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The Last of My DeBlogs

Over the course of two years, I’ve written about 70 blogs for DeBlogs. As I went through and counted the blogs that I’ve written, I realized that this will be my last blog that I write for DeBlogs! So, in honor of my last blog, I thought it might be fun to compare where I was in my life when I started to where I am in my life now.

When I first started at DeBlogs, I was a junior at DePaul, majoring in Spanish and International Studies, who had just found out he had been accepted to the BA/MA program in International Studies. 

Now, all I have left to do for my master’s is to finish my thesis, which I’ll do over the summer. I’ll (hopefully successfully) defend my completed thesis when school starts back up in the fall, and then I will officially be a master’s graduate!

When I applied to work at DeBlogs back in Spring 2015, I had to submit a sample blog to show that I was a decent writer, and that I could come up with something interesting to say. I had returned from studying abroad in Madrid just a few months prior to applying to DeBlogs, so I chose to write my sample blog about my time in Madrid. 

Annette's
You may have to zoom in to read all of the flavors that Annette’s offers, but it’s worth the effort. In case you were wondering, the cut-off flavor is Ultimate Peanut Butter Brownie—my favorite flavor (with Salted Caramel Pretzel a close second!).
This year, I suddenly found myself returning to Madrid in order to do research for my thesis (thank you for funding my trip, DePaul!). While the last minute trip meant that I had to push back my timeline for finishing my thesis by a few months, it was absolutely worth it. Not only did I get to return to my favorite city in the world, but I also got tons of information for my thesis.

I’d like to end my final DeBlog with my last-ever food suggestion. During my time at DeBlogs, I’ve recommended countless restaurants and bakeries. As my parting gift, I urge you to visit Annette’s Italian Ice ​at some point during the summer. Of course, despite the name, I go just for the ice cream. If you go once, you’ll go again: I’ve gone like four times this month to satisfy my need to stress eat.

Sunday in Agrabah

In case you didn’t know, for the past two years, I’ve been in a long(ish)-distance relationship. Even though a long-distance relationship is never ideal, we’ve made it work. To be honest, it definitely helps that my boyfriend lives just a few minutes away from my parents. While he always offers to travel to Chicago to see me, I nearly always choose to travel back home to Wisconsin since it means I can kill two birds with one stone. So roughly every other weekend, I pack my bags and head home to Wisconsin to spend time with my parents and hang out with my boyfriend.

Aladdin
However, last weekend, my boyfriend knew I had way too much to do to spend the whole weekend back in Wisconsin (it’s so hard for me to get anything done at home), so he decided to drive down to Chicago on Sunday to spend the day with me. Since we don’t get to spend a ton of time together in Chicago, I immediately started wracking my brain for something special to do. Then, the idea hit me.

I’ve written before (here and here ) about how much I love rush tickets for musicals. Rush tickets allow you to get up to two last minute tickets for popular musicals at super discounted prices on the day of the show. The catch is that the tickets are first-come, first-serve and generally pretty competitive, so you might have to get in line an hour or two before the box office opens. So, at 9:30am on Sunday, I got in line for rush tickets for Aladdin . Just an hour and a half later, the box office opened, and after a few minutes, I walked out with two tickets in the twelfth row for just $25 each.

The show is worth seeing if for no other reason than to see Aladdin and Jasmine fly around the stage on the magic carpet during “A Whole New World​.” Like, seriously, consider seeing it just for that reason. If you need even more reasons, the sets and special effects are stunning (I never knew that indoor fireworks existed). The show is seriously one of the most beautiful shows that I’ve ever seen. Plus, the actor playing Aladdin originated the role on Broadway, so you know the cast is insanely talented. 

Aladdin is in Chicago until September 10th, so if you have a couple free hours and $25 burning a hole in your pocket, definitely head on over to Agrabah!

Easter in Madrid

Hola! I’m writing to you all the way from Madrid, Spain, where the weather has been so perfect, I ended up walking around for 8 hours yesterday. As a result, I now blend in when I stand in front of a stop sign. 

Despite the sunburn, it probably goes without saying that I’m having the time of my life right now. Both fortunately and unfortunately, I have a lot of free time to enjoy Madrid because I messed everything up. When I booked the trip, my one goal was to travel as early in the quarter as possible, so that I could keep up with my classes and still have a chance at finishing my thesis on time. Logical, right? Nevertheless, somehow, despite my intense research on air fares and hotels, I seemingly missed the fact that my trip coincided with Easter.
 
Grand Via
This is the view of Gran Vía from my balcony. Yes, you read that right. My balcony. Overlooking the busiest street in Madrid. I’m living it up. 
So while I’m here to do research for my thesis, most of the places where I’m trying to do research are closed a few days for Easter weekend. As a person who wants to get work done, it’s slightly frustrating, but as a human being, I’ll happily take any free time in Madrid. So far, in my free time, I’ve discovered that one of the traditional Spanish Easter pastries, the torrija, is actually a modified version of French toast, but somehow way creamier. I mean, the center is almost like a custard. I thought it was going to be terrible, but now I’m craving it and I think I’ll get another tomorrow.

In case you didn’t know, DePaul is funding my research here in Madrid through the Graduate Research Funding program. This trip is really all about working on my thesis. I spent a few days last week at the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) going through newspaper archives, and I’m hoping to spend as much time as possible going through transcripts of interviews at a different archive this week. Until then, I’ll be eating as much torrija as possible!

Weekend with My Family

I’m heading to my family reunion as I’m writing this blog, and I’m so pumped. I look forward to my family reunion every year. Well, technically, my family has two family reunions every year: one in February, where we spend the weekend at a hotel, and one in August, where we throw a big summer party. In case you’re wondering, I’m going to the February one.

Fun fact: one of the main reasons I chose to go to college in Chicago is because I wanted to be closer to my extended family. My dad’s side of the family is incredibly tight-knit. My dad was the youngest of ten children, eight of whom ended up living in the suburbs. I ended up with fifteen cousins and, of course, I’m the youngest. Growing up as an only child, my cousins were the closest thing I ever had to siblings, so it felt natural for me to move closer to them when I went to college. 

Family
Just for kicks, here’s a real old school throwback picture of me and my cousins from one of the summer parties. Probably 2004 or 2005. I’m pretty easy to spot.
Six months into my freshman year, living close to family came in very handy for me. Heed my warning: when you get a really bad sore throat, go get it checked out. I did not, I thought it went away, a month later I woke up, thought I saw a balloon in the back of my throat because it was so swollen, and knew I had to go to the ER. At that moment in my life, the last thing I felt like doing was taking public transit to the hospital. But just ten minutes after calling my dad, I got a call from my cousin, asking me where I lived. Of course, my response was, “I don’t know,” because I really didn’t know my address. She somehow found me and we eventually ended up at the ER. It turned out that my airway was partially obstructed, so I’m pretty lucky that she figured out where I live.

In summary, I’m looking forward to my family reunion. Not just because my airway is no longer partially obstructed, but also because I get to relax after writing my first thesis chapter!

Valentine’s Week Ideas

It’s that dreaded time of year again. Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. For people not currently dating anyone, it has the potential to be super depressing, but it can also be the perfect opportunity to show appreciation for friends (don’t forget, February 13th is Galentine’s Day). For people in a relationship, it can be a time of great financial expenditures. Luckily for me, I live far away from my significant other and have no friends, so my only concern is which flavor ice cream to buy. But for people who are trying to figure out plans, I’ve come up with a few flexible ideas that can fit into any schedule, but will still make this year’s celebration extra special:

Chicago Theatre Week is a total misnomer because it actually runs for ten days: February 9-19. Over those ten days, you have the chance to go see tons of discounted plays, improv shows, and musicals. This is your opportunity to act super cultured. Tickets for shows participating in Chicago Theatre Week are typically $15-$30, but some are even cheaper than that. 
 
