I love the MN Literacy Council

Friends, I made an exciting decision this week! After weeks of applications and interviews, hours of rumination, and too many pro-and-con lists to count…I have accepted a job offer and solidified a small portion of my life for the next twelve months to come. Hooray!

Starting August 5th, I will be working as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader at the Minnesota Literacy Council, overseeing a pilot program and partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools. Over the next year, 13 new VISTA members will serve in community organizations and district departments, working to increase the academic achievement of students in the Minneapolis public school system. Their projects will focus on effectively engaging families and communities in helping low-income students succeed, better preparing students for college and careers, and building stronger support networks around youth and families. I am excited to step into a supervisory role, and will be in charge of providing support, planning and facilitating trainings, counseling and recruiting, and writing state and national reports on the impact of these 13 VISTAs and their projects.

I cannot express just how important I think this work is. Minneapolis has one of the nation’s largest achievement gaps–between white students and students of color, affluent students and students living in poverty. This is an injustice I experienced firsthand this year, through my work with ThreeSixty Journalism and our partnership with Roosevelt High School. When I help out once a week in the journalism class at Roosevelt, the students I work with are primarily teens of color, both economically disadvantaged and academically behind. It has been challenging for me to relate my educational experiences to theirs; teachers fight for students to pass basic standards, the school lacks funding for extracurricular activities, and most of the students do not have the support and resources to even consider going to college. Everything in my education and upbringing tells me this is wrong, and I am determined to use my individual privilege, education, skills and experience to be a part of the change that simply needs to happen.

Another reason I committed to this VISTA Leader position was the chance to continue my work with the Minnesota Literacy Council–a statewide nonprofit committed to sharing the power of learning through education, community building, and advocacy. AMAZING, right?! The services that the Minnesota Literacy Council provides range from volunteer tutor training and computer literacy resources to adult literacy, ESOL, and GED classes. I am honored to have the opportunity to engage with such a creative, committed, and socially-engaged community. Obviously, my future coworkers are pretty great, too!

Even with such a fantastic opportunity, the decision to accept this position was a difficult one. In renewing my service with the AmeriCorps VISTA program, I have committed to another year on a tiny, monthly stipend. I’m prohibited from working a second job, and won’t be putting any money into savings (again) this year. But this is the time in my life when I can do it. When I can fully commit to a year of service, and choose a position for ideals over income. As I lay in bed last night, weighing the motivations and consequences of my decision, a favorite quote of mine came to mind. The words of poet Audre Lorde, and a sentiment that moves me, “I want all of my work–to engage, to empower people to speak, to strengthen themselves into who they most want and need to be and then to act, to do what needs being done.” Amen, Audre Lorde, Amen.

It is my hope, wherever this adventure takes me–further service with nonprofits, on to grad school, work in higher education–that this sentiment continues to resonate within me, to shape my relationships, and support my vocation. For now, I am happy that it reaffirms my employment decision and serves as one of the bella piccoli pezzi of my present. Prego!

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I love public radio

Last night as I drove home in the pouring rain, I tuned in to one of my favorite features from American Public Media, a program called The Story (9-10 p.m. on MPR). The program, hosted by Dick Gordon, identifies individuals whose lives “are intersecting with significant issues in the news” and gives them a media platform from which to tell their story. This particular segment focused on the interviews and writings of Neal Shea, a journalist who has been embedded with American military units in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2006.

A number of things pulled me into the broadcast last night. For one, my work with ThreeSixty Journalism centers on the value that we as an organization see in storytelling. Our mission is to give young minds the skills and opportunities to share their personal experiences, to deepen their understanding of the people and world around them and most importantly, to use their individual voices as tools for dialogue and change. Thus, I support the extension of these principles in the mission and production of The Story.

