Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Recap | 13 Amazing Things That Happened in 2013

2013 was a great year. A lot of really amazing things happened and I made many wonderful memories. From traveling to new apartments to new jobs and little adventures in between ... it was one for the records. And, it was a wonderful year for spending some great time with family and friends. A quick recap below of 13 amazing things that happened in 2013!

| 1 |
In May my family headed back home to Romania to visit my extended family and attend the wedding of a close family friend. The week was full of family, food, laughing, and wedding fun. And weddings in Romania are quiet the experience - two days, two ceremonies ... an the reception lasted till 6 in the morning and included a 6 course meal. Wow! 
| 2 |
Come July, my family was back off for another international adventure. This time to Singapore for four days and then on to Japan for another five days. Amazing trip! First we visited our friends in Singapore who just had a little girl in February! So adorable - and ... my parents are her Godparents! This was my 5th trip to Singapore and it was just as awesome as I remember. Cannot wait to go back and see Megan (and the city!) again! Then it was onto Tokyo for a few (super hot) days of travel. This was my first time in Japan and it was wonderful to explore somewhere new. We visit Tokyo and Kyoto as well as the Hakone region where Mt. Fuji is located (where I spent my actual birthday!). And ... ended the trip on a fabulously high note with an upgrade for the 12 hour flight from Tokyo Narita to MSP. Heaven. 
| 3 |
Then we rounded out this year's international adventures by heading to Paris for my mom's birthday ... for my mom's SURPRISE birthday! She didn't know she was going till the day before ... and she didn't know that I would be there along with their best friends until she saw us in the hotel lobby. Three days in the city of lights at Thanksgiving was amazing! Walked the city, ate lots of amazing food, laughed with my loved ones, stopped at some museums, wandered the Christmas Market on the Champs Elysees. 
| 4 |
US Travel
I don't generally do too much personal US travel each year and a handful of business trips. But this year, there was a bit more than in the past. Went to LA (twice), Colorado, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Detroit, and somewhere in one of the Virginias. Most were business trips, but it is always fun to breakup the week with some travel! Got to have some great food in LA and spend some time in amazing hotels, shopping, styling and a TV show filming and after party (all for a work event). I stayed on after a business trip in San Francisco for some personal days - got a hotel down by the waterfront and spent my mornings running and biking by the water and across the Golden Gate bridge and my afternoons wandering the city, watching the America's Cup and eating yummy food. And finally, spent one of my evenings at the Legends of Summer Concert with Justin Timberlake and Jay Z. Colorado was fully for fun - visiting one of my best friends in Fort Collins and spending some time in the mountains snow shoeing. Then Indianapolis, Cincinnati and San Antonio for work. Not exactly the funnest places in the US, but whatever. I will say, San Antonio was pretty cool with its lower-level canal system and cute restaurants and pathways, etc. And ... all that travel to California = lots of delicious In N Out Burger. Yummy!!!!
| 5 |

Weight Loss

I ended 2012 in a not happy place with my weight. I have a very roller coaster relationship with my weight, but at the end of 2012 it was really on a high point (low point? ... whatever). It wasn't good. I had had a rough fall/winter in 2012 and was ready for a change. So I changed ... a lot. I worked out every day, I started running seriously, I took up Jillian Michaels DVDs, I started packing my lunch everyday, eating lots of vegetables and fruits, and being all about moderation. The results? I lost 37.5 pounds in 16 weeks. And, for the most part, I managed to keep it off! I ended the year only 1 pound above where I was at my lowest! 
| 6 |
New Apartment
They wanted to take my rent up 20% at my old apartment. So, a hectic and frustrating search ensued. I could not find anything that had the things I needed: reasonable price + safe + two bedrooms + 1000 sq ft or more + a gym + a good Minneapolis address. Is that so hard?!?!? Apparently, yes. So after I had given up and decided I might as well stay where I am and just suck it up and pay the price, I found IT. IT!!! And by IT, I mean the perfect apartment. Good location. Great price. Super safe (24 hour security and an annoying large number of doors with key card only access). And the flat itself. OMG. Huge. Two bedrooms. Open plan. Converted warehouse. Cement floors. 13 ft ceilings. And THE most amazing view of downtown Minneapolis and the miles and miles of city surrounding it! It's still hard to believe I live here sometimes! Moving was fun/crazy. You try painting 13 ft ceilings! Although I am sure I drove my parents to almost hate me, but 5 days transformed this place - new paint on ever wall, full cleaning, and moving and setting up every single thing to form a beautiful loft!
| 7 |
 I got promoted at work. Boom. Assistant Manager!