Eataly
There’s no better way to spend Valentine’s Day than watching someone make fresh mozzarella at Eataly. 
If you want to do something really romcom-like, head over to Eataly for some fun classes and cooking demonstrations. Seriously, there’s something for every budget level. For those of us with the least resources, for $10, you can celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 11th by watching someone make mozzarella by hand and then sampling the fresh cheese. If you’re looking for something a little more fancy (and filling), you can learn how to make lasagna from a real chef for just $25 on February 15th. And, of course, you get to eat the lasagna afterwards! Take note: these classes fill up quick, so sign up soon!

If you’re looking for something a little more active, try Ice Skating at Lincoln Park Zoo. The rink is only open until February 26, so this could be your last chance to live your Olympic fantasy! As far as Valentine’s Day dates go, this one is pretty affordable: just a $5 admission, $5 to rent a pair of skates, and probably a few more dollars for ice packs after you fall. 

I Saw Hamilton

Yes, you read that title right. I finally saw Hamilton. I’m just as shocked as you are. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hamilton is the musical phenomenon of the decade. An R&B/rap musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers and the first U.S. Secretary of State, Hamilton is easily the hottest ticket on Broadway. Ever since it premiered in February of 2015, virtually every performance has sold out. It has won 11 Tony awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. Last October, Hamilton officially opened in Chicago.

Hamilton
For the past six months, I was lucky enough to intern at a fantastic non-profit organization where I was able to work with some unbelievably smart and kind people. I always felt valued and appreciated, which isn’t something everyone can say. Still, my mind was blown when, as a (very big) token of appreciation, my supervisor gave me and my boyfriend tickets to go see Hamilton. We’ve been waiting for months, and last Wednesday, it was finally time for the show.

It was so worth the wait. It’s so much better than I ever could have imagined. And best of all, Wayne Brady had just joined the cast the day before. The cast was phenomenal, and the music is so catchy. However, I’m not going to lie: I feel like I barely watched the actual actors. Since some of the raps go so fast, there’s a little prompter on the side of the stage that displays the lyrics for the audience. I swear, my eyes were glued to the prompter. But when I did glance over, it was a beautiful thing to witness. I can’t tell you how badly I want to see it again. Ever since I came home from the show, I’ve just been watching the PBS documentary on Hamilton on a constant loop. I’m addicted. Trust me, you need to see it. However, it’s pretty much sold out, so your best bet is the lottery (and if you win, tickets are only $10!). Luckily for you, I’ve already written a blog all about the Hamilton​ lottery, so you have no excuse not to try!

Winter Quarter 2017: Things to Do

I’m always grateful that I go to a school where there is so much to do. Not that I have a ton of free time, but I like to venture outside of my bedroom occasionally. When I do finally go outside, I want to make the most of my time. These are the events that I’m looking at this quarter:

January 23rd: Are Ya Smarter than Your Professor

Blue Demon Dance
DePaul Activities Board (DAB) is hosting an awesome event pitting students against professors in a trivia game-show style event that definitely has nothing to do with and is not inspired by the TV show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? I might show up just on the off chance that there are some questions about Parks and Recreation and the students might need my expertise.

February 22nd: The Scholar’s Improv 2: Academic Boogaloo

I love the DePaul Humanities Center. This quarter, they’re reprising a popular improv event starring comedians and professors. In between improv sketches performed by the comics, professors improvise a lecture as they present a PowerPoint that they’ve never seen before. Not only is it hilarious, but it gives you an appreciation for what professors actually do on the daily.

February 23rd: Polarpalooza

Every year, DAB hosts a big, free winter concert, just for DePaul students: Polarpalooza. Every winter, 600 students fill up Lincoln Hall for a private concert with an up-and-coming music act. Tickets are free, but limited, so you have to be on your game if you want to snap up some tickets. DAB has a knack for picking acts that get way bigger right after performing at Polarpalooza (see: Fun., Walk the Moon, Chance the Rapper). Be sure to check out their website at the beginning of February when they announce the performer!

February 25th: Blue Demon Dance

Every year, DAB also hosts a dance for DePaul students. It’s held somewhere fancy off-campus (last year it was held at Navy Pier!) and there’s food and music, and dancing, I assume. Keep an eye on DAB’s website ​to see where the Blue Demon Dance will be held this year!


There’s a Rooster in My Basement

Welcome back to winter quarter! I don’t know if it was just me, but for whatever reason, winter break seemed to go by faster than ever this year. I’m guessing it just seems that way because I stayed in Chicago for most of the break and only went home for a few weeks at the end. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love going home. It’s relaxing, I get to see my parents, I get to sleep in my real bed… But let me tell you about the last few weeks that I spent at home: there’s a rooster in my basement.

Yes, you read that right. Let me paint the picture for you. So, after finishing up my last day at my internship and traveling several hours back to Wisconsin, I get home pretty late at night.  I’m excited to be home, but I’m ready to relax and recover from the stress of school. I go into my room and see a tidy stack of freshly washed and folded sheets and pillowcases laying on my bed. My parents are so nice to me. Resting on top of my still-warm sheets, however, is a small box of ear plugs. I ask my parents why there’s a box of ear plugs on top of my bed. In response, I’m told that it’s “so the rooster won’t wake me.” Yes, this is how I was informed there was a rooster in my house. Apparently, it somehow slipped their mind to inform me of the new resident. 

“Don’t worry,” my dad reassures me, “he only crows from 6am to about noon.”

“He’s never done that before,” my dad also says to me when I call at 4pm the next day to ask why the rooster is still crowing.
 
Krokus
This is the culprit. His name is Krokus. 
While my sleep was indeed severely negatively impacted (I lost the entire box of ear plugs before even falling asleep on the first night), I can’t be that mad. My mom volunteers at an animal sanctuary every week. She loves it and says that volunteering there has been the best decision of her life. However, my mom has also always been a bleeding heart with animals, which can cause some problems. Apparently, the barn at the animal sanctuary isn’t heated, so every winter, the sanctuary has to find temporary homes for all of the chickens. Of course, in comes my mother, eagerly volunteering to host a loud, flying, barnyard animal in our basement for the winter. And that is why I’m happy to be back in Chicago.

Halloween in Chicago 2016

I can’t say it enough: I love fall. I’ve written about how much I love fall many times. I do not get bored of talking about how much I love fall. But as much as I love fall in general, I especially love Halloween and everything Halloween related. And everyone around me is an enabler: my parents and multiple members of my extended family contact me every time that Hocus Pocus is airing on TV. So you can just imagine how much I love being in Chicago for Halloween.

One of the best things about living in Chicago is that there’s always something to do. It’s hard to be bored. This is especially true for the Halloween season. Here are a couple of things to do in Chicago to get into the Halloween spirit:

The Horror of the Humanities: Pontypool (October 26th): I’ve written before​ about how amazing I think the DePaul Humanities Center is. On Wednesday, they will be hosting a super eclectic and creepy event that will totally gear you up for Halloween. The event begins with some sort of interactive Halloween/haunted house exhibit. But the meat of the event is a screening of the zombie film Pontypool and a discussion with the director and star of the film. 

The DePaul Humanities Center
Halloween at Navy Pier (October 29th): Okay, so this event really runs the 28th-31st, but I highly recommend going on the 29th if you can. Not only will you be able to see that day’s costume contest (there’s one each of the days), but Navy Pier will be hosting an outdoor screening of The Addams Family, and Miller Lite is sponsoring a big Halloween Fireworks show at 9:30pm. 

Northalstead Halloween Parade (October 31st): If you’re looking for something to do on the day of Halloween, look no further. I don’t know you, but I do know that the Northalstead Halloween Parade is exactly what you’re looking for. Northalstead Halloween Parade hosts Chicago’s largest costume contest. This year, there are over 2,000 (!!) registered entries for the contest. And the parade is held in Boystown, so you know these people aren’t playing around. The theme this year is “Scream, Queen!,” so I don’t think I need to say anymore.

Fall at Home in Wisconsin

Willy
Here I am as a child sitting outside of the same petting farm/corn maze that I went to this weekend. Always been about that fall life.
I’m an only child, so it’s been just me and my parents my whole life. As a result, I’m super close with my parents. From the moment that I started my college search back in high school, I knew that I wanted to go to college in a city that would allow me to visit home as frequently as I wanted. Not only is Chicago relatively close to my hometown of Oregon, Wisconsin (located just outside of Madison), but Chicago offers so many transportation options. Between two airports, Megabus, Greyhound, and Amtrak, you never have to be that far away from home. And ever since I got into a long-distance relationship with someone living back in Madison a year and a half ago, I’ve become even more grateful that I live somewhere where I can buy a Megabus ticket home for just $1. 

