Monday, February 28, 2011

One Year Blog Anniversary

Dear blog,
I started you one year ago.
I had been thinking about it for a few months, when something in me just decided it was time.
I think it was the arrival of March and the new transition to spring that really gave me the bug to try something new, if I remember right.

So much about today is different than this day a year ago, yet so much is familiar too.
I know the thing that is most different is me.
Last year was such a hard year for me, and I suppose it's those experiences that shape you the most.
That persistently urge you to stretch and grow and transform.
That cause you to be quiet within yourself and have so much to voice to the world, all at the same time.

 You can click back and see my very first blog post here.
I had no idea then how much blogging would help me through my year.
I started reading blogs during long, difficult days and became inspired by so much.
It fueled my own creativity and as I blogged, I started to taste life more richly, notice satisfying detail, and find what was beautiful, funny, or good to enjoy in the midst of a harder place.
It also gave me an opportunity to play with words and sentences and put writing to a page, and I feel more complete doing so.

So while I didn't know at the time how much blogging would do for me, neither did I realize that I was starting my blog on Leap Year.
Yep, Feburary 29th to be exact.
Which makes it kinda hard to celebrate my blog anniversary, you see.
Is it today?  Is it tomorrow?
Technically, it's neither, ha!

Let's just say that since I began City Lights on the last day of February, this is indeed my day.
From where I sit at my desk at the window tonight, I see the whole night sky lit up with the city lights, from the Sears Tower, to the Trump, to the Merchandise Mart, and millions of other lights in the city skyline.

And somehow, some way, some of you have joined me along the way!
Thank you so much for every comment, email, message, and note you've left me letting me know you like city lights or City Lights too.
On my blog anniversary, I would love to know what you have enjoyed about City Lights and what you'd like to see more of!
You are, after all, reading, and I am, after all, writing.
It would make my day to hear from you today, both new and old friends!
Here's to another year!

Let it Be

This past weekend was just delicious.
I kept pinching myself to make sure the calendar really was clear, and that naps on the couch because there wasn't anything else to do was really a reality.

Ok, before you're wondering what universe I live in and how you can get a ticket there, maybe there were things that could have been done, but every once in awhile, it's good to let it be.
 To let yourself be.

A weekend without many plans and demands is rare, so we took this one and ran with it.

We lit candles all over the apartment Friday night and had my brother Parker over for Pioneer Woman's beef stew.
He's a busy pre-med college student, so it was a special treat to get to have him for the evening.
Even though life gets more complex after college, I still don't miss that particular kind of college-y stress.
Saturday morning, we slept in and made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. 
I was concerned about the mile-long list of ingredients/chemicals on the back of the tube of dough, but I decided to fling myself headlong into weekend mode.
Careful when doing this kind of flinging.
It may lead you far, far away from your healthy weekday diet.
And here's the part where we never recovered the day.
We started a Harry Potter movie (since I'm reading the books) at 11:30am.
It was "let it be" at its finest.
After the movie, the only thinkable course of subsequent action was a nap.
I actually remember drifting off on the couch thinking, "I'm falling asleep, I'm almost asleep, now I am asleep... and it feels delish."

 The only way the day could get better was to know that upon waking up from the nap, we'd head to our favorite pizza place, Pizano's, for dinner out in the city.
The only way going to Pizano's for the thin crust Rudy special could get any better would be if right before going, I got a call and was offered the job I'd been interviewing for.
I got the call.
We had so much good to talk about over that pizza!
I'll have more details here soon.
Sunday afternoon landed us at Chipotle for lunch,
and then another nap on the couch to the smell of baking banana bread.
Husband likes to make banana bread when he gets bored, and I think he had so much down time this weekend, that, well, it was time to make banana bread.
 No complaints.
And finally, we love Oreos something fierce around here.
They showed up in double stuffed droves this weekend.
The "let it be" weekend closed out with the Oscar's, and it seems we really need to see the King's Speech!
Have you seen it?

When we'll have another weekend like that, I don't know.
Well, actually, probably not for a very long time since I'll be working weekends now!
Before that begins, it was good to just "let it be."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Photography Class

 I took a 6-hour crash course in beginner's digital photography at the Chicago Photography Academy last weekend.
The class was definitely legit, and it was so fun to get a better idea of how my camera actually works.
If anything though, it showed me just how much I don't know and how much I have to learn, ha!
I wish it could be just creative, but there's a lot of technical involved in photography that leaves me with, well, lots to figure out. 

The academy was in the Lakeview neighborhood, and I took the "L" there, which I don't usually do.
Here's a couple shots I took on my way home that day.

