a facetious 2016 Christmas list from yours truly

...in order from most realistic to most "in your freaking dreams you crazy person."

1. this timeless and appropriate "Brunch Squad" sweatshirt, which I actually just ordered for myself from Old Navy...a steal at $25.

2. Drinking implements for festive events: for example, the "Chambong," which is LITERALLY A CHAMPAGNE BONG...or for those of us who can't get through a holiday sober (which is apparently the Schwegfam's M.O.), the "Santa's Flask" wine stocking

3. As my current iPhone 5 is missing texts on the regular and never seems to have enough storage, I'd like an upgrade to an iPhone 7, preferably accompanied by this glitter-filled, totally ridiculous Kate Spade case

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4. Tickets to the Metropolitan Opera's 50th anniversary gala in New York next May...featuring pretty much every major star currently singing in the opera world. While not necessarily realistic, it's not totally out of the question with seats going for around $200 on Seat Geek... 

5. While we're at it, let's take advantage of all the Trumpies "boycotting" "Hamilton" and snap up some fantastic seats to see it on Broadway, a steal of a deal starting at $500 (plus a non-essential organ, your first-born child and your soul). 

6. Since it's already basically our Cheers, where everybody knows your name, I'd like a regular Friday night reservation at Spoon and Stable, preferably at the chef's counter so I can actually become best friends with Gavin Kaysen and learn the secret of their divine pumpkin ravioli and flawless tamarind pork chop. 

7. I'm actually going to write Santa a letter to ask for this one, the item that I think should be topping every Irish fan's Christmas list this year: I'd like Brian Kelly fired, please, and (in my perfect fantasy Christmas world) replaced with Urban Meyer, who (duh) should be all about leaving Ohio State to come coach Notre Dame. In my perfect fantasy Christmas world. 

8. While we're discussing totally realistic things Lizzie should have, let's throw a goldendoodle puppy on the list. It can be best friends with Molly and I will die and go to cuteness heaven on a daily basis.

9. Since clearly I'm going to receive all of this and absolutely 0% of this list is rooted in fantasy or pipe dreams, I might as well go all-out and ask for the real cuddly life partner I'm wishing for: Prince Harry. He's already proven he's got a thing for brunette Americans with the whole Meghan Markle thing...but I think Kate and I would get along so much better. Plus, I bet he could get me "Hamilton" Broadway tickets...Harry, baby, call me. 

10. And to round out the list of everything I need in life to make me happy: a champagne button, and preferably an accompanying butler to deliver said champagne. It's already a thing at London's Bob Bob Ricard, and I think it definitely needs to cross the pond in time for 2017 and the impending Trump presidency/lunacy. Why don't we make it a two-for-one, actually, and just get me Prince Harry to deliver champagne at the press of my champagne button? 

Alright campers, get cracking! I'm sure if all of you pool your resources you can pull this off in time for 12/25. In the meantime, I'll be hanging out at my place in my brunch sweatshirt, drinking wine out of a plastic Christmas stocking...cheers! 

 

*All commentary in this post is, duh, no shit, facetious and 100% intended to amuse rather than to represent my actual Christmas list, you sillies.*

Hiking, Schwegfam-Style

Once upon a time, the Schwegfam shot a Ray-Ban ad in Iceland. 

KIDDING. But doesn't it look like we could have? I mean, SERIOUSLY. 

One of the definite highlights of our time in Iceland was the Golden Circle tour we took on our second full day there. We were fortunate enough to have freakishly good weather for our entire Scandinavia trip, which was especially fortuitous for an outdoor day on the Golden Circle! 

We booked a small-group tour through Viator and loved the experience...our guide for the day, Dooley, picked us up from our condo and, with just seven other people, we got a much earlier start to the day than the larger, coach-bus tour groups. As such, we arrived at Thingvellir National Park well in advance of the crowds...giving us an almost-private experience that we all appreciated! 

As soon as we stepped out of our van, we officially reached consensus: Iceland is hideous. 

No, I mean, really. Have you ever seen such awful natural vistas or unspoiled panoramas? 

Iceland is not a very thickly-vegetated country - most trees are imports, and the natural vegetation tends to be more of the "moss and shrubs" variety. This, combined with the whole "volcanoes and cliffs and mountains" thing, made for an almost alien landscape - stunning in its starkness, and unlike anywhere we'd seen before. 

