A more-full report on the 25th anniversary of Back to the Future in Naperville is forthcoming, but one of the things I learned after listening to the "original" Jennifer (Claudia Wells) was that in BTTF 2, they had to re-shoot the opening scene/closing scene from #1 because the actor playing Jennifer changed (Elisabeth Shue in #2).

Some smart person on YouTube has put the scenes together.  Pretty incredible job in re-creating the scene.

We've decided to move on to building a garage this summer.  Yeah...our house DOES NOT HAVE ONE.  Somehow, when we bought the house, there were so many glaring issues/problems that the fact that there wasn't a garage didn't seem like that big of a deal.  When ceilings in a few rooms are falling in, I suppose the lack of a garage doesn't jump out at you as a huge issue.

Now that we've remedied **most** of the issues in the house, my thoughts turn outdoors.  This was our first winter in the house and getting in cold icy cars every morning isn't fun, so a garage it shall be!

Both Equation Boy/Man and I are going through the process together (they need a garage, too!), and our garages are going to be fairly similar, but with some minor modifications.  They have a driveway from the front of their house, whereas we'll use the alley.   They have a wider lot than us. They want some dormers to make it pretty, I want height to protect the yard from the sun.  (I'll show you when it is built what I mean.)

Currently we're waiting on the architect to finish up his drawings, then we'll be a bit closer to submitting for permits.  I kept trying to envision what the garage will look like when we were sitting in the babe's doctor's office in Elmhurst and out the window I saw what I think is almost a twin the garage I want to build:
Just a dead simple 21' tall 3 car garage.  Eventually, (if we're still here in 5 years) we'll blow the sides out with dormers and make it a manspace up there.  Just like with the fireplaces, I'll keep you posted on the progress of the garage.  Hopefully it will go FASTER than the fireplaces!
I wrote one post about Lou's old menu and not 2 hours later they start following me on Twitter.  Pretty nice social media move and one that I can appreciate.  We can get into the merits of what value this is bringing to their organization - and that is a healthy discussion - but I can respect the fact that Lou's has someone monitoring what is being said about their brand online.
One of Nat's besties had a baby recently (a boy!) and Nat - being a busybee - wanted to lend a hand. Unfortunately, the friend lives out of state, so the best we could do was to prepare some meals, freeze 'em, and ship them off with her friend's mom when she went to see her daughter.

(If you gave us a nice gift for the birth/baptism/pregnancy - thanks.   I loved it soooooo much!)  However, one of the best gifts anyone gave us during the pregnancy/baby was frozen meals.  We still have some of them in the freezer - they're the gift that keeps on giving!  When Nat is dog tired from battling the babe all day and I have class, so I don't get home until 10 pm, these are saviors.  We had tacos, enchiladas, chicken and salads and even chicken tetrazzini (although it wasn't frozen!).  While I'm certain Nat enjoyed all the "onesies" and such that our friends and family showered on us, I really appreciate the care that goes into the frozen meals.  These came from Nat's mom and my sister Vic.  Two moms who can appreciate the importance of prepared food during the first few weeks of your baby's life.

Because we enjoyed them so much, we decided to make a few of our favorite recipes and try to parcel them out for the new mom out of state.  We made deep dish pizza and crusty mac and cheese and packaged them into disposable metal pans - with clear plastic lids where we could write the instructions in marker.  They turned out cute (if you can tell from the photo on the right!).

Neither of these are "healthy" options, but when you have a 4 day old, who really cares about calories, right?  Here's the Mac and Cheese.  I think this has be adapted from my mom, my brother-in-law Marc (who used to make this stuff back in the "blue apartments" in Champaign back in the 90's and the NYTimes. ) Hope it turns out as good as ours usually does.

