Another day and a half down on our way to Colorado and it’s been nice and relaxing! I think we figured out our ideal pace for long road trips (~350-450 miles per day). We made it to our KOA yesterday around 3:30 , set up, did some cleaning, took a shower and then relaxed, watched TV and played some board games! This morning, we got up, packed up quickly and hit the road. We had to get a new coffee maker for the RV (more on this later…!) and now we’re heading down the road through Nebraska. Side note: western Nebraska seems very barren, almost eerie…and not a lot of great scenery. We should be in the state of Colorado later today, making a stop at another KOA and then on to our campsite tomorrow morning!
But in the meantime, I thought I’d share some photos of the inside of our Class C RV so that you can see what it’s like. On to the RV Tour…
Overall, we really like the RV so far! It’s fun and comfy and nice… and unlike hotels, we only live in our own germs! We’ll likely adjust our set-up a bit but for now, we’re pretty organized. And looking forward to this and many more trips in the RV!
PS: I think we need to name the RV… any suggestions?!
So, yesterday was Day 1 of our Colorado adventure! We left about 2 pm from our house, Buddy in tow, to head to my parents house. We drove through truly horrible Chicago traffic (not even through the city!) and then a subsequent rainstorm… all within the first 30 miles. An ominous sign for the trip ahead? We didn’t think so! But we were glad when we finally made it to my parents house, were able to stretch our legs and eat some delicious pizza that they had for us!
My parents house was also the point where Buddy’s adventure stopped – or at least his adventure with us – he will be staying with my parents and getting incredibly spoiled for the next week while we continue westward. (Trust me, he prefers it this way… he can bond with my parents dog, Teddy, get twice-daily walks, a daily trip to the dog park and chicken with every meal. Doggie. Heaven.)
G and I had a few more miles to go before we slept though… (I know not quite the song lyrics…). So we continued on westward toward Colorado. We were originally planning to avoid interstates and cut south to a highway to get west (we had a BAD experience driving the RV on I-65 in Indiana); however, we found I-80 to be quite pleasant to drive on so we decided to keep going straight west on that (a much more direct route!).
Just a little bit west of the Quad Cities is the I-80 Truck Stop – the largest truck stop in the world! Now, having grown up in the Quad Cities, I’ve driven by this truck stop countless times. But for G, it was new, and I had never done it in an RV. So of course, we decided to stop, get gas and take our RV through the truck wash! That was a fun experience (and I think the teenagers washing our RV were wondering why I was taking pictures….! 🙂 ).
All was going well, until we were about 45 minutes away from my parents and then, I swear, the sky opened up and just dumped all over us. The rain was SO strong, and by this time it was getting to be dark outside, leaving a reflective sheen all over the interstate. We were glad, at that point, that we were on a well marked and well maintained interstate (vs. a two lane highway). G was awesome and powered through the storm (at a very safe pace).
After making it through to the other side (although not escaping the rain – just a more reasonable amount of rain), we made it to our evening destination…. Walmart. Yep, we stayed last night in a Walmart parking lot. For those unfamiliar with RVing, it’s sometimes called “Wallydocking” and it’s really just a convenient/affordable way to stop to get some sleep while on an extended trip. Since we have a bathroom and bedroom (and kitchen) within the RV, we were able to just able to pull in to the back, put on our parking break and get ready for bed.
I think we actually both slept all right – not the greatest night’s sleep ever (it was a bit warm since we weren’t plugged in and didn’t turn on our generator) but definitely enough rest to get us ready for another day today!
A quick trip into Walmart to buy a few things (including muffins for breakfast!) and now we’re back on the road. And I’m trying out my Chromebook on the road work-station…. We’ll see how it goes. (So far typing isn’t too bad but the mouse is a bit tricky with all of the movement…). Onward to Colorado we go!
Ok, so this post marks the time that I will actually tell other people (well more than just my mom, husband and one friend) about the blog! I wanted to give myself some time to make sure everything was ready and good enough to share. However, knowing myself, I knew that I could probably tweak the format or make edits for the next 6 months and never feel like it’s “good enough.”
So, I’m officially going to just do it – to accept that not everything is perfect. That my amazing husband is still working on the “My Simple Sparkles” logo. That I’m not quite ready to launch the accompanying Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter handle. That I might make some small changes to the format or the layout. That I still want to add my “social sharing” buttons.
But I know I can do those things as I go along and it won’t be the end of the world. However, if I never push the blog out, then I’ll lose motivation and get caught up in the endless cycle of potential changes or improvements.
This is me taking the leap and letting other people see my work, and hoping not to be judged too harshly for any imperfections.
