48 Hours in Chicago

Let me just start off by mentioning that, if you’re a foodie, Chicago is the place to check out! We were only there for two days, so we only got to try a few places but, oh my geez, they were all good!

We took this trip to celebrate my other half’s 30th because he’s big into music and blues – and what better place to visit? (I mean, we’re from Memphis *ahem*, so I feel like we know good blues 😉 )

We got there around noon on a Friday and checked into our AirBnB (I highly recommend it in a place like Chicago), which was the cutest little basement apartment in Wicker Park: a quaint little neighborhood with some great shops and restaurants within walking distance.

Then we were faced with a hard decision…I mean, very hard….

Where did we want to get our deep-dish Chicago-style pizza? I’d heard great things about quite a few places, but Lou Malneti’s and Giordano’s were continuously mentioned. We went with Giordano’s because of how close it is to Millenium Park, and it certainly did not disappoint! Talk about cheesy melt-y goodness… (Side Note: Don’t be “hangry” when you get to Giordano’s…the good stuff takes about 45 minutes to bake, but it’s SO WORTH IT!)

Giordano's Pizza
Every pizza is a personal pizza, if you believe in yourself. (Thankfully, we did not…we barely made it through half this thing!)

We were on to Millenium Park after that to see the Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) and, honestly, to start walking off our rapidly-approaching food coma after Giordano’s. As you’d expect, there were selfies being taken right and left around The Bean, so go ahead and join in: no judgment here!

Later that night, we headed out for a drink at Buddy Guy’s Legends and then were on to Rosa’s Lounge. If you’re into some good local blues, definitely check out Rosa’s. It was voted local’s favorite last year and the tickets are pretty reasonable. It’s a cozy place near Logan Square, an area a bit outside of the hustle and bustle (it’s definitely a cab or Uber drive). The night we were there, Corey Dennison Band was playing and the house was packed. It.was.amazing…I’d never seen someone playing blues with as much energy and gumption as Corey had.

Rosa's Lounge
This teeny little gem is worth checking out!

On Saturday, our only full day in the city, we checked out Yolk for breakfast. I think this was the food highlight of the trip for both of us. Four words: Cinnamon.Roll.French.Toast… Seriously, GO THERE. It may not be what a foodie deems “local eating” since it’s a small chain, but it was one of my top favorite breakfasts of all time. That French toast was decadent.

Yolk's Cinnamon Roll Stuffed French Toast
Cinnamon Roll Stuffed French Toast with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage links…need I say more?
Challah French Toast with Cinnamon Apples & Pecans
Yolk’s Challah French Toast with Cinnamon Apples and Pecans. These were pretty tasty, but the Cinnamon Roll Stuffed French Toast takes the cake.
Benedict Caprese & Fresh Fruit
Yolk’s Benedict Caprese with potatoes and fresh fruit

After breakfast, we walked the city, and stumbled upon a Cards Against Humanity exhibit in the Historic Water Tower. Our curiosity got the better of us…a gorgeous historic building with an exhibit about a hilarious, yet profane, card game? To no surprise, the exhibit posters and signs were sarcastic and witty, just like the game. Turns out, the creators are from Chicago, and we learned quite a bit about the success behind what started as a small in-home startup among friends. (My inner nerd kicked in at this point on the trip.)

Cards Against Humanity Exhibit at the Historic Water Tower
Who would’ve thought?
Cards Against Humanity Vending Machine
They really thought of everything…

We continued walking the city (we walked about 9 miles on this day, alone!) and tried to catch the view from the top of Sears Tower, but had no luck due to the wait time.

For dinner, we were the ultimate tourists and got a hot dog from Portillo’s: mainly because of its proximity to a piano lounge we were headed afterward. In my opinion, Portillo’s should be saved for a second or third trip to Chicago: the hot dogs were good, but didn’t live up to the hype everyone had given them.

We spent the rest of Saturday night listening to some great music at the Redhead Piano Bar and then at Chicago Blues: both of which I would highly recommend. Redhead Piano Bar has a certain upscale feel that you don’t quite see very often, excellent piano talent, a great cocktail list and friendly bartenders. What more could you want? Chicago Blues’ ambiance was a bit more casual, with people more anxious to get a good seat to see the blues band than carry on conversation at the bar.