Crusty Cheese and Mac Recipe
2 tablespoons (to do the dish) butter plus 1 stick melted
24 ounces 
cheese, coarsely grated  (you could use more or less of both kinds of cheese!)
24 ounces another kind of cheese

1 cup cottage 
1 pound elbow pasta
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Salt to your preference
2/3 cup milk
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 sleeve of saltines

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use one to two tablespoon butter to thickly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Combine uncooked noodles, (all but 2 cups of) grated cheeses, cottage cheeses, milk, spices, mustard and setting aside those two cups of grated cheeses for topping.  
2.  Cut tomatoes into quarters and stick them in the dish wherever you like.  
3.  Crumble a sleeve of saltines in a bowl, and add 1 stick of butter.  Melt in microwave.
4.  Sprinkle reserved cheese mixture on top, top with butter/saltines mix and bake, covered for 30 minutes. Raise heat to 400 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes more uncovered, until crusty on top.  Might take longer depending on your oven.

25 years?!?  Back to the Future came out 25 years ago?  Apparently so.
To celebrate, some high school friends and I are getting together at the Hollywood Palms Theatre in Naperville this Saturday to sit down with the original Jennifer Parker (Claudia Wells), Lorraine McFly (Lea Thompson), Dr. Emmit Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and Principal Strickland (James Tolkan).

As my friends Matt and Steve pointed out:  There's nothing like a bunch of 30 year old dudes getting geeked up for the original Jennifer - not Elisabeth Shue from #2 and #2.

Nat is, embarrassingly, a BIGGER BTTF fan than I am, so she's tagging along.  We've bought tickets to the 6 pm show and we'll probably get there early.  Join us, please.  We'll be able to "Save the Clocktower" on the the big screen!  The event's proceeds go to the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
UPDATE:  If you are looking for the recipe I talked about in this post, you can find it here:  Lou Malnati's Salad Dressing Recipe.


I was in our local Lou Malnati's picking up a pie a few nights ago waiting around - ours wasn't 'quite ready'.  I started to read the old framed news article and caught a few cute things.  First, the Chicago Tribune published their salad dressing recipe back in the late 60's.  I took a photo and I'll give it a shot at some point.  Of course, I'll share the results here on the blog.

The other item of note was this menu.  How cute is this thing?  It is the original from the day they opened.  A cheese pie.  Sausage and cheese pie.  A few sang-wiches.  And some wine by from the barrel.   Just a single-sided page with 3 columns.  Very simple and straight-forward - unlike today's Lou's menu.   Like a lot of you guys, I've had a secret desire (NEVER TO BE ACTED ON) to open a restaurant.  I think I'd copy this menu if I did.

Nat, the babe, and I just got back from a "Tour de Missouri" including stops in St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City.  We spent a good part of the weekend with Nat's college roomate in Kansas City.  (They actually live in Kansas, but a "Tour de Missouri and Kansas" didn't have the same cachet.)

My only goal during the time in Kansas City was bbq.  I had a meeting "downtown" during the day on Friday, so I was on my own for lunch.  I stopped at a place I had been before:  Gates Bar-B-Q.  They do the whole "Hi, may I help you" thing and they have a particularly confusing method of ordering/paying/picking up your chow.  Being a rookie, I think I looked lost.  A nice lady with gold teeth behind me in line told me what to do and what to order.  Her recommendation:  "Burnt ends on bun, but on bread".  That's what I ordered.

They were tasty.  Turns, out burnt ends are, for the most part, brisket.

Later that night, our friends took us to JackStack Barbeque - which is called the "Tiffany's of BBQ" by some.  Where Gates was all up-in-your-face smokehouse, Jackstack was more restaurant who happened to serve bbq.  I think I like the Gates approach better, but our hosts pointed out that there is a difference between "lunch bbq" and "supper bbq".

At JackStack, I ordered a combo that included ribs, burnt ends and cheesy corn bake - something akin to mac and cheese but more like corn and cheese.  The burnt ends at JackStack were decidedly more upscale.  The chunks were MUCH larger and not as grizzly.  They were good, but having had the lower-class burnt ends at Gates served with 2 slices of white bread had me a bit disappointed with JackStack.  Glad we went, but I don't have to go back.
Any parent will tell you what I'm about to tell you:  There are times that I'd give my life for C Batteries.  The pack-n-play vibrates on a C cell.  The swing moves on a C cell.  The vibrating bouncy chair runs on a C cell.

