I decided to go for it.

Girl in the world…but mostly Illinois

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The Last Spring Break

Last week was the last spring break I’ll (hopefully) ever have. Not that Future-Me wouldn’t happily take a week off…

With school winding up, I stuck around town for most of the week in an effort to get my life together. I’ll spare you pictures of me looking dumbfounded, staring at excel documents, surrounded by a mess of articles and highlighters. Work aside, I still managed to have a lot of fun. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and all that. My sister visited the first weekend and came bearing a slew of flowers- spoils from her flower arranging class.


My first exposure to MMA. We went to an amateur mixed martial arts “beat down”. It got pretty real.


…Visited the Ropp Jersey Cheese farm. They have a cheese-making trailer with big plexiglass windows so you can check out the process before making your selection. The barns were also open so we got to pet some calves and barn kitties. They’re so smart. How could I not buy cheese made by these adorable babies’ mamas?

Baby cow

Cheese on cheese! Brought home a cheddar with green onion and a cheddar with cranberry (Ropp is known for their cheddar).

Ropp cheese

At the end of the week, my friend Lauren and I made a whirlwind trip out to Dallas for a girlfriend’s wedding. Aside from jerky and gas station coffee, I’m not much for eating out on the road, so the car was just as full of snacks as it was clothes and such. If I’m going to be in the car for 14 hours I need lots of treats. The best treat of all (with marinated mushrooms coming in as a close second) was listening to the Divergent audiobook. Post-book discussion (this will only makes sense if you’ve read/listened to the book): if we were to pick our own faction I’d gravitate towards Amity (the peaceful) and she’d lean towards Erudite (the intelligent) but we both fancy ourselves Divergent (uncategorizable, well-rounded rebels). And our collective Fear Landscape would include Dallas traffic.

roadtrip snacks

Claire and Jarrod’s wedding was really nice and, not just saying this, I’ve never seen a more beautiful bride. We were some of the few guests not from Texas so we ended up talking to people from both sides of the family. Every stranger I chatted with was so full of love for the couple. A wedding highlight: at the end of the toasts, Grandma surprised everyone with a special guest- the King. Hilarious.

The king

Even though it was quick trip, it was great having the opportunity to catch up with some old friends. It reminded me of how many LDRs (long distance relationships) I’m actually in. It would be awesome to get to see everyone more often but such is life, and (silver lining) being in different locations gives us the excuse to plan vacations around visiting each other.


Some more familiar faces!


…Rushing out to the getaway car. Congrats, Claire and Jarrod!


Lauren, channeling James Dean while waiting for our ride.


For the rest of our trip we made sure to soak up as much of the Texas warmth as possible. Windows were down in the car. I got up early and read journals on the porch, which quickly turned into chasing the dogs in the backyard. When other people woke up this morphed into playing cards for hours and cocktailing on the deck.  Our last day in Dallas ended with hanging out on the driveway, watching the sun set.


TX> OK> MO> IL…driving MACHINE! Snacks, snacks, sugar-free Redbull (an homage to a random quote in Death Proof), further Divergent discussion, and the Macklemore album on repeat.

mad driver

GPS, thank you for guiding us towards the most direct route.

back road


Nearly home! Caught a pretty So.-Ill sunset…


…Annnnd back to “springtime” in Illinois. Not bad for the final spring break!

still winter


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Guest Blogger: Laura brings us home to New England

My second Guest Blogger is the lovely Laura Hanna! From the moment I met this classy lady, I knew we were going to be good friends. Anyone who approaches exploring central Illinois with the same enthusiasm she would for a major city is an extremely valuable friend, in my book. She’s a world traveler but in this post she’s taking us home with her for the holidays and telling us a little about what’s good on the East Coast…

Awesome Laura

Oh Laura, flashing us with those pearly whites.

You often don’t appreciate the places that are close to home.  Here are a few ‘must see’ places from where I call home- New England.

