Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 - One of the Best. Years. Yet.

I can't believe 2011 is already coming to an end. Although the onset of New Year's is typically defined by the setting of New Year's resolutions, I haven't yet cemented my New Year's goals just yet... sure, my New Year's goals are in their solid formulation/cementing stages, but that post will be coming at a more appropriate time (i.e. closer to New Year's Eve/Day itself) because, quite frankly...

I can't get over 2011. It was ONE OF THE BEST YEARS YET!! I would say that 2011 was right on up there with the years 1996, 2001 and 2006. That's right- I have favorite years... don't judge (unless that ship has already sailed).

I could go into the details about each of my favorite years, but, quite frankly, laziness is getting the better of me. Instead, I'm simply going to provide a synopsis. A synopsis, if you will, of why 2011 was simply one of my favorite years ever. (So far.)

5. I finally travelled abroad a bit more! With the completion of paying off my graduate student loans (there is no greater sense of accomplishment... well, slight exagg but whatever), I finally got to experience complete and total debt-freedom. So... off to gorgeous Iceland and that place which shall remain nameless (for legal reasons) I went!

4. The year started off on just about the most perfect foot possible, when I landed my first television gig (of the year, that is) thanks to Mother Nature... and Weather Channelman Jim Cantore. I think I was the ONLY Chicago resident who was THRILLED with the onslaught of that blizzard to end all blizzards...

3. I made some really just gosh darn great new friends. Sure, I can befriend like a brick wall if I really have to (what can I say? I have that gift for gab, really...). But this year really made me realize just how much I. Love. Chicago. Sure, the city is great. But it's the people that really make this city feel so much more like a home than any of the other cities I've lived in. Sigh. Virtual hug and all that.

2. I realized just how powerful the Internet can be... so powerful, in fact, that I've taken the opportunity to sub-bullet this point:

2a. I was introduced to Twitter... God, it is only the Best. Thing. Ever. Not only was I retweeted by the Today show (as if the Royal Wedding wasn't a glorious highlight of 2011 in and of itself, who knew that my tweet about it would actually be RETWEETED TO 1.1M followers?!?!?), I was also retweeted by Katie Couric?!!?!?!? lskdjflkds! Oh, the DREAMS!! (Clearly, I dream big.)

2b. I joined CNN's iReport team! Not only did I join the team, but it only took me two reports before my second iReport was vetted and approved by CNN... and received 20,000+ hits in the course of three days!!! Having my iReport be like the fourth story down on the CNN US News page that first day it "went viral" was simply icing on that cake, baby!!!!

1. I was invited to the final, final taping of The Oprah Winfrey show - fulfilling a lifelong dream to see Oprah in person AND see a taping of her show in Harpo studio! This was honestly the PEAK of my year... I still can't believe it happened. While I have no idea why her staff chose me to be one of the exclusive few to be in her audience, I am eternally, eternally grateful. All I have to say is that this experience 100% cemented my belief in good karmic forces and the fact that Someone really is watching out for me...

So there you have it! 2011- a year in review, if you will. 2012 sure does have some big shoes to fill...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Spirit, I Missed You So...

This weekend was THE definition of the holiday season, if ever there was one. It couldn't have come at a better time, considering I haven't been getting into the Christiemas spirit as much as would be typical for any given year. I'm not sure why... I mean, I'm following the standard protocol... you know, listening to Christiemas music, watching Christiemas movies, talking up Christiemas for all the world to hear...

Anyway! All better now! This weekend was just what I needed to kick my butt into holiday gear. First up? A holiday party. But not just any holiday party, folks... this holiday party was hosted by the one, the only...

PURVI MODY!!! (Weeeeee!!!! First blog post shout-out, by name!!!!! Congratulations!!! This is exactly what the holiday season is ABOUT!!!)

Purvi is one of those people that is simply MADE to host parties. She has a gorgeous apartment (complete with gorgeous views) and, quite frankly, her love for the holidays is actually quite comparable to mine. When she'd described her apartment's holiday decorations (complete with a tree and a Christiemas VILLAGE?!?!?), I KNEW I was not going to be disappointed by her holiday party. I'd been counting down the days since I got the invite (yes, it's been a full two weeks. But whatever.).

As soon as I arrived, I was in heaven. Any party that holds a Christiemas tree filled with cupcakes galore is MY KINDA PARTAY!

Clearly, the cupcake tree was quite the hot commodity of this holiday party. Of course, there were plenty of other delicious treats to be had throughout the night...

