Monthly Archives: June 2012

home is a 1970s apartment

We’ve been living in our 1970s apartment for just over two years. In many ways, those two years have flown and we still have so much work to do. In other ways, especially when I look back at the improvements we’ve made, I feel like we’ve come so far in making this a home–our home.

Our building (pictured above in the spring of 2010), has sixty units, filled with friendly faces, grumpy curmudgeons, interesting characters and many, many older people. When we first bought the place, I was sitting on a couch in the lobby waiting for the contractors to come. The mailman had just left and within minutes there was a parade of walkers, canes and slippers shuffling to the mailboxes. My first reaction: What had we done?!!! Had we accidentally moved into a retirement community? We are at least fifty years younger than these people. What kind of neighbors would they be? What kind of neighbors would we be? We’ll never host another party again! Thankfully, the shock wore off quickly. We love our quiet neighbors and our parties **so far** have gone unnoticed (and, let’s be honest, we don’t really host that many parties). Most of the older people are quite lovely–there is nothing like an older gentleman who insists on holding the door for you, or an older woman who gives you a good stain removal tip in the laundry room. Some of the older people are quite crazy, which keeps things interesting. And, within a couple of months, another “younger” couple moved in and we became fast friends. You just never know how things are going to work out when you buy a place, whether it’s a house where your neighbors are an entire yard away, or an apartment where they are just on the other side of a wall.

Neighbors or no neighbors, the moment I walked into this apartment, I knew it was home. I took a deep breath and turned to our realtor, and said, “This is it. My soul feels at home here.” I think she was a little…surprised. This is what we were looking at:

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from metallic gold wallpaper. (Although, a tiny part of me kind of misses it. There was such personality in that entryway.) We have a lot of work left to do (mostly in the bathrooms & annoying details), but I would love to show you our “work in progress” as it stands right now. Over the next few Thursdays, I’ll be sharing before & afters of each room in our home–no matter how complete or incomplete things are right now. Until then, I’ll let you bask in the golden glow of our old hallway while I tidy up around here.


happy hour

Yes, another post about a cocktail enjoyed our balcony on a summer evening. Sorry. I can only blog what I know.

It seems, on the nights Naoto comes home early, I can only think of making a refreshing cocktail and enjoying some good outdoor time with him. Last night we made The Royal Martini from the Leopold Bros website. It turns out, that their version of a Royal Martini is not the “real” Royal Martini, but we enjoyed it anyway.

1 1/4oz gin (We like Clearheart.)

3/4oz Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur (Leopold Bros.  I suppose you could use any cherry liqueur, but I’m sticking with what I know!)

Shake with ice until chilled and pour into a cocktail glass. Enjoy outside on a mild summer night, with cheese & crackers.


I have been making progress on some of the Summer Manifesto items–even if it IS only the easy ones!

* dine outside (whenever possible)

I have been eating my lunch outside almost every day, and when Naoto is home, we always eat dinner outside (pictured above is the somen we enjoyed for dinner last Thursday…please notice that I am the one using the chopsticks!)

*eat watermelon

We sliced open a watermelon last night. It wasn’t the sweetest, reddest, most delicious melon I’ve ever had, so I would like to revisit the watermelon again…I ate mine with fleur de sel because salt makes everything better. I think Naoto was channeling his inner produce manager in the picture below.


* raise mint & basil for drinks and dinners

My basil is flourishing but my mint is growing so, so slowly that I wonder if I ever will enjoy a mojito this summer. I replanted it on Saturday, so I’m hoping it takes off before winter.

* try 3 “classic” cocktails 

I’ve perfected the Tom Collins at home and I think it just might be a new summer favorite. And on Saturday night, I tried a Negroni at a local Italian restaurant. It was bitter, but a little bit sweet and delicious, but not one that I loved so much that I want to perfect it at home right now.

* document summer & FINISH my summer minibook

I’m making slow progress on this. I hope to show the beginnings of my book this week!

The other stuff on the list are set for July & August, but I’ve already had a couple of failures on two manifesto items (sad face).

* tend to my garden daily (no dying plants in September!)

Although I have tended to my balcony garden almost daily, I am sad to report we’ve had a few plant casualties already. My daisy plant never grew or bloomed and it keeled over this weekend, my cilantro missed a few waterings and couldn’t be revived and one of my geraniums got too much rain (a while ago, back when it actually rained) and never recovered. It’s stem was black, it’s leaves were yellow and brown and it had to be removed this weekend. My balloon flower might be the next to go. But everything else is looking green and bright and healthy…the 2011 geraniums I had inside all winter are even back to their dark green and blooming selves. I think next year, I might go 100% geranium. Chin up, green thumb.

* wear sunscreen & sunhats when I’m outside

I am super-good about wearing my sunhat, especially in the morning when I don’t want to comb my hair. But, I slacked on the sunscreen, both in Iowa and while dining al fresco, and I paid for it. I bought some sunscreen last week and have vowed to be more proactive. And, I have a pretty new wide-brimmed sunhat that I’m excited to wear.

