Saturday, 26 June 2010

A Gardeners Question, My Favourite Toy & Day Four Of The Chicago Chronicles…!

Well…to all my UK Blog friends…hasn’t this week been wonderful. It actually feels like a real Summer! The kind you remember from childhood. My boys were out playing in the garden till past 10pm last night & it was still light enough to see, not to mention warm.

26June2010 043 On the subject of the garden, we reaped our first crop of strawberries on Thursday & had them for dessert that night! They may have been all shapes & sizes, but they had a wonderful flavour, enhanced beautifully by a sprinkle of black pepper…well mine were anyway, the boys are yet to be convinced!! Sadly my raspberry canes have had it & my single remaining blueberry bush looks as if it might yield about a handful of berries, so thank goodness for the strawberries, I say!!

26June2010 040 Oh & Anna…my Chinese Lantern Plants now have little buds…these I hope will become lanterns!! I used to love to play with the lanterns in my Mums garden when I was small, so it will be so nice to actually have some to show the boys…


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Now, here is a question….to explain, I have quite a lot of Aquilegia plants at the back of my borders. These were initially planted as seeds & were all from the same plants in my sisters garden. Every summer for the last five years they have grown & self seeded, always purple…

26June2010 041 On returning from Chicago, I spotted a flash of yellow near the bird bath & went to investigate. There, in amongst all the purple Aquilegia were two yellow & orange flower heads bobbing away!

So, to the question…can anyone tell me why my established Aquilegia plants should now be sporting a flower of different shape & colour?  The stalk bears the same leaves & goes down into the same clump as the usual purple type…I am at a loss!!! 

Next up…the current challenge over at ‘These are a few of my favourite things’ is My Favourite Toy. Well, this was another no-brainer, as by far the toy I could not be without is my camera!

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26June2010 054I have not scrapped a thing since we returned from Chicago…& only completed the one LO, for My Favourite Shoes, while we were there. So having finally stashed all my purchases into the relevant storage containers, I printed off my photo & pulled out all the bits & bobs I thought might work. Funnily enough, most of what I’ve used was in my long-term stash & I only actually used one item newly bought in Chicago!!!   In theory, I should not need to shop for scrap supplies for at least twelve months!! But then Shimelles up & coming class may well make a sizeable dent in it all!!

14June2010 097 OK…so let me tell you about our fourth day in Chicago! We were having a ‘local’ day! Hilary & I were in the outdoor section of the pool by 6.30am, doing laps in the sunshine & we were seated in Panera munching on that days chosen pastry…a cinnamon roll topped off with honey glazed pecans…by 9am!! Ooooh I’m drooling at the memory!


This guy now knew the regular part of our order by heart & had our trays lined up waiting for our final choices by the time we got to the head of the queue!!

We told him that we’d be back there for lunch as well today & he seemed genuinely disappointed that his shift would have finished before we got there!

Panera really is a fabulous place to eat & I hope that the franchise comes to the UK soon.

After our morning repast was done, we set off for a tour of relatively local craft outlets…firstly Michaels, clutching another previously printed discount voucher!! There was a whole aisle of Martha Stewart products!! I selected a butterfly punch & some journaling pens to start with!! Then down aisle after aisle of scrappy goodies & a whole cupcake section too!  The lady on the checkout told us each in turn how much she enjoyed British TV shows like Dr Who & Upstairs & Downstairs!!! 

From there we popped into ‘Dicks Sporting Goods’…I wanted to try on some Crocbands…& it was now that we learned that the ‘Chicago Blackhawks’' Ice Hockey team had won the Stanley Cup the night before & that there was to be a ‘ticker tape’ parade along Michigan Avenue on Friday morning.  People of all ages, gender & size were buying T-shirts in the team colours sporting the winners announcement!! We were amazed that all the T-shirts & marketing materials were in-store so quickly after the victory!

IMG_2844From here we dropped in to Target…another HUGE store where I picked up some beef jerky & Hershey bars to bring home & just wished that we had an unlimited baggage allowance after seeing all the frames & other lovely home decor items!

IMG_2848Then it was back to Panera for lunch! Karen had told us about the ‘Soup In A Roll’ option on the menu, which is a sourdough roll scooped out & filled with soup! It looked lovely, but I opted for the Chicken Noodle soup in a bowl & had my bread on the side!!  It was followed with an amazingly soft & chewy oatmeal cookie!!