| 8 |
I also got a rotation at work in May. After spending over 2 years works on the Progresso business in IMC, I moved over to a desk on the BTFE team. I really enjoy my new desk and the people I work with. 

| 9 |
There were a whole lot of first dates this year. And there was one guy that I liked enough for a second date ... and and third ... and even more. And even though it didn't last, it lasted long enough for me to have a lot of fun and learn a lot about myself, about relationship, and about what things are the most important to me.

| 10 |
Taking Some Of My Possessions From "Good" To "Great"
As I grow up, the time has come to replace some of the things in my life with better versions of themselves. I have always liked to surround myself with beautiful things, things of quality. And I am lucky enough to have parents who support this and who have helped me greatly along the way. But now it is finally time to replace some items with better versions of themselves. Upgraded from a 32" TV to 60" of Smart TV gloriousness. Took my couch from a little Ikea love seat to an amazing Room & Board piece with a chaise extension. Got some great new art. And I spend more time shopping at J Crew these days. Little by little ... pieces will get replaced. 

| 11 |
Twin Cities Fun
As usual, it was a great year for fun adventures in the Twin Cities with friends, family, and sometimes by myself. The list includes: new restaurants, fun concerts (Sarah Brightman, Postal Service, Iron & Wine, Skylar Grey), apple picking, theater and opera at the Guthrie, Orpheum and Ordway, pond hockey championships, running the TC 5K with my mom, hockey game at the U, great events at the MIA and Walker (Art in Bloom, Art Per Chance, Arrow Awards, etc), visit to Hill House, hiking at Taylors Falls, art fairs galore, my first-ever trip to the State Fair, and lots and lots of great movies and brunches! It was a great year for some local fun!
| 12 |
Continuing My MBA 

(And Starting To See The Light At the End Of The Tunnel)

It. Is. Getting. Closer. Thank goodness! 5 semesters down ... 3 more to go! And I am tracking to my May 2015 planned completion date! Cannot wait to be done! And for the first time, I am really starting to see the end of this whole thing.

| 13 |
Feeling a Little More Adult-ish
From my new apartment to another birthday closer to 30 to changes at work (re: promotion and rotation) to starting to do a little cooking at home and lots of many other small changes. This year I started feeling a little bit more adult-ish. But not much ... because I also did a midnight showing of Catching Fire and am currently making my way through the entire Gossip Girl series on DVD. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

What I Did Over Winter Break

Remember when you were in school and you would have to stand up and tell the class what you did over summer break and winter break? Good times ...

So, here is what I did over winter break ...
  • I did NOT think about work at all for 2 weeks
  • Went to the Mall of America and checked out the Christmas decorations and indulged in some shopping for myself
  • Ate ...a lot 
  • Worked out ... to compensate for all the eating
  • Went to Kato and spent Christmas with my parents
  • Received and gave lots of great presents
  • Watched the first two Austin Powers movies while on the treadmill at my parents house
  • Finished 1.3 puzzles with my mom - Castle complete, Downton Abbey incomplete
  • Had lunch with my mom at a new place in town
  • Assembled an awesome new show rack
  • Organized my office closets so now everything is easy to find!
  • Went to my scary storage unit a few times
  • Watched a lot of Gossip Girl on DVD ... got through the first three seasons (BTW ... watched it on my amazing new 60" TV ... wow!!!)
  • Went to see Born Yesterday at the Guthrie
  • Went to the British Arrow Awards at the Walker
  • Checked out new exhibitions at the Walker
  • Third Thursday at the MIA - print making!
  • Saw some great movies - Wolf of Wall Street, etc
  • Went to Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum
  • Indulged in New Year's dinner at Butcher & The Boar
  • Continued on The Great Brunch Quest with Barbette and Sun Street Bread
  • Caught up with friends
  • Hung out with my family
  • Got my iPhone batter replaced
  • Got some great after-Christmas Christmas stuff at CB2 to decorate next  year
  • Returned a bunch of stuff ...
  • Ordered a bunch of beauty products to start one of my new year's resolutions - new face washing/acne routine
  • Did a lot of laundry
  • Made Christmas crepes
  • Played scrabble with my mom
  • Tormented my parents cat
  • Wrote blogs
  • Went to Chino Latino for the first time (crazy, I know)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Movie Review | Inside Llewyn Davis

It seemed appropriate that I should see this film at an independent, old-school theater ... that, and it wasn't playing anywhere else. 