Corn Maze
Apparently I got so excited towards the end of the corn maze that I just started running. I don’t remember this happening. 
So  let me tell you why I went home this weekend. First off, I love Chicago. I may have grown up in a town of under 10,000 people, but I’m definitely meant to live in a city. If nothing else, I love how late restaurants are open. That’s reason enough for me to stay in Chicago after graduation. Having said that, there are no corn fields in Chicago. As both a fall enthusiast​ and a transplant from Wisconsin, corn mazes are extremely important to me (see picture for proof). Fall is incomplete without a corn maze. Over my 22 years of life, I think there’s only been one or two years where I haven’t been able to make it to a corn maze (and I don’t like to talk about those years). So this year, I blocked out some time so that I could head home and get my corn maze fix on. After picking pumpkins, feeding a goat, running through the corn maze, and drinking a life-endangering amount of apple cider, I realized that my $1 ticket home was totally worth it. 
​​

Harry Potter Is Back on the Big Screen

​Who doesn’t love the Harry Potter movies (and books)!? Some of the best memories from my childhood are the times when my mom would take me out of school early so that we could go see a new Harry Potter movie that had come out that day. The Harry Potter movies are amazing no matter what, but there’s something special about watching them in a movie theater. If you never got that chance, NOW IS YOUR TIME TO SHINE.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Starting on Wednesday, October 13, the entire Harry Potter series is coming back to IMAX screens for just ONE WEEK. Luckily for us, there’s a participating IMAX movie theater just a twenty-minute bus ride away from DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. Regal Cinemas City North will be showing each movie multiple times over the week (you can see the schedule of Harry Potter screenings here). And I haven’t even told you the best part: it’s actually pretty affordable. Going to a single movie (on IMAX, nonetheless) only costs $6, but the real deal is the $30 event pass that lets you go to as many showings as you want over the week. That means that you could potentially go to 42 screenings for just $30. THAT IS A STEAL.

This week-long event is a big promotion for the upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spin-off of Harry Potter set to be released on November 18. If this week-long Harry Potter overload has you amped up for Fantastic Beasts, be sure to keep up with DePaul Activities Board (DAB). Every year, DAB does some kind of big ticket giveaway for the premiere screening of huge movie. A few years ago, my friends and I got tickets to go see Maleficent and we had the best time (especially because the movie theater that hosts the premieres has super comfy reclining seats). This fall, DAB will be at the Lincoln Park Student Center on November 17th to hand out tickets to the premiere of Fantastic Beasts. SO PREPARE YOURSELF FOR A MAGICAL AUTUMN.

Hamilton in Chicago

So. You may have heard about a little musical named Hamilton. In the super unlikely event that you haven’t heard about it, let me just say that Hamilton is the musical phenomenon of the decade. An R&B/rap musical based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton is easily the hottest ticket on Broadway. Ever since it premiered in February of 2015, virtually every performance has sold out. It has won 11 Tony awards, a Grammy, and a Pulitzer Prize. The music is so popular that the Original Cast Recording hit #1 on the Billboard Rap Albums chart. On top of all of that, Hamilton has made such a huge impact that the U.S. Department of the Treasury reversed its previously-announced plan to replace Alexander Hamilton with a historically significant woman on the $10 bill (instead, Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill). And now, as of last week, Chicago has its own sit-down production of Hamilton.*

Hamilton
Now, it’s no secret that I like musicals. Nor is it a secret that I’m super cheap. I’ve written at length (here and here) about how much I love doing student rush or trying the lottery in order to see shows in Chicago for cheap. For the uninitiated, most musicals have some sort of promotion that allows a few people to get cheap (but good) tickets on the day of the show. Hamilton has one of the best lottery systems. Just for comparison, when I was trying to win the lottery to see Wicked, I had to run downtown every day to put my name in the drawing, and then I would have to wait around for hours just to find out that I lost. For Hamilton, it’s way easier. On the day of the show, you go to this website​ to enter your name in the lottery for up to two tickets. Four hours before the show, you’ll get an email letting you know if you won. If you did win, I’ll be jealous, and you’ll have an hour to buy your tickets online. They give out at least 44 tickets for each show, and each ticket is just TEN DOLLARS. And then you just pick up your tickets at the theatre right before show time. IT’S THAT EASY. 

Let me know if you have plans to see Hamilton. And definitely let me know if you win the lottery!

*Most productions that come to Chicago are tours, meaning that the production will perform in Chicago for a limited, pre-determined period of time before moving on to another city. A sit-down production is open-ended, meaning that it will stay in the city as long as tickets continue to sell. Hamilton is already selling tickets through September 2017.


The PIZZA POT PIE

This summer, I had to take a graduate thesis research course. One day, while I was diligently researching the Spanish Transition to Democracy, I stumbled across this video. In case you’re like me and you actively avoid clicking video links, let me summarize the video for you (but I highly recommend that you watch it because I guarantee you will fall out of your chair).

bread
I’m assuming (re: hoping) that they regularly clean these tables because my Mediterranean Bread was not very well contained on the plate.
There’s a show on Food Network called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” which features Food Network chefs talking about the best [insert name of food here] that they had ever eaten. During the episode entitled “Road Trip,” Marc Murphy profiled the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company, a small restaurant in Lincoln Park. Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co. is famous for a little thing called the Pizza Pot Pie.

The Pizza Pot Pie is made by brushing a ceramic bowl with butter and then filling it full of cheese. Like, real full. Like, comically full. And then once that bowl is full of cheese, then they pour the sauce on and add some mushrooms (if you’re into that kind of thing, which I am most definitely not). They throw a slab of dough on the top and bake it. When it’s all done, they bring the bowl to your table and flip it upside down onto your plate so that you can see all the cheese.

As I watched this video, I went through so many emotions. At first, I was upset. How had no one told me about this before? How had I lived here for four years and never heard about it? I figured that no one else must know about it either, so I went around and starting telling everyone about it. To my surprise, everyone else apparently already knew about it. Despite my obsession with all things cheesy, somehow I dropped the ball on this one.

pizza
LOOK AT THESE. Tell me these aren’t the best looking pizza pot pies that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.
So you know I had to go as soon as I possibly could. I cleared my schedule and made plans to go the next weekend. So I show up at 12:30pm, and there’s already a line out the door. I literally must have been the only person in the tri-county area that was unaware of this restaurant. I ended up having to wait an hour and a half for a table. Why? They don’t take reservations. And when you get to the restaurant, they don’t even take down your name. The host just stares at your face for a few seconds and then somehow apparently just remembers what order people came in. The whole set-up was simultaneously impressive and questionable.

At the end of the day, it was actually the best pizza item I’ve eaten in my entire life. I could not recommend it more. Get there ASAP.

Date Ideas That Aren't Netflix and Chill

No, Lake Michigan didn't suddenly grow. This is a map of all Divvy bike stations in Chicago. You really shouldn't have a problem finding a station, no matter where you  are.
Whether you’re going on your first date or your hundredth date, it can be hard to brainstorm ideas. Nine times out of ten, you end up just watching Netflix and eating pizza. Here are a few ideas for that other 10% of the time!

The Vic​ is a popular concert venue located close enough to campus that I routinely pass it while I walk to get ice cream. When The Vic isn’t hosting a concert, The Vic becomes The Brew and View, one of the most underrated and underappreciated institutions in the area. In a pinch, The Brew and View can be the quintessential cheap date; most nights, you can go watch a double- or triple-feature for only $5. Where it can become pricey (for me, at least) is food and beverages (shocker). For whatever reason, The Brew and View sells White Castle hamburger sliders and I can never say no.

