Sunday, July 28, 2013

Livin' it up like it's my birthday

As I'm writing this post, this is what I see over my laptop screen:

That's right, I'm at Gate 15B, waiting to board a flight home to Baltimore for a 12 hour pit-stop before heading out to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, with my family and dearly missed boyfriend!

For this post, I'm mainly only going to write about one day from the past week.  Because who cares about Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday when Wednesday was your birthday?

Not unexpectedly, this birthday was a lot different than my past 22.  For example, this was the first birthday I've spent with 36 Panera bagels on public transportation.  But that's where I was at 8 AM last Wednesday morning.

One of my firm's unspoken policies is that you bring treats for breakfast on your birthday.  (Which makes about as much sense to me as expecting a bride to hand out Kitchen Aid mixers at her wedding.)  Not wanting to be known as the office cheap-o though, I left my reverse-gift in the lunchroom at 8:30 AM.  At approximately 8:45, this is what was left:

I've learned that there is an art to "birthday breakfast" acquisition around here; if you wait even 10 minutes after the treats are announced by email, you're guaranteed nothing more than half a blueberry bagel (which everyone knows is the worst flavor).

Securing prime pickings requires dedication and a firm set of alliances.  For example, I was obligated to send out a text to a few of my closest firm friends giving them an estimated bagel arrival time the morning of.  Bottom line: you want a cinnamon sugar bagel or glazed doughnut with rainbow sprinkles?  You gotta play dirty.

But for what trouble I went through dodging the questionable crowd at my neighborhood's PaneraCares (don't get me started on that), I was more than rewarded.  My lovely co-workers were especially lovely, showering me with birthday cards:

And taking my tab at a nice little birthday lunch at Cactus:

Really, what more do you need out of a birthday than sparkly puppy cards and a free blackened Mahi Mahi sandwich?  The answer is nothing... so  imagine how spoiled I felt when I opened my mailbox to find two delightful cards, one personalized card from my amazing boyfriend and one stuffed with $20, all in two dollars bills, from my grandfather in Colorado.

You're immediately surrounded with an air of mystery after pulling out a two dollar bill at your Neighborhood Walmart (or at least as mysterious as you can get while holding a  bag of pretzel goldfish).

My mom, the original fashionista numero uno, also surprised me with a birthday package.  I wasn't expecting anything from my parents because they already bought half of my airfare home this week as an early birthday gift.  The unexpectedness of the gift made the two necklaces my mom picked out...

... even more exciting than they would be on their own.  (Which really is an achievement, because I couldn't have picked out two "Nicole style" necklaces better myself.)

All of these birthday pleasures, and I haven't even mentioned my birthday present to myself: Robert Galbraith's (i.e. the clever J.K. Rowling's) latest book and a pedicure.  After all, even baby seals need some pampering every once in a while.

Overall, there's only one thing that would have made the day absolutely perfect: arriving at the Outer Banks with Derrick to meet my family.  But luckily for me, I got that wish a few days later.  After seven hours of quality drive time with my ever reliable road trip co-pilot:

We made it to paradise.

As I finish this post (my typical airport Starbuck's run cut my blog-time short yesterday), I'm in the beach house living room, still in my bathing suit, listening to both Derrick's and my sister's commentary of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which has included "why doesn't he switch it left?" and "why don't they just kick it really hard at the big square?" (I'll let you guess whose is whose).

What's on the agenda for this evening?  The same as for the rest of this week: feet up, bottoms up, and aloe for the inevitable sunburn.

Hoping you all have a relaxing week.  As for me, I know that I could get used to this!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Penny Pinched Professional #4: The Destitute Diva

Even though "destitute" is a stretch, alliteration makes things sound better.  So, I present to you one of my favorite looks:

The Destitute Diva

I've been told that I'm the poster child for Target and H&M, something I can't deny while wearing this outfit.  Both the skirt and the shirt are from Target, but you'd never guess I bought them one aisle over from baby wipes on sale for $6.99.