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After lunch we each went our separate way into the Old Orchard Mall, arranging to meet up FOUR HOURS later at Maggiano’s, where we had a table booked for dinner.

We bumped into each other now & again, but the time flew by & I managed to buy some jewellery in Macey’s sale & a fabulous scrapbooking book from Somerset Memories..a name new to me..from Barnes & Noble.

We enjoyed a wonderful meal…14June2010 092 14June2010 08914June2010 090
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After our meals each day, we used a very handy pocket chart that Karen had brought along to calculate how much ‘tip’ we needed to leave. Nothing as straight forward as the standard 10% in the UK…it varies from 15 – 20% in the US & we were still finding the US coinage confusing!

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14June2010 094Every day we had a dollar or two that did the rounds between us! It caused the waiter in Maggiano’s much amusement as money went back & forth across the table, with Hilary as banker, but we did get there in the end!!

So another day over, & with storms forecast overnight, we retired to our beds for a good nights sleep…tomorrow was to be a very long day!!! But more of that next time, as Day 5 needs a post all to itself!!

Thanks for dropping by & have a great weekend! :)  

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Time for a Fresh Start!….

Having failed to shed the minimum of a stone before our departure to Chicago, in spite of the determination I had felt about not wanting to carry that excess baggage with me to another continent, I was pleasantly surprised to discover, on our return, that I had only gained 1lb!! This amazed me as we had seemed to be eating such vast portions of everything while we were there!

Now I’m back into a semblance of routine (I still haven’t made it to the gym yet as my chest is not quite recovered!) I decided that I needed a Fresh Start…a change of direction! I have been a member of Slimming World for too many months & had, I think, become too used to the plan… so I was not seeing much in the way of positive results! It does work, but you have to stick to the plan…& if I’m honest, I wasn’t!!!

BUG_75250_Calculator_104 So…last Wednesday I signed up for Weight Watchers. I successfully lost weight with them after Alex was born, almost 14 years ago, & then fell pregnant with Nathan, putting it all back on…& then some!! I remember it as being quite complicated, but allowing me to eat quite a lot. My good friend Karen is a Goal Member & kept telling me I should try it. So I have. Well…it has changed…& in every way for the better!! It is soooo simple & I really felt that I must be doing something wrong as for the past week as I seem to have eaten so much & so many ‘nice’ things!

I went along to my first weeks weigh in yesterday to discover that I had lost FOUR AND A HALF LBS!!! I was so overwhelmed that I cried…yeah I know, what a wimp!! But I had resisted getting on my own scales all week, so really had no idea what to expect & I was just so surprised!  So, as I have a BIG birthday looming, I intend to make a BIG difference between now & then…7 weeks & counting!!

Speaking of Karen….I have to say a HUGE Thank You to her…so…


During Shimelles ‘Something From Almost Nothing’ class, she won a prize of a pass for two into any Shimelle class & she has kindly shared it with me!! We are signed up for the forthcoming ‘Love your Photo’s…Love Your Pages’ class, which starts on July 4th…1285 I can’t wait!  If you’ve never done one of Shimelles classes before, I strongly recommend it!  Go HERE for full details & to sign up!!

So that’s it…just a quick one today! I must away to tend to Alex who has had to come home form school early. The heat always affects his blood sugar levels…something to do with it interfering the absorption of insulin….so he’s languishing on the sofa watching TV…itching to play X-Box, but that’s off limits during school hours…am I a tough Mum or what?!!!!

Thanks for stopping by & I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine!!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

We had a high old time!…

Isn’t it amazing how quickly routine takes over & it seems like a week away was just a dream!! Although it didn’t seem to be flying by while we were there, our visit to Chicago now seems like it was over in a flash! I’m just glad I kept notes of everything we did as I’m already having to think hard about just what we did do…& in what order!!! So if you’re ready…here’s part two!

Whenever Karen spoke of her visits to Chicago, she always said that almost everything she needed could be found ‘over the road’…from where she stayed in14Juneshop Skokie.   So after breakfast on a beautifully warm & sunny Wednesday morning…at Panera’s of course…we set off to explore ‘over the road’, which is actually the ‘Old Orchard’…a Westfield outdoor shopping mall. Karen was right! With a Nordstrom, Macey’s…..

