Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Favorites

We're nearing the end of Restaurant Week here in the Twin Cities. For us this meant a feast at Fogo on Tuesday. Deeeeelicious! It's nice to get a little taste (literally) of how that other half dines, but for those of us who can't always fork out a fortune for a forkful, here are just five of my many favorite local eateries that are much lighter on the wallet:

The best part about this place: we are right across the street! It's a fantastic fast casual sit-down or take-out place with offerings from soups and salads to sandwiches and salmon, chicken or steak entrees. Even better? Its bakery has to-die-for desserts from cakes and cupcakes to mini-pies and cookies to its heavenly caramel pull-apart. 
My favorites: The Tuna Melt and the yum! Veggie Sandwich - and every dessert they make.

Boasting the best Juicy Lucy creations, this is the only place you need to go for a burger. The fries and tots are great - but the fried green beans are the best you'll ever have. 
My favorites: The Jiffy Burger and the Bangkok Blucy.

With a location also just down the street from us, yes, this is the place Obama mentioned in his State of the Union. Aside from dishing out some of the best food service wages, they also serve some of the best wood-fire pizzas you'll ever have - and a surprisingly delightful artichoke dip. There are so many amazing combinations to choose from, but I usually create a very simple one of my own: Margherita with two additional toppings - garlic and feta.

No better diner breakfast exists. Always crowded, with genuine staff and heaping plates of endless cheesy, greasy-but-not-too greasy concoctions or pancakes and hot chocolate overflowing with whipped cream, there is nowhere else I'd rather be on a weekend morning. Jared is in love with their huevos rancheros, but I always go with the 'Lisa's.'

 You are simply not allowed to go to a concert or event at the
Xcel center without stopping here first for amazing Italian food served cafeteria-style in a fun atmosphere surrounded by more Italian food via an Italian market and pastry/dessert display. The pizza is wonderful, but I always get the lasagna. I need to branch out, though, because it all looks too good to keep passing up. The gelato is by far my favorite part of the visit.

Indulge this weekend without any financial guilt! I might see you there:)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A day in the mind of an introvert

The bloggers I follow publish two posts a day, giving the reader more of a day-in-the-life account, describing the day’s activities, including all the dirty details on anything from meals to workouts to their pregnancy symptoms. 

While I love reading these to learn random tips, recipes and advice, incorporating that style into this blog doesn’t really appeal to me right now (plus, it'd be pretty boring). 

However, I thought it would be fun (for me, at least) to do a  day-in-the-mind post recounting one of the many sets of thoughts running through the back of my mind at all times, starting with my extreme introverted - aka terrified-of-people - thoughts:

Waking up

“Perfection would be to grab my laptop, plop on the couch and work from home all day communicating through email only.”

Reality check – Race out to the bus to sit way too close to too many strangers for 35 way-too-long minutes to join the bustling herds downtown.

Arriving downtown and power walking through the skyway to get to the office

“Why is that person looking at me like that…and that one…how crazy is my hair right now...why did that person smile at me…do I have to acknowledge him …not going to…OK, almost there, just keep looking straight ahead.”
An older lady slowly comes up behind me as I pass through a door and hold it just long enough for her to touch it.
‘Thank you so much,’ she exclaims as I give her a brief smile.
“Really? You couldn’t even muster ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘No problem?’ What is wrong with you?”

Arriving at my desk

“Yay! I have a long to-do list to get through, and it only requires me, Google and Excel. I can happily do this all day. Besides, I just made small talk in the break room for five minutes while filling my water bottle, so I need a recharge.”


“Just be cool. You know these people now….see, this is going great…OK, your turn to talk….OK, rushed but good….your boss is making eye contact with you…look back…look back…Now stop -  you’re creeping her out. Hey, this is actually kind of fun, and these people are smart. Pay attention!”

Passing a co-worker on the way to the restroom

“Smile or greeting? Smile or greeting? Smile or greeting? Too late. She just said ‘Hi’ and ‘How are you?’ Good answer….nice banter…OK, good save - now move along before you embarrass yourself.”
Lunch at my favorite spot in the skyway

 “Remember to speak up when you order. Yes, your voice is annoying, but if you say it loud the first time, no one has to hear it grow shriller as you repeat it three times. Now I have to wait with all of these other people? Am I supposed to make more small talk because we like the same deli? Those guys over there are. OK…a short comment about the cookies here…good enough. Now leave me alone, lady. That’s my order being called – saved!”

