A Little Bit of Magic

So, it’s that time of year again. Girl’s weekend time of year! For this third year of my annual trip with Kailey and Crystal, we decided to visit Orlando. I’d been having a hankering to visit Harry Potter World, and instead of dragging a reluctant Drew, I suggested to the ladies that this might make a good vacation for the three of us. They agreed, thankfully, so we spent a couple days enjoying some quality time in Florida.

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They got in earlier than I did Thursday (living in a destination where I always have to connect, on the west coast, means that I’m never into the east coast before 7 or so), so they went and did a few things before I got there. But once I arrived, we checked in to World Quest Orlando and went to grab a bite to eat at a local tavern (I’m not going to get into where we ate because honestly, most of it was mediocre) and chatted away before heading to bed to rest up for Universal Studios!

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We totally should have pre-ordered our tickets for Friday’s park day, but we didn’t end up spending more than half an hour in line so it wasn’t too bad. I decided to shell out for valet parking because it was only $20 more than regular parking and honestly, for the price of a bottle of wine, it was worth it to me to not have to deal with remembering where we left the car and then having them bring it back to us at the end of the night. We spent most of the day at the Harry Potter stuff. The park is only open until 7, so we didn’t have much time to spare! My favorite ride was definitely the Hogwarts one at Hogsmeade…most of the “wait” is actually a line through the castle, getting to explore (within the confines of the barriers, of course), so it flies by and is totally worth it. We had lunch at The Three Broomsticks, went to Ollivander’s and I got a wand, and of course, shopped and shopped and shopped. There were a couple of rides that the girls wanted to go on at the end of the night, so they did while I chilled out. A full day of fun-having is exhausting!

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Saturday was much more like an actual vacation-vacation day. Crystal wanted to do some beach time while were in Florida, so we headed about an hour east to Cocoa Beach, which is right by Cape Canaveral. We let ourselves sleep in, drove out there, enjoyed a day of sunshine and fruity beach drinks and watching super drunk people have a little too much fun, watched the sun set, and headed back to Orlando. We grabbed some Chinese food and watched the Michigan football game (and after it became obvious that the good guys were not in fact going to win, tried not to watch it) and then passed out.

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Sunday I flew back without anything particularly interesting happening, and while I was certainly happy to get back to my husband and pug, I was bummed that the weekend was over. This time with my friends, after literal decades of knowing each other, is so precious and meaningful. I’ll happily admit that I’m really jealous that they live close to each other and get to see each other all the time. It’s hard not to feel like I’m missing out on things, like watching Crystal’s son grow (he’s 7 months old now!). But that we take the time and spend the money to make our reunion weekends happen is incredible, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s adventure!

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I’m officially one year into my thirties, as of yesterday. This past year was challenging in a lot of ways: wedding planning was an incredibly stressful process for me, and created not-small amounts of friction between me and the people I love, and when I think back on this past year that’s what immediately floats to the front of my mind. But there were so many fun and happy things that happened this year: my girls trip with my friends, my bestie having the cutest baby in the world, adding Lord Stanley to our household, an awesome honeymoon in Chicago. I hope that as time moves forward, it’s the good things that move their way into the forefront of my memories and the unhappiness of the wedding drama fades, because even though it was awful to plan, the wedding itself was a blast and I’m so lucky to get to spend the rest of my life hanging out with my husband, because he’s the best.

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We didn’t do anything super special to celebrate…dinner at La Famiglia, my favorite restaurant, was pretty much it. But that’s what I find myself wanting: simple moments with the people I care about most. I love going to new places with my best friends, but I’d hang out with them just about anywhere and still come away feeling fulfilled. I feel like my twenties were so outward-looking, in a way…searching out new experiences, trying to find where I fit. My 30s, so far, feel like they’re about looking inwards and figuring out what’s really important, letting the rest go. That doesn’t mean big changes aren’t on the horizon…we’re definitely looking at buying a house within the next year, among other things, but that feels like a settling in kind of a change. I can’t wait to see where I am next year, and the rest of this third decade in my life beyond.