…Bloomingdales, Tiffany’s, Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, Barnes & Noble & innumerable other smaller stores, fashion boutiques & restaurants, it really did have all we could need….except scrapbook supplies that is!!!!

DSC_0013_2JPG It was while here that I took time out to try & call the lovely Jocelyn, who had kindly entrusted me with her ‘phone numbers, so that we might talk while I was at least on the same continent! I tried & tried but to no avail! I have since learned that, as I was using my mobile, I should have dialled as if I was in the UK, using the US international code…which I didn’t!! So sorry Jocelyn…a very definite Blonde Moment!

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Once we’d had a taste of the ‘Old Orchard’ it was time to have a taste of cheesecake!! Our plans for the evening included dinner at the Cheesecake Factory at the Hancock Tower & we had been reliably informed that NO-ONE could eat TWO courses there!! So, not wanting to miss out on dessert, we had decided that for lunch we would have just cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory situated…yes you’ve guessed it…’Over the road’!! 

I chose Key lime pie, while Karen had Red Velvet Cake & Hilary outdid us both with the most amazing Belgian chocolate creation, which she actually couldn’t finish as it was soooo rich!! But as they say…”When in Rome…”  & she asked for the remainder ‘to go’…why don’t we do that at home!!!   

14June2010 031 After that humongous (but absolutely delicious!) intake of calories, it was time to venture downtown! Our first views of Chicago as we drove in were impressive…we’d not really appreciated them the day before in torrential rain!  Our first stop was to be a particularly good vantage point for a photo of the Chicago skyline. Karen remembered that it was near the zoo in Lincoln Park, so with Sat-Nav programmed for the park we set off! 14June2010 041Our Sat-Nav ‘lady’ must have got out of bed the wrong side this day, as she was particularly unhelpful…her last instruction being “make a legal U-turn”  followed by “you have reached your destination”…leaving us facing the wrong way on a dual carriageway somewhere in the Lincoln park area with no Zoo in sight!! After some insightful navigation by Hilary & brave manoeuvring by Karen, we did eventually find the zoo car park & with half an hour on the clock & 14June2010 049cameras in hand, went in search of photographic inspiration!  We never did find that particular ‘spot’ that  Karen remembered, but we did get some shots of a tiger…oh & used the loo!!  We only just made it to the exit barrier in time to avoid paying a $17 parking fee, which had as much to do with Karen sweet talking the attendant as with what the clock said!!

14June2010 055We headed off to find our way to the Hancock Tower, where we parked the car & came out onto Michigan Avenue. WOW!!…
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The architecture is striking…such a mix of styles & what appears old & new…so much greenery & here & there, discreet ‘public art’…IMG_0091I particularly liked this ‘tree hugger’ who’s body was covered in words…all naming parts of the human body…some of which would have had my boys giggling hysterically…enough said!

IMG_2804-1[1] There was a particular store Karen wanted us to see…a doll shop! Over three floors it has the store, where little girls can choose a doll to look like themselves…clothes to dress like her…buy any accessory you couldIMG_2802-1[2] imagine a doll may (or may not) need…a hairdressers & beauty salon for dolls, a hospital for injured dolls, complete with wheelchairs… & even a  restaurant where Mums & daughters can go to eat that had special chairs for the doll to sit at the table too!!
Now I was never a girly-girl as a child  & I guess having two boys does affect my point of view…but I just didn’t get it!!  It all just seemed so excessive & well..OTT!

But there you go…we are all different & wouldn’t life be boring if we weren’t?!!

IMG_2807-1[1] Once we had left the land of mini-me we made for the ‘UGG’ shop. I had a pair of boots on my shopping list & was soon sorted. Hilary had never so much as tried on a pair but was soon persuaded…& Karen never visits Chicago without buying a pair, so pretty soon the assistant had three sales to ring up & could not have been nicer!! He even brought us out complimentary bottles of chilled water & offered to capture the moment for posterity…  

14June2010 064 Retail therapy completed we headed off for dinner at the base of the Hancock Tower. We had anticipated a long wait, but were seated straight away…just as well as Karen started to feel a bit unwell. She soldiered on though & we enjoyed a HUGE main course…so glad that we’d had our dessert at lunchtime! IMG_0094
Then it was into the lift & up to the 96th floor!!!!