After lunch
A meeting ends and turns into a casual non-work related conversation, and I for some reason start talking a mile a minute, enjoying the discussion and opportunity to get to know my co-workers on a more personal level.

"OK...I'm talking too much...I feel I the only one in here who's hot? Am I sweating? Crap, I'm definitely sweating. Can they tell? We've been in here an extra 15 minutes. Conversation. Must. Stop. Now."

The rest of the afternoon = alone time with my computer = recharge.

Waiting for the bus to go home

“Please don’t be too crowded, please don’t be too crowded….great. It’s late and over-crowded. Why do I take the bus again?” I then proceed to whip out my Kindle and look at nothing else until we reach my stop. “Free at last!”

After a quick workout with Jillian and a few minutes with my three loves - OK, four, since I eat too – I am headed to my shift at the gym.

“Please just don't let any unreasonably outraged members yell at me tonight."

I then spend the next couple of hours checking in the after-work rush with a huge smile on my face, the phone consistently attached to my ear and a pleasant tone in my voice. These people are here to work out, and they deserve to be greeted by someone who is excited they’re there, and I am honestly happy for them and want to help them stay motivated. That doesn’t mean I want to have lengthy conversations with them. 

“What did he just say? I don’t understand…just laugh…yep, that usually works. Next one. This girl is funny….OK, TMI. TMI! I don’t know you!! Move along. Love this couple - they're so funny…good’s my turn to make a clever remark……I’ve got nothing…awkward silence...and move on. Oh, here comes the sales manager with his newest guest. Now I have to join in this overly friendly conversation without coming off as a phony. Did I really just laugh like that?”

When the masses die down I have a few minutes to talk about weekend plans with my co-workers. 

“Oh, you spend every weekend out and about in cramped spaces surrounded by people in quantities too large for me to want to be in a stadium with? Nice. 
I have one social outing planned, and then I am looking forward to some quality quiet time at home. So I will really talk up that one dinner I’m going out to.”

As closing time approaches, I have some real conversations with a few members I’ve actually gotten to know before kicking them all out and driving home excited to go to bed, exhausted not because it’s late but because I just spent a lot of time with a lot of people. And I’m going to do it all again tomorrow. “Yay.”

OK, is this a little exaggerated? Yes - but not as much as you're probably hoping it is (for my sake). What can I say? Send me up in front of a huge audience to give a speech or on a week-long trip with my closest girlfriends, and I have no problem. But send me to a house party or a mix-and-mingle networking event, and I can give you a long list of horrible things I'd much rather put myself through.

I love deep conversations with people I know well and interviewing people I don't know well to learn more about a new topic/event/theory/you-name-it, but at the end (or middle..or beginning) of the day, I prefer to be alone with my thoughts. And I am more than OK with that. I've tried to change this part of me, but I have realized the one thing I won't be is fake.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Favorites

Unless you've been living under a rock (or a snowbank, in which case I almost forgive you, given the state of most states right now), you know we are in the midst of the marvelous season of the Girl Scout cookie.

As tempting (and enjoyable) as it may be to devour box after box, think of all the concoctions you could instead create using the cookies to intensify and draw out the flavor. There are heaps of recipes out there, and since I haven't actually tried any myself (since it requires you to actually mix or chop or bake or stir things successfully), today I am sharing some I would love to try - especially if you made them for me - based off of my three favorite cookies: Samoas, Tagalongs and Thin Mints.




Thin Mint-Stuffed Brownies

MMMM  - Happy experimenting this weekend!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A glimpse into the life of . . .

                  INGE CLANCY
I work with Inge at the gym, and no matter how grumpy or irritated people are when they come in, they always manage to crack a smile when they see her (myself included).
Always happy to see and welcome you, help you, ask how you are, she's as genuine and sweet as they come, so I wanted you all to have the chance to get to know the one and only Inge Clancy.

Inge grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, which is also where she met her husband of 34 years, Greg. Two (now adult) kids and a move to Minneapolis later, they're still just as in love, if not more, as they were from day one. Whether they're coming in for a workout or leaving as he picks her up from work, it's quite a treat to see them together. 

She's also a great inspiration for staying fit no matter your age. Inge competed in her first figure competition at the age of 47! 
"I loved the opportunity," she said. "I learned discipline and the knowledge of what different types of exercise can do for you." But the best lesson learned, she says, was just the fact that she could do it.

Aside from our conversations about food, clothes (she is quite the fashionista) or her new apartment complete with an awesome outdoor pool I'll be hanging out at all summer, we've been able to connect over some shared job hunt frustrations, which I, of course, always appreciate.