In today’s society and media, we are inundated with information from authorities and politicians, Gallup polls and scientific studies. We hear about the left, the right, the institution and the administration, and there is no doubt that our lives are enriched, structured, protected and informed by these aggregated sources. But I think that we also crave the intimacy of the personal narrative, even if we are ultimately listening to strangers with lives very different than our own. Last night, this certainly rang true for me.

For example, I’ve heard about the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq for years via national and international news, government accounts, human rights reports, academic courses and social agencies. But Neal Shea’s account on The Story was different. For one, I didn’t tune out the policies and operations that I don’t understand, or unconsciously dehumanize the figures he reported. The men Shea described were troops my age, fighting and unraveling abroad. His emotional reporting was relatable, translating unthinkable sights and acts into fundamental moments of fear, shame, anger, remorse and disillusionment. I stopped thinking about incidents as isolated headlines and was reawakened to their implications in international relations, our national history and the way that our country conducts and defends our lives. For the first time in a long time, I really stopped to think about human nature, and violence, and humanity, and war.

And as I sat in my car, parked in front of my house for the hour until the program ended, I realized how incredible it was that this experience of profound learning and reflection came to me so easily. I turned on the radio on a random Thursday night and heard a story that truly moved me. I would encourage you to listen to the broadcast here online.

I cannot tell you how many other times I have been intrigued, impressed, impassioned and informed by the stories I’ve heard through public radio. I love Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, The Daily Circuit…and on weekends: On Being, Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, The Splendid Table and This American Life. Earlier this fall, I had the incredible opportunity to tour the MPR newsroom and meet Kerri Miller, Tom Crann and the editorial staff in St. Paul, through my work with ThreeSixty Journalism. Amazing, right?

As someone who genuinely loves learning in all of its contexts, I am so appreciative of the privilege of enjoying public radio. It’s a small part of my day, a large part of my commute, and certainly one of many bella piccoli pezzi in my life right now.

I love trying new restaurants (while traveling)

My final post in this food-obsessed, three-part series is dedicated to the restaurants I have tried while traveling (most recently). By now, it should be clear that good food and novel culinary experiences are top priorities of mine, and this holds true even when my budget’s limited and the location’s unfamiliar. I think that one of the best ways to get to know a place is to seek out a kitchen that is characteristic of the city or the people that inhabit it. As a rule, I challenge myself to try unfamiliar dishes and ingredients; this practice has expanded my gastronomic repertoire and led to some truly inspired (and long-overdue) discoveries.

For example, up until a few years ago I did not like tomatoes (I know, what?!). But when I lived with a host family in Italy, I vowed to try every presentation and recreation of the fruit: sliced thinly on panini, sautéed in pasta, layered in caprese salad, fire-cooked on pizza, tossed in salads, diced atop bruschetta, sun-dried in fresh bread…you get the picture. Now I absolutely love tomatoes. Essentially, it took a new country and culture (along with a commitment to adventure and some of the world’s oldest recipes) to help me appreciate something as simple as a tomato. That basic understanding fuels my culinary curiosity.

Here’s to the special memories I have shared over the past few months with family and friends, gathered around a table in conversation, passing around our plates. Prego!

Devotay (Iowa City): While Ben and I were visiting our friends Nora and Natasha in Iowa, we stopped into this highly-recommended restaurant for lunch and emerged three hours later, sangria-soaked and completely satisfied. The chefs served up local summer produce infused with Mediterranean spices and high priority on presentation, fresh ingredients and taste. Favorites: the crostini trio (smoked pork with caramelized onions and tomato compote, smoked salmon with cucumbers and capers, and roasted eggplant with tomato and mint…pictured below) and the grilled artichokes with lemon butter and capers.

The Oceanaire (San Diego): As an early birthday present, my parents bought me a ticket to join them on vacation in San Diego this January, then treated me to a fancy dinner at this upscale seafood restaurant. We truly celebrated, starting with martinis and fresh jumbo crab cakes, and finishing with the most impressive baked-Alaska I have ever seen (chocolate cake topped with peppermint bon bon ice cream, coated in meringue and doused with peppermint schnapps before being set aflame). Favorites: pacific snapper (topped with lump crab meat and caper beurre blanc) and the “drunken” Vancouver Island salmon (with port-braised cherries, smoky almonds, rosemary and orange zest).

