Monday, May 27, 2013

We didn't go see the Yankees

If you asked Derrick three days ago what he was doing for Memorial Day weekend, he'd tell you that he was probably going to the Yankees' game (compliments of his lately "suspiciously sketchy" dad).  And he'd say I was spending it in Chicago, probably burning another layer off my shoulders.

He would have been completely wrong, of course, but you can't blame the guy - for three weeks, his dad's actions probably had seemed a bit questionable.  But that was only because was bearing the difficult burden of my secret, a much more difficult predicament for him than me because he sees Derrick every day.  I.e. he can regularly be grilled by Derrick's suspicious lines of questions in person.

And what was this secret that led to Derrick believing he'd be getting chummy with Derek Jeter this weekend?  Well, it was that Nicole Leigh Clarke would be making her grand return to South Florida!  Weeeeee!  About three weeks ago, I got really fed up with the whole "relationship with the phone" deal, and made an impulsive carefully thought out but rather quick decision to cash in my Travel Rewards miles to surprise my favorite Yankees' fan for the long weekend.

So Saturday morning, around 5 am, I was in taxi on route to the Chicago O'Hare airport.

Given my 4 am wakeup call, that part of the trip is a bit of a blur in my memory.

And at 7:30 am, right after I texted Derrick to tell him I was going running, I was taking off for my 2 hour 45 minute flight over the Gulf.

Meanwhile, Derrick was meandering around his dad's house in increasing angst.  He had a game that evening, and had a lot of stuff he needed to get done before his pre-game meal at 3.  A lot of stuff that he couldn't start doing because his dad was "picking something up" and "would need Derrick's help unloading it for about 20 minutes at noon."  Derrick, being the generous fellow he is, of course said yes.  But he was not at all amused.

So at around noon, when his dad walked in the door carrying my duffle bag, my disgruntled boyfriend hardly looked up.  When he finally did look up at his dad, who evidently had made Derrick wait around for a few hours to help him unpack a ratty old Adidas track bag, he didn't see me right away.  And then he did.

I'd like to say that his face filled with passion and love and all that sappy romance movie crap, but that'd be a lie.  What I can say is that I now know where the term "eyes popping out of the head" comes from; Derrick looked so completely shocked that I almost reached out to grab his eyeballs that seemed dangerously close to falling right out of their sockets.  I'd imagine that if a Cocker Spaniel walked into the living room wearing an apron, offering him a three-egg omelet, Derrick probably wouldn't look too differently than he did in that moment.

Once he got over his little episode of shock, however, the weekend was grand!  Derrick's dad and step mom really got into the whole surprise thing, and booked us a hotel room to spend the weekend.

So we spent the weekend pretending that we were just one of the many red-nosed vacationers spending Memorial Day weekend in South Florida (not minutes away from Derrick's house).

The weekend lived up to every expectation I could have had.  That night, I got to see Derrick play.  It was really nice being able to catch up with his family a bit while in the bleachers, and at dinner afterward.

And Sunday was quite literally the most perfect day imaginable.  After a nice breakfast, we spent all day at Ft. Myers beach under perfect Florida sun and a smattering of puffball clouds.

We only got off the beach to have lunch, which I clearly hated...

(Sarcasm, if you didn't catch that.  Who could hate a midday Bloody Mary and peel n' eat shrimp?  That'd be no one.)

... With the guy I obviously love...

(Not sarcastic in the least.)

We had a Japanese Steak House dinner with his family in the evening (and I seriously doubt even Japan has anything on South Florida's "Sashimi Maki roll.")

And spent the rest of the night enjoying the incredibly lucky life we live.

I'm sitting here now, halfway through an hour delay to my 3 hour flight back north, feeling somewhat that my luck is running out.  The thing about having perfect days in paradise, filled with fresh seafood, good weather, and people I love is that when you're eating an over-priced Special K bar and V8 at gate D10, you kind of don't want to go back to reality, no matter how much you like your job or love your city.

But that's life, and it could be worse: at least I'm not rubbing ice-packs on my sticky, aloe-drenched, swelling forearms.

Hope everyone enjoyed their weekends as much as I did!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I'm on fire!

This week was a real roller coaster of up's and down's for me.

I'd say the lowest point was when this impatient idiot over here drank scalding hot tea through a straw and burned her uvula (i.e. that little punching bag thingy in the back of your throat).  A burned mouth, no big deal right?  Right... usually.  Except not when the burn in question is a second degree burn, and the burn-ee is a borderline hypochondriac with an unfortunate propensity for really weird ailments (cellulitis from wearing heels, anyone?).  So yeah, blood blisters on my uvula... that happened.

But despite the odds, I pulled it out.  And thank God I did, because this week was one of the most beautiful weeks yet here in ol' Chi-town.

