Category Archives: Leisure

The Grill of My Dreams

We Midwesterners have endured an extraordinarily long, cold, bleak – and did I mention long – winter this year.  So long, that forecasters have now declared that we are having a “compressed” spring which I believe essentially means we are moving straight from winter into summer.  I choose to live here in the heartland and proudly so, so I hate to be one to gripe and complain about the weather. After all, it’s part of the deal. And yet, this year it was hard to avoid complaint. Collectively, I think we are officially over it. I know I am.

So it was on the heels of this particularly harsh winter that I declared 2014 would be “The Year of the Patio.” I promptly set up a Pinterest board, pinning all kinds of ideas I was sure I would never be able to execute.  I called upon my brother-in-law to help me with my quest to find new patio furniture.  After considerable research on his part (that’s how he rolls), we set out for a day-long adventure that resulted in absolute success – at a 20% discount, no less.  (That is also how he rolls.)  I contacted the landscaper and told him to give me something with strong visual appeal and exceedingly low maintenance requirements on my part.  (He delivered on both counts.)  I spent several weeks in search of all of the perfect flower pots and lanterns and doo-dads to give the patio just the right amount of Jen flair.  And today, on this very day, I think my patio has achieved near perfection by my standards.  If we only get 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day (a depressing thought if I think about it too much), I am going to enjoy every possible minute I can out there.  Until a mosquito bites me. Then all bets are off.

I am a firm believer that every project in your home needs an inspiration piece. Maybe it’s a vase or a framed print or a pillow.  But something must center you and be the guide for your design.  In the case of my patio, it is my grill that takes center stage.  A grill, you ask?  Why yes, a grill.  For I have the most lovely, whimsical, fun, and yet utilitarian grill I have ever seen.  I am not a material girl, and I don’t get too excited about “stuff.” But I am telling you, I love this grill like it is a person.  I mean, really.  It is a charcoal grill with a propane start.  It has a built-in thermometer gauge.  It has a special side container to hold the charcoal.  It has all the bells and whistles!

In 2005, I moved into this lovely little house of mine and almost immediately started prepping for the party to end all parties – a co-ed wedding shower for my sister and her husband-to-be.  Plans were well underway when my sister emailed me an advertisement for a lime green Weber grill, exclusively available at Crate and Barrel.  Now mind you, I have an affinity for all things lime green and this grill was clearly something special. But as a new homeowner, I took one look at the price tag and could not justify it.  I sent my sister a polite “thanks for the heads up” and assured her it just wasn’t in the stars for me at the time.

I love you, grill.

About a week later, my sister’s now-husband David and I were out on the town for an evening of fun while my sister was working.  It was a crisp June Friday night, and I remember it quite distinctly because we were at the Lakefront Festival of the Arts.  As we were parting ways, David was kind of fidgety and asked that I call him when I got home safely. Now, he is a thoughtful guy, but even so this was a little out of character.  I shrugged it off and made my way home.  When I got home, it was pitch black and I had to gingerly climb the back stairs and then fumble around for the light switch in the kitchen so I could properly see to set my stuff down.  There – set up right in the middle of my kitchen – was this grill.  I remember first feeling shock and disbelief.  It was singularly the kindest, most thoughtful, most generous thing anyone had ever done for me, before or since.  I actually fell to my knees and cried from sheer gratitude.

That’s why I love the spirit of my sister and brother-in-law more than words can really say.  They took one look at this grill and decided I needed it.  It didn’t matter that it wasn’t Christmas or my birthday.  It didn’t matter that it had a $400 price tag.  What mattered was that it is okay to be ridiculously, over-the-top, crazy generous with the people you love every once in a while.  What mattered was that it felt right to do something really, really nice for the sister who had experienced a rough couple of years and was just finding her way out of it.  What mattered was that life is about celebrating, and this grill would be the center of celebrations – large and small – for years to come.

So here it is…my beautiful patio in all its glory, inspired by a grill.  Cocktails and grilled meats, anyone?


Oscars on the Couch

As a self-proclaimed movie buff, I love all things related to the Oscars. Now don’t get me wrong, I generally fashion myself as a reasonably simple, down-home kind of girl.  I am not drawn to glitz or glam and I usually wear flats.  I’ve never even once worn what I would characterize as an evening gown. I’ve only ridden in a limo twice in my whole life.  On 364 days of the year, I actually think that our society’s obsession with celebrities is shallow and kind of dumb.  But one day each year, I grant myself the delectable treat to shelve that kind of haughty judgment and just take it all in.  Today is that day.

Over the years, I have come a long way with the movies.  I say this with all sincerity – I think it’s made me a better person.  Back in the day, I had some pretty strict criteria about movies I was willing to watch:  no costumes, no accents, no black and white films and definitely no historical lessons.  This year, I think I overcame all of that successfully.  I saw a movie with costumes (Gravity), an accent (Philomena), a black and white film (Nebraska) and one with historical lessons (12 Years a Slave).  I have conquered all of my movie hang-ups.

A few years ago, my friend Colleen and I set out to create our own Oscars challenge.  To be honest, I’m not even sure how it started.  But now, each year, we do our very best to see all of the nominated films.  This was easier back in the day when there were only five Best Picture nominees. This year there were nine. Seeing nine specific films with a strict deadline takes a lot of hard work and dedication, let me tell you. Much to my own satisfaction, I have seen all nine and an additional two on top of that to ensure I also saw all of the movies nominated for Best Actor and Actress this year.  Whew!  I’m beat!

What I appreciate about this exercise, aside from the straight up bragging rights, is that I am forced to see films that are outside of my comfort zone.  Left to my own devices, I would probably only see whimsical little indie films with kick-ass sound tracks.  When you set out to see all of the Oscar-nominated films, you have to put your own desires aside.  Have there been any regrets?  Admittedly, a few.  I will never get back the 112 minutes I spent painfully watching District 9.  I am still haunted by some of the scenes in 127 Hours that forced me to attempt to simultaneously cover my eyes and my ears.  But overall, my Oscars exercise has expanded my horizons.  It has helped me to learn a few things I would not otherwise know, and think about a few things I would otherwise never contemplate.  Above all else, it has helped me to appreciate the intricate beauty of film-making.

Tonight, like every Oscars night for the past decade or so, I will put on some yoga pants and a hoodie and head to my friend Colleen’s house for our annual Oscars viewing tradition.  We will snack and imbibe while we cast a discerning eye on each of the Academy Awards attendees.  We – namely Colleen – will repeatedly shush her husband and children if they try to talk during the program, especially the parts where Ellen Degeneres is on stage.  It’s our night!  Your chatter will not be tolerated, people! Shhhhhhhhh!

As for the future, Colleen and I continue to hold out hope that we will have a dream fulfilled.  For years we had envisioned ourselves as Oscars Night seat fillers, but a little research indicated that you needed “prior seat filling experience” (like, how do you get that?) and there might be selections based on attractiveness (which we are both attractive in our own right, but perhaps not by Hollywood standards).  So we’ve altered our dream that we will one day be selected for the Oscar Fan Experience, which is the group of people who sit in the bleachers and scream like little school girls when all of the stars walk by on the red carpet.  That opportunity is based on a lottery, so we probably have a slightly better chance than we would being selected as a seat filler.  We are keeping hope alive!

So finally, since you are probably wondering, here are my 2014 Oscar predictions.  Mind you, I am not a member of The Academy.  But for what it’s worth:
Best Picture:  12 Years a Slave
Best Actor:  Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress:  Probably Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, though this one could be anyone’s race
Best Friend to Watch the Oscars With:  Colleen Dier, hands down

Until next year, everyone…