But of course, believe it or not, there was more to the party than the delectable treats (so I tend to lose focus pretty easily- sue me). I think the BEST thing about this holiday party was the widely varying groups of people that Purvi brought together... despite everyone's completely different personalities and backgrounds, the party was a huge hit! New friends were being made right and LEFT!

Sure, the open bar might've had something to do with it, but you know what? Whatever gets people in that holiday SPIRIT. In short, the evening totally emblemized what the holiday season was all about, in my opinion.

So, you would think Saturday night would have been plenty to satiate my holiday palate. But no, no, no. That was just the start. Sunday turned into a full day of holiday festivities as WELL!

First up, brunch. My favorite meal of the day... sigh. A few of us decided to try this new place in the South Loop called "Waffles". As soon as I entered this place, I was sold.

Please note the ginormous Christiemas tree hovering in the left corner of the shot... strategic, if you will. :) Waffles is a fairly new restaurant in the South Loop... while I always get super excited about new brunch spots, I have to say Waffles was just... okay. I mean, I'd go there again if needed, but it's definitely not a place that I would be seeking out on a regular basis.

Oh well. Brunch is brunch and you can't go wrong when you have good friends all around, right? Right.

After brunch, Urmi, Joyce and I ended up walking all the way up Michigan Avenue, with a slight pit stop filled with holiday merriment...

Gah!!! Sooooo cozyyyyy!!! I love, love, LOVE people watching at an ice rink! So many different kinds of people, so many different skating styles... good times.

After the brief pit stop, we kept on heading north up Michigan, and finally just ended up holing up at Grand Lux Cafe to warm up with some cozy beverages because, quite frankly, we were COLD.

Heaven. Pure heaven.

After loitering in Grand Lux for a solid couple of hours (it's amazing how some good old-fashioned gossiping can make the time magically FLY BY!), Urmi ended up meeting another friend to go shopping while Joyce and I headed to another friend's place for, of all things, a tree trimming party!!!!!

It was the first one I'd ever been to, so I didn't really know what to expect. Honestly, I figured it was just going to be a couple of hours, where people just hung around a tree, stuck a couple of ornaments on, and moved along their merry way.

Umm... I was so very wrong. This party was LE-GIT. First off, the tree that Vidhya had gotten was HUGE...

No wonder she needed a whole party to decorate this thing! But first things first...

Check out that SPREAD! If you think that holiday spread was going to go very long without being dug into, you are sadly mistaken. That dish that's totally front and center? No photographic mistake, my friends. Who knew beet dip could be so tasty and delicious? I swear, this stuff is like CRACK... and now totally one of my new favorite foods. Ever.

Anyway! After a fair amount of time just standing around chit-chatting and eating, we got right to work...

The final product?

Voila!! Holiday magic!!!!! lakdsjflkasjdflkajsdflkj! Come on, you have to admit- just LOOKING at that tree is enough to put any ol' Scrooge in the holiday spirit, RIGHT?! Right.

Sigh. As I was cabbing back to my place, mentally preparing for the work week ahead of me, I couldn't help but think about how HAPPY this weekend just made me. This is what the holiday season is all ABOUT!!! It is, after all, the most wonderful time of year...

Alright! Now that my spirit is back, I'm totally off to start writing this year's rendition of 'Twere the Weeks Before Christiemas...

Welcome back, holiday spirit, welcome BACK!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Welcome to My First Poker Experience... Ever.

You know, while I'm all about work team events (whatever promotes that one big happy family feel... sigh.), I was inclined to back out of the poker party my team had planned for Wednesday night for a couple of reasons.

One, I have NOT been sleeping well lately (darn hotel beds) and am perpetually exhausted come, say, 3 PM. Two, well... I've never played poker before! And, MAN. These people sounded like they were LEGIT. Combine that with the fact that I scare of people (let alone competitive people) easily and... well, poker with coworkers sounded like a disaster waiting to happen.

Oh well. Twist my arm (it took all of about two seconds to convince me, let's be honest here).

I knew that the poker party was going to be my kind of thing pretty much as soon as I entered the room and helped myself to...

Weeeee!!! Holiday beer?!?! Any party that serves holiday beverages is MY KINDA PARTY!

After some food and chit-chatting, we got down to business... not like I really knew what "getting down to business" would mean in the poker sense but... well, whatever. All I know is that my coworkers started whipping out these like mini-SUITCASES filled with rows and rows of poker chips.

Let's have a double take, folks...

