Monthly Archives: December 2008

A SoIL Christmas

Last weekend we celebrated Christmas with my brother and sister-in-law in Southern Illinois (affectionately referred to as SoIL).  It was a really great time.   After a quick lunch, we toured some of the wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.


We started at Alto Vineyards and worked our way north.  We toured a total of 5 wineries that day:  Alto, Hedman, Von Jakob, Pamona, and Hickory Ridge.  Each one was different.  My favorite wine was either the Cabernet Sauvingon from Von Jakob (the only 100% cab sav grown, made, and bottled in Illinois) or the Kir (pronounced Keer) from Pamona.   Pamona was the most unique in that all of their wines are made from fruit other than grapes.    Here are some of my tasting notes*:



I was planning on giving wine as gifts, so of course I had to buy bottles at almost every stop.  Here’s a photo of all our “loot.”  It’s not all mine, but I picked up quite a few bottles:


Then it was back to the house to open presents. We’re nearly 30 years old, yet our mom still goes overboard for Christmas.  Check out the number of presents under the tree. I kept telling my mom it was “garish.”



Ryan and Jo don’t have many pictures of the two of them together, so Jo asked me to take one by the tree.  In typical fashion, Ryan wasn’t playing along.  So I took one of Jo pretending that Ryan was in the picture:

jo1Then one of Ryan doing the same thing:

ryanAnd, finally, one of them together:


Everyone got a lot of really great presents, but Ryan wins the prize for most creative wrapping materials.   Jo outlawed bows this year because the dogs just chew them off, so he came up with a compromise…. Yep, that’s duct tape on my present.  Classy!


After gifts, we went to dinner and then came back to the house to play some games.  We had been snapping photos all night and Ryan noticed there weren’t many of me.  Maybe I should take my very own photo in front of the Christmas tree with a gun.    My brother is a hunter and is very pro-gun and I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum.  We argue the gun control issue all the time and he’s always trying to get me to go out shooting.  I never do.  

Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the warm, fuzzy holiday spirit, but for some reason I agreed to taking pictures with the guns.   And, I must say, they make me laugh every time I look at them.



After that, we drank some mulled wine, played board games and went to bed.   The next morning Jo, Mom, and I went to breakfast at Harbaugh’s Cafe.  Our friend Lesley has been raving about this place for quite some time, so I had to check it out.   The food was good, but the atmosphere is what really caught my eye.  


It was kinda funky and kitchy.  None of the furniture matched, the dishes looked like they came out of someones lake house.  It was just really eclectic and fun.  Here’s a shot of my chair at Harbaugh’s:


As we were getting ready to leave, Ryan suddenly remembered that there was one more present under the tree.  As you may recall, there’s a bit of a tradition in our family for both surprises and somewhat extravagant gifts.   The surprise gift this time was a flat screen TV for our mom.  She cried.   Over a TV!


All in all, it was a super great weekend.   I loved being able to go do stuff with my family without the usual pressures of Christmas.  I think this may become an annual tradition. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!


* I apologize for the poor quality of the scans. I just got a scanner for Christmas and I’m still playing with settings, etc.  The good news is that new scanner = more pictures/documents to share!!

Foto Friday: Roxie Claus

I know, I know… it’s cheesy to dress animals up in ridiculous outfits.  But, since I didn’t even put up a tree this year, I thought maybe I should make some attempt at holiday cheer.


Interview with a Vampire-lover

I stole this idea from illini_girl, but it’s been a while since I’ve done one.  And I have so many random things to discuss.

Are you really too busy to blog?  What’s that all about?

Honestly, yes.  And no. It’s not that I’m too busy to blog. It’s that I’ve spent a lot of time away from the computer, so my blogging time has been limited.

Are you done with your regular Wednesday posts?  What about Foto Friday?

Yeah, I think I’m giving up Website/Wordy Wednesdays. It’s just too much of a commitment and I have kinda run out of things to talk about. I’ll keep Foto Friday, though.  But I gotta start taking more pix.  Seems like I have to dig through the archives more often than not these days.

Are you becoming a professional dog sitter?

I’m thinking about it.  Last week, I watched my mom’s two dogs-Desi and Lucy- at my house.   And this week I’ve been dog-sitting Knee at a friend’s house.  Thus, the lack of night-time Internet access.

Knee?  That’s an awfully strange name for a dog isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s short for Anfernee (you know… like Anfernee Hardaway, the bball player). But she’s the sweetest dog ever.  Oh, yeah, Knee’s a girl.

So, what’s up with this “re-training” of Roxie business?