The Prado (San Diego): This 1915 National Historic Landmark building is nestled between a collection of museums in Balboa Park, overlooking the Alcazar Garden and adorned in its own right with fountains, sculptures, and stunning Spanish-style architecture. Sitting on the sunny patio at lunch, my parents and I enjoyed the colorful decor, impressive cocktail list and vibrant Spain-meets-California menu. Definitely a top-ten restaurant in my book. Favorites: grilled fish tacos (marinated mahi mahi with jicama slaw, red cabbage, mango-jalapeño salsa and ginger aioli on corn tortillas) and the pomegranate margarita (below).

I feel tremendously privileged to be able to travel, to visit friends and see new places. And all of the meals I have had along the way serve as reminders of my bella piccoli pezzi, the simple things that bring me joy, the beautiful little pieces of my life at this very moment.

I love trying new restaurants (St. Paul)

Although I live in Minneapolis and have done plenty of damage west of the river, I have actually tried more new restaurants in St. Paul over the past few months. My guess is that this has something to do with one of three things: 1) I absolutely love St. Paul, as attested to in one of my very first posts. 2) I work at the University of St. Thomas and am often too hungry to battle traffic before dinner. 3) Chris lives in St. Paul, and we have this deal where I pay for dinner when we’re in Minneapolis and he covers it when we are out in St. Paul (see how I benefit from this?). Point being, geography has never stopped me from eating.

La Grolla (452 Selby Ave): On a blind date, my now boyfriend Chris took me to this incredible, authentic Italian restaurant and it pretty much sealed the deal (on my love for both of them). The place is small and intimate, with a great wine selection and seafood pasta that brings me straight back to Vernazza. Favorites: cartoccio (linguine tossed with sautéed shrimp, calamari, scallops, Mediterranean mussels, clams, garlic, tomatoes, basil, oregano and lemon…all steamed in a huge bundle of parchment paper), carpaccio di barbabietola (thinly sliced roasted beets served with arugula, pecans, crispy pancetta and drizzled with gorgonzola fondue), and the chocolate lava cake or homemade tiramisu.

Taste of Thailand (1669 Selby Ave): My very first week at work a coworker took me to this ThreeSixty Journalism staff favorite, and I have been going back for the fresh, authentic food ever since. Favorites: pra ram long song (mild peanut curry sauce over steamed spinach and rice) and the cream cheese puffs (I know, but they’re amazing).

Trotters Cafe (232 Cleveland Ave N): This cafe–which boasts a menu inspired by organic and local produce–is approximately 300 feet from my office, so I have spent many a lunch break here. I love the local art on the walls, their healthy variations on comfort food and the fact that they serve wine from the Cannon River Winery! Favorites: Big Kid’s Grilled Cheese (cheddar, provolone, arugula and garden tomatoes on whole wheat bread) and their gooey, gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

Happy Gnome (498 Selby Ave): Although I have visited the Gnome a couple of times for drinks before, my family and I tried it out for dinner this winter before a show at the Ordway. I was surprised by the developed menu and creative options and would definitely try it again, if only for the artisan cheese sampling and chocolate crêpes (sautéed bananas, peanut butter, scotch ale toffee sauce). Favorites: beet salad (frisée, goat cheese, toasted almonds, orange supremes, honey walnut vinaigrette) and the veggie pizza (figs, pears, caramelized onions, gorgonzola cream sauce and roasted walnuts).