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The Windy City

So like I mentioned, we spent five days in Chicago for our honeymoon. Drew had never been before, and it had been ages sincre I went either. I’d only ever done long weekends there before, so being there for longer gave us time to actually explore the city, which was great! We had an amazing time and really good weather considering it was the Midwest in late June: only one rainy day! We did a lot, and drank a lot, and ate a lot (which was especially awesome after my wedding crash diet that took off 8 pounds in a little under three weeks, but required me to eat only about three quarters of what would be a healthy daily calorie count). I’m only going to get into the highlights, but for reference’s sake, we stayed at the Kinzie Hotel, which we LOVED (and I did not take any pictures of, sorry). The rooms are comfy and nice but mostly unspectacular, so if you’re looking for luxury accommodations, this is probably not your place. If you’re looking for a good home base for exploring the city, we were within 4-5 blocks of mostly every El line, so it was great in that respect, AND if you book through the hotel, they give you tokens for free drinks at their nightly cocktail reception, which had very decent finger food as well. We would recommend it and plan to stay there when we eventually go back someday. We also got City Passes, which were about $100/pop but got us tickets to five attractions that we got to get in the VIP lines for, so it was TOTALLY worth it because the longest we waited to get in somewhere was the aquarium and that was like 10 minutes.

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Museum District: The Aquarium and the Field Museum are like right next to each other, so it was easy to knock these two out in one day. The kind of bummer is that we just happened to walk up to the aquarium first, so we spent quite a bit of time there. Since we’d been on our feet for hours already, by the time we got to the Field Museum, we were feeling a little drained and didn’t spend nearly as much time. Which we probably would have reversed if we were thinking about it, but that just means we’ll have to come back for a fuller experience of the Field Museum one day!

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Wrigleyville: Drew’s a big baseball fan, so even though his team is the Twins, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to go to one of the most historic ballparks in the country and got us tickets for a baseball game! We got there early to have the whole Wrigleyville experience and ended up at Murphy’s Bleachers, which was super fun, especially when it started to rain and the little side bar we ducked into to escape the precipitation got a bartender and we were able to chill out and beer up for a few hours before heading over. It cleared up about 20 minutes before we left, so the sky was clear and blue during the game itself! The weather took a turn for the worse that night and cancelled our plans to go over to the Navy Pier for the fireworks because it was all tornado-watchy and severe thunderstormy, but at least it was nice for the part of the day that we really needed to be outside!

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Viaggio: We wanted to do one “fancy” dinner while we were in the city, and Yelp led me to Viaggio, in the West Loop area. It was so good, you guys! My pasta was as fresh and perfectly cooked as any I had in Italy, Drew wanted his filet medallions to be his last meal, and the homemade limoncello was nothing to sneeze at either. We loved this place and we will definitely go back whenever we find ourselves in Chicago again!

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Millennium Park/The Art Institute: Our final day in Chicago, we did that most touristy of Chicago things- went to see the Bean. Since it was kind of the middle of the day, the crowds weren’t as bad as they could have been, and even though I’d always thought it would be underwhelming it was actually really neat! And the art museum was amazing! I never knew they had so many Monets or O’Keeffes! Seeing paintings that you’ve only ever seen reproduced in person is really special, and if feet and backs never got sore I would have been here all day.

There were some things we didn’t get to do or didn’t get to spend as much time at as we would have liked, and we had such a fun time this go round anyways, so we’ll definitely be back someday!

I’m Back (Sort Of)

So, I got married. Well, we got married, but I’m the one writing this. Honestly, wedding planning was one of the most stressful processes of my life, including prepping for and taking the bar exam. When I last posted (more than three months ago!), the tremendous amount of stress and unhappiness I felt, which was almost entirely attributable to wedding planning, was so unbearable that the idea of continue to post in the upbeat way that I like to was just unfathomable. But it all turned out pretty much okay! We had a lovely and fun wedding, and a fantastic five days in Chicago afterwards. And now we’re married! While I will never forget how low wedding planning brought me, because it was very, I am so glad that we put on a great party for everyone to enjoy (including ourselves) and that we’re married now.

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It was over a month ago that we did that, though, and while I’d mostly assumed that I’d pick up blogging more or less where I left off once everything had settled back down, I’ve honestly missed it much less than I thought I would. It’s silly, because my audience is so teeny, but I felt a real pressure to produce content on schedule. It’s been pretty nice, actually, not feeling like I HAVE to cook something every weekend even when it’s super hot so I can put up a Friday food post, or realizing in a panic that I forgot to put pictures into my post ten minutes before it’s scheduled to go live. Living my life without being constantly aware about how I can document it is…really nice.

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And I still have a writing outlet with my book blog, but that space demands much less of me than this one did. I toyed with the idea of just abandoning this site entirely, maybe even deleting it from the internet. But I don’t really want to do that, I’ve got memories of things I’ve done and seen and experienced here that I do enjoy going back and reading. So this is what I’ve decided to do: I took down all the blog social media when I stopped posting, and it’ll stay down. This blog isn’t here to go viral, it’s here to be a chronicle of a very ordinary life. This is my 500th post here, and it feels fortuitous that this change happens to coincide with a pretty significant milestone. From now on, I’ll check in here and there, when I feel like it. When I’m ready and excited to write and share, I’ll write and share. That might mean days between posts, or weeks, or even months. But I’ll be around, and hopefully you will be too.