For those of you who are just starting with the blog (basically everyone except the three people mentioned at the top of the post!), here are a few posts to get you started:
I hope you enjoy those, and the other 6 posts that I wrote before I got the courage to push out the blog to other people! I hope you’ll hang in there with me as I take this blog journey – stay tuned for more content and the launch of the My Simple Sparkles social media channels! (And of course, constructive feedback is always welcome!)
Many of my friends and family members were more than a little surprised when I told them that G and I were going to buy and RV. And understandably so… I had never been on an RV (outside of work events which is a completely different story) and I don’t really like to drive. So how did we end up at that point? I’ll start to tell the story…
First, it’s important to know a few things about both G and me:
We definitely want to have kids in the near future and it’s important to us to give them as many positive life experiences as possible.
G loves camping and the outdoors… I do not. (Well, let’s say I love nature and the outdoors in limited quantities and with a healthy buffer in most situations.)
G loves to drive… I do not.
Neither of us love air travel, or at least what it has become. We’re both tall – so leg room becomes an issue. I’m an overpacker who struggles to fit my liquids in that little quart sized bag and G hates waiting for luggage (also, G’s dad works for an airline so we know how poorly that checked luggage can be treated sometimes…)
So all of that combined, particularly the first three points, led us to consider getting some sort of camper (pop-up or a-frame, or maybe a small travel trailer) that we could take on trips to national and state parks. I would have the benefit of better sleeping accommodations while G would get my happy and willing participation in camping trips! Compromise = a key part of marriage! 🙂
We started doing research (and if you know either of us, you know that was an extensive process)! We thought we’d narrowed it down to a couple of different options… and then we went to the Chicago RV & Camping Show. We figured we’d see a few units in person and make our final decision… we were wrong!
We got there and were not thrilled with the original options that we were thinking about. So we took some time to look around the RV show a bit and that was when we first went into a Class C RV. To be honest, previously when I had heard the term “RV”, I immediately envisioned the big Class A RVs which are built like buses and super big. The Class C on the other had was much more manageable and was built on a truck chassis. Inside, the Class C seemed much more stable and well built than many of the travel trailers we were looking at – it just felt more homey. Plus, a small Class C could easily accommodate a family from a sleeping perspective.
So that was when we began to go down the Class C road….
Stay tuned for Part II on our RV purchase adventure and also a Simple Sparkles Comparison on Class A vs. Class C vs. Towable motorhomes!
About a month ago G and I bought a (new to us) Class C RV! We had been talking about and researching RVs/campers for a while (more about our search to come in a future post!), and this weekend, we were excited to take the RV up to Lake Geneva for the weekend.
Our first trip on the RV was to Indiana a few weeks ago, mostly as a test-run/learning experience! And we were able to refine our set-up a little bit, so we were excited to take the RV up to Lake Geneva for our first real mini-camping trip.
Lake Geneva is about an hour or two north of Chicago and is a long time summer retreat for some of Chicago’s wealthiest businessmen who own lakefront property around Geneva Lake. The town of Lake Geneva is a super cute area with a nice beach, a marina with boats, and a downtown area with cute boutiques and restaurants.
We drove to Lake Geneva on Friday after work and checked in at our campsite in Big Foot State Park. One of the advantages of our RV set-up is that we’re able to save a lot of money on accommodations, especially in areas like Lake Geneva where hotel prices are high.
We had a nice campsite – fairly wooded and shady. There were several campsites pretty close to use, but luckily none were occupied this weekend! And I have to say – this state park had one of the nicest bathroom and shower facilities that we’ve seen at state parks. While we have a bathroom in our RV, the shower is pretty small, so we tend to use the facilities where we camp. Big Food State Park had nice, really new and clean, shower rooms and restroom facilities.
Friday was mostly spent setting up camp, trying out our new screen tent room (which actually ended up being a bit of a disaster to set up) and getting our dog Buddy acclimated to the RV. This is the first time Buddy came with us in the RV and, as we expected, it was not his favorite thing. He likes his routine and comfort zones – but due to no pet sitters available, he came with us.
On Saturday, we walked into town (it was a nice 45 minute stroll through town!) and met G’s parents at Simple Cafe, one of our favorite restaurants in Lake Geneva. Simple Cafe features organic and locally grown food, presented in yummy and creative dishes!
After lunch, we went back to the RV so that G’s parents could see the RV and so that we could check on Buddy. Then we headed out for the Ice Cream Social lake tour on Lake Geneva Cruise Line. It was an awesome mini-tour of the lake (we had tried to get tickets for the Full Lake Tour but they were sold out – lesson learned to book in advance!) and of course, anything with ice cream gets an A+ in my book!