I heard someone say it before I was a dad and now I believe it:  If Menards charged $50.00 for just one C cell battery - I'd pay it.
Doesn't matter what it costs.  In fact, I think these baby product companies are missing out on profits.  Make a swing that puts my baby to sleep every time....Market the hell out of it...Make me NEED to have one.

Then make sure it runs on your own proprietary battery.  Make that sucker last only like 3 weeks.  Make me go out and buy them for $50 a pop.

Guess what?  If the swing works?  You'll have me as a customer.  No matter what it costs.
Are you guys watching Modern Family on ABC?  You soooo should be.  It is on Hulu or you can catch it on Wednesday nights on ABC.  The show stars Ed O'Neill as the patriarch of a uniquely-American family. 3 different story lines collide in each episode which include a gay couple with an adopted Asian daughter, a youngish couple with 3 kids and a pretty goofy dad (and requisite hot mama), and Ed - who married a younger hot potato.

I'm certainly not doing it justice - nor do any of the "clips" on Hulu.  Nevertheless, I've embedded one below.

Up in Michigan, we shop at a grocery store called "The Hilltop".  Well....actually it is named Hardings, but we call it "The Hilltop" because that's what it was called for 15 years.  And it's more fun than "Hardings".  It is a small little store that usually smells like fried chicken.  Seriously.  They must sell a shit-ton of the stuff because you can go in there any time of the day and the deli area is firing up some chicken.  Guess it could smell like worse things.

They sell most things you'd need at a lake house: bbq sauce, a variety of buns, sodas, beers, ice, Star Crunches, and the like.  One of the things I've noticed is that they still put price tags on EVERYTHING.  Not on the store shelves.  On the actual products.  And there's this older guy who does it with the old fashioned "gun" just about every time we go in.
I thought it was unique to Hardings until we went to a rival store in South Haven and there, too, were price tags.  My head started to noodle the reasons for the tags.  Being Michigan and home of the United Auto Works, I thought maybe it had something to do with the Unions?  Like....could the baggers be Teamsters (which I think is common) and somehow the union has convinced the legislature that every item needed to be tagged?  That way there's a bit of job security?  Could be, but I'm not sure.

I went looking on the web and found some background here.  Sounds like everyone says it is about "price fairness" and making pricing transparent.  Sounds like Michigan is one of the last remaining states to do tags on items.  Others think that the practice needs to stop because they're a waste of time, money and resources as well as obscuring some info on the packaging.

So...what do you think?  Is it because of the unions?  Are there tags at your local stores?

One 3 ½ to 4 pound boneless beef chuck pot roast
One package of Zesty Italian Salad Dressing and Recipe Mix
One 16 oz. jar of hot giardiniera
One 16 oz. jar of mild giardiniera
One dozen baguettes (French rolls)

In a four-quart Crock-Pot, pour in one bottle of giardiniera. Place the roast on top of the layer of giardiniera. Sprinkle the salad dressing mixture on top of the roast. Add the second bottle of giardiniera to the top of the roast. Cover Crock-Pot and cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. When fork tender, shred the roast in the Crock-Pot and allow it to combine with the other ingredients. Slice the baguettes in half and pile on the beef and giardiniera mixture.


For the babe's baptism party, we hosted a collection of family and friends back at our house after the church proceedings. We ordered some of the food from Maggiano's including salad and pasta. Those were delicious, however, in my opinion, the star of the day food-wise was the beef. (of course the "real" star of the day was the babe!)

We could have ordered Portillo's or some other beef stand and taken it home and reheated it, but that's now how the Parrillo's roll. I've made italian beef a few ways with mixed results, but have finally settled on this recipe below as my favorite. I first heard about it from radio legend Steve Dahl on his blog. I grabbed the recipe (which...for some reason Steve posts as a .pdf) and pulled together all of the ingredients.  With a minor adjustment, this has now become the black-letter law on beefs in my house.

In the past, I've used 2 bottles of "hot" giardiniera and for some it was too spicy.  So, the recipe now calls for one hot, one mild.  A nice compromise.  We always put out additional giardiniera, slices of mozzarella, and some sweet peppers for people to top their sang-wiches.  Of course a pair of tongs are on-hand for proper "dipping" of said sang-wiches.

