Wednesday, December 16, 2009

the end of an era

Tonight marks the end of an era in my life. After nine years as a Barnes & Noble bookseller (seasonal during college, then full-time, then part-time), tonight I'll work my final shift. And after 18 years of operation in Wheaton's Town Square shopping center, my B&N store will close its doors for good on December 31st. Sniff.

Though I look forward to having my Wednesday nights back (especially now that I have a husband to go home to) I'm sad to see my store close, and there are many things I will miss about working there. I'll miss chatting with Anne, my favorite manager. I'll miss swapping "crazy customer" stories with Rick, my regular shift co-worker, who in his free time translates the absurdities of retail bookselling into really well-drawn cartoons starring a voluptuous, sarcastic llama with a killer collection of high heels and a host of other animal characters. I'll miss seeing all the new releases come out. I'll miss recommending my favorite books to customers, and having them return to tell me later how much they enjoyed the titles I'd recommended. I think I'll even miss exercising my spatial reasoning skills for merchandising displays. And, of course, I'll miss my paycheck and employee discount.

There are also some things I won't miss. I won't miss shelving. I won't miss picking up after customers who leave huge stacks of books or magazines lying about, or their empty Starbucks cup on the shelf. I won't miss parents who think their darling children do not require supervision. I won't miss the occasional prank caller, out to test my composure and professionalism. I won't miss impatient customers with unreasonable last-minute requests.

And so, Barnes & Noble, here I come for my last shift. We've had a good run.
______________________________

UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune ran an article on the store's closing. Did you know that Charles Barnes and his son William (who partnered with G. Clifford Noble) were from Wheaton? They were. Which is why B&N's CEO chose Wheaton as the location for the first store in Illinois. BTW: Ignore what the reporter says about the Oakbrook store (yes, the location on Rt 83 closed, but only because they opened a megastore attached to the mall across the street).

Ode to Clementines

Just when winter's winds and ice
Have bid my heart abandon hope
That warmth would come,
     bright and sweet
I spy upon the grocery floor
A stack of cartons, piled high
They're back! I cry with pure delight
My heart feels cheer return
For those little orange orbs of
     citrus fruit
Are happiness with a peel

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas in Chicago: A Pictorial Review

There's a group of six women (five plus me) from my very first small group at Harvest, 7 years ago, who are very dear to me. Among us there's quite a diversity of personalities and interests (and ages, even), but somehow our friendship works, and thrives, and when I gather together with these women I know I will laugh harder than I have in quite a while.

For several years now we've done a "holiday hang" - a time when the 6 of us get together to enjoy a quintessentially Christmas activity and each other's company. For the past several years, a white elephant gift exchange has also been a highlight of the hang. This year, we began at the Bean in Chicago (1), then went to Russian Tea Time for tea and a scrumptious array of savory and sweet treats (2). From there we walked to the Christkindlmarket in Daly Plaza, where we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the festive multicultural outdoor marketplace (3-7). From there we went to Macy's to see the storybook window displays (8), and then back to my place, where we enjoyed a hot cider-chai infusion and carried out our gift exchange (9 - yes, that's a genuine Snuggie) with much laughter and mirth.

Here's a pictorial review of the day's festivities:




 

 
 

Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmas, Christmastime is here...

The Christmas season is here, and I am loving having a husband to share it with. I still marvel at the fact that we're a family, though it's just the two of us. I've been signing some thank you cards, "From our family to yours..." and still get a little thrill every time.

While we were in Michigan for Thanksgiving, Travis and I made a trip to Hobby Lobby for some of the foundational elements of family traditions; namely, stockings (made ever more exciting by the fact that we actually have a mantle from which to hang them). To the uninitiated, like Travis, Hobby Lobby during any holiday season can be rather overwhelming. We took it one aisle at a time, having the most fun in the stocking aisle where we each chose the stocking that best suited us, out of the probably 100 or so styles available, and a coordinating hook for each. We also picked out a nice tree skirt. On a subsequent shopping trip-turned shopping spree at Hobby Lobby on the way home from work one day last week I picked up some gold-themed ornaments for our tree along with various frames and pieces of artwork for general wall decor. On Saturday Travis and I had a great time decorating together. With each blank white wall we adorn our apartment feels more homey and lived in. We put up a big Christmas tree in the living room and hung ornaments from Brutus' antlers in the den. I'm hoping that by the end of the week the ribbon lights and bow I ordered online will come so that we can finish decorating the tree. Once most of the elements are in place I hope to "invite you over" by posting a few pics of the finished decor.

On Friday night Travis and I experienced the festivities associated with Forest Park's Holiday Walk and Festival of Windows (for which a number of stores along Madison Street feature live window displays, some of which we found amusing, a few slightly creepy). Saturday evening after our day of decorating we headed downtown to stroll through the Christkindlmarket in Chicago's Daly Plaza, a seasonal favorite of mine ever since I first visited a few years ago. I'm happily headed back there this coming Sunday as part of an annual "holiday hang" with one of my groups of friends. I'll have to remember to take my camera this next time and snap some shots of the HUGE Christmas tree and colorful vendor booths.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Doe, a Deer

Travis and I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Michigan with his family. Last year, the day after Thanksgiving, I went "hunting" with Travis, which resulted in our engagement. This year, the day after Thanksgiving, Travis went hunting with his Uncle Craig, which resulted in this:

Monday, November 30, 2009

Another Great Christmas Album to Stream for FREE

Listen to Your King Has Come, from Matthew Smith (of Indelible Grace) and friends. You'll be glad you did.

The album is described as "a collection of songs born out of a community of artists. From the contemplative opening chords of Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken's "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" to Jeremy Casella's awestruck "Joyful Fire" to Matthew Perryman Jones' worshipful "O Holy Night," the album represents the heartcry of the people of God. A cry of rejoicing because a baby has been born to save His people from their sins...and a cry of longing, wanting Him to return soon."

Fireplace S'mores


 
for context, see "Saturday evening" in previous post

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend Highlights

What a full and fun weekend! The highlights:

Friday evening: enjoying a relaxed date night dinner at Ethiopian Diamond restaurant in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood. Yum.

Saturday morning: sleeping in, then making homemade buttermilk waffles with our new waffle maker. Yum.

Saturday afternoon: discovering the Garfield Park Conservatory, a leafy green gem in the midst of urban sprawl. Beautiful.

Saturday evening: sharing dinner at Cosi on Michigan Avenue, window shopping on State Street, watching fireworks on the river, and returning home to cozy up by the "fire" (a cluster of candles in the fireplace) and roast marshmallows (using the telescoping roasting forks we received as a wedding gift) for s'mores. Yum.

Sunday: having my parents over for Sunday dinner (which consisted of my first attempts at pot roast and butternut squash, both deemed a success), followed by church and a viewing of the Amazing Race.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's Beginning to Sound a Lot Like Christmas

Ever since I discovered it a few years ago, Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ has been one of my favorite Christmas albums. One of the reasons I love it is that it's so much more than a Christmas album. Over the course of twelve songs, Peterson, an excellent lyricist, tells the Bible's whole story of redemption, from Moses and the Passover, to Jesus, the Lamb of God slain to take away our sin. Plus, who else could put Jesus' genealogy, as recorded by Matthew, into an incredibly catchy tune?! I have yet to catch a stage performance of this album (though I would love to...they're on tour again this year, so I just might yet) but will definitely be listening to these songs again this season.

