See Chicago through a Mercury Urban Adventure Cruise

As you all know by now, Chicago has been home for some years and I consider it home. The traffic can drive me crazy and I’ve gained about 10 pounds eating way too much pizza, but it has such a special place in my heart and I love trying out unique experiences here!img_0011

One special way to see the city of Chicago through a new lens is on a Mercury Skyline Cruise right down the Chicago River to Lake Michigan. I went on this scenic boat tour and enjoyed it SO MUCH I wanted to share with you!img_0133img_0144

The detail I loved most about the Mercury Skyline Cruise was the amazing guide that shared his knowledge about the city, the skyline’s history, and really cool tidbits of information about the architecture, famous Chicago characters, and significant events from the city’s past that made it what it is today. You truly appreciate Chicago so much more after hearing about the amazing trials and tribulations that the people have gone through the past 200 years, all while enjoying breathtaking views of the skyline.img_0099

There’s a cash bar aboard, and if you take the 6:15 pm cruise like I did, you’ll get a great show of the magnificent sunset, especially throughout the summer season! I seriously forgot I was in Chicago for a minute. img_0158

Hurry and reserve your tickets today, these cruises only go through October 10th, and what a neat way to wave goodbye to summer this weekend with friends & loved ones!img_0185

Mercury Cruises
$34/person
Departing Daily
April 29 – October 10, 2016
10:15 am, 12:15 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:15 pm, 6:15 pm

3 Great Rowing Machine Variations to try out

When it comes to my favorite pieces of gym equipment, row machines are right up there at the top. I absolutely love to row in the gym, and if your gym happens to have a row machine or two, I’m going to show you how to take advantage of it to burn calories and get a whole body workout in a short amount of time.

Rowing is an incredible aerobic exercise. The major benefit of rowing, however, is that it burns calories AND builds muscle at the same time. It is also low impact in nature, so if you have knee or joint issues, you can still use a row machine effectively with a low risk of injury.

Try these variations for 2 minutes each, and if you really want to add to your full body workout, do 20 Burpees in between!

 

Things to do in Chicago: Chicago Pizza Tour – try 4 different city pizzas in one afternoon!

I love blogging about unique activities to try out, and how could I call myself a true Chicago chick if I didn’t work to try every amazing pizza place in the city?! Trying out new pizza places is tough for a few reasons. a) Although ironic, pizza can actually be pretty pricey in the city. Especially deep dish, which will run you on average 30 bucks. That’s a lot to “dish” out when there’s over 2200 pizza places in the Chicago area (yup, that’s true, I learned it on my tour!) b) Pizza can take 45 minutes to an hour to bake, so if you decide to try out a new place, it’s a pretty big time commitment. That’s where Chicago Pizza Tours comes into play.Flo & Santos

Chicago Pizza Tours offers various tours de pizza all over Chicago as a cool daytime or nighttime 3-hour tour via pizzabus!  So in the time span you would normally visit one pizza shop, you get to try 4-5 different slices, all while gaining some Chicago and pizza trivia from your knowledgable tour guide.

Pequod's pan pizza
Pequod’s pan pizzaIMG_0080

The tour costs $60, but again, offers a great value for the amount of pizza you get, coupled with a unique experience. You can even do a pizza and cocktails tour for $80, which sounds completely awesome. Who doesn’t love a beer with their slice?

Coalfire Pizza
Coalfire white pizza
Coalfire honey salami pizza
Coalfire honey salami pizza

The stops the tour makes differ depending on the time and day. During our tour, we visited: Pizano’s, Coalfire, Pequod’s, and Flo & Santos. Every piece was so uniquely delicious, I can’t pick a favorite. But I will say, Coalfire’s thin-crust high-temp cooked pizza was baked to absolute perfection. I can’t wait to go back!

Flo & Santos Smores Pizza
Flo & Santos Smores Pizza

Chicago Pizza Tours
27 N Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606
http://www.chicagopizzatours.com/

Unique Chicago Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Although I’d like to think I eat healthy 90% of the time, there’s always room for dessert, and Chicago is a fantastic city to help you satisfy your sweet tooth! This summer, I’ve chowed down on some of the most unique and delicious post-meal sweets and now I’m here to share them with you. If you’re visiting the city or live here long-term, save up your cheat calories and try out these tasty Chicago treats!

