Thursday, April 26, 2012

Outdoor Entertaining - A Nifty Nautical Theme Party

When it comes to throwing a party, no one does it better than my talented friend, event stylist Suzanne Armstrong. In my latest video for Make it Better, Suzanne shows how to celebrate with this season's trendy, preppy nautical theme. It's the perfect way to launch a high school or college graduate, but the ship-shape ideas can be adapted to any summer party and the cheerful theme is perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Brava Giada and Giuliana - from your newest fan

This week I've been surprisingly impressed with two Italian-born cable TV stars:  Food Network chef Giada de Laurentiis and E! host and reality star, Giuliana Rancic. Why? I'll start with Giada.

Giada de Laurentiis, image via
I'm not a foodie, but I have seen a few minutes of Giada de Laurentiis's show, Giada at Home.  At the time, I was struck more by what a babe she is than the dish she was preparing. The seductive way she leans over her chopping board and peers up at the camera is a talent on it's own. But two weeks ago, browsing the book section at Costco, I picked up her new cookbook,  Weeknights with Giada: Quick and Simple Recipes to Revamp Dinner for the bargain price of $18.99. My weeknight cooking has been dismally uninspired, so I figured I'd give it try.

Since then, I've made four of Giada's recipes - more new recipes than I usually try in a year.  I made Shrimp and Sausage Cioppino, Thai Turkey Lettuce Cups, Sweet and Spicy Greek Meatballs, and just last night, Toasted Ciabatta with Shrimp, Tarragon, and Arugula. These dishes are inventive and flavorful and not all that difficult to put together (if I concentrate.) My kids and husband are amazed.

Even though making dinner now requires me to shop at different stores for the higher quality ingredients (Jewel doesn't carry lemon grass or Thai fish sauce) and chop a lot of scallions and fresh herbs, I am enjoying my culinary adventure. I don't think I can go back to turkey burgers and bagged caesar salad. So on behalf of the whole Killeen family, thanks for cranking up my cooking engines, Giada.

Giuliana Rancic, image via
Now, onto my next inspiring signorina.

Two nights ago, my daughter Emma was watching an E! True Hollywood Story episode about Giuliana Rancic that completely sucked me in. Her story is fascinating. She has achieved success through hard work and determination, yes, but also by being a fun, genuine, caring chick. Despite her rail-thin frame and designer duds, Giuliana is no diva.

I was aware that she and her husband, "Apprentice" winner Bill Rancic, have been struggling with fertility and the fallout from Giuliana's shocking  breast cancer diagnosis. But I didn't know that she was such a cool, brave, honest, positive person. And her Italian family is amazing. Every single one of them had tears running down their faces, expressing how much she means to them. You should have seen her papa try to keep it together. The show was so touching, I shed a tear or two myself.

Now, the Rancics have disclosed they are expecting a baby through a gestational carrier, empregnated with the couple's embryo, fertilized before Giuliana underwent cancer treatment. I wish them much joy.

What a happy ending. And what is going on here? I'm cooking and crying and gushing over a pair of women I'd barely noticed two weeks ago. Maybe I'm part Italian!  I look kind of Mediterranean, right? And it would certainly explain my love of the vino.

Ciao bellas!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In 5 words, how do you want to feel? I'll go first.

image via
In Danielle LaPorte's inspiring book, The Fire Starter Sessions, she talks about the importance of knowing how you want to feel each day, and pursuing those feelings rather than setting goals or conforming to societal expectations or using money or belongings to measure your success. This concept is based on the belief that our emotions are the true guideposts to operating in our sweet spot, our bliss, our flow, our life's purpose, our true vocation.

It's a highly individual experience - what lights me up may leave you cold - but we all know it when we feel it. Unfortunately, most of  us don't feel it often enough.

I've spent some hours considering this, and here are the words (the book's exercise suggests choosing 3-5) that best describe what I'd love to experience.

 I want to feel:

Turned on 

These words are rich in meaning for me. For example, when I say "Connected," I don't mean being able to get Blackhawks playoff tickets - I mean I want be part of something bigger than me, including my family, inspiring friends and mentors, my community, my audience, and this place and time. And "Turned-on" goes way beyond it's sexual connotation; it's about feeling so excited and attracted to ideas and situations and people that I wanna jump their figurative bones.