I love that Chicago is my home.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It Began with Red Velvet

You know my love for Valentine's Day, and I shared some of my plans for love day here.
We indeed had the red velvet pancake breakfast, and those pancakes were unbelievable.
After the first bite, Neal and I looked at each other and declared, "tradition!"
I'm honestly really surprised these aren't on the menu at every breakfast restaurant in Chicago.
image source
We had agreed not to give gifts this year, but I couldn't help sending a few surprise valentines to Neal throughout his work day.
Strawberry milk is one of his favorite treats, and so is snickers.
He ended up bending the rules just a bit too, and surprised me with a letterpress desk calendar.
I love it, and now I don't have to dash to the kitchen to look at the calendar when I'm at my computer!
It's the little things.
Our Valentine's date landed us at Ben Pao, my favorite Chinese restaurant in Chicago.
Don't tell anyone, but we actually went there last year too.
I just can never get enough of good chinese, and I love that my valentine knows that!
They sat us in a couples booth, where we got to sit side by side on a rounded bench at our table.
It was romantic and cozy, just like Valentine's should be.
Since we were there last year, it was fun to talk about how life is in a different place than it was when we were there last.
Not perfect, but much, much better.
Red velvet cupcakes for our students!
They loved.
I love spoiling them.
I might have eaten the leftover cream cheese frosting on graham crackers last night.
Anyone else do the frosting-on-graham cracker snack?
It was a fun treat my mom used to have for us for an after school snack once in awhile.
It's yummy and sweet!
Speaking of sweet, so are you, friends.
Thanks for being here!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Props to You

I realized this week that some appreciation is due you bloggers.
Not just for your inspiration and creativity which I regularly appreciate,
but for keeping your blogs going...
amidst work, motherhood, full schedules.

I still have a whole, whole lot to learn from you!
With such busy weeks lately, I find myself wondering what keeps you in step with both writing blog posts and living full days.
When do you blog?  How do you keep blogging from being snatched away by the daily demands?

My blog has helped me take notice of life in more detail, to truly taste and savor my experiences, and to have a place to remember the good that I easily forget.
And to write.
And I love it.
But how to make it all fit?

Anyway, thoughts of a girl who feels time is like sand slipping through fingertips lately.

So, stream of consciousness aside, we went on a weekend away with our friends over Valentine's.
It was pretty epic.
There was talk about how we should do it again in the summer, 4th of July maybe?
And then someone's voice spoke into the clamor for more fun, more experiences, more memories, and simply said, "This was so amazing that it's probably never going to happen just this way again, and we have to just enjoy it now."

Well said.

"Enjoying it now" was easy, as the place was Tremont, the people were some of our closest friends and family, and the food was all from the Pioneer Woman cookbook.  Returning from the weekend involved a fair amount of mourning and a sore throat, which I figured out was not actually a cold contracted from baby Kaden, but rather from all the laughing over 3 days.

Not a bad sore throat to have.

We mostly sat around telling stories and eating, and then we sang our hearts out at Shiloh.
Again, the throat.

{Joel, Allie, Ty, and Troy}
Allie works with us at Moody, Joel is her fiancee, Ty is my brother, and Troy is a friend from Harvest.
{Kyle, Steph, Josh, and Neal}
Kyle is a great friend of ours and goes with Steph, Steph works with us at Moody, Josh is roommates with Kyle and his fiancee lives in WA (so she couldn't be with us), and hubs.
{Baby Kaden & Tiff}
{Niece Lilly}
Telling us her Bible memory verse, swoon!
{Kaden & Big Papa}
{It's true.  This was the menu for the weekend.}
Marlboro Man sandwiches, cinnamon rolls, maple scones, cheese bread, mocha brownies, yes, yes, yes.
I need a copy of this cookbook.
{Parker & Alyssa} 
Parker's my brother and Alyssa's his girlfriend... I love her!  Oh wait, I love them both, a lot.

{It was Valentine's weekend, after all}
{Country sunsets}
{Reality landed us all back in Chicago}

{But she's a very pretty reality, don't you think?}
Especially when you drive in on Lake Shore Drive.

 Don't forget to send me some of your tips in the comments section about when you blog and how you blog in the midst of a full life!
Pretty please!
I'd love to learn from you all.

Goodnight and sweet dreams from a rainy Chicago night,

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Valentine's Day Fever

I have it.
Do you?

Neal knew my love of Valentine's Day well enough to propose to me on a Valentine's Day, five years ago now.
I wish I had written down the story and the details of that day which included a flight from O'Hare airport, toes landing on a warm and sandy beach, an orangey pink silk dress, and a pear-shaped diamond ring, hello Valentine's Day of all Valentine's Days.
When it happened, I just knew I'd never forget it, and I haven't, but five years has taken with it a few of the words, a few of the details.
This year would be a good year to get it all down in writing for good.
If we get another snow day, I may have to do just that.
Until then...

1. I've strung a paper heart garland in our apartment that has me falling in love everyday.

2.  Over Valentine's weekend, we're going on a weekend away with a bunch of our greatest friends, and it has me over-the-moon excited!  One of our friends has a countdown going on facebook, and I think it's at under 70 hours now. :)
Last year, we celebrated Valentine's Day on a long, sunny weekend day out and about in the city. 
Here's a few pics.