If you and your special someone have eaten too many White Castle sliders yourselves (or you just want to enjoy a nice day), it might be time to finally try out those blue bikes you always see everyone riding. Divvy Bikes offers a 24-hour pass for just $10, allowing you to take an unlimited amount of trips for a whole day. The caveat to this deal is that you can only take a bike out for up to 30 minutes at a time before you have to return it to any Divvy station (but once you return your bike, you're free to immediately take out another bike!). Divvy bike stations can literally be found all over the city (as evidenced by the map of Divvy bike stations), so finding a station is never too much of a hassle.

This is a representative sample of texts from Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! I highly suggest you subscribe to their texts.
I’ve already written plenty about Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!, so I won’t repeat myself. But let me just say that Spanish tapas are the absolute best first date food. They’re small plates and you naturally order several rounds (or at least I always do). What this means is that if you’re totally not feeling it, you could finish the first round in ten minutes and be like, “Wow, I’m so full. I had a great time and it was nice meeting you,” and just run out the door. On the other hand, if it’s going fantastic, you can be like, “Oh my, I’m just so hungry today. I think I could go for a seventh round of croquetas,” and just have the date that never ends. If you’re to the point in the relationship where you feel confident enough to use a coupon, sign up for Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!’s text messages while you're there and enjoy the frequent free food.

If you and your not-so-secret admirer are both DePaul students, why not spend a few hours becoming cultured at the Art Institute of Chicago? While tickets for the Art Institute can usually be a little expensive (especially on a student’s budget), you can get free tickets just by showing your DePaul ID at the ticket desk! The Art Institute is home to some of the most famous paintings, sculptures, and installations in the world. Suggesting the Art Institute is a surefire way to impress your significant other.


Chicago's Famous Foods

​​
This isn't an uncommon sight at Garrett's Popcorn.
I’m always on the search for great food. In a city as big as Chicago, it’s not hard to find great food. Whenever friends from home come to visit me, I know they’re only coming to visit because they know that I’ll lead them to the best food. Still, everyone always wants to get those iconic Chicago foods: popcorn, pizza, and hot dogs. The truth is that, sometimes, eating like a tourist is the best way to experience Chicago and to enjoy those famous foods. If have you haven’t been before, or if you have an out-of-state friend coming to visit, you have to visit these restaurants.

You can never get enough of Garrett Popcorn (but really everyone calls it Garrett’s and I just learned it’s actually Garrett). There's a reason that there's often a line out the door for it. Garrett Popcorn is best known for their Garrett Mix (formerly, and more popularly, known as the Chicago Mix until a trademark kerfuffle forced them to change the name), a mix of cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn. No one does cheese popcorn like Garrett’s. Note: ask for extra napkins. If you thought Cheeto dust was hard to get off your fingers, just wait until you try Garrett’s cheese popcorn.

I tried to make a homemade version of Portillo's Chocolate Cake Shake. It wasn't nearly as good.

Embarrassing story: throughout my first year in Chicago, because I’m stupid, I always heard Illuminati whenever people said Lou Malnati’s and I would wonder why they’re talking about the Illuminati and pizza. Luckily, Lou Malnati’s has no known affiliation with the Illuminati. But, they are known for having some of the best Chicago-style deep dish pizza in all of Chicago. And since Chicago is obviously going to have the best Chicago-style pizza, that means that Lou Malnati’s probably has some of the best Chicago-style pizza in the world. Even better, there’s a Lou Malnati’s a couple blocks off of DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus, so it’s convenient as well!

While people will always argue over the authenticity of different Chicago-style hot dogs, Portillo’s is definitely one of the more popular and more common places to get a hot dog. Or if you're brave, try out The Wiener’s Circle, which is right in Lincoln Park. The Wiener’s Circle is legendary not just for its food, but also for its “feisty” late night interactions between staff and customers on the weekends.

I'm not totally sure if Chicago has any claim to a famous dessert, but if it does, it might be the chocolate cake shake at Portillo's. Hypothetically, that means you can kill two birds with one stone if you get a hot dog and a chocolate cake shake at Portillo’s. The chocolate cake shake is exactly what you’d think it would be. It’s literally ice cream and chocolate cake blended together. What could be better than that? Now Portillo's is a chain with restaurants all around Illinois, so it may not be a big deal to people from Illinois, but to this Wisconsinite, it's the biggest deal.


Lakefront Trail

Like I’ve said dozens and dozens of times, I love walking around Chicago. Walking relaxes me. I’m a very high-strung person, so I need all the relaxation I can get. Even though every full-time student gets a U-Pass​, I try to avoid taking the L​ and try to walk everywhere instead. My favorite place to walk though is easily Lakefront Trail​ and I have one particular route that I take all the time.

​How could you not want to walk forever and ever?

Lakefront Trail is an 18-mile-long biking/running/walking path that runs right alongside, you guessed it, Lake Michigan. Lakefront Trail (and Lake Michigan) is only a 15-20 minute walk directly east from DePaul, so it really couldn’t be easier to get to. When I go walking though, I usually walk north first and enter Lakefront Trail at Belmont Harbor​. I do this for three logical reasons: 1. I can stop at Wow Bao​ on the way and get a chocolate filled bao to eat, 2. After I finish my bao, I can stop at Ann Sather​ and get some cinnamon rolls, and 3. There’s a dog beach near Belmont Harbor and it makes me happy to watch the dogs swim around. I highly recommend all of these pit stops, especially the dog beach.

Tell me this isn't the best view of the skyline.
When it’s nice out, I’ve been known to walk from Lincoln Park to Michigan Avenue or Navy Pier (but I usually take the L back because, let’s face it, I’m not a professional athlete). It’s pretty motivating to get on Lakefront Trail and see the skyline in front of you, so I usually just keep walking and walking and walking. When I’m lazy though (which is more common than I’d like to admit) I usually will just cross over Lake Shore Drive​ on the bridge that connects Lakefront Trail to Lincoln Park​ (the actual park, not the neighborhood).

When I’m lucky, Forever Yogurt​, a frozen yogurt shop, will have a pop-up trailer at the other end of the bridge inside of Lincoln Park. It’s super convenient because by the time I cross the bridge, I’m usually just starting to feel healthy and that frozen yogurt stand ensures that I never have to feel healthy. I usually walk north in Lincoln Park towards the Lincoln Park Zoo​. It is important to note that the path in Lincoln Park that borders Lincoln Park Zoo has maybe the best view of the Chicago skyline that you can imagine. I’ve probably walked this path 100 times, yet I still take a picture of the skyline almost every time. And from here, it’s only a twenty-minute walk back to DePaul.

This is totally my favorite path to walk in Chicago. Let me know if you have anywhere you love to walk!​


Testing My Spanish

​​​​​HolaWhen I was in seventh grade, I took my first Spanish class. On my first quiz ever, I forgot the word for ‘angry’ so I made up my own Spanish-sounding word (“angrioso,” in case you were wondering). When I was a sophomore in high school, my entire Spanish class became so obsessed with Rebelde​, a Mexican telenovela​ about some teenagers at a boarding school who form a band named RBD, that we had a viewing party and each dressed up as a different character. When I was a junior in high school, we had to share our talent for Spanish class, so I performed “Genio Atrapado,” the Spanish version of “Genie in a Bottle​” by Christina Aguilera. When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad in Madrid​ for three months.

Almost nine years after my first Spanish class, I’ve officially completed my Spanish major. After I finished my last Spanish class last fall, I realized that I never have to take another Spanish class again. Pretty bittersweet. Two months later, my friend, who knows four languages and makes me feel terrible about myself, told me about the DELE test​​. Let’s talk about why I’m kicking myself for not taking a Spanish class this quarter.

Look how fluent I look here. How am I supposed to get good at Spanish again if I can't meet with Spanish-speaking Minions​?

The DELE test​ is basically a Spanish fluency exam endorsed by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. So when my friend mentioned it, I imagined it being like the ACT or SAT. I thought I’d casually go in and take a test and they would tell me how fluent I am. NOPE. It’s no joke. You register to test for one of six fluency levels and then it’s 4+ hours of writing, reading, listening, and talking. If you pass, you’re certified at that level. If you don’t pass, then you just end up wasting $150. That stresses me out. By the time I take this test, it will have been five months since I was last in a Spanish class. Of course no one told me about this test when I came back from studying abroad in Spain and was at the top of my Spanish game. I basically sounded like a telenovela at that point in my life. Now I can barely pronounce the menu at a Mexican restaurant.