The Blue Door Pub (1811 Selby Ave): I love a good burger, and the Blue Door Pub has so many inspired and curious creations that I almost couldn’t choose. Exhibit A: the Bangkok Juicy Blucy (stuffed with coconut milk-soaked mozzarella, topped with pickled carrots, cucumber, red onions and ginger and served with curry sauce) or Exhibit B: the Lumberjack (stuffed with smoked gouda, cayenne pepper and bacon, grilled in maple syrup). Favorites: the Luau (stuffed with mozzarella and canadian bacon, topped with pineapple and served with sweet chili lime sauce) and the deep-fried pickles (seriously)!

Highland Grill (771 Cleveland Ave S): Chris and I occasionally go on lunch dates here, because it is close to St. Thomas and they have delicious home-style cooking and regular comfort-food specials. For example, every Tuesday night you can get an enormous plate of spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread and a glass wine for $15. WIN. Favorites: crispy-battered fish and chips and the thick-cut sweet potato fries with chipotle pesto aioli.

Colossal Cafe (2315 Como Ave): This is my obsession of the moment, for its adorable space and open kitchen, variety of breakfast specials, delectable bakery treats and dedication to quality ingredients. Favorites: the pork sandwich (fresh pork loin marinated with rosemary, garlic, lemon, white wine, olive oil, dijon mustard, oregano and pepper, served with greens and rosemary aioli on a baguette) and the spinach artichoke brie soup.

Bon Vie (485 Selby Ave): I love this tiny cafe, it is just so fresh and charming and utterly irresistible (even when totally packed)! Also, the kitchen is only separated from the seating area by a low wall, so you can sit and watch the chefs run around, artfully crafting your order. Favorites: the Mexican omelet (homemade chorizo, cheddar, eggs, salsa, seasoned sour cream and scallions) and pumpkin pancakes with cinnamon walnut butter. Next time, I look forward to trying the Caprese benedict (English muffin with poached eggs, grilled tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella, topped with hollandaise and a balsamic drizzle).

Caffé Biaggio (2356 University Ave W): Hidden within the construction-filled University Avenue area near Highway 280, this Italian restaurant is tucked unobtrusively into a large stone building with an unexpected interior. Exposed brick walls, blown-glass track lighting, deep leather benches and colorful modern art presents an asthetic compromise between rustic Tuscany and vibrant Milan. The menu reflects this productive tension, with gourmet and sophisticated interpretations of authentic homestyle Italian classics. Favorites: goat cheese torta (layered with basil pesto and fig jam) and the spaghetti alla carbonara.

Mojo Monkey Donuts (1169 7th Street W): I know that this is not a restaurant, but Chris and I stopped by this new storefront as soon as we heard about it, and it blew my mind. The store is entirely devoted to a large espresso machine, free-trade organic coffee and trays and trays of the most glorious donuts you can imagine. I will be returning to try these intriguing treats: chocolate pistachio, red velvet with cream cheese frosting and walnuts, banana pecan with caramel glaze, mocha mousse, crême brulée and key lime. Favorites: the s’more (filled with marshmallow fluff, frosted with chocolate, dusted with graham cracker crumbs and topped with a toasted marshmallow–my kind of treat, and yes I had this for breakfast) and the mango glazed donut with organic coconut shavings (below).

Final recommendations: fried plantains at Brasa, the winter vegetable handpie (roasted squash, turnips, parsnips and cheddar in cream cheese pastry with onion pear chutney, blood orange gastrique and sunchoke purée) at the Birchwood Cafe, jumbo lump crab cakes (with cilantro-lime crême fraiche, avocado and sweet-and-spicy pickled onions) from Muffaletta, and garlic naan with the lamb shahi korma (lamb with homemade cheese, in a creamy sauce with cashews and raisins) from India House. Buon appetito!