For the baptism party, we doubled the recipe and had to turn to a second crockpot.  Both were cleared out by the time the party was over.

One 3 ½ to 4 pound boneless beef chuck pot roast
One package of Zesty Italian Salad Dressing and Recipe Mix
One 16 oz. jar of hot giardiniera
One 16 oz. jar of mild giardiniera
One dozen baguettes (French rolls)

In a four-quart Crock-Pot, pour in one bottle of giardiniera. Place the roast on top of the layer of giardiniera. Sprinkle the salad dressing mixture on top of the roast. Add the second bottle of giardiniera to the top of the roast. Cover Crock-Pot and cook on high for 6 to 8 hours. When fork tender, shred the roast in the Crock-Pot and allow it to combine with the other ingredients. Slice the baguettes in half and pile on the beef and giardiniera mixture.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not the baker in the house - Nat (when she has time) enjoys it more than I do.  Her mom shared a recipe for "Red Velvet" cupcakes late last year and much to our chagrin - it called for numerous bottles of red food coloring.  We walked down to the Jewels (yes...I said "Jewels".) and plunked down $4 a piece for the little bottle of McCormick's coloring and went on our way - knowing that had to be a better way.

Fast forward a few weeks and we found ourselves in Schweppe's on North Avenue near our house.  Schweppe's is a kitchen-supply shop featuring industrial supplies for commercial applications.  They allow the public in - and charge us a bit more than their restaurant customers - but it is still very cheap!

They have everything there from spatulas to snow-cone machines to industrial-sized containers of ketchup.  They also happen to have big bottles of Evon's "Red Color" syrup.  It's about $4 for the entire quart bottle - about the same price the Jewels charge for 2 oz.  We were skeptical - but bought it anyway.  We'd been duped by other red food colorings before - charging little for a lot - and if we deviated from using the McCormick's brand, Nat was always disappointed in the results.  
She finally used this stuff and - wow - it was perfect.  She tells me it was even better than the McCormicks stuff - produced great red velvet cupcakes.    Schweppe's is close, so for those of you who bake red velvet cakes, let me know and I'll pick you up a bottle!

I can't speak much for the color - it looked fine - but I can speak for the taste.  They were gooooood!
I'm in week six(ish) of my return to blogging.  While not EVERYTHING is back in place (I'm still missing the old RhodesSchool.com archives, I've managed to import some of my posts I made in the past few years.  Don't know if the RhodesSchool or JoinCross posts are recoverable (nor if I really **want** them), but they're over at the Way Back Machine if I ever get that homesick.  I also, (finally) got the proper domain up and running.  You can now find this blog at: http://blog.jakeparrillo.com.  After stints on 1871's homebrewed CMS, Typepad, and Wordpress, I'm back home at Blogger - which feels like exactly the right set of tools for me.

From looking at my stats I see that a few folks have wandered over her - finding me through the feed or twitter or simply by search.  Thanks for taking the time to read my posts - while you might not find each post/piece interesting, maybe you'll find them as a body of work compelling as you can see the changes in my interests, lifestyle and intellect.

Blogging for me started six years ago today on February 16, 2004 (Here's my first post).   I'd been reading blogs before that, but I really dug in and started writing (albeit poorly) on the JoinCross.com website - for my former boss House GOP Leader Tom Cross.  Those early days were heady ones.  I started to branch out and seek new friends - folks like Rick Klau (of tins) and Larry Handlin (of ArchPundit) - and the communities they'd carved out on the web.  The whole idea of creating content was a leap for me and pulled me in.

Up until then, my career had mostly NOTHING to do with the web.  Shit...looking back I was a driver for a politican!  I drove someone around for a living.  I wasn't in front of a computer very much.  I guess I didn't really know what I was missing.  Further back, before that, I was selling drywall screws!  Not exactly a NetNative.