Know what?! You can too, for free! Andrew has an online player where you can listen to the whole album. [The only catch is that after each song you have to click on the next one for it to play--it won't just play through on its own. But really, you'll be so eager to hear what's next that having to click on the next song won't be an issue.] So, go have a listen. You'll be glad you did. Then if you'd like, you can purchase the album on iTunes or from the store at the Rabbit Room.

What's your favorite Christmas album? Leave a comment and let me know!

Pantry Window: Before & After

Former view of my pantry from the atrium
(10 points if you can point out the marshmallows!)


New view with my cutesy kitchen curtain in place.



(For the creation of said curtain, many thanks are due to my friend Laura, who offered the use of her sewing machine for this project, invited me over and fed me dinner, consulted (and improved) on my proposed design, and whose 4-H sewing skillz put my home ec. class skillz to shame.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sometimes you feel like a wife...

I was catching up with a friend over lunch the other day and she asked me if I feel any different now that I'm married. My answer: yes, being married feels different, and it's got to be one of the best feelings in the world. I love being a wife. Specifically, I love being Travis' wife.

In my one and a half months of marriage so far, I've discovered that certain activities make me feel particularly wifely. This morning the feeling hit when I dropped off his clothes at the dry cleaners. The other day it washed over me as I enjoyed breakfast in bed with my husband. And I get a flash of it most weeknights when Travis arrives home from work and the first thing he does is wrap me up in a big hug.

And then there are other activities that make me feel not specifically wifely, per se, but very homemakerish. (Yes, in this blog post I am making up words. Deal with it.) For example, this evening I'm headed over to a friend's house to use her sewing machine to make a curtain for the window in my walk-in pantry, which happens to be one of my absolute favorite features of our apartment. The pantry, not the window. The window is a little weird, in fact, because it looks out on the atrium. (Though this is by no means the weirdest thing about our apartment.) For the six months that the window has been curtainless since I moved in, the contents of my pantry have been on display to anyone walking through the atrium of our building. Granted, regular traffic through there does not constitute more than a few neighbors, but said neighbors could learn quite a lot about my cooking, eating, and organizational habits if they so chose to snoop. (And with such fascinating and classified information they could...um...know that if they ever need a cup of sugar, I could help them out.) Honestly, though, it's not so much that I want to keep inquiring eyes from seeing the package of marshmallows I purchased recently (for toasting in the fireplace one of these nights), but more that I desire to spare my neighbors from shocking sights (and keep ourselves from committing indecent exposure), should I ever again forget to make coffee (which requires a visit to the pantry) only AFTER getting dressed, or should Travis decide to do another round of household chores (which call for the step stool, stored in the pantry) in his underwear.

So, anyway, sometimes you feel like a wife. And sometimes you feel like an eighth grader in home ec class. And sometimes you feel like an idiot for forgetting that the pantry window does not yet have a curtain, nor do you have clothes on.

(I would like to acknowledge that the above statements would be more appropriately stated in first rather than second person. But I've had the Almond Joy/Mounds jingle in my head since I started thinking about this post, and I couldn't bring myself to abandon the motif.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thankful Five at 12:25

5 things I'm thankful for right this minute:
  1. Kiwi Lime yogurt
  2. That I decided to have risotto made from my leftover shabu shabu broth at dinner Saturday night. It made for a very tasty lunch just now.
  3. The warmth and comfort of an early morning doze in my husband's arms.
  4. The green scarf around my neck that is helping keep me warm in this chilly office.
  5. My in-laws
Bonus!
     6. The mug of steaming hot chocolate I'm about to prepare for myself.

Subconscious themes: tasty treats. warmth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chili Kick

Ever since the temperatures starting falling I've been on a bit of a chili kick. As far as dinner goes, chili is great - you've got protein and veggies (and sometimes even fruit) all cooked up in just one pot; sprinkle some cheese on top and serve with corn bread, and you've hit all the food groups. Plus, a big pot of chili means several portions of tasty leftovers to take for lunch at work. Over the past few weeks I've revisited some favorite chili recipes from seasons past (like Three Bean Turkey Chili and Creamy Chicken Apple Chili) and have also tried some new concoctions.

Last night was a culinary experiment; I started with a recipe I found online and modified it based on reviews from other cooks and my own (admittedly tentative) intuition of what would make it better. I am pleased to report that the end result was a really tasty and unique chili. Travis commented that it has "great flavor" and is "hearty without being heavy." If you're up for something a little different, try my Turkey Pumpkin Chili. Because it's made with turkey, it's lower in fat; because it's got beans it's high in fiber;  the pumpkin is a good source of vitamin A, and the peppers are a great way to get some vitamin C.

Ingredients:
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, with their liquid, plus 1 can water
  • 1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin puree
  • 2 Tb chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz) can great northern beans, drained & rinsed

Directions:
Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add turkey and cook until browned. Stir in tomatoes, water, pumpkin, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, salt & pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and add beans. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes more. Ladle chili into bowls and serve.

Notes:
This is a fairly mild chili (which is what I prefer). If you'd like more kick, consider adding a seeded and finely chopped jalapeno (or two) along with the peppers and onion. I served it with oyster crackers. Corn bread would be great, too. Top with sour cream or cilantro if you wish. 

Monday, November 09, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake!



Here's another quick wedding nugget. Our delicious wedding cake was created by Patty Cakes of Lockport, Illinois. It was a four-tier round spice cake with cream cheese frosting, decorated with piped-on outlines of maple and oak leaves and a smattering of sparkling colored fondant leaves (which appear to have begun to melt and run down the cake...oh well). A silver "S" sat atop the cake (and now sits on the mantle in our den). Guests were served a slice of cake accompanied by a scoop of cinnamon ice cream in a chocolate cup. I might be a little biased, but it was some of the best wedding cake I've ever tasted! Several guests agreed. Spice cake might not be traditional for wedding cake, but it was perfect for this fall wedding.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Under Construction

Hey there, friend! Don't be alarmed: yes, you're on the right blog. (Well, that's assuming you came to this page looking for your favorite blog about the life of Suz. If you didn't come looking for Suz's Musings, well who knows how you stumbled across my humble little blog, but as long as you're here...Welcome!)

After almost four years of blogging (next month will mark the 4 year anniversary of my first post!) and displaying my varied musings against an understated navy blue background, I've decided to upgrade to something brighter and more colorful. (And by "decided to" what I really mean is I finally got over my fear of messing with something that wasn't wasn't broken and running the risk of losing and/or having to replace content and having to learn and navigate my way around a new template with only my limited knowledge of HTML to guide me.)

A glance out the window just now at the ever darkening world makes me realize that it's probably no coincidence that the decision to lighten up my blog's look came the week following the transition to daylight savings time, which means that I'm greeted by darkness and a nearly navy blue sky when I leave the office at 5:00 each day. Perhaps the move to lighten up my blog was  a subconscious preemptive strike against seasonal lethargy?

