Have I Even Had a Holiday Season this Holiday Season?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

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Between my wedding, being out of town for the Thanksgiving holiday, a week of illness, & some upcoming travel, it feels like this holiday season has completely gotten away from me. It's not even Christmas yet, & I already feel like I missed Christmas... 

Someone recently commented on one of my Instagram photos that I'm "sick all the time," & I've since felt self-conscious mentioning when I don't feel well. I do seem to have a crummy immune system, & 2017 has been a year full of illness for me. Fortunately, none of has been major, but, yeah... I've been sick a lot. And it kind of sucks.

On Thanksgiving, I slept in a chilly room & woke up with a terrible sore throat. By Saturday, I was full-blown sick - nose running, head throbbing, throat burning, muscles aching. I spent most of Sunday in bed, & though I haven't taken any time off work, I've taken significant naps every weekday thus far.

The reason I can't take off? My huge biennial work conference - attended by 6,000 people! - is next week. I leave for Boston on Tuesday, so I'm completely underwater & overloaded. When I'm not sleeping, I'm working. A lot.

I'd originally made some fun plans to balance out all the work this week, figuring I'd work my butt off during workdays, then do some entertaining stuff each evening. Alas, I've had to bail on every single thing aside from working & communing with my bed.

Because I'm feeling whiny, here's what I'd planned & exactly how bummed I am to miss all of it.
  • Tuesday: I abandoned plans to attend the launch of CLE Starts Here, a new exhibit of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The exhibit, "a digital portal that explores the rich & diverse history of Cleveland & Northeast Ohio," is now open to the public, & though I still look forward to checking it out, I was excited about the fanfare of the launch event.
  • Wednesday: I didn't make it to Cleveland Heights for my book club's discussion of our latest read, A Man Called Ove, which was a bummer because A) I like spending time with my book club friends (who are just my regular friends), & B) I have a lot to say about the book. Instead, I took a nap at 5pm... & woke up at 8:15pm.
  • Thursday: I haven't seen my Big Brothers Big Sisters CLE "little sister" at all in November, which breaks my heart because I aim to see her once a month as promised. This time, we were going to get Brewnuts; what 15-year-old wouldn't love couture donuts? Alas, Mike reminded me that I am sick & need to cancel my plans, which it broke my heart double to do.
  • Friday: Mike & I are planning to put up our Christmas tree & get cozy, & I was going to surprise him by taking him to The Spotted Owl, one of two bars in Ohio to be transformed into a Christmas bar called Miracle. Their special menu includes cocktails like Muletide, Bad Santa, & You'll Shoot Your Rye Out. We'll still do an indoor date night, but cocktail-centric plans are probably a bad idea for someone on a Prednisone prescription.
  • Saturday: I'm headed to Hudson for a fellow blogger's Coffee & Collab (which I'm still planning on, as I hope/assume I'll feel better by then), & afterwards, I'll continue on to Cuyahoga Falls. Originally,  my friend Sam & I were going to the Front Street Pub Crawl - but again, Prednisone, so now, we're just getting dinner. It'll still be nice, but it's no holiday bar crawl!
On Sunday, I'll be getting everything ready for a week of travel & a very intense work schedule. I don't get back until December 10th, & by then, the holiday season will be very nearly over. I don't have any plans for my return, though, so I'm hoping I can fit in some fun stuff.
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My 5 Favorite Cleveland-Based Jewelry Brands

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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I've got to be honest: My wardrobe is not particularly creative. I mean, I try to look nice, & I like to think I succeed, but I don't get very into trends or colors or patterns. My clothing is fairly basic, usually black or another neutral.

The only thing that keeps me from being too boring, on that front, is my jewelry. I'm always on the lookout for quirky, creative, interesting jewelry - the kind you won't see everywhere, or that not everyone would feel comfortable wearing.

I sometimes buy my jewelry from major labels, sure, but if given the choice, I'd much rather given my patronage to local brands. Luckily, Cleveland is home to a few great ones, & some of my favorite pieces are from right here in the CLE - all made or curated by female entrepreneurs.

As we enter the full swing of the holiday season, here's a rundown of five of my favorite Northeast Ohio-based jewelry sellers. If you're so inclined, check 'em out. They all make great gifts (for yours truly included). Happy holidays!

Bombay Taxi

I've written before about Cleveland businesswoman & fellow blogger Shibani Faehnle's online boutique, which mostly sells bespoke goods imported from Indian artisans. Her prices range from totally affordable to a little bit of a splurge, but for limited-edition luxury pieces, sometimes a little splurge is worth it. She runs pop-ups all over town, too, so if you love something you see online but want to catch it in person to be sure you love it, she's never hard to find.

My favorite item: I wore a pair of Bombay Taxi's Kiara earrings in pink chalcedony to my wedding welcome dinner, & I wore the same pair - this time in moonstone - to the wedding itself. How beautiful are these?! The best part is that they're fancy enough for a wedding, but casual enough to continue to be worn on an everyday basis - & they're already getting plenty of everyday play.

Cleveland Street Glass

Having your car broken into sucks. Know what doesn't suck? Salvaging the refuge of those broken car windows to be turned into beautiful, one-of-a-kind glass jewelry. That's what artist Deanna Dionne does, & the results are surprisingly gorgeous - & totally unique. These upcycled pieces "find beauty in the broken," & when you're sporting one of these pieces, you definitely won't run into anyone else who's wearing the same piece of jewelry as you.

My favorite item: On impulse, I snagged this pretty necklace Cleveland Street Glass while shopping around at the final CLE Night Market of 2016. I don't wear a lot of silver, but when this necklace does make an appearance in my wardrobe, it always gets tons of compliments & questions.

Oceanne Jewelry

French jewelry artist Anne Harrill moved to Cleveland in 2002 & has since become one of the best-known names in local accessories, with her goodies for sale at boutiques, pop-ups, the Cleveland Flea, & elsewhere. Her delicate style ranges from mod to bohemian, & her classics collection features hand-stamped favorites with inspirational quotes, snarky commentary, & Cleveland love. Every time I stop at her stand, I have to force my hand away from my wallet - which is why I'm excited about but wary of her new storefront in Gordon Square!