Aaaand that was precisely the point when the whole "addicted to gambling" side of me started to come out... even though the buy-in was only $10 (gotta love being the poker-playing rookie), the THOUGHT of how MUCH those chips could actually be WORTH was enough for my eyes to nearly pop out of its sockets. Obvi, this reaction was totally internalized because, well, I WAS with coworkers and, believe it or not, I CAN temper the chaos that IS me when in professional settings! I mean, professional lines have to be drawn at SOME point, right? (Riiiight... that's pretty much a moot point since you better BELIEVE I'll be sending this blog post to my coworkers... hello! Shameless self-advertising knows no bounds, people!).

Anyway, thankfully my team consists of pretty much the most patient people alive, who had no problems giving me a brief tutorial prior to actually beginning the game. Additionally, two people on my team provided me with different variations of poker cheat sheets (gotta love Smartphones) to help guide me in terms of what hands rank higher and whatnot.

So the game quickly commenced and, well, let's face it. I quickly got confused. Doesn't take much, really. But in my DEFENSE, there is a LOT to keep STRAIGHT in this GAME, people! I mean, Straight, Flush, Two Pair... how in heavens name do people keep TRACK of all THAT (without multiple cheat sheets, mind you) in ADDITION to keeping track of, like, "how" others at the table are betting, how one's poker face is being maintained, etc. etc.

GOD, just thinking about it in retrospect is enough to overwhelm me.

Anyway, whatever. As confusing as it was, it was actually really fun learning about the game. Surprisingly enough, I actually found the game to be strangely fascinating... even if I wasn't winning.

So there I was, just going along my merry way, studying these multiple phones' cheat sheets before making any and every move (and clearly, not pushing the bounds of my teammates' patience) when, out of the clear blue, would you look at that...

I won! I won! alkdsjflkdsjflkjLKJ! OMG, the HIGH you can GET from winning a poker hand is NO JOKE! To be perfectly honest, when I laid my cards out and people started saying I'd won, I totally lost track of even trying to understand WHY exactly I'd won. I mean, I swear things just started moving at such a frenetic pace and PLEASE. I was MUCH too distracted at the sight of... that little pile of poker chips heading my wayalkjfdslkdsjf! Not gonna lie... my palms actually got a little sweaty.

Best. Sweaty Palm. Experience. Ever.

Hahah. TMI? Anyway! And to think, that was just the start! I actually won a couple more hands... but nothing can compare to that first win. Sigh. Let's have a moment to reflect, if you will.

Believe it or not, I actually was totally as cool as a cucumber with my subsequent wins... or so I like to think. So maybe it wasn't necessarily me being as cool as a cucumber so much as it was... well, me STILL not fully and completely understanding the game just yet, let's be honest here. Well, what? How was I supposed to know that triple Queens was some kind of great hand to have?

In any event! All in all, I have to say... my first poker experience?

One. Big. Fat. Success.

Next up? Working on that poker face... ha. And I thought learning the game itself was going to be hard...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

NAPERVILLE!!: The Dream (Finally!) Becomes Reality...

Sigh. Let this post be evidence that dreams really do come true. After all the buildup surrounding my very first trip to my dream suburb, I was banking on some degree of disappointment. I mean, a dream is a dream and all that but... well, you've seen one suburb, you've seen 'em all right?


Let me start at the beginning. Saturday actually started out not looking so hot. With Friday being our company's fancy schmancy holiday party (complete with all the finer glories we call open bar), Saturday morning started off with... well, one of the worst headaches I've had in quite some time. The gloomy overcast skies and the incessant drizzling did NOT help matters in the least.

I was actually a tad concerned about how this Naperville trip was going to go. Things started looking up when I finally ventured out of my apartment for a celebration brunch at Wicker Park's Hot Chocolate with Alma and Cheryl- two of my old coworkers who are simply two of the best things ever.

Please take careful note of Alma's left hand, strategically planted smack dab in the middle of the picture. Then you will fully understand the reason this brunch was of the celebratory manner. lkjdfaslkdjf! (Congratulations, Alma and Doug!!!)

Thankfully, I started feeling a little more alive after brunch. There's just something to be said about reuniting with old friends and chatting and laughing away... I think the food absorbing any of the remaining alcohol in my system also helped matters, but that's just a side note. Next up?

lkfasjdlfkjdslkfjds!!!! Just seeing the street sign sent my heart all pitter pattering. My friend, Joyce (another fine product of Naperville society, if you will), had agreed to drive me out to Naperville and help out with the tour of her hometown . The tour started off with a 45-minute session at this salt cave... the website described the services offered as a therapeutic, relaxing experience amidst the healing powers of salt crystals imported from the faraway Himalayan mountains. The inside of this salt cave was actually pretty intriguing (and quite pretty!):

However, upon the introductory "rules" to the 10ish participants of this salt cave session, I already knew we were going to be in trouble. The lady running this salt cave session explicitly pointed out that there was to be no talking for the next forty-five minutes, to ensure that all individuals who were part of the session fully enjoyed their experience. When the lady was finished running through the rules, of course, Joyce had a question (or rather, a point of clarification). As soon as Joyce said "Soo... when you say "no talking"... you mean literally no talking for the FULL session?"