I'll ponder that one for a while. In the meantime, I'm requesting your patience as I tweak some things around Suz's Musings (such as those tabs up there...they don't actually take you anywhere...yet) and figure out how to make this new template work for me. And as I catch up and get back into the habit of posting here semi-regularly. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Suz's Rad Stuff: Gourmet Affy Tapples

This post is a twofer: it's both an installment of Suz's Rad Stuff and another "nugget" review of the wedding.

For as long as I can remember, autumn has been my favorite season, and I dreamed of an autumn wedding that would incorporate some of the season's best colors, textures, and tastes. One of the ways I was delighted to be able to run with the autumnal theme was through the favors at the reception. We sent each guest home with a gourmet Affy Tapple in one of five flavors (plain caramel, original peanut, milk chocolate almond, double chocolate crunch, or m&m) with a note of thanks for celebrating with us.

Take it from me (and from the many guests we heard from later) - these apples taste even better than they look (and they look delicious)! I don't know how widely Affy Tapple distributes their apples, but if you happen to see these for sale somewhere, know that you won't be disappointed if you bring one home. (One of the bridesmaids confessed to me that her apple didn't even make it home from the reception, but was consumed in the car along the way!)

If you live in the Chicago area, you should know that you can stop by the Affy Tapple factory store in Niles and pick some up for cheap. They also have caramel corn, chocolate covered pretzels, fudge, and other items of sweet goodness.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Autumn at the Arboretum

While we saw lots of gorgeous fall colors on our honeymoon in New England, we weren't really able to get any good autumn color photos there, either because (a) said color was along the side of the highway, or (b) it was raining (and often, both factors came into play). Which is one of the reasons we wanted to make sure we made it to the arboretum at least once this fall - to snap a few good autumn pics, to glory in God's paintbrush, and to hear that satisfying rustle as we tromped along a forest path carpeted with color. Here are a few favorite pics from last weekend at the arboretum.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We Do, We Did, We Will

For those of you who check in here regularly to keep up with the comings and goings and musings of Suz, I hope it came as no surprise that my postings have been scarce for the past month or so. Getting married (then honeymooning, then nesting) has taken precedence over blogging lately, but I'm starting to feel the itch to get back into the groove. However, returning to my blog after such a prolonged absence in which many significant life events took place is a bit overwhelming...where to begin? I've decided to jump back in with bite-size posts about the wedding, honeymoon, and married life.

To attempt anything comprehensive at this point is simply exhausting to even think about, but I think I can handle a series of little nuggets. So, to kick them off, I thought I'd start with one of the most joyfully sobering (oxymoron? perhaps) aspects of the wedding ceremony...our vows.

Travis and I chose to write our own vows. As we did so, we were mindful of a quote from Covenant Marriage that really stood out to us. I don't have the book handy at the moment, so I'll have to paraphrase for now. The gist of the quote was this: it is not so much the man (and woman) who keeps his vows, but the vows that keep the man (and his wife).


When we spoke our vows to one another on October 3rd, we meant and felt those promises with every fiber of our beings. But the thing about covenant vows is this: on the days that will come (and we know they will come) when we question what we meant up there at the altar, or we don't feel like keeping those promises and treating the other person the way we said we would, it's the vows that will keep us committed.

We chose to memorize our vows so that they are lodged in our brains and on our hearts. We plan to frame these vows and hang them on the wall of our bedroom as a visual reminder of what we have promised. By God's grace and in His strength, we will keep these vows; and when we stumble, may these vows keep us.

GROOM: I, Travis, take you, Suzanne, to be my wife. Before God, our families, and these friends I vow to share my life with you. With great joy I pledge myself to love you as Christ loves the Church. I vow to be the spiritual leader of our family, to follow Christ all of my days, and to depend on Him for the strength to lead with wisdom and humility. With steadfast faithfulness and unwavering commitment I will stand by your side through seasons of joy and sorrow, prosperity and adversity, sickness and health. I will laugh with you and cry with you, encourage and comfort you, cherish and know you. I promise to pray with you and for you, and to encourage and support you in becoming the woman God calls you to be. I will provide for you and protect you, seeking to make our home a place of security and rest. I promise to be open and honest with you, to listen to you and seek understanding. I vow to work through conflicts with grace and humility, extending forgiveness, even as I am forgiven in Christ.

Suzanne, I love you, and it is with great joy that I make this covenant with you and become your husband, pledging myself to be your faithful friend and closest companion for as long as we both shall live.

BRIDE: I, Suzanne, take you, Travis, to be my husband. Before God, our families, and these friends I vow to share my life with you. I will laugh with you and cry with you, care for you in sickness and in health, and stand by your side through prosperity and adversity, sharing joy and sorrow. I promise to follow Christ all of my days, to pray with you and for you, and to encourage and support you in becoming the man God calls you to be. I vow to submit to your leadership, according to God's design, through all circumstances. I promise to love and respect you as the head of our household, even as Christ is head of His body, the Church. I will endeavor to make our home a welcoming refuge and place of peace. I promise to be open and honest with you, to listen to you and seek understanding. I vow to work through conflicts with grace and humility, extending forgiveness, even as I am forgiven in Christ.

Travis, I love you, and it is with great joy that I make this covenant with you and become your wife, pledging myself to be your faithful friend and closest companion for as long as we both shall live.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Celebrating the Arrival of Autumn

Temperatures have started to dip. Leaves have started to turn. Pumpkin Spice Lattes have returned to Starbucks. Yes, autumn has arrived, and I could not be more thrilled. This is my absolute favorite time of the year. Not to mention, the arrival of autumn means that my long-dreamt-of fall wedding is less than two weeks away!

In great anticipation of my upcoming honeymoon on Cape Cod, enjoy this scenic interpretation of Cheryl Miller's When Fall Comes to New England (lyrics below).



When Fall Comes To New England
Words And Music By: Cheryl Wheeler

When fall comes to New England
The sun slants in so fine
And the air's so clear
You can almost hear the grapes grow on the vine

The nights are sharp with starlight
And the days are cool and clean
And in the blue sky overhead
The northern geese fly south instead
And leaves are Irish Setter red
When fall comes to New England

When fall comes to New England
And the wind blows off the sea
Swallows fly in a perfect sky
And the world was meant to be

When the acorns line the walkways
Then winter can't be far
From yellow leaves a blue jay calls
Grandmothers Walk Out In Their Shawl
And Chipmunks Run The Old Stone Walls
When fall comes to New England

The frost is on the pumpkin
The squash is off the vine
And winter warnings race across the sky
The squirrels are on to something
And they're working overtime
The foxes blink and stare and so do I

'Cause when fall comes to New England
Oh I can't turn away
From fading light on flying wings
And late good-byes a robin sings
And then another thousand things
When fall comes to New England
When fall comes to New England

Friday, September 11, 2009

Just Added to "Makes Me Chuckle..."

The newest addition to the "Makes Me Chuckle..." section in the sidebar is People of Walmart, for which I have my Facebook friend (and college dorm & classmate) Betsy to thank for bringing it to my attention.