My favorite item: At last year's Last-Minute Market, a Christmas pop-up in downtown CLE, I did my fair share of gift shopping... but also bought this long-coveted bracelet engraved with the constellation of my astrological sign, Leo. I wear it more than any other piece of jewelry I own, aside from my engagement & wedding rings.

Odyssey & Oddities

Want quirky? Fellow Kent State alum Nikki Lundberg specializes in quirky, & her statement pieces are my latest jewelry obsession. She uses natural stones, brass, & fringe to put together jewelry creations in unusual shapes & combinations like you've never seen before. Her Instagram account shows off all her newest pieces, & her bio always has information about which local fair/festival//pop-up she'll be at next.

My favorite item: Uhhh, how can I choose? At a Cleveland Flea last summer, I was all set to buy a gorgeous agate necklace... & then I dropped it. And it shattered. I was massively apologetic, but Nikki was kind & unfazed, saying she'd repurpose the pieces. I instead purchased this lapis-colored necklace, which I wear to infuse some color into my all-black wardrobe, & I've since purchased five pairs of earrings from her, too, including this beautiful fringed pair I bought just last week.

Ode Vintage

Truth be told, I'm not much for vintage; I just don't have the patience to scour through things or the vision to see hidden gems beneath the rust & dust. Luckily, local business owner Olivia Delyamu has done it for me - & what gems she's come up with! A staple at the Cleveland Flea & other local shows, Olivia's Ode Vintage sells more than just jewelry - but it's the jewelry that's my favorite part.

My favorite item: I love long, gold-toned necklaces & am always on the lookout for unique ones - the kind I won't see 12 other people wearing from Target. At a Cleveland Flea this summer, I stumbled across this $10 item at Ode Vintage's booth... & unwittingly wore it to the next two Fleas I attended! Simple but elegant, it's become a wardrobe staple that pulls together just about any outfit.

Do you have a local favorite jewelry brand, whether Cleveland-based or from your own city? Leave a comment or link so I can check them out! 
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The Rowley Inn: I Triple-Dog Dare Ya!

Monday, November 27, 2017

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Fun fact: The beloved holiday film A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood, where I happen to live. The house that served as the movie set is now a museum open all year round, not just during the holiday season. When you're done there, head across the street to one of the neighborhood's best restaurants, an old bar with a brand new menu: The Rowley Inn.

Opened in 1906, The Rowley Inn is a local dive that originally served as a third-shift bar for nearby steelworkers; even now, it opens at 5:30am on weekdays & starts serving brunch at 8am on weekends (including Saturdays, a rarity in the CLE). It's an unassuming little place located a bit off the beaten path of Tremont's main drag, so it's the kind of spot that could easily fall off your radar - but you, dear Clevelander, cannot let that happen.

Why? Because this place is freaking incredible.

New owners Jon Oberman & Raphael Rivilla set out to make The Rowley Inn a premiere gastropub, the sort of place worth going out of your way for - & in my opinion, they've succeeded. Earlier this month, I was among a few Cleveland bloggers invited to try out 10 of The Rowley Inn's new menu items. It was a feast - & a damn good one, too.

The menu focuses on comfort food, including classics like thick, creamy mac & cheese made with smoked Gouda, cheddar, & panko bread crumbs. Unfortunately, Mike made me ration it (just five freaking noodles!) because we're pretty sure I've become lactose intolerant. Same for the Cleveland’s Best Grilled Cheese (a high claim that The Rowley Inn's version totally lives up to) made with smoked gouda, a mozzarella/provolone blend, & a touch of mayo to keep it creamy.

The menu is heavy on Polish favorites like pierogis & kielbasa, often with a twist - like the Cleveland Burger, topped with Pierogi, kielbasa, kraut, beer cheese, & stadium mustard. I didn't get a good pic of that one, mostly because it went so quickly. They also serve kielbasa corndogs - for brunch!

Speaking of brunch, let's talk about how much I love chicken & waffles. I love chicken & waffles. So, it turns out, did the other diners at our table, & we even agreed on the best in town (Soho Chicken + Whiskey) & the worst (we'll never tell). Soho's got a run for their money, though, with the Rowley Inn's version, which might actually be my new fave. Cinnamon waffles & homemade gravy? Swoon.

Perhaps the most unusual dish of all - & among the tastiest, if I had to choose - was the Loco Moski, a Cleveland take on a Hawaiian dish. The original is made one a bed of rice, but The Rowley Inn has swapped in... you've guessed it, pierogis. This huge plate of sautéed pierogis is topped with a hamburger patty, gravy, onions, & fried egg. Look at this delicious beast!

They also offer plenty of lighter, slightly healthier fare, including a chicken club on challah with homemade walnut pesto (so good) & a flavorful, fresh Southwest chicken salad that could actually convince me to order a salad. (PS: The chicken club pic was Mike's first try photographing food for the blog. Well done, babe!)

And because this is still, after all, a bar, there are lots of drinks. The Rowley Inn's quirky specialty cocktails are Christmas Story-themed, like the Red Ryder cocktail made with Bulleit. Get it? (You'll shoot your eye out...) We also got to try the Pink Nightmare (please tell me you're getting these references), which is a fruity, bright pink tequila cocktail that packed a punch.

Speaking of fruity & bright pink... onto dessert! The Rowley Inn's caramelized apple pierogis are filled with cinnamon apples & topped with candied sugar & orange peel. They taste like an upscale version of those little hand pies we ate as kids, the ones that came wrapped in wax paper. Anyone remember those?! They've gotten a serious upgrade:

By the end of the night, we were almost too stuffed to move, but we also knew we'd found a new local favorite. My terrible photos hardly do their food justice; the bar gets fairly dark in the evenings, & I wasn't sitting beneath a light, so I did the best I could. The good new is that I'll definitely being back soon, so you can bet Instagram will boast some bright new pics in the weeks to come.