I love trying new restaurants (Minneapolis)

One of the things I love best about living in the Twin Cities is that I am constantly stumbling upon new restaurants to explore. Occasionally I hear of new places opening up or receive recommendations from food-savvy friends, but many of my discoveries go a little like this: I’m driving somewhere I thought I would know how to get to, end up improvising with back-roads and unexpected one-ways, am driving along and see a sign or restaurant that looks cute, stop paying attention to the road entirely to make a mental note of the place, try to swerve nonchalantly back into my lane of traffic and then rush home to add it to my list of restaurants to try. Dangerous, yes, but the payoff is great. For example, my discovery of the Salty Tart bakery case at the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street. Their salted caramel chocolate cupcakes literally gave me a panic attack. But, like, the good kind.

Since moving to Minneapolis in August, I have tried a spectacular (obscene?) number of new restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars. My culinary tour has been an engaging way to get to know my neighborhood and a perfect excuse to catch up with friends over a meal. As much as my savings have suffered this year, enjoying good food with good friends will always be a top priority of mine and now that I’ve joined a gym, I have nothing to regret.

Furthermore, as I started listing all of the restaurants I have tried since this summer, a few things became immediately clear to me: 1) I devote at least half of my spending money to eating out. 2) I always embarrass whoever I am with by writing down and taking pictures of my meal. 3) I love trying new foods, savoring creative dishes and uncovering unexpected flavors. Basically, what I have realized over the past few months is that I should be a food critic. DUH. Although I plan on eventually working towards a Masters’ and then PhD in English, I’m going to “work on my culinary résumé” in the meantime…AKA write about how much I’ve eaten over the last few months and continue my culinary tour de force. Here are my favorite places in Minneapolis, with recommendation and commentary. Buon appetito!

El Meson (3450 Lyndale Ave S): As soon as I saw the words “Spanish-Caribbean bistro” I was hooked. Although pricy, I went with a group of friends and we shared tapas and carafes of sangria and it was worth every cent. Every Saturday night, there is live flamenco music and a dancer, and I ended up dragging Chris and my parents back another night because I couldn’t get enough. My favorites: platanitos (thinly sliced, fried green plantains with a spicy avocado aioli), zetas (roasted baby mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola, asparagus and roasted red peppers in a yellow tomato sauce) and carne a la brava (Piementon crusted beef medallions with Valencia saffron rice, braised fingerling potatoes, and sauteed artichoke hearts and chorizo with a tempranillo demi glaze).

Amore Victoria (1601 W Lake Street): I went with Chris and my roommates for happy hour, and that was just enough. Pricy and crowded, but great when the rooftop is open! Favorites: spinach-artichoke dip, bruschetta, and the limoncello cocktails.

Tum Rup Thai (1221 W Lake Street): When my friend Natasha ventured out of rural Ennis, Montana for the weekend, we decided to show her a good time in the big city and headed out for Thai food and cocktails. Tum Rup Thai did not disappoint. Favorites: pineapple curry (tomatoes, pineapple, bell peppers, red chilies and basil in a red curry sauce) and the mango margarita. Expensive but creative signature cocktails.

Common Roots (2558 Lyndale Ave S): Four blocks from our duplex, this has been a great find. Particularly for working out-of-the office with a latte the size of my head, or staying in my pajamas while someone else makes me brunch. Favorites: gourmet baked macaroni and cheese, homemade bagel and with lox and capers, and the red beet risotto.

Uptown Diner (2548 Hennepin Ave): We had been avoiding this sketchy-looking diner since we moved in two blocks away, but the constant line out the door finally got the best of our curiosity. And we had been missing out big time. Creative menu, funky interior, and a true cross-section of the Wedge neighborhood–everyone from gnarly bikers and hipster families to old couples and kids on rollerblades. Favorites: gyro omelet (eggs, gyro meat, spinach, tomatoes, onions and swiss cheese, smothered in tzatziki sauce) and the kamikaze french toast (thick-cut sourdough bread piled high with blueberries, pecans and fresh bananas, and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar).