Makes me chuckle. Also makes me glad that I participated in the Taylor tradition of braless midnight Wal-mart runs before the advent of camera phones.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bridal S-H-O-W-E-R

This past Saturday my wonderful bridesmaids (pictured with me below) threw me a delightful Scrabble-themed bridal shower in Wheaton. So much fun, and such a fitting theme for me! It was incredible to look out on so many dear women from all different phases of my life - some who have been there for all 29 years (my mom, aunts and cousin), a few who have been friends since elementary and middle school, others from high school and college and since, girls from three different seasons of Harvest small groups, a couple friends' moms who have become friends in their own right, and my new sister. How blessed am I!
What makes a shower a Scrabble shower, you ask? (Well, my Aunt Lori asked, at least, so I will answer here for her and anyone else who might be curious!) To start with, in their invitation each guest was given a letter and asked to incorporate that letter into their gift and also come prepared to share a piece of advice starting with that letter. So, for example, I received napkins for N, Oxo utensils for O, wine glasses for G, ivory sheets for I, a cookbook and cake pans for C, etc. I also received some great pieces of marital advice, including:
  • Talk - don't assume he can read your mind. (He can't.)
  • Kiss often.
  • Cuddling is free.
  • Pray together.
  • Be best friends, but keep your girlfriends.
  • Make him do the heavy lifting.
  • Keep Jesus at the center of your marriage.
  • Choose to focus on the 90% you love about him and not the 10% that drives you crazy.
Decorations included wedding-related words spelled out in construction paper Scrabble "tiles" scattered about the walls (see photo below). We played two games, the first an "unscramble the wedding words and phrases" game, and the second bridal Scattergories. The favors were adorable and delicious (well, the edible one, anyway). Bethany made chocolate-covered Oreo pops and wrote a letter (and number) on each to look like a Scrabble tile. Allison made magnets out of real Scrabble tiles (which you can apparently buy in bulk on eBay - who knew?!) with sets made up of words like FUN, SMILE, JOY, LOVE, and I DO. (These are pictured below, though I know it's hard to tell what they are.) Food included cupcakes that spelled out "Congratulations, Suzanne!" (I ate the last of the leftover cupcakes with my lunch today. Yum!)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Suz's Rad Stuff

Oprah has her "Favorite Things," Martha Stewart her "Good Things," and Rachael Ray her "Faves." Though I don't have quite the same audience or consequence, I thought I'd start a new series called "Suz's Rad Stuff." The purpose is simple: to tell friends (and anyone else who might happen upon this blog) about products I've tried that are something special. Freedictionary.com defines rad as "excellent, wonderful." And so shall be the stuff I feature here.

To kick off this series, I'd like to say that Cinnamon Roll Pudding, the newest flavor in Jello's line of sugar-free pudding snacks, is AMAZING. Really, it's that good. The bottom part tastes exactly like a cinnamon roll (except, you know, with the consistency of pudding) while the layer on top tastes just like frosting (but without that pasty sugary texture you sometimes get with real frosting as it hardens.) It's pure delight in a little cup. And for only 60 calories! Look for it at your local grocery store and try it. If it's not on the shelf yet, ask for it. If you like cinnamon rolls, you will love this pudding.

If my endorsement isn't enough incentive, head over to the Jello website where right now you can print a 60 cent coupon to use for your pudding purchase.

P.S. My thanks to Allison for introducing me to cinnamon roll pudding. And for leaving some in the fridge for me while I'm house & puppy sitting this week.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Reading

Somehow, between wedding planning and traveling and keeping up with the affairs of everyday life, I've been able to do more reading this summer than I have in quite a while. In addition, it's become my habit to pass the many minutes of my daily commute by listening to sermons or audiobooks, so I am "reading" that way as well.

Another thing that has not happened in quite some time is that I have read a number of books that I enjoyed so much as to want to recommend them to others. So, here are a couple suggestions for your next trip to the library or bookstore:

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society (Shaffer & Barrows)
Having already finished the novel I brought with me on the trip, I picked this one up in the Denver airport before heading back to Chicago. (In case you were wondering, yes, it pained me to pay full price for a book. My BN employee discount has me spoiled.) It had been on my to-read list for quite some time, ever since one of my co-workers at BN, who's on the panel that reads potential BN Recommends titles, read and raved about it. TGLPPPS is an epistolary novel, a writing style that holds a lot of promise and power when used well (see Ella Minnow Pea). It's also one of those books where you arrive at the end with both a sense of satisfaction at how it all turns out, and sadness that you must now bid the characters farewell and hear from them no more. Read this book. It has history, heart, and humor that will keep you turning the pages and thinking about who you'll recommend it to when you finish.

Peace Like a River (Enger)
This one I listened to during my commute and it held my attention without fail. Peace Like a River tells the story of the Land family - father Jeremiah, brothers Davy (age 17) and Rueben (11), and younger sister Swede. I know I'm not the first to make this comparison, but Peace Like a River reminds me a lot of To Kill a Mockingbird (which happens to be one of my all-time favorites) in several ways - the child narrator (Rueben), the sibling dynamics between Rube and Swede, and the hallowed but defatigable father. Peace Like a River is a sweeping story of family and faith, but what really endears it to me is the way Rueben tells their story. Some of his descriptions and observations of people and situations made me laugh out loud, while others are so unassuming and insightful I wanted to wrap myself up in the words and mull over them for a while. This is a book I will return to down the road.

Life with Puppy

While my friends Allison and Alex are on vacation this week in celebration of their first anniversary, I am playing the role of Auntie Suz (i.e. puppy sitter) to their 5 month old Llasa apso Anjing (which is "dog" in Indonesian, for those of you wondering where the name comes from). Here's the fluffy little menace himself:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Creating a Haven

I've been living in my apartment for three months now. I am so thankful for the way things worked out, allowing me to live now in the place that will become our home together in just two months (60 days from today!). I am rather enjoying "nesting" -- the ongoing process of settling in, arranging things, and making a series of rooms into a home.

In the last week Travis and I have taken 2 giant strides forward in creating the haven that will be our bedroom. First, the bedding ensemble I've had my eye on went significantly on sale, so I ordered it from Macy's. Isn't it gorgeous? It came by FedEx this morning and I can't wait to get home, spread it out, and admire it. Of course, it will be a few weeks yet until I have a king-size mattress to adorn with it. We are, however, one step closer to that, having purchased a used 6-piece oak bedroom set we found on Craigslist. We're to go pick it up on Saturday.

The Second Half of the Whirlwind

Well, if you've been following along (see previous post) you know it's been a busy month! Trips #3 & 4 followed those recounted below, in quick succession, and I am now coming up to breathe...just a bit. I will be packing my suitcase again this Thursday, but this time it's for a week spent across town, where I will be house & puppy-sitting for friends while they are on vacation.

