and history including celebrating the holidays and welcoming the shabbat with challah and juice on Fridays.

Happy Birthday Belly!

I am wrapping up a nice birthday weekend here in Cleveland, full of great local food.  Saturday night we went to Pier W on Michelle’s recommendation and had a superb feast.  While we waited for our table I had a Bombay Sapphire Cucumber Lemonade which was a refreshing new taste combo and Mark had a Grey Goose and cranberry which had to be sent back for more cranberry – as served it was basically a glass of straight vodka.

We were not seated by the windows as I had requested when making the reservation but we were situatied at a table with a great view, nonetheless.  We decided to go all out and get two of everything and share. Mark started with the lobster bisque which was incredible.  I had to wrestle the dish away from him to get my share, then I had to restrain myself from licking the bowl clean.  I had the crab cakes which while very good, weren’t anything special.  

All week I had been thinking about the rave reviews Michelle had given the king crab legs and I was sure that was what I was going to order.  However, there were so many good things on the menu I opted for the bouillabaisse while Mark took on the crab legs (he had to promise to share several bites with me).  I’ve never had bouillabaisse before and I was glad I tried it here – the broth was savory and full of herbs and the fish and shellfish were plentiful.  Mark’s crab was sweet and succulent, the legs were enormous and there was more than enough meat to share.  While I was glad to try it I was happy with my decision not to order it as my entree – it was too much of one thing for me.  

We finished off the meal with two shared desserts.  Mark got the chocolate-peanut butter bomb, which while very good got his usual reaction – not enogh peanut butter.  I had the chocolate crème brûlée which was amazing. Mark thought it seemed like more of a pudding but I loved it and it was a huge dose of chocolate that I wanted.  We liked Pier W and it was a good “special occasion” place. Michelle’s recommendations have pointed us to many restaurants I don’t think we’d ever have found on our own.

Today we lazed around the house – Mark made me pancakes for breakfast and I got a nice long nap.  This evening we decided to have an impromptu early dinner out.  We were going to stay close to home but the Shaker Heights restaurant we went to appeared to have closed down.  Faced with a choice of what to do I declared that we should go have my favorite Cleveland eats: Bar Cento pommes frites.  After a plate of those oh-so-good potatoes Mark had the daily special of lasagna which he said was the best he’s ever had and I went with the heirloom tomato margherita pizza which was, as always, incredible.  I love their crispy crust!

While we were at Cento we saw both Chef Sawyer and his wife, the fabulous Chef’s Widow, who was working the bar.  Mark kept trying to get me to go introduce myself but my shyness won out and I never did. Besides, I felt a bit awkward and stalker-ish about going up to her and saying “Hi!  I read your blog all the time!”  How are you supposed to introduce yourself in real life to someone who’s blog you read all the time?  I need a blogger etiquette class.

………………..

Thank you to my parents who gave me money for a pedicure to take care of my nasty feet.  The pedicurist at Dino Palmieri had her work cut out for her but did a hell of a job! (thanks Erika, for the reccomendation to this salon; I love my new haircut!)

Thank you to my co-workers who got me a gift certificate to Pier W – it helped make the final bill a bit easier to handle!

And thanks to my hubby I will be taking this class soon.  I can’t wait.