Hold Please

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been writing here at least three times a week about my life. And I’ve loved it, I really have, it’s been an important outlet for me. But the reality is that for the past couple months, it’s felt like a chore. Instead of being excited when I sit down to write here, I find myself mentally saying “ugh”. I don’t want to write in an “ugh” way. I was going to try dropping my posting frequency down over the next few months, but I find myself not wanting to write anything at all. So here’s the deal: this space is on hold indefinitely. If I want to write about something, I’ll drop in and write, and I hope that without the self-induced pressure of getting posts up, I’ll feel more inspired. But for now, I’ll be doing my writing at my book blog. Everything will remain up, and hopefully I’ll be back soon.

I Cooked: Chickpea and Vegetable Tagine

I’d actually had another recipe for the same thing pinned on Pinterest for a while…but then I started looking at the ingredient list and there was a LOT. More than I had interest in procuring. But I was definitely wanting to make it, so I started sniffing around for something a little simpler. And I found this recipe, and I was in business!

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2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch sea salt
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups vegetable broth
7 oz butternut squash
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow bell pepper, chopped
15 oz can chickpeas, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt

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Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion and garlic over a medium heat until the onions have started to soften. Add a pinch of salt and continue to cook on low heat until the onions have started to caramelize. This should take 8-10 minutes.

Now add the tomato and spices and continue to cook on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

Next add the stock, squash, carrot, red and yellow peppers and the chickpeas. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove lid and simmer for another 5-6 minutes until thickened.

Serve and enjoy!

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I served this over a bed of quinoa, and not only was it delicious when I made it, it refrigerated and reheated really well! It’s warm and tasty and that spice combo is super great. It’s a little heavier on prep than I usually like (slicing butternut squash makes me want to die a little), but pretty quick and easy once you get going!

I Ate: Blank Slate Creamery

After I got back downstate from the Upper Peninsula last year, I had one more day in Ann Arbor before I had to head back to Reno. I spent most of that day doing work in my dad’s basement, where nearly everything I owned when I first moved in Reno in July 2012 had gotten shoved for what was supposed to be a 4 month timespan. After those months became two years, my dad was rightfully pretty over having all my crap in his basement. So I combed through a lot of it, figured out what I didn’t really need anymore, and took BOXES UPON BOXES to the Salvation Army. After a long day’s work lugging that stuff up and down the stairs, I was ready to meet my sister to treat myself to a delicious ice cream. She suggested Blank Slate Creamery, which I’d never been to because it arrived after I left Ann Arbor. Obviously, I’m always into new ice cream, so off we went!

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It was a warm, lovely evening in July, so it was pretty busy in there. In order to keep the line moving, I didn’t necessarily feel like I got maybe as much time to study the menu as I might have otherwise wanted. That said, my salted caramel ice cream was good, but not as good as the salted caramel gelato from Coffeebar down the road here in Reno. Also, the line inside Blank Slate was confusing: you more or less tried to make eye contact with one of the employees, gave them your order, and then paid, waiting for your ice cream to appear. It moved smoothly enough, but didn’t feel organized to me. Also, the seating situation was not optimal…the indoor seating is very small and the outdoor doesn’t have enough space to accommodate everyone on a busy evening. While obviously not everyone lingers, that kind of bugged me. If I’m being completely honest, based on this experience, this is my least-preferred ice cream experience in Ann Arbor. Washtenaw Dairy and Stucchi’s are better for me.

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Blank Slate Creamery is located at 300 W. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, MI. This is downtown Ann Arbor, just a few blocks away from my old apartment! I parked close to my old apartment, because the parking lot at Blank Slate is super small (fits maybe 6-8 cars) and I didn’t want to deal with it. Parking is always an issue in this part of Ann Arbor, though. They do close seasonally for the winter, so check their website before you go if you head over! Prices are a little high, but portions are very generous (I couldn’t finish my small, pictured above).

In Defense Of Finishing Books

I’m going to be upfront: this is straight-up an attempt to drive readership towards my book blog. Not as in a replacement, this space isn’t going anywhere (I am considering some changes, but I’m not sure yet), but if you like me writing about things here, you might also enjoy me writing about things there. It is a book blog, so it’s obviously mostly about books, but I structure my writing as a hybrid personal essay/book review, so it’s not like there’s nothing to get out of it if you haven’t read the books I write about. Anyways, as someone who reads an average of 50 books per year, I feel like I can safely call myself a dedicated reader. I feel like I’ve read a lot of pieces in the book blogosphere lately extolling the virtue of a DNF: Did Not Finish. And while we all have our own reading philosophies, I’m going to stake out some unpopular territory: in defense of finishing your books.