Hahaha. Considering Joyce and I are two of the chattiest people alive, a full forty-five minutes of silence is... well, pretty much torture. I couldn't even fall asleep in the salt cave (even though I have been perpetually exhausted for the whole week), so I basically just started getting all stir-crazy instead. So much for a relaxing, therapeutic experience. It certainly didn't help that my phone went off in the middle of the session (oops!).

Sooo... overall, the salt cave? A big fat thumbs down. Oh well... at least Naperville offers diverse experiences... or something like that.

Moving on! Next stop on the Naperville tour? Joyce's house! Because she grew up in Naperville, Joyce goes home on a fairly regular basis to drop off/pick up stuff at her parents' house. This girl has this down to a SCIENCE.

I mean, what the heck?? Who lugs a cooler to and from their parents' homes?! Although, I must admit, the ORGANIZATION involved with this process was quite commendable. I couldn't believe how efficient she was in dropping off and picking up whatever stuff she had on the agenda.

Within 20 minutes, we were off again! Our first stop was...

Oh my lord. I knew I was going to love the Naperville school system to begin with (it is, after all, a VERY strong education system), but I couldn't believe how well-kept and HUGE their schools were! I mean, how many PEOPLE go to this school?? It was like a mini-college campus, if you will. Because I wanted to keep the creeper factor to a minimum, I refrained from just walking through the doors of the high school and making myself at home at whatever school event was going on that evening (the parking lot was PACKED on a Saturday night! Sigh. School pride)...

Once I'd fully enveloped the wonders and glories of just ONE of Naperville's schools, we hit up...

That's right, folks. The city of Naperville values its history so much that it actually has its own little historical complex. Of course, the buildings in this complex were only like the quaintest, most adorable things EVER, but it was closed by the time we got there, so I only got a glimpse of what I know is likely one of the best historical establishments. Ever. I can't wait till my next trip out here to visit and read all the finer details of the history of Naperville... in. its. entirety.

Alright, after that quick drive-by, we FINALLY ended up in...

Downtown NapervillelakdfjlksdjlkJ!LKJ!LKjlkjdsf As soon as I caught a glimpse of the downtown area, my heart's pitter pattering went slightly outta control. I mean, GOD DOES THIS CITY KNOW HOW TO DO CHRISTIEMAS OR WHAT?!?!?!?

They had a Santa House and EVERYTHING?!?!?!?

Trust me, these pictures do NOT do this adorable town JUSTICE. (My darn phone's camera was NOT behaving itself yesterday.)

Anyway! After I regained control of my excitement at the sea of Christiemas lights, we headed to the next stop on the agenda...

That's right! My dream come TRUE!!! The Naperville public library system has been the #1 public library system in the U.S. for the past decade. Key to my heart, if you will. Again, unfortunately, the library was closed by the time we ventured over to it, but still. All I needed to see was that #1 Public Library banner to fully grasp that my dream really HAD become my reality. Sigh. A moment, please.

Okay. Once I got the squealing outta my system, we finally parked in one of downtown Naperville's easily accessible parking garages and started wandering around. Our first stop?

A cupcake shop. Naturally. We actually just stumbled upon Sugar Monkey Cupcakes (it wasn't on my seemingly neverending itinerary), but we obviously HAD to go in! And of course, the local Naperville cupcakery did NOT disappoint.

Splurging on a holiday eggnog cupcake was totally the right move. It. Was. Divine. The cake was so MOIST and such a perfect consistency; the icing a perfect degree of sugary deliciousness (maybe a little too sweet, but hey, who am I to complain?). A DEFINITE RECOMMEND for future Naperville visits to come!!

Next up? Well, of course. Barnes and Noble. It had been a WHILE since I'd been to a Barnes and Noble and, well, I don't know. Bookstores and libraries just make me SO HAPPY. I guess that would explain that... after the library AND Barnes and Noble, we hit up Anderson's Bookshop... hmm. Maybe I could start like a Naperville Literature Tour or something... ah, for another time.

But what?! This bookshop was so adorable and had QUITE a selection for a local, neighborhood-esque type of store. And of course... of course, it was the recipient of all KINDS of awards.

Obvi. By this point, it was quite clear to me that Naperville has nothing but the best, so the local bookshop's multitude of awards did not faze me in the least. Rather, it just made me sit back and smile. With pride and joy. My dream suburb was doing nothing but impressing me with each and every stop.