Frankly....blogging was the reason I fell in love with the web and never let go.  It sprouted a career and many a friendship.  It was the first opportunity I had to express myself online - and for me, one of the most fulfilling.  I wasn't a pioneer, but rather one of the second wave of settlers.  I'm glad to have been online then.

In retrospect,  I feel like I did break some new ground - mostly in Illinois politics online- and we had a lot of fun - with a few hearty chortles along the way.  Cross let me run wild - mostly because I'm not sure that anyone really knew what we were doing.  There certainly was no instruction manual for a blogger who was writing for a minority party state house caucus.  And...if there was, it most certainly would have said NOT to write about being a Wilco Fanboy and smelt fishing.

I'm back writing on the web because this really is how I fell in love with the web - not just reading it, but publishing to it.  I'm not setting any goals for myself other than to write about what interests me.  I have no ambitions other than to document some of the interesting things I find along the way - and write about them everyday.

Honestly, I'm not really sure why I stopped writing.  Guess it was a casualty of a time crunch and my growing fascination with other things on the web.  Twitter might have pushed me away over the past 2 years as well, and that type of micro-blogging still holds a lot of interest for me.   Mostly, I think I just didn't have that much to say that I wasn't saying elsewhere.    With the changes in my life offline, maybe it is time to talk about some of those changes online.

At the end of the day, I never set out to have a huge audience.  In fact....I never did.  I don't expect one now.  But, hopefully, I'll share some personal thoughts and experiences with everyone and I'll continue to look at the blogging as something I enjoy - not a chore.

So...welcome back blogosphere.  I missed you.

Hopefully, we can share a laugh or two together along the way.
I've read RachelleB's posts in the past about CVS' odd pairings in the liquor department like Cook's Champaign and KY "Touch Lotion" or Merlot and mouth rinse and laughed along at the merchandising mishaps.  I can imagine the dudes who are tasked with creating these pairs wondering if they'd be good fits.

Last week, Nat and I were in a Meijer up in Michigan and it seems that they've gotten this "grocery aisle pairings" a bit more fine tuned.  As we were walking down the liquor aisle, I noticed they have packages of ping pong balls and "Wippety Wipes" (you can barely make them out on the left edge of the photo).   Everything you need for a long night of beer pong, I suppose.  

Who ever has the job of finding these companion products at Meijer in Michigan clearly has a stronger finger on the pulse of drinkers than the folks at the CVS in Chicago.
It isn't perfect being liquor and not beer, but not bad.
The web is full of interesting things - probably infinitely more interesting than my posts here.  To get a full sense of what catches my eye across the web, you can now follow me on Google Buzz here.  There's a lot in there including my Twitter account, my shared items from Google Reader, my Picasa photos, YouTube videos and more.

I've also put up a link to my Buzz page on the top right - and included a nifty little image that someone was nice enough to make and set free out on the web.

Sure I'm biased, but I think there's something worth investing some time in with it.  I live most of my life in the Google Cloud, and this seems to have quite an ambitious road map around Google services.  For me it is a nice fit.  Maybe it will be for you, too?

Would love to see you over on Buzz.
Earlier this year, I said we were finally thinking about finishing our fireplaces.  Wanted to share the progress with you.  Still plenty of work to do on this one and the other one, but hopefully before the weekend is out, these will be grouted and ready to roll.  Just in time for the babe's baptism party on Sunday.

5 years ago today, Nat and I went out on our first date.  I still remember just about everything about that night.  What she was wearing.  Where she lived. What I was wearing.  What I ate.  Where we sat.  How nervous I was in the cab ride there, etc.

The night couldn't have gone any better.  In fact, my life changed that night.  Changed for the better in a big way.  I'll save my mushy-ness for something more personal (like a Google buzz! [kidding, people, kidding]), but I know that asking her out - in a pressure cooker that is the days leading up to Valentine's Day - turned out to be the best decision of my life.

Needless to say, I'm a thankful guy for everything she's done for me.    Love you, Nat.

Here's to lots more celebrations.  Together.
Not to be confused with New Belgium Brewing in Colorado, New Holland Brewing is a rapidly expanding Western Michigan brewing outfit based in Holland Michigan.  Home to more than 15 original brews including 4 year-around beers.  It seems that they've recently ventured out into the "spirits" business with a vodka, gin, rum and whiskey.  Quite the alcoholic empire.

