2017, A Year in Review

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Of surprise to absolutely nobody, I cried on New Year's Eve. I cried because (I always do?) parts of this year were really trying. For so many people in this country, and for this country, but also for me, for us. At times it felt like 2017 was stretching us like crazy, bending us over the knee for a solid beating. Merciless, 2017. But other times, most times, it was so exquisitely beautiful. I cried because it was a year filled with so much love, so much joy. So often in 2017 I'd feel a pit in my stomach. I don't deserve this life. I am so, so grateful for this life. 2017 made me stronger, better and kinder, and ready to throw myself into 2018 with everything I've got.

Every January I go through the millions of photos we've taken during the year, back up my hard drive and make a photo album. Every year this involves artistically breathtaking renditions of all four letter words I know, and every year, once it's all in, I sit there completely taken aback at all of it. I always feel so overwhelmed with emotion at all of the blessings and beauty in our lives. We have such sweet families, friends we love as fiercely as family, and a love and respect for each other I will never take for granted. I'm so happy, lucky and proud of this life because of those things.

Thank you for stopping by here and following along. For visiting my corner of the internet and letting me share/document a portion of my life with you. A few of my favorite photos from this humdinger of a year below.

P.S. Year in review posts are my favorite. Check out 2016201520142013!

Need a Last Minute Gift?

Thursday, December 21, 2017


Are you a last minute shopper? I like to have mine wrapped up by Thanksgiving (literally), but Brian's a last second kind of guy. He's in charge of one, and it's still not finished! It's stressing me out! Anyway, in case you're the procrastinating type, or fancy a little something for yourself, I wanted to tell you guys about Katherine Corden Art.

I "met" Katherine through social media and instantly became a fan of her work. I love, love, love the way she colorfully captures Chicago (especially summertime scenes like this). We recently received this print, and framed it in this elegant Target frame (on sale for $15 in stores!!!). Just have to find the perfect spot to hang it ;) Since Katherine's local, you can pick up a print from her or get one shipped ASAP. She also does personal commissions, if you're looking for something down the line. I'm thinking of having her paint my childhood home in England.

Anyway, she has beautiful stuff and is incredibly talented. Check everything out here and reach out here if you're interested!

And with that, signing off until the New Year! Have a wonderful, cozy, safe little break. See you in 2018!!!

Zoo Lights!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


We spent last night at the Lincoln Park ZooLights, a yearly tradition (seven years now, I think?) and one of our favorite things to do in the city in December. It wasn't nearly as cold as usual, but it still felt so good to duck in here for dinner after (chili, turkey burger, ginger ale as always — the BEST ginger ale). A few years ago we tried doing 12 dates of Christmas (12 dates in December), but we barely made it halfway. We've been hitting up lots of favorites lately, so I think we'll unintentionally get to 12 this year :)

One more work day, folks! ONE MORE!!! I've got lots of little things to wrap up, but I'm so restless and excited to go home! xo

Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Even though I'm really not one for winter and don't typically get overly into the holidays, I'm loving this time of year this year. We've been surrounded by such good people and feel so grateful for all the time we've gotten to spend with them. I'm also loving how sparkly and festive the city feels (and for warmer-than-usual temperatures ;) I know I'll feel differently come January, but for now we have two more days of work, a date night tonight and Nutella pancakes on the horizon, so everything feels magical. 

Below are some iPhone pics from recent moments if you care to see! Hope things are merry and bright, wherever you are <3 










Happy List! {by Sharon}

Friday, December 15, 2017


This happy list popped into my inbox at a much appreciated time. Amid a busy, cold week, a squirrel decided to trap itself in one of our vents, and the smell is so horrifying and only getting worse. We've had to keep the heat off (it's much worse with it on) and are so annoyed by the situation its made us so irritable! So glad Sharon stepped in to help me shift to focus on gratitude again ;)

Sharon has started a monthly subscription box that empowers women to prioritize themselves, their personal growth and wellbeing. I love that the box comes with a free 30-minute coaching conversation and that everything in the box is sourced from women-owned small businesses. So cool!