Here are a few more fun facts:

Current job: Besides working at the gym with the best co-worker ever (me!), Inge does a little dog-walking on the side.

What positions have you previously held? Nursing unit clerk, nursing assistant and various assistant jobs within schools while raising the kids

Dream job: Event planning or organizing

What is your biggest career challenge right now: Finding the right resources for trying to find a job that is close by.

Advice for anyone going through the same challenges: Keep looking! Talk to everyone - churches, libraries, everyone around you.

What advice would you give your 25-year-old self? To concentrate more on career options for the future.

Three words to describe where you're at in life right now: Happy, relaxed, confident

One of her favorite spots to bike!

Hobbies:  Bicycling, exercising and exploring

Advice for staying healthy as you age: Stay active, eat healthy and take time for yourself.

What is the secret to your cheerful disposition? Keeping happy is seeing others laughing and happy.

 What is number one on your bucket list? I don't have one. Do things now. Just do it!


Favorite ice cream: Dairy Queen vanilla

Thank you, Inge!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Favorites

Happy Valentine's Day! It may be some people's favorite holiday to hate on, but, come on, it's a day to celebrate love! I love love! What better thing can you possibly think of to celebrate?

I think the cynics like to conveniently forget how many types of love there are. Romantic love tends to take the spotlight today, but there is love among families, in friendships, for oneself, for others in the form of charity and, if I can be spiritual for a moment, there is the love God has for all of us. Think about it; love is at the base of almost all relationships. So, I am sharing just a few of my favorite (fictional) relationships from one of my many loves....TV:)


1. Tami and Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights.
 Swoon. I wasn't interested in watching a football-themed show in the first place, so I think Jared tried to pique my interest by telling me some famous critic or something had said this marriage was the best portrayal of a marriage he'd ever seen on TV, and I know a lot of people have said that. Well, I finally caved in and fell in love with the show - seriously, it's amazing - but most of all, I fell in love with this couple. Is it possible to have a couple crush? They truly show the day-in and day-out ups and downs of marriage and what it really means to support and sacrifice for your spouse. W.O.W. 

2. Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl
I realize this is kind of an odd pick as one of my top favorites, considering all the legendary couples TV has created. They could only ever deserve each other because of their truly awful, scheming personalities, but as a couple, they cast a spell on you. Again . . . couple crush?

3. Nathan and Haley from One Tree Hill.
Haley's wedding vow: "Nathan, it's been said that there is one word that will free us from the weight and pain of life. And, that word is love, and I believe that. It doesn't mean that it hasn't been hard or that it won't be. It just means that I found a stillness and bravery in myself with you. You make me brave and I will love you until the end of time."
 Is there anything the show's creators didn't put this beautiful, wonderful couple through? Watching them fall in love and then stay in and fight for love through multiple rough patches is magical.


1. Ann and Leslie from Parks and Recreation.
  Best friendship ever. No cattiness, no drama - just true admiration and support between two strong females. And Leslie gives the best compliments.

2. Will and Grace from Will and Grace.
  Unconditional love at its finest, they saw each other through the best and worst of times. I read a review once that called it "both magical and suffocating," and I think that sums it up pretty well.

3. Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha from Sex and the City
 You don't often form friendships this strong (or maybe that's just me), but what a beautiful thing to at least strive for. I love the blunt honesty they shared and the fact that there was never any doubt that no matter what any one of them went through, she could always count on the others to stand beside her. 


1. Samantha  - again from Sex and the City. 
Selfish or true self-realization? Either way, at least she's honest. One thing to learn from Samantha is that it's never OK to feel like you have to change who you are to win the approval of someone else - especially a man (or woman).

2. Jess from New Girl.
 Whether she's singing to herself or blurting out something that makes an awkward situation even more awkward, she knows who she is, and she's not afraid of what anyone thinks. The way she embraces her weirdness and her faults is beyond charming - it's inspiring.

3. Kate McKinnon from SNL.
 OK, so she's a real person who plays several characters, but she absolutely kills it every time, and you can't put yourself out there the way she does without major self confidence. Girl crush alert! She is simply the best.

Celebrate love this weekend!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love lessons from 3 1/2 years of marriage

It's coming.

Whether you're dreading it or excitedly counting down the minutes, Valentine's Day arrives in less than 48 hours. And since I tend to over-extend holidays (Anniversary dates and birthdays? Try anniversary weekends and birth weeks!), you get somewhat of a V-Day-themed post today. . .and probably Friday.