Nat and I had never been to Holland - we're St. Joe's and South Haven folks with an occasional trip to Saugatuck.  So last week, during our time off, we ventured up 196 to check out Holland and the New Holland Brewing Company.

We walked in (with our baby seat in tow), and I was immediately struck by all the pizzas being consumed in the place.  Based on the Yelp reviews, I was expecting pub fare.  Spying our babyseat in tow and knowing we'd most likely have a screaming baby, they dragged us all the way to the back room - upstairs in fact - instead of sitting in the main dining room/bar.  That, alone, may have soured me and my review of their food.
Turns out...I probably should have ordered a pie.  I got cute and ordered the "Don-O-Might" - an italian sandwich which was disappointing, mostly because it lacked any sort of heat in any way.  Nat didn't love what she ordered either.  It was so unmemorable that I can't even remember what she ate!

But...we did like the beer and I suppose that is the point.

We didn't get a lot of time to walk around the charming town to see things and for Nat to shop, so we will be back when the weather warms up.  When we do, we'll probably stop into the New Holland Brewing Company, but we'll only order beers and a few appetizers.
Coloma Michigan, where my family has been going for over 20 years has a lot of natural beauty.  Most of it involves Paw Paw Lake.  My parents bought their place up there in the late fall of 1989 and one of our first trips was in December.  Being a lake-town, the place was quiet and there wasn't a lot to do.  

But...like a beacon in the night, the Loma Theatre was open.  The neon sign wasn't working, the marquee was poorly utilized (lots of "5's" for "S's" and such) and the movies were second run at best.

I forget which movie we went to (as a family) that night, but I vividly remember walking into one of the 3 cramped theatres and seeing a section of seats roped off with yellow "caution" tape.  About half way through the movie we found out why the tape was there as a portion of the ceiling collapsed in and slammed to the floor.  The place was in rough shape.

Since then, I'm not certain what has happened, but the place has been transformed.  
The Loma now shows first run movies - they get them on release weeks in fact - and usually has something worth seeing.  They've also upgraded their facilities and, thankfully, there are no more leaky roofs.  

Most importantly, they've left the ticket prices very reasonable - $4/adult for a matinee and $5/adult at night and that price includes a free soda and popcorn (if you bring your own bucket!  yes....bucket!).  These buckets have shown up at my the lake house so each time before we go, we grab a pair of them and bring them along.  You "fix" your own corn, too.  So, if you want lots of "topping" - not butter, you can do that.  Or salt or whatnot.  Pretty great if you are a "layering" guy like myself.

Nat and I took the babe to see "When in Rome" there last week and while the movie was terrible, the experience of going to the movies at the Loma Theatre in Coloma is just right.  
Just back yesterday from a week of rest - we've been up in Michigan taking the week off.  We did a lot of nothing and loved every minute of it.  Really feel recharged at work this morning after being away all week.   Have to do this more often.
We spent time in Holland, St. Joe's (more on those soon) and South Haven.  South Haven is a short drive away from Coloma.  We head there for coffees/sodas in the morning at Cafe Julia and enjoy the town a bit.  They have these cookies called "The Cookie" which are spectacular.  I think they used to call them "granola clusters" but changed the name at some point.  I can't recommend them enough.  If someone has reverse-engineered the recipe of these things please notify my wife Nat!

We always park in the big municipal lot - which during the summers has a wonderful farmer's market and during the winter they turn into a ice rink.  They built this structure a few years back and it really turned out great.
This was Thursday morning and it was quiet, but we went back on Saturday morning for breakfast with Nat's family (who was visiting potential wedding reception sites!) and the rink was swarming with people young and old.  
You're really missing some good comedy.  Seriously.

Nat and I don't stay up that late very often, but when I do, I always go to bed with my belly hurting from laughing so much.  Most of the times, like last night, I catch him on Fridays.