5) Amorino Flower Gelato

Flower gelator at Amorino
Flower gelato cone at Amorino

Chicago recently acquired two new Amorino gelato stores and their signature flower cone makes you feel so elegant… before you devour it in two bites because this stuff melts crazy fast! You can add an adorable and tasty macaron in the middle to class it up even more.

Amorino Chicago
838 N State St, Chicago, IL 60610

4) Goddess & Grocer Rainbow Cake

Goddess and Grocer Rainbow Cake
Goddess and Grocer Rainbow Cake

My rainbow cake Instagram picture has been re-grammed a dozen times because it just looks so darn beautiful! This cake is truly a masterpiece, and you can grab a slice at any of their locations. Mmmm taste the rainbow.

Goddess and Grocer
1649 N. Damen Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60647

3) SteakBar De-Constructed Banana Split

IMG_4863
SteakBar deconstructed banana split

Oh MAN was this sundae a joy to eat! It comes on an enormous platter: ice cream, banana slices, toppings, caramel sauce… you name it, you get it. Oh, and there’s a sparkler on top in case you already feel like this dessert isn’t a party.

SteakBar
1500 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610

2) Firecakes Ice Cream Donut Sandwich (and vanilla glazed)

Ok, Firecakes Donuts gets two pictures because I couldn’t decide which I enjoyed more! The ice cream donut sandwich is literally a donut cut in half stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with fudge. Why haven’t we thought of this sooner?? The second place at Firecakes goes to their vanilla glazed donut. Oh my goodness is this thing delicious. Not too sweet, but perfect enough to wake you up in the morning!Ice cream sandwich IMG_0085Firecakes Donuts
2453 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614

1) Hugo’s Frog Bar Chocolate Mousse Pie

Hugo's Frog Bar chocolate mousse pie
Hugo’s Frog Bar chocolate mousse pie

My favorite unique Chicago dessert I tried this summer was the chocolate mousse pie at Hugo’s Frog Bar in the Gold Coast. GOODNESS was this thing worth the double workout the next day, or what?! The piece was as big as my head, and it was so unbelievably delectable and chocolate-y.. I could have eaten the whole thin if I wasn’t there with some fabulous friend, I’m just sayin’. Hugo's Frog Bar

Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House
024 N Rush St, Chicago, IL 60611

What unique desserts have you tried in the Windy City??

A Paris-Themed Wedding Shower

My sister Angelina is getting married in just a few short weeks, and it was my honor to help throw her a fabulous bridal shower to celebrate. (Check out her chic Chicago bachelorette party details here!) She’s getting married in Québec, and has loved all things French since she was a little girl, so a Parisian-themed wedding shower was a no brainer. I worked diligently with my mom and the  to put together a beautiful French-inspired brunch party for 45 of Angelina’s closest friends and family.Paris themed wedding showerWe celebrated the shower at Market Beer in Rocky River, Ohio. Jill, the party planning manager, was absolutely fantastic to work with. Every request I had, she found a way to make it happen, and the rustic yet chic outdoor/indoor option was perfect for a summer party!

Decorations

In order to stay with the Parisian theme, we decorated the space with elegant Martha Stewart tissue paper flowers, pink and white tablecloths, polka dot balloons, and feminine tulle bows for an extra pretty touch. The Chanel flower vases I made were so pretty in the sun! Grab my DIY instructions here!Chanel vaseI also found a few Eiffel Towers and my talented aunt painted beautiful French scenes on 4×6 cardstock, which I placed in double-sided IKEA frames. I also created an easy crepe paper curtain with kite string – it looked so beautiful and swayed in the breeze! My mom had a CD filled with instrumental French café music, so we played that over the loud speaker and it really set a great tone for the afternoon.

IMG_0163 IMG_0116Activities

I knew I wanted a unique shower – not just your typical “come, eat, and watch the bride open presents”. So I designed some ‘stations’ around the perimeter of the space for guests to take part in during their time with us! One area featured French lessons with Esther, a lovely tutor I found on Wyzant. She taught guests a few common French phrases, and also shared memories from her experiences in Paris.IMG_0071

Another table was meant for writing down your favorite date night idea for the newlyweds on popsicle sticks, as well as writing ‘flowers of love’ on cut outs and attaching them to a beautiful shadow box frame my mom and dad made with props from Michael’s!Write date nightIMG_0039

I purchased this pre-made PDF from Etsy filled with French-themed photobooth props, then printed them at Staples and glued skewers on the back. What a fun easy way to spice up people’s photos! And of course, there were tables set up for made-t0-order omelettes, pastries, and eggs benedict.IMG_0160My favorite station at the shower was the DIY Flower Crown workshop. I ordered $100 worth of baby’s breath, daisies, and carnations (I could have probably ordered half, FYI) from Costco, and provided flower wire, cutters, tape, and ribbon. Guests measured out how much wire they needed, then wrapped the flowers around as they like, to create beautiful crowns to wear during the party! The idea was a hit, and all the women in our lives walking around wearing gorgeous flower crowns really added to the French feel. 🙂 Look for a separate blog post next week!IMG_0073IMG_0029

Read about my experience at Flowers for Dreams’ flower crown workshop!