Please don't hate me if you're anti-Cupid, but I love holidays, and since I am married, coming from me this topic just makes a little more sense than a "Why I love/hate being single on Valentine's Day" post would. With that said, I can obviously consider myself a marriage expert with a whole three and a half years of marital bliss under my foldover waistband belt, so I am sharing 15 things I've learned about marriage so far.

1. You must love and like your spouse. Who knew (besides any Amy Poehler fan who recognizes the genius attached to anything she touches) such a profound marriage lesson would come from Parks & Recreation? The newlywed excitement dies down, my friends, and if you do not find yourself with someone you genuinely like and admire as a person and friend, you have yourself a problem.

2. Time apart is not a bad thing. Different hobbies and friend circles can actually enhance your marriage. Having separate interests and going to separate events give you something else to talk about with your spouse but also give you the chance to maintain your individuality. Your hobbies and passions molded you into the person your spouse fell in love with in the first place, so don't stop doing those things in fear of growing apart.

Not really!
3. It's OK to go to bed mad - even if one of you is better at doing so. When we were dating, I refused to end nightly conversations on a negative note, no matter how ridiculous a simple argument would become. I'm so impatient and want questions answered and problems solved immediately, so I had no problem hashing out issues until 3 AM. This approach had maybe a 40 percent success rate. Usually it made things worse. Now I have almost no problem sleeping on an argument because most issues become much easier to solve the next day with clearer minds and cooler tempers.

4. Be yourself. Way to state the obvious. Doesn't this apply to the first stages of a relationship? Yes, but it applies to marriage too. You should never feel like you have to hide a part of who you are from your spouse. As weird as I appear to others, no one but Jared gets to see the truly weird side of me, and that's how it should be. Otherwise it would just be me and my 10 cats. Marriage is about loving the whole person. 

5. Just as you shouldn't compare yourself to others, you shouldn't compare your marriage to other marriages. First of all, no matter how well you know a couple, you really have no idea what their marriage is actually like. Don't resent your spouse for not being as ______ as your friend's spouse. There's nothing wrong with incorporating traditions or activities you admire about other marriages into your own, but don't measure one against another. 

6. Marriage teaches you a lot about yourself. Before you get married, you hear all about how you're going to see a whole different side of your partner and will constantly be learning new things about him/her. What you don't hear so often is that you're actually going to learn a few things about yourself - things you don't really want to know - like how impatient/selfish/messy you are or how problematic your impulsive shopping habits can be. It's not always pretty, but it's eye opening and an opportunity to grow and improve.
7. You cannot change each other, but you do influence each other. So be aware that your actions now directly affect someone else's behavior. This is a good lesson to learn before having kids.

8. Laugh. A lot. Laughter can get you through almost anything.

9. Say "I love you." Say it every night, every morning, when you leave, when you come home, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a disagreement. . say it a lot.
10. Maintain intimacy. Whatever that means for your relationship, do not let comfort or routine get in the way of it.

11. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. This can be hard for those of us who like to jump to the worst conclusions possible, but it's not fair to your spouse, and it starts to take a toll on your relationship. Our long road to the altar was a little bumpy, to say the least (what else would you expect from a journey that started at ages 15 and 16?), and before the wedding I allowed "what if" thoughts to take over my mind. Now I cringe at the thought of having thought those things because Jared is the one who stepped up and has had to teach me what a true partnership is.

12. Learning to fight fair is a process. Fueled by immaturity, many fights while dating turned to taking cheap shots and speaking without thinking. You can't do that in a marriage.

13. The little things matter. An "I love you" text or an email with a random article Jared knew I'd love to read in the middle of the day, a picture or video he comes across and saves for me to see when I get home, remembering a meeting or appointment I had and then asking about it later, a cupcake waiting for me on the counter. . . things like this add up and mean so much more than a giant Valentine's Day bouquet delivered to work or a fancy reservation made for our anniversary.

14. You really are a team. I especially like to bring this up when I'm trying to get Jared to do something neither of us wants to do like clean the litter box or go start the cars when it's -50 outside (so I don't have to). But it's true. Support your partner because everything he/she goes through, you go through. You face the bad times, good times and in-between times together.

15. Make your own rules. Other than the standards every marriage needs to survive (honesty, trust, communication, etc.), every relationship is different. What works for you probably doesn't work for other couples, and that's what makes each marriage beautifully unique.