I won’t bore you with the details, but basically Roxie has a “dominance” issue.  And she’s spoiled.  To help break her of this, I’m re-training her to sleep in her crate instead of in my bed.

What made you decide to do this?  How did you know what to do?

Well, the final straw was when Roxie scratched my friend in the face for getting too close to me.  But it really needed to be done.  

I did some research online and then I called into Afternoon Magazine on WILL FM.  They had experts on from the Dog Training Club of Champaign-Urbana.  You can listen to it online at  (Click on the Friday, December 5 archive. I’m at about minute 28 or so).  

They gave me some good advice, so I got a crate and started re-training  on a Monday.

How’s that working for you?

Continue reading

Alive. Busy. Tired.

I’m still here… and I have tons to blog about, but I don’t have time to make anything more than a list.  So, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Dog-sitting: for my mom last week and for a friend this week
  • Locking myself out of my car while dog-sitting
  • Re-training Roxie (again!)
  • Struggling with Evite.  If you haven’t received 15 messages from me about my 30 days of 30 and want to participate, let me know.  Everyone else– sorry for the ridiculous number of emails. I’m blaming Evite
  • Oh, and work and Christmas and all that other stuff

Each of these things could (and might) become a blog post in their own right, but I’m too flippin’ tired right now.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe not.

Oh, and BTW– for those of you who have recently told me you’re reading my blog… thank you! It’s nice to know I have readers, even if they’re just lurking.  So holla and let me know that you’re there.

Foto Friday-ish: Happy Birthday Dad & Kim


I realized I didn’t do a Foto Friday post this week.  Therefore, you get two fotos for the price of one!


Kim turned the big 3-0 on Tuesday, but she doesn't look a DAY over 27! This is the two of us on my 29th/32nd bday

Kim turned the big 3-0 on Tuesday, but she doesn't look a DAY over 27! This is the two of us on my 29th/32nd bday



My dad turned 66 today.  This was us ~25 years ago at my Aunt Shelly's wedding

My dad turned 66 on Wednesday. This was taken ~25 years ago at my aunt's wedding.

My best of C-U list

Inspired by this post from Whitney Matheson (of PopCandy fame), I was thinking about all the things I’d miss about C-U if I should ever leave this town.    

So here, in no particular order, are my personal picks for the Best of C-U.  For most of these, I’ve linked to the official site. Where none were available I linked to the listing on yelp.  I love yelp, btw. You should check it out.

Best happy hour bar:  Esquire
Peanuts, beer, and homeade pineapple margaritas–what more could you ask for?  (Plus, they put me and my friends on their web site!)

Best last call bar:  Tumble Inn
The only bar on the list I’ve been going to consistently since I was 19.  (Okay, 17–but don’t tell anyone).  It’s a bit of a hole-in-the wall, but it has improved in recent years due to the smoking ban (and the smoking-ban inspired “beer” garden).   Tumble Inn… Stumble Out, always open late. (yet, curiously, they don’t have Red Bull… for that you’ll have to go to The Phoenix, nearby)

Best beer deal:  Bunny’s
You can get a bucket of 5 beers for $10.  Can’t beat it with a stick.  Speaking of sticks, Bunny’s also gets a shut out for their Bosco sticks.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Bosco stick, it’s a breadstick stuffed with cheese and then deep fried.  Horribly unhealthy, but delicious!

Best beer selection:  The Blind Pig
Hands down.  There might be isn’t a larger beer selection anywhere in C-U, and the Pig wins for atmosphere. 

Best nachos:  Guidos
I’m kinda picky about my nachos and Guidos never disappoints.

Best lunch spot:   It’s a toss up between The Courier Cafe and Farrens.

Courier— Skinny dippers, milkshakes and salad bar.  Great atmosphere.  Courier gets the award for Best Breakfast, too.
Farren’s-– Home of Farren’s Fridays, I adore their Kobe Burger, tacos, and daily specials. 

Best pizza: Jupiter’s
Thin, crispy and great sauce, Jupiter’s (downtown) is the best.  Jupiter II creeps me out.  
Honorable mention: Papa Del’s.  Jupiters wins because I prefer thin crust, but if you’re in the mood for a deep dish pizza, the Del is the best.  (Note: this is my Best of  C-U list… if you’re willing to go a few miles South, I highly recommend the original Monical’s in Tolono.)

Best ice cream– Custard Cup
 Duh.  Okay, so it’s custard, but why would you go anywhere else?  Unless, of course, it’s closed.  Then you can go to Cold Stone or whatever.  But only until Custard Cup opens back up.  Seriously. 

