Peanut’s Bucket List: Canine Cruise

Just a couple of days after Peanut’s diagnosis, and the development of his epic bucket list, we had the opportunity to knock #1 straight off his list: Go on The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Canine Cruise!

I’ve been wanting to take Peanut on a dog-friendly architectural river tour for years and just kept putting it off. After learning that his condition was terminal, I knew I had to had to get him into the next ship to set sail. That’s when I signed him up for the Canine Cruise!

Part fundraiser, part pooch adventure, the Canine Cruise took off on a pleasantly cool Saturday afternoon on the Chicago River. Facilitated by Mercury Skyline Cruises, the tour took us down the river and back, and then on a little tangent into the open waters of Lake Michigan. Peanut loved ever moment of it! He enjoyed freshly baked doggie biscuits and pupcakes from Chicago natives High Hopes while soaking up the sun and smells. Surrounded by fellow rescue pups and dog lovers, the cruise was a dream for canines and owners alike. I can’t think of a better way to have spent our Saturday afternoon.

Peanut Loves Butter: Upcycled Cotton Bowtie

Next up on Peanut’s Bucket List:

Go for a car ride with a Starbuck’s pup cup.

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Peanut’s Bucket List

Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest joys. The snuggles, the licks, the late-night chats, the antics, and of course, the unconditional love. Our pets provide affection unlike any other. Their devotion is untainted by our mistakes, short-comings, or blundering. For that very reason the prospect of losing that bond is heartbreaking. I’m prepping myself for that loss now.

Peanut has been a part of my life since June 2, 2008 when I adopted him from PAWS Chicago. He had been transferred in from Chicago’s Animal Care & Control, where he had arrived as a stray, emaciated, and with cherry eye in both peepers. PAWS transferred him in, got him neutered, fixed his third eyelids, and popped him onto the adoption floor. I came in the very next day, saw his pitiful little face and the blazing spirit lying under the surface. I fell in love instantly. I brought him home that same day and my life was forever changed.

We’ve spent the last 9 glorious years together. The first two it was just him, my hubby, and the cat. We’d spend hours on the lakefront, just relaxing, reading and strolling. In 2011 we adopted his best friend, Butter, from The Anti-Cruelty Society and the two have been inseparable since. Years later we also adopted a bunny so had quite the motley crew at home. Over the decade he’s tolerated many house guests, including rescued wildlife, street kittens in heat, and countless of fostered shelter dogs and cats. And the biggest adventure of all came in 2015: the new human. He took even that in stride.

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Deeply opinionated, always energized, communicative, and prone to mischief, Peanut provided the daily spice of life that always kept us on our toes. He’s now 11 years old and the fire hasn’t dissipated one bit.

Despite his continued zest for life, Peanut has not been feeling well. After many weeks of testing, it was confirmed last week that my sweet senior has prostate cancer. It’s rare in dogs, very aggressive, and there’s no effective treatment. Radiation can extend his life span by a touch, but the stress of the process would negatively impact his quality of life. So the plan is to provide veterinary support in keeping him comfortable for as long as possible. It could be weeks or a  months. My vet will be giving me a tighter timeline in the next few days.

I’m saddened by the news in many ways, but am deliberately choosing not to dwell in my despair. Instead, I plan to celebrate each day that we have together. I want to celebrate his fiery spirit so he can go out in true Peanut fashion: With a bang.

So here it is – Peanut’s go-out-in-glory bucket list. It includes some over-the-top adventures as well as more subdued routines that I know will make him smile. My hope is that focusing in on these fun-filled tasks will prevent the sadness from taking hold of our limited time together.