It was wonderful to spend some time with G’s parents and then after they headed home, we walked back to the camp site to spend some time enjoying the great outdoors. We took Buddy for a walk and had some pizza delivered for dinner. While we normally love Gino’s East, we made the mistake of ordering extra sauce on our pizza. This is a normal thing for us – we both love extra sauce on our pizza – but we also don’t normally get delivery. So the delivery coupled with the extra sauce led us to a messy, slightly soggy pizza. Buddy enjoyed his piece nonetheless! (And no, he doesn’t normally get pizza for dinner, but it was a special occasion for him! 🙂 ) I think the pizza dinner and the walks around the campsite were the high points of the trip for Buddy!
We had a nice evening relaxing in our now-assembled tent room, enjoyed the breeze and catching up. While we obviously see each other every day, it’s not often that G and I have a few hours to do nothing but talk and hang out together. Usually we’re dealing with work, house cleaning, yard work, chores, tasks, etc. But that’s one of my favorite parts about going on a mini-trip together – getting time away from the grind to spend together!
Next week we’re heading to Colorado for a little over a week! I can’t wait!
Yesterday evening, my husband – I’ll call him “G” here – treated me to an awesome date night…tickets to the Carrie Underwood “The Storyteller Tour” concert! Now if you know me and G, you know that this is particularly thoughtful because I love Carrie Underwood and well, he does not.
Seeing Carrie Underwood in concert has always been one of my music goals (and I don’t have many), so I was super excited when he told me he got us tickets. (He actually started by putting a “Surprise Event” on our calendar – but then, being excited and not the best secret keeper, he told me what it was about 30 minutes later! 🙂 )
We had floor tickets and showed up just early enough to get a good spot! (Only about two people away from the stage!) The show opened with The Swon Brothers (yes, from “The Voice”) and Easton Corbin. Both of whom I enjoyed listening to, but honestly didn’t know much of their music.
Then it was time for Carrie! She did an amazing set – almost 2 hours! – and covered all of her biggest hits (and many of my favorites)! In craziness though, we did see an altercation. when two very intoxicated girls tried to push their way to the front of the stage and those who were in front of them didn’t care for that move (it was not done smoothly…). There was shoving and a thrown drink before the two girls were pushed back and actually out of the crowd (no idea what happened to them!).
One of my favorite moments was when she sang “What
I Never Knew I Always Wanted” to a photo montage of her husband and son. And of course, some of her classic upbeat songs really got the audience singing and dancing!
Overall, I had an amazing time – and I really appreciate my hubby treating me to the evening! We have another concert this summer to look forward to – The Wombats – which I think will be more up his alley (although I’m looking forward to it too!).
So as I kick off this new blogging adventure – obviously one of the most important tools to be able to blog is a computer/device of some sort (as you can probably guess from the headline, I ended up with a Chromebook…)! My current laptop is OLD (I think from 2009…) and really really slow.
At home I frequently use my iPad for light personal use (browsing the internet, shopping on Amazon, reading) and bring home my work laptop for anything work-related I need to do. Obviously, this blog falls under neither of those categories! So this means I need to get a new device! I’ve been meaning to replace my laptop for a while, and this is a good impetus.
Part of me (and not a small part), really really wants a Macbook Air. However, not being a Mrs. Moneybags means that the $1200 price tag for the one I want (including Apple Care) is not in the budget right now. And I’ve had enough frustrations with previous Windows laptops that it’s made me seek out a different option.
My tech-savvy husband (he teaches technology at a local high school!) has recommended a Chromebook and, after much research and a lot of talking myself out of the Macbook Air, I’ve pulled the trigger and ordered one! My choice? The Toshiba Chromebook 2, this one is consistently ranked as one of the best Chromebooks and seems to have all of the features I need (I hope!).
My Chromebook Concerns
I have a few concerns going into this purchase…
How will it interface with WordPress? I’ve read that it’s great, but I’m so used to doing things like embedding photos, etc. from a laptop that I definitely think there will be a learning curve.
Photo Editing. I’m not a great photo editor right now and it’s definitely a skill I’d like to improve upon. Chromebooks don’t have Photoshop (unless you’re part of the beta) or Lightroom or many of the other standard photo editing software. I’ve been exploring and reading about Pixlr and Polarr (replacements for Photoshop and Chrome respectively), and they seem like they’ll work. But again, learning curve.
Only/primarily cloud-based storage. I’m not sure why this one makes me so nervous. I use Dropbox and Box right now (for personal and work use respectively) along with their “sync” folders. I just hope that the apps for Chromebook work as well! I suppose I can always get external flash drives if I want more hard storage.
