Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Step Up and Win: Pitcher Perfect Winner!

The second Next Step giveaway brought in 101 separate entries to win the Le Creuset 3 qt. Sangria Pitcher from CSN Stores and! And you all are a thirsty bunch. I loved reading all of your drink choices. They ranged from the sweet and innocent iced tea to the refreshing cosmo/sangria/margarita cocktail choice to the slightly wild Torito (vodka and peanut butter? Who knew!)

So who's the big winner? tells me that it is coliebear who is after my own heart by professing a love of bottled root beer. (Have you had Sprechers out of Milwaukee? Delish.) It makes me nostalgic for glass bottles of Coca-Cola - and by nostalgic I mean for two weeks ago when I bought one at the European style grocery in Lincoln Square.

Coliebear, please email me back at lydiasnextstep at gmail dot com with shipping information and we'll have the good folks at CSN Stores get you your new making-life-a-little-more-fun accessory!

Thank you to and for posting this giveaway to help drive some traffic - I hope that the participants in this giveaway will continue to check back in on the blog to see what's new!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Strawberry Fields

About 35 miles northwest of Chicago lies an idyllic town straight out of Gilmore Girls. Throughout the year, Long Grove features Apple Fest, Chocolate Fest and - as it was this past weekend - Strawberry Fest. We headed out to the 'burbs for a day of music, food and relaxation. An extra hot day, the Strawberry Lemonade cooled us down as we walked around the town and in and out of the gift shops.
First up, we hit the Apple Haus tent for Strawberry Donuts and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.
Don't mind if I do. Sugary goodness made sweeter with a strawberry kick on the inside. PS. Can you tell I've been having fun trying out my new camera and the great shots it can get at the macro setting?
We set ourselves up at a table on the lawn in front of a great blues band. My one year old niece, Ella, had plenty of room to run around. She is just finding her legs in the last few weeks! Now it is a matter of just keeping up with her! The strawberry rhubarb pie taunted us from its box the longer we sat. 
We headed to the Sauce tent from Galena Canning Company - basically every type of salsa, bbq sauce, dressing that you can think of. What is it about a homemade jar of something that makes it taste so much better? Bob made a mistake by tasting a bit of the Blazin' Habanero Salsa for the second year in a row. Will he ever learn?
A couple beers later, we realized our day at the Fest would not be complete without a box o' berries to bring home. Look at these bad boys:
The day was getting on, and we had a sleepy baby on our hands which meant that it was time to leave the Fest and this lovely little town. On our walk back to the car, one particular stand caught our eye and we weren't about to let us pass it by.
DEEP FRIED COOKIE DOUGH! Oh my gosh. Cookie dough wrapped up in a sweet wonton wrapper. Chocolate and powdered sugar drizzled generously on top and a side of vanilla ice cream. 
Okay, now I'm completely stuffed. Until Apple Fest, Long Grove: I bid you adieu. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Inch by Inch, Row by Row - June Update

Two months after initial planting, I thought I'd check in to see how all of our endeavors were doing on the balcony.

Frankly, I'm surprised any of them have survived the past couple weeks with the insane storms we've been having lately! Just look at how creepily creepy the sky looked on Wednesday night of this week! I don't think we're in Kansas anymore. . . 
As a reminder, here's how our lil' lettuce plants started out in mid-April. 
We've been picking ever since mid-May, trying to add salads as a regular meal addition so the leaves don't get too wilty or bitter. I think I made a mistake by picking all of the bottom leaves first, creating top heavy stalks that keep falling over. I still have a lot to learn.
The basil and tomato seeds germinated for the first month indoors in our seed starter pack. I moved the tiny tomato plants to an available pot that we outfitted with a wireframe for the vines to climb once they get to that point. The first big rainstorm we had our little guys almost drowned because this pot did not have a hole in the bottom! Oops! Nothing a couple quick hits with cordless drill couldn't fix.