Finally, spring!  For real this time.  The wonderful thing I've learned about Chicago is that 90 degrees can actually be enjoyable.  The thing with Florida is that temperature is basically irrelevant; the only thing that really matters is the percent humidity, which varies seasonally from "I will sweat through this shirt in a matter of minutes" to "I refuse to leave my apartment in clothes".  Whereas that 84 in Florida probably fell somewhere in the middle of that scale (I'd guess around "Thank God for deodorant, but still don't get too close"), the 90 in Chicago just meant bliss.  Bliss as in...

Skirts at work!  And lunches outside!  And best of all... daaaa beaaaccchhh!  Which brings me to the highlight of my roller coaster week: first weekend out at Lake Michigan!  Saturday morning, Rae and I got an early start to get our tan on.

And by early, I'm talking before 9 AM, only ones on the beach besides that guy wearing tennis shoes (and shoobies don't count anyway).  The only time we left was for a quick lunch.  We planned on trying a local sushi place but got sidetracked by the smell of food, as so often happens in life.  We ended up at the crepe tent of a local Farmers' Market (yeah, Chicago farmers really branch out I guess).

We ended up enjoying a little picnic of what Derrick later referred to as "weird food."  I had a cup of some local chilled cream of asparagus soup...

And Rae had a ham and cheese crepe.  (Yeah, I know all I ever take pictures of is food.  Call me crazy.)

Although Chicago really dropped the ball with its unreasonably high taxes and that whole murder capital of America thing, I'll give it this: it does its Farmers' Markets right.

It was quite literally the perfect beach day.  The weather was so glorious that I felt it was sort of a moral obligation to reward my newly pale, Midwestern law-firm body with as many hours in the sun as I could.

Which sounds nice, but led to the unfortunate dip in my week-long roller coaster where I presently sit, lathered in aloe with four ice-packs on each of my four limbs.  It turns out that sunscreen isn't as overrated as one might think, especially if it prevents your forearms from swelling (I didn't know a sunburn could do that either).

So although I'd like to post a few more "look how wonderful life in Chicago is" beach pictures, I can't.  Because I spent the rest of the weekend in my bathroom, rubbing aloe furiously on as many parts of my body as I could reach.

Life sure does have a sense of humor.  But I am not amused.

But I don't want to end my post on that sort of dismal note (because God knows, I'm always the optimist).  A few things happened this week to some of my dearest pals that are definitely worth celebrating...

Hannah graduated from college!  That means all four of the four interchangeable blondes are real people in the real world now.

Another one of the four interchangeable blondes, Erika, had a birthday, meaning that she was able to celebrate 23 years of not killing herself yet (although between climbing mountains and hanging off of Prague bridges, she's made a decent effort).

And Steph burned down her apartment within a week of moving in.

Have a good week everyone!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Here's Lookin' at You!

As I was browsing through some of my favorite blogs for twenty a few minutes at work Friday morning (right before I dove into 8 straight hours of completely focused, nose to the grindstone paralegal work), I realized that they all had something in common: they wrote things that pertained to me and my life.  At first this seemed to confirm my longstanding suspicion that the world does indeed revolve around Nicole Leigh Clarke.

But then I took a moment to consider briefly that maybe my fellow bloggers wrote about things other than themselves in some clever scheme to, you know, interest people.  So I decided to really think outside the box here and post about something other than my exercise and drinking habits.  

Since I've stumbled across the concept of blogging, I've gathered a ton of ingenious, useful information from other people.  And it's a cryin' shame that I haven't shared any of that info with the lovely people who regularly boost my page-view count well into the double digits.  That being said, below is a somewhat (ok, almost completely) random list of life-changing tidbits I've been keeping all to myself.

So here's lookin' at you, gorgeous!

1.  Reading the news doesn't have to ruin your morning.  

Just because 3/4 of the daily news includes either an explosion, nuclear threat, or some other sort of mildly alarming foreign rift doesn't mean that you can't enjoy your cup o' joe (or, in my case, two cups of green tea).  Every weekday morning, I catch up on the most important events from the day before by reading The Skimm.  This clever site sends you daily emails covering US and world events, but in a way that doesn't make you want to crawl back into a dimly lit room with Evanescence on repeat.  Because seriously, what's not to love about a site that serves Kim Jong Un's latest antics with a side of sarcasm?

2.  ...And if the Skimm's sarcastic spin on serious world events doesn't put a smile on your face, Richard Russo will.  