3.  I'm hoping to find a sweet time on Valentine's Day (Monday when we get back) to try these red velvet pancakes with my valentine.

4.  In a moment of frugality, I decided to pick up a card for my sweet hubs at Barnes and Noble while I was there, instead of indulging in my usual PaperSource addiction.  Their $6 cards have been getting to me after awhile.
But after stopping into PaperSource later on, of course I just died over their gorgeously perfect Valentine's Day letterpress cards.
But maybe husband will feel more loved by a less expensive card... hmmm?

5. Monday night will be a Valentine's date in the city, and I'm relatively certain I'll be wearing long underwear.  Chicago Februarys are Chicago Februarys, regardless of holidays where you're supposed to be beautiful.

6.  I'm planning to make red velvet cupcakes with Sprinkle's cream cheese frosting for our students Valentine's Day week. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


image found on  Wide Open Spaces 

Did you make any this new year?
I tend to be the resolution-making type.
I can only hope that writing about my new year's resolutions in February bolsters their credibility, being that their biggest chance for failure, the month of January, has passed.

We'll see.  

Regardless of the cynical statistics on resolution survival rates,
I find that I need them.
(Resolutions that is, not statistics).
I need them to keep me moving forward, like the arrows stretching upward on the "11" of 2011.
Jerry Root, a professor at Wheaton College, is fond of saying,
"If you're not awkward in some area of your life, you're not growing."
I love that.

So, my new question for myself is, "In what area of my life am I awkward right now?"
It better be somewhere, because otherwise it means I'm not learning anything new, not changing, not becoming.

So, for starters, in 2011, here's 10 ways I'm making myself feel awkward and as a result, hopefully starting the growth process:

1. I'm awkward at the gym 5 days a week.  Building my strength back up means running pretty slow on the treadmill.  Yes, if you work out next to me, you will look awesome.

2.  I'm awkward when I go down to the Commons in the morning in my sweatpants and glasses to grab a fruit to have with breakfast.  Because I'm trying to eat 4-5 fruits and veggies every day now, and I don't always remember to have enough in my fridge.  And if you see me on this mad dash, don't talk to me because I probably haven't brushed my teeth yet.  Sorry.

3.  I'm awkward with my new camera, because it's pushing me beyond my skill level and knowledge.  This year, I want to take a photography class, and I've already signed up for one!  Can't wait!

4.  My blog looks awkward because it needs the title on the page and lots of other stuff that would make it look much more interesting and useful to you guys!  You're sweet for reading anyway!  This year, I want to work on some blog updates like getting a header designed and adding some sidebar goodies.  Now just to make the time to sit down and do it.

5.  I'm feeling awkward making calls about jobs and going to interviews.  But pushing myself into that awkward place will hopefully lead to a counseling job this year.

6.  I feel awkward in the process of sitting down and forcing writing onto a page, writing that hopefully someone will connect with.  But with a little time and focus, I want to write an article for Moody's paper this year on something I've been thinking about for the past year.

7.  I feel awkward in the toil of researching a new subject in my field in order to teach.  It's so overwhelming at times, and just plain hard work, but I love gaining understanding of yet another issue and presenting in a practical, helpful form to others.

8.  It's awkward to push myself out of my comfortable home for church small group every Thursday night with people that I'm just still getting to know (but already love so, so much!).  I want to make investing fully into small group a priority this year.

9.  I feel awkward talking to myself in my car, reading note cards in elevators, and straining to make space in my mind as I memorize Scripture.  This year, I really want to continually be working on memorizing Scripture- something I haven't done much at all of in the past few years.

10.  And finally, I know I'm going to feel awkward pulling the guts out of a chicken, but I want my momma to teach me how to make her incredible homemade chicken noodle soup this year!

Alright, don't let me be the only awkward girl walking around out there.  
How are you going to be awkward this year?

Monday, February 7, 2011


As you know, Montrose Harbor has become to us a ritual.
A summer ceremony of picnics and books and sailboat watching, 
a place we land into with familiarity for watching the city lights slowly flicker on till the skyscrapers shoot into the sky with their glowing beams.

It's a place we take our friends and family who visit Chi-city.
An encampment for fireworks-watching, until summer crosses the Labor Day doorway into fall, and hats and blankets accompany us to the lake to salvage the last decent temperatures of the year.
Besides New Year's, Montrose Harbor typically lies barren of our presence throughout the winter months.
...until now.
I don't know why I never thought of it before.
With a pair of running tights, a fleece, Under-Armour gloves, and the car keys, I drove up Lake Shore Drive, turned into a familiar parking space under the Montrose sign, and then ran the lake & harbor trails.

It felt right.
For all that we do at our favorite harbor, why wouldn't I call it into play for yet another activity?
I even braved the frozen ground for a few push-ups and crunches,
and with this view on the way up from every crunch, even the cold and my under-exercised muscles submitted to a smile.
She just has that effect.