French Meadow Bakery & Cafe (2610 Lyndale Ave S): I do not even want to admit how many times I’ve been here, or what percentage of the dessert menu I’ve tried. French Meadow is, hands down, my favorite. It boasts an enormous menu with a commitment to local and organic foods, great wine and appetizer happy hour specials, and some of the most glorious baked goods I have ever seen. Favorites: roasted beet salad (organic mixed greens, roasted beets, caramelized pears, blue cheese, toasted walnuts and a tarragon shallot vinaigrette), black bean chicken quesadilla (whole wheat tortilla filled with baby spinach, black beans, free-range chicken and mozzarella, served with house made salsa, chipotle sour cream and guacamole), lingonberry almond torta (white and dark chocolate ganache almond angel cake with puréed lingonberries), and the fresh fruit tart (below).

I love Chicago

As explained in my previous post  (I love Parks and Recreation), my roommates Kat and Nora and I got tired of work, Minneapolis, our shared duplex and budgeting, and spontaneously decided to take a weekend getaway trip to Chicago. The predetermined theme of the weekend was “TREAT YO’ SELF” and it went pretty much according to plan. It was glamorous, it was greedy, it was rejuvenating…in short, it was PERFECT.

We started by booking hotel reservations approximately twelve hours before leaving (via my new best friend, Hotwire.com) and for $50 per person/night checked into Hotel Allegro, the trendiest and most luxurious four-star hotel I have ever experienced. Situated right in the middle of the theatre district and just six blocks west of Millennium Park, it allowed us to walk easily to Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile, the Museum Campus and the lake. Also, there was a free coffee bar every morning by the glowing fireplace. WIN.

Saturday morning we woke up, grabbed coffee, and hit the snowy streets of Chicago for a long day of exploration and indulgence. As huge, sticky snowflakes navigated the skyscrapers and settled on our coats, we made our way towards Millennium Park and reveled in our love-affair with the city. Naturally, we took plenty of awkward tourist pictures and as we walked up to the bean, a woman finally intervened to help us–it was apparently “just too painful” watching us struggle to capture a picture of ourselves with the sculpture.

Our first real stop for the day (and the obvious choice for a trio of museum junkies) was the Art Institute. We wandered around in euphoria, appreciating the work of artists such as Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Manet, Rodin, Pissaro, Cézanne, O’Keefe, Kandinski, Klee, Duchamp, Picasso, Léger, Matisse and Dalí. I even put on my glasses, which always makes me feel like I’m doing important things. Like walking and looking and being quiet.

For lunch we went to Nora’s favorite, Russian Tea Time. Nora and Kat shared hot spiced tea in fabulous glass-and-pewter mugs, and I couldn’t resist the “Jewel of Russia” vodka flight (classic, bilberry and cranberry vodka, served with pickles and rye bread)! Our lunches were pretty extraordinary. Nora had Uzbeki Domlama stew: potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, onion and cumin. Kat tried blini (thick, eggy pancakes) served with raspberry sauce and sour cream (unsurprising confession…I ate at least half of her meal), and I ordered asparagus vareniky, or dumplings filled with asparagus, feta cheese and red peppers and drizzled with lemon basil butter.

After our fantastic lunch, we headed back to the hotel to make dinner reservations and give our tired feet a rest. We’d forayed into fine art and splurged on a fancy meal, so now it was time to “treat ourselves” to a favorite roommate pastime: relaxing together and playing nerdy word-games. For the next hour, we played Quiddler (a Scrabble-esque card game) in the lobby, and dropped fresh raspberries into champagne for a little pre-shopping treat.

For the rest of the afternoon, we scoured the boutiques in Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, picking out our dream shoes (mine were a $2,000 pair of blush Christian Louboutin peep-toes) and arguing over who would look best in the Alexander McQueen evening-wear. With two hours left before our nine o’clock dinner reservation, we were forced to have cocktails at the Signature Room, on the 95th floor observatory of the John Hancock Center. I sipped on a “Lake Shore Martini” (Grey Goose, Marquis sparkling wine and raspberry liqueur…love) as we watched the lights of the city twinkling on the lake, and talked smugly (except poor acrophobic Kat) about our table directly next to the window.