Bottom line: If you haven't tried out The Rowley Inn's new menu, get thee to Tremont, stat - & if you don't want to go alone, you can almost definitely convince me to join you - no triple-dog dare needed!

Disclaimer: Disclosure: I was invited, along with a guest, to attend a blogger event dinner that included complimentary food & drinks, along with a $25 gift card to use in the future. As always, though, all opinions are my own. All photos were taken by me expect for the header photo, credited to The Rowley Inn's Facebook page
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My 2017 Cleveland Gift Guide: Give a Little CLE this Holiday!

Monday, November 20, 2017

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Listen up, Clevelanders, it's that time of year again! With the holidays fast-approaching, I've pulled together the second annual Greatest Escapist's Cleveland Gift Guide. If some of it looks familiar, well, that's because it is: So much of the 2016 guide was still wonderful & relevant that I've included it again here, rounded out with new trinkets, tchotchkes, & other Cleveland goodies for that Northeast Ohio-lover in your life.

Keep in mind that these aren't necessarily items made in Cleveland (though most of them are). They're items about Cleveland, showing off that 216 love in a variety of ways. Plenty of other gift guides will tell you where to find Cleveland-made soaps & clothing & candles & other items - but these ones are Cleveland-centric themselves.

To Eat

  1. In the Kitchen with Cleveland's Favorite Chefs by Maria Isabella: This locally focused cookbook asks 35 Northeast Ohio chefs the same question: "If you were suddenly to get a call at home from good friends who wanted to stop by, what would you prepare for them in one hour or less?" Make your own versions of recipes shared by Michael Symon, Zach Bruell, Jonathon Sawyer, & other CLE foodie faves.
  2. "Cleveland is Delicious" Chef's Apron from CLE Clothing Co.: Your favorite local home chef (or, heck, restaurant chef!) needs this Cleveland-inspired apron ($25), perfect for grilling out kielbasa & pierogi on holiday weekends. Just maybe, uh, think twice about snagging this for the vegetarian foodie in your life, please.
  3. Six-Pack of BBQ Sauce from the Winking Lizard: Have you ever had this BBQ sauce? If you've never had this BBQ sauce, stop what you're doing - yes, right now - & get thee to the Lizard, stat. The restaurant, repeat winner of local Best Wings awards, also has, in my humble opinion, the best BBQ sauce on the planet. A six-pack under the tree ($18) will keep your favorite Cleveland foodie rollin' in BBQ well into 2018.
  4. The 2018 Cleveland Independents Deck: For a few years in a row now, independent Cleveland restaurants banded together to create this deck of 52 cards ($29.95), which offers savings at 49 of Northeast Ohio's best restaurants. Each card saves you $10 on any $30 food purchase (tax & gratuity not included) at a different local joint - & it even includes two jokers so you can get repeat savings at your faves!

To Decorate

  1. Home Sweet Ohio Print from Natterdoodle: Hand-lettering is all the rage these days, & when it comes to Clevelanders doing a bang-up job of it, no one's doing it quite like local artist Natalie Keller Pariano. This sweet print, lettered atop a map of the great Buckeye State, is available in two sizes ($15 - $20) & printed on recycled cardstock. Perfect for the Clevelander who loves more than just Cleveland.
  2. The Guardians Wall Clock by Christina Sadowski: This Etsy seller has tons of Cleveland-related inventory, but this 10" wall clock is my favorite ($45). It's available in black or white frames, with hands to match, & featuring a gorgeous image of the Guardians of Traffic that watch over downtown Cleveland's Lorain-Carnegie Bridge.
  3. A Christmas Story Leg Lamp: Clevelanders love their leg lamps, & I am no exception, having nearly cried with joy when I received my "major award" as a wedding gift. The movie A Christmas Story was filmed in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood & is now a local museum. Though a full-sized leg lamp costs a whopping $199.99, there are more cost-effective options, like a desk lamp ($99) & even a nightlight ($14.99). Careful, they're frah-jee-lay!
  4. District Collection Print from Cuyahoga Collective: If the Clevelander on your holiday gift list loves not just the city but his or her particular corner of it, this is the perfect gift for hyperlocal representation. With 22 options to choose from (both neighborhoods & suburbs included), they're almost sure to have a 13x19 print ($18) of your favorite Clevelander's favorite part of Cleveland.
  5. Cleveland Snow Globes from ApeMade: I collect city-themed snow globes, so I'm gonna neeeeed one of these ($74.95). Available in both White Downtown & the sort-of-hilarious Gray Steel Mills, these magical items are 3D printed with painted maple bases. Appropriately, the steel mill version includes black & rust glitter. Shipping is expensive ($17.95) but, in my opinion, wholly worth it to own one of these Clevelandy beauties.

To Wear   

  1. "Cleveland or Nowhere" Tee from Knowlita: LeBron James made this shirt famous when he wore it to Game 6 of the 2016 World Series last fall. There are lots & lots of locally made Cleveland T-shirt options (for much less money!), but if you've just gotta have what the King's wearing, you can score this simply but sassy cotton graphic tee ($58) from Saks Fifth Avenue
  2. "Cleveland is Home" High-Top Chucks from Fresh Brewed Tees: In case it's not enough to broadcast your Cleveland love across your chest, now you can say it with your feet, too, in this pair of custom Chuck Taylors ($99), available in both men's & women's sizes. Just remember not to ruin them in the muck of our Cleveland winters!
  3. "Our Lil' Pierogi" Onesie from Lil' Burritos: Your favorite Cleveland baby should rep your favorite Cleveland food. This local kidswear company ships all its onesies wrapped in aluminum foil... to look like actual burritos, of course! This bright red outfit ($18) features a joyful, babushka-wearing pierogi family of three, & while it doesn't explicitly mention the CLE, well, this city is basically synonymous with pierogi by now, right? (Psst: The "our" is a tiny kielbasa!
  4. CLE Skyline Necklace from CLE CLothing Co.: "Come see both of our buildings...!" Voted a Best of Cleveland item by Cleveland Magazine, this dainty necklace ($30) features Terminal Tower, 200 Public Square, & Key Tower. It's made of stainless steel & available in both gold & silver tones - & it fits handily into a Christmas stocking.
  5. Guardians of Transportation Neckties from ApeMade: Available in nine colors, these satin-finish polyester ($28.95) ties are screenprinted by hand & feature Cleveland's one of the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge's famous art deco pylons. Let's just say that my husband is lucky I didn't find these before our wedding.
  6. Ohio Map Wood Tie Bar from Bearded Woodcraft: Lest the Guardians tie be a little bit too much Cleveland for your tastes - or if you want to double up & get extra Clevelandy - this tiny, wooden tie bar is made in Columbus but solidly reps the CLE. I could actually include everything from this brand in this guide; go check them out for all things handmade & Ohio-loving.
  7. JR Smith Tattoo Shirtless Shirt from Fresh Brewed Tees: This is literally the tackiest & most wonderful Cleveland item I've ever laid eyes upon, & I only wish I knew someone ridiculous/brave enough to wear it. If you know such an individual, please, please, please snatch up this limited-edition T-shirt made to look like Cavs' small forward JR Smith's tattooed chest ($34.99), as seen in the flesh at the 2016 Cavs parade. It's even JR-approved! 