To be perfectly honest, this is not really my kind of movie and I could have waited for DVD was it not for the fact that it is getting such awards buzz and I wanted to watch it and make up my own mind before awards season was underway. I'm glad I saw it and definitely think it is a strong move with great acting, but I still cannot say that it is really my kind of movie. 

The movie is a week in the life of a (very) struggling folk singer named ... you guessed it ... Llewyn Davis. Throughout the week he makes his way from couch to couch in Greenwich Village in the 60s and even hitches a ride to Chicago for a few days. There are side stories about girlfriends and old partners, etc. And there is a cat that comes along for part of the ride. He is struggling, but he believes in what he does. The film captures the spirit of the music and that "scene" and showcases the difficult decision of when do you say, enough is enough? When do you decided that you have tried long and hard and it just isn't going to happen for you?

The music is nice and really quite moving throughout. But folk music isn't really my thing, so I'll leave it at that. But it is beautiful and works very very well!

The story is slow, but moving and beautifully told.

The acting is great - Oscar Issac, Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, JT ... all excellent. Especially Oscar Issac - a very well deserved Best Oscar 

The directing by the Coen brothers is beautiful. The film overall is unique, somewhat dark, sad, and witty.

Personally  I cannot say that it was the best movie I ever saw (not by a long shot), but I am glad I saw it for Oscar Issac's performance alone. 

Saturday Adventure | Arrow Awards + Walker + Spoonriver + Guthrie

Saturday was a day full of some of my favorite Minneapolis spots. 

First ... a stop at the Walker to go to the British Arrow Awards (for my second time this year). 

Then ... onto the Walker galleries for a visit to the new exhibitions. Including, of course, some iPhone photo fun.

Next ... a stop at Spoonriver for a yummy (and too big) dinner.

And finally ... onto the Guthrie to see the very funny "Born Yesterday".

All this done with my super fun parents!

Movie Review | Wolf of Wall Street

Oh. My. God. 

Sooooooooo good!

Nothing else really describes this movie. It is exceptional. It is 3 hours long. It is sooooo good. It features the word fu%$ 506 times - a record for a Scorsese film. It is wildly inappropriate and features a ton of nudity, drugs, nudity, and so much more.

And it is amazing. 

I am definitely going to be going back to see it again soon - I want to catch more details throughout the whole thing. Just when you think the film is coming to a close it takes another turn and there is even more going on ... and more ... and more. Wow. it is just keeps going and it just keeps getting better! I could go on and on about some of my favorite scenes, but that would be giving away parts of the movie. 

So, now that I have gotten over my initial OMGness of this film, lets get down to basics.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives one of the best performances of his career in this most recent partnership with Scorsese. An amazing story that is just so well acted and well directed by all. Everything about this film just works. From what I read, Socrsese and DiCaprio were able to really make the film they wanted to because it was fully independently funded - no major motion picture house was attached through production. That explains how far they were able to take the movie in so many ways. DiCaprio, McCohnaughey, Hill and everyone else just do a great job all around. They play their roles to perfection! And all the details about the 90s are just so perfect.

Okay ... that's enough.

Go. See. This. Movie. ASAP.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I'll Be Home For Christmas ... You Can Count On Me ...

Its the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas!

By now you know how much I love Christmas - the decorations, the shopping, the music, the movies, the snow, the family, the time off work, etc. The list goes on and on! 

And now that Christmas is finally here it was time to head home and enjoy some quality family time. We always have a quiet Christmas at home - just my parents and me (and their cat). It has always been that way - every Christmas and Easter and anniversary and birthday, just the three of us. With my whole extended family living abroad and no brothers or sisters, it has always been just a cozy celebration with us three.

And this year was no different. After spending Thanksgiving in Paris, it was all about staying home for Christmas.

Went home for about 4 days. Ate, worked out on my parents treadmill to counteract all the eating, worked on puzzles with my mom, watched movies, listened to Christmas music, taunted my parent's cat, opened lots of wonderful presents, and then ate some more.

All in all ... another great Christmas!
The fam .... and yes, the matching red plaid was tots on purpose.
Presents under the tree (but not for long!).
Kia the cat ... in his sweater. 
My Christmas outfits ... Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Great Brunch Quest .02 | Barbette

And so the great brunch adventures continues. Next up on the list: Barbette.

I had been to Barbette once before on a really awful first date. So I think that is what deterred me from going back again ... bad memories.

