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Friday, March 28, 2014

March Happenings

I keep feeling like this winter will never end (just like everyone else in this area of the country), and so March passed by kind of quickly in a relative blur of sameness.  We did manage to get outside a few times.

Chicago River dyed Green
We finally went to the Vault (we've now had Do-Rite, Firecakes, Glazed and Infused, and the Vault).  The doughnuts were really, REALLY good, but I don't know that I think they're the best in Chicago.  I guess, for me, there's sort of a bliss point for your basic buttermilk cake doughnut.  This place definitely hits that, but so do the other places.

Basically, if pizza isn't your thing, and a Chicago Dog doesn't carry any kind of interest for you, just go on a doughnut tour while you're here.  We've got a LOT of amazing options.
The yeast doughnuts were SO huge!
After we went to the Vault, we headed off to a Chicago Park to check out a Maple Syrup festival.  I had no idea that they could tap trees and make Maple Syrup right in the middle of Chicago, but they can.  It was pretty cold outside, but it was still nice to get outside and into a little bit of nature.

Upper Left:  syrup tasting and boiling sap over an open flame, Upper Right:  Me and Grayson, checking out the tree taps, Lower Left:  Katie inspecting the sap (apparently, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!), Lower Right:  Grayson walking in the woods, and Katie and Grayson chillin' (literally) in the stroller.
We got a few days where it was warm enough to head to the local park, go on a couple of bike rides, and be outside for longer than 30 seconds without hating the experience.  Today was kind of cold again though, so we played inside.

I took food coloring and white vinegar and put a few different colors in a muffin tin.  Then, in the pie plate, I spread out a layer of baking soda.  Katie and Grayson both got a medicine dispenser, and then squirted the colored vinegar on the baking soda.  Grayson couldn't fill the dispenser on his own, but I bet he could have done it if it were one of the dropper-types.  Katie had no problems at all, and really loved her "Foaming Rainbow Lakes."

Grayson also tasted all the parts involved...but that problem quickly solved itself.  Neither Vinegar nor Baking soda is terribly tasty alone.

Katie loved the foaming, and then playing in the baking soda afterwards.  She wanted to save her "colored sand."  We didn't.
 Overall, this was a great activity.  Both kids could do it, and they enjoyed it, and it was really easy to clean up.  These days, that's the biggest win of an activity for me.

 Lastly, someone started walking around our house almost full-time!  Watching his little teetering wobbles down the hall and his nervous giggles as he tries to go faster is SO much fun.  It definitely helps to brighten up some of these still-dreary days.

Here's hoping for April Showers...and maybe a few leaves or flowers?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Easy DIY Valentine's Banner

We're having a party on Friday, and Katie loves to decide what we do as far as decorations.  Honestly, I don't mind at all, because they usually end up staying up in our house for awhile after, and it's nice to add a bit of extra cheer to these winter months.

This DIY is really easy, but does involve a little bit of elbow grease.  You'll need the following things:
1.  Old book (I used an out-of-date encyclopedia that I rescued from a box destined for the trash by a local store).  It should be a little bit thicker to make cutting into it easier, and to ensure that you don't cut into the surface below it.  Magazine's might be a nice colorful alternative, but be sure to protect whatever surface you're cutting on.
2.  Heart Shape (or any other shape you feel like cutting).
3.  Exacto knife, box cutter, really sharp pocket knife etc.
4.  Sewing machine, and thread

Open your book up, and trace your shape on the front page.  Then, with your knife of choice, start carving the shape out of the book.  Just keep retracing the shape over and over and over until you have a stack of shapes that you deem "enough."  I ended up getting about 20 shapes for each carving (pushing pretty hard against the pages), and then opening the book to wherever my last shape had ended and repeating the process. 
Carved hearts, opened book, and kept carving.

Once you have a stack of shapes, set your sewing machine to a straight stitch, and make the stitch length as long as possible (whatever your basting stitch length is).  Then, just push your pedal down, and insert the shapes one at a time as you sew a straight line. 

You can do this with regular paper, and do not need to carve up a book, but the encyclopedia gives it some text on each shape, and even the occasional picture.  I was sad when I opened it to find that I'd missed this guy's face:

Don't his eyes just beg you to be his Valentine?
 And that's all!  You can feel pleased that it's so cheap to make, and, if you use the book method, you can feel like it's a craft that's just a teeny-tiny bit hard-core...you know, because you're carving it up with a knife.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Whirlwind Weekend in Chicago

I love Chicago.  Really, I do.  It's got such great everything (except mountains...but it IS the midwest).  Lately, the weather has been getting me down a little bit, what with words like "bitter," "frigid," "polar," etc. being thrown around with every.single. weather forecast.  I wrote this post up for Janssen awhile back, and looking at the pictures of fun spring and summer activities is reminding me that there's hope around the corner, and that, someday, the cold will go away.  So, don't come and visit us in the next couple of months (unless you REALLY want to see the inside of my apartment, or the nearest Target because that's probably as far as we'd venture), but, come spring, you should definitely visit!