To Drink

  1. Great Lakes Brewery's Beer School: Most Clevelanders have been on GLBC's brewery tour, but they can step it up a notch with Beer School ($35), which provides a full tour of the production brewery & a tasting of six beers, plus a two-hour course (snacks included!) on the history of the company & the brewing process. All "students" leave with a T-shirt, a tasting glass, and some serious beer knowledge.
  2. Local Cocktail Mixes from Pope's Kitchen:Your booze deserves the best - & the Clevelandiest! Put together a gift basket of mixers from Pope's, a growing regional brand that uses fresh local ingredients in all their products. Try the Bloody Mary or chill a little with the Mellow Mary ($4-$11); get sugared up with the Strawberry Daiquiri mix ($11); or go a little unusual with a syrup like like lavender lemon or orange habanero ($10).
  3. Fifty Must-Try Craft Beers of Ohio by Rick Armon: Sure, this new release is available on Kindle, but don't the CLE beer-lovers on your list deserve a paperback copy ($17.95) to mark off their progress as they drink their way through? Armon's roundup also includes brewer profiles, Cleveland-centric food pairings, & more. Cheers!
  4. CLE Skyline Wine Glasses from 2CraftyHons: Yes, there are tons of options for CLE-themed drinking glasses, but I especially like these hand-etched, made-to-order options from Etsy. They come in other cities' skylines, too, but do other cities even really matter...?
  5. Cleveland Drinks Card GameWarning: Only Clevelanders will understand this game - but it's sure to get a room full of them laughing & drinking - & pretty quickly drunk. The deck ($20) was co-created by the local comedian who coined the phrase "Factory of Sadness" (the Browns), so you know it's gonna be a funny one. Rules include, for example, "10 Cent Beer Night: Whoever has the cheapest beverage drinks."

To Stuff a Stocking

  1. Cleveland Babe Canvas Pouch from Oceanne JewelryMake it easy for your favorite makeup-toting Clevelander to take her love of the city on the go with this cute canvas pouch ($15) from local maker Anne Harrill. Hew new storefront recently opened in Gordon Square, so if you want to go beyond this adorable item, go check her out in person. May I recommend the Cleveland is My Paris necklace ($48)?
  2. Peanut Butter Coffee Porter Soy Candle from Weird Beard Candle Co.If you've ever enjoyed a pint (or two or three) of Willoughby Brewing Co.'s Peanut Butter Coffee Porter ($14), you'll love the scent of the 8oz soy candle it inspired. I burn it throughout the winter to keep my apartment smelling cozy & delicious & extraordinarily Clevelandy.
  3. "Bitch Please I'm From Cleveland" Mug from Banyan TreeI own this in tote bag form & carry my laptop around in it every day, but I can't seem to find it available anywhere online. Enter, instead, this scappy little mug ($16), which will keep your coffee warm and let everyone know which city you love most.
  4. Ohio Shaped Bottle Opener Keychain from Midwest Opener Co.Never struggle to open your favorite locally made craft beer again! This Ohio-shaped bottle opener is available in both a polished & tumbled finish, with or without a a heart over your city of choice ($9.99 - $12.49). At 2" x 3" & made of stainless steel, it'll look great adorning a keyring and opening a cold one.
  5. Cleveland Snow Soy Candle from the Cleveland Candle Co.Fine, fine, Cleveland probably smells the same as other snowy cities - but this fun take on a snowy Northeast Ohio day ($15) will keep your home feeling cozy & smelling fresh as the flakes fall outside your window. Other locally inspired scents include CLE Magic, Ohio Harvest, & Lake Erie.

Just for Fun

  1. Cleveland in a BoxI've now sent two of these customizable Cleveland boxes as gifts, one to a friend living out of state & another to friends who just bought a house. Choose from their selections of local & iconic Cleveland goods, from Dichotomy Popcorn to Cleveland tees to Pope's Hot sauce & beyond. It's $30 for a box of five items or $50 for a box of 10 - & they ship worldwide!
  2. 100 Things to Do in Cleveland Before You Die by Nikki DelamotteThis 2016 release ($12.94) is exactly what it sounds like: a list of the very best Cleveland has to offer. The only problem? Plenty of new & exciting places have opened up since the book's publication! Still, this is a perfect starting point for new Clevelanders, as well as for longtime residents who want to be sure they're experiencing the city's best.
  3. Subscription to Cleveland MagazineFull disclosure: I interned here in the summer of 2007, just before I first moved to D.C., & it marked the summer I fell in love with the CLE. I still read the magazine religiously to see what's new & cool not just in Cleveland but across Northeast Ohio. A new yearlong subscription is $14, which is 75% off the cover price.
  4. Memberships, Subscriptions, & Event TicketsInstead of loading up your loved ones with more stuff, consider investing in experiences instead. Check out tickets to shows at Playhouse Square or Cavs games, or memberships to any of Cleveland's many museums, the Botanical Gardens, the Zoological Society, the Great Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Orchestra... the list is endless.
  5. You Gotta Know Cleveland Sports: Your favorite Cleveland sports aficionado will love this 500-question sports trivia game ($19.95) - & hopefully they've got a similarly sports-loving friend to play it against. They can play the game the "official" way (first one to 21 points wins), or just ask their friends the questions over a few (local, of course) beers. Playyyyy ball!
  6. Charlie Browns Cornhole Set from CLE Clothing Co.: See if you can score better than CLE's not-so-beloved-these-days football team; it shouldn't be too difficult to one-up, considering their longtime losing streak! Painted in Browns colors in the style of the perpetually mopey Peanuts character, this handmade cornhole set ($225) is a big-ticket item sure to bring oohs, ahhs, & "Ugh, the Browns" lamentations. 
So there you have it! Will any of these make it under your tree this year (or next to your menorah, depending on how you handle the holiday season)? And if you've got Cleveland favorites, tell me: What other CLE-themed gifts would you add to the list?