The point of identifying these desirable feelings, says LaPorte, is then you figure out what you can do to feel that way. And it's not selfish - feeling good puts us in our highest, most authentic, most productive place. If I want more meaning in my life, today I can make sure I'm thoughtful and thorough in my work, have real conversations with my kids, and read an inspiring book.

Phew, this whole concept comes as such a relief. If I can prioritize what makes me feel good, and so can you, we are all going to be so damn happy! How delightful!

What's one way you'd like to feel each day?

When I did this a few years ago, it was definitely a turn on

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fashion, Art, Food, Fashion - One Fabulous Day in Chicago

Here's why I love Chicago. On any given day there are so many cool, creative, cultural events to savor. In this town, food, fashion and art often go hand in hand and Wednesday and Thursday, I had a feast of the senses.

 On Wednesday, my friend Cheryl and I were guests of artist Gary Weidner at a hip reception at the new Wicker Park eatery, Storefront Company. Gary's mixed media mural from his "Flowers" series (see below) dominates the restaurant's dining room and infuses it with a moody, beautiful vibe.

Gary Weidner's mural at the Storefront Company restaurant in Wicker Park.

Our evening actually began around the corner at the Cynthia Rowley boutique on Damen. Cynthia, a Barrington native, is a good friend of Gary's and was hosting her own soiree to celebrate her 2012 Legend of Fashion award from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.)

I wish I had snapped some pics of the elegant designer, but I was too busy eyeing the clothes at her shop.  One of her gorgeous jackets certainly caught Gary's eye, and he wore it for the rest of the evening.

Artist Gary Weidner, wearing Cynthia Rowley jacket, with friends.

Here's one of her dresses I coveted:
image from
As for the Storefront Company, the Blood Orange martinis and hors d'ouevres (perfectly bite-sized, what a relief) were so yummy, I would definitely go back for dinner.

Blood Orange Martini.

Thursday, the fun continued as a fellow mom friend and I took our budding fashionista daughters to see the SAIC student Fashion Show at Millenium Park (where Cynthia Rowley would be honored later that night.) I've never been to New York's fashion week, but this SAIC show was such an amped up, high dose of innovative design, it had to rival what goes down in Bryant Grant. Here's just a tiny snippit from the incredibly entertaining show.

Last night, overstimulated and exhausted, I spent the evening as I more typically do - wearing yoga pants and glasses on the couch, catching a few minutes of John Stewart before heading to bed. But what a great 24 hours it had been, and how wonderful that my daughter and her friends can soak up this city's talent and energy.

Future Fashionistas
PS - If you'd like an affordable piece of Gary's work, it will be for sale at soon!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring 2012 Style - Start with Your Closet

Some of the hottest trends of the season - color blocking, mixed patterns - might be hiding right in your closet. In this short video I made for, fashion editor Kat Achenbach shows a reader, Mia, how to work with clothes she already owns to create fresh and fashionable outfits without spending a dime. Let it inspire you to play around in your own closet.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Suburban Myth? Swingers on the North Shore

image via -
Sometimes my work as a columnist for leads me into murky waters, and investigating my latest column about married couples who swing (switch partners) is an example.

In my relatively conservative community, Chicago's North Shore, there have been longstanding rumors about the existence of swinging, but, even though I'd asked around, I couldn't confirm any real evidence of the pursuit.

Then, through a friend, I found a forthcoming source who told me everything I could ever want to know about the swinging lifestyle (and more.) Unlike the boozy, free love key parties of the 70's, todays swinging scene is highly organized - with permanent facilities, websites, rules of etiquette and more.

This is as naughty as my
swinging gets.
To get an in-depth look at the "Lifestyle" read my full column - "Swingers on the North Shore - More Than Myth" - then let me know what you think. I do believe in a couple's right to define their relationship as they wish. But as for me, the only swinging I'll be doing is at a playground or at the Mexican beachfront bar at right.