There are plenty of books that are hard to read: Russian literature springs immediately to mind. Books about slavery, about the Holocaust, about terrible things happening to children or animals. Books set in a time and place for which you don’t have the references to understand without having to look some stuff up. Books that touch on areas that have a personal meaning to you. It’s easy to put a book down and say “nope”! It starts to slow, it hurts too much, it’s too hard. Goodness knows I’ve felt that way myself, and if I’m being completely honest, there are some books that maybe it would have been better for me to not finish because I hated so much: Crime and Punishment and Don Quixote come immediately to mind. I did not remotely enjoy reading them and they were wastes of my time.

I get where the pro-DNF people are coming from, I do! I can’t tell you how tempted I was to just delete Don Quixote from my Kindle and never think about it again. Why waste finite, valuable reading time on something that doesn’t speak to you? Well, because sometimes things start slow or weird. If I’d deleted Moby-Dick at the beginning I’d have never read a justifiable classic. If I’d let myself get bogged down by the confusing names and circumstances that make up the beginning of Anna Karenina, I’d have never read what became one of my favorite novels. Just because something makes us bored or uncomfortable means that we have to work harder at it, but necessarily not that we should give up on it entirely. Reading Don Quixote helps you see chivalric romance for what it really is, and came in handy when reading deconstructions of Arthurian legend in Joseph Campbell’s Creative Mythology. Reading Crime and Punishment encouraged me to think about the nature of guilt and how it can be expurgated. Would I ever read either of those books again? Nope. Do I think it’s valuable to my continued intellectual development to read them at all? Yep! Thinking about why I didn’t connect to a particular story and what that means about me as a reader is always a good exercise, if there’s nothing else I gain from reading a book I didn’t care for. And that, along with my deep and real stubbornness, is why I will always finish what I started and actually entirely read my books.

Five For Friday: Beyonce Songs

I can still sing the super fast parts of “Say My Name”. And the regular speed parts, of course. But Beyonce has been a part of the pop culture landscape for as long as I can remember. I have actually not always been a sugar huge fan, but it’s the first entry in the list that converted me.

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  1. “7/11”: Before this song, I appreciated Beyonce, but I wasn’t like a FAN. But the video for this song made me look at her as someone with a sense of humor for the first time ever. Which actually changed my perspective on her. She seemed like someone who was having fun!
  2. “Formation”: MY JAM. I live for this song right now. It’s a woman at the top of her professional and personal game, using her incredible platform to speak to issues of racial inequality.
  3. “Crazy In Love”: That horn intro is just as anthemic as it was when this first came out more than a decade ago.
  4. “Irreplaceable”: To the left/To the left…and now this song is stuck in my head and probably yours. So catchy, such an awesome breakup anthem.
  5. “Love On Top (DJ Escape and Tony Coluccio Remix)”: The original is…fine. Whatever. I don’t hate it, But this remix turns it into the glittering, relentless disco anthem it was MEANT to be.

I Stayed: Brentwood Motor Inn

Drew was originally supposed to come on my trip to the Upper Peninsula with my dad last year, so when we planned it out, we figured on a stopover in Marquette. The reason was that Drew, who had never seen the UP, could see a bigger city. But I’d never seen Marquette either, and it’s where my dad was born and spent a few years in college before he transferred downstate, so we decided to keep the plans even after Drew wasn’t able to make it. My dad is a budget-conscious traveler, so he booked us rooms at the Brentwood Motor Inn at  for our short stay.

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And you know what? I like to give my dad a hard time about being cheap sometimes, but I was 100% down with the Brentwood. It’s clean, well-located, and when what you’re looking for is a place to drop your bags so you can explore the city for the rest of the day and only come back to sleep at night, it fits the bill perfectly. It’s very low-frills: a bed, a nook with chair and table, a desk, a mini-fridge, and a bathroom. But for a place where all I was doing was crawling into bed, watching a movie, and leaving the next morning, the decor being a little “mid-90s budget hotel” was just fine by me. Front desk staff was helpful and very friendly at check-in and check-out, which is the only time we needed them for anything. Oh, and the wireless is free and decent.

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The Brentwood Motor Inn is located at 2603 US Hwy 41 W, in Marquette, MI. It’s a clean, bedbug-free, basic budget hotel. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be happy here. If the word “luxe” appears anywhere in your description of desired accommodation, you’ll probably be happier elsewhere. Parking lot is smallish, but reasonable. We enjoyed our stay!