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Afternoon Honeymoon: A Day in Ohio's Amish Country

Friday, November 17, 2017

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Fun fact: When I was a kid, I wanted to be Amish. Why? Because I loved the idea of attending school in a one-room schoolhouse. Yeahhh, kids are weird.

I no longer desire to live that Amish lifestyle - I like technology kiiiind of a lot - but I do still hold a certain fascination with it. Mike & I both took a few days off work after our wedding, & while we spent the first two mostly sleeping & lounging, we took what I dubbed an "afternoon honeymoon" on Wednesday, driving to nearby Geauga County to check out Amish country.

Geauga County has the second-largest Amish population in Ohio; as of 2010, a little more than 8% of the population was Amish. In Holmes County, further south, a whopping half of the population is Amish, & there's more for tourists to see & do. We chose Geauga County, though, for a few reasons: First of all, it's just a little bit closer, & secondly, it's where my dad grew up. He wasn't Amish, of course, but being out that way always reminds me of my childhood. Finally, Geauga County borders Ashtabula County, which has the most covered bridges in Ohio - & I love me some covered bridges.

Here's a look at the stops we made on our afternoon trip out to Geauga County, using information from Destination Geauga to help guide us.

Mary Yoder's Amish Kitchen

Is it weird to order chicken tenders with BBQ sauce at an Amish restaurant? Because that's what I did. They were delicious, but, unfortunately, Mike's breaded pork chops weren't quite as good. We both loved our sides, though: cooked carrots & homemade mac & cheese for me, & mashed potatoes & chicken noodles for him (which is like chicken noodle soup minus the soup). We each downed a mug of hot spiced cider, too, & left full & cozy.

The Rothenbühler Cheese Chalet

Rothenbühler, home to a massive cheesemaking factory, produces award-winning Swiss cheeses, including one named to the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest's list of top 20 cheese - out of 2,303 entries! I don't even like Swiss cheese, but their mild Swiss is sommmmethin' special, let me tell you. Mike loaded up cheese & smokies, while I put together a gift basket of local popcorn, honey, Dutch cocoa, licorice, & more. Before we left, we posed with their horse & buggy (after I tried to climb into the buggy & almost broke it and/or myself).

Scheid’s Gifts for All Seasons

This place was confusing. Scheid's is in an industrial-style, barn-like building & seems to specialize in... um, everything, including heater repair, trailers, & taxi services, but they also have a little gift shop - basically just six shelves of locally made items. I bought goats' milk soaps as holiday gifts, & we spent just $12 on a beautiful, hand-carved Ohio wall hanging made by a 93-year-old artisan who specializes in miniatures. (Luckily we didn't have to use Scheid's restroom, which is a port-o-potty.)

End of the Commons General Store

We wanted a larger selection of local goods, so we drove out to Mesopotamia, OH, or "Mespo," to visit the state's oldest general store. It is, truly, the most general of stores, carrying everything from gardening tools to sports-themed totem poles to homemade ice cream to a large selection of cookie cutters - & essentially everything in between. One of the best things we got there was apple butter BBQ sauce, which will taste amazing on some slow-cooker pulled pork this winter. We also got one of their "should be world famous" fry pies in their most popular flavor - apple, of course.

World's Largest Amish Horse & Buggy

Located just across the street from the general store, this giant, wooden structure measures 14' high and 32' long. Suffice it to say they're not a real horse & buggy, but they're pretty stunning, especially when you're not expecting to see them. Nearby is "Buggy's Only" parking (yes, the typo is theirs) for real buggies pulling up to the general store. (Howwww did I not get any of my own photos of this?! This one comes from Flickr.)


Fairview Cemetery

Creepy thought some may find it, I love old cemeteries, & this one was a great little discovery. Unlike most modern cemeteries in this part of the country, it includes headstones from as far back as the 1700s. We wandered for a bit, but unfortunately, many of the headstones are so old (& perhaps not well cared for) that they're unreadable. I did, however, manage to suss out the one pictured below: "Killed by lighting" isn't something you see very often, especially not memorialized for eternity on a headstone.

Windsor Mills Covered Bridge

Built in 1847, this single-span Town truss covered bridge was renovated in the early 2000s & is one of 17 covered bridges in Ohio open to vehicular traffic (cars only). It's a muted yellow color & feels very solid to walk across, which is not always the case with covered bridges. It's decided less spooky than other bridges of its kind, which I appreciated, & crosses a pretty little area of creek & brush. If we'd gotten there just a week or two earlier, I bet the foliage would've been gorgeous, too.

Coffee Corners Antiques & Coffee House

On our way out of town, we stopped at this cafe/antiques hybrid in charming downtown Burton, OH.  I got a soy latte made with local Burton maple syrup & Mike got a beer, & we settled into a cozy corner in this surprisingly large & decidedly adorable establishment. For 30 minutes or so, we reminisced about our wedding - & finally got to talk about our plans now that we're done planning a wedding. Worth noting: Next door to this place is an online gun auction shop with bars on the windows. Yikes!