Peanut’s Bucket List

Peanut Loves Butter: Upcycled Cotton Bowtie

  1. Go on The Anti-Cruelty Society’s Canine Cruise
  2. Go for a car ride with a Starbucks pup cup
  3. Scavenge at the farmer’s market
  4. Hunt down the Fido to Go canine food truck
  5. Take a walk on the beach at sunset
  6. Enjoy a vanilla custard cone from Lickety Split
  7. Eat a mini burger from Hamburger Mary’s
  8. Barbecue at my parents house (steak included!)
  9. Go for a boat ride with grandpa Andrzej
  10. Chew up a Polish kielbasa
  11. Eat a homemade batch of High Hopes pup cupcakes
  12. Get a doggie massage from the Chicago School of Canine Massage
  13. Take a trailer ride by the lake
  14. Eat a Chicago-style hot dog
  15. Celebrate life at our DIY lakefront “Peanut Party”

I’ll be posting updates of our bucket list adventures here on the blog as well as on Instagram. Thank you in advance for your love and support.

Here’s to making this the best summer of Peanut’s life!

Learning to Abide

a·bide

əˈbīd/

verb

1a :  to bear patiently b :  to endure without yielding 2:  to wait for :  to remain stable or fixed in a state


I am fast approaching the one year anniversary of what would signal the dissolution of my marriage of 10 years. The last 365 days have been both joyful and harrowing, exciting and discouraging, successful and defeating. Yet, through the ups and downs, hilltops and valleys, one constant remains: God.

I came to faith just shy of 18. I’ll have to come back to that story at a later date as it’s a doozy. Fast forward 15 years: I’m 33 and have suddenly become a single mom. Not the way I would have planned things. But you know what? 15 years ago, God knew. He knew that I would become a prodigal shortly after coming to faith. He knew that I’d fall in love, marry an unbeliever, and have a beautiful little boy in my early thirties. He knew that one day I’d wake up in bed, alone, still wearing my wedding ring. He knew.

I, in contrast, am far from knowing much, but this I do know:

God is with me. He always has been, and He always will be. And the thing He wants most from me in this season of life is to abide.

But what does that actually mean? How do we live out a life that waits on God to move? How can we remain steadfast when there’s so much uncertainty, so many questions? How do we endure when faced with the unthinkable?

In these last 12 months I’ve learned that the Lord doesn’t just want a surface-level encounter with us, He wants us to go deeper than we’ve ever been. To have an intimate relationship with us. To achieve this level of closeness we first have to develop spiritual disciplines to create a solid foundation of faith. Praying, studying the Word, and meditating on it. That’s the winning trio right there. When your emotions are overcoming your rationality, when you’re drowning in defeat, when you just don’t feel like getting out of bed, it’s these three things that will reorient your gaze off of yourself, off of your circumstances, and straight onto God.

This is where abiding begins. Leaning into the Lord, everyday, throughout the day, one-on-one.

What do those daily disciplines look like in my life? Here’s a snapshot:

My alarm goes off at 5 a.m. (and/or my cat steps on my face – whichever comes first). I flick on the light. I grab my Bible and I flip to the latter Psalms and, out loud, read a chapter that ascribes praise and glory to the Lord. I then close my Bible and say a prayer of thanksgiving. Then I begin the daily routines of life.

Now, push ahead to the end of the day. August is in bed, the critters are settled in, and I’m washed up and in my pajamas. My phone is now in airplane mode (which drives friends and family crazy – sorry!). I get down on my hands and knees (it’s amazing what a posture of submission can do for a prideful soul) and pray aloud. I confess my sins, my slip-ups, my shortcomings. I acknowledge His awesomeness, His goodness, His God-ness. I thank Him for the blessings of the day. And then I ask. I pray for friends, for family, and of course, for myself. Then I settle under my covers and hop into the verses or book that I’m studying at the time. And then, before putting my Bible aside, I meditate on what I’ve read. And then I pray again. 

Phew! That seems like so much when typed out – but when you consider how much of our day is spent eating, texting, talking, typing, driving, what is it to spend 10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening with our Creator? It’s really a drop in the pail, isn’t it? But it’s these very spiritual disciplines that time and time again reorient me towards the Lord. I start my day out with Him and I end it with Him.

And that, my friends, is how we learn to abide in the Lord. Because when He becomes the center, no matter what happens to you, or who happens to you, you see things through His eyes. You find rest in knowing that He is with you and that He knows your future. So when asked how it is that I’ve gotten through the last year, this is how I now answer, “I learned to abide in the Lord.”

