Christmas in Chicago

“Christmas in Chicago, that’s my kind of Christmas!” We painted the town red (and green?) this week! I was a bit concerned before heading into the city that I would end up spending a fortune. After all, it’s Christmas. Things are going to be expensive.

We started off my trip with A Christmas Carol at the Goodman. Quintessential Chicago Christmas. Check this out to see how you can see theatre shows for free. Free! We did it 🙂

The next night, we went to dinner at Tank Sushi in Lincoln Square. Thanks to a groupon, we got $40 of sushi for $20. Score! If you’re traveling to a new city, I highly recommend checking out the groupons for the area to which you’re headed. Deals like that aren’t uncommon, so you can try unique restaurants, eat some great food, and watch your budget while you’re at it. It’s a win-win!

>>>And that’s how you take a dark photo and still blog it: brighten it up, turn it black and white, and add a film grain. haha<<<

For our $20 voucher (plus tax and tip: $16), we got a side of edamame, a side of scallops, and three different kinds of maki rolls. So good. But too dark for good pictures. Lame.

After dinner, we headed downtown to Symphony Hall to see the Chicago Symphony’s Christmas concert. Because Cara is a student, she got us student rate tickets. They were free! That was a nice surprise!

Nosebleed seats! 6 floors up to the gallery, absolute back row. It still sounded great, even if the view wasn’t so spectacular.

After the concert, we headed to Garrett Popcorn, since I’ve never been. There’s a reason that everyone makes a big deal about this popcorn, people. It’s the best caramel corn that I have ever had the delight to put in my mouth.

First bite. I approve!

On the way to the train station, we stopped to see the Macy’s windows. Each year, Macy’s (formerly Marshall Fields) does a new Christmas installation. This year, it was made completely of paper. It was great. There were so many people, and (as always) it was so dark, so I don’t have photogs to prove it. You’ll just have to take my word for it. And know that you need to stop and see it if you’re ever in Chicago around Christmas.

Then, we headed back to Lincoln Square to see a movie. Cara had a coupon for one free ticket, so we only had to buy one for the two of us. Win! Movie for 2= $8.

So, the spending recap:

  • A Christmas Carol: free!
  • Tank Sushi: $36
  • Chicago Symphony: free!
  • Garrett Popcorn: $6
  • Movie: $8

So…grand total here is $50 for two people, for two nights out on the town. Win! Double win!

P.S. Merry Christmas, all!

I wanna know: When (if you do) do you celebrate Christmas? On Christmas day? Christmas Eve? Another time?

Ush-ing

Good news, friends! My car is healthy and well and I am now in the Windy City. I love this place. It remains my favorite, of the cities I’ve seen. This could be subject to more traveling and more sight-seeing of other cities in our fair union. But, this is the way it is now. Chicago is the best.

Last night, I arrived in time to consume a yummy, yummy dinner made by my friend Cara (salmon, pesto pasta, garlic bread…yum!) and then we headed downtown.

I’m about to let you in on a little secret for enjoying shows (even expensive shows!) on the cheap (free!). Here it is. Are you ready? Wait for it…..wait for it….  If you volunteer to usher, the theatre/orchestra/show will often give you a free seat. Free. Straight up.

SO, in exchange for smiling and handing out programs for a half an hour before the show and directing traffic for intermission (“bathroom is down in the lobby, on the left.” “Turn right, and you can’t miss the bar.” Etc), you get to see the show/concert. It’s a great deal!

Last night, we headed to The Goodman to see A Christmas Carol. We ushed. We got seats. We enjoyed a great performance of a timeless classic. No photos to prove it, but we did have a photo shoot on the platform while we were waiting to catch the el home. The girls!

All together now:

With many thanks and photo credits to the fine Chicagoan who offered to take a picture so that all of us could be in it. Good people here. Good people.

If you’re interested in being an usher, it’s as simple as calling your favorite theatre or symphony hall and asking if they are looking for volunteer ushers. If they are, get your name on the list for a show that you want to see. They’ll tell you what to wear, give you the time you need to show up, and orient you once you arrive so that you know what you’re doing. Easy as that!

Enjoy the show!

Plans change

And things don’t go the way that you think they will.

And cars break.

And dates are broken. And dinners post-poned. And plans canceled. Plans you were looking forward to. A wrench was violently thrown. Straight into the cogs of your life. And it ticks you off.

But sometimes it’s OK.