I didn't feel quite ready to leave, but it started to pour on our drive home, so I guess we left at the right time. Fortunately, we arrived home with lots of goodies to remind us of our quick trip to Amish Country, & we're planning to go back in the spring to check out some spots we missed, including Quintealia's Tea ParlorMaggie's Doughnuts, & the World's Tallest Our Lady of Guadalupe Statue (33 feet tall!). I'd especially love to check out Holmes County to get even more of an Amish fix.

Have you ever been to Amish country? If you've been to Geauga, Holmes, or Ashtabula County, I'd love recommendations for other places to visit! 
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9 Ways to Save Mad $$$ When Shopping for Holiday Gifts

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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It's mid-November, & my holiday shopping is officially in full swing. If you're like me (thrifty, budget-conscious, and/or Jewish), you're always looking for the best deal - & don't necessarily want to wait in 4am lines on Black Friday to find them. Below are a few of my favorite ways to save money (& bring in a little side income) while shopping online during the holiday season. 

If you have a tip or site I don't yet know about, pretty please comment & let me know.

1. Regular Old Coupons

OK, this one is a gimme, but let's not underestimate the value - like, literally - of doing things the good, old-fashioned way. Most sites offer coupons of their own, especially on & in the lead-up to Black Friday. Find them in your mailbox & on the sites you're shopping themselves.

2. RetailMeNot

Having trouble finding aforementioned coupons & coupon codes? This site is my favorite retail roundup for discount codes & sale information for nearly every site I've ever wanted to shop from. Just search the site for the store you're shopping, & see what coupon codes pop up. You don't have to register to use the codes, though it seems like being a member of the site offers additional bonuses. Can any of you weigh in on this?

3. Newsletter Bonuses

Plenty of websites offer discounts for first-time shoppers when you sign up for their email newsletters. Already signed up? Uhhhh, I'm sure you have a second (or third, or fourth) email address, right? And if that's unethical, well... look, I never said this guide was on the up-&-up. Just do it. The 20% off will be worth it (& you can unsubscribe as soon as you're done).

4. Honey

This easy browser plug-in is another way to identify coupon codes on the sites you're using - everywhere from Macy's to Papa John's, & the site stacks coupons whenever possible. What I like best about Honey is that when you shop on Amazon, it tells you where to find lower prices, & it also lets you set 60-day price-drop notifications, should the items you're looking at go down in cost. Honey also offers cash back, though I've never used that feature because I'm too obsessed with...

5. Ebates

Ebates is, hand down, my favorite way to save/make money while shopping, not just at the holidays but year-round. Install the browser plugin &, when you shop, Ebates will let you know how much cash back you can get through them when you buy from each site. Once a quarter, Ebates sends a fat rebate check to your PayPal account. I've saved $200+ since I started using it! They also offer travel rebates & in-store rebates when you submit your receipts. In other words, go sign up for this immediately

6. Groupon

You're rolling your eyes right now because who even uses Groupon anymore? But I'll tell you: I do. If you're shopping for experiences or stocking stuffers, in particular, Groupon is still full of excellent gift options - and they offer \cash back through Ebates (6% right now!), which means you're saving extra. From electronics to clothing to personalized items to homegoods, Groupon is definitely worth revisiting while you're putting together your shopping list.

7. Amazon Associates

Affiliate marketing for the win! If you're a blogger, you've got to start using Amazon Associates, the quick & easy way to bring in a few cents every time one of your readers buys something you recommended to them. Just run your Amazon links through their simple URL creator to make unique-to-you links to use in your blog posts. When you reach an accumulated $10 in profit, Amazon will deposit a gift card into your account.

8. Social Media

Think you can't get discounts from small businesses? Think again. These sites, while unlikely to be on RetailMeNot or Groupon, often share their discount codes on their social media accounts. If you're interested in buying something from an Etsy shop, for example, your savings can be two-fold: Use Ebates to get cash back from Etsy itself (right now it's at 1%, but I've seen up to 5%), then check the seller's social media accounts - especially Instagram - to see if they're running any good deals you wouldn't have found out about otherwise.

9. Poshmark

This is more of a side-hustle than a couponing opportunity, but it's still worth doing if you're looking for some side cash. I recently checked out how much I've made in the four years I've been using this app, & I was honestly blown away! Awhile back, I wrote the post "How to Run a Successful Poshmark Shop," which I hope will help you in your side-hustle endeavors. And don't forget to use my code HMUGD for $5 credit on your first purchase!

Looking for additional side hustles to bring in money for the holidays? Check out The Laughing Girls Guide for five sites that will help you find your holiday shopping (or, like, the rest of your life). I, for one, am about to be all over those ebook opportunities.

Am I missing anything? What tricks do you use to save money when you shop? Let me know - & if you try out any of the sites I've shared here, especially Ebates & Honey, please consider clicking through directly from my site so I get a little bit of referral kickbacks myself - & can save even more. Happy shopping, friends!
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11 Must-Reads from Other CLE Bloggers