Overall, I realize that there will be an adjustment period but I’m hoping it will work out well – at least for a while! I fully intend on saving up to get a Macbook Air within the next year or two (or three), but there are a few other purchases I’d like to make first (including a nice DSLR camera) so I’m hoping the Chromebook can get me through until then.
I’ll be getting the Chromebook later this week and will definitely write an update on how things go. In the meantime, any thoughts on or experiences with blogging on a Chromebook? (Or recommendations for good Chrome apps?!)
Like many women – and men – around the country, I would like to lose some weight and in general be be more healthy in my day-to-day life.
In the past, I’ve done Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach and probably a variety of other diets that I’ve forgotten. And I’ve done a variety of workout programs. I’ve been successful on all of them – but not long term. I think diet-wise, that I had the most success on Weight Watchers, but before I go back to that I want to embrace simplicity and create a few “simple sparkles” for my health.
So to that end, I have two goals that I want to start with:
1) Reduce my overall sugar intake. I have a huge sweet tooth but increasingly evidence is mounting that excessive sugar intake may be behind a lot of the health problems facing our population. And I know I eat more sugar than is healthy. So my goal is to reduce my overall (added) sugar intake. I put in “added” because sugar from whole foods (fruit, veggies) isn’t metabolized the same way.
Dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommend no more than 9-12 teaspoons of added sugar (that’s 36-48 grams of sugar). I’d like to keep my added sugar intake below that level at least 5-6 days per week (allowing for an occasional treat).
I’m going to start tracking my daily sugar intake to see where I’m at now and try to reduce it steadily until I’m at that level. I know it’s going to be difficult sometimes to differentiate between added and natural sugars but I’m going to do my best! My one question that I need to do more research on is whether or not I should count sugar from fruit that I put into a smoothie? (Not juicer – but smoothie!) Any thoughts/input would be appreciated!
2) Get at least 30 minutes of *added* activity, 5 times per week. This one is pretty straightforward, I want to get at least 30 minutes of added activity (so outside of chores, normal activity) at least 5 times per week. Eventually I’d like to increase this or get more specific, but I think this is a good place to start.
One of the first ways I want to do this is to add an extra walk for our dog every day. We have a loop in a park near our house that takes about 30 minutes. So I’m going to try to add one of these walks every morning.
I think I’m going to use MyFitnessPal to track both sugar and exercise (one stop shop!), at least for now. I’ll try to report back progress soon and hopefully I’ll be able to describe a more healthy me! Wish me luck!
Having lived in both New York and Chicago (and now the suburbs of Chicago!), I’m often asked which city I like better or what the major differences are between the cities! This is particularly true right now as I prepare to go on a business trip to New York with several of my born-and-raised Chicago colleagues!
I really struggle to answer both of those questions – for me, New York and Chicago represent very different times in my life.
In New York, I was really focused on my career and my friends. I moved there just out of college, worked at the same company for five years – really building a name for myself and a relationship with many of my colleagues. I had amazing personal and professional experiences in New York, and met truly wonderful people; however, something was always missing.
Enter: Chicago. When I moved back to Chicago, for me, it was really an expression of what was truly important to me in my life – family. I went from being about 1,000 miles and two plane rides away from my parents and much of my extended family – to being less than 200 miles and a 2 hour car ride away. Not only that, but Chicago gave me the opportunity to find (and marry) my husband, and we were able to begin to build our family. I’ve had both wonderful and not-so-wonderful career experiences in Chicago – but they’ve all been less significant in my life because I was living with the close foundation of my family.
Now, I should say that this was my personal experience. I know many people who have or have built amazing family foundations in New York… and many people who truly focus on and build their careers in Chicago. But, for me, my experience/life really switched focus when I moved.
So, with this personal lens in mind, I’ve tried to outline what I see as the major differences/comparisons between the two.
Chicago vs. New York: 5 Things to Think About
1. Things to Do
Both New York and Chicago have wonderful museums, parks, theaters, shops, bars and restaurants. I think anyone could truly spend weeks, months and years in either city without running out of things to do!
I think that New York may slightly edge out Chicago in terms of theater and comedy shows (at least stand-up comedy, obviously Chicago has Second City, a sketch comedy incubator!) – just by sheer number of venues and options.
For shopping and bars/restaurants, I think New York’s big advantage is walk-ability (at least in Manhattan) as things in Chicago are a little bit more spread out, and a more extensive transportation system. But being able to walk a lot of places or take a subway isn’t necessarily an advantage for everyone, and, in my opinion, while Chicago traffic isn’t great, I would MUCH rather drive in Chicago than in New York. So here, to each their own!