Because you come home and make muffins to console yourself. Because muffins in a hot oven on a cold winter day are the most comforting thing in the world.

And sometimes you find out that the towing fees will be reimbursed by your insurance company. And that the car will *hopefully* be fixed by tomorrow morning. And then life can carry on. And you’ll still get your vacation and adventure. Just a day later.

Because almost always, when these things happen, it really is OK. There’s a bright side to be found, if only you’ll look hard enough.

This go around, the bright side is my roommates who are still in town. My roommates who will come pick me up at the mechanic’s. And my roommates who will go to the Bakafe with me. To sit on the porch and enjoy the sunshine and the snow.

And the bright side is living in a community in which I don’t need a car. I can easily walk to work, to the bank, the post office, the gym, my practice space and the coffee shop. And I can walk home. I can always walk home.

And so, here I sit–on the porch at the bakery,  with coffee in one hand and a soft peppermint stick in the other. And I don’t have anywhere to be, so I have the freedom to be. And that’s rare. And also a pretty decent bright side.

Winter is settling in

And it seems to be making itself quite at home. The snow fell in its lazy, graceful patterns, as only snow can do, and it hasn’t left us yet. We’re settled in until March or so. Secretly, I’m thrilled.

The only sadness is that I live in Indiana. Where we don’t often get snow in great quantities, and we don’t believe in hills. Never, ever, in all of my days, did I think either of those things would fall under the “con” category of a locale. But, they do. And I catch myself thinking such irrational thoughts as, “I could move further north again,” or, “I would love to live in the mountains, where my driveway is a mile long and my snowshoes are a necessity.”

But then I remind myself that I like the beach. And that beach time isn’t really conducive to either snow or mountain living. And then  my thoughts wander to moving back to MI, where there are hills and where the snow abounds. But also where the summers are beautiful and the great lakes are within a lazy, Sunday afternoon drive. But move back? What am I thinking? That is something I said that I would never. ever. do. Ever.

It’s the holidays that make me sentimental about the homeland. It happens every year. Without fail. There’s just something wonderful about being home. And seeing friends from the olden days. Snuggling on the couch to watch a movie. Mom cooking dinner. Almond paste in the cookies. Snowshoes. Skis. And country roads (take me home).

2011 Rocks Already

This showed up in my inbox recently:

That’s right! I booked my ticket for my February trip to DC. It’s going to be a great! A few days of wandering the city, seeing the Smithsonian, drinking coffee with Emily, and hanging out with Cara. I can’t wait. We got a great deal on flights and will be staying with Cara’s sister, so it’ll be a really affordable vacation. ‘Cuz that’s how we roll.

Also! Let me tell you have I have fallen in love with groupon. Cara and I have massages (half off!) coming our way early in the new year, we’re getting sushi (half off!) next week, and (most excitingly!) I just bought this:

That’s right. I’m going skydiving. It’s on the bucket list, I’ve gotta make it happen! I can’t wait for the snow to melt. Once it does, I’ll be jumping (out of a plane) for joy. Ha. It’ll rock.

I wanna know: Have you made any plans for 2011 yet? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

The best sugar cookies EVER

I can take no credit for this recipe, whatsoever. But it’s so good. So simple. So painless. So amazing. I just have to share it. For the original, head on over to allrecipes.com, and check it out!

Last night was my last night of teaching swimming lessons; I’ve had a great class of 5 and 6 year olds for the last six weeks. Because they’ve been so awesome, and because it’s so close to Christmas, and because I look for any excuse to bake, I wanted to bake them some cookies. Because that’s what kids need more of at Christmas, right? SUGAR!

I needed a recipe that I could count on. One that wouldn’t take me an eternity to make. And one that I could easily make festive without needing the time to decorate.

And so, I turned to the recipe for the best sugar cookies EVER.

Mix this stuff in one bowl:

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

And this stuff in another:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (or vanilla, or peppermint, or….take your pick!)

Combine! Mix it up. You’ll probably need to use your hands to incorporate the last bit of flour. Roll balls of cookie dough and bake them on an ungreased cookie sheet. I highly recommend sprinkling them with a bit of sugar, or dipping the tops in sprinkles. Especially at Christmas, which is incomplete with sprinkles. Obviously.

Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. Leave the cookie buddies on the cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before you transfer them to a cooling rack.

This is a 30 minute process. Start to finish. Mission accomplished! Best (and easiest) sugar cookies EVER.