The Destitute Diva

This outfit's only drawback is that the skirt is definitely a "statement piece," so you can't wear it more than once or twice a week without people questioning your hygiene.

My fashion philosophy is that generally you should buy simple items (e.g, without crazy cheetah patterns) so you can mix and match the same few pieces and get entirely new outfits without anyone noticing.  (For a while, my co-workers thought I had a whole closet of skirts before I told them that I really only had two, I just had a lot of jewelry that I mixed and matched like a pro.)

This skirt obviously doesn't fit that mold, but what are rules for if you're not going to break them?  It's one of my favorite pieces of clothing and my go-to on days I need to channel my inner Beyonce-type fearlessness.  And for $23, what's not to love?

If anyone has an opinion on this penny pinched look, I'd love to hear from you:

Yay or nay on animal prints in the office?  Any fashion philosophies of your own?

Who knows, if you have something to share, I might just name my next alliterated outfit after you!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A few words from a local Chicago runner

This week somehow managed impressively to be both extremely stressful yet unfortunately boring.  I'm talking the kind of week that has your brain pounded "meat tenderizer style" at work followed by Saturday afternoons spent cleaning your apartment.

That's not to say that I didn't feel great when I finally finished.

In one sense, it's kind of depressing that even after spending hours scrubbing the joint, it's still a little shoe-box apartment in the city.  But you know what?  It's my little shoe-box apartment in the city.  I guess this is what parents of really ugly kids tell themselves: yeah, Tommy may be the greasy snaggletoothed kid always picked last in kickball, but dang it, he's my greasy snaggletooth.

Even better is remembering why I decided to scrub the corners behind my radiator this weekend: after vacation next week, my little shoe-box will have a new inhabitant!  That's right, this studly fellow:

has a one-way ticket to Chicago!  He must really like me if he's willing to overlook my shoe-box situation, so I'm going to make sure it's the cleanest shoe-box he's ever set foot in.

I know that Derrick is going to have a lot on his hands as he readjusts to an entirely different way of life.  Luckily, he'll have a local to help him out.  You might say that I'm nowhere near "local" status, but I'd disagree; this weekend, the guy at the register remembered my name at my favorite local restaurant, the Bourgeois Pig Cafe (where I do most of my blogging).

Part of me was a little ashamed to be recognized at a local restaurant (where I'm usually alone with my computer).  But the other part was doing sort of an internal fist-pump, like "Oh yeah, I'm a regular!".  I'm just waiting now to see how long it takes before they start remembering my usual, gazpacho, half of my favorite sandwich (The Sun Also Rises), followed by a gluttonously proportioned biscotti.

Moving on to what I really wanted to talk about in this post: running.  First, I want to mention that two of my lovely co-workers, former members of the BAMFs, completed the impressive feat of finishing their first half this weekend at the Chicago Rock n' Roll Half Marathon.  Congrats to Natalie and Adrian; always respect and sympathy to someone whose run lasts longer than a Disney movie!

As for me, I just finished week 5 of my 18 week training plan for the Grand Rapids Marathon in October.  I've decided to go semi-professional and base my training schedule (somewhat loosely) on Hal Higdon's "Advanced 1" schedule.

I obviously am not following Hal's schedule religiously.  I add a bit of my own cross training, such as cycling and the elliptical ("e").  I'm also doing some strength training (regular weight workouts, "w," or kettle bell workouts, "kb").

But I am doing it more by the book than my first marathon, the Disney Marathon last January.  For that race, I followed my own personal plan: the "A Cycling Instructor is my Only Friend" training schedule.  It definitely wasn't your typical training schedule; it involved mostly two-a-days consisting of shorter morning runs and afternoon cycling.  It was more than enough to get me a Boston qualifying time, but this time I'm going to set my goals a little higher.  Hence, my consultation with ol' Hal.

