My Favorite Holiday Traditions

I'm a sucker for the holidays. Who isn't, really? As soon as it's appropriate (i.e., Thanksgiving or shortly after), I've got the house decorated and the tree up.

Bryan and I have a new tradition of buying Xmas ornaments from all the places we visit!

This year's tree.

 Plus, say what you will about Chicago summers, I happen to not mind the Chicago winters - at least in the first months. Although frigid and freezing and windy and miserable, it is also impossibly beautiful during the holiday season. Chicago residents deck their homes, bars and restaurants deck their halls and the streets and parks go all out with lights galore. (see previous post about zoo lights).

Now that we're married, we've been able to start some of our own traditions, which I love. But I also like to look back and reflect on some of the holiday traditions that have given me such wonderful memories in years past, and that I hope to pass on to our own children someday. Here they are:

1. Making Cookies

  Last year's cookie making. 

Everyone knows the tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa Claus, and I LOVED making Christmas cookies. My mom made the dough and frosting from scratch, and we had tins on tins on tins of cookie cutters, sprinkles, red hots, you name it. Last year, I forced everyone to bring back this tradition with the little ones in the family. While still an amazing tradition that I'd do every year, it's much more labor insensive than I remember. WORTH IT!

2. Christmas Eve
I think I love Christmas Eve more than Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, my dad made homemade spaghetti, and we were allowed to open presents from our relatives. I love the memory of leaving letters and treats for Santa when we got home from midnight mass. When cousins, aunts and uncles were there, we'd sit around the Piano and sing Christmas songs. It was just happy, ya know? And now, as adults, we still eat Dad's spaghetti, go to church and open gifts on Christmas Eve. Looking so forward to it next week!

3. Advent Calendars
We always had the coolest advent calendars. My uncle Jesse sent them to us, along with these ceramic Santa boots that served as a holder for all of this delicious candy he'd send. It was always a challenge with my sisters on who would get to open the calendar that day.

4. Christmas Light Cruising
I can't remember what night of the holidays we did this, but my family and I piled in the car and drove around Iowa City looking at everyone's Christmas lights. If you know me, you know I LOVE Christmas decorations and lights in particular. They just make everything festive and happy happy happy!

5. Decorating the Tree
I've said it like, three times now, but in case you didn't quite get it, I LOVE CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. Our parents get us Christmas ornaments every year, and my mom would keep my sisters and my ornaments in separate boxes. Every year I'd open that box and I remember it was like the most familiar and happy feeling seeing those ornaments. I need to get those back from mom!
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Spain Recap: Numero 1

Hola! I've officially been back in the States for about 3 days and am trying desperately to get back into real life. That means back to work, back to the gym, back to the store, doing laundry...etc etc etc. However, life isn't going to slow down just because i'm jetlagged, so I'll get to the good stuff.

We are back from 10 blissful days in Spain and Portugal. Our trip was beyond, beyond amazing. I forgot how much I love Spain. The culture, the architecture, the streets, the café con leche, the tapas, the customs, the history... Being there brought me back to why I loved living there 8 (gulp) years ago.

We made it safe and sound to Europe, arriving last Friday. But of course, not without a minor hiccup. We had a direct flight into Germany, where we connected to catch a flight to our first destination, Palma de Mallorca. Checking in to the flight, the attendant couldn't find Bryan's reservation, even though he had a boarding pass. Upon further review, we discovered B missed his flight--because he had booked it for the day BEFORE. 

B is a travel connoisseur, so trust me when I say that these kind of mistakes just don't happen when we travel. But, it did this time, and we had no choice but to buy a one-way ticket to Palma, to the tune of 229€. Eugh. So, aside from starting the trip about $325 in the hole, the travel there was smooth sailing.
Views from our room, plus a glimpse inside it. 

Mallorca is an island off the Eastern coast of Spain, on the Iberian Sea. While I've been to Spain, Bryan has not, but this was a new destination for us both. We stayed at the beautiful Castillo Son Vida, an old castle that overlooks the city and the sea. It was amazing. We got upgraded to a two-bedroom suite with an amazing view, and were given a bottle of cava, gratis. After about 13 hours of traveling and only 3 hours of sleep, we took some time to rest and relax in the hot tub/steam room/sauna, take a short nap and shower before we set out to explore.