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We ended the night with a show at The Second City: a renowned comedy club with a pretty awesome alumni list (Dan Akroyd, Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler…to name a few). The sketches were quick-witted, and delivered hilarious Improv mixed with SNL-style scenes. The tickets were lower than expected, especially for the close seats. Needless to say, we had a great time: this was the highlight of our Chicago weekend! And the idea that the cast members we saw that night have a strong likelihood of becoming famous made it even more of a great experience.

Sunday, our last half day in the city, we spent roaming Wicker Park: the neighborhood where our AirBnB was located. We stumbled upon The Bongo Room, off N. Milwaukee Avenue, for an excellent brunch. With it being Sunday, and…ya’ know…everyone and their mother decides to brunch on Sunday, there was a bit of a wait for a table. But, if we had to wait, we were in the right area for it: we killed time in cute little clothing and vintage home accessory boutiques right around the restaurant. Which, by the way, PLEASE try their Brunch menu: it’s small but mighty.

Bongo Room's Deconstructed Lobster Roll Benedict
Bongo Room’s Deconstructed Lobster Roll Benedict served with cheese potatoes
Bongo Room's BLT Benedict
Bongo Room’s BLT Benedict served with cheese potatoes (with an Orange Mango Mimosa at close-hand…yum!)

It was nice to check out more of the “local scene”. Of course, me being the shopper I am (and BONUS POINTS for cute vintage stores!), I was in heaven. But, we were running short on time, and one last spot had yet to be checked off our Chicago To-Do list: The Chicago Music Exchange. My guy is a huge music buff and had made this his “can’t miss” item on our list. Even for the least musically-talented person around (…that would be me….), it was quite impressive.

I’d say ending the weekend at Chicago Music Exchange was perfect for the birthday boy: he was in heaven!

If I had it my way, my weekend trips would revolve mainly around shopping, walking the city, and eating, so it was nice to break it up with some great live music and comedy throughout the weekend. Our 48 hours were jam-packed, but we were able to see and do quite a bit on our list. What are your favorite Chicago spots?

 

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Go Big in Beantown: Planning a Trip to Boston

First time visiting Boston? Here are some tips and places you’ll need to make sure happen, no matter how long or short the trip:

I was in Boston for a week just after Labor Day, and it was an unusually warm week for them. We were lucky with no rain, so we walked as much as we could. Being there for only a week makes me no expert by any means, but I do have some tips for those first-timers like I was just a few short months ago.