Like a geek, I bought the big study book in order to prepare myself. A day later, I’m already realizing that I’m in over my head. You may be wondering why I’m doing this to myself. I’m sort of wondering that, too. In all honesty, I just think it’d be nice to have an official certificate saying that I’m fluent at a specific level, rather than just saying that I majored in Spanish. I think it’d be something nice to have on my resume. Furthermore, since I’m done with Spanish classes, my Spanish is only going to get worse (unless, of course, I somehow get a Spanish-speaking job or move out of the country or become famous for my rendition of "Genio Atrapado"). If I do move, the certificate is internationally recognized and if I pass the level that I’m attempting to test into, I will officially be fluent enough to enroll in Spanish universities. Since it’s permanent and I’d never have to take the test again, I might as well take it as soon as possible. It’s not like I have anything else going on in my life right now.​


Strategies to De-Stress

​​​​​It’s finals time once again! Personally, I love the quarter system, but the only downside is that it feels like you’re constantly in the middle of either midterms or finals. I end up just perpetually stressed. Over the years, I’ve had to develop different ways to handle the stress because I can only lay in the fetal position for so long before my back starts hurting. Here are some of the ways I handle my stress on a daily basis:
Why wouldn't I always be walking around if this is what I get to see?

Go on a Walk

Whenever I get stressed, I constantly go on walks. I don’t know if that’s me subconsciously trying to run away from responsibility or me trying to work off all of the food that I stress eat, but I’m always walking. Fortunately for me, Lincoln Park is an amazing place to walk around. Who could blame me for always walking when I get to walk on the beach and see the skyline?

Work Out

Obviously, it goes without saying that going on a walk can constitute a workout. In fact, I’d be lying to you if I told you that I’ve never gone on a walk to an ice cream store and then called it my workout for the day (truthfully, I did this three times last weekend). But still, for some people, walking outside doesn’t have the same effect as going to gym and jogging on the treadmill or hitting the weights. Working out can be especially helpful if you’re struggling to focus or if you just can't sit still and you have to use up some energy.

This is a picture of the inside of my backpack that I found on my phone. In case you ever thought I wasn't serious about being a stress eater, a backpack full of candy is pretty damning evidence.

Treat Yo Self

I feel like I say this in every other blog post: I’m a stress eater. I always joked about being one, but I recently realized I genuinely stress eat without even noticing it. So instead of passively letting myself stress eat everything in sight (the other week I ate a burger, a sub, a bowl of soup, and three desserts from Sweet Mandy B’s​ just for lunch), I have started taking a more active approach. If I feel myself getting super stressed or if I know that I have a stressful day coming up, I try to stock up on my favorite healthy snacks and buy only one dessert from Sweet Mandy B’s instead of three.

Take a Break

Duh. If you know that you’re starting to get overwhelmed, shut it all down for a while. The other night, I was once again stressed about a different paper that I had to write. I woke up super early (which was my first mistake) and had been working on it all day. I was getting hangry​ and burnt out, it was just not a good situation. So I just shut everything down and took a break. I ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut (they messed up my order, but that’s another story that I’m still bitter about) and watched The Craft​. An hour and a half later, I was back to working on my essay and in a much better mood.

Create Something

A lot of people unwind by cooking, baking, drawing, painting, writing, or knitting. Taking an hour to create something or continue working on a project can help take your mind off of schoolwork. Plus, some people find it especially therapeutic to be able to see the finished product or the progress they’ve made. When you return to schoolwork, you might find that you can focus on your work much more easily.

Let me know if you have any special ways that you cope with stress!​


Best Food in the Neighborhood

The other day, I found out that I’m known as “the food guy” at work. I’m proud, but not surprised. I like to think that I’m deserving of such a title. I know my food and everyone knows that I know my food. Now that I know that that's my official title, I'm taking it very seriously. As such, you can only imagine how shocked I was when I realized that I have yet to write about my favorite restaurants around DePaul. I’m so sorry to everyone that I took so long to write this. I’ve wronged each and every one of you.​

Barn and Company​ is seriously four or five blocks away from campus (not to mention pretty hard to miss), yet it seems like no one knows it exists. That’s a shame. Barn and Company has some of the best barbecue I’ve ever had. It’s worth mentioning that I once talked to the owner who casually mentioned that Dave often stops by when he’s in town. Who is Dave, you ask? The Famous Dave’s Dave. That Dave. If it’s good enough for Famous Dave, it’s good enough for you. I highly recommend going for their Friday special: the $12.99 Chicken, Pork, and Ribs Platter.​

I went to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! the other week for brunch because I had a coupon (because I'm subscribed to their texts, shocker). No regrets.

Branko’s Sandwich Shop​ is absolutely one of the most underappreciated restaurants I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s located directly across the street from the Quad on Fullerton. The family who runs it is comprised of the nicest, sweetest people you could imagine. I genuinely don’t have enough good things to say about them. Branko’s is the greasy diner you’re always looking for. Whenever I have a craving for cheese fries or a Pizza Puff​ (one of my favorite foods in the world), this is where I go. The unexpected winner on the menu: the Grilled Chicken Sandwich. If you know anything about me, you know I wouldn’t recommend a chicken sandwich if it weren’t absolutely spectacular.​

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!​ is getting a mention because I have such a sentimental connection with it. I’ve written about my experiences studying abroad in Madrid​. I’ve been back for over a year and I still miss it. One of the things I miss most is the food. Luckily for me, DePaul is near one of the best Spanish tapas​ restaurants in Chicago. Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! just celebrated its 30th anniversary and trust me, there’s a reason that it’s been around for so long. If you go, get the croquetas. They are the food I miss most from Madrid and they’re amazing at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

Last, but not least, State Restaurant​ is literally my life. You can ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that my life revolves around State. It’s located a block off of campus and I have their weekly specials​ memorized. Why would I memorize the weekly specials? Because the weekly specials are amazing. Every Wednesday, almost everything on the menu is $5.99. On Thursdays and Fridays, almost everything on the menu is $6.99. Where else can you get a truffle burger for $5.99!? I’m not ashamed at all to admit that I’m obsessed with State. State also apparently hosts some intense trivia contests (with cash prizes) every Tuesday night and I want to go so bad. Let me know if you’re a walking encyclopedia so I can have you on my team.​


New Quarter, New Events Part 1

​​​​​Welcome back, everyone! Like I said in one of my blogs at the beginning of last quarter​, I start every quarter by looking for any changes or anything new at DePaul. Yesterday, while I was perusing the campus, I made a terrible discovery. It is with a heavy heart that I announce that the Chinese food station at the Student Center is gone. Fortunately, they’ve now added a wings station, a Korean-Mexican fusion station, and an ice cream station. So things aren’t all bad.

Speaking of food, if you’re anything like me, you’re currently broke because you spent all your money buying new clothes to disguise the fifteen pounds you gained over winter break. If that sounds like you (or even if you’re lucky and didn’t gain fifteen pounds over break), you’re probably looking for some cheap stuff to do during this quarter. Luckily for you, I’ve found a ton of stuff to do over the next two and a half months! 

I love to write about the DePaul Activities Board​’s event calendar. DAB always hosts events you actually want to go to. You all know what I mean by that. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, you will already have missed (or maybe not, I don’t know if you went) what may have possibly been the event of the year: DePaul After Dark​: Harry Potter​. Every Thursday night, DAB hosts DePaul After Dark at the Student Center. Each week has a different theme with new activities. It’s always free and usually includes some sort of free food and giveaways. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’ve ever looking for stuff to do on a Thursday night.

It goes without saying that DAB does way more than just DePaul After Dark. This quarter, in addition to a ton of smaller events, including a Superbowl Party and an Oscar Viewing Party, DAB is going to host two of its biggest annual events: the Blue Demon Dance​ and Polarpalooza​. The Blue Demon Dance is the culminating event of Blue Demon Week​, a week dedicated to fostering school spirit at DePaul. This year, the Blue Demon Dance is being held on January 29th at Crystal Gardens​ on Navy Pier. Tickets are only $10 and totally worth it.