Here I thought our plants were lookin' good and on track and then I went up to visit my parents. They let us take home one of their extra tomato plants (a Roma variety, whereas ours are Cherry).  Apparently they had planted their seedlings around the same time as us, yet their plants were triple the size already! Her secret? A grow light over the seed starters. Next year I'm setting up our extra desk lamp and shining it brightly!
Our basil has also taken off since we re-planted them outside, but I do need to spread the good ones out a bit and have two pots going (or make up a couple to give away) before they get so big they crowd each other out.
My flower plants leave me scratching my head. I'm not sure when to expect some actual blooms, but the leaves have definitely been bringing themselves up. I give them another few weeks before I break down and buy some ready-to-transplant beauties at the garden shop.
A recent trip to Target outfitted me with some new gardening gloves so I don't get too full of dirt while working on the balcony. Some cute stuff on the displays in the garden section:
Here's hoping more than just the lettuce and basil will start producing for us this summer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Step Up and Win: Pitcher Perfect

Back in February, CSN Stores contacted me about a giveaway opportunity and one lucky reader won herself a Bamboo Cutting Board. Happy to report that they are back with a new prize for you to win!

CSN Stores has such a wide array of sites to keep you busy: from headboards to home decor to hammocks. I stuck with for this week's giveaway:

Presenting the Le Creuset Sangria Pitcher. How fitting as we lead into the first days of summer. . .here in Chicago we are experiencing a week of 90 degree days - perfect to sit out on the balcony, grill out and imbibe in cocktails with friends.

Enjoy a refreshing summertime drink with our brand new Sangria Pitcher. Perfect for Sangria, Lemonade, Iced Tea or just cold water, this 3 qt. pitcher keeps liquids colder longer than other materials. Because Le Creuset Stoneware does not absorb odors or flavors, it is ideal for wine and citrus fruits found in many Sangria recipes. Prechill the Pitcher for faster cool down. The high-quality finish resists chipping, scratching and staining. 

Bold Cobalt Blue color (though we may have some flexibility in color choices!)
Durable, non-porous enamel resists chipping, scratching, staining
Oven and microwave safe
Refrigerator and freezer safe

Material: Stoneware
Capacity: 3-Quart

Cleaning and Care:
Dishwasher safe

Entry details:
- US residents only
- 1 entry per person, please
- Comment on this post, be sure to include your name and preferably email address to be eligible!
- Answer This: What is your summer drink? Mojito, pink lemonade, good old fashioned tap water? Do tell and share recipes if applicable! I'd have to say that "spa water" is hard to beat. Get away from the typical lemon slices and test out strawberries, raspberries and starfruit. Here's a link to get you started:
- Contest closes end of day Tuesday, June 29.

I will pick a winner using early next week and post results by Thursday, July 1. I will notify the winner via email to receive their shipping address. Yes, it's just that simple!

Good luck!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Quarterly Goal Check-In - June

I spent the day updating a new "tabs" feature Blogger has launched which coincides with one of my goals for the year (#17: Redesign the Blog). This archive of blog posts replaces my Next Step Index which, to be honest, I had not updated since January. Oops! I hope the tabs make it easier to search for what you want to learn more about, my new goal is to remember to update the pages as I add new blog entries!

I thought I'd take the time to provide a quick update on where I stand with my goals, 3 months in (I started in mid-March). Looking pretty good, if I do say so myself! Always feel free to check out the left hand sidebar as I update the goal post regularly. 

Culture Vulture
1. Read 15 books
Between book club and random reads, I think this is a pretty realistic number. I just read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer on my latest trip. I had previously read Everything is Illuminated so I had high hopes, although I'd still take his first novel over Extremely Loud, it was a great and interesting read.
A Year in Provence: Peter Mayle - I prefer to read books about travel and foreign adventures when I am taking a trip. This one made the 4 hour plane ride to Las Vegas rather enjoyable! Ash cloud, please subside so I can book a trip to France!
Last Night in Twisted River - Typical Irving: lots of untimely deaths, a bear and close-knit family. Happy to say I liked this one more than his most recent books- my all time favorite book is A Prayer for Owen Meany.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Seeing what all the fuss is about - can't wait to read the next one!
Best Friends Forever - chick lit I didn't expect much from and was pleasantly surprised. Wrapped up a bit neatly, but doesn't that define chick lit?

The Art of Racing in the Rain - narrated by a dog. who thinks he should be human. and whose owner has possibly the worst luck ever. yet I raced to finish it. . .huh.

2. Only buy 3 of those books
Here will be the real challenge - our bookshelves are getting fuller and fuller and I am a little ashamed of how much I spend at Borders when I have a library card burning a hole in my wallet.
I have only bought one book since March, and it was a gift. Not too shabby. I did miss one of our book club books because the library hold never came through in time, although it was my own fault I did not check in with the other girls to see who finished the book early and could pass it along!