Gifts

Near the end of the party, we made an announcement that if you wanted the bride to open your gift, head over to her sitting area and she would happily open it. If you did not care either way, you could continue to enjoy the party or head out. I was amazed by the amount of people who didn’t feel the need to see her open her gift! I think it speaks volumes to our patterns of bridal showers. If you’re looking for a more contemporary option, and to simply enjoy opening your gifts in the comfort of your home without feeling rushed, this is definitely an option. That way, guests who want to be there when you open it have the option to, and those who don’t can feel a little more free to stay or go.IMG_0010

What a beautiful day it turned out to be!

Stop & Smell the Vintage Roses | VIPme Dress Review

I can’t believe summer is coming to an end, but it was a beautiful few months filled with beautiful summery dresses! For my last farewell of these hot Chicago months and transition to fall, I’m sharing two pieces I received from the fabulous online clothing boutique, VIPme (be on the lookout for another post next week!).VIP ME VIP me close up

This vintage printed short sleeve midi dress is too cute for words. It comes with a matching belt that provides a beautiful hourglass shape, perfect for that vintage look I was going for.Vip Me Dress

Although it has two layers for volume, this A-line dress is 100% cotton, so it breathes wonderfully even on a hot day. I can see myself wearing this to a day party, the park, or a bridal shower, and accessorize with a hat or cute clutch. VIPme has tons of adorable and unique dresses just like this; I love having pieces that I know not many other people own!VIP MeIf you like this adorable vintage dress, you can find it and hundreds more over at VIPme.com. Their website is really user-friendly, and they offer almost every style you can think of at an affordable price. They also offer free shipping promotions, so enter your email for special offers! Don’t forget to use promo code SIJessica99 for $5 off your first order of $50! Here are a few more vintage pieces that I’m looking forward to snagging in my next order.. 🙂
VIP Me Dresses

SISTER TIP: You can download the VIPme IOS app to bring even more brands into your pocket!

How are you styling your transition to fall??

Unique outdoor experience with Kayak Chicago

I’m always up for trying new things, especially in my city of Chicago, and especially when it’s warm outside! Kayak Chicago let me try out their architectural kayaking tour down the Chicago River, and it was such a cool and unique experience for tourists and local Chicagoans alike. Kayak Chicago

We had a group of 8 and we met off North Avenue for easy access to the Chicago River. Our South African guide, Bruno, was fantastic! He had really interesting bits of information to share about Chicago history and architecture, and took some time to show us the best method for kayaking (and, more importantly, how to quickly get out of the way of boats). You could tell he was very passionate about the city of Chicago, which made us all excited to learn more about where we call home.

Kayak Chicago
Kayak Chicago

I’ve tried kayaking before, but only in short spurts. I gotta say, the 3-hour kayak roundtrip was pretty intense! Get a good night’s rest and eat a solid breakfast for this outdoorsy trip and you’ll be good to go. I recommend wearing loose athletic gear and bring plenty of water. A bathing suit isn’t necessary but make sure to bring a Ziploc bag to store your phone in case water splashes in from the paddle. I wore sandals and took them off for the trip and that worked perfectly.

Chicago Merchandise Mart - it used to have its own zip code it's so large!
Chicago Merchandise Mart – it used to have its own zip code it’s so large!Kayak ChicagoThe most fun part of my afternoon with Kayak Chicago was the ability to view the city from a completely new perspective. I mean, look at these incredible pictures!!Kayak Chicago

IMG_0048

I have a newfound appreciation for the Chicago River, as well as the incredible history that went into creating The Second City, aptly named after a famous rebuild following the great Chicago fire.Kayak ChicagoKayak Chicago

Overall, Kayak Chicago, which offers day tours as well as sunset firework tours, was a fantastic experience and I would recommend it to anyone looking to do something unique and athletic in the city. The cost is around $70, but always check the website for specials. Hurry, you only have about a little more time to take advantage of this beautiful weather!