  1. Walk as much as you can, wear comfy shoes, & go light for your bag/purse
    Boston is one of the best walking cities I’ve visited. Put your destination on Google Maps and switch it over to the walking directions. The majority of the city is on a grid system, making for easy walks that are packed with great people-watching and sightseeing. Make sure you pack those comfy shoes though, and lighten up on what you carry. We made the mistake of wearing the wrong shoes on the first day. We had some killer blisters by the end of the day, and our shoulders hurt from the amount of stuff we carried in our purses. Please, learn from our mistakes!Here’s what I had in my purse on the last day, after I had become a “pro” (I use that term oh-so loosely):
  • Phone
  • Sunglasses
  • Small coin purse big enough for driver’s license, a bit of cash, my hotel card, and my credit card
  • Chapstick
  • Portable battery charger for my phone (you’ll need this!)
  • Ponytail Band
  • Band-Aid (in case of blisters)
  • The Freedom Trail mapLet me just re-iterate on the comfy shoes part one more time…I took pictures of my feet at the end of the week just to remind myself for future trips…it’s that bad… I’ll spare you by keeping my feet off the internet but, just know, you have no idea how many different types and places you can get a blister until you’ve worn the wrong shoes in such a walkable city.
  1. Splurge on the Freedom Trail tour, and do it early in your trip.
    I know, I know – it’s so lame to be the “tourist”. But forget about fitting in with the locals for a second, and make sure you take this tour. Boston is packed with such interesting historical landmarks – you just can’t pass up this tour. The tour guides are dressed as if they are a famous colonial-era figure, and tell stories and facts about Boston you can’t get anywhere else. We made a point to go on this tour our first day of Boston. This helped tremendously as we navigated throughout the city for the rest of the week, and we ended up using the Freedom Trail map as one of our main references for the rest of the trip. (Make sure you have some cash to tip your guide at the end!)60605141-BD4D-48A2-BCED-F96BF31B8376
  2. When it comes to food, you gotta go big but also, ask the locals.
    We went to Boston with a list of places to eat and/or drink, many of which were famous for one reason or another, such as Union Oyster House (open continuously since 1826), Mike’s Pastry, or Giacomo’s (consistently named Best Italian). However, if you’re only in the city for a short while, these line-out-the-door places may not work for your dinner schedule. Who cares if you’re not eating at the normal dinner hour? You’re in Bah-ston. Go in the later afternoon or for an early dinner so you can try some of these places where the line is slightly shorter.After hearing about the history of the Omni Parker House on the Freedom Trail tour, we decided to end our tour back in their bar for a drink and a taste of the original Parker House-style rolls and a piece of Boston Crème pie (Omni Parker House is where this tasty treat was created). We asked our Boston-born-and-raised waiter where he liked to eat, and he shared some places with us that were the food highlight of our trip! Places that we wouldn’t have known about, otherwise.Some of our favorites:
  • Carmelina’s: (North End: Authentic Sicilian comfort food) Make sure you call ahead and put your name on the list. This place was so good, we went twice. And we never do that on a trip. The atmosphere is cozy, with a tiny dining area and an open air patio area if the weather is nice. The staff here is friendly, with the most perfect thick accents, and helpful in suggesting good dishes. We got to sit at their counter, practically IN the kitchen, and watch them make our food. Our favorites were the Sunday Macaroni and the Carbonara. The Carbonara remains in my top-five ALL-TIME favorite dishes. I honestly think no other Carbonara can beat it. (sorry, Dad.)

     

  • Neptune Oyster: (North End: Amazingly fresh oysters, seafood) This is another cozy place, with only a few tables and a long bar; however, it is a bit of a wait since you cannot make reservations. We went there for an early dinner, put our name on the list, and then walked around the little shops of the North End. We told our waiter to surprise us with the best, local oysters on the menu; and he did not disappoint! We also split the Cioppino and the Lobster Roll (which was decadent: make sure to get it hot, with butter!)
  • Trident Café: This little place is in the upstairs of the Trident Bookstore, which sits along Newbury St. It was the perfect little breakfast to start off our major day of walking. If you go for breakfast, you MUST get their Mega Tots, which are gigantic tatertots stuffed with melty-gooey cheese. Don’t even think twice about it; just do it. You’ll walk it off later anyway, right? Make sure you leave a little bit of time to browse the bookstore: they’ve got a great gift and book selection.C51C21AE-DE41-4516-9BCE-469F37FCBB3D
  1. Head Over to Harvard and MIT
    Walk or rent a bike and ride it over the Charles River on the Harvard Bridge. It’s really not as far as it seems, and you get some great people watching, especially on a nice day when the school crew teams are rowing down the river and the locals are out enjoying the weather. Almost as soon as you cross the bridge, you’re on MIT’s campus, and about a mile down Massachusetts Ave. is Harvard’s campus. Think of all that brain power that resides within just a mile radius! But seriously, do it. It was a really cool experience to sit in the Harvard yard as students rushed to their next class.

     

  2. Other Stuff Worth Mentioning
    If you’re into shopping like my mom and I are, I highly recommend perusing Newbury St. It’s filled with quaint little storefronts filled with gifts, clothes, books, and a heck-uva lot more. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous little street to walk through, shopping or not. We loved Johnny Cupcakes, Trident Books, Georgetown Cupcake (yum!) and Newbury Comics.If you appreciate gorgeous old architecture, make sure to leave some time to walk through the Boston Public Library…ohmygosh… I could have sat in there all day, just staring, but I probably would have gotten weird looks. If you’re there, make sure to check out the courtyard!90E97900-D158-491D-AA35-8DA45B36AE50BCC6DF86-4D01-4BCF-AD3C-C5D6160EEAC6

    Like typical tourists, we did Cheers – it was fun, and a cold beer in a Cheers mug was well-deserved after a toasty, but oh-so-pretty walk through the Boston Public Garden.