Trip #3 was up to Mequon, WI for the wedding of my cousin Molly to her groom, Andy. Here's my family with the newlyweds at the reception:
Trip #4 was to Michigan this past weekend. We drove up Friday night, enjoyed a leisurely Saturday morning, and then Travis and I split up, he for a bachelor party (of sorts) with his friends and me for an afternoon and evening with his friends' wives (who I am happy to count as my friends as well) and their gaggle of kiddos. Sunday afternoon brought my first bridal shower (the registry kind, at least) which was hosted by my new sister, mother, and aunts-in-law, who possess some serious hospitality and culinary skills. The gorgeous spread of food included two cakes (one strawberry, one lemon), a cheesecake (Aunt Carolyn's specialty), ganache-filled brownie bites, cream puffs, chocolate-covered strawberries, an expansive fruit tray, and two tasty dips--spinach and artichoke. I could further describe these scrumptious delights (the recollection alone has me drooling), but I suppose I will just let you survey the feast for yourself:
The shower was so much fun! After allowing guests to arrive and mill around a bit, Jamie welcomed everyone and then Travis (who was there for the first part of the shower) and I shared the story of how we met and how he proposed. To some it was new, to others a story that has been heard (or read) a few times already, but it was well received by all and Travis was praised (quite deservedly) for his creativity and thoughtfulness. After this we played a game where I had to answer a series of questions about Travis. I was glad for each query I was able to answer correctly, but it was to the guests' advantage each time I got one wrong, for then I drew the name of a person who would win a prize. After this everyone was invited to partake of the refreshments, which were heartily appreciated by all. Then came the opening of gifts. So many gifts! It felt like four or fives Christmases all at once. And after this, more mingling and chatting with family and friends and grazing on sweets. I could not have asked for (or even imagined!) a nicer shower. Thank you to my new family and friends in Michigan!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Four States in Four Weeks

Two weeks ago I embarked on the first of four back-to-back weekend trips.

Trip #1 took me to Colorado to meet up with Travis, who had already been out there for a week, camping and hiking mountain with his buddy Dale. I joined them on Friday, and together we visited a college friend/roommate of mine and explored sites near Colorado Springs (Cheyenne Canyon & Garden of the Gods) on Saturday. Sunday morning we hiked to the summit of my first 14er, Mt. Evans. It was a great experience, and I hope the first of many like it! This pic shows us at the top; over my shoulder is the parking lot where we started hiking at about 12,800 feet.
Trip #2 took me back to my alma mater, Taylor University in Upland, IN where I met my dear friends from Third Gerig for our seventh consecutive annual reunion. We stayed in the dorm, bunking in our old rooms for the weekend. After so many years away and so much that has happened since we lived there together (careers! masters degrees! marriages! babies! years abroad!), it was incredible how natural it felt to be there together again--climbing the stairwells (that still have the same smell!), padding down the hall to the bathroom to brush our teeth side by side, lounging around in the suites, updating one another on what's transpired in our lives over the past year, sharing stories and laughing together, looking through photos from our college days, and telling of plans and dreams for the years ahead. This year's reunion included a book-themed baby shower (for Janelle and Sophie), a personal bridal shower (for me), and a 30th birthday party (for all of us--complete with tiaras!). What a wonderful weekend...such treasured friends.This coming weekend takes me to Wisconsin for my cousin Molly's wedding, and next weekend I'm off to Michigan for a bridal shower with Travis' family and friends. The weeks are whizzing by, and summer will be over before I know it!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Dare You Not to Smile as You Watch This

Awful Library Books and Wedding Vows

Joining Cake Wrecks and Awkward Family Photos on the list of sites that make me chuckle (see below right) is Awful Library Books, a blog by two librarians (Mary & Holly) that documents actual library holdings. Explain the site's authors, "The items featured here are so old, obsolete, awful or just plain stupid that we are horrified that people might be actually checking these items out and depending on the information."

The timing of my discovery of this site is quite appropriate, since just this past Friday Travis and I applied for our Oak Park Public Library cards. I didn't have "Awful Library Books" in mind as I combed through the selection of wedding related titles, but now I want to go back and reconsider the offerings in light of this blog...because I know I passed over several volumes based on their apparent obsolescence. (They say you can't just a book by it's cover, but really, sometimes you can. If it's pink and decorated with doilies, I'm gonna say it's probably not the wedding reference book for me, and that it likely wasn't printed in this century.)

One book I was pleased to find on the shelves (and subsequently checked out) was The Complete Book of Christian Wedding Vows: The Importance of How You Say "I Do". Travis and I have started working on the various elements of the ceremony, and one of the tasks related to that (though "task" seems too laborious a word to describe a very meaningful and enjoyable activity) is writing our vows - those promises we will make to one another that will bind us together in covenant commitment.

With my own wedding approaching, I find that news of others' engagements, marriages, separations, and divorces affect me more--or maybe just differently--than they used to. Several "friends" (the Facebook kind who were legitimate friends at one point in my life and are now merely acquaintances who share a common history from a past season of life and spy on one another's lives via the ubiquitous social networking site) have gotten married in the last few weeks and months. I find that I am so very happy for them, in a sappy, cock-my-head-to-the-side-as-I-click-through-their-wedding-pictures-and-sigh kind of way, and yet I am also sobered by the statistics that tell me that one out of every two of their marriages will not last till death does them part.

When I heard (also via Facebook) that my high school youth pastor and his wife celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, I couldn't have been happier for them. I clapped my hands in delighted applause, breaking the silence in the solitude of my office.

When I heard the news that Jon & Kate Gosselin are separating I was deeply saddened, willing them to instead demonstrate to a watching world that a marriage is worth fighting for, that it's worth the hard work of salvaging and forgiving and rebuilding. That what's best for their children is not a household atmosphere devoid of tension and conflict, but a family intact with two present parents who are fiercely committed to the vows they made 10 years ago (and incidentally just renewed very publicly on an episode that aired last season).

And when I saw the headline of this article from Time Magazine (Is There Hope for the American Marriage?), I found that I wanted to read it...to find out what the author thinks the answer is. Here are a few notable quotes:

"In the e-mails exchanged between the governor [of South Carolina, Mark Sanford] and his girlfriend, they trip over themselves to praise the other's virtues. She was 'special and unique,' 'glorious'; he was a man of emotional generosity who 'brought happiness and love to my life.' These two humanitarians were engaged not only in worshipping each other's high-mindedness but also in destroying another woman's home, hobbling her children emotionally and setting her up for humiliation of a titanic proportion. The squalor and pain that resulted from the Sanford and Ensign midlife crises make manifest a bleak truth that the late writer Leonard Michaels once observed in his journal: 'Adultery is not about sex or romance. Ultimately, it is about how little we mean to one another.'"

"There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage."

"Think of the touching moments on Inauguration Night, when at ball after ball, crowds of young people swooned at the sight of Barack and Michelle Obama dancing together, artlessly but sincerely and clearly with great affection. They are an immensely appealing couple, and it was a historic night, but what we saw reflected in the faces of those awed young people — and in the country's insatiable appetite for photographs of the First Family's private life — was wonder at the sight of a middle-aged man and woman still together, still in love."

'What we teach [our children] about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Birthday Weekend Report

On Friday I turned 29, and beginning that afternoon (which I took off from work), the whole weekend was celebration. After leaving the office, I used those few extra hours to run some errands and do some shopping...I came home with a new top and skirt from Ann Taylor Loft, birthday presents to myself, I guess you could say (purchased using my $15 off birthday coupon. Let's hear it one more time for birthday coupons!)