My ears popped several times on the way up & I swear I could feel the building sway the whole time we were up there…in fact our (rather grouchy) waitress informed me that it can move as much as 3 feet in high winds…gulp!!!

We managed to wangle a table by the window & it certainly was a long way down to street level!


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But the view was amazing…dusk was just starting to fall & we could see across the lake & watched as lights came on along Navy Pier & across the city. We had hoped to see fireworks, but for some reason they never materialised!  We ordered cocktails…I chose a ‘Skyscraper’…well it had to be done!14June2010 06914June2010 071 






It was Bacardi based with Cranberry juice & was absolutely delicious!

14June2010 078Before we left we visited the ladies room…& gasped! The best uninterrupted view is to be had over Chicago from there…the whole wall is just glass…no beams or struts to get in the way! There must have been a female architect with a sense of humour on that job!

The lift ride back down left our stomachs jolted & our ears popped, but it was worth it! After negotiating the l-o-n-g spiral ramp back down from the car park to street level Karen once again got us safely back ‘home’! Another jam-packed day under our belts! What would tomorrow bring?!!!

So that’s it for now…I must get on with the housework or Lee will never let me go away again!!! I have no excuse now that I’m over my jetlag…Ah well!!

Thanks for stopping by! Have a great day!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

There’s always one…or in this case, two!!

I can honestly say that today is the first day that I have felt as if I am returning to ‘normal’…whatever that may be?!! A combination of jet-lag & medication has meant that the last six days have passed in a haze…with my eyelids drooping as if my lashes were coated with a lead based mascara!

Medication? Let me explain!! I have something of a reputation for returning from my holidays with souvenirs in the form of injury or ailment. So much so that Karen had built a contingency plan into our Chicago itinerary, just in case I needed hospitalisation at any time! I felt quite confident that I was going to be OK this time, as Karen herself has been suffering with sciatica & was travelling with a veritable plethora of pain relief & muscle relaxants, so she was the one to be concerned for!

Well, I was OK until day three, when I developed a pain in the left side of my chest & shoulder, along with a soreness in my upper right gum!! So as well as Karen’s yelps & squeals of pain, Hilary had my ‘ouch’s’ to contend with too!! But neither of us allowed our infirmities to interfere with our trip!!

On our return I was lucky enough to get both a Doctor & a Dentist appointment the very next day & was diagnosed with inflammation of the cartilage on the left side of my ribcage & a mouth abscess!! £30 in prescription charges later, I was equipped with anti-inflammatory pills, extra strength Ibuprofen gel, antibiotic pills & a mouthwash to use over the next two weeks!! I had feared the chest/shoulder pain was the start of another ‘frozen’ shoulder, so am quite relieved it’s probably just a result of all that heavy luggage!!!

Anyhow…I can now begin the story of our Chicago trip!

We met up at Karen’s house at 5.30am on the Monday & her Hubby, Chris, drove us to Heathrow…very quickly I might add!!  We were gutted to discover that no photography is allowed in Heathrow, so we were unable to document the very start of our trip!

I’m not a good flier, but have to say that the 7 hour+ flight was quite enjoyable…until we came in to land! We made our descent & could see the ground looming…I had braced myself for the wheels touching down…when all of a sudden we were up & airborne again!  Needless to say we were all more than a little concerned!Blog Pics 20101We circled O’Hare airport a couple of times, with only a brief “there’s nothing to worry about” message from the Head Stewardess & finally came in to land on another runway. There was a palpable sense of relief throughout the whole plane…Blog Pics 20102Once we’d disembarked & collected our luggage, had our finger & thumb prints scanned, photo’s taken & passports checked (now that’s what you call security!) we set off into the warm, sunny Chicago afternoon to pick up our hire car!

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I’m not much of a one for cars, but all I can say is it was very comfortable & had enough room for all our luggage! Karen was the designated driver, Hilary proved herself a more than capable navigator & GPS operator 
& I assumed the role of back seat driver!  Well…needs must!!