3. Have a "Day of Fun and Culture"
Take a day off work with the boy and take in the sights, sounds and food of Chicago like a real tourist!

4. Visit 3 museums
Sort of sad that I haven't been to the Art Institute in years considering I work down the street and I have a membership that will let me in for free.
April 2 - Half Day of work for Good Friday? That means a trip to the Adler Planetarium and a nice long walk around museum campus!

5. 2 trips to the theater
Check one off the list at the end of March - tickets to Billy Elliot have been purchased!
March 27 - Billy Elliot was great! I love a good Angry Dance (see also: Footloose, Flight of the Conchords)
June 2- Acrobatics galore! Scored tickets to Cirque Dreams: Illumination through work. Highlight of the night was Bob getting picked for an audience participation bit and performing in front of Chicago! 

Tickets are bought for The Lion King, coming to Chicago this fall!

6. Watch 120 movies
Now this is my kind of goal - sitting on the couch watching movies! Honestly though, films are my favorite ( has been my homepage for 14 years) and netflix has been instrumental in opening me up to Almodovar, Kieslowski, a slew of Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and TV shows I now wish I had watched when they were on (hellooo, Battlestar Galactica!). One thing I wish Netflix had? A "shuffle" option - 5 or 6 David Lynch movies in a row and you start to get a little freaked out!
36 since March 17 - I'd say I'm on track to hit the target. A few awards:
Best Movie I Wasn't Expecting - Hamlet 2
Movie that Made me Want my Two Hours Back - Paul Blart: Mall Cop

TV Series that I Can't Get Enough of - Flight of the Conchords


7. Book an international trip
The travel itch has turned into a full on rash. Okay, that is some horrible imagery, but I am jonesing for an overseas trip!
Nothing booked yet, but Bob's cousin's around the world ticket is making me mighty jealous and wanting to meet them somewhere next winter.

8. See my best friends
They are spread all over the states, but the fact that I haven't seen my college roommate in over a year is just PATHETIC! Visiting is always fun for me, but I invite everyone to stay with me here in Chicago, or we could plan a trip together (like Kara and my annual NYC trips!)

9. Visit 3 new U.S. cities
I'll be headed to Nashville in May and Bob and I are trying to plan a trip to New Orleans, where might number 3 be??
May - Nashville was a heckuva fun time, despite major flooding issues just two weeks prior!

10. Head up to Madison
Ahh, my alma mater. How do I love thee? Let me count the number of chairs at the Terrace, the steps it takes to get to the top of Bascom Hill and the number of bars that line State Street. . .it is time you and I had a reunion!

In the Home/DIY/Crafty
11. Redo bedroom
I discussed plans in this post - let's see what comes to fruition!
March 20: Jewelry Organizer, check!

12. One furniture redo
A la this coffee table or this nightstand or this bathroom shelf turned wine cabinet. Number one contender? A hallway table to replace a ginormous file cabinet we can't seem to sell on craigslist.We've started plans for our hallway/console table - now we just need to move past the planning stage and into the building stage!

13. 1 room makeover for Mom
Redoing her kitchen with her was energizing and draining at the same time! I've got my sights set on a downstairs bedroom that could use a lot of fixing up (and will give me somewhere to sleep when the whole family is in the house!)

14. Mod Podge something
I bought a bottle a few months ago and it has not found a project yet! Thissign project from Young House Love is very inspiring. . .

15. 8 scrapbook pages for Ella
We have 4 down and want to add a few more to her scrapbook before her big 1 year old bday bash in May. This little girl is going to have so much documentation between her scrapbooks and her mama's blog she'll never have to wonder what she was like as a baby!

16. 100 blog posts
I am about to hit the first 100 in just under a year and noticed I have been cranking them out a bit quicker in recent months. I do not think I will ever be a post-a-day blogger - I just can't think of that much to write about and would rather have quality posts than quantity. At least I hope the posts I'm sharing have been viewed as quality!

17. Redesign the blog!
Along with the goal of "Web Design Certificate" some new HTML and Photoshop skills should allow me to give Next Step a boost in both look, search options and organization. Stay tuned!As you can see, I have implemented a few changes over the last couple of weeks. Some accidental, but I've been happy with some of the new options Blogger is making available!