By this point, Joyce and I were ready for a chance to sit down and eat some dinner. I mean, we obviously had so much to catch up on (it's been like a full week since we last saw each other!). Taking the recommendation of another friend, we headed to Bangkok Village.

Did you know that this was Naperville's very first Thai restaurant, opened way back in... 1989?

Ah, the history lessons of this trip, if you will. Although I found the food to be fairly standard for Thai food, the place was PACKED and our service was AWE-SOME! I was totally won over by the friendly (and super attentive!) staff, so, although I wasn't overly impressed with my food, I would obviously visit again JUST to interact with the super adorable staff that was on hand. Sigh. Good times.

To round out the trip in standard Joyce-and-Christie form, we ended up at... well, one of the local bars of Naperville. I'm not gonna lie, I wasn't expecting ALL that much from a suburban bar. I mean, when my frame of reference is Chicago bars, what else would you expect?

But MAN! Of COURSE, Naperville can do no WRONG! I forget the name of the bar we ended up going to, but it was so SPACIOUS and there was actually room to walk around (unlike QUITE a few of the bars on Hubbard Street in Chicago, mind you)... this was MY KINDA PLACE!!! (Please note that strategically placed... Christiemas tree!!Lkjfalkdsjf!)

Our drinks came out like right away and, of course, were so tasty and delicious. And HUGE...

Man oh man. Oh well! I'm not complaining- I pretty much just guzzled mine down because it tasted just like pomegranate juice, rather than a pomegranate martini. De-LISH!

After another couple of hours of chit-chatting (yes, welcome to a standard night with Joyce and I), I was pretty much tuckered out. I mean, it was such an emotional, jam-packed day... the wonders and glories of Naperville certainly takes a lot out of a girl!

Sigh. I'm so delighted. So satisfied. So pleased. I can now say that my love for my Dream Suburb is fully and completely justified. Big. Fat. SIGH.

**Special thanks to Joyce for driving me all over the place and giving me her own insight into the various offerings of this fine utopia some would call "home" but that I call... Napervillelskjafldkjlk!Ljlkjdslkfj!

Friday, December 2, 2011

NAPERVILLE!!: The Eve of...

So how am I feeling on the Eve of my Naperville debut? It's one of those days that I'm sure I will remember forever, so I want to document my exact emotions to the fullest extent possible, so I can look back on this years down the road (when I am living in Naperville, mind you) and remember all the glorious details of when my suburban dreams officially came to fruition.


Anyway! My emotions at the moment? Mixed, really. Sure, I'm excited beyond words about this grand adventure tomorrow. However, I haven't exactly gotten the greatest amount of sleep this week so I feel like my excitement is slightly tempered by... well, exhaustion. I don't think I'm pleading a solid case here, however, considering I came to the office about an hour early JUST so I could write in my blog. But oh well.

Additionally, I'm sad to say that my Naperville research has fallen to the wayside over the past week. I was originally planning on blogging each night this week about a new component of Naperville I wanted to explore (ie: historical, cultural, etc.). However, that just didn't happen. Can I help it that some people would prioritize work over an inaugural Naperville extravaganza? In short, no.

In any event, trust me. Now that the weekend is (almost!) upon us, I can't help but get caught up in all the Napervillian lkjasflkjds;fkjslfjs excitement!! You would think that my "big weekend event" would be our company's holiday party happening tonight. I mean, it's a fancy schmancy extravaganza, complete with ball gowns and tuxes (I think). Sigh- prom. Good times. Haha. And I mean, hello, it's a HOLIDAY party! I mean, I AM Christiemas! Hahaha.

It was only just yesterday that I realized how deep is my love and loyalty for Naperville. Yesterday, one of my coworkers was asking a few of us what our weekend plans were. My immediate response? "I'm going to Naperville on Saturday!!!" (Yes, the tone was complete with those three exclamation points.) The holiday party didn't even cross my MIND as one of my weekend plans! What the heck, right? I never thought ANYTHING could overshadow any type of holiday festivity, but... well, that was before I realized the full effect that my dream suburb had on me, I guess.

Sigh. I think it's really starting to hit me. This time tomorrow, I will be just hours away from heading over to that dream suburb of mine... the nation's #1 public library for the past decade, the downtown and/or Riverwalk district, the salt cave... why, I think my heart just pitter pattered a tad at the prospect.

Tomorrow is IT! Naperville, here I COME!!!!Ljkdlfsajflkjdsalkfj;dsafljkasdjflaksjd;flkjKJ!M