Last, but definitely not least, is Polarpalooza, DePaul’s free winter concert! I give DAB credit for somehow always picking acts that get way bigger right after performing at Polarpalooza (see: Fun.​, Walk the Moon​, Chance the Rapper​). Tickets are free, but limited, so you have to be on your game if you want to go. Every winter, 600 students fill up Lincoln Hall​ for a private concert with an up-and-coming music act. Be sure to check out their website​ on January 22nd when they reveal the artist who will be performing!

When I told you that I found a ton of stuff to do this quarter, I wasn’t exaggerating. Check back next week to find out about more free events happening on campus this quarter!​


Winter Break in Chicago

Finals were crushing me and, as you can imagine, I was stress eating like it’s an Olympic event and I’m going for gold. Whenever I’m stressed, I invariably seek out baked goods and Chinese food. I am currently typing this up while eating a double doozy (it’s like a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich, but instead of ice cream in the middle, it’s buttercream frosting) from Sweet Mandy B’s​. And in case you were wondering, I’ve become a regular customer of the Chinese food station in the Student Center this week (it’s actually pretty bomb and watching the flaming wok soothes me).

But besides the copious amounts of food, there’s only one thing getting me through finals right now: winter break. While I’m going back home to Wisconsin for break, if you’re staying in Chicago, consider yourself lucky. There are tons of amazing things to do in Chicago during break.

Christkindlmarket is apparently famous for their boot-shaped mugs. Some people collect them. I don't know what else to say about that.

For a lot of families, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade​ is a tradition on Thanksgiving Morning. But if you’re not from Chicago, you may not know that Chicago also has its own Thanksgiving Day Parade. The McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Parade​ is held on State Street and runs from Congress to Randolph at 8am on Thanksgiving morning. It’s huge. The route is a mile long and the projected attendance is 400,000 people. And to top it all off, David Arquette​ is the Grand Marshal of the parade. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. 

And as long as you’re on State Street, I don’t know why you wouldn’t go see the famous window displays at Macy’s ​(R.I.P. Marshall Field’s​). This year, the story is “Santa’s Journey to the Stars,” everyone’s favorite Christmas tale of the child who uses a magic telescope to celebrate Christmas on different planets before ending up back at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While I was skeptical of the story at first (I’m still unsure if it will enter into the holiday canon), the windows are actually beautiful and absolutely worth going to see. The windows will be up until January 10th, so you have plenty of time to check it out.

All I want in life is to have as much fun as these people look like they are having.

The Christkindlmarket​ is a Chicago (but really German) tradition that has to be experienced. In the middle of Daley Plaza, a little German Christmas market pops up from November 20th-December 24th. It’s a very big deal. If we’re all being honest with ourselves, everything is a little overpriced, but just the experience of walking around is worth it. Actually, in reflecting on that point, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased something from the market. It just makes me feel good.

Every year I say I'm going to go ice skating at the rink at Millennium Park​. Literally, every single year. I have yet to go. But I swear this year is the one. Or next year. But I'm feeling good about this year. I get bitter every time I see pictures of people ice skating in front of the Bean​ while I’m sitting at home watching Elf​ for the 74th time. For the record, I’m not complaining about watching Elf, that’s just what I’m usually doing when I see the pictures and become bitter. This year (or next year) will be mine, though, and I will have that picture for myself. I have plenty of time to try to squeeze it in this year: it runs all the way until March 6th. 

If you have any favorite things to do in Chicago during the holiday season, let me know!​


Another Day in Chicago

​​​​​A few Fridays ago, I was laying in bed (shocker). Surprisingly, I was actually doing homework. Actually, if I remember right, I was eating avocados and Mickey’s House of Villains​ was playing in the background (for the record, if you haven’t seen Mickey’s House of Villains, I highly recommend it for no other reason than the vintage Halloween cartoons). In that case, I probably wasn’t doing homework, but rather homework was probably somewhere on my bed, laying untouched. I can’t resist Mickey. Either way, my friend Olivia texted me, reminding me that she also lives in Chicago and that I hadn’t seen her for a year.

Olivia and I go way back. We first met while doing community theatre together when I was in fourth grade. That’s eleven years ago (that realization was brutal for me)! I had no plans for the weekend and neither did she, so we had a quick brainstorm of things we could do. Twelve hours later, Olivia and I were standing in line at the Bank of America Theatre, waiting to buy tickets for the musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder​.

Now, if you’ve never done student rush for a musical, you’re missing out. Almost every popular musical does some sort of student rush (or lottery) nowadays. Each show does student rush a little bit differently, but for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the tickets went on sale when the box office opened at 10am (but Olivia and I got there around 9am so we could be close to the front of the line because I stress about these kinds of things). The show sells whatever seats were still open for $25 to any student/senior/veteran. Other shows (like Wicked​) use a lottery system where you can put your name into a drawing, and then two hours before the show, box office agents will pull 10-12 names. Each chosen person can buy up to two tickets for $20-$30 (it depends on the show – for Wicked, the seats are usually $25 and in the front row).​

Me in Maggie Daley Park with Olivia. I don't know how my head and the only dent in the mirror aligned so  perfectly.
With four hours between buying the tickets and the show, Olivia and I went on a walking tour of downtown. We stopped at my new favorite chain restaurant, Wow Bao​, where I shared with Olivia the glory of bao​. The consumption of bao gave us the energy to walk to Eataly​, Ghirardelli​ (you know I needed my free piece of chocolate), and through the beautiful Maggie Daley Park​. I can’t stress enough how important it is that you run to Maggie Daley Park as fast as you can and walk through the Enchanted Forest. If only you could have seen me running on those logs and spinning the boulder... you would have been embarrassed.

The show itself was great and we had amazing tickets. I can’t lie though: the highlight of the evening was the woman sitting behind us that was just absolutely confused by everything that was happening in the show. She spent the entire 15-minute intermission trying to talk through who had died (one man plays eight parts and she could not tell them apart at all) while I tried to discretely wipe my tears away from laughing so hard.

All in all, it is days like these that I’m grateful that I live in Chicago. Ten-year-old me would be very proud that I chose to live somewhere where going to see a Broadway tour is something I casually decide to do with a friend on my free time.


Halloween in Chicago

As you probably already know, I love fall​. Which means that I also love Halloween. What may surprise you is that I occasionally turn off my TV, which is usually playing Hocus Pocus​ on a constant loop during this time of year, and do something outside. Of course, despite the implication, I’m not talking about doing any sort of athletic activity (my current excuse is that I’m gaining protective fat in order to survive through winter). I bravely venture outside, wearing the jack-o-lantern t-shirt that I bought at Walmart, to go do Halloween-related things or, as you read​, to buy pumpkin-flavored goods.

Now, some of you may be wondering what Chicago offers for Halloween. Others of you may be questioning how you can pick from the seemingly endless number of Halloween parties and events. Or if you’re like me, you’re sitting in bed and wondering why Disney Channel stopped showing Don’t Look Under The Bed​. 

If you’re in the third group with me, the answer is that Don’t Look Under The Bed was supposedly too scary for the intended audience (although I don’t remember trying to burrow into my couch to hide from the monster in Don’t Look Under The Bed like I did during Halloweentown​).

If you’re in either of the other two groups, you’re in luck. I’ve gone through and selected the best of the best so that your Halloween is all treat and no trick.

The Halloween Gathering​ (October 24th)

I can’t believe a bunch of artists are throwing this and the best name they could come up with is “The Halloween Gathering.” That being said, the actual event has a lot of promise. Hosted by Chicago Cultural Mile in conjunction with a ton of fine arts organizations (including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), this first-year event has tons of music and drama performances planned, tons of crafts, and some really interesting art installations. The culminating activity (besides the super expensive after-party) is a costume parade through downtown, complete with a Thriller​ flash mob.

