Anniversary Trip: Savannah + Hilton Head

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Did ya'll have a good long weekend? I know I did.

I was torn on what to write about today. We just got back today from our trip to Savannah and Hilton Head, plus it's our anniversary, plus, the Bachelorette premiered last night. What to tackle first?!

I'm going with the weekend update. I had too wonderful a trip not to recap it immediately. I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking for this post, but our trip can be summed up like this:

We ate delicious food. We had wonderful conversations. We saw beautiful things. We listened to amazing live music. We drank delicious cocktails. We had glorious weather. We visited fantastic beaches. And most importantly, we enjoyed each other's company. I could not have asked for better ANYTHING on this trip, least of all, a better companion. Because it IS our anniversary, I must say, I am so grateful for my husband every day. He just makes my life better.

So, without further adieu, here is our trip in photos (Sorry I'm not sorry for the abundance):

First night in Savannah. We had a light dinner, then
went to several different bars, including World of Beers.
First full day in Savannah. Went to Tybee Beach to enjoy
the sun! (Those aren't all 3 of my beers, either.)
Dinner at the Olde Pink House in Savannah. It was 
built in the 1700s and is one of the oldest standing 
buildings there today.
Our meal: Fried Green Tomato BLT salad, shrimp & grits,
Fried Lobster tails w/mashed potatoes, Braised pork,
Key Lime Pie and a Praline Basket. Best meal of the trip!
After dinner, we had drinks in the speakeasy below. They
had a traditional piano player and then Jerry (right) and
Mary (his wife) did a few tunes.

Lovin' on Bryan during the walk home.
We moved hotels to the Westin on the other side of the
river. It was fabulous, and not just because of the Bloody Mary Bar.
Sightseeing in Savannah: Forsythe Park, the Cotton Exchange
and listening to live music in the City Market.
After sightseeing, we hung out by the pool.
Next up: drinks on Rocks on the River, complete with a 
sunset and Chicken & Waffles.
First afternoon in Hilton Head: Schooling Bryan at mini golf.
OK, I only beat him by one.
Dinner at the Crazy Crab. YUM!
Woke up to get massages on Monday, then relaxed by the 
pool and headed to the Salty Dog Cafe for lunch.
Sunset and moon risings.
Last night in Hilton Head.

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5 Things to do Before Vacation

Good morning, lovelies! I'm in about the best mood you could possibly imagine right now. I'M GOING ON VACATION!

It hasn't been easy to get to this point, though. I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that the time right before and immediately after vacation can be stressful. For me, I'm frantic at work, making sure I get all of my top-priority things done and making sure things will be smooth sailing for those covering for me. I'm busy working out in hopes to drop 10 lbs before I get into a swimsuit. I'm doing a million errands to make sure we have groceries for the dog sitter and travel-sized everything. I'm doing laundry. 'm cleaning the house (I hate coming home to a dirty house). And of course, I'm getting spray tanned and my nails did. The important things, people.

So before I leave on my jet plane, I thought I'd share my top must-dos that will lead to a relaxing vacation:

1. Make a to-do list. About a week before you head out for vacation, write down every single thing that needs to be done. I typically make two - what do I need to do at work and what do I need to do at home? Then I schedule the things on my "home list."  For example, I'll plan to do laundry and go to the grocery store on Tuesday, so that I can do my packing on Wednesday.

2. Starve yourself. Watch what you eat. I would never starve myself, but I do find that I'm always much more careful of what I eat before vacation. I do this for two reasons. 1. I have high hopes of, as I mentioned, losing 10 lbs over night. Even 2 would be nice. and 2. When I've eaten well leading up to vacation, I feel more justified when I spend the trip eating and drinking in excess.

 I went from eating this...

to this. Oops.

3. Get an airbrush tan. Depending on where I'm going and what time of year it is, I usually always get an airbrush tan. This drives my husband crazy, partly because the night I get it, I smell and look funny, and also because then I'm darker than him. My argument is that everyone looks better tan. And when I'm about to put this body into a swimsuit and dresses for the first time in a year, TRUST ME. You'll thank me for getting the tan.

I'm about to go shower so I look more natural. 

4. Pamper yourself. I got my first manicure/pedicure of the summer in preparation for our trip, and I also got my brows waxed for the first time in forever. Doing stuff like this just makes you feel good about yourself. I don't allow myself these little luxuries very often, I save them for special occasions like vacay.

5. HAVE FUN! By the end of the week, you've completed all of your to-dos, you're lookin' fine, you've got work all squared away and it's time to go. Head to the airport, grab yourself a beer and ENJOY!