If there's one thing I like more than tea, it's a book that distracts me from my adult obligations.  I feel like I'm constantly on a quest to find these books (I can't tell you how many half-read paperbacks I have stuffed into various corners of my life because they just can't keep my mind off of my internet bill).  So I figure that when I do find such a gem, I should probably share it.  I randomly picked up Richard Russo's Straight Man at the used book store by my apartment and life has noticeably improved since; nothing like looking a fool on the bus because you can't suppress a bit of a chuckle.  I swear, when you're reading this book, your dirty laundry briefly stops existing.

3. Just because you stayed up all night reading Straight Man doesn't mean you can’t have a delicious, healthy breakfast.

Two words: Overnight Oats. Being forced to leave homemade Mickey Mouse waffles in the past (i.e. become an adult), I thought I was left with two options: 1. Wake up at least half an hour earlier to make myself a decent breakfast or 2. Grab a doughnut or Mickey D’s hash brown on my way to work.  Although I'm not a huge fan of the obesity epidemic (compliments of Mickey D himself), I really, really like sleep.  So thank the merciful god who lead me to Overnight Oats. Lately after work, I've been throwing together my favorite combo: 1/3 cups dry oats, 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt, 1/3 cup skim milk, 1/3 cup canned pumpkin, 1 tbs. ground flaxseed, a generous sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice, and a dollop of honey.

It takes literally less than 5 minutes to mix up and put in the fridge, a small price to pay for the treat that awaits me the next morning. Although I haven’t tried any of the other varieties (I just can't let go of pumpkin), they all look super delicious.  It would be plain selfish of me not to share something that lets you sleep in without threatening coronary disease.

4.  While you're at WalMart stocking up on store brand pumpkin and oatmeal to save your moolah, pick up some apple cider vinegar and baking soda too... it'll make you beautiful like me!

But seriously.  It's amazing how many ways you can inappropriately use everyday stuff.  You'd never think that things you normally use in the kitchen are actually double-timers; apple cider vinegar and baking soda are actually pretty effective skin treatments.  And they're cheap too!  (Because, let's be real, if I had $7K to spend on a facial that would make me look like Mila Kunis, I wouldn't be scrubbing my face with baking soda).
But I'm not Mila Kunis, and because I'm guessing that you aren't either, listen up:

Apple Cider Vinegar makes a pretty legit face toner that I've been using for a while.  Once you get over the smell (I'm dating a soccer player, which involves some unpleasant interaction with sweaty goalie gloves and shin guards, so this was easy for me), it starts looking like a magic potion.  Because it's so acidic, you definitely need to dilute it (they say 50/50 in water) to avoid really drying out your skin.  After you wash your face and before you moisturize, wipe the mixture with a cotton ball on your face and voila!  You smell like a house salad, but (after a week or two) you have noticeably softer, nicer skin!

Baking Soda can evidently be used as a cheap, natural face exfoliant.  Who knew?  I actually tried this for the first time this morning, so I may be totally regretting this premature tooting of the horn next week.  But in terms of cost and excellent reviews, it seems like something worth sharing.  Two or three times a week, mix some baking soda with either face cleanser or just straight water for an exfoliant you can spend 3 minutes happily rubbing around your gloriously frugal face!

Anyway, I bet you didn't know blogs could be so informative (especially if the only blog you read is mine which, while entertaining, is about as insightful as a pair of chimpanzees grooming their backsides).  I hope you found this info half as useful as I have.

But if you're not at all impressed, and are angrily beating your head against the keyboard or in the middle of writing me angry comments demanding more big, colorful pictures of my life... don't worry.  This took way too much time and effort to become a regular thing.

P.S. Although I'd like you to think I thought of all this stuff myself, I'm not actually a creative genius.  If you want to know where I got this stuff, or want to start reading more blogs (but don't know where to start) I find a lot of interesting info here...

Or if you're not particularly interested in useful info, and just want to be entertained...

because she's a lot funnier than me.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Bourbon, Taxis, and Sombreros

I somehow managed to go from having nothing to talk about last week to having almost too much to talk about this week.  I’m not complaining though because that'd be like Bill Gates whining about all his extra money: incredibly irritating (unless he's following those unjustified complaints with cash gifts).

And there will be no cash gifts here.  

But before we get to my week, can we take a second to talk about taxis?  And when I say talk, I mean can someone explain how the whole taxi system works? 

I will say that I’m not as embarrassingly sheltered as I was when I was planning my first visit to Chicago for my job interview.  Although I do like the occasional hyperbole to make the otherwise mundane happenings of my life seem funny, this isn't the case here; when I say I was embarrassingly sheltered, I mean that I called the FlashCab taxi service a good 3 days before my interview to ask if I could order a taxi. 

It was sometime between the operator asking me if I wanted the taxi now and her obviously unamused reaction to me telling her that no, actually I was ordering for next Friday, that I realized I was indeed a suburban, middle-class boob.  Which isn't a comforting realization, to say the least.