Best cockails:  Boltini
I highly recommend the Bellini-tini from Boltini  (say that  ten times fast!)

Best sandwich— Chicken pesto at Crane Alley

Best wine selection: Friar Tuck
I especially like how they list the wine ratings and “best value” wines.  I’ve never been disappointed.

Best wine tastings:  Sun Singer
I enjoy their little cafe and bar area.  You don’t really feel like you’re tasting in a store .

Friendliest wine staff: The Corkscrew
Although I buy most of my wine at Friar Tuck and I go to more tastings at The Sun Singer, I’ve always found the staff at The Corkscrew to be incredibly friendly and knowledgeable.  Plus, I needed to show a little Urbana love. 

Best place to see a show:  The Highdive
I know, I know, the Canopy Club is bigger, but I like the openness and set up of the High Dive better.

Most anticipated bar re-opening:  Fat City 
I spent a great deal of time at this bar in the old days.  I hear they’re re-opening on Friday.  I cannot wait!

Best place to take a date: Radio Maria

I recently had this discussion with a bunch of guy friends.  Although we couldn’t come to a consensus, Radio Maria was mentioned most often.  Other top selections include:  Cafe Luna (now apparently called just ‘Luna’), Milo’s, and Bacaro.  Kamakura is also fun for group dates.

Best chicken strips:  The Boomerang  
Honestly, I haven’t been there in years, but their chicken strips are phenomenal.  Honorable mention:  Rocks

Best sushi:  KoFusion
Is there any other choice?  It’s also fun for a swanky after-work cocktail. Or three.

Best way to spend a Saturday in the Fall:  Tailgating before an Illini football game

And so you don’t think I spend ALL my time eating and drinking:

Best place to buy gifts:  Art Mart
Go there.  There’s lots of cool stuff from stationary to jewelry to lotion to household products.

Best bookstore:  Pages for All Ages
If I’m needed something cheap, I’ll buy from Amazon.  Otherwise, it’s Pages all the way.  Support local bookstores! 

Best way to spend a Saturday morning in the summer:   The Market at the Square
Call me crunchy, but I love strolling through the various vendors, buying locally grown produce and bread.  Its close enough that I can walk… and right by my gym so I can fit in a workout afterwards

So, those are my picks.  Do you agree?  What have I missed?

San Antonio Stories, Part III: Crazy Cab Ride

The second to the last night of our San Antonio trip, one of my colleagues got extremely sick.  He had to go to the hospital and everything.  There’s nothing worse than being sick when you’re away from home, so I offered to help out.

He needed some prescriptions filled, so I called down to the front desk and asked for the closest 24 hour pharmacy.  They gave me the address, I went to pick up the prescriptions from my friend and headed out.  

There was a cab sitting outside the hotel, so I asked the cab driver if he could drive me to the pharmacy and wait while I filled the prescription.  He said sure.

So I hop in the cab. It’s a van cab, but the first thing I notice is that the front row of seats has been removed.  In its place, there is a computer with a flat screen monitor and a keyboard.  Pretty odd, I thought, so I asked the cabbie about it.  He tells me it’s for his customers, so that they can check their email or look things up online. Weird.

I ask him if removing the extra seat affects his business, since he can’t haul as many people.  He tells me that, no, his customers appreciate him because he does everything to help them feel comfortable and safe.

At this point, I notice that I can see the road on the monitor of the computer.  I can also see MYSELF. 

As I start to freak out, the cab driver keeps talking… and talking… and talking.  And then I notice that he’s going down a bunch of dark, empty roads.   I look around the cab:  he has his cab certificate on the dashboard.  His dry cleaning in the back.   And then there’s my image on the screen.  Freaky.

All these crazy thoughts start going through my head. I kept thinking: “This is how I’m going to die. I’m going to get raped and murdered in this cab and it’s going to be broadcast all over the internet for everyone to see.”   It was after 10:00. I was a woman alone in a strange city in a car with a guy who was talking a mile a minute about how “safe” he’s trying to make me feel.  Something was not right.

I’m either on a messed up version of Cash Cab or I’m about to be murdered.

I tell the driver I’m getting a little scared and ask to talk to the cab company.  He calls them and they tell me that they don’t have records of ALL the cabs, but that if he has the license and a cab number he should be legit. SHOULD BE?  Seriously??

So, after talking to the cab company for a while and passing a few closed Walgreen’s, the cab driver apologized profusely and told me that no one had ever been afraid before.  We FINALLY made it to the all night pharmacy and I felt a little better.