Monday, November 13, 2017

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Post-wedding, I'm taking a few days off work & therefore probably a few days of blogging, so I'm sharing a little bit of content for you to enjoy while I'm away. Here, I've rounded up 11 posts from some of my fellow Cleveland bloggers. Show them some love & find your new favorite local read! 
  1. Dreading the arrival of cold weather? Shibani shares "5 Tips to Enjoy More Winter with Hygge." How many of these are you already doing? Step up this season!
  2. Brittny just did a solo tour of Budapest, Prague, & Viennia... on an impressive shoestring budget. In "How I Traveled to Europe for Under $1,200," she tells you exactly how she did it.
  3. I still don't consider myself a podcast-lover, which is ridiculous, given that I listen to at least three a day. Allison shares "Five Favorite Podcasts," including a few I've yet to try. Time to get listening!
  4. If you're feeling overwhelmed by social media, Brittney's "The Self-Love Survival Guide: Social Media" provides a gut check on not letting technology overwhelm or depress you.
  5. If you're like me, you're draaaaagging by 3pm on workdays. Amanda's "Hacks to Make Your Work Day Go Faster" are commonsense but helpful to see listed all in one place.
  6. I've got a bit of debt to pay off, so I appreciate reading how other people are handling theirs. Hannah gets personal in "How I'm Paying Off Debt," sharing both numbers & tips for how she's digging out of the hole.
  7. At-home tasting parties sound so fancy, don't they? That's why I love how Julia & her husband made the upscale dinner party a bit more chill with their "Blind Domestic Beer Tasting." Think you could tell the difference between your favorite light beers?
  8. I've got a work trip to Boston coming up in December, & though I'm an experienced traveler by now, I'm always looking for new tips to make it easier. Enter Stephanie's "5 Work Travel Tips."
  9. Cleveland.com has put out a new list of the best restaurants in the CLE, & this one is very close to home for me. Check out "50 restaurants and bars we love: Downtown, Ohio City, Tremont and the Flats" & let me know which spot you're checking out next.|
  10. I'm admittedly not great at setting or achieving goals (failing at the latter why I stopped doing the former). Maybe Kristen's "Goalsetting 101: Write it the F*** Down" will help.
  11. Finally, give cold temps the middle finger with Alyssa's recipe for "Spiked Hot Chai Cider with Ohio Bourbon." L'chaim!
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How We Met: A Love Story for Our Wedding Day

Saturday, November 11, 2017

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This is a pre-scheduled post because today I am very busy getting married. That's right, today is our wedding day! You can probably find photos soon on Instagram. I hope they're flattering.

This seemed like an appropriate time to share the full story of how Mike & I met. If you're a long-time reader, you may recall that he just sort of appeared on this blog, quietly, around the same time I shared a post about my uncommonly honest online dating profile.

Indeed, I like to say that Mike & I were introduced by our close mutual friend, the Internet. Though online dating has long been associated with weirdos & creepsters, we somehow managed to find one another through all the mess.

Mike messaged me after reading my profile on OKCupid, the free online dating site for people who want to find love but aren't willing to pay for it. After six months on the site, Mike was the first nice, normal guy to message me... so naturally, I didn't respond to him.

When a friend asked me, a week later, whether I'd responded to the cute guy with the glasses, I admitted I hadn't & said it was probably too late.

"You don't even know him!" my friend insisted, "What do you have to lose if you message him & he thinks you were too late?!"

Good point. I responded, spending more than an hour crafting a one-paragraph response.

Our first date was in April 2015 at The Treehouse, which Mike chose because he thought I would like the Tremont neighborhood, having recently moved back to Northeast Ohio from the East Coast. We shared a meal of loaded tots & had our first kiss outside the Tremont Lofts building, where my car was parked.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

I moved to Tremont three months later, & Mike soon moved in with me - just three blocks from The Treehouse! Mike was right: I do, in fact, love Tremont... but not nearly as much as I love him.

Ani l'dodi, v'dodi li, I am my beloved's, & my beloved is mine. I cannot wait to be this guy's wife, starting... now. 
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Hanging on Tight to Autumn: The 5 Senses of My Favorite Season

Thursday, November 9, 2017

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Guys, fall is almost over, & I am not happy about it. As I try to cling to the last remaining vestiges of my favorite season (which is also the shortest season, to my annual devastation), I've rounded up a quick list of a few of the best things about autumn.

I love the taste of... apple cider from Szalay's Farm in Peninsula, OH; my favorite fall booze, which I went through in this recent post; Friendsgiving food, especially the baked mac & cheese my friend Dubs makes; large soy lattes from Civilization, admittedly a daily indulgence; pumpkin bread from Starbucks (blessedly a rare indulgence).

I love the sight of... the gorgeous changing of the leaves across Northeast Ohio; autumn decor all over, from my own home to my favorite coffee shop; fall flowers like Sweet Alyssum, Russian sage, & chrysanthemums; little kids in Halloween costumes; my mom's puppies frolicking in piles of fall leaves; cozy, comfy, jewel-toned fall fashion.
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6 Small Goals for November

Friday, November 3, 2017

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Just last month, I decided to start writing these "6 Small Goals" posts, a monthly opportunity to share what I'm working toward & to hold myself publicly accountable for getting ish done. You can find last month's post here, though I've recapped my October goals below. Let's go!

October Goal Progress

  1. Finish all major wedding prep. It would be most problematic, I suppose, if I hadn't achieved this goal, given that our wedding is in eight days - so, thankfully, I think I've got this one covered. Sure, there are a million little things left to do, but I feel like we've got a handle on them. Bring on the big day!
  2. Eat as healthfully as possible. Shocking absolutely no one, I did not achieve this goal, which I set for myself every month & day of every year & never achieve. I tried, sort of. But I also ate pizza & Ritz Bits cheese crackers & Halloween candy, so, uh, I didn't hit the mark here.
  3. Whiten my teeth. I kind of did this. I haven't yet sent in my Smile Direct molds, but I took the recommendation of a blog commenter & ordered charcoal toothpaste. When it arrived, I began using it twice a day. Do my teeth look whiter? I can't tell. But did I try? Well, sort of.
  4. Turn in my Cleveland Magazine assignment. This was a cheater goal, because I always meet my freelance deadlines & knew I would this time, too. That said, I'm proud of myself for reading two books so quickly & turning in what I felt was a thoughtful take on the assignment. We'll see if the editors feel the same - & if so, my pieces will go to print soon.
  5. Pull back on weekday plans. I'm especially proud of myself for this one. It's difficult to say no to something fun when you reaaaally want to say yes - especially when the Indians are in the playoffs! - but I knew I needed time to myself, time to plan, time to prep. Now, of course, I really miss my friends & my life, but it was worth it for all the wedding prep time.
  6. Hang out with my "little sister" twice. Yep, did this one! N wanted Olive Garden, so to Olive Garden we went for bottomless soup, salad, & breadsticks. Later in the month, we attended a BBBS event with other matches, a Cavs watch party with pizza & wings.