Aside from taking a break to get ice cream with friends (free with birthday coupon!), Friday evening was largely spent getting the apartment ready for Sunday afternoon, when Travis and I entertained his family and mine. That evening I also received part one of my gift from Travis, a cute and very comfy shirt he picked out for me all on his own. I decided to wear the shirt with my new skirt to the next day's morning activity (see photo at right) which remained a mystery until we arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago, where we spent the next several hours wandering through the galleries and taking in the art.

We ended our time in the museum's new Modern wing. The architecture and design of the new wing itself is great. The modern art itself...well, I guess I just prefer art to look pretty and like it required actual talent to create it, rather than have art make a statement by presenting disturbing images...or none at all. One multimedia exhibit in particular, entitled "Clown Torture," was just that...and I generally don't mind clowns.

The evening's activity, which also remained a surprise until we pulled up to Navy Pier, was a dinner and fireworks cruise on Lake Michigan. I had asked Travis to give me an occasion to wear a beautiful dress I'd found crazy-on-sale in a little boutique in Oak Park, and he delivered with a wonderful evening of good food, beautiful views of the skyline, dancing and fireworks. It was a humid, drizzly night, so we watched the fireworks from the covered area at the back of the boat instead of going up to the top deck, but it was still very romantic. We attempted to get a good photo, but every time a gust of wind came and blew hair in my face. This was the best of the bunch...makes me laugh.
Sunday's family gathering was a celebration of not only my birthday but also my mom's and brother's as well as Travis's, plus Father's Day. After dinner (which thankfully turned out tasty - I took a big risk and made 3 dishes I'd never made before...pulled pork sandwiches, slow-cooked beans, and coleslaw) we enjoyed cake and ice cream, capping off a wonderful weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

100 Days to Go!!!

Yes, that fact is worth THREE exclamation points. In the countdown to our wedding day, 100 seems like an important milestone. Tomorrow we enter double digits!

With three months to go, the pace of wedding planning is picking up. This week I've designed our wedding invitations, ordered the paper on which they'll be printed, added some of the final remaining addresses to the guest list spreadsheet, confirmed dates and compiled the invitation lists for various bridal showers and other wedding-related events, and ordered the cake topper...among other things I am sure I'm forgetting.

Tonight Travis and I will celebrate the 100-day milestone with dinner at Flat Top Grill in Oak Park (where I happen to have a birthday coupon that will get me dinner for free. Seriously, it's incredible what you can get for being born and having an email address...I've received coupons for several free meals, free ice cream, free coffee, a free movie, $$ off clothing purchases, and more. The trick is finding time to use all the coupons before they expire! And somehow not gaining 5 pounds along the way.)

Tomorrow is my birthday, and I'll be taking a half day at work, partly in celebration of my birthday, but mostly in an attempt to get a whole bunch of stuff done before Sunday when I entertain the largest group of people yet at the apartment - my parents and brother and Travis' parents and sister and brother-in-law (yes, Sunday is the official "meeting of the parents.") I was very thankful to see on the weather forecast this morning that the high temp for Sunday is expected to be only in the low 80s, instead of the mid-90s we've been "enjoying" all this week. This is good news for my guests and for the air conditioning units in my apartment, which function but do not impress.

Everything needs to get done tomorrow because Saturday has been declared "Suzanne's Day of Birthday Mysteries to be Revealed." Okay, we didn't really give it an official title, but basically the whole day is to be one wonderful surprise after another, compliments of my amazing fiance. I know only when to be ready and what to wear for each segment of the day. Beyond that I have no idea what to expect, but if you've been reading this blog with any regularity, or have met my fiance, you know it's gonna be good. Tune in next week when I reveal what happens!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm a winner! And a writer!

Yesterday I entered a five-sentence romantic story contest put out there by Jason Boyett on his blog. And guess what! Today, I was declared the winner of said contest.

Follow the first link above to view the rules which governed the entries, and then follow this link to read my prize-winning submission inspired by the photo below.
Yesterday I took a few minutes to write a simple story inspired by an absurd photo, but in a way I think I really needed to enter this contest (and winning certainly doesn't hurt). Why? Because in the busyness and stress and activity of moving and wedding planning and juggling the responsibilities of life over the past several months, I'd forgotten that I'm a creative soul who's perfectly capable of writing something more interesting and far more profound than another to-do list or chronicle of recent events. And that doing so can be extremely satisfying, and even a little relaxing.

I want to write more. I think I need to write more. Because writing requires reflection. It necessitates stillness of body and activity of mind, when these days I am more prone to ceaseless activity of body and distraction of mind. I also need to write more because it makes me a better editor. I'm generally more eager to mess with someone else's paragraphs than I am to generate my own, but writing keeps me in touch with the process, strain, and frustration felt by those other writers in producing their product.

Writing my contest entry yesterday rekindled my verbal creativity, while at the same time reminding me that it's a good idea to write from what you know - in this case, PMS and engagement. And that unitards are always hard to take seriously, but funny to write about.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June...so far.

As it tends to do, now that summer is here it's already packed with activity and flying by. I just downloaded some photos from the camera and it made me realize how much we've been up to in just the past two weeks. Curious? Well, here's a little photographic overview of the first half of June:
On Friday, June 5th Travis and I joined with hundreds of other volunteers from our church to serve with Feed My Starving Children, an organization that sends nourishing meals to starving and malnourished children around the world. Each meal packet contains a chicken flavored powder with 20 vitamins and minerals, dehydrated vegetables, soy, and rice. Over 4 days on two campuses, Harvesters packaged over 600,000 meals. And, we had fun doing it!On Saturday, June 6th we saw Gipsy Kings in concert at Ravinia. The weather was unseasonably COLD (in the low 50's), and so we shivered and huddled together for warmth as we picnicked on the lawn. We went with our friends Allison & Alex and Nate & Bethany, who helped me surprise Travis with a little birthday celebration at the end of our meal. I brought a cake and candles, and my friends distracted Travis and blocked his view while I attempted to fit 32 candles on a small cake and get them all lit at the same time (a breeze made the latter endeavor quite difficult, so I finally settled for the majority). When we unveiled the cake to Travis and began to sing Happy Birthday, we were surprised when at least 50 people seated around us joined in the singing!
Tuesday, June 9th was my small group's first "Group Serve" night of the summer. The second Tuesday of each month during our normal small group meeting time we're volunteering to help out ECFA, a great non-profit ministry located in Wheaton, by cleaning their offices. We had a lot of fun serving together the first week, and look forward to July & August!
On Friday the 12th Allison & Alex took Travis and I out to dinner at Gaetano's in Forest Park for a joint celebration of our June birthdays. We did the chef's 4 course tasting menu and enjoyed every bite. In addition to exquisite taste, Gaetano's puts a lot into their presentation. Pictured here is one of the salad plates (pear poached in spiced Chianti served with watercress dressed with apple balsamic, and a warm gorgonzola, walnuts, and mascarpone fondue) and dessert (that's ice cream, chocolate cake, and tiramisu in the flower pot!).
Yesterday morning Travis picked me up at 3:30 (in the morning - did you catch that part?) to head up to the harbor in Waukegan. From there we went out on an 8 hour fishing charter with one of Travis' friends and one of his former students. The fish were not as responsive as the guys would have liked (only 4 fish were brought in, out of 9 bites), but it was a beautiful day to be out on the water, everybody went home with some salmon fillets (which is what I'll be preparing for dinner tonight), and I got to spend some quality "shoulder-to-shoulder" time with Travis that I think helped me better understand my fiance and his love for sports that involve killing things to eat.And finally, last night we had our second-to-last premarital counseling session. Cindy has made dinner for us each time we've met, so this time I volunteered to bring dessert, which gave me an excuse to throw together a pretty summer trifle. We've really enjoyed our sessions with Dave & Cindy and feel like they've been beneficial, giving us a lot to think and talk about as we prepare for marriage. Last night, however, I had a hard time focusing on what was being said, formulating answers that made sense, and not getting defensive about probing questions. Lesson learned: PMS + only 4 hours of sleep + 8 hours in the sun + premarital counseling = not a great combo. I am thankful that everyone took my out-of-nowhere tears gracefully in stride. :)

