The Brightside

Happy Monday after the long Christmas weekend! It is an icy, winter storm morning here in the Midwest, but on the bright side:

I’m working from home today. Working remotely has got to be one of the greatest things about this day and age, am I right? 

The Brightside

It is a rainy, gloomy Monday, which is especially hard to handle after a long weekend in Southern Cali. But here’s my bright side for today:

This is the last full work week in 2015! Woo hoo! Gotta love the holidays.

Zoo Lights

To get into the  holiday spirit, I decided we should do something festive each weekend in December. This past weekend we headed downtown to Lincoln Park Zoo for our first ever Zoo Lights.

I love the zoo because a) it’s free and b) animals, duh. Zoo Lights, however, was a bit of a different experience than your typical summertime zoo outing. 

The weather was unseasonably warm for a December night in Chicago, so it seemed like everyone had the same idea as us. We headed to the city around six and parking was a nightmare, so we sucked it up and paid the ridiculous $25 lot fee for the sake of our friend’s baby.

Once inside, it was what I expected: the zoo. With lights. Glowing animals and trees everywhere. Real animals? Not so easy to find. It did do its job to put me in the holiday mood though. Here are some pics so you can join me in the Christmas spirit:

   
    
 

The Brightside

It’s an extra foggy, extra-hard-to-get-out-of-bed Monday morning but here’s my bright side:

This Chicago winter weather! It was in the 60’s over the weekend, and we’ve barely had any snowfall so far this year. I’m constantly reminding myself that it could be worse and appreciating every moment of this mild winter. It’s so easy to love living here with December weather like this.

Favorite Finds

Weekends are for sleeping in, catching up on blogs, and doing laundry. We stayed in and watched The Prestige last night and found a decent dim sum place in the suburbs earlier today! Two thumbs up for this low-key weekend so far ūüôā

Here are some of my favorite links I found this week:

And finally, my prayers are with everyone affected by the San Bernadino shooting on Wednesday. I’m terrified of what the world has become. This just needs to stop.

December Goals

Day 1 of our Trader Joe’s Advent calendar! Mmm chocolate bear

Whoa, I can’t believe December is already here! Which means Advent is here, which means Christmas is almost here! I know this does not make me unique, but this is most definitely my favorite time of year. Time for 24/7 Christmas music, hot cocoa every day, and Elf and Love Actually on repeat. Perrrrfecctionn.

Since it is the first of the month, it’s time for me to set some goals. I set goals often — yearly, monthly, daily…hourly if I’m feeling ambitious — and it really helps me to see what’s important and find purpose in everything I do. I have always generally set three main goals at a time, and I recently learned that the Rule of Three is an actual productivity tool! I was being productive all this time, and didn’t even know it ūüôā Anyways, more to come on that in a future post but here are my three goals for this month:

1. Finish wedding thank you cards
It’s been a long time coming. Is there such thing as saying thanks too late? As long as I get these out in the same calendar year we got married, I think it should be okay…right?

2. Focus on giving
Tis the season for giving. It’s easy to get wrapped up in all the chaos of the holidays, but I want to make a point to really take time to recognize acts of giving and to give in everything I do. Less me, more everyone and everything else.

3. Start a new tradition
I love traditions. No, actually, I LOVE traditions. My husband and I already have a few (probably more than he thought we ever would), but since this is our first holiday season as a married couple, I think it’s the perfect time to add one more to the pile. Time to brainstorm!

The Brightside

Mondays are rough. Mondays after a long a weekend are extra rough. So here’s my bright side on this extra rough Cyber Monday:

Christmas decorations are up! Everywhere I go — my apartment, the park I drive past on my way to work, the office — I am surrounded by the holiday spirit. Can’t help but smile with all the good cheer! 

Friendsgiving

 

DIY banner made with my beloved Silhouette Portrait

Last night we hosted a Friendsgiving with our close group of friends and it was the perfect way to round out this very thankful weekend. We rented out the conference room in our building and combined three tables to seat 20 guests. I tried to keep the planning process relatively stress free with quick and cute decorations and simple recipes as our potluck contribution. While the day-of got a little hectic with a scramble for chairs and an inevitably messy kitchen, in the end, everything turned out well. We spent the night sipping spiked cider and laughing uncontrollably during games of “Thumper” and “Cheers to the Governor,” all with good company.

 

Fell in love with these turkey napkins from Target. Also, a quick peek of the mini fall centerpieces I put together

 

The meat and cheese platter and veggie tray stayed out all night for people to snack on

 

Our little bar — complete with sparkling cranberry punch and spiced cider (rum optional)

Party details:

Decor

  • DIY Silhouette banner
  • Burlap table runners (Target, $3)
  • Fall leaves table runner (Homegoods)
  • Alstromeria and mums floral arrangements

Food and Drinks 

It was potluck style, but here is what I contributed and the recipes I used:

  • Apple, Cranberry, Walnut Salad¬†–¬†via Creme de la Crumb
  • Grape Jelly¬†Meatballs –¬†easy recipe: grape jelly + chili sauce + frozen meatballs in a slow cooker
  • Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates¬†– via Give Me Some Oven
  • Mac and Cheese¬†–¬†via That Which Nourishes
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts –¬†easy recipe:¬†Brussels¬†sprouts + olive oil + salt and pepper
  • Sparkling Cranberry Punch –¬†easy recipe: sparkling wine + cranberry juice + Sprite + cranberries

Extras

  • Instead of plain old plastic utensils, we used a¬†fancier faux silver¬†version (similar here). It added a touch of class to the occasion without extra dishes to wash
  • I keep a collection of paper straws year-round. Brown and yellow ones made an appearance to add to the fall colored decor

Apologize for the horrible quality pictures — lighting was not the best in there.

A question

What are you doing when you get lost in what you’re doing?

I’ve been trying to be more aware of the things I do that make time fly. I’m sure there are a million ways to ask this, but you know how sometimes you just get so wrapped up in something that one minute turns into hours like nothing? I love when that happens. And I’m starting to make note of it because that means I love what I’m doing in that moment, and that’s what I should be doing more of.

So here’s my short, growing list of things I’ve noticed I get lost in so far. I’m learning to do what I love and never let time be a factor.

  • Crafting
  • Singing
  • Researching
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Looking at interior design sites
  • Hiking

Explore: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Husband and I hitching a ride on the bride’s inflatable swan

While everyone else was fighting crowds at the mall, I took today to relax from all of the Thanksgiving hoopla, plan for the friendsgiving we are hosting tomorrow, and spend a little more time reflecting on how grateful I am for all the good in my life.

Something I am extra grateful for is all of the opportunities I had to travel this year. Most recently, we took a trip to beautiful Montego Bay, Jamaica for my new cousin-in-law’s destination wedding in the beginning of November. It was a quick four day adventure full of sun, family, and unbelievable scenery. Here’s my recap:

How we got there:

We took an early morning 5 am (ugh) flight from Chicago to Montego Bay with a quick layover in Houston via Southwest Airlines. I’m a big fan of flying Southwest because a) snacks, b) tv (using your own device), and c) they have the best staff, so it was a safe and happy voyage despite a couple delays. Once in Montego Bay, the customs process was surprisingly quick with the automated systems and our hotel had it’s own lounge to wait in. We got super lucky as the shuttle was ready to pick us up soon after we landed and we were whisked away to the resort.

Where we stayed:

Since we were there for the wedding, we didn’t have to do much planning since the bride and groom had a resort picked out. We stayed at the gorgeous all-inclusive¬†Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, which was a short drive from the airport. The hotel is the family-friendly side of an expansive property that also includes the adults-only Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall, where many of the other wedding guests were staying. The main noticeable difference between the two was that staying on the family side had a few limitations when it came to dining options, while the Zilara guests had full access to all of the restaurants. Luckily it wasn’t a huge deal since we were only there for a few short days.

The hotel is huge, but didn’t feel overcrowded. Outside, there is a large main pool, a couple of hot tubs, and a quaint beach area surrounded by rocks. We spent days lounging on the beach swings and playing water basketball . ¬†At night we watched live performances in cozy lounge chairs surrounded by fire pits, had a couple of drinks at the rooftop Moroccan bar Fez and sports pub Union Jack’z, and played pool.

Main pool area as seen from the lobby

I love the beach.

 

What we ate:

Since I’m not a big drinker, the food is definitely one of my favorite things about all-inclusive resorts. We spent most meals at Choicez, the resort’s buffet, for a variety of foods and a seaside view. Breakfast included mimosas, fresh fruit, delicious pastries, and other typical breakfast fare. I made sure to eat a little ackee and saltfish each morning, which is the national dish of Jamaica. It was super salty but paired nicely with rice and actually tasted like some breakfast my dad has put together.

And of course, since we were in Jamaica, we had plenty of jerk chicken. The first day we had some on the beach at this little shack on the resort called Barefoot Jerkz. The food was fresh from the grill and the perfect filler since we were starving from our travels. The best jerk chicken we had though was during our excursion when we went to Scotchies. It’s a super cute outdoor spot with flavorful chicken, pumpkin rice, the beeeesstt fried bread called festival, and Red Stripe (hooray beer!). Yummm.

The last night we ate at Brazil, which is the Hyatt’s specialty Brazilian restaurant. It’s similar to other Brazilian steakhouses I’ve been to where they have a salad bar and servers come around to the tables to give you meats based on the little card you have that lets them know “Yes, MORE MEAT” or “No, I can’t possibly eat another bite”. The meats were good and the salad bar was decent, but the highlight of the meal was definitely the plantains.

And a few extras: we had fresh coconut juice at breakfast the first day from our awesome server. Typically they need a day notice, but we were able to get a couple of nuts that morning. Nothing like sipping straight out of a fruit to make you feel like you’re on vacation. And we took frequent coffee and dessert breaks at the cute and cozy Grindz cafe. A latte was perfect for a midday pick-me-up. OH and 24-hour room service – yes please!

What we did:

Besides a whole lot of laying out and appreciating every single moment of sunshine before heading home to the Windy City, we had a wedding to go to, of course! The wedding took place right outside of the historic Rose Hall, which was a short 5 minute or so drive from the hotel. The plantation is incredibly beautiful, and the wedding was perfect, complete with a short and sweet ceremony, the best live band I have ever witnessed, and a cigar bar.

Rose Hall Great House – the beautiful ceremony took place right on that bottom set of steps

Father-daughter dance to “My Girl” under the lighted tent

We also decided to venture outside of the hotel for a little excursion. The husband planned a day trip for us and a couple of his cousins to Blue Hole through Liberty Tours Jamaica. Blue hole is this amazing little hidden gem in Ocho Rios, about two hours from Montego Bay. We took a van from our hotel and the super-knowledgeable driver filled us with info about Jamaican history and culture, pointing out sites like the Rose Hall and Usain Bolt’s high school. Once at Blue Hole, it was definitely an adventure. We climbed up a river, swam under and jumped off of a waterfall, swung from a rope into the bluest water, and the husband and I even took the plunge from a 30-foot-cliff! This was all done in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have ever seen in person. A must-do for anyone who goes to Jamaica!

Photo op stop at the place where Christopher Columbus landed

Husband and I hanging out in front of the cascading waterfall at Blue Hole

Four days went by in a flash but it was an amazing trip, nonetheless. Till next time, Montego Bay!

Update:

Check out the video my husband put together of our trip ūüôā