19th Annual Northalsted Halloween Parade (October 31st)

What happens when you cross a pride parade​ with Party City​? You get the 19th Annual Northalsted Halloween Parade. Running straight through Boystown​, one of the costume contest categories is drag​. If that doesn’t make you want to go, I don’t know what will. I want to go just to count how many queens are dressed up as one of the Golden Girls​. If drag queens aren’t your thing, you really shouldn’t be in Boystown there’s a pet parade earlier in the day as well.

Day of the Dead​ (November 1st)

This year, The National Museum of Mexican Art​ is hosting its biggest and most interactive Day of the Dead celebration ever (which is saying something if you’ve been to any of them in the past). Anyone can upload a photo of a loved one who has passed on their website​ and it will be projected onto the side of the museum during the festivities. Apart from that art installation, you can expect tons of live music, hot chocolate, art, and skulls.​ 

​​

It's Finally Fall

I’m a big believer that no matter how long you’ve lived somewhere, you should do all the touristy stuff at least once. When I sat down to write this blog, I had planned to write about discounted and free touristy things to do in Chicago (look for it next week). But then, right as I went to sit down, I made the mistake of spraying my fall scented air freshener.

I love fall. Fall makes me happy. Fall has always been my favorite since I was a little kid. For whatever reason, when I woke up this morning, it just felt like fall to me. In honor of that feeling, this post has become a celebration about fall and all the fall-themed adventures I had today.

I'm not kidding when I tell you that this is a picture of my freshman dorm. And yes, that's also a fan. It got stuffy in that room.

After Dominick’s​ closed (R.I.P.) and before the Whole Foods opened up on campus, I would walk to Trader Joe’s​ to get all my groceries. The weather was beautiful today, so I decided to walk there and pick up a few things. One of my favorite things about Trader Joe’s is its huge assortment of seasonal goods and decorations. Now as I’ve said, I’m an easily excitable person, so you can imagine my reaction when I walked into Trader Joe’s today and saw pumpkin flavored everything, including Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter. If you’ve had Cookie Butter, you know why this is so exciting. If you’ve never had Cookie Butter, you better have a good reason why not. If you’ve never heard of Cookie Butter, go read this famous blog entry​ about it. After 25 minutes on the phone with my mother, narrating every pumpkin flavored item I found to her, I was finally prepared to check out.

Now this is where my story just gets straight up shameful and embarrassing. I’ve truly hit a new low in my life. I’ve hit rock bottom. To paint the picture: my dad had just called to tell me about this showing of ​Hocus Pocus​ at a cemetery in Chicago in a few nights. As a child of the immediate gratification generation, I immediately want to watch Hocus Pocus, but I’m obviously not home yet and I’ve lent my DVD player to someone who hasn’t returned it (you know who you are). So here I am, walking home with both my groceries and a burning desire to watch Hocus Pocus.​

Yes, I own all four Halloweentown movies. Why wouldn't I?
I’m ashamed to admit that I grabbed my phone, went on YouTube, and started playing the theme song to Hocus Pocus. Now, you may think that isn’t so terrible, but let’s all recognize that I did not have headphones on me and that the theme music of Hocus Pocus​ was playing out of my speaker on my phone while I walked down the streets of Chicago with pumpkin-flavored groceries.

After I get home and recover from my shame spiral, I grab some apple cider and my pumpkin pie flavored yogurt and I surf the web, as the kids like to call it. I’m pulling up sources to write my blog when I inevitably end up on DePaul Activities Board​’s website. I notice an event I had not noticed before: a Halloweentown​ Party. Even though they aren’t showing my favorite, Halloweentown High, you better believe I have literally cleared my schedule in order to go. I expect to see you all there with me, eating as many pumpkin flavored baked goods as you can handle.​


My Annual Summer Job

​​​Let me paint the picture for you: It was a sunny day in May 2011. I was a junior in high school. School let out at 3:30 and I had a job interview at the public library at 4:00. I lived on the same street as the high school, so I thought I would have enough time to run home, change into some nicer clothes, and walk to the library in time for my interview. Unsurprisingly, I’m pretty sure I got distracted with some food (typical) and realized I was running late. Thankfully, my biochemistry teacher saw me frantically sprinting to the library and asked if I needed a ride (Thank you, Mrs. Landsness!). A week later, the library gave me my first summer job (which was later extended throughout my entire senior year). This week, I returned to the library for my fifth summer in a row.

So, as you can probably infer from that masterfully written introduction, I’m finally back home for the summer! Words cannot describe how joyful I am to: (a) be done with school for a while, and (b) be in a house with a fully stocked kitchen again. I’m taking the time to be grateful for this situation, since it is most likely the last summer I’ll be spending at home. Next year, I have to stay in Chicago in order to take grad classes for my master’s (how impressive am I, right?).

The highly contested worm race trophies.
For this summer, I’m back at the library and I could honestly not be more excited. I love the staff, I have great hours, and there are usually some sort of treats in the break room. Today, someone brought in cookie dough brownies (I’m ashamed that I didn’t know they existed before today). Today was a significant day at the library for another reason, too: the annual worm race. 

“What?” you exclaim, convinced you misunderstood. Yes, you read that correctly. We race worms. We have judges, a wormbulance, and official team cheers. We even give out trophies for the fastest worms.

Amazing children’s programming aside, working at the library during high school helped me so much when I got to college. I mean, I knew how to navigate the library and its resources from the moment I walked in (which was so helpful). More importantly, it opened the door for me to find a job at school. I knew the basics about libraries, so during my sophomore year at DePaul, I applied to work at the library (and I still work there and make bank).  

An adorable selfie I took while waiting for worm race participants to show up. The wormbulance is visible in the background (located over my right shoulder, and I mean my right).
I guess this post is just my reflection about my final summer at home and the impact that my high school summer job has had on my life. I’ve gotten so much out of it and I’ve been so lucky to be asked back to the library every summer. It’s sad to think this is most likely my final worm race. Next year, everything is going to be different and I’m going to have to spend my own money if I want a kitchen as full as the one at my house. I’m so excited to move on with my life, but my little hometown library will always be special to me.
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My Favorite Desserts

​​​​​I was trying to brainstorm a possible topic for my last blog post until fall when I realized I’ve never talked about the one thing I know best: desserts. I've made it no secret that I love food. I mean, nothing tastes better than food. And as far as food goes, dessert tastes best. In a city as big as Chicago, you can find a lot of desserts. As you can guess, I’m no stranger to many of those desserts. Here are some of my favorites so far:

Eataly​—Chocolate Chip Cookie
First off, if you've never been to Eataly, you need to go. A grocery store-food c
The absolute best chocolate chip cookie money can buy. Go to Eataly and get it.
ourt hybrid created by chef Mario Batali, Eataly is two floors of food heaven with 23 different food stations. While most people go to the Nutella Bar (a station that literally only serves baked goods with Nutella on them) in Eataly for dessert, I head up to the bread bakery and grab one of the chocolate chip cookies. Not only are they big and cheap (at least compared to the rest of the store), they’re super chocolatey, which is the most important aspect of a chocolate chip cookie.


Ann Sather​—Cinnamon Roll 
No one ever really says, “Wow, that was a great cinnamon roll.” Prior to my trip to Ann Sather, I was pretty convinced that a cinnamon roll is a cinnamon roll. They’re all pretty similar. I look back on my pre-Ann Sather life and see a naïve young adult, struggling to find the truth in life. After my first bite of the cinnamon roll at Ann Sather, I saw the light. It’s everything that you always wish a cinnamon roll would be without the disappointment that usually comes when you bite into a cinnamon roll. (Pro tip: never buy the cinnamon rolls as an a la carte item—they’re a little expensive. Always get an egg-based entrée; each entrée comes with two sides and two cinnamon rolls count as ONE (1) side.)

Sweet Mandy B's​—My Birthday Cake
I’ve name-dropped Sweet Mandy B’s so many times in my blog posts that you probably think they’re sponsoring me. I wish. The reality is that the bakery is ridiculously close to campus and is easily the best bakery I’ve ever been to. I could easily do an entire post just on my favorite things at SMB (which I’m now
My delicious birthday cake from Sweet Mandy B’s. My parents did me a solid.
thinking I should totally do), but I thought I’d pick my birthday cake since I have the best picture of it. This year, my parents finally listened to me and got me the birthday cake of my dreams: chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream filling and covered in Oreo buttercream. They have the best buttercream frosting I’ve ever had in my entire life. It’s so good that they now even sell cups of it by itself.