Both cities truly have amazing restaurants and food options, so which is better probably comes down to personal preference, symbolized by the age-old debate between Chicago and New York style pizza! 🙂 In my opinion, New York may have slightly better Italian restaurants (pizza aside) and some lesser-known cuisine choices, but Chicago has better Mexican and Indian options (again, totally my opinion and based on my restaurant experiences).
For me, I associate the most career growth and career-focused part of my life with New York. I had amazing opportunities and mentors that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged quick professional development. However, part of that is due to the fact that my field – public relations/communications – is very much focused in New York and a lot of our clients (healthcare companies) are based on the east coast.
That being said, I know that Chicago is also an epicenter for business. I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, I think it depends on what business you’re in (and potentially what stage of life!).
For this one, I think Chicago is a clear winner. While Central Park in New York is fantastic – you can go blocks and blocks in New York without seeing anything green. In Chicago, from my experience, you have not only Millennium/Grant/Maggie Daly Parks (all connected for those of you who aren’t familiar with Chicago), but also a lot more tree-lined streets and parks. Not to mention, Lake Michigan! (Yes, I know New York has water as well, but Lake Michigan is breathtaking, and I feel like it’s cleaner…)
Not to mention, New York in the summer seems to exist under the misty odor of garbage on the street… Not pleasant!
Again, in terms of livability, I feel like Chicago is in the front. A lower cost of living in the city and more accessible/affordable suburbs give Chicagoans more options and more expendable money. I will caveat this because I’m personally a lot more familiar with the Chicago suburbs and transportation than I was with New York. But I’m backed up by some statistics since Chicago is America’s 7th most expensive city and New York is the 1st (with only a slight difference in income!).
This is a very vague and abstract concept, but I think one of the most important things (at least to me) when choosing favorite locations to visit or to live is how a city (or any other location) makes me feel. From my perspective, New York is filled with a frenetic energy that makes you want to create or achieve something. Chicago, on the other hand, is grounded in purpose with a solid energy and consistent flow.
I’ve used this analogy with many people – and to be honest, I’m not sure where I first heard it, but I’ve since adapted it a bit. Chicago is a city that, if you give it a hug, will hug you back. New York on the other hand will give you a giant push.
So which city is right for you really depends on whether you’re looking for a push or a hug. Which one you’re looking for may change over time!
This year for Mother’s Day, my mom dropped the bomb that she would no longer like to receive Mother’s Day gifts from my sister and I, but instead would just like us to all do something together to celebrate. So, armed with this guidance, my sister and I set out to find a fun activity that we could do together.
My mom, sister and I all enjoy trying new recipes and learning kitchen skills, so we thought we’d find a cooking class. We scanned through several “Mother’s Day Brunch” cooking classes; however, they all seemed to be the same – larger groups of people and simple menus. We were stuck until we found Right Side Kitchen in Evanston, IL. They offer affordable, private cooking classes for groups or special occasions.
The three of us opted for the Fresh Pasta Making Class! We were able to set our own schedule and it was really nice to be the only three in the class! Jim, who’s the chef and teacher of the class, was fantastic – very knowledgeable and very engaging!
We started by building the dough by making a well of flour and breaking in five eggs. THEN the kneading began…
It took a LOT of kneading to get the dough to come together. And I chose to add spinach to my pasta, which added liquid so in turn required me to knead in MORE flour. (Mistake!) We did it by hand first so that we could feel how the texture of the pasta comes together but then Jim did show us how to use food processor to get the dough started (which would save a TON of time if we wanted to make pasta at home).
We each made 1 lb of dough – including Jim – and we took one pound of dough into the next steps so we could eat some! (We got to take the rest of the dough home.) After the kneading, we ran the dough through an attachment to a Kitchen Aid Mixer like this one to roll out the dough super thin (we took it to a “6” on the attachment). After rolling it out, we cut it into fettuccine noodles using the same attachment!
After we cut it, we gently tossed the pasta in semolina flour to keep it from sticking to itself. The dough made a LOT of pasta – we only rolled out and cut out about 2/3 of the pound of pasta dough but it made a small mountain of pasta.
Then we cooked the pasta – which was flavored with some truffle flour by the way! – and Jim tossed it gently with some butter and fresh Parmesan cheese! It was truly delicious! And best of all – we all have some pasta dough in our freezer to make at home!
Overall, I really enjoyed making the pasta with my mom and sister. I hope my mother had a wonderful Mother’s Day – she deserves it! Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and all of the other wonderful mothers out there!