Thingvellir National Park is home to Iceland's first Parliament, which dates back to 930 AD. The park is a "rift valley," formed in the four-mile gap between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. As such, it's host to an absurd and dramatic amount of continental drift activity, and new gorges, cracks and thrusts in the park's surface landscape are common. Tourists are strongly encouraged/warned to stay on the paths...and to watch where they step. 

Dooley dropped our little group at the top of a rift gorge for about a mile-and-a-half stroll down a canyon, with views of Lake Thingvallavatn and the surrounding cliffs and mountains. He also encouraged us to keep an eye out for "trolls," rock formations that resemble faces, which Icelanders take very seriously. They're very superstitious about their elves, fairies and trolls - and if tourists don't respect them, word on the street is that they'll mess with you! (Can you see our first troll, above?)

We also marveled at the volcanic flows that ran alongside the trail...

...and the crystal-clear waters flowing to the lake. The entire park is technically not on any tectonic plate - we were hiking on the earth's crust, guys! (I mean, yeah, it's 30-50 miles thick at any given point, but STILL.)

Parents being photogenic in stunning setting! 

Schwegchildren, one with nature!

You know, casual/average day out for a stroll. 

As we headed down, there were strategic spots to stop and read about the early parliament and learn about Icelandic history and such. Jodester and I took our time getting down the gorge...

...while the Schwegmen blazed ahead. 

Eventually when we came out of the gorge, we were greeted with this view of the wide-open plains of the park, along with the cutest little church and tiny cabins that Icelanders can rent for the summer. Looking back, I'm pretty sure I need to take a sabbatical some summer and move into one...write a novel, take lots of hikes, and become one with my inner troll-lover, ha!

I mean, with views like these, how could you NOT be inspired? 

Being a family of daring and bad-ass rule-breakers, naturally we couldn't just follow Dooley's advice and stick to the path. It all started when Papa Bear got daring...

OOH OOH HE'S OFF-ROADING....

So naturally Em and I followed suit and did a little exploring. The drop-off behind us is actually much steeper than photos would lead one to believe...not like we were ready to cliff-dive or anything, but me being my afraid-of-falling self, I wasn't exactly loving it. Hence moderate look of terror on my face, ha. 

Needing a bit of a break, Dick sat down on some lava for a quick breather. 

I call this his Icelandic Glamourshot. Jonny D and I, in the meantime, got in touch with our epic explorer sides...

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"Look at that rock." 

"Yes. It's a nice rock." 

"We are epic." 

"Indeed."

Not to be outdone, Papa Bear joined us...before hightailing it to the summit. 

We're going to collaborate on a family novel, "Sort of Wild," the story of how a family stayed mostly on a 1.5-mile path and hilarity ensued. I think it's going to be the next big hit, a la Cheryl Strayed! ;) 

As this post is already so photo-dense, more Golden Circle soon! As the Icelanders say, 

"sjá þig á morgun, hjólhýsi:" see you tomorrow, campers! 

Bookworm: November 2016

"Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so." -C.S. Lewis

Loved: 

The Screwtape Letters, C.S.Lewis: I'm a major lover of C.S. Lewis's writing, but had never read Screwtape, which explores the battle between Heaven and Hell from Hell's perspective. Written as a series of letters from "Uncle Screwtape," a demon/tempter, to his nephew, the book offers "advice" on how to win humans to Hell versus "The Enemy," who is (of course) God. Wry, funny, and thought-provoking, and a fairly quick read for those who have busy holiday seasons coming up! 

An Untamed State, Roxane Gay: Oh my god, borrowed this from Emily over the holiday and stayed up past 1am on Thanksgiving night to read it. SUPER DARK AND DEPRESSING but incredibly written. She got it from her feminist book club (because, yes, she is in a feminist book club), and the book centers around how much a woman can survive (ranging from kidnapping to rape to family discord and marital strife). I reiterate: SUPER DARK. That said, couldn't put it down. 

Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow: DUH did you seriously think I wasn't going to read the biography that started it all? I loved it. So illuminating, gave so much context to the musical and illustrated a fascinating life in concise, clear, not-too-high-falutin' terminology. I think that even those who don't necessarily love biographies would really enjoy it...but then again, I'm Hamilton-obsessed OOPS. 