Glazed and Infused​—Maple Bacon Donut
I’m not generally someone who seeks out desserts that feature meat. I’m certainly not averse to meat (especially bacon), but I just don’t typically have a craving for pork roast brownies or anything. So when I first encountered the maple bacon donut at Glazed and Infused, I was apprehensive. Eating a donut with meat seemed like a Fear Factor​ challenge to me. After my friend convinced me to try it, I was hooked. I wondered what other delicious meaty desserts I had missed out on (spoiler alert: there are no other delicious meaty desserts). Now that Glazed and Infused sells their donuts at the DePaul Student Center, I can get my fix without even having to walk the two extra blocks to their storefront. It’s a win-win.


My Time in Madrid

​​​​​Right around a year ago, I attended the DePaul study abroad​ orientation in preparation for my trip to Spain. This year, I returned to the orientation as an alumnus to talk to the group of students getting ready to go to Madrid ​this fall. It was an amazing opportunity to reflect upon my experience in Madrid.

Jennifer and Me in Park Güell in Barcelona. Fun fact: my host parents collected various Disney memorabilia, so I gave them this shirt at the end of my trip. I wouldn’t be surprised if they liked that shirt more than they liked me.
Just to set the mood, I had never been out of the country before.  The closest I had ever gotten to being an international jetsetter was walking around the World Pavilion at Epcot ​(I highly recommend the chocolate mousse at the French bakery). As a Spanish and International Studies double major, to avoid any potential irony, I figured I should probably get out of the U.S. at some point in my life. So after fantasizing about it for years and years, I decided to apply to study abroad in Madrid, Spain.

I decided to study abroad through DePaul rather than through an external company or by organizing my trip myself. There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages that accompany each choice, but as it was my first time leaving the country, I prioritized convenience and efficiency. Whenever I had a question, I could always go visit the Study Abroad Office on campus, which was very comforting to me and most likely very annoying to them (they probably wondered how one student could have so many questions about passports and visas). The program was conveniently scheduled so that I would only miss one quarter, a feat not often achieved when most study abroad programs are structured around the semester system. And because I studied abroad through DePaul, my credits transferred without me even having to think about them.

Chloe, Sarah, a garbage can, and Me in front of Toledo. In addition to having one of the most photo-worthy landscapes ever, Toledo makes some ridiculous marzipan. It was amazing.
Most importantly, by going through DePaul, I had a built-in group of friends during (and after) the program. The moment I boarded the plane to Madrid, I realized I was sitting next to another student in the program (Hi, Chloe!) and that there were six other students from the DePaul program on the flight. Knowing we were all going into this program with the common bond of DePaul made all of us fast friends and over the next two and a half months in Madrid, we did almost everything together.

In Madrid, I lived in a homestay ​with a husband and wife. Before I arrived, I could not have been more anxious about living in a homestay. I was pretty convinced that I would end up in some horror-movie caliber living situation. I had this recurring nightmare where I would go to talk to my family and realize that the language I had been learning for years wasn’t actually Spanish at all and that I couldn’t communicate with my host parents whatsoever. When I arrived, I was relieved to be greeted by two of the kindest, friendliest, funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life and to be ushered into a beautiful apartment (situated above a Tupperware store and a GameStop, but still beautiful).

Over my two and a half months in Madrid, I had the best time of my life. I saw the musical The Lion King in Spanish (El Rey León, anyone?). I ate at a Chinese restaurant located in an underground parking lot. I became best friends with the cashier at a bakery who bought all my pastries for me on my final day in Madrid. I bought churros and chocolate at 4am, celebrated Thanksgiving at a 50s-style American diner, and ate a disturbing
Paola and Me at a Real Madrid game at Bernabéu Stadium ​(which was only a ten minute walk from my homestay!). You can bring your own food into the stadium, so you better believe we were taking advantage of that.
amount of ham sandwiches. By the end of the program, I finally felt comfortable conversing in Spanish. I even discovered that I had an interest in Spanish history (which is going to be the subject of my master’s thesis). 

If you’ve never left the country, the idea of living abroad can be daunting. I know it certainly intimidated me. It’s so cheesy, but studying abroad changed my life and I personally view it as the best decision I’ve ever made. If you get the opportunity, take it. You won’t regret it. Plus, you can make an amazing photo book out of the pictures you take. Trust me. 
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Morning Classes and Breakfast

​​​​​I’ve had the worst sleep habits for as long as I remember. I always stay up way too late, usually engrossed in a Wikipedia article about the history of bread or something. For the past two years, I’ve given myself a pretty cushy class schedule to accommodate this (most likely) life span-shortening habit. I had the same schedule (1-4:10 Monday-Thursday) for five out of the last six quarters (studying in Madrid ruined my streak). This quarter, after so long of barely waking up in time for an afternoon class, I decided to become a productive member of society and take morning classes for the first time since freshman year.

At my core, I’m still sloth-like and I hate mornings. I knew that I would need an incentive in order to resist the allure of the snooze button (True story: One time in high school, I hit the snooze button so many times that I slept through my Algebra 2 final). I knew the only way I would voluntarily depart from my bed would be for food. Whatever works, right? As any of my friends will tell you, I get way too excited about food. And now for the first time in years, I’m regularly getting breakfast.

I have some serious recommendations.

I live on campus and have a meal plan​, so I almost always go to the Student Center for breakfast. The two main breakfast spots in the Student Center are Brownstones​, which is a more a café/bagel shop, and Scramble, which serves typical diner fare. My first plan of attack is always to check out the weekly special at Scramble (which was chorizo con papas this week). If I’m not feeling the special, then we go to Plan B, which is repeatedly texting my friends until someone makes a decision regarding what I should eat. These are the typical pre-approved options that they are permitted to choose from:

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know that it’s embarrassing that I already had all of these photos on my phone. I wasn’t lying that I get excited about food.  I knew they would come in handy some day.

So Cal Pita (with cheesy hash browns, from Scramble): If nothing else, this is probably the prettiest dish.
So Cal Pita
So Cal Pita
Mindblowingly, it tastes amazing, too. I wouldn’t lie to you. A grilled pita with guacamole, spinach, bacon, and eggs? I can even semi-convince myself that I’m eating healthy. I like to pair it with the cheesy hash browns because I’m fr​om Wisconsin and I refuse to eat a meal without cheese. 

Tuscan Villa (on garlic, from Brownstones): A modern classic. Pesto, egg, tomato, provolone, bacon, and turkey on whichever bagel you want. I get
Tuscan Villa
it so often that sometimes they just start making it as I walk in. This is usually when I’m running late and remember that there’s no discrete way to eat cheesy hash browns while a professor lectures. All in all, bagel sandwiches do not get much better than this.

Santa Fe Sandwich (from Scramble): If I’m being honest, this maybe the messiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life.  It starts with an omelette filled with hash browns, chorizo, tomato, and onions. The omelette is then covered with pepper jack cheese and laid upon guacamole-slathered sourdough. I can guarantee that you’re never going to look attractive while
Santa Fe Sandwich
eating it, but once you take one bite of this sandwich, all you’ll care about is taking the next bite (and avoiding the falling guacamole).

Honorary Mention: Chocolate Chip Banana Bread French Toast Bananas Foster (with cheesy hash browns, from Scramble): While this ridiculous
string of nouns was one of the weekly specials at Scramble, it holds a permanent spot in my heart (it probably also permanently holds a spot in my arteries, but that’s another story). I’m usually a banana bread purist, but I welcome the addition of chocolate chips and bananas foster sauce on this dish. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I ordered this three days in a row.
 
Chocolate Chip Banana Bread French Toast Bananas Foster


If you have any favorite breakfast dishes at DePaul or in Lincoln Park, comment and let me know! I’m always on the lookout for more sources of food.

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