Though not photographically documented, during the first half of June we were also busy with Travis' big move out of the house where he'd lived for several years. Most of his things are now in our guest bedroom, from whence they will be integrated into the rest of the apartment. Between now and the wedding, Travis will be living with a co-worker in Oak Park who offered him an extra bedroom.

And what will the rest of the month include? Unpacking and putting away Travis' things, more get togethers with friends, my birthday celebration (Travis has something cooked up!), the meeting of the parents, and some hard core wedding planning.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Today marks the 32nd birthday of my handsome fiance!

We enjoyed the gorgeous weather yesterday afternoon by walking into town, spreading out a blanket in the park, and playing Scrabble in the dappled sunshine. As we were strolling along afterward, Travis commented that this year promises to be his best yet. Anticipating my own birthday at the end of this month, I feel the same way. Looking back, we see how richly we were blessed even as we traveled our separate paths that providentially intersected last February. As I consider the journey of companionship and love that began that day and stretches to the present, and eagerly anticipate what lies ahead, I'm simply amazed at this love God has given us.

Travis, you are a more faithful friend, a more humble leader, and a more tender lover than I could have ever imagined for myself as a partner in life. You have my respect, my love, and my promise to walk alongside of you in covenant commitment each day of our life together. Happy birthday, my love!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Food for Thought: Natural Beauty

"Cheerfulness and content are great beautifiers, and are famous preservers of good looks."
~ Charles Dickens

"Taking joy in living is a woman's best cosmetic."
~ Rosalind Russell

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make that Thirty-One

Travis and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis with our friends Mike & Becca. It was a wonderfully relaxing time...we made meals together, slept in, went for walks, read, conversed, watched a movie, played some games, went to church, made (and ate) cookies, and had a spontaneous (though short-lived) Latin dance party.

We also tried out a new restaurant in downtown Indy called The Taste of Tango. This meal was our introduction to Argentine cuisine. They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression...but for Argentina's sake, I would like to give the country a second chance. The food was okay, but I was expecting/hoping to be "wowed" by at least something about it - the flavor, the presentation, the ingredients - but nothing really stood out. The empanadas were tasty enough, the homemade ravioli with Rossini (white sauce with filetto) Travis ordered was good, the dish I ordered (Matambre con Rusa) was...interesting, and the beef Mike and Becca ordered (Asado de tira) was, frankly, fatty and rather disappointing (given that Argentina is one of the world's leading producers of beef and it's a staple of the Argentine diet). I want to believe Argentina has tastier dishes to offer. I'll have to ask my friends who were missionaries there for over 30 years...and perhaps see if I can score an invitation to dinner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Make Your Own Instant Oatmeal Mix

A couple months ago I was given a package of "gourmet" cinnamon raisin instant oatmeal mix. It sent me on a bit of an "oatmeal kick" and also sent me looking online for recipes to make my own instant oatmeal mix. I combined and modified a few of the recipes I found, and here's what I came up with. It's a cinch to mix up a batch, very economical, and open to endless variations.

Homemade Instant Oatmeal Mix

Ingredients:
3 cups quick-cooking oats
2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly blended. Store in an airtight container.

To prepare one serving of oatmeal:
In a microwave safe bowl, mix 1/2 cup oatmeal mix with 2/3 cup water. Microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Stir, then let stand for about 1 minute before serving.

Variations:

Just before adding water and cooking, stir in one or more of the following:
  • raisins
  • dried cranberries
  • any other dried fruit
  • chopped dates
  • diced apple
  • chopped pecans or walnuts
  • slivered almonds
  • wheat germ
After cooking, you can also try stirring in or topping your oatmeal with one of these:
  • maple (or any flavor) syrup
  • fruit jam
  • fresh fruit
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Monday, May 11, 2009

Around the World in 80 Meals

A couple weeks ago, as Travis and I shared a combination sampler platter of traditional Nepali dishes at Taste of Himalayas in St. Charles, I thought to myself that "Around the World in 80 Meals" would be a good title for a book...or at least a blog post. And that got me wondering just how many countries I've visited, via their cuisine. With the help of a world map, I think the answer is 30 (listed below).

Although trying Nepali food just kind of happened as we strolled through downtown St. Charles looking for somewhere to have dinner, upcoming intentional forays into international cuisine are to include Colombian and Ethiopian.
  1. Afghanistan
  2. Austria
  3. Brazil
  4. China
  5. England
  6. Finland
  7. France
  8. Germany
  9. Greece
  10. India
  11. Indonesia
  12. Ireland
  13. Israel
  14. Italy
  15. Japan
  16. Korea
  17. Mexico
  18. Mongolia
  19. Morocco
  20. Nepal
  21. Peru
  22. Poland
  23. Romania
  24. Spain
  25. Sweden
  26. Switzerland
  27. Thailand
  28. Turkey
  29. United States
  30. Vietnam
Countries added since I originally posted this list:
31. Argentina
32. Lebanon

How Now Brown Cow?

This past Saturday Travis and I had a date night in Forest Park, which is the next town over from Oak Park. After browsing through Two Fish Art Glass Gallery we went up the street to The Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor.On our first visit it seemed only appropriate to get the name sake Brown Cow Sundae. Now, the menu describes this sundae as "three scoops of chocolate ice cream topped with hot fudge, peanut butter topping, whipped cream, sprinkles, nuts, and a cherry, served in our signature pail." Well, it turns out that "three scoops" is really more like a PINT of ice cream. Seriously, this was a huge sundae. Travis and I shared it and did our best, but still left probably about a third of the ice cream to melt in the pail. Next time we will know to either order the "mini" or bring friends!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Firsts

Back in February Travis and I celebrated one year since we'd met. At that point, some events (i.e. holidays, etc.) began to repeat themselves and no longer felt quite so momentous the second time around. The fun thing about moving into my new place (which will be our place come October) is that it ushers in a whole new round of firsts.

Last evening we enjoyed our first dinner together at our dining room table, complete with a vase of flowers (compliments of Travis) and candles (compliments of one of the boxes I've actually managed to unpack so far). As the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months, we will recognize many more firsts, but also delight in deciding which things we want to repeat, which acts are worthy of instituting as a tradition, which things were good but with room for improvement, and which things we should never do again (first on that list...attempt the reverse commute using the same route I took yesterday - it was awful).