Some say that "he's the best thing to happen to late night tv since Carson."  He doesn't seem to get too much credit for having a great show, but much like Conan was on Late Night, I suspect he has a very loyal following who hangs on his every show.

Craig's show is a bit different than Letterman/Leno/Conan.  He does bits just like them, but the biggest difference is in how the show opens.  He does a long monologue.  Like a REALLY long monologue compared to Jay and Dave.   I never noticed it until a friend (who also works in late night tv) mentioned to it, but indeed, he was right:  sometimes the monologue goes past the 30 minute mark and is broken up with commercials.  In fact, he can carry the entire show by himself without guests and I wouldn't mind it one bit.  That's probably because the typical guests are pretty bad.  On more than one occasion, I had never heard of the guest before their appearance.  Another notable thing about the monologue is how "close" he is to the camera.  It is a bit jarring at first, but quite endearing after seeing it for a bit.

He's also the first host "since Carson" who dresses up.  Again, I never noticed it, but the friend (the same one!) who turned me on to Ferguson mentioned that it was notable.

But...don't take my word for it.  Take 9 minutes of your life and enjoy this.

It's a great day for America!
I mentioned earlier in the year that we received a really nice wood carving for our home from my future-brother-in-law Bill as a Christmas/Wedding present.  Since December 25th, it has had a nice home leaning against the wall on top of our piano.  Nat was getting tired of it not being hung.  I was getting tired of not being hung.  The issue was that on the back, Bill had sunk in two fixed heavy-duty hangers.  The type that you have to put two screws in the wall then try to "hit" the hole on the back.  There wasn't a wire to hang this thing from, so I first considered stringing one of those.

Nat's folks were over this weekend and I mentioned to them that I thought that's how I was going to hang it.  However, her mother reminded me that they bought me a level for Christmas last year (2008) that was made for this task:  The 36" Black and Decker Accu-Mark Level with Gecko Grip!

The level is, indeed, made for hanging things on the wall.  First, it has this grip (they call it "Gecko Grip" on each outer edge.  That makes this a "one handed" tool.  While you're marking the holes with your pencil, you can hold the thing with the other hand perfectly still.  And...about those holes?  Lining them is easy with these little sliders.  You lay the level on the back of the frame/object and line up the sliders with the holes.  Then you put the level on the wall where you want it and transcribe the holes onto the wall.  Viola!  Perfect distance apart.

We have quite a few more things that need hanging, but I can't move too fast less Nat will know how easy these have become!  Besides, we're waiting for the mantles to be finished before we make any more decisions on what goes where permanently.  I want to bask in the glory of getting this hung for a bit.

For those Ladies reading this...if you have a bunch of photos or paintings or what not just leaning up against your walls because your husband put off hanging them, BUY THIS LEVEL NOW.  He'll have no more excuses because this thing makes it soooo easy.

Up in Michigan there were a few boxes of Cracker Jack in the pantry.  Like most things up there (and I presume the case is much the same at most people's lake houses), I have NO idea how old it is.  Could be a few months.  Could be a few years.

It's just popcorn, carmel and nuts, right?  How bad could it be.  I cracked it open and it was - much to my displeasure - pretty stale.  Before I threw it away, I dumped the rest of it out to see what the prize was.
I don't remember what Cracker Jack prizes were when I was a kid, but I have to think they were better than this.
A friggin' Minnesota Twins sticker?  Seriously?  What kid is going to be into that?  Not even a Twins fan.

Cracker Jack:  Who you crappin?
Here's a tip for all of you pizza take-out guys and girls.  After you pick up your pie and get into your car, crack the box lid a bit.  It'll release the steam and keep your crust nice and crisp.  Your windows steam up in the car some, but the overwhelming aroma of sausage and pepperoni more than makes up for it.  Here's the cracked box in my front seat that I picked up Friday from Two Brothers from Italy in Elmhurst.
What's that?  You don't pick up your pies?  You get delivery?