What are some of the spiritual disciplines you’ve developed that help you steer towards God and away from your daily struggles? What does abiding in the Lord mean to you?

The Big T-W-O!

Oh my goodness – when did it happen?! When was I suddenly the mother of a full-fledged toddler?!

This past Valentine’s Day we crossed the milestone. August turned the big T-W-O! My little bundle, my baby boy, is now a floor stomping, bug poking, soil slinging mini man. He’s independent, fiery, curious, and addicted to routines. Thankfully, his tantrums are few, and his appetite is still big, so I’m clinging on to those two baby hold overs for as long as possible. His vocabulary is expanding in an exponential rate as are his physical capabilities. I’m telling you – mini man. Mini man.

To celebrate his passage into this new phase of life I hosted a small shin dig in his honor. As I’m quickly learning with this stage, less is more. Instead of busting out all stops for a big hoopla of a party, I planned an intimate breakfast bash with family, friends, and some of his toddler buddies. “Keep it simple sweetie” – definitely the way to go.

For the decorations I stayed away from a true theme and instead pulled together some basics in a variety of colors and textures. I also fell in love with a gold “Yay” Mylar balloon I found at Target – so threw in a few more metallic elements to bring it all together. Add a few bright floral bouquets and a smattering of wooden animal figurines and wallah! My apartment was birthday party ready!

For the food spread I, again, kept things simple. I filled up a cutting board with a variety of cheeses, including the standard brie and blue, both of which August promptly took whopping bites from. See my Instagram for video proof. I filled several bowls with berries, yogurts and granola, and set out jams and other condiments for spicing things up. Putting my collection of cake stands to work, I piled up mini omelettes, freshly baked mini croissants as well as towers of silver dollar pancakes skewered with berry kabobs. Do you see a pattern yet? Mini, mini, mini. One thing that was full sized was August’s birthday cake: A delightful chocolate ganache that we purchased from Whole Foods which I then topped with fresh cut flowers, a wooden animal figurine, a sparkler, and of course, two candles. For drinks I also kept things minimal and served orange juice, french pressed coffee, and organic milk boxes for the kiddos. The food was definitely a huge hit!

As seems customary at kid parties, I had an activity planned, but in the hub-bub of guests, food, and toddler antics, there was no opportunity to introduce it. Aka, I totally forgot. Oops! I had bought the supplies to have the kids make their very own seed bombs which they could “plant” somewhere in their neighborhood. Since I have the wildflower seeds and peat rarin to go – I may host a spring themed play date to give the littles a chance to get their hands dirty while teaching them some horticulture basics. But I digress.

730 days old. Quite the milestone and so glad we had a chance to properly celebrate. Now to start plans for Easter!

 

Suddenly Single: Surprisingly Sweet

I’ve been a single mama now for just under 5 months – and you know what? It’s not so bad!

The aftershock of separation aside, I’ve found that there are some surprisingly sweet things about being a single thirty-something adult. This in no way means that being married or in a long-term relationship is bad. I will be the first to tell you that I’d love to have a dapper gent of integrity sweep me off my feet! Having someone to share your life with is a beautiful thing – so I don’t want this post to diminish that. But, in those moments when life sends you a curve ball, and you suddenly find yourself alone, there are some benefits. Here’s my here and now list of what I’m enjoying in this current season of my life.

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Setting My Own Bedtime: I am an early riser and konk out pretty quickly once the day is done. My favorite nighttime ritual includes a cup of tea, animal cuddles, conversational prayer, reafing God’s word, and then something leisurely. On those nights when my eyes are too fatigued for extended readimg, a little Mindy Project or Star Trek (re-watching Voyager currently – I love Janeway!) is my night cap. That flow usually puts me in bed by 9 p.m.. Being single means getting there with no guilt. Yay to that!

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Dressing My Nest: No surprise here – I love decorating my place! I’m always looking for eco-friendly and stylish ways to update my home. Sometimes that means dumpster diving a new mirror and repainting it to hang in the hallway. At other times it may include completely rearranging a room while August naps. Being single means getting to change things up whenever I want and not having to worry about another person’s tastes. I can arrange the furniture how I want, put up any kind of art I’d like, and can change it all at a moment’s notice with no one to consult but myself. Sounds like a win to me!