Our hotel

We did a lot more research before this trip than last year's, so instead of aiming blindly, we knew where we wanted to go for meals, things to do, etc. One thing we did not think about - or rather, I didn't remember - was a couple of key Spanish customs. The first being that many bars and restaurants are open during almuerzo (lunch) until about 4pm, and then they close for a siesta and to prepare for the dinner rush. The other custom is that that Spaniards typically don't each dinner until about 9-10pm. 

 Views from the hotel terrace

So, we made out way to the restaurant around 5:30 to find it was closed until 7:30. Not to worry -we walked around, saw the catedral lit up, and found a café to sit outside and have some tapas and vino. 

One of the best things about Spain is that you can sit at any of the thousands of cafés in any city and get whatever you want to drink, be it a Coke, café, cerveza or glass of wine for 4€ or less (about $6). Unreal. We sat people watching and I eavesdropped on Spanish conversations while we waited for our restaurant to open. Finally we were seating at The Wine Garage, and let me tell you, it was worth the wait.

We had personalized service from the owner, who gave fantastic local wine recommendations. We had apertifs and shared a friend chicken and potato dish for dinner. Sounds boring, I know, but trust me - it was unreal. The chicken was flash-fried, just enough, the potatoes thinly sliced. Divine. 

We were spent by the time we were done with dinner, so it was off to bed for us. On Saturday, we took an old train to a port town called Soller, where we walked around, had some coffee, saw the water and mountatins, another cathedral and headed back to Palma.

More sightseeing, more cerveza, more sunset photos and then off to another fabulous dinner: this time to a steakhouse called Bruselas. Again, we were served perfect wine, steaks, vegetables and desserts.

I'm nodding off as I type and omitting details, but ya'll probably don't care as much I do anyway. Enjoy the pictures, and I'll get you more updates in the next week or so.

Other posts I'm thinking of: my favorite Christmas traditions, holidays in Chicago...basically anything holiday focused! Super excited for the weekend, already, because our furbaby has been back in Iowa for the past 2.5 weeks. She's coming home this week and my sister, brother-in-law and niece are bringing her and staying for the weekend! Can't wait to do all things holiday with them.

That's all I got ya'll. Nice to be back and hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings with your families!

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30 Questions from a 30-Year-Old

/It's officially been one calendar month since I turned 30, which is further proof that time moves too quickly. (I wonder if it will go this fast once I'm pregnant. That's 9 months I could stand to have fly by.)

In honor of my one-month anniversary of being 30, I've been wondering a few things that I was hoping ya'll could help me answer:

  1. When will I start to feel 30?
  2. When will I start to get freaked about turning 40?
  3. At what age do people stop being able to sleep in?
  4. Why did my metabolism stop working the moment I turned 30?
  5. Did anyone else's metabolism stop working when they turned 30?
  6. Will I ever feel like a grown-up?
  7. Will I ever feel like I'm "ready" to have a baby?
  8. Is there ever a "good time" to get pregnant? i.e., will I ever look forward to the next 9 months and not think, "I'd like to be able to drink at ____..."
  9. Should I keep making new friends, or work on the quality of friendships I do have?
  10. What am I going to be when I grow up?
  11. Is it bad that I'd have no problem being a stay-home mom?
  12. How do people know how to parent and not have their children 1) die from something because they don't know what they're doing (like choking) or 2) turn into psychos, murderers and generally horrible people?
  13. Will the people I celebrated my 30th birthday with be the same people I celebrate my 50th birthday with?
  14. How old is too old to celebrate birthdays?
  15. Will my kids like me?
  16. What happens when someone I know gets divorced, as statistics say? What will I do?
  17. When will the world become a better place?
  18. How will I deal with the people I love dying?
  19. Will I ever understand politics? History? Geography?
  20. When will I finally write my first book?
  21. Were my 20s really the best years of my life?
  22. Do I look old to young people? Young to old people?
  23. Will I ever have a body that I'm happy with?
  24. How do I balance my ambition of being an author with my ambition of not working ever?
  25. At what age should my parents stop looking after me, and when should I start looking after my parents?
  26. Will I ever feel like I've "made it," in terms of money, success or happiness?
  27. When will taking a shower stop feeling like a chore, and like something I want to do?
  28. Will I ever take medication for my anxiety or OCD?
  29. Will my weight ever fully catch up with my appetite? In other words, will the fact that I eat like I'm 300 lbs ever actually mean I weigh 30 lbs?
  30. Are you ever ready for 30?
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A Letter to Sloan

Dear Sloanie,

You’ve officially been TWO years old for just over one month now. Where has time gone?