Our dinner reservation was at an authentic Italian restaurant called Rosebud on Rush, which came highly recommended to us and exceeded all expectations: fresh focaccia with olive oil and parmesan, a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and some of the best pasta I’ve had since Firenze. It was magnificent. Buon cibo, buoni amici, la bella piccoli pezzi! After stuffing ourselves with pasta, bread and wine, we made our way to Andy’s Jazz Club and listened to a soulful set that rejuvenated us just enough to get us back to the hotel. Prego!

Sunday morning, we grabbed coffee on the way out the door and walked to the Museum Campus with the intention of visiting the Shedd Aquarium. After 45 minutes in line outside the aquarium, it became clear that we would not get in any time soon (the new jellyfish exhibit was opening, and tempting though that was, it felt about 15 degrees standing alongside the lake), so we headed next door to the Adler Planetarium. Turns out, the Adler Planetarium is awesome and we had a blast wandering through the exhibits and trying out each of the simulations (Kat successfully landed a rover on the moon on her first try)! We also saw a show called “Undiscovered Worlds: The Search Beyond our Sun” on a huge IMAX screen and it re-ignited my childhood dream of being a space explorer. Alas, I’m rotten at math and science and would probably just worry about the helmet messing up my hair, so I’ve decided I’m content for now to explore fantastic new cities…like Chicago!

Around two o’clock, we reluctantly agreed that it was time to jump back in the car. The long drive home was not the greatest (read: spontaneous white-out storms) but we broke it up with a visit to the Banana Republic and Gap outlet stores (one final “treat yo’ self”) and a few hot fudge shakes. Otherwise, we sang the entirety of the Rent and Chicago soundtracks on repeat and savored the last few hours of our weekend getaway. As I’ve commuted to work in the days since then, I keep thinking about how wonderful our escape was: I fell in love with the city of Chicago and I am so lucky to have roommates who agree to fifteen hours of driving for one brief weekend of “treat yo’ self” adventures!

I love Parks and Recreation

It’s been a busy month, my friends, and although there have been many bella piccoli pezzi in my life as of late, I’ve neglected to write about any of them. I hope to catch up over the next week or so, though, because what I have been up to lately is too good not to share!

Words of wisdom from Leslie Knope: “The key is you have to keep yourself busy or else you’re gonna go crazy. I mean, look at me.”

Since my last post, I have done some pretty fabulous things: I turned 23 (and ate just tremendous amounts of cake), hosted an Arrested Development party, discovered a new Italian restaurant that is proprio perfetto, joined a gym and started swimming again, made homemade truffles with my mom, saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Travelling Light at the Guthrie, attended an Oscars party, and went cosmic bowling with some old friends.

I live a charmed life, filled with privilege and incredible opportunities, and for this I am profoundly grateful. This past month at work has been ridiculously stressful, though, and my roommates and I have been positively aching for a break. One night after dinner, Nora jokingly suggested that we escape to Chicago for the weekend. There was a moment of silence (which we spent simultaneously worrying about finances, schedules, work and chores) and then Kat enthusiastically shouted: “TREAT YO SELF!” So it was decided.

Kat, Nora and I agreed–in the spirit of Tom and Donna from NBC’s Parks and Recreation–to have a weekend dedicated to treating ourselves. I anticipate it will go a little bit like this:

We are hopping in my hybrid, road-tripping to Chicago, staying in a four-star hotel (with a hot tub, this was important), drinking champagne, exploring the art institute, visiting Russian Tea Time, and most importantly…getting away from the office. I could not be more excited for this mini-vacation with best friends! But back to the most important thing, how amazing Parks and Recreation is. I LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. I leave you with this gem. Enjoy!