So, that’s the state of my summer so far. Right now, I’m heading outside to enjoy the gorgeous weather and read a bit (wearing a hat & sunscreen, of course!)

summer manifesto, in progress

cocktail perfected: Tom Collins


I had my first Tom Collins earlier this month during our trip to Dubuque. I couldn’t stop thinking about the gin-ny, tart deliciousness. So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with making my own at home. It got Naoto’s happy hour approval on Thursday night when we had cocktails on the balcony after work. We used our new Iowa gin, Clearheart, and I highly recommend it. It beat my previous Tanqueray attempts by a long shot…and it’s only $18 a bottle…a good price for a small distillery. (I just looked at Clearheart’s website–it’s only available in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska right now. I’m sad for you readers in the other 46 states & beyond…)

The perfect Tom Collins:

2oz gin

2oz freshly squeezed lemon juice (none of that bottled stuff)

1 oz simple syrup

2 oz club soda

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the gin, lemon juice & simple syrup. Shake until chilled. Pour over ice in a Collins glass (or, because we don’t have Collins glasses, a rocks glass), add club soda and garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Enjoy outside (or at a supper club).



summer manifesto

This summer I will:

* eat watermelon

* dine outside (whenever possible)

* read outside every morning (aka turn off the Today Show and go outside…and reading of blogs doesn’t count!)

* find the ice cream truck at least once (We found one in Iowa last weekend and a Bomb Pop has never tasted better!)

* tend to my garden daily (no dying plants in September!)

* raise mint & basil for drinks and dinners

* try 3 “classic” cocktails (1 down with my Tom Collins last weekend!)

* learn to use my new camera (my class starts July 2nd!)

* take walks with my new camera & PRACTICE

* host a little “salad party” for our friend/neighbor Karen

* document summer & FINISH my summer minibook

* wear sunscreen & sunhats when I’m outside

* start & finish our master bathroom remodel

* finish the living room

SO excited for summer. SO excited to get some things done AND relax a little bit too. What about you? What is on your summer manifesto?

iowa is the new hawaii

Last weekend, we took a little vacation. To Iowa. Three days on a farm with good friends, farmland adventures, classic Midwestern food and friendly cows…

Last year, our friends, Erin & Jason (along with their son Frank) left Chicagoland for the hills of eastern Iowa to live on the family century farm. The farm has been in Jason’s family for over one hundred years, so they all moved back to live on the land of the previous generations.

On Friday, we went on a happy hour river cruise and had dinner at the Red Top Supper Club. Have you ever eaten in a supper club? It was kitschy and oh so filling…We sat down to a plate of sweet rolls, a huge relish tray and cracker basket. The relish tray consisted of potato salad, beets, crudites, corn relish, carrot salad, bread & butter pickles, pub cheese and braunschweiger (I did not eat this.) Our meals came with soups & salads (with the salad dressings served at the table). Our dinners had names like schnitzel and chicken cordon bleu. I enjoyed a delicious Tom Collins. When we were done eating, a small plate of tiny pies arrived at the table. Most people end their meals with Brandy Alexanders or Grasshoppers or some other kind of ice cream drink…and as much as I wanted one, my stomach could not hold another bite of Midwestern richness…After dinner, we walked around Dubuque and went back to the farm and sat around a fire and drank some homemade raspberry wine. Jason’s dad is a total Renaissance Man, and his raspberry wine is delicious–not too sweet like most homemade wines.

On Saturday, we headed out to the Farmer’s Market and went up the Fenelon Place elevator. The elevator is similar to a street car, except it takes you up to the top of a giant hill in downtown Dubuque. It is said to be the shortest, steepest scenic railway.

Later that afternoon, we went back to tour the farm. When he was growing up, Jason lived on a working farm with dairy cows. Now the land is rented out to a local dairy farmer who uses the land for a place to graze some of his future dairy cows. It was mating season. There were two bulls on the farm and one was, shall we say active…twice…during the tour…with two different cows. (He didn’t even take a cigarette break.) Nature is alive in Iowa!

Naoto was all smiles here. He’d never been so close to a cow before. But he started getting a little nervous when they began surrounding us.

After the tour, Jason grilled some pork chops and fresh asparagus. (The pink Cointreau Coolers were replaced with Miller High Lifes soon after this picture was taken.)

When the sun went down, Jason expertly built a fire and we roasted marshmallows and made smores and drank more raspberry wine and just had a perfect close to a relaxing vacation. I joked during our drive that Iowa is the new Hawaii, but this vacation was filled with idyllic weather, good food, gorgeous views, old friends and happy adventures…without the jet lag and the long plane ride. For us this summer, that’s just about perfect.


Happy 6th Anniversary to my charming husband, Naoto! I can’t believe how fast time is going…I can still remember so much about our wedding day: the warm sun during our walk to the reception, the smell of the fresh flowers, the gentle notes of the harp, your nervous, but beaming face at the end of the aisle, the dreadful taste of that horrid sake…

It was the perfect start to our wedded journey, but I have to say that the days since the wedding have been the best days. I love the everyday with you. I love the morning coffee runs, the Breaking News contests (I always win!), Smoothie Saturdays, tag teaming new recipes (thanks for always chopping!), dreaming up new cocktails, late-night chats & cuddles with Presley.

I’m such a lucky girl…every day.


photos by Jill Norton Photography