Enjoyed: 

Stardust, Neil Gaiman: This was a movie about a decade ago, about a fallen star in an alternate universe. I was in the mood for a fairy tale, and this fit the bill exactly. Perfect for younger readers looking for a bit of a challenge, too...

Sex, Lies, and Handwriting, Michelle Dresbold: A handwriting expert and criminologist outlines different personality "tells" in handwriting. Heavily illustrated, it was a fun, quick and light read - although according to my handwriting, I'm apparently both a serial killer and a sex maniac. Damn!

Tolerated: 

One, Sarah Crossan: Teenage conjoined twins struggle to find identities separate from one another, a process that is accelerated when one twin is diagnosed with heart failure. Written in weird, almost poem-like little baby chapters, I breezed through it in an hour and was left unmoved - a disappointment after such a promising premise. 

Re-reads: 

None this month - all new, and that's a delight!

a quick and dirty giving of thanks

As screwy as 2016 has been for the universe at large, it's been pretty good to me thus far. I'm sitting here, coffee cup at hand, surrounded by my Schwegfam, as I think back over the myriad gifts this year has held. 

First and foremost, as always, I'm thankful for these five crazies. My family is the best, and my best (and some of my worst!) memories this year were all made with them. From Jonathan's graduation to spontaneous happy hours and dinners with my parents...cracking my teeth out of my mouth to living it up in Chicago with my very own "Schuyler Sisters"...and naturally our very random and extensive family group text, these four never cease to add color and laughter to my world.

Highlight? Ten days together taking on Scandinavia. Can't wait to continue the Schwegmanigans next month in wine country!

Naturally, the friends who feel like family can't go unsung. The circle of people I've surrounded myself with sure feels like a constant win, and watching that circle expand this year has been incredibly special.

This Thanksgiving, I hope every one of you knows what you mean to me - near or far, new or old - I'm deeply grateful for our inside jokes, random adventures, and most significantly the continual joy and support each of you brings to my life. 

Finally, your de rigeur political commentary for the day: I'm thankful that we live in a country and in a world where I believe civil discourse, thoughtful activism, and intelligent, informed commentary on the issues we face will win out in the end.

The people in my life are all so gifted, articulate and passionate - if we all continue to use our gifts and voices and passions to work for good, no amount of bigotry, ignorance or fear-mongering can win out in the end. 

Other, much more random things I'm thankful for: 

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-champagne, always and forever

-Joe Biden memes

-"Hamilton"

-the plethora of puppies and babies in my life lately

-black tie galas

-an almost-over Notre Dame football dumpster fire...er, season

-the obscene amount of stuffing I'm planning to stuff my face with tonight 

Happy Thanksgiving, campers. Love you all and hope you have just as much to be thankful for as I do this season!

How lucky we are to be alive right now!

HAMILTON. 

As you should know by now, my "Hamilton" obsession knows no limits. I am an absolute fiend for that show...beyond all bounds of reason and practicality. Sadly, I just couldn't justify spending $2,000 to see the show in New York, so needless to say when we found out it was coming to Chicago this fall, a feverish group text ensued between my mom, sister and me. Laura and Drew hopped on the bandwagon too, and the moment tickets went on sale last JUNE, I started clicking like a madwoman to try to score some. 

Two and a half hours later, after several computer/Ticketmaster crashes and a very undignified moment of yelling at my boss that "I JUST CANNOT WORK RIGHT NOW I HAVE TO GET HAMILTON TICKETS," we were the VERY excited holders of 5 balcony tickets to the November 18th show. And the countdown began. As 11/18 drew closer and closer, my excitement went up inversely to my ability to be even semi-normal. And on 11/17, Jodester and I headed to MSP, our on-theme reading material in tow...

I highly, highly recommend the Ron Chernow biography for all those show freaks who just can't get enough. It's riveting and very well-written...I found it so illuminating. We boarded the plane, I plugged headphones in and started the soundtrack, and before I knew it, this skyline came into view. 

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We could not have had a prettier Thursday in Chicago! More detail to come...funny story, when we bought these tickets we had no idea Emily would soon be a Chicago resident. It added a whole new dimension of fun and excitement to the weekend to get to see her new home. 

To kill time while we waited for her to get off work, Jodes and I went shopping on Armitage Street. Imagine my delight when the very first thing I saw in the very first store was this little gem: 

DUELING HAMILTON AND BURR SHOT GLASSES. It was like a sign from the universe that this weekend was going to be flawless. I bought one for me...