See ya'll next Tuesday when I get home. Have a fabulous long weekend :)

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Weekend Update: Playtime with my Favorites

You know those weekends that you look forward to for so many weeks? Then all of the sudden, they're there, and just as quickly, they're gone?

I just had one of those weekends. Several months ago, I made plans with my besties for Britt (located in Iowa City) to come up for the weekend. We were to meet one of her good friends who's involved in the wedding, but unfortunately, she got sick and wasn't able to join us.

We managed on our own just fine. :)

Britt drove in with my mom, who decided to hitch a ride to visit her best friend, Kelly. And me, of course. We spent Friday night at Kelly's (beautiful) condo, drinking champagne, eating pizza and having sparkling C's. (That's code for sparkling conversations.) I'd say the theme of the weekend was Sparkling C's squared—you know, because we had (sparkling) champagne and sparkling convos!

Saturday morning, we were up early because Bryan was on his way out to complete his second Tough Mudder. Crazy man. In any case, we did a workout of our own, followed up by Starbucks in the sunshine. All we wanted to do was soak up the sun, all day. So we came back to my place, organized a little picnic to enjoy on my porch and had some bubbly.

Then, I took the girls to one of my favorite patios in the city. The bar is called Happy Village and it literally looks like a warehouse on a street corner. But when you walk through to the back, it's all picnic tables, strung lights and fountains. Plus, it's kind of a hidden gem, so we had no trouble getting a table.
Pond on the left; outside of the bar on the right; us en route!

Photo shoot during happy hour!

Continued photo shoot!

That night, we went out to another one of my favorite places in Chicago—a BYOB Italian joint called Lucia's. It's the most authentic Italian food I've ever had, ever. Besides Italy, anyway. Our night was capped with a little FaceTime with Emily and Isaac, who are across the world in Taiwan.

Cab fun!

Sunday was another beautiful day. Everyone was heading home but not before a quick beer and brunch in the sun. When everyone left, I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure since we're going to the beach on Thursday!

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. I'm so thankful for my girlfriends, and of course, for my mama. We always have the best time. They make me laugh, we can talk about anything and everything, and most of all, they make smile. Love you ladies. You're my jam.

Hope ya'll had a fantastic weekend, too!

Mingle 240

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How to Host a Blind Wine-Tasting

We all know someone who’s a wine snob, amiright? He won’t drink wine that’s less than $30/bottle or she doesn’t like chardonnay. It's too "oakey."

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a blind-wine tasting party for my co-workers. The point to a blind wine tasting is to get over these judgments. No one knows what brand or grape he or she is drinking, or the price. Every time I’ve done this, we’ve been surprised at the results. 

Surprisingly, it went really well! We didn’t just get stupid drunk (until the end anyway) and nobody called in sick the next day. Win-win. My friend Kristin is an aspiring sommelier and she gave us a few things to consider as we tasted, like color, legs, holding it up to the light, what to look for in a finish, smell, etc. We all walked away with a new wine we liked (brand or grape), and at a reasonable price point.

Want to host a tasting yourself? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

Create the guidelines. I asked each guest to bring a bottle of red or white wine that costs $20 or less. We’ve also done it where guests only bring red or white wine. It’s up to you the general type of wine and the price point. 

Brown-bagged wine

Create a tasting sheet. Using trusty Excel, I created a tasting sheet for guests to score the wines. Across the top, I put space for wine color, aroma, taste/flavor and finish. I also included a column for Overall Quality Score, Tasting Notes and a spot for the guests to ask the price. Down the left hand side, I wrote “Wine #1” and so on.

Create a key. Since I was the host, when guests arrived, they gave me their wine, which I put into a numbered brown bag. They told me the type of wine and the price point, which I wrote down in the key. I did not reference the key until later, so that I wouldn’t know anything, either.

Provide food. I supplied a variety of dips, crackers, cheeses, meats, etc. These are essential when drinking copious amounts of wine, and also come in handy when cleansing the palette. 

Quite the spread, no?

Don’t forget a spit jar and water. To my dismay, not everyone wants to drink every drop of wine in their glass, even if they don’t like it. Keep a pitcher on hand for guests to pour out wines if they don’t want to finish the pour.

Spit jar and water on the right!

Discuss wines! What I loved about our group is that we all genuinely tasted the wines. We smelled, held it up to the light, took turns guessing the grape variety and had thoughtful discussions about the wine. Granted some of the discussions were “This smells like wet dog,” but others were about how we detected chocolate or banana in the aroma.

Guess and reveal. Once we tasted all of the wines, we took a vote on our favorite white and our favorite red, and then guessed how much those cost. I got out my trusty key, and for each wine, everyone guessed what the grape was and how much it cost. Most of the time, we were wrong, but it was still a blast.