NYC is a city of mind blowing oddities that easily become your norm. There are ample coffee shops, restaurants, retail, commercial, and museums to visit.  Museums – every time I head to NYC, I visit one of the many.  This time it was the Guggenheim in the upper east side of Manhattan.  The Guggenheim is almost as well known for its unique architecture as the artists that rotate through it. This winter, a black and white exhibit of Picasso’s work was on display along with a medley of other world renown artists like Velazquez, van Gogh, and Kandinsky. Pictures are not allowed inside but the view from lobby is not bad, displaying the distinct spiraling staircase that transcends the museum.  Coffee shops and subway rides always make for good people watching too.


Out and about in NYC

Side note- most cities have a plethora of museums to offer, potentially very random, but from my experience, there is always a story you can tell about it after.  For example, the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont which exhibits anything and everything.  Seriously – name the most random thing you can think of and they have it on display. Another good museum is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Jaw dropping. You don’t expect an old brownstone to host the contemporary art collection, indoor garden or historical architectural preservation work that is found here under one roof.

One of my all-time favorite places is New Hampshire.  Almost anywhere in NH is high on my list. You have the ocean, mountains, and city all very close together in Portsmouth, NH.  The downtown is a quaint, historical New England distinct built around industry and the port.  Off the beaten path is Newmarket, NH, which has been revived in the past five years.  It stands as a small town on the Lamprey River where the old mills have been recently renovated and now boast shops and apartments.  The Big Bean restaurant which has great veggie options for breakfast and the Stone Church bar/music venue are worth the trip inland.


The mills, a bit of downtown Portsmouth, and the Lamprey River

You have probably heard of Lexington and Concord, think back to 7th grade history class.  This is where the fight for American’s freedom began on April 19, 1775 along the Battle Road at the North Bridge. And so begun the Revolutionary War.  The battlefields are now a mix of wetlands and forests of stonewalls. The Minuteman National Historical Park is a walking trail paying tribute to the soldiers and people that fought against the British. Fun tidbit: you can run/bike the trail that Paul Revere rode from Boston to Concord to warn the colonists that the British were coming.

NH beauty

Overgrown battlefields, a home that was amidst the fighting of the Revolutionary War, and some of the natural beauty New England as to offer.

New England is well worth the visit if you have the chance!


A Much Needed Fall Break

Thanksgiving break! It always surprises me how easily all memory of school melts away…

I started the week off visiting my sister in West Lafayette, IN.

We spent a sunny afternoon at the Wolf Park. They have 16 wolves in residence at the facility. The main pack has around 8 wolves and others are “retired”  in enclosures with other less active/less social wolves. They also have a small bison herd. Apparently they used to be used in a predator-prey simulation (which we heard was one of the main reasons to visit) but some people complained about the practice being cruel to the bison, yaddayaddayadda, and they were forced to stop the demos without being given a chance to defend their practices. From the looks of the park and that home video, all the wolfie residents are too well fed to have much interest in risking their necks for a bison lunch. In fact, wolves aren’t all that successful when hunting in the wild- the staff said success rates are around 20%.

Back at home there was an attempt to make homemade mozzarella…

…followed by bagel-making, which proved to be more fruitful.

We celebrated my sister’s birthday in style with a tasty cake.

Laughing about eating the whole cake…and then proceeding to do so.

I was talked into running my first 10K, which felt like a pretty major accomplishment. Everything went surprisingly well (meaning I wasn’t lapped by the young and the elderly). I’m surprised to say I’d do it again in a minute.

The week ended with the 6th Annual Tofurkey Friday feast. 6 YEARS. It’s tradeeetion! This year we upped the ante with a real turkey (bourbon glazed…yes please) in addition to the usual non-meat fare. The menu also included cheesy gnocchi with squash and kale, minestrone soup, mashed potatoes, roasted brussel sprouts, green bean casserole, caramelized onion and buttermilk biscuits, Granny’s herbed apple an onion stuffing, and desserts on desserts. All in all, a most wonderful week.


Going Home

This weekend I enjoyed some much needed time at my parents’ house in northern Illinois. I can always count on going home to be a simultaneously relaxing and exhausting experience. The schedule is full a week in advance with besties, grandparents, and family friends but most of the activities revolve around food, music, and shooting the breeze with some of the best people I know.