Lately, I've been talking with Erika a lot about marathon training because she is also training for her first one in August.  For those of you who don't know, Erika is an absolute beast runner.

Yeah, I'm best friends with #7, Patriot League Champion at the Steeplechase.  No big deal!
... So I'm flattered whenever she asks me for training advice.  I'd like to say that I know what I'm doing now but that'd be a lie.  Apart from learning how to unwrap a mid-race Starburst without slowing down, the most substantial thing I took from my first marathon is that there doesn't seem to be one magic formula for success as long as you just get out there and actually run.

I totally get out how new runners might be intimidated by all that running stuff out there, but I don't think all the fancy equipment is necessary (although I will say that I still am very much in the honeymoon phase with my new GPS watch).  But as a marathoner who did the majority of her runs without a watch, iPod, heart-rate monitor, or any fancypants drink carrier... you can be a runner without that stuff.

How do you know if you are actually a runner?  If you wear spankies in a blizzard, then you can go ahead and label yourself now.

But for those of you who aren't nuts like #254 (e.g. me, loving my Under Armour), I spent my last long run putting together a list to help you out (it was a 14 miler without an iPod... I had time to think):

How You Know You're a Runner

1. You have a designated “spitting side.”  Sympathies to any unfortunate victim of a stray loogie, but sorry, you’re not sorry.
2. Using “10 mile” and “easy run” in the same sentence is perfectly natural.
3. You know the meaning of: PR, fartlek, negative splits, BQ, and tempo pace.
4. You’re American, but you think in terms of meters.  Because 200 meters is a halfway around the track, but who know how far 600 feet is?
5. You know who Ryan Hall is.
6. You've bought the same make of running shoe for the last 5 years.
7. Car GPS systems isn't the first thing that you associate with “Garmin.”
8. After meeting another runner, your immediate impulse is to Google their times.  And you judge them accordingly.
9. You know what “the stick” is.  And it isn’t something dirty.
10. You see this, and you pass absolutely no judgement:

More than anything, running is a lifestyle, not a hobby, for a real runner.  It means getting up early to fit in a run and apologizing in advance before a pedicure.  It's a self-inflicted torture that you admit is illogical, something that you can't explain to someone who doesn't get it and don't need to explain to someone who does.

I'm excited for my next marathon and I'm crossing my fingers that Hal knows what he's doing.

That's about all I have about running this week.  Who knows what I will come up with in two weeks, though, when my long runs are supposed to increase to 16 and 17 miles?  As for now, I'm just enjoying my glorious mood as I come down from my endorphin-induced running high, knowing that I will soon be with my family and Derrick.  Nothing, no running calloused feet or achy long run legs, can rain on my parade this weekend.

 Wishing you all a fuzzy, endorphin-like week!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Penny Pinched Professional #3: Natalie

Meet Natalie, also known as:
The Fashionista Up Front

It's been a mad scramble to be the first featured penny pinched professional on my blog.  Even if Beyonce hadn't been disqualified for making a butt-load of money, Natalie still would have taken the top spot with this fancy little number she rocked on Monday.

Natalie is one of the busiest ladies at our firm, working part-time at the front desk and managing her many paralegal responsibilities.  She's known best for owning Chicago swimming competitions, telling it like she sees it, and lightening up the mood with the occasional, well-timed "dude".

She also kills the penny pinched professional look.  You'd never guess by looking at her that she's in that league of 20-somethings to get excited over Walmart frozen dinner sales.

After Natalie told me that she got dressed on Monday and said to herself, "This is a Nicole Clarke look," there was no choice but to give her sassy outfit a name of its own:

The Fashionista Up Front

Obviously, Natalie is wearing the blue version of the shirt above.  She says that her shoes come from DSW (always a solid choice for the penny pinched), but I couldn't find them on Polyvore.  Even better is Natalie's skirt choice; she got her pencil skirt for free from a friend who originally bought it at Talbots.