Location - 5/5
It doesn't get much better than this. Located right in bustling and fun Uptown area and only 2 blocks from Lake Calhoun - perfect. Great place to have brunch and then plan a nice walk and some shopping around Uptown, or head over to the Lake for a walk around the path. Really, a great location. 
Atmosphere - 5/5
Crowded, a bit on the loud side, and a bit dark ... but I like it! It is the kind of place with a very eclectic decor - mosaics on the mirrors and pillars, different and eclectic art on the walls, burgundy vintage-looking benches, dark wood tables, etc. It is all rather vintage eclectic. And dark ... definitely darker than the light and airy feel you get at Zumbro. 
There was a wide range of customers when I was there - couples, girlfriends, friend groups, families with kids ... they were all there and all were enjoying a good time.

There was also a good amount of alcohol flowing. Unlike Zumbro which felt more like a wholesome 
breakfast place with juice and coffee, you could tell that alcohol was definitely on the menu here!

Service - 5/5
No complaints. The staff was knowledgable, quick, helpful and nice. 

Food - 4.5/5 
I continued with my eggs benedict tradition at Barbette. When I checked out the menu online before, I actually didn't see eggs benedict on the menu, so I thought was going to have to opt for something else. But, it turns out that they always have them on the menu and rotate out different variations - pretty cool!

So when I was there, they had three kinds: regular, tomato florentine (with tomato and spinach, no meat), and one that was rather German-sounding with braised pork, cabbage and mustard hollandaise. The first two were definitely intriguing ... but the third was not something that sounded to my liking.

I was torn between the first two options, but decided to go with the original eggs benedict so I could really compare to other places. I also had an unsweetened iced tea, a hot chai, and some Belgian waffles for dessert (i only ate like three bites from the waffles and took the rest home for breakfast the next day ... I couldn't resist, they just sounded really good!).
  • Eggs Benedict - Overall, these were really good. The portion was very good sized and the English Muffing was not overly large, which is good (a huge English Muffin is just a waste of calories to me). The eggs were PERFECTLY poached. I mean ... really perfect. When I tapped the top with my knife, the eggs split and oooy gooey creamy yolk perfection spilled out. Perfection!!!! There was plenty of Hollandaise sauce and it was not too salty. There was however, a lot of ham. In my opinion, too much ham. I actually left some on the plate. But, it wasn't a problem at all, and it wasn't salty either, which I always appreciated. Seriously though, once I cut into the eggs and the creamy yolk mixed with the Hollandaise and I was able to mop it up with the muffin ... heaven!!! The salad was fine, but nothing special. I actually didn't like the dressing as it was bitter to me. I would replace the greens with hash-browns next time. 
  • Iced Tea - Eh ... not great. Didn't love the taste. Foggy appearance was weird. 
  • Chai Latte - I am really picky about Chai ... the only once I really like is at Starbucks. I was willing to try something new, but it wasn't great. Too spicy for me ... but maybe others would like it. 
  • Belgian Waffles - When I saw these on the menu (for only $6!!!) I was intrigued. What I liked was what it was served with ... lemon compote and blueberries. Yummy! So, I ordered it as a type of dessert knowing that I would take most of it home for breakfast the next day. It was very very good! The waffle was perfectly cooked and the lemon and blueberry was a great taste and very unique combination, and so different from typical fresh fruit and whip cream or maple syrup. Borrrrringggggg. 
They had an amazing sounding quiche that I was super tempted to try. And they had a really good champagne menu that they were serving at retail price for the holidays. Nice idea. I also would like to try dinner there as I think it would be pretty good.

Overall - 5/5
Really, besides too much ham on the eggs, I have nothing to complain about here. The location and atmosphere was great. The food I tried was delicious. And there were plenty of other items on the menu I would like to try! And it will be great in summer when there are outside tables and I can walk the Lake after brunch. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

MIA Third Thursday | Arts & Crafts, Japanese Art, And Some Expensive Americana Items

I love the MIA Third Thursday events! They are always such fun. Great themes, fun hands-on activities and arts & crafts, free admission to the special exhibitions, live music, and a lively and young crowd! It's fun to see the museum have some life to it and to see like-minded young people there enjoying it. 

I normally pride myself on going to almost every month's event, but I have missed every Third Thursday in September, October and November because I had class on Thursdays this semester. Boo! But not this week - the semester is over. Woohoo! 