Last night we also joined Alex & Allison in their Thursday evening tradition, an after dinner trip to Paciugo for gelato. In my little piccolo cup I enjoyed S'mores, Mediterranean Sea Salt Caramel, and Pannacotta Wedding Cake. Yum! Travis and I might not visit weekly, but we'll definitely be going back - especially because they're constantly swapping out flavors from their over 250 tasty options!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A New Nest, A New Community

As of this past Saturday I am now a resident of Oak Park! Spring finally delivered on its promise, and I couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather for the big move. Friends and family came out to help, and the whole process went pretty smoothly. Though there's still a lot of work (unpacking, cleaning, organizing, purging) to be done before I feel settled, I must say it feels REALLY good to be in my new space, even if it is littered with boxes and covered in more dust than I'd like. Added to the relief of having the move behind me is my excitement over the reality that this new apartment is not just my home, but it will be OUR home. Travis and I are so thankful for how the Lord led us to this apartment and provided so much space in just the right location and at just the right price.

In addition to nesting in my new apartment I look forward to exploring my new community. I'm excited to get a library card...to walk into town...to wander through the neighborhoods and check out the different kinds of architecture...to learn the history of this place...to try out the different restaurants...to discover my favorite park...to determine the best routes from here to there...to do some window shopping...to visit the farmers market on Saturday mornings...to meet my neighbors...to make spontaneous coffee dates with my best friend...and to have my fiance living only 7 miles away (instead of 32)!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Inside the Mind of a Bridesmaid

This past weekend I had the honor of standing up as a bridesmaid as my friend Bethany pledged her constant faith and abiding love to her new husband, Nate. (Congrats, friends!) As I stood there at the front of the church, off to the side, to bear witness to the event, my mind was a flurry of varied thoughts:
- she's such a beautiful bride
- don't lock your knees, Suzanne! bend, bend!
- these flowers smell good
- my feet hurt
- oh, just look at the love beaming from his face!
- her veil is gorgeous
- i like that music
- i wonder what comes next
- i should have read over the program more carefully
- awww, look how happy they are!
- ooh, i really like how that was worded
- in a little over 5 months it's going to be me saying my vows - wow!
- why am i crying right now?
- why didn't i bring a tissue up here?
- i like that element a lot - have to remember that
- yay! i'm so happy for them
- i need to remember to ask bethany about that
- i get to dance with my fiance tonight - whoo hoo!
- i wonder if i'll cry when i'm at the altar
- i'm hungry. why didn't i eat more at lunch?
- hee hee, that was funny
- how can i subtly shift my feet without falling off this step?
- marriage is amazing. i don't know how anyone can enter into it lightly.

Yes, there are a lot of thoughts that crowd for attention inside the mind of a bridesmaid, most of them fleeting. The thoughts and impressions that linger this time around have to do with how sacred and mysterious and incredible marriage is, and what a HUGE deal it is that in a little over 5 months, I will be the one exchanging vows with Travis and entering into a covenant that will bind us together for life. I've always loved weddings, but with my own on the horizon, I find myself impacted by not only the joy but also the weightiness of the occasion.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Food for Thought

"Real love always heals fear and neutralizes egotism, and so, as love grows up in us, we shall worry about ourselves less and less, and admire and delight in God his His other children more and more, and this is the secret of joy." - Evelyn Underhill

Monday, April 13, 2009

Run for the Border. Sing When You Get There.

Here's something to make you smile on a cold and rainy Monday (at least here in Chicagoland).

Sonicky...and not so sonicky.

Over the past couple months I've been slowly working my way through Roy Blount's Alphabet Juice, which indisputably has the longest subtitle of any book on my shelf: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences: With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory. The book is basically a glossary of words and phrases, with (mostly) brief quips about their origin and usage.

Blount takes issue with the idea that the sound of words is arbitrary and separated from their meaning. Rather, he contends that humans have an innate sense to detect when a word is particularly appropriate to the thing it signifies. He describes a word with that quality as "sonicky."

So, with that in the back of my mind, I was struck by the difference between the two words that appear on my Yahoo home page today in my Dictionary.com Word of the Day widget. Today's Word of the Day is "susurrus," a noun defined as "a whispering or rustling sound; a murmur." Say the word [su-SUHR-uhs] and listen to how it sounds...doesn't it SOUND like what it means? That, Blount would proclaim, is a sonicky word.

Meanwhile, yesterday's word is about as un-sonicky as you can get. Pulchritude. If this word is new to you, what would you think it means, based on how it sounds?

This noun's meaning (are you ready for this?) is "that quality of appearance which pleases the eye; beauty; comeliness; grace; loveliness."

Let's use it in a sentence, shall we?

As he gazed upon his wife, he was overcome by the pulchritude of her countenance.

Even though you know what the word means, it just doesn't sound like a good thing, does it? It sounds like something that would make a person puke, not something upon which one's eyes would feast.

And that, my friends, is why words are fascinating to me.

What's your favorite sonicky or unsonicky word?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Food for Thought

"Too many people spend their entire marriages trying to conform their spouses into their image rather than allowing God to conform their spouses into His image."
- Michael Sytsma, in Saving Grace

Thursday, April 02, 2009

New Digs!

I have exciting news to share! After months of scouring Craigslist, making phone calls, and visiting apartments and condos that just weren't right (ever felt like Goldilocks?), Travis and I have found the place we will call home. I'll be moving in the first of May, and Travis will join me in October after we're married.

The apartment has just about everything we were looking for and more, at a remarkable price. We'll have a kitchen, dining room, living room, a huge master bedroom, a guest room, a den, and an office. Plus there are two full bathrooms (one complete with retro 70's yellow-gold tub, toilet, and vanity and metallic wallpaper) and a walk-in pantry. So much space it's crazy. It's in an old building (constructed in 1898) above a store front, so the space has lots of character, a few quirks (like "windows" with walls behind them), and not a level line to be found anywhere (the entryway stairwell slants so bad it looks like something out of the Twilight Zone when things start to go all wonky). I am eager to move in and start "nesting!" In fact, some nights, before I drift off to sleep, I lay there and think about furniture arrangements, and what I'll put in each closet, and how I can organize this, or decorate that...

I am also excited about exploring my new village and neighborhood and discovering all it has to offer. I've learned that every Saturday from June through October there's a farmers market just a few blocks from our place that has local vendors, fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods, donuts and coffee, and live music. With my typically busy schedule, wedding planning, and quite a few weekends away, I don't know how often I'll actually have a leisurely Saturday morning where I can stroll to the market, browse the goods, enjoy a donut, and meet my neighbors, but I sure like the IDEA of it. :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Engagement Photos!

Permit me to be a gushing bride here for a minute. As I noted in the life update, below, we recently had our engagement photo shoot with Kaiti, a TU friend and the photographer for our wedding. We started out at Morton Arboretum, one of our favorite places to wander and go hiking, and then took some more shots at Hurley Gardens, a little out-of-the-way park in Wheaton. The weather was perfect, Kaiti did a wonderful job, and we had a lot of fun.
Here's the link if you'd like to check them out!
http://www.kaitibierdeman.com/engagement026