Yesterday, we closed on the sale of my condo in Frankfort.  Bittersweet day.  While I'm thrilled to have sold the property during these difficult times in the real estate world, it is sad to close a chapter on my life.  I bought the place in 2003 right after my election to the Village Board.  It was my "first place".  I bought pre-construction and picked out all of the finishes.  I loved that place.  Loved everything about it.  It was "above" a series of commercial stores.  There was an italian restaurant, a bar, a hair salon, a bank, and a Greek breakfast restaurant.  The Village really stepped out when they (we) approved it.

After we got married, we moved out.  We had a few false starts with buyers who couldn't close because of mortgage issues, so we ended up renting it for a year plus.  After the babe was on her way, I decided that I wasn't interested in being a landlord any longer.  Couldn't deal with the issues.  Didn't want the stress.

Off it went - for a great price.  Hopefully the new buyer will love the place as much as I did.  I'm biased, but there isn't a better place for a single dude to live in the southwest suburbs.  

A lot of things changed in my life while I lived in this place.  I met Nat, we got Maisy, I was elected twice to the Village Board.  Lots of good times, but the sale just reinforces the notion that time marches on.  

Looking back at my "bachelorhood" and my life in Frankfort is fun, but with all the changes in my life - most notably - the arrival of the babe, I'd rather be looking forward.
In the Parrillo household, we start 'em early.  Much to her mother's consternation, the babe went into the booth with daddy and pulled a Republican ballot yesterday morning at our polling place at Elmhurst City Hall.  From the looks of the returns, we got *some* of them right.  On to the General Election in the fall.  Going to be a fun one.

We're subscribers to the print edition of "bon appetit" magazine.  I know....blame Nat and I for the demise of Gourmet!  Anyway, I don't love the magazine.  Sometimes I find something in there worth clipping, but most of the time not.  One of the features I do enjoy, however, is the section inside the back cover called "FEEDBACK".  They interview a famous (or relatively) famous person about their food peccadilloes and passions.  

The questions change depending on who's being interviewed (this month is Stanley Tucci), but one question seems to be in there every month:  Name three things that are always in your refrigerator.

I can do mine: giardiniera, peanut butter (yes!  We keep our pb in the fridge and I'm kinda partial to this 'flaxseed pb' from TJ's at right), and "Special Blend" dry Parm/Romano blend from Caputo's Market.   

Now..it is your turn to share with me in the comments.  Only rule:  your items can't include Arm & Hammer Baking Soda. 
On plenty of gadget/nerd blogs that I read, I often see "unboxing" of new gadgets/phones/computers.  They're step-by-step photos of un-packing of the new prized piece of technology.  It has always fascinated me that someone would go through the trouble of documenting each piece of packaging.  I don't think that it is for the 'packaging nut', rather, I think it is said nerds way of showing off a bit on his/her new toy.  

Well...good news for you.  Unless you want me to "unbox" my new mitre saw stand, I'm going to skip any such technology documentation.  Instead...I'll share with you something I find a bit more interesting: cheese.  Yes...CHEESE! 

My wife LOVES peonies.  I LOVE cheese!  Rather have it than chocolate any day of the week.  Since the day I joined at work, they've always had string cheese in the fridge.  For those afternoon snacks, they've usually filled the bill.  But, when we came back from Christmas break, there was something new in the fridge alongside the string cheese.    These babies:

Umm...have you met Babybel?  You have?  Maybe I'm living under a rock, but I had never tasted these before.  In fact, I'm not sure I had ever heard of them.  I'm here to tell you:  RUN OUT AND GET SOME TONIGHT!  

Now...for the unboxing.  They come wrapped in cellophane.  When you peel that off, you're left with this wax disc.  Pretty neat stuff.  It has a nice pull-tab.  For - what I assume is a low-priced item - these are well packaged.  
Pull the tab and the center part of the cheese is exposed.  

You can then pop the cheese out and end up with a cute little wax pac-man shape.  And...the cheese is HERE!
I'm sure you can bite into this thing a few different times, but not me.  They're big, but I just pop them in my mouth whole.  Gluttonous?  Sure is.   The only issue is that there aren't a ton in the fridge.  I'm not sure when the kitchen folks fill it up, but I have missed them on some days.  Looks like someone else in the office may be on to these!  Maybe writing about these wasn't the best idea after all.