18. Grow a Garden
Our ample balcony space means we should be using it for a container vegetable garden. I started small last summer with some herbs, but am ready to expand to tomatoes, peppers and 1 or 2 other endeavors. I've been soaking up blogs on balcony gardens like this one and plan on picking my mom's brain (and her seedlings!)
We have been growing lettuce for the last couple months and reaping the benefits. Our tomato plants are rising up and my basil is lookin' good. Stay tuned for a balcony update soon! My birthday presents included gardening gloves, a trowel, a gardening book and new pots so you can imagine I've been diving into this project as much as I can!

19. Throw 4 parties
We love having people over, but I think any more often than quarterly parties could stress me out! We will probably repeat our summer cook outand harvest party - maybe throw in an Oscar party and game night to round out the year. I promise lots of new appetizer recipes!
We held an almost-impromptu Memorial Day cookout (meaning we planned it in one day). We've been trying to schedule a Seinfeld Trivia Party but summer weekend craziness has been thwarting our plans. . .

Personal & Professional Development
20. Web Design Certificate
I only need to take 5 classes to fulfill this certificate at my local city college and have already completed HTML, just starting Photoshop. Short term, I can use the newfound skills to improve this blog and in some of the online work I do. Long term, who knows!
2 classes down, looking to sign up for Illustrator later this summer. 

21. Present at a conference or training
Since I work in education and directly with speakers, it is sort of funny to see myself on the other side of the coin - I'm usually the one making sure the microphone works, not the one clipping it onto my shirt. I have presented internal trainings before and would be game for another one within the company or look into presenting at an outside event.

22. Update resume
Okay, if any of my co-workers are reading this - don't panic! No plans to leave, but my resume hasn't been touched since I first moved to Chicago and was temping so it could use some sprucing up! In its current state, my biggest accomplish boils down to "filing properly."

23. Volunteer with Chicago Cares once a month
I get weekly emails on volunteer projects and have enjoyed volunteering at a nearby school library - there is not a full time librarian so volunteers help shelve books, re-label and organize where needed a couple times a month.
Overachieving! I've been volunteering every other week the library maintenance job and read-with-me nights with 3-5 year olds. Learning quickly how long a 3 year old's attention span lasts! I also participated in a Serve-a-Thon activity for all Chicago Cares volunteers in June.

24. Donate money to charity events three times, participate in a fundraiser activity once
My friends always impress me with the fundraising activities they are involved in and I've been glad to donate when they sign themselves up for crazy things like walking for 3 days straight (the Susan G. Komen for the Cure) , stair climbing in a 30 story building (to benefit the American Lung Association) and taking a Polar Plunge (for the Special Olympics). I will donate where I can and also help organize and/or participate in at least one activity (like the Bowling for Big Shoulders fundraiser I attended the other week).
Good luck with the Bike Ride, Claire!

25. Stick with a workout plan
I'm in no shape to walk for three days, climb 30 flights of stairs or jump in ice cold water. I recently went through Wii Fit initiation where it deemed my Wii Fit age to be 41. I'm actually 27. Apparently, being underweight with no sense of balance and bad reflexes is NOT good for me. Whether it be actually dusting off that Pilates DVD, working with weights or - gasp - even joining in a gym, it is time to do something to build up some strength and flexibility. Oh, and did I mention I have high cholesterol? My all-cheese diet finally catches up with me. . .
Yeah, haven't started this one yet. I knew this would be the tough one. . .

26. Learn how to use the grill
While Bob's summer goal is to become a grill master, I am content with just learning how to turn it on and cook a piece of chicken!
May 4: Successfully grilled the brats we had for dinner! Wahoo!

27. Drive a car

This probably seemed like an unfinished sentence as you are reading ("drive a car. . .with stick shift, across country, in the Indy 500) but I really do just mean drive a car. It has been years since I have driven. Sometimes I wonder if I don't drive because I live in Chicago and there is plenty of public transportation or if I live in Chicago because I don't drive! City driving scares me more than it should and it is time to suck it up and get out there! Now, who is going to trust me with their car???
I'm not going to count this, but I did drive my sister's Tahoe from our parents' bar to their house. Half a mile in the backwoods. So, I still need the opportunity to drive to present itself!