    We ended our first night at Mike’s Pastry with some treats to take back to the room. They were so amazingly good! After we left, we heard amazing reviews about a similar place, called Modern Pastry. You must try one (or both!) of these places to satisfy that late night sweet tooth. Mmmm, I can picture those pastries in my head as I write this…

    The picture below is my idea of heaven…a big comfy bed and a box of Mike’s 🙂

    F64903C9-634D-4810-81D1-294421FF134D

Even though we were there for a week, part of that time was spent at a conference, so I must say: there will be a “Beantown: Part 2” in my near future! That being said, we didn’t get to go everywhere we wanted (Wrigley Field, for instance.)

Have you been to Boston, or are you planning a trip soon? Let me know what your favorite places are!

 

Paid, Earned, or Owned Media: Which is More Important?

We were asked to discuss whether paid, owned or earned media is more important than others in a Social Media plan after reading this article by Daniel Newman, author of “The Millennial CEO“, and an expert on social influence and ROI.

But first, what exactly are they?

Here’s the quick’n’dirty:

Paid: Content that your business or organization pays to have placed in front of your target audience: whether it be sponsored social media posts, or banners/advertisements on websites that your target audience frequents (Facebook, Amazon, etc.)

Owned: Any type of content that your business/organization owns the rights to: articles, blogs, eBooks, podcasts, etc. This type of content is often offered to a target audience to demonstrate the knowledge and klout that a business/organization has.

Earned: Content shared by your customers, whether it’s written by you and then shared by the customer, or written solely by the customer. Keep in mind, though: this can be wonderful or fatal. But with strong paid and owned media, earned media can be a great reward from your customers.

With that being said, which do you think is most important? My belief is that all three elements are important in order to have a strong social media plan.

Think, for a second, how your social media plan would be without paid media: Your content would only be circulated around your current customer base, relying on your customers to reach new leads for you. Paid media allows you to reach new leads and potentially convert them into consumers.

Now, what if you didn’t have owned media? You wouldn’t be building trust and brand reputation. How will your target audience know what services or products you can provide? How do they know you have the knowledge to back up these products or services?

Finally, what if you had no earned media? Without consumer generated content, your organization would seem as if it had no customers. Consumers often rely on reviews and testimonials from others to make purchasing decisions, so it is crucial that your brand/organization have advocates. Furthermore, make it easy for your brand advocates by providing excellent and intriguing content (a.k.a: Owned media) that they might want to share with their network.

The Story that Stayed With Me

I am often moved by stories that “jolt” me. They wake up something inside me that stirs up my passion to help others, which typically involves animals and/or children. These stories are often incredibly written or spoken, offering a call-to-action that is hard to say “no” to.

My assignment this week is to discuss a story that moved me, or caused me to take action. Obviously, I started thinking about the most recent articles or books I’ve read; but Food Inc., a documentary that I watched about 6 years ago, is what stayed in my mind. I’m sure you’ve heard of it before, since it’s been out for 7 or 8 years or so and was nominated for an Academy Award.

food inc.jpg

This story showcases our society’s detachment from the original source of our foods, and how much we rely on the convenience and low price of a fast food meal. During the time this documentary was released, the economy was struggling, and families were trying to save money wherever they could. Because of this, you’d think the documentary’s message would go in one ear and out the other. However, there seemed to be a simultaneous push for more organic options in grocery stores and fast food restaurants began to include more information on the sources of their food.

Unfortunately, this topic is often preached to the choir. Consumers who already know the story and have shopped organic for years are the ones who often are the audience of documentaries like these. But the Food, Inc. story was so incredibly engaging, it reached a crowd that others couldn’t…a crowd that really needed to hear it. As a college student on a college budget, I was a part of this crowd. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by this story, and started taking more responsibility on educating myself about what I eat.

What sticks with me about this story, to this day, is the video footage that accompanied the story to strengthen their message. The images are ingrained in my head still.  And it was definitely effective, because I have yet to consume Tyson branded anything since that day, and continue to stay informed on my food sources. This story pops up in the back of my head when shopping at the grocery store and arguing with myself on whether I should save money and get the more inexpensive cut of meat, or spend a little more to know where my chicken came from…I choose the latter, thanks to my Food, Inc. reminder.