I went in to fill the prescription and the guy behind the counter told me it would be 25 minutes. I went out to the cab driver and told him how long it would be.  He said he would wait for me with the meter off, so I knew I’d be safe.

I’m  not the kind of person who usually gets afraid of stuff like that, but for a brief while I was convinced I was going to die in San Antonio in the back of a cab while the whole world watched.  And, no, there were no trivia questions, either.

San Antonio Stories, Part II: Eating and Drinking in Alamo City

One of my favorite parts of traveling for work is the opportunity to try out new restaurants in great cities across the country.  I really enjoy researching various places and trying to find somewhere interesting to go.

By far, my favorite restaurant of the trip was 20nine, a wine bar in the Quarry Market district of San Antonio.  (The Quarry Market is essentially an upscale strip mall.)  20nine is named after California Route 29, which goes through the Napa and Sonoma valleys (it also happens to be my current age, as Lisa pointed out).  Since it’s been a few years since I’ve been to wine country, I was interested to see how a California-style wine bar would translate in Texas.

I was not disappointed.  In addition to wines by the glass and by the bottle, we had the opportunity to try various flights of wine.   The flights were grouped by varietal (Chardonnay, Merlot, etc.) or by region.  I chose a flight of spicy reds from Chile and Argentina to begin with.*  The server brought them to the table using this really cool carrier and each wine was accompanied by incredibly amusing tasting notes.



[photos courtesy of Lisa. She likes to take pix of food.  We make fun of her, but it comes in handy when trying to spice up a food blog.  And, yes, these are white wines and I had red, but I didn’t take the photos. Beggars can’t be choosers.]

We ordered cheese plates and antipasti.  They were so delicious, I was afraid I wouldn’t enjoy my dinner. 



Lord, was I wrong!!  I ordered the sea bass with a side of gnocchi.  It was phenomenal.I also had some really great homemade ice cream (unfortunately I didn’t ask Lisa to take any pix–next time!) We had some other nice dinners in San Antonio, but 20nine was definitely my favorite. 

The other highlight of the trip was Bar Rojo at the Grand Hyatt, which was next to the Convention Center and across the street from my hotel.   It was pretty fun for a hotel bar and they had the best raspberry mojitos, made with real raspberries.  I bet I had 10 of them while I was there*, and each one was slightly different.  Yum!



*I should probably note that, although my employer pays for our meals while we’re away… drinks are on us.  I spent a pretty penny on wine and cocktails this trip.  I just didn’t want y’all to think we were pulling an Enron or something!

Foto Friday: Stupid Pun

With Thanksgiving firmly behind us, ’tis the season for corporate gifts.  You know, those tins of popcorn, cookies, and other goodies that companies send out to their clients as both a “thank you” and a thinly-veiled bribe for future business.

I got such a gift in the mail yesterday and the packaging made me chuckle, so I had to snap a photo:


How great is that?  A corporate gift with “bottom kisser” on the box?  Priceless.  The cookies weren’t too bad, either!!

As Seen on TV

I’ve had a bit of insomnia lately. Therefore, I’ve seen way too many late-night infomercials.   A few of my favorites:

The InStyler

As someone with notoriously bad hair, I’m always looking for something to help me add volume and body.  Hell, I even asked for (and received) the Revo Styler for Christmas one year. 

But the InStyler is even better:  It curls! It straightens! It does crazy flippy things!   It’s a good thing I don’t typically bring my credit card to bed with me or else I probably would’ve bought this during my late night/early morning channel surfing marathons.


I thought I was de-sensitized by seeing all the Viagra, Cialis, and “Natural Male Enhancement” ads on TV (the football through the tire swing– real subtle, guys!) But I literally could not believe what I was watching when I saw an infomercial for Extenze: 

Seriously?  A “sex talk show” where they interview guys (and their ladies) about “size issues?”  Gag, gag, gag.   At first, I honestly thought it was a spoof.   No such luck!  I probably watched a little longer than I’d like to admit, though.  My favorite was the ponytail/Fabio guy (I don’t think he’s in the clip above).

And in the “that’s unfortunate” category . . .

There’s a specialty lingerie store here in town.  No, not *that* kind of specialty store.  They cater to women who need especially large bras, post-mastectomy, that kind of thing.   In one of their current commercials, they say something like [I’m not going to get this 100% correct] “Specializing in the perfect fit for sizes double A-F, nursing bras, and post-surgery garments.  Feel utterly fantastic.” 

Utterly?  Really?  You’re going to use the word utterly right after talking about a nursing bra?  

That’s unfortunate!