Of course it helps when the weather is PERFECT.

The more people in the house, the more attention the pups get. The more wine and beer that’s pulled out, the more food falls on the floor. Weekend reunions are a good time to be a dog.

Smiling puppy

This is the view from the oversized chairs in the kitchen. You can see why they’re preferred seating/napping location. Just imagine being cuddled up under a fuzzy blanket next to an endless cup of tea while a cool breeze floats in off the little lake. In my opinion, this is certainly one of the nicest places in the world.

Pumpkin carving (and beer drinking and cheese eating and cookie making) with friends I’ve known for decades. That’s some real home comfort.

Our terrifying handiwork…

There’s nothing like spending a few days with some of your favorite people to remind you how important friends and family are. I’m so lucky to have these fine people (and more) in my life. As my friend Shawn simply puts it, “We delight in each other’s presence”. Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me, guys :)


Sweet Sounds of the STAX Museum

This summer I checked something big off my life-list…The Dirty South Road Trip: a lazy drive from Chicago, to Memphis, to New Orleans, and back. I went with one of my best girls who happens to be an epic travel companion and I think we did it right (further research is needed, obviously). Here are some highlights:

New Orleans:

Jacques-Imo’s: Here we filled up on traditional ‘Nola cooking. Hello butter. I’m Maddie.

Jaun’s Flying Burrito: We broke our own rules and ate here more than once. We couldn’t even walk by it a second time without going in. Cucumber Margs. Fish Tacos. Money cheese sauce. Why fight it.

La Boulangerie: We may have gone here multiple times as well. But it’s a bakery, so the same rules don’t apply. Blue cheese bread. Olive bread. We were in such a frenzy eating a loaf in the car that marmalade was spilled all over my stick shift. It was so good, worth a sticky shifter.

Blueberry Tart from La Boulangerie

-Greenwood Cemetery: Not food related but such a beautiful cemetery. We could have spent much more time wandering around this place. Around every turn there was something to marvel at.

Tomb at Greenwood Cemetery

Tomb at Greenwood Cemetery


-The Cheesecake Corner: Cheesecake and coffee by candlelight at a table for two.

Drive-In Movies: I LOVE drive-in movies. LOVE THEM. I’ve never been to one like this though- open 7 days a week with three screens running simultaneously. We were so giddy even Snow White and the Huntsman was a wonderful experience.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music: The last day of our trip was a dreary one. We were starting to look forward to being back at home, sleeping in our own beds, cooking in our own kitchens. We were a little too close to finishing on a note resembling the drizzly weather…but we decided to spend the day at the Stax Museum. Such a great decision. This museum takes you through the history of soul music from its roots in country, gospel, and blues, through the civil rights movement, and a bit beyond. Stax Records brought Memphis talent out of the woodwork and was a truly incredible place to be in the ‘60’s. I ate it up. While we were walking around I kept a list of artists I already liked/wanted to learn more about and made a mix for our listening pleasure…here you go:

  1. Get Out of My Life Woman– The Mad Lads
  2. Summertime– Sam Cooke
  3. Stand By Me– Sister Rosetta Tharpe
  4. You’ll Lose a Good Thing– Carla Thomas
  5. Who’s Lovin’ You– The Jackson 5
  6. Hold On I’m Comin’– Sam & Dave
  7. Green Onions– Booker T & the MG’s
  8. I’ll Take You There– The Staple Singers
  9. Walkin’ the Dog– Rufus Thomas
  10. Try a Little Tenderness– Otis Redding
  11. I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)– Aretha Franklin
  12. Hoodoo Lady Blues– Memphis Minnie
  13. Knock On Wood– Eddie Floyd
  14. Tell Me Something Good– Rufus ft. Chaka Khan
  15. (Night Time Is) The Right Time– Ray Charles
  16. Sex Machine– James Brown
  17. Can You Get to That– Funkadelic
  18. Shaft– Isaac Hayes
  19. Proud Mary– Ike and Tina Turner

    Getting in the mood at The Stax Museum. Photo courtesy of my friend :)

    Getting in the mood at The Stax Museum. Photo courtesy of my friend :)