Drink up and enjoy! Once our favorites were revealed, we drank the remaining wine — all 15 bottles and had the best time. But be careful not to spill, as witnessed below.

The results of our tasting were fascinating. We had a range of wines, from $2.99 up to $19.99. Both of our favorite wines were $3.99 from Trader Joe’s. Our second favorite was $19.99.

The aftermath. 

Below are the wines if you’re interested. I swear by the Vinas Chillenas…it’s always in my fridge and I even served it at the wedding!

Wine on the left was $19.99. Both others are $3.99 at Trader Joe's!


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MWF Seeks Travel Advice

Hey ya'll! Happy Hump Day!

Despite unfortunate circumstances surrounding me, it's impossible to not be in a good mood today. The sun is shining. The air is warm. My besties and Mama are coming to town this weekend. I'm having a good hair day.

And best of all, next week I'm going on vacation! Bryan and I are celebrating our 2-year wedding anniversary on May 28. We decided a long time ago that we'd take an anniversary trip every year and so far, we're sticking to it. Last year we went to Santa Barbara, which was amazing, and this year, we're heading to Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

I can't wait.

I've never been to either place, and I LOVE visiting new places. We're staying at both the Sheraton and Westin in Savannah, and at the Westin in Hilton Head. All look amaze.

 Hilton Head


We definitely plan to hit the beaches in Savannah and obviously in Hilton Head. We're also going to dinner at the Olde Pink House in Savannah. Some other recommendations we've gotten are:
  • Historic home tours 
  • River Street
  • City Market
  • Drinks at Rocks on the River
  • Avoid Paula Deene's
Thought I'd ask you all my lovelies for travel tips in Savannah and/or Hilton Head. Restaurant tips? Must-sees or do's? Let me know!
Helene in Between

Unrelated, on Monday I told you about a good friend who passed from cancer last week. I don't know about you, but, I'm sick of going to funerals for people who have had cancer. I'm writing a letter to this stupid disease, and I wanted to ask my fans: If you had to say one thing to cancer, what would it be?

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Monday Wins Again

Despite my best efforts, I can’t seem to quite get ahead of the game. One circumstance or another has managed to thwart my efforts of seemingly simple daily activities, such as writing on a daily basis or working out.

Last week, I learned the sad, sad news that a close family friend had passed away. Ellen Brown is my sister’s best friend’s mom, so we’ve known her and her family for many, many years. She has five beautiful daughters, many grandchildren with one on the way, and a husband she’s been married to for more than 30 years. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer last fall, and she passed away on Sunday, May 5. 

In light of this news, I changed up my weekend plans a bit. I drove home to Iowa on Thursday so that I could attend the services on Thursday evening and Friday morning. I got to spend some time with my family, and most importantly, with the Brown family to help them celebrate their mom’s life. 

On Saturday morning, I was woken up by crazy Sloanie, banging on my door and playing” Thrift Shop” on the phone. She must have known that I had to wake up early to pack up and drive back to Chicago. Christine (sister-in-law), Matt (her boyfriend) and Aly (my niece) drove to Chicago on Friday to visit us for the weekend, and I wanted to get home to see them, too.

Obligatory Sloanie photos, plus Jess & her beautiful friends.

The rest of the weekend we spent playing local tourist, which is fine by me once in awhile. When you live in city like Chicago, it’s easy to forget all of the things that make it what it is and what attracts so many others to come visit. We went to Navy Pier, the zoo, the aquarium, the Bean. We ate pizza and went bowling. (Where, by the way, I scored a whopping 40, coming in 4th place behind Aly. True story.) We had a nice Mother’s Day brunch, and we spent some evenings all together at home. It was the perfect mix of activity vs relaxing. Side note: I hate zoos. Poor little animals all look so sad. Free the animals!
Matt, Aly & Christine on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel; Aly patiently waiting for bowling; Christine & I boozin' it up!

And I couldn’t get enough of my sweet niece. She’s 5 and although it sounds weird, she finally likes me! you see, we went through a long phase of her only caring about Bryan. Every time I called her, she’d answer and say “Where’s Bryan?” Don’t get me wrong, she still loves her uncle—she said her favorite thing about visiting Chicago was tickling Bryan—but all this weekend, she just wanted to hold my hand, sit by me, walk with me, etc. It melts my heart.

 Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
 Monkeys and gorillas.
 Pretty polar bears.
Giraffes and zebras.

The only downside to the weekend is that Matt left this morning with a temperature and not feeling well, so cross fingers I don’t get sick.
Cheers to making it through another week!

Mingle 240

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