It seems like just yesterday you were just a tiny, helpless baby who loved being kissed and cuddled. Now you’re a big girl who insists on doing everything by herself. Thankfully, you still love to be kissed and cuddled.
One of us is aging beautifully!

I wish I could adequately put into words how life has changed since you were born. ‘Love’ isn’t  big enough a word to describe it. I can’t imagine what it will feel like once I have my own kids. It scares me a little to be honest.

I’ll tell you little girl, you’re gonna be a tough act to follow. Never have I ever met such a genuinely good baby, and I’m not saying that just because I’m biased. You started sleeping through the night when you were like a day old. (That’s an exaggeration, but you were very young.) You’re good-mannered, always saying please and thank you, and you cook copious amounts of pretend food for everyone. Plus, you have great hygiene.  

And you're just so sweet, giving big, wet kisses, huge hugs and you aren’t afraid say to say, “I love you.”

I’m not gonna lie, you’ve definitely turned up the sass in the past year or so. Especially now that you’ve learned the power of ‘no,’ throwing tantrums and escaping your crib. You’re learning how to manipulate and hurt people because you want to, mainly through biting and hitting. But I’ve got to believe that you don’t actually know what you’re doing, and instead just doing it to get a reaction.

Always happy to see me!

In the moments when you aren’t raising hell, you’re smiling your toothy smile and giggling the most adorable laugh. You’re playing hide and go seek, and you love being chased and then caught. You love reading, playing with the dogs, and your Uncle Bry Bry. You’re amazed by everything, from leaves to elephant balloons. Dancing is a favorite past time and you're already popular, for a 2-year-old.

Your favorite thing to do as of late is to make everything you want to do seem like someone else’s idea. 

Sloan: Outside.
Me: What? You want to go outside?
Sloan: OK!

Swinging outside in the cold.

Sloan: Walk.
Me: What? You want to get out of the stroller?
Sloan: OK!

You're not winning this time.

So in case you weren’t sure, I just wanted to write you a belated happy birthday letter to tell you how much I love you. I hope you’re enjoying life as a two-year-old, little lady. I both dread and look forward to each year you get older, but I know we’re gonna be best friends some day.

Also, don’t ever call me Rachel.

Aunt Che Che/Chi Chi 
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Go Pack Go!

Monday, we meet again.

This was the weekend I've been waiting for for months on end - MY VERY FIRST PACKERS GAME! I've mentioned it before, that my Grandpa Al Zupek played for the Packers, back in '46. Despite my love for the team coursing through my veins, before this weekend, I'd never been to a game, at Lambeau or otherwise.

Leave it to my dad to make dreams come true. He took me, my sisters, brothers and significant others to the game yesterday, and suffice it to say, we had a blast!

We got in late on Friday night, and based on everyone's intoxication levels, it seemed like the husband and I were about 3 hours late to the party, so we called it an early night. 

Saturday morning, we headed into Appleton to catch the Hawkeye game. 

Despite the pouring rain, we hung outside on the covered patio playing bags, darts, and jumbo Jenga. 

That evening, we went to Dick & Joan's Supper Club for some Old Fashioned's (whiskey, sweet, with olives) and fish. Given that we had been boozing it up all day, it was an early night for all...and an even earlier morning.

It was a noon game, and we were staying about 20 minutes away, so to get ahead of traffic, we took off a little before 8 a.m. It was chilly and cloudy, but we held out hope that the rain would stay off and it'd be a great day for football.

Our prayers were answered! It ended up being the most perfect fall day - sunshine, blue skies, a breeze. It doesn't get better. We tailgated for a few hours and headed into the stadium for kickoff.