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Taking Care of Myself: With a toddler on the run, this one may surprise you. But the truth is, being the only adult in the household means I’m the one that makes all of the decisions regarding where we live, how we live, what we eat, when we eat, our activities, sleep schedule, and more! I can choose to keep a weekend plan-free or book us solid with interesting activities. I can fill the fridge with fruits and veggies and don’t have to be tempted with a refined sugar stash. It also means that I can focus on how I’m feeling inside and out. Instead of catering to another adult’s whims, I can journal. Instead of having to stay home with the babe while the partner’s away and plays, I can hire a babysitter, and go out for yoga. Instead of sleeping in I can rouse early, dress the tot and dogs, and take a long stroll along the lake. I can slow down, speed up, and tune out whenever and however I want. Sounds like a gift, no?

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Honoring Routine: I am a person who savors ritual. I enjoy routine, no matter how trivial or seemingly insignificant. August and I are very much alike in that way. Now that I’m the only adult, I get to set the stage for our daily schedule, and there’s something so very soothing about that. Saturday mornings are for long walks through the park, Sundays include an indulgent breakfast, church, and a laid back afternoon. Weekdays I’m up at 5, take care of the critters, and hustle August to daycare and myself to work. This is done with a steamy cup of chai in hand. And then weeknights are for dinners with friends, library visits, farmers markets, and all the little things in between. No matter the surprises of the day,  we always end it the same way, and at the same time, and there’s such comfort in that.

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Adorning Self: This one may seem silly – but it’s the honest truth. When you’re single you only have to look good for one person: yourself. You can glitter up your nails, pop on that red lipstick, and wear a vintage lacey frock with complete abandon. There’s no one you have to impress but yourself, and there’s something (maybe ironically) so incredibly empowering about that. You learn to love yourself, and dress yourself, without compromise.

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Rebuilding Identity: After being in a relationship for an extended period of time, you lose the “me” and develop a “we” vernacular that extends well beyond language. And while that’s a beautiful thing when you have two happy, healthy people, it becomes suffocating should one partner neglect the other. One of the more unexpected blessings of sudden singledom has been shedding that “we” persona to establish one of my very own. No longer am I part of a unit, I am my own person, with my own faith, intellect, passions, and purpose. I no longer have to compromise on preferences, tastes, or ethics. I can live a full life with an attitude of gratitude, holding firm to God’s promises, all while keeping negativity at bay. To have the opportunity to start each day afresh, accountable just for yourself, is a beautiful thing indeed. And while there’s a time and place for a “we” life, in some situations, you realize your blessed to simply be by yourself.

Just to be clear – being a single parent definitely presents its challenges (ahem costs and availability of daycare!), and maybe one day I’ll write about those, but for now, I want to focus on what I’m actually enjoying about my newfound independence. I want to savor this season, no matter how unexpected. And who knows! Maybe I won’t be single for long – so I should take advantage of it while I can!

Biodegradable Leaf Wreath

I don’t know about you, but come autumn I’m always itching for some new home decor. It’s not like Christmas, where I want to collect objects for nostalgia’s sake. I want something new each fall and I’m also always eager to concoct a new visage in my nest. But then the flower child within convicts me. How can I justify buying or making something new to add to the pile of stuff already cluttering my apartment, my life, and the planet?

What to do, what to do? Ah-ha! The solution! A biodegradable craft!

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Fall foliage. It’s the thing that makes it a thing, is it not? Without the changing leaves, the sweet smell of decay filling the air, we might as well be approaching spring. Seeing the changing canopies of the city’s trees is what makes me feel electric, feel renewed, feel distracted from the foreboding threat of winter. So why not capture that feeling by collecting the very thing that gives the season its mark: leaves.

For this project all you’ll need is some non-toxic glue, a pair of scissors, recycled cardboard, and some freshly pressed leaves. A pair of hyper helper hands, should you have a toddler waddling about, is good too!