Finding Your Brand’s Writing Voice: Thoughts and Take-Aways

I attended my first marketing conference two weeks ago, and came back with a certain energy that no amount of those sugar-free Monsters I should stop drinking could amount to (as tasty as they may be).

My seat neighbor on the flight home from Boston (also a conference attendee) said “Wow, you went big for your first marketing conference!” Yes, yes I did. And I’m already excited about next year’s INBOUND conference too.

One of the sessions I attended talked about finding your “voice” when writing for your brand (personal or professional).  HubSpot’s Product Editor-in-Chief, Beth Dunn, gave some great tips and reminders when “finding your voice”. Her session tickled my grammar/ writing-nerd fancy, so I thought I’d share my take-aways from her session for others looking to find their “voice”.

 “Use Your Words: Find the Voice of Your Brand” by HubSpot’s Product Editor-in-Chief, Beth Dunn:

  1. Sound human:
    When we speak, we use contractions. It’s not natural to say every single word when having a conversation with someone. Change “you will not” to “you won’t”, “I cannot” to “I can’t” and so on.
  2. Sound honest:
    Who uses the words “employ”, “utilize” or “leverage” when talking to friends or family? It’s best to use shorter, simpler words — not unnecessarily fancy words. All three of these words can be replaced with one word: “use”. It’s clear and simple.
  3. Cut the exclamation points:
    Using exclamation points, especially in multiples, reveals a weakness in your words. If your words are strong, you can show your excitement without exclamation points.
  4. Avoid jargon:
    Using acronyms can alienate your readers if they have to go look up what it stands for. Err on the side of over-defining them: type out the word multiple times before shortening it to its acronym, even for common marketing phrases, such as: “SEO” or “CTA”.
  5. Use spell check:
    It seems obvious, but proof your writing before publishing it. Solely relying on your word processor to catch your mistakes…is a mistake. It may not catch a capitalized word that should be lowercase instead, and it typically can’t check context (be sure you’ve used the proper “their”, “they’re”, or “there”).
  6. Use a style guide:
    If you don’t have one, make one. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a place to capture the language, style, look and feel of your writing to make sure you are consistent. Keep it nearby every time you write a new piece of content. (Some items to consider: Will you use the oxford comma? Is it e-mail or email? Drop-down or dropdown?)
  7. Hire an editor (or find an editor-at-heart):
    Everyone knows or works with a grammar nerd (I’m guilty of the title). They love to help because, honestly, they cringe at the sight of poor grammar… so they’ll likely help for their own sanity. (They may even have a template for you to start with for number 6, above.)
  8. Check your pronouns:
    Avoid using “we” and “I” – it’s not about you, it’s about them. Use “you” instead. Instead of “I’m excited to announce…” or “We’re working hard to bring…” use “You’ll be happy to hear…” or “You’re going to love this…”
  9. Role play:
    Before publishing, take on the persona of one of your readers. Think of their personality, add a bad mood on top of that, and read your words again. How will it sound to them on a bad day? Will it entertain them, or be overlooked?
  10. Don’t be snarky:
    We incorrectly think that snarky = humor. Using this form of humor can come off as self-righteous and jerky. Instead, channel someone you think is light-heartedly funny.

And lastly, the super top-secret to being a good writer:

You ready for it?

Be kind.

Your Personal Brand: How Are You Managing It?

“You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” The Fight Club quote Chris Brogan opened up with in his Personal Branding Tactics acted as a screaming wake up call for my personal brand. How have I been setting myself apart from the rest?

One of the main takeaways from reading about effective personal branding is, basically, what we were all taught as kids: to be honest, make good friends (“but keep the old…”, or however that song goes) and share

Be Honest:
(Basically, be genuine, open and a REAL person)

Don’t hide behind your brand or spend time trying to sound like a more advanced writer. You might end up like this guy, if you do:
friends joey thesaurus

Gary Vaynerchuk’s speaking style in this video was a perfect example of this. Did it contain casual or slang terms that usually aren’t used when promoting your personal brand? Yes. But was it stuffy and boring? No.
There’s no denying that he has that passion so many of us are currently searching for. I highly recommend watching one of his videos if you haven’t already.