Whether or not you're a Packers fan, the experience at Lambeau Field is unlike any other. The fans are die hard, the energy is contagious, and it's just fun. We played the Lions and even better...we won! The game was awesome, and I made sure to get some new duds at the Pro Shop!

And just like that, the weekend was over. We decided to head back to Chicago after the game instead of spending the night. With my new job, missing a day of work the second week just didn't seem like an option.

Thanks to my Dad and Denise, and my wonderful family for an amazing weekend! 

Poor Dad got cut from the photo and we didn't even realize it :(

Mingle 240

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Birthdays and Best Friends

If you were at all worried I wouldn't survive my 30th birthday, fear not: I am alive. I survived any and all birthday celebrations, spent all of yesterday recovering AND made it on time to my first day of work at my new job today!

As ya'll know, my weekend was jam packed with birthday fun and friends. All of my very best friends in the world traveled near and far to be able to kick off our year of 30th birthday celebrations. (Yes, I have the pleasure of being the oldest in our group.) We don't all get to be together very often, but when we do, as my husband can attest, we just chat and laugh, and pretty much don't pay attention to anyone else :). It's the best, and I'm so grateful they were all here to go above and beyond to make my weekend special. 

My best girls!

On Friday, after getting the rest of my stupid cavities filled, I met my girlfriends Annie and Ashley for happy hour. Both of these gals were visiting from Nashville and Santa Monica, and I was so excited to kick off the weekend with them. My other best friends arrived from Iowa City later that evening, and we all enjoyed dinner at a delicious BYOB sushi place, complete with a cupcake the size of my head, before heading to the late night show at Second City.

The group at dinner!


 Wall of famous hands at Second City.

If you ever come to Chicago, do yourself a solid and go see a show at Second City. They're consistently hilarious and this weekend's show didn't disappoint. After laughing our asses off for about 2 hours, we had a nightcap at a bar across the street. And then, because it was "only 1:30 in the morning," we decided we weren't ready for the party to end, so we bought a case of beer and came back to my house, drank unnecessary amounts of beer and pizza until wee hours of the morning (we were trying to make it to 4am when I officially turned 30), which resulted in massive hangovers for most, if not all of us, on Saturday.

I love this photo of us. Perfectly captures "us!"

Sleeping off the hangovers.

But, a hangover can't keep me down, especially on my birthday, so we kicked off my 30th birthday with brunch and Bloody Mary's at a nearby watering hole. After that, we had friends over to watch the Iowa football game, except none of us girls watched it. Instead we sat outside chatting and enjoying a beautiful day (see note above about what happens when we get together).


My friend Kate went above and beyond, per usual, with personalized cupcakes, signs, a champagne glass and decorations for the party. My girlfriends gave me INSANELY generous gifts, include a ton of gorgeous Mary Kay makeup, perfume, a Hobo clutch and a Coach purse. To say nothing of the GORGEOUS sapphire and diamond ring that my husband bought for my 30-year-old right hand. Am I lucky or what?

Love love love.

Finally, it was time to head to my favorite wine bar for a small gathering of friends. When I walked in, I saw my mom's best friend, and low and behold, my mom and aunt Betsy turned around and SURPRISE! I was truly shocked, and because I've never been surprised like that, I immediately started crying. You see, none of my family was there because we are all going to Green Bay this weekend for a family celebration. Plus, my mom hadn't called me all day, and I missed them. But seeing her and my aunt was truly one of the most memorable moments of my weekend, and I'll never forget it.

The party was perfect, and I can't thank my husband enough for making it happen. It was all of my favorite people together in one room and I just couldn't have had a better time.

Love of my life!

Although I always make fun of the fact that I don't have a lot of friends in Chicago, I found myself re-examining those claims this weekend. As I looked around my party on Saturday night, I was surrounded with friends I've had from all times of my life, from elementary school to junior high and high school to college and those friends I've made in my career and post-college. I felt really humbled and extremely lucky to have so many wonderful people in one room, and for the same reason, which was to celebrate me. To say I felt loved would be an understatement. So if you were there on Saturday, or sent me a happy birthday message or text message or phone call, please know how much I appreciated it.

Love all of these people!

That about sums it up, guys. Truly, it was one of the best birthdays I've had in a long time, and I am so excited for all of the things to come in these years!

Sami's Shenanigans
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