10 things that are making Sharon smile as of late:

1. Travel. I love nothing more than adventure, new experience, learning and appreciating other cultures. My husband and I try to take at least four international trips a year!
2. Family. I don't know what I'd do without my husband, Mark, kitty, Annie, or my laugh-until-you-cry sessions with my mom and brother, who live in my hometown, Pittsburgh.
3. Reading. I love the growth, self-reflection and new perspectives that books offer. I make it a point to read every day, if even only for 10 minutes, and I just finished my 25th book of the year!
4. Coffee. Preferably in the form of a caramel macchiato, java chip frappuccino or iced black tie.
5. Witty banter. A la Gilmore Girls or Girl Boss.
6. Passion. How captivating is conviction and purpose?
7. Self employment. Oh, what freedom! The freedom to fail, make mistakes, learn, set my own goals, my own agenda, my own rules. I'm all about it.
8. Authenticity. I like people who like themselves and are willing to show up, be seen, be and show their genuine selves, even the weird bits.
9. My shine tribe. Friends that are witty, stylish, beautiful and professionally accomplished.
10. Setting goals. I was a teacher for 10 years. During that time I got really good at setting long-term, mid-term and short-term goals, which I turned into action plans. I've taken that with me into everything I do.

Thank you for sharing, Sharon! 

Check out more happy lists here and email your list to ladan.nikravan{at}gmail.com if you'd like to participate. Have a great weekend! xo

Gifts for the Whole Family from Shutterfly!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


It's seriously hard to believe that Christmas is less than two weeks away and that there are only a handful of days left in the office this year. We're heading to the suburbs for a couple of weeks next week, and I'm so excited to snuggle by the fire, play games and eat a million sugar cookies. I've been super into the holidays this year, listening to this on repeat and turning our Christmas tree lights on the second I get home (I can't figure out the timer situation, it's driving me nuts!). I also had all of our gifts for family and friends bought by Thanksgiving in anticipation ;) I even wrapped them, which I hate doing and usually negotiate with B that I'll buy the gifts if he wraps them.

In case you're still on the hunt for the perfect gift I've partnered with Shutterfly to show you some of my favorite items. I love personalized items, but they can feel a bit tacky. Not these, though. I'd honestly love anything in the list below. We were eating dinner the other night and I had the gifts by the table. Brian asked me if I wished I had my sister's name so I could steal the makeup bag. Yes, yes I do ;) 

Dad



My dad is by far the easiest person to shop for. He starts hinting at ideas on December 26 and loves all the finer things in life. This marble cheese board and beer glass are perfect for him. This man is good at many, many things, but the perfect charcuterie board (and wine/beer pairing) is high on the list. 

Mom




When brainstorming for my mom I always think of two things: something sentimental (she loves family photos from the past year, making personalized calendars a perfect gift for her) or something she'd love but never buy for herself (she's always buying us splurge items but refuses to do the same for herself!). This glass print from our trip to Croatia in July is elegant, simple and something I know she'll love having in the family room. 

Sister




When shopping for my sister I just buy what I want for myself ;) This canvas makeup bag is so cute, and even at nearly 30 I get so excited to see our names on things since we didn't have that luxury with unique names as kids.

Brother




For my brother I think of practical things. For example, his phone is always dead, so this one was a no-brainer. I have and love this portable charger (it charges your phone in 20 minutes), and I love, love, love this new travel-themed design. He's going to college next year, and I know multiples of things like chargers will come in handy. 

Husband/Wife




It always surprises people that in our house, B is the sappy one when it comes to the material stuff. I love throwing things away and keeping things as minimalist maximalist as possible ;) but B hoards, you guys (and hoards hard). We realized the other day that we don't have any wedding photos anywhere but one in our bedroom, so I bought this one for him for the living room. I love the rustic frame and that the photo is printed on card stock, it gives it a classic touch. It's a little addition to our space but one we've been so happy to see every day.

Happy gift giving!!!

(This post was sponsored by Shutterfly. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Make the Most.)

What to do in Chicago Over the Holidays!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


As much as we both really hate the cold, Brian and I agree that Chicago is a magical place to spend the holidays — this city doesn't mess around when it comes to seasonal cheer. Sure, the temperatures drop (like, a lot), but it feels like the city comes alive. We've rounded up our five favorite things to do to make the most of December in Chicago. Let us know what we're missing!

Side note: Years ago I freelanced for Chicago.com and wrote all of their seasonal guides, and now the site's under construction. Boo! If you're visiting the city in the future I'd check there for a longer list of activities and restaurants (shameless plug! ;)

ZooLights: I've mentioned a few times that we love going to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the lights, ice carvings and a few animals every year. We always go to dinner here after (where I always order a turkey burger and a glass of red wine).

Christkindlmarket: These Germany-inspired markets are something we hit up several times between November and December. I love the iconic German items like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, hand-blown ornaments and wooden crafts. There's also great authentic food (sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles) and drink (beer, hot spiced wine), but my favorite is the stuffed pretzels. The Loop location gets really, really packed, so I'd suggest the new Wrigley one if you're not one one for crowds. It's much smaller but has all the same stuff.