My fantastic guide, Bruno!
My fantastic guide, Bruno!

Kayak Chicago
(312) 8-kayak-8 / (312) 852-9258
1220 W. LeMoyne ave Chicago, IL
https://kayakchicago.com

DIY Festival Flower Crown with Flowers For Dreams

Flowers CrownI collaborated with Flowers For Dreams when I first started Pepperminting, and I have been using their floral design and bouquet services ever since. It’s an amazing organization that provides beautiful, local flower arrangements with a charitable twist: every bouquet benefits a local charity. So unique and so great for the Chicago community!

Flowers For Dreams also holds events and workshops, and this past weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to their Flower Crown Making Workshop to learn how to create a unique flower head piece for Lollapalooza weekend! Festivals are the perfect opportunity to wear a fresh flower crown, so make sure you reach out to Flowers For Dreams next time you need to look boho chic. I brought along my friend Sarah from Balanced Babe and we got to work!Flowers for Dreams Sarah

Flowers For Dreams was named a top Instagram account to follow and it’s easy to see why! Follow them on Instagram HERE!

In order to make a flower crown, you’ll need: wire, twine, filler greens, and of course, fresh flowers. A crown lasts for about 24 hours with care, so if you want it to last longer, you can purchase silk flowers for about the same price.

The key to creating a flower crown is to keep the fillers and flowers going in the same direction around the crown. Start with some greens like eucalyptus, baby’s breath, or other fillers, and cover your wire. Wrap the twine around the stems, and overlap as much as possible so there are no empty spaces.

Then, snip the flowers about an inch or two below the bud and continue wrapping around the crown. The best part about making a flower crown is that no two will look exactly alike. You can take out flowers or add more depending on how you like your piece to look! I must have reshaped and changed my crown a dozen times before I was satisfied.Flower Crown

I added a piece of ribbon to the back to make it a little more fairy-like and feminine, and then spritz with some water and keep in the refrigerator until you’re ready to wear! Flowers for dreams groupWe all had SO much fun at the event, Flowers For Dreams is definitely one of the best companies I’ve had the pleasure of working with in Chicago. And my flower crown looked fantastic, even the next day!IMG_0066

Flowers For Dreams
1812 W Hubbard St.
Chicago, IL 60622
312.620­.1410

The Most Beautiful Place in Illinois: Baha’i House of Worship (and less than an hour away from Chicago!)

I’m always up for a fantastic day trip, especially during the summer season when I’m off work. Scrolling through Facebook, I found an article that listed the most beautiful sights in each of the 50 states. Illinois’ most beautiful place was named the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette; about an hour outside the city down Lakeshore, and a mere 15 minutes from Evanston. So, I hopped in my car and went on an adventure!Bahai Temple of WorshipI am so glad I took the time to visit this architectural dream. The Baha’i faith, as I learned from the very informative Welcome Center, was founded in 19th century Persia, and believes in unifying the human race and society.Bahai Temple of WorshipThis is the only temple of its kind in North America, and the beauty of the building and the grounds is absolutely breathtaking. It is a quiet, serene place to gather your thoughts, attend a service, or simply marvel at the detail needed to create the house of worship. You can go inside, but they ask not to take pictures.Bahai Garden

At night, the temple is lit up beautifully, but during the day, the gardens were gorgeous and the windows let in the summer light. This temple is definitely worth the short drive from Chicago or the suburbs! I haven’t seen all of Illinois, but I can’t argue that this sight was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen while living here.Bahai Temple of WorshipBaha’i House of Worship
100 Linden Ave., At Sheridan Rd., Wilmette, IL

Pineapple Romper

Summer is in full swing, and I love sharing my sunshine-filled OOTDs on my Instagram page! (follow me here!) Once in a while, I’ll wake up, workout, shower, and put something on that just makes me smile all day, and this is one of those outfits!

Pineapple Jumper

This summery pineapple romper is too cute for words. It has a back-tie detail and is loose and airy on these 95-degree Chicago days. Pineapples are all the rage lately, and anything I can get my hands on with this adorable lil crown-wearing fruit brings me joy!Pineapple RomperUnfortunately, the style I’m wearing is sold out, but you can get on the list at Lulu’s for a white version, which is just as cute, maybe even cuter!

What are you favorite summer looks?? Share them below!