IMG_0015Our first port of call was Hobby Lobby, which was sort of on the way to where we were to stay, in Skokie. This store reminded me very much of T.K.Maxx with an extended craft section! We each picked up a few bits & bobs to take advantage of the coupon offers we’d printed off on-line before travelling.


Then it was on to offload our luggage & freshen up…we were presented on arrival with warm chocolate chip cookies….it nearly reduced me to tears! What a lovely thought & never has a cookie tasted so delicious!!! After the quickest change in memory…well, for me anyway…we headed off to ‘L.Woods’ restaurant, where we had a reservation for 7pm.

L Woods We were met by the lovely Patti…a friend of Karen & Chris, who looked so radiant she just made us look even more tired & travel weary!  We enjoyed a delicious dinner of Chicken & Ribs, followed by coffee & chat until almost midnight…or 6am UK time!!

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There was a quick photo call before we took our leave & bleary eyed, made our way ‘home’….

….after being awake & on the move for 27 hours, never has a bed looked so inviting! 

14June2010 081Despite being so tired, we were all awake bright & early on Tuesday morning, to pull back the curtains & see…RAIN!!  Ah well, we had come prepared with Pac-a-Macs & sensible shoes…well we are British! We set off to ‘Panera’ for breakfast.

I have listened to Karen has talking about this bakery/restaurant for so long, extolling the virtues of it’s various pastries & breads, that it had a lot to live up to….& boy! It did not disappoint!!Blog Pics 2010The smell of warm bread, coffee & cinnamon hit us as soon as we were through the door…YUM! The hard part was choosing! 14Jun2010 004 

I finally decided on a cup of fresh strawberries, chopped into natural yoghurt & topped with honey & pecan granola…with a coffee & a ‘Bear Claw’..a sort of Danish pastry!! The Strawberry/granola pot was to become my daily standard…but I worked my way through the pastry/bun menu for the rest of the week!2010Chicagohol0291

All fuelled up for the day ahead, we set off into the not inconsequential rainfall, & with GPS programmed, Karen fearlessly took to the ‘wrong’ side of the road & Chicago traffic as if born to it!  Our first stop was to ‘Jo-Anns’, quickly followed by ‘Archivers’. All I can say is WOW!! What a place!  We spent a very pleasant time Oooohing & Aaaahing & generally hyperventilating over the vast selection of scrapping goodness on display! Our baskets soon filled & after parting company with a good slice of our spending money, we booked ourselves onto the Saturday Night ‘Scrap Mania’.


We had a lunch date with another friend of Karen’s…& we met Bernie at the California Pizza Kitchen. I opted for the ‘half size’ Chinese Chicken salad which was huge!! Heaven only knows how big the full size portion would have been! We had decided that we would eat either lunch OR dinner on any given day & this day was lunch! Mainly because we were booked onto a class that evening, down town at ‘Windy City Scrap bookers’. 

And again…WOW!!!  Another beautifully laid out, stocked to the hilt, scrapbook store!! 14June2010 017

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We had arrived early, thinking to spend a little time browsing before the class began.

We had been there a few minutes when the lovely Al  told us that the class had been cancelled….BUT…to turn this ‘into a positive’…she would offer us 25% discount on our total spend, along with 40% off CI & CC products, as well as Buy One Get One Half Price on ALL Thickers!!! IMG_0036

Well, I needed a sit down…my knees went weak!! There was a whole wall of Thickers…some I’d never even seen before & in every colour of the rainbow!!

So, I set to, filling my basket! We took our time, carefully going over every inch of the rest of the store…stopping for a drink & a snack…pointing things out to each other in case they’d been missed! 

14June2010 020 Finally we settled up with the lovely Al, another chunk of our budget spoken for, but I have to say, I cannot begin to work out how much we’d saved!  Even though the GB£ isn’t as strong as it has been, scrap supplies are definitely cheaper in the US… & with all those discounts???!!! 

Then Karen once again drove us ably ‘home’ through the night-time traffic from ‘down town’ to Skokie & we retired to our beds happily exhausted!!

I’ll leave it there for now…if you’ve made it this far, thanks for being interested!! I’m hoping to make the rounds of my fave blogs to catch up with you all soon…now that I’m feeling able to resume some kind of routine!!

I hope you’re all enjoying a great weekend!

Hugs & Blessings x