So after dinner at World Street Kitchen, went to the MIA event. This event was called Northern Grade. Some of the highlights:
  • Funky pop-up store with cool leather and handmade goods, very Americana-ish
  • Hands on activities! You could make your own wrapping paper with stamps and also make your own customized letter press gift tags. So cool!!! There was a woman there manning the letterpress and spelling all the names and everything. Then you could decorate the cards using stamps, washi tape, etc. So much fun!
  • Free admission to the current special exhibition featuring Japanese art (not their best, but some beautiful screens and scenes) 

Oh .... and I totally got featured in a photo on the MIA's Facebook and Instagram. Boom!

Restaurant Review | World Street Kitchen

A new restaurant adventure this week - and it wasn't even brunch! Shocking ... I know!

Checked out World Street Kitchen over on Lyndale. I have driven by it time after time, but never stopped in. But finally, Thursday, I did. Boom.

Overall, I liked it! I thought it was a sit-down kind of place, but it is actually more fast casual. A little bit of food truck meets fast-casual restaurant. Asian fusion food, reasonable prices, cool ambiance. I would go back again. 

Another 10 Movies That Make Me Want To Travel | Part 4

If you missed the previous posts, check out Part 1-3 for the first 30 films on my list ... and more are to come.
And now ... Part 4! This all started again because I saw The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and started thinking again about the power movies have on me for many reasons, but particularly, to make me want to get up and travel.

So here we go. Ten more movies that make me want to get up and travel because of their beautiful shooting locations and stories! Look for more to come ... I have at least 20-30 more!

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Place: Greenland, Iceland, some mountain range somewhere by the Himalayas - but the whole movie is actually filmed exclusively in Iceland standing in for all these places
The Story: Walter Mitty is a daydreamer. But what happens when life leads to you to really live out those dreams? Well, reality can be just as amazing as your dreams! 
Been There/Done That: Heck yeah! Iceland is one of my favorite places I have ever been!

The Place: Istanbul, Turkey; Shanghai, China; London, Englad; Scotland
The Story: Bond is back! And traveling the world on the search for a madman that is out for M. And of course, his adventures take him to some awesome places! 
Been There/Done That: Shanghai and London - check! Turkey and Scotland - on my list!

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
The Place: Moscow, Russia; Dubai, UAE; Mumba, India
The Story: It's Mission Impossible ... need I saw more! They blow up monuments in Russia, (literally) scale one the tallest building in the world, and speed amazing cars through the crowded streets of India. 
Been There/Done That: Darn ... haven't been to any of these places! But they are all on my list. I have been to India, just not Mumbai.

The DaVinci Code
The Place: Paris, France; London, England
The Story: Codes, puzzles, riddles, hidden messages - it's all there! The search is on to discover a centuries-old secret while the bad guys try to beat them to it.  
Been There/Done That: Paris and London - done! Actually, just got back from Paris over Thanksgiving. Been to many of the places from the film exactly. On this trip I stopped at the Louvre and admired the Mona Lisa ... again. Alas, I didn't get to stay at the Ritz. Next time ...

Angels & Demons
The Place: Rome, Italy
The Story: More codes, puzzles, riddles, and hidden messages. This time it is a race against the clock to stop murders and bombs! 
Been There/Done That: Rome - check! Been to all these places multiple times. 

Midnight in Paris
The Place: Paris, France; Versailles, France
The Story: A man mysteriously goes back in time to the golden age each night while on a visit to Paris. 
Been There/Done That: Paris, again. Yup! And Versailles, for sure. Specifically in Paris, they shot at the Rodin museum, which I really enjoy. Lovely, intimate museum with beautiful garden.

To Rome With Love
The Place: Rome, Italy
The Story: It's a Woody Allen film ... enough said. It's convoluted. 
Been There/Done That: Rome - check!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
The Place: Stockholm, Sweden; Sweden other
The Story: A journalist and an offbeat private investigator try to solve the decades long disappearance of a young girl and get embroiled in something much bigger.  
Been There/Done That: Been to Stockholm back in 2002. Really liked it and want to go back very much. 

The Twilight Saga (all 5)
The Place: Pacific Northwest, USA; Montepulciano, Italy; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 
The Story: Vampires. Love. Werwolves. You know ... 
Been There/Done That: Been to the Pacific Northwest and love the area - so beautiful. Been to Italy, but not the particular town where they filmed the Volterra scenes. And really want to go to Brazil!!! 

The Beach
The Place: Thailand - Bangkok, Phuket, etc. 
The Story: A beautiful and undiscovered island is the paradise home of a select few who have found it. But paradise can have its problems, too. 
Been There/Done That: Been to Bangkok, but not Phuket. Really want to go back!

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