 Hi!  I’m Nicole.   My husband, Nate, and I moved to Chicago in December of 2011 for his job.  He works right in the Loop, and we live in Rogers Park—the furthest neighborhood north in Chicago.  The kiddos and I visit Nate downtown a couple of times a month, so we’ve seen a fairly decent amount of the north side of the city.  With Katie (3), and Grayson (1) in tow, the things that we usually do are pretty child-friendly, but, honestly, if you’re visiting me, you likely are too.

The lines can be SO long, but the food is really good!
I'd take you out for Chicago Style Hot Dog at Hot Doug’s.  It’s a great little cash-only hot dog place that serves not only Chicago-Style hot dogs (which are vastly superior), but they also have a variety of other meat options:  Alligator, Venison, Foie Gras, etc.  You can order whatever you want, but people don’t line up for hours in the summer just for the normal hot dog.  I'd strongly recommend going with two people, and getting one regular (or the Elvis, deep fried), and one specialty.  Whatever you do, people will definitely recommend that you get the Duck Fat Fries.  Personally, I don’t notice a difference between whatever their fries are normally fried in and the duck fat, but you probably should try it anyway, because it’s different.  They’re served on Fridays and Saturdays, and perhaps you have a less plebeian palate than I.   We could also go to Superdawgs, if the line is too long at Hot Doug's.  Their fries aren't anything special, but the Chicago-Style Hot Dogs they make are really, really good.

They've been around since 1948, so they're doing something right.

Those are giant glass walls that project images--usually faces.  About every 10 minutes or so, the face "spits" out a large stream of water all over the children who happen to be underneath it.

It's famous for a reason! You shouldn't miss Millennium Park.  Right off the El, and several bus lines, and just south of all the shopping you could want on Michigan Avenue, this fantastic park is full of sculptures and an outdoor concert area where they regularly hold free concerts in the summer.  They also have a HUGE pair of fountains that kids (and adults) can run and play in between.  There’s ice skating in the winter (bring your own skates and it’s free!), and general awesomeness year round.  You can’t come to Chicago and not take at least one picture with The Bean (actually named “The Cloud Gate” but it mostly looks like a perfectly mirrored kidney bean).

Taken from Their Website.

Calories don't count on vacation, so we'll stop in and grab a treat at Lickity Split—The most adorable little ice cream shop in the Edgewater neighborhood.  Their custard is so delicious, and they’ve got a bunch of old-timey candies in jars and such.  Really, unless you hate sugar and cute, there’s nothing not to love. 

Closer to Evanston--but the lake is MASSIVE.
The weather is perfect and getting outdoors is a must. We'll take advantage of the gorgeous day at the beach.  I’m sure other major cities love their waterfronts, but I never fail to be astonished by Lake Michigan.  I’m certain that, had I been an early American explorer, I would have hit Lake Michigan and immediately declared it to be the Pacific Ocean (yes, I know it’s freshwater, but it has a tide!).  Then there would have been a lot of embarrassment back home, and the textbooks would have declared it “Murray’s Malady” or something like that.  Anyway—we’ll go to the beach, because it’s sandy, and swimmable, and awesome.  We’re all-season beach-goers, so this applies year-round…though I won’t be swimming in the winter.

So glad my two kiddos love the sand and water.

Katie's first Giordano's.  The pizza is literally an inch and a half thick.

You're so fortunate to have a Chicago insider showing you around. The locals would stone me if I didn't feed you some Chicago-Style deep dish.  Being no respecter of Pizzas, my husband and I have eaten at many different pizza establishments.  My dad’s favorite is Giordano’s, but I think I prefer some of the other versions.  Exchequer downtown makes a pretty awesome pizza, Pizano’s is great, and if we’re already at Millennium Park, we’ll be placed in a prime location to eat just about anywhere.  You’ll get lots of different opinions on where to eat it, so go with whomever you trust, really, just make sure you eat it, and make sure you’re basically starving before you get there. 

You didn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway that a trip to Chicago wouldn't be complete without a trip to Navy Pier.  It’s SUPER touristy, but, meh.  Sometimes you just need to be a tourist while you are one.  It’s a great place to people watch, and, if you’re looking for something of substance, they have a stained glass museum which is free, and beautiful.  Also, you can ride on a Ferris Wheel and look out at the city, or the lake, and, during the summer, they do fireworks a few times a week. 