I've lived here for a little over a month now and from what I had gathered, the whole taxi thing seemed easy: you stand on the street, wave your hand, and then you get in a taxi.  Evidently this is NOT the case, however, as I learned Friday as my two fellow law firm runner friends and I tried to hail a taxi after work.  

You’d think that, seeing as taxi drivers drive taxis to make money and that money bearing customers are sort of vital in that scheme, that they’d want to stop when they saw three people all but throwing money desperately out into the street.

...Not the case.  And it wasn't that there just weren't any taxis – our block around 6 PM is like the Dr. Seuss storybook of taxis… in the 20 minutes we tried to grab one, we watched helplessly as one taxi, two taxis, red taxi, blue taxi all zoomed by without stopping.

Even though we eventually got one (and by we, I mean my friend Natalie, not me), I still am not sure I could explain the process.  This really doesn't do much to comfort my inner, self-conscious suburbanite boob.

Anyway, now we can stop talking about taxis.  Moving on…

This week many wonderful things happened.  One, it stopped raining and stopped being miserably cold.

This .5 by 1 inch rectangle made my desktop at work...

even more heartwarming than it already is.  I took full advantage of the weather while it lasted, going on an afternoon walk or two through Millennium Park, which had transformed overnight from the arctic tundra I had dragged many a visitor through weeks ago, to something out of a travel brochure...

I also met up with another local running group, this time with much more success.  With the weather being so wonderful, I was able to ditch the Under Armor head gear and instead properly represent my brief stint as a Southerner...

... embracing my roots with my redneck, beer-chugging, Frog Leg Festival sleeveless tee.  Or at least embracing the time Derrick and I drove an hour south to eat fried frogs legs.

This was first time I've been legitimately thrilled to be running with the "slow group," which really only meant that we weren't going to be capping off our 10 mile run at a sub-6 minute mile clip.  Real, honest-to-God runners!  And this group has monthly Burger n' Beer Mondays.  I've never described myself as a beer and burger chick, but it beats AARP Wednesdays.

The other pleasing events of the week focused mainly on racing, both human and otherwise.

A few people at work who are as nuts motivated as me decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by running in the Cinco de Miler.  We had to pick up our race packets on Friday (hence the unfortunately mystifying encounter with Chicago cab service).

Picking up the packets was disappointingly uneventful given the effort it took us to get there, so we stayed in the area for a pre-race pasta party.  Except substitute pasta for Bud Light and $1.00 well drinks.  By the time we left, we were fully in the Cinco de Mayo Spirit, not in the least thanks to a questionable rendition of the National Anthem, compliments of Amy.

If a buzzed, lip-synced rendition of an American classic before the start of a hockey playoff game doesn't capture Latin American heritage, I don't know what does.

This weekend was also exciting because it involved another great American classic, the Kentucky Derby.

OK, so I didn't actually even realize the Kentucky Derby was this weekend until my friend Matt texted me to come celebrate the 2 minute horse race that I knew hardly anything about.  But celebrate I did, with a drink that I also knew hardly anything about but is evidently the trademark of the 2 minute horse race I know hardly anything about.

World, meet my first (and possibly last) Mint julep.  It tasted just about as delightful as bourbon, sugar, and mint could be expected to taste.

If this is the first time you've read my blog, you might be under the impression that I could be that person who toes the line of alcoholism claiming that they're just a "good time."  And you wouldn't be more wrong.  I do enjoy a glass of wine or two, but even that's enough to get people uncomfortable with me behind the wheel.  (Then again, most of my friends are more than uncomfortable with that when I'm sober).  Regardless, back to back days of cranberry vodkas, bourbon, and a shot of Patron slipped in there at one point?  I'll say that I've woken up more prepared to run before.

But I wouldn't be so lame.  So Cinco de Mayo morning, I was out there with the rest of the BAMFs (team name compliment of Natalie).  And true to our team name, we really were the envy of the race in our bad@$$ team uniforms (compliments of Julie).

After the race, a lot of people stayed around for celebratory Churros and beer.  I didn't stay for the fesitivies though; I don't think even cash gifts from an inappropriately peeved Bill Gates could lure me away from a hot shower and long, long nap.

And so here I sit now, at my guilty pleasure (the Bourgeois Pig Cafe), gaining back all the calories I burned this morning with another guilty pleasure (a Chai tea latte and chocolate chip biscotti as big as my head).

Overall, it was a grand weekend, but a weekend that I need a weekend to really recover from (remember, you're reading about the 20-something Grandma whose Friday nights are more likely to involve Sleepy Time tea and my latest book than a round of jello shots).

I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to find a balance that will result in a weekly post somewhere between a 48 hour montage of drinking and racing, and me taking pictures of my gym.

But I'm still not complaining, so no cash gifts for you.