New Goals for November 

It seems crazy that November is here already, but here we are. It'll be holiday season before we know it! (Actually, I went to the mall a couple days ago, & they already had a giant wreath hanging out front...) Here's what I'm hoping to do this month, including the very obvious:
  1. Get married. Hey, this is happening! Harried as its been to plan a wedding, it's almost here - & come hell or high water, I'm ending November 11th with a husband.
  2. Start the process of changing my name. As I wrote earlier this year, I'm changing my whole name - first, middle, & last - when Mike & I get married.. Apparently it's a complex process to change anything more than your last name, so I don't expect it to happen quickly, but I'm going to start moving on it ASAP.
  3. Put new windshield wipers on my car. I've needed new wipes for months mow, & even though it's a totally easy fix, I've been dragging my feet on getting it done. Now that the weather is getting crummy - it's almost snow season! - it's time to check this off my to-do list.
  4. Hang artwork in my bedroom. Mike & I moved into our new apartment in May, & yet we still haven't hung most of our framed art on our walls. I've got a couple things hanging here & there, but after the wedding, I want to prioritize "finishing" our apartment so that it officially feels like home.
  5. Do yoga at least six times. Why six? I don't know, why not six? Right now, my yoga-doing is at zero, so I picked an arbitrary but relatively low number of times to try to practice in November.
  6. Start wearing my FitBit again. I'm great at wearing my FitBit Alta... until the battery dies. I can never seem to find the charger, & thus I never recharge it, so I only wear it for about five days per month. During the winter, I'm even less likely than usual to hit my daily step goals, so I'd like to start wearing my FitBit again in an effort to shame myself into moving more. (First step: Find said FitBit... & said FitBit charger...)
Do you have any suggestions for meeting my November goals? What are your small goals (or large ones!) for this month? 
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What I Read in October

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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In October, I didn't have as much time as I usually do to get my reading on because, you know, wedding. Have I mentioned that we're getting married? Oh, I guess I've mentioned it. Sorry to be one of those people. Ugh.

That said, I got in wayyy more reading than I expected to, probably because I needed more of an escape than usual in order to deal with some of my stress. I was also fortunate to land on eight books I really liked, which made for a lot of good reading & good stress relief. Here's what I went through in October.

The Unclaimed Victim by D.M. Pulley

This was the second book I read for Cleveland Magazine's holiday issue, & my full review of it will appear in print & online soon. It's a local historical fiction novel, an Ohio author's take on the real-life Torso Killings as told through the stories of two women, Ethel & Kris, living decades apart, who both undertake their own efforts to find the Cleveland killer - & risk their own lives in doing so. It's got a major twist at the end that I did not see coming, which made it all the more sinister. ★★★☆

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Breakfast Club with a modern-day bent: Five high schoolers find themselves in detention together, but one - the creator of a controversial gossip app - is dead before the day's end. Though the story's final twist is one I saw coming, it was written well enough that I didn't mind. This book approaches sensitive, serious subject matter such as death, domestic violence, suicide, sexual identity, & bullying in age-appropriate, respectful ways that still allow the story to flourish as a juicy drama. ★★★★★

Love Always, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

This YA novel is the third in a series about high schooler Lara Jean Song Covey, an all-around goody-goody now in her senior year & deeply in love (ah, high school) with her first boyfriend, Peter. Unfortunately, the other books in the series moved a bit faster & had more substance, but I still love the characters because, by now, I care about them. In all honesty, though, this book was so sickly-sweet that it was a bit of a slog to finish. ★★★★☆

How to Disappear by Sharon Huss Roat

I have a hard time with books about social media because they feel so transient, soon rendered irrelevant by ever-evolving digital media. Still, I loved this novel about high schooler Vicky, who suffers from anxiety so severe that she invents a bold Instagram persona to help her feel less lonely. When the account goes viral, Vicky has to face her fears and her classmates - & soon realizes she's far from the only one who feels alone. At one point, this story made me straight-up sob. ★★★★☆

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

This is might be my favorite book of the year so far (& the first I purchased from the newly reopened Visible Voice Books). The cover calls it a combo of John Green & Rainbow Rowell, a descriptor that couldn't be more spot-on. Simon, a closeted high school junior corresponding via email with a mystery suitor, is being blackmailed by a classmate who promises to keep his secret in exchange for being set up with one of Simon's female friends. ★★★★★

The Serial Killer's Apprentice: And Other True Stories of Cleveland's Most Intriguing Unsolved Crimes by James Renner

My favorite local crime writer does it again with this book of unsolved local true crime stories, from the now-famous (& now-solved) kidnappings of Amanda Berry & Gina DeJesus to the suicide of a reclusive identity thief who was once thought to be the Zodiac Killer. In 1967, a local 20-year-old bank teller stole $215,000 & disappeared without a trace! This was a quick, fascinating look at a dozen curious cases I can't stop Googling. ★★★★☆

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

This book took me awhile to get into, but by the end, it had me feeling a whole lotta feelings. It jumps around, telling various stories in the life of New York native Andrea, who has a decent job, an unstable love life, a lapsed passion for art, & a young niece who's dying of a terminal illness. Something about the book is so touching, so relatable, so familiar. As you watch Andrea grow up, you can't help but reminisce about the ways you've done the same. ★★★★★

This is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare by Gabourey Sidibe

An old friend of mine used to be roommates with the American Horror Story actress, & since hearing about how great (& normal!) she is IRL, I've loved her. Her book was no exception, written in a chill, down-to-earth, hilarious voice that sounds like her own. She hits on serious topics, like depression, body image, domestic abuse, & race, but she also tells funny stories from her own life & dispenses advice on funnier subjects, like dating & her job as a phone sex operator. ★★★★☆

Comment to tell me what you're reading, then add me on Goodreads to keep in touch & see what I've read in months past.

My "What I Read in..." posts include Amazon affiliate links to the titles I discuss. If you buy a book using one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of commission. Please don't feel any obligation to use these links, but if you do, it will help me buy more books.
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