For those of you without comfortably loaded friends who aren't fans of pre-purchase dressing room trips, I decided to include a similar black pencil skirt from Target.  Natalie's Talbots skirt is a great piece if you can afford it, but Target is always a good back up for the fashionistas who don't want to break the bank.

Just a little inspiration to get you all through hump day!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Field trippin' like a middle schooler

I don't even need to talk about this weekend because this week was more than enough to keep the conversation going.  I recently moved to an entirely new city to do an entirely new job in an entirely new field, so "new" is nothing, well, new.  But this week was new even to me.

I guess I'll start where most weeks do...

Monday.  You may remember me saying a few weeks back that I was a paralegal turned historian.  Well, I took that title to another level.  I can now display my badge of history researcher proudly.  Literally.

Although I had found sort of what we were looking for in our big old box of "keep forever" case documents circa 1950, it wasn't exactly what we wanted.  My boss told me to make a few calls.  I did, and they led me to a friendly email chat with an archivist at the National Archives in Chicago.  She told me that they did indeed have documents from our case but because there were 7,000+ pages of such, they didn't have the manpower to look through them.  She suggested that we "send someone down to look ourselves."

To me, read: "Nice try, Nicole.  Go back to paralegal-ing now."  To my boss, read: "Get in a taxi, Nicole, you've got some reading to do."

So between last Wednesday and this Monday, I became my firm's leading expert on the 1950's cream cheese debate.  You might think that that sounds horribly boring and yeah, while I probably wouldn't have been reading antique dairy patents in my spare time, I would actually consider going back on a Saturday.

I got to talking to some of the people there and apparently one weekend a month, the Archives is open to the public with free access to sites like and the occasional genealogy workshops.  You might still think that sounds horribly boring, but I wouldn't mind spending a cold Chicago afternoon researching what led to the construction of Nicole.

Tuesday.  I spent some time with a couple of attorneys in a limo party bus on our way to a kingdom of macaroni and cheese.  Sounds like the intro to a really weird dream, right?  Well, welcome to my reality.

Our monthly meeting with one of our clients hit the road this month, so I made my first Illinois trip outside the city with a team of attorneys and a few paralegals.

The team left it up to an extremely responsible, middle-aged paralegal (and mother of three) to coordinate our transportation.  Coordinate she certainly did, but as one of the attorneys put it after our ride pulled up, "I don't think she asked the right questions" when securing our lift.  Questions like, "Will the bus have a stripper pole?"

I think if she had realized what sort of "high-end" transportation she was securing for her colleagues (one of whom is a pregnant woman), she might not have gone with the party bus decked out with a stocked bar and strobe lights.  But who knows, maybe she thought the faint "Get Low" in the background would pump us up for our meeting.

The whole thing felt surreal, including the meeting itself.  I'm not sure what exactly I'm allowed say about our clients, but I will just tell you that this one is apparently trying to give Google a run for its money with the whole "unconventional office space" idea.  I'm talking  legitimate treadmill desks.  I didn't even know those actually existed.

Wednesday.  My firm gave me the opportunity to experience one of the hottest, greasiest, fattening, most wonderful experiences imaginable.  The rumors that had been floating around the lunch room since Monday were confirmed: we were all given 24 tickets to the Taste of Chicago, which we could use on either Wednesday or Thursday during our complimentary two hour lunch break.  Who says lawyers don't have hearts?

The point of the tickets is that you trade either a small amount (3-4) for "tastes" of different dishes at one of the 50 or so restaurant stands, or you trade in a larger amount (8-10) for legitimate meals.  I was expecting the festival to be overwhelming, and it exceeded all of my expectations.  The prospect of getting 24 tickets worth of food almost blew my mind, and even more dangerously, almost blew my stomach.

There was a devastating amount pierogies, fried ravioli, watermelon and feta salad, polish sausages, margaritas, and crab rangoons to be had, and have we did.