First things first, you’ll need to cut a semi-accurate circle out of your cardboard. This is the part best saved for those of us old enough to wield a sharp object. Once the main circle has been cut out, shave out an inner circle so you’re left with a big “o.” That’s your wreath. Now, dab on glue around the cardboard, placing your first layer of leaves around the perimeter. Next, you’ll repeat this step, but pop the glue on the leaves. I find that three layers works best.

If you’re a strategic sort you can place the bigger leaves at the base and alternate colors so you have a more aesthetically appealing display. Once complete, allow your wreath at least 24 hours to dry before hanging it up. We took our little creation and hung it on August’s bedroom door using some doubled up washi tape. That lasted all of a single afternoon as he insisted that the door remain as-is. Oh toddlers. So we’re now enjoying it as part of our table centerpiece.

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There you have it! A simple, festively fall, biodegradable wreath that’s easy enough that even a kid, or an overly exuberant pumpkin-spice-latted-up adult, can do it.

Enjoy!

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Native Foods Cafe: Evolution

Native Foods Cafe has been a mainstay in the Chicago vegan cuisine scene for almost a decade which is why it’s high time they shook things up a bit! And I’m not talking about straying from their animal rights ways. On the contrary. This national vegan food chain is edging towards a new menu, one that focuses on whole foods, or what they’ve coined as “plantiful.”

Native Foods has been one of my favorite haunts since they started springing up locations around the city. Their Soul Bowl, sweet potato fries, and Chicken Run Ranch sandwich kept me coming again and again and again. The cruelty free ingredients, tasty flavor combos, and casual atmosphere made this my go-to spot for a taste bud tapping, filling meal. Something that Native Foods Cafe has in common with most of Chicago’s other vegan food nooks is a heavy reliance on faux meats. But that’s all about to change.

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Rather than focusing their menu on highly processed meat substitutes or deep fried concoctions, Native Foods is laying the groundwork to serve healthier, more holistic fair. That doesn’t mean that they’re going raw or shirking some of their most popular items. On the contrary. They’re respecting the following for their cult classics but also rounding out their offerings to provide a greater variety of heartier veggie-based dishes. The fare is simpler. More roasting,blending, and steaming, less highly processed over-seasoned “meats” and mystery “cheeses.” The focus is to offer a truly plantiful spread, one that showcases the natural and robust flavors of the veggies, roots, fruits, and fungi. It’s about focusing on foods that celebrate a plant based diet rather than working so hard to replicate the taste of (sorry I have to say it!) flesh. A welcome evolution indeed!

As someone who can’t fill up on smoothies or leafy greens alone, the news of Native Food’s menu evolution is warmly welcomed. I love the idea of having the option of satiating my hunger healthfully with something beyond a salad. The new menu items are just as inventive as to be expected of the restaurant chain. We noshed on the new Buddha Bowl, which is filled with roasted veggies, avocado, brown rice, shiitake crisps, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. We filled up on warm and steamy arancini balls, the ultimate comfort food on a cool autumn evening. On a second visit I scooped up the new barbecue sandwich, made with jackfruit in place of processed burger patty, and followed that with zucchini patties, which to my surprise, also came with a small (and delish) little side salad.

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The menu is not the only thing Native Foods is tweaking. The Wicker Park location, the national incubator for the chain, has also rolled out new decor, more grab and go items, and will soon be debuting biodegradable take out gear. The cleaner, more sophisticated space sways away from the family friendly diner feel of old in lieu of a sleek, minimalist approach that leans on industrial farmhouse chic. The Wicker Park storefront does a good job of balancing their more mature look while still retaining the warmth of their sister locations by providing casual cafe style seating towards the front and peppering tables and displays with living succulent centerpieces. I’m eager to see how the Wicker Park NFC’s transformation informs the other three Chicago locations.

Call me impressed. The new items offer just as much, if not more, of the eclectic flavor heavy elements that make Native Foods such a popular and burgeoning vegan business all across the country. As the new menu continues to be rolled out at the Wicker Park location (it will go national as the spring draws near) I’ll be at the head of the line eager to try more of their tasty concoctions. And as timing should have it – they just sent me a $10 reward to use on my birthday this Saturday. Nice! Buddha bowl here I come!