So Gary fired us up…now what?

Barry Feldman and Michael Hyatt’s Personal Branding Tips give us some great tips and reminders for getting started with a personal brand. And they all seem to have one thing in common: YOU…it all revolves around you being you, not someone else. (“Define YOUR audience, Show YOURself, Find YOUR voice”…see a pattern here?) Bottom Line: Your personal brand is just that…personal. How does that quote by Oscar Wilde go again?
Be_yourself._Everyone_else_is_taken._Oscar_Wilde

Make Good Friends:
(or make lasting connections through trust)

Jacob Cass’ story in this TEDx video reminds us that the power of connections can go a long way. In his case, it found him a new job when he was in a time crunch. Jacob tells us that he received an incredible response from his connections after posting on social media and his blog. But would he have had a similar response had he not nurtured these connections or provided helpful information to them at one point or another? Probably not.

How do we nurture our connections, though, to make them last? We listen and engage with them. We collaborate with them, always giving credit to them where credit is due.

Share:
(Share great content, and don’t be afraid!)

Chris Brogan suggests that we “think of way upon way to contribute and be useful.”

We can do this by sharing interesting and relevant content to our networks. Jenni Hogan’s advice (in Kelly Clay’s Personal Branding Secrets) of applying a filter of values (her three values are: “impact, inspire, and inform”) is an excellent way to always remember your audience when sharing content.

In this same article, Porter Gale reminds us to stay focused by making sure the content we share reinforces our passions, goals and objectives. I may be guilty of the stereotypical Instagram post with a filtered photo of my dinner from time to time, but this does nothing for my personal brand. Sure, I might get a few followers from them but, from the looks of their Instagram names, they probably won’t be following me too much longer when they see how infrequently I post healthy food pictures. At the end of the day, find what makes you tick (in a good way). What fills you with joy and passion? The answer to this question can make a world of difference if you actively incorporate it into your own personal brand.

Why? Simple. it’s YOU, and YOUR passion.

onefishswiminoppositedir_78705-758x485

Implementing Virtual Reality into Product Design: My Product Pitch

Disclaimer: The following post was created for a school assignment. I have no affiliation with the Nike brand.

Virtual and augmented reality is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world. Athletic brands should adopt this technology and begin research on its use for their current products.

The Nike Fuel “GoBand VR” system will take its users to whole new level of fitness…

Nike “Fuel Go-ggles” (included with every Nike Fuel GoBand VR) creates an augmented reality environment when worn by pairing a virtual fitness coach with their real world. Users will take a short health survey that includes basic questions about lifestyle, age, goals, etc. and will be given three virtual trainers to choose from (based on survey results). From there, the Fuel GoBand will track daily movement to further shape the user’s fitness plan.

Through the user’s settings, the virtual trainer’s coaching style can be adjusted from a friendly trainer to a military-style coach. Even when not wearing the Go-ggles, the user’s trainer can “buzz” them via the Fuel GoBand (worn on the wrist) when they detect a particularly sedentary time period in the user’s day. Like the previous FuelBand SE, the band still detects all types of movement and tracks calories burned, steps, challenges with friends and more.

However, the addition of the Go-ggles is what takes it to the next level. In addition to projecting an augmented reality of fitness through the Go-ggles, the lens will be UV-protected to act as a pair of sunglasses if working outdoors.

Using real-world equipment (treadmills, bicycles, jump rope, etc.) the virtual trainer will create a fitness routine that will, if a heart rate monitor is worn and synced with the Fuel GoBand, achieve target heart rates and push the user to burn a pre-set number of calories. Virtual trainers will even give pep talks and reminders to hydrate throughout the workout.

Users can earn a certain number of points per workout, and have the ability to become the “Workout Warrior” of each fitness routine when they reach mastery level and time. At the conclusion of each workout, a summary will appear with the option to share the user’s workout statistics on Facebook or Twitter. Additionally, users can check their status at anytime on their FuelBand app to see points and where they rank among friends, in their local area or world-wide.

The Nike Fuel GoBand VR system will open up opportunities to further change the future of fitness. Users now have the ability to challenge friends across the country to a virtual race or can choose to go for a bike ride in alternate landscapes across the world.