Money Matters
28. Less spent on lunches
I originally wrote "bring lunch at least 3 times a week" but I know how hit or miss that can be depending on the type of week I'm having. Maybe instead this means getting a foot long from Subway and saving half for tomorrow or making sure to have leftovers from dinners we make. I will add up what I've spent via debit card for the past year and again after one year to see how I did. I'll also check my ATM visits in case I try to trick myself into just paying cash for lunches so it's no recorded!
Here's a start: Without fail, I buy a 65 cent can of soda every day at lunch. I just picked up a great deal from Dominicks: 5 12-packs for the price of 2. I paid $11 for 60 cans of soda as opposed to $39 on individual cans. The real savings would be if I learned to cut out soda and just drink water but I know my need for caffeine isn't going to let that happen.

29. Double amount in my ING savings account
Keeping up with established monthly transfers and adding in "extra" money like tax refunds, gifts and bonuses should do the trick. Of course, the ever-declining interest rate I am earning is not encouraging me at all. The challenge will be trying to stop myself from cashing it all in for around the world trips!

30. Create 1 place to track all finances, bills and budgeting
I just learned about and like what I see. So far I've been decent at budgeting, keeping up with bills and managing logging in to 50 different sites to view latest activity and assess what will be hitting my checking account when, but 1 snapshot could help me see things differently!
I tried out, but so far am not getting won over. I think I need to take a little more time to adjust and use it to its full potential.

31. Pay off one student loan
I increased my payments from the minimum for both loans a couple years ago and am well on my way to closing out one of them - the other should be done after another year. Wahoo!

32. Research buying a place
I don't want to commit to saying we will have bought a place in a year, but we have been talking about it as our next big step and I want to make sure we know what we are getting into!

33. Stick with an organizer option
I feel as though I've been getting busier and busier (birthday party here, class there, book club here, eye appointment there) my head is probably not the best place to keep all of the info. Either pull out the old Palm Pilot, beef up my Google calendar or carry around a handwritten journal.
Google calendar, you are already making things easier! It's amazing how full my month can look when I put it all down in one place. 

34. House purge
Part of this year's spring cleaning plan - are we using it? No? Get rid of it! I want photographic evidence of a decent pile of junk that will either be tossed in the dumpster, sold on Craigslist or given to Goodwill.
Thank you Craigslist: giant file cabinet, check! Old TV, check!

35. Replace wardrobe, not add to it
I just finished a spring purge of the closet - if I hadn't worn it since moving here (exception: some of the dress clothes) it was gone. I'm not putting the kibosh on buying clothes this year, in fact I would like to overhaul my wardrobe a bit, but I do want to make sure I'm replacing and not just filling up the closet. I will just have to keep asking myself, "If I buy a sweater, which one am I not wearing and can donate?"
2 bags of clothes gone to Salvation Army = 2 new dresses for weddings/summer fun, embellished tank tops for summer, a couple work shirts and - most exciting - a new suit!

36. 40 new recipes added to book
My recipe book currently has about 45 typed recipes - once again, loose pieces of paper and printouts have been adding up and bringing me back to the brink of disorganization. Time to consolidate and fill up the rest of the book!
May 2: 15 added to the book! Realizing that if I am going to add 40 I may need a second book. . .

36.5 Be a good aunt to little Ella (look at that picture and tell me she's not the cutest thing ever!) 
Also, be a good sister/ daughter/ niece/ girlfriend/ friend/ co-worker/ etc. . .
While I can't really measure this one (unless all involved parties would like to take a written survey at the end of 1 year for me), I do hope that everyone I hang around with will want to be hanging around with me after a year of me talking about all of these goals!
Hope I'm living up to this goal!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Estate of Things

Just back from a work trip to St. Louis - we had the opportunity to take in a Cardinals game - wondering whose responsibility it is to keep the arch cut into the field like this - pretty cool! Perhaps when I do have a yard we can mow images into it and be a fly over attraction. . .
More important than creative lawn care: two surprises awaited me when I came home Friday night!

First, something that should not have been a surprise save for me completely forgetting about this since last Monday! Bob found an estate sale set up in an empty storefront near his office last Monday. I headed over after work to meet him and check out the options. He thought he had found a potential hallway table to replace our plans to make one (see the beginnings of that planning here and here). Alas, the table was too short and too deep to work for us. But, what we did find were a stack of Crate and Barrel-esque chairs that we could use as a replacement desk chair. See below, the one we currently has too tall arms and just takes up all-together too much space in the room. 

The black chairs were listed at $30 each so Bob said he'd stop in the next day with the car and pick one up. He ended up pulling out some negotiation power and getting 2 for $40 - can't hurt to have an extra one around!
We thought that we could remove the legs easily and paint the chairs easily to match decor if classic black isn't what we decide we want - bright yellow? crimson red? baby blue? The possibilities are endless.
The second surprise was an early birthday present from Bob: a new camera!  My little Canon Powershot has been going strong for 3 1/2 years, but I tend to get frustrated with how the night photos turn out (or rather do not turn out) and a lot of the lighting issues I get from the close up photos needed for the bloggin'.

I was delighted to open up the box and find a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55! Can't wait to start playing around with this one - I think I might look into taking a little more time to learn about the camera and all the things I can use it for beyond point and click. . .I'll be sure to share resources for improved photography as I find them!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A "Spend Zero Dollars" Weekend

Here was the challenge: after taking a look at the amount of moolah spent the last couple months (Nashville, a wedding, a vet trip, a visit home, etc) could I go one weekend without spending a dime? I was also looking forward to a low key weekend after a few go-go-go ones in a row.

Of course, what a terrible weekend to pick to do this! Blackhawks win, World Cup action, Cubs/Sox games. . .a lot of reasons to go out and celebrate. My only saving grace is that it was a rainy weekend so going out at night didn't sound like the most fun option. But alas, I made a commitment to myself and didn't want to break that.

So what doesn’t count? Things I already have sunken costs into like train passes and netflix. I was in movie heaven. . .between owning well over a hundred DVDs, DVR and instant netflix streamed through the Wii, we have no excuse to go out and rent one from Blockbuster (or, let's be more realistic, RedBox). I also managed to finish two books (book club book: Best Friends Forever, chick lit from Jennifer Weiner and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and spend some quality time with my two main men, Sonny and Fredo!

Friday Night
Leftover spaghetti and meatballs (recipe for sauce found here) and Evita - my night in is complete. For knowing all the words to Evita, it is a bit surprising I don't own the film, thanks Instant Netflix!

Funny story - when I saw Evita when it came through Chicago a few years back the Che character fell off the stage doing a knee slide during one of the opening songs. He fell into the orchestra pit and the music comically stopped abruptly. Luckily he was okay and the play resumed about 10 minutes later with a slightly more conservative song ending this time around.


Breakfast of Egg, Cheese and Bacon Bagel Sandwich. Homemade is going to beat the McDonalds version every time.

Volunteering with Chicago Cares Serve-a-Thon as a “roadie.” Helped organize all of the volunteers as they came back from the school beautification projects by waving in the buses and then at the beer tent. A morning downpour made me happy I volunteered for the afternoon shift!

Movie of the Night: Withnail and I. I'm usually about all-things-British, but think I might need another viewing or two before I can see the "cult classic" in it.

Cleaning! What a sty this place has turned into – I blame the cats. Yes, even for the pile of laundry that we have yet to put away. A good 5 hour cleaning spree took up the afternoon. As long as the XM is piping through the ultra-catchy "California Gurls" by Katy Perry and Flight of the Conchords episodes are running on a loop it makes for not that bad a day.

Our last Dream Dinners meal (Coconut Chicken with Rice) came out of the freezer tonight. Luckily my sister and I have another set of meals coming next week! Looking forward to Calzones, Blackberry Glazed Chicken, Lobster Pinwheels and more!

Movie of the Night: A History of Violence. Should have expected a strange one with Cronenberg directing. Did not disappoint.

This did mean we put our console table plans on hold for a bit. And buying new pots for our tomato plants and flowers will have to wait. And I may have missed out on meeting friends out, but every once in awhile you need to skip the $60 bar tab and have a quiet night in. Just don't skip out on your $60 bar tab - probably won't end well.

It should be mentioned that having a "spend zero dollars" weekend does not equal being cooped up in the house - if I didn't have the volunteer activity on Saturday I could have checked out the free Lincoln Park Zoo or used my gathering-dust pass to the Art Institute. I say this every summer, but I really want to explore more of Chicago's neighborhoods (hmmm, maybe an upcoming, ongoing project for the blog??). I've lived here for 6 years and still have so much to check out. I love living close to Andersonville, it has to be one of the best neighborhoods to stroll through on a sunny day! A walking tour around the neighborhood is free, but the inevitable restaurant stop/boutique shopping is not. . .

Very happy with saving a little cash the last few days - makes me feel better about some inevitable spending that will happen next weekend - it's my BIRTHDAY!