At one point, when our two hours was almost up and I realized I had only spent about of half my tickets, I panicked and made an impulsive 12 inch Polish sausage purchase (don't you hate when that happens?).  I only made my way through about half of it before I realized I was one bite away from the point of no return.

So it ended there.  But that wasn't before I added number 652 to my list of "Why Chicago Rules".

Thursday.  I added number 653 to my list: random weeknight races in my backyard.  A few people I know through running signed up for the Bastille Day 5k or 8k race and because the course was steps away from my apartment, on the lakefront path that I run every other day, I decided to jump on board.  I mean, I'm always looking for a good way to celebrate a basically irrelevant holiday.

I think this picture may be Copyrighted.

The 5k was actually very nearly number 3 on a different list, "Why Chicago Sucks," right under smelly bums on my corner and bottled water taxes (yes, that's a real thing).  Part of the reason that I paid $40 for the race, in addition to the free drinks at the block party afterward, was because it was chip-timed.  I still wanted to know my actual fitness level after I had found out (a little too late) that the coordinators of the last 5k I tried apparently had a very loose sense of the word "race" (and of the actual distance of a 5k for that matter, which I didn't even realize could be subjective).

So imagine how amused I was after the Bastille Day 5k to look at the results online and find my name in dead last at a blistering 30 minute per mile pace.  I had distinct and unpleasant memories of going a bit faster than that, so not very amused at all.

But after leaving a somewhat aggressive comment on the comment section and writing a peeved Facebook status, the next day the site posted some more legitimate results:

I guess those irritating Facebook rant-ers actually know how to get stuff done; who knows what I could accomplish if I just put a little more effort into my online complaining?

So who needs the weekend?  This post is already bordering "Dr. Seuss book length", so I'm not going to get much into this weekend.  To save space, I'll just summarize quickly without using real sentences.

Kettle bell workout.  First long run with new GPS watch (thanks, Nana and Pop!).  Friend's friend's birthday party at new beach.  SPF 8.  First time in Lake Michigan.  Biscotti bigger than head.  Practice LSAT.  Frustration.  Procrastinating LSAT with Snapchat.  Grocery shopping.  Laundry.  First ever Navy Pier experience.  Friend's dad's jazz band performing at beer garden on Navy Pier. Cheap sangria.  Too many buses.  Blog.

Seem like a blur?  It sort of did to me too.  This might just be how I do all of my posts from now on; it's probably the best way of describing how most weeks feel to me.

But I'm sort of hoping the next week does go by in a choppy fragment blur because I can hardly wait for the week after that, which will include most of my favorite things such as my birthday, home, my family, the first days of our Outer Banks vacation, and the man I've been missing most of all:

Wishing you all a super speedy week!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Penny Pinched Professional #2: Big Shiny Things

Nothing personal, Michael, but I'm not paying $275 to tell time on your 
Oversize Rose Gold Watch

I usually am not a watch wearer (unless it has a GPS and it can tell me my pace), but a couple girls in my lab back in Florida had this Michael Kors watch (one had gold and one had this rose gold color) and I really started liking the style.

Image Source:
The big, gold watch thing is definitely popular but unfortunately, those babies can cost $275.  I didn't spend that much money on my couch, coffee table, and kitchen table&chair set... combined... so there's really no justification for spending it on a watch.  Even the cheaper versions (like the one from Fossil) are upwards of $100.  So there was no fulfilling the rose gold colored dreams of this penny-pinched professional, right?

Well, no actually.

I've had more than a few girls tell me that they like my Style&co. watch, and some even ask me if it's its high-priced cousin.  It's not; while Michael charges $275, I got this one for $30 at Macy's.  I think that technically this is considered "Gold-Tone," but it looks more rose gold to me.  Style&co. also sells a more yellow gold version, plus a few other varieties that are a little different than mine (for example, without the glitzy rhinestones around the face).

So, Michael, I love ya but as a penny-pinched paralegal, I don't love your prices.  I hate to say it but I'm cheating on you with Macy; she can give me what I want for a whole lot less.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sort of like Disney

I haven't decided whether this weekend was really good or really bad.  The best I can do is describe it as like a trip to Disney World: it had its magical moments, like when you're about to poop your pants at the top of Splash Mountain, but they didn't come without the two hours you spend in line getting there.

As far as Disney worthy magic, I'm only exaggerating a little using the word magic because (in my world, at least), that's one of the few words that appropriately describe this...

... the most elaborate Bloody Mary bar I have ever experienced.  Bloody Mary's just so happen to be my favorite drink (unfortunate, really, unless you're trying to channel the "alcoholic soccer mom" vibe) and this weekend, I hit the absolute mother lode.

One of my friends from the running group I've been going with invited me to try out a different group with him on the Fourth of July.  The group, which focuses on strength and stretching to complement running, sounded pretty cool as it was; still being the semi-new girl in town, I'm always excited about meeting new people, and even better if they run.

But when he told me that, because it was a holiday, the group was going out to a tapas bar called Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba afterwards... I was sold.  I had heard about this place from Erika, who is all about tapas, but had never gotten a chance to try it.

In addition to trying some interesting (but delicious) Spanish dishes in good company, I was treated to an experience that I'm sure will only be topped by birth of my first child: the special, brunch Bloody Mary bar.

Basically, they brought me a cup of vodka...

And then it was up to me to fill it as I chose.  The bar had the standards: tomato juice, celery stalks, and hot sauce.  But then you also had your choice of bacon, roasted pumpkin seeds, tomato and mozzarella skewers, olives... I mean, this place had steamed shrimp and pearl onions.  It was no joke and I was not laughing; I was in the midst of the most heavenly art project of my adult life.

Needless to say, my Fourth of July morning/afternoon was fantastic.  But like I said, the weekend had its version of Disney lines.  After a long shower and a longer nap, I realized that evening that I didn't have any plans.  And only having a handful of friends here, that didn't change; everyone I might have done something with was either with family, out of the city, or out the state entirely.

So my big Fourth of July bang was a trip to WalMart to rent Silver Linings Playbook, upon which the clerk made sure I was actually over 17 and old enough to rent an R-rated movie.  Yes, I spent the greatest American holiday being carded for a movie rental.  Awesome.

Even though the self-respecting 22 year old in me was kind of ashamed, there was a small part of me (specifically, the tired and dehydrated part regretting my refueling choices after my hot and humid 8 AM 8 mile run and subsequent strength and stretching workout) that was secretly glad that I had no choice but to veg out all night.  Twenty-two going on sixty-five: that's me.

Overall, though, I'd have to say that the up's outweighed the down's.  Even though my Fourth of July didn't include a bushel of crabs (as my dad so kindly reminded me that his did), it had its perks:

I got some quality tanning time in at the beach with J. K. Rowling's latest book (which I'm finally getting to read after a girl at work lent it to me).

I also went to a festival called Taste of Lakeview, a mini neighborhood version of the Taste of Chicago (which is apparently a big deal).  

It was a great way to spend part of an American holiday weekend.  And even if sangria, seafood paella, churros, and Blink 182 cover bands don't say "Happy Birthday America," you can't deny that "The Heart Attack" hits it on the nose:

Chicago really does always have something up its sleeve.  In West Palm, never in a million years would I find myself in a swinging hammock chair, sangria in hand, alternating between hearing Billy of EZ Hang Chairs's pathway into the hammock industry and giving our highest swinging chair approval rating to potential customers.  But I guess that's just a day in the life here.

It definitely wasn't your traditional Fourth of July holiday, but it wasn't too bad.  Even though I would have preferred the real Disney World (which would mean that I was most likely on my way to Cristina's wedding), my little version of a Disney vacation was good enough for me.

Have a great week everyone!  Here's to hoping it doesn't involve too many "Disney lines"! ;)