There is so much more to Chicago than you can do in a weekend (I didn’t even mention the Lincoln Park Zoo, or any of the museums!), so I’d highly recommend coming for longer if you can.  It’s really a fantastic city.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Merry Christmas

It's been cold here in Chicago, just like in the rest of the country.  So we've been spending most of our days inside, watching shows, listening to Christmas music, baking treats, and reading Christmas stories.  It's really been pretty perfect.
Grayson had his first pickle, and walked around with it in his mouth like this for 5-7 minutes.  I could not stop laughing.
He was pretty pleased.

Nate pulled out his trumpet and helped the kids try it out.

Katie was pretty good--and actually got it to make trumpety sounds.

Grayson was sort of lost as to how to work the mouthpiece.

We decorated a rice crispy train

Played in the snow (briefly)

Decorated the tree

...and made silly faces next to it.

Checked out the windows downtown

Took pictures of the tree using Pinterest Tricks

And Self-timer family pictures in the courtyard.

Even though we're not spending the holidays with family this year, we're all really happy.  Katie is so excited for Christmas, and Nate and I can't wait to watch her and Grayson get up on Christmas morning.  Here's hoping that your holiday season is full of happy!  Merry Christmas from us Murrays.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

DIY Distressed Boyfriend Jeans

This post showed up on my facebook feed a few weeks ago, and I immediately fell in love with her pants.  I've seen a lot of people wearing the boyfriend jean, with varying degrees of distress.  The thing I loved about her pants was that there were patches behind the holes.  I just wouldn't feel comfortable (at all) with a large portion of my upper thigh showing.  I looked up boyfriend jeans on the Zara website, and was completely unwilling to fork over around $60 for a pair of jeans that's partially destroyed.  Then I remembered a pair of jeans that I bought on super clearance at Target (I got two pairs for $9.00).  That were bootcut.  I thought they'd work, they were the right size, and they fit well, but I just didn't like them.  I guess I'm over bootcut?  At any rate, I knew I could do something to them and I wouldn't be upset if they were ruined.  

I started with a pair of Bootcut jeans, so I had to go through a few steps to get to the distressing part.  If you're already starting with straight leg jeans that fit, skip the first parts.

Bootcut to Straight Leg

The first thing that needed to happen was to make them into straight leg pants, not skinny. Rachel at Apple Blossom had a great tutorial for that.

Fold the bottom hem up to the knee of the pants.  If it's wider, it's bootcut (or flare).  If it matches, it's straight leg, and if it's smaller, it's tapered or skinny.

Easy Peasy.
  After sewing the straight line, trying them on, and liking them, I sewed a zig zag stitch along the edge to help the jeans avoid fraying.
Zig Zag


Typically, boyfriend jeans are cuffed, so you can just cut the hem off and skip hemming your jeans, but I wanted to do it. To do this, and maintain the original hem, follow the following steps:
Yeah, it was like, 4 inches.
 Stitch all around the hem, as close to the top (bottom?) of the original hem.
If the left is top, and right is bottom, stitch as close as you can to the bottom of the original hem.
 Cut off the extra, fold down and press, and you're done.  Jeans straight and hemmed.


 Distressing the jeans is really easy, it just takes a lot of time.  First, try on your jeans, and use a piece of chalk to mark where you want your holes to be.  After you've marked the lines, take the pants off again, fold them in the middle of where you want to have the hole, and make small snips with sharp scissors.
Keep the space between snips about half an inch or so.
 If you don't care about your leg showing through, skip the next steps.
Holes in Jeans.
 Use a separate piece of fabric to create a patch.  I cut some pants into shorts this summer, so I had some denim scraps lying around.  Cut a patch that's a little bit larger than the hole you're creating.

Place the patch inside of your jeans, behind the holes you cut, pin, and then sew carefully around the edges of the slits.

Turn your pants inside out, and trim the patch.

Your slits should look like this.  The white thread won't matter--but you can use a different color to match if you'd like.
Next, use a piece of sandpaper to rough up the seam you created by making your pants straight leg (if you did that)...

...and the hole you've created.  This should make it easier to get at some of the blue threads you'll be pulling.

Jeans are made up of blue threads running vertically, and white threads running horizontally.  You want to pull out the little blue threads, and leave the white threads intact (as much as possible).  This creates that stringy patched look. This is the step that takes the longest.  

Tweezers are vital to this part of the process.
 Tweeze out all the little blue threads, and repeat the process with any other holes you might want to add.  In the end, you too can take awkward pictures in the walkway behind your apartment!