...and one for my Schuyler Sister, which I appropriately personalized with song lyrics, duh. 

After reuniting with Meems at dinner and drinking a LOT of extremely good champagne, we tried to head to Cindy's Rooftop for post-dinner drinks, but the line deterred us. At that point, my Ham Fever had hit a peak, and knowing we were blocks from the theater, I basically begged Jodes and Em to walk over with me. We had the bright idea to try to buy merchandise before the Friday show, so they were altogether willing. 

When we saw the marquee, I genuinely started to feel a little bit like I was having a panic attack. Like, a little hyperventilating, a little bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet, a little hand-wringing and a whole lot of "OMG HOLY SHIT OMG TOMORROW." My poor mom and sister humored me...which is why I will love them always and forever for going on this pilgrimage with me. 

To my shame, I got the arms wrong, but still, I think I deserve a little nerd extra-credit for recreating to begin with. 

After a little more spazzing, chatting with the door monitor and a few theater employees (all RAVING about the show), and me barely refraining from storming the door to get in, we headed home to dream Hammy dreams and get excited for the next day. 

I woke up so early, and bolted upright in bed more excited than any Christmas. Legit actually probably more excited than college graduation (which, let's be real, was kind of sad!). It was HAMILTON DAY!!!! All day long, we three kept a running countdown. Only eight more hours. Eight dwindled to six, dwindled to three, down to two, and we headed to dinner to meet up with these loves: 

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Not before Jodester ditched Em and me to join the real Schuyler Sisters, though...

As we dined on filthy amounts of pasta and meatballs, I could hardly restrain my freakouts. I think poor Drew genuinely came to fear that he was seeing the show with a crazy person. My excitement ratcheted up another level when these alerts crossed my phone screen...IT WAS HAPPENING IT WAS HAPPENING. 

We headed over, bought our souvenirs (I got the fancy program and, naturally the vocal selections/piano book for our next singing night with Matt and Hal), and climbed to our seats. 

Do you want to hear something terrible/hilarious? Jodester brought BINOCULARS. To the balcony of the theater. Not like opera glasses...full-on hunting binoculars. Because the balcony is much higher than she's accustomed to ;) 

To be fair, we were pretty far up. That said, it didn't hamper the experience at all. 

Now, for some rapid-fire thoughts: 

1. Karen Olivo as Angelica was legit better than Renee Elise Goldsberry, and I don't care what circle of hell saying that consigns me to. I GOT CHILLS every time she opened her mouth. 

2. The staging, choreography, lighting and set created possibly the most dynamic, intense, continually engaging theater experience I've ever had. Seeing it felt, to me, like the first time I saw "Les MIs" at the age of 13...totally overwhelming, totally sensory overload. 

3. Joshua Henry, one of the original Guthrie "Scottsboro Boys," was incredible as Aaron Burr, who still has my favorite song in the musical ("Wait For It"). 

4. By the end of "Guns and Ships," I had legit pulled the neck of my dress up over my chin and mouth to muffle my squeals of delight. 

5. Songs that I appreciated much more seeing them live: "Dear Theodosia" and the "Cabinet Battles." 

6. Songs that I was kind of meh on seeing them live: "Right Hand Man" and "One Last Time."(nobody will ever equal Christopher Jackson).

7. Songs that made me cry: UM MOST OF THEM. In reality, "Wait For It," "Hurricane," and practically everything from "Burn" to the end with a few exceptions. I was out of tissues by intermission, and from "Stay Alive (Reprise)" to the end I had essentially become a teeming, soggy mess of tears and feelings AHHHH. 

8. We waited at the stage door and met Ari Afsar (Eliza) and Miguel Cervantes (Hamilton) and they were both delights and absolutely delighted. It was precious. They signed my Playbill, nbd :) 

9. We happened to be at the Chicago production the same night that Mike Pence was at the NY production, and I've gotta say, having seen the show, if anyone could have communicated a message of political significance with class and decorum, it'd be the "Hamilton" cast. The messages in the show are as topical now as they were in the 17-and-1800s, and the drivers behind politics have scarcely changed. The rest of my thoughts on that matter will stay private, though. 

10. GOING AGAIN ASAP WHO WANTS TO GET TICKETS AND COME WITH ME??

How lucky we are to be alive right now, and how lucky I was to be in the room where it happens!