Hot chocolate flights: A cozy afternoon at Katherine Anne Confections with truffles and a hot chocolate flight is a must. Also a croissant. And a handful of homemade marshmallows. Of course you can do this any time of year, but it feels so right in December. We've loved every single thing we've tried, so I can't make recommendations. Get all the things ;)

Walking around Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Park: Even though it's the coldest time of the year, it's also really the only time of the year we venture to this part of the Loop. The tree is so beautiful and the skating ribbon (with a long line, always) has the skyline as a backdrop. If skating isn't your thing (me!), the hot chocolate will still make it worth the trip. Bonus: Santa's willing to take photos with children of all ages, ha!

The Great Tree at Macy's Walnut Room: You have to wait a long time to get a table next to the tree at the Walnut Room, the seventh-floor restaurant inside Marshall Field's ;) So I like to check it out (45 feet tall! 3,000 ornaments! 6,000 lights!) from the eighth floor and then head somewhere else for dinner. Like here. Before leaving, check out the holiday window displays.

Also, here are some things on my wishlist. There's just never enough time ;)
Happy Holidays!!!!!!! 

Ladies' Brunch!

Monday, December 11, 2017


Over the weekend I hosted a women's breakfast and invited 20 awesome ladies over for coffee, mimosas and yummy food. It was so nice to spend the morning with a bunch of smart, funny women. Especially our sweet moms <3 I think it'll be a yearly tradition ;)

B's Shepherd's Pie!

Monday, December 4, 2017



B made shepherd's pie on Sunday, and it was so, so, so delicious, I wanted to post the recipe here in case you've also been craving it since June. I told him it was the best thing he has ever made, and he says I always say that, but this really is up there with the best ice cream (which he's also making this week, what a week!!!), best peanut butter bars and best steak (and best strombolis, but duh). Bet you didn't know tax accountants have these hidden talents. Brian also did a one-man performance for me of the entire Hamilton soundtrack on Sunday, so there was that. He also cleaned the bathrooms, bless him.

In the summer of 2013, a few weeks after I had launched my blog, we were at a wedding reception and someone asked me what my blog was about. Someone else jumped in before I had a chance to speak and said, "it's basically just pictures of Brian." It is, isn't it? Haha! But I'm so, so grateful for him. I can't help myself. So often I reflect on how this relationship, which I stumbled into somehow, is the best thing that has ever happened to me and how lucky I am to share life with this person. He truly makes every day a joy, and I'm so thankful for it all. Especially all the best meals ;)

Anyway, here's the recipe. And pictures of Brian.

Ingredients (serves eight):

For the potatoes:
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
1/4 cup half and half
2 ounces unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk

For the meat filling:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup frozen English peas

Directions:
Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well combined.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.

Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Holiday Decorating & Wayfair Giveaway!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017



Hooray! It's time for Christmas!!! After a couple weeks of pre-Thanksgiving begging B to put up some decorations, he finally caved. And because of it we have a new tradition! We decided to make ordering a copious amount of Chinese food (they gave us five fortune cookies...) and spending the Saturday after Thanksgiving decking our halls a yearly Hayes event. It was such a fun, cozy night with the fireplace on and records blaring. I love our little family and this home that makes me so happy.






I was a big holiday grinch last year. We had just moved into our apartment and didn't have any furniture other than our couch and guest bed. Brian was traveling a lot for work, my parents were out of the country, and everything felt unsettled. When it came time to put up the Christmas tree, I was regrettably totally against it. It looked ridiculous in an empty living room! Also, what box were our ornaments in? Brian ended up putting it up along with a few trinkets, but I just couldn't get myself in the spirit.




I promised to make it up to him this year, so we spent a few weekends ago shopping for some new decorations! We thought about buying a bigger tree (our little guy is four feet, haha), but we decided to procrastinate that until next year. Instead, we bought these garlands, this adorable gold pig snow globe, these decorative Christmas trees, these mercury candleholders, this candy dish and lots of new ornaments (like this sushi one!).




Last year was a fluke because I love, love, love the holidays and love traditions. For lots of years now we've gone to the zoo lights and had dinner here after. We're going again this year, the night before we head home to see our families, and have decided to make that a tradition — having our own little celebration before the chaos begins ;)




To get you in the holiday spirit, Wayfair is giving one reader a $100 gift card to spend however you like (there are lots of great decorations and gifts on there, or, you know, a gift for yourself — I'd love this, and that's how I know I'm not 22 anymore). To enter, just put your name, email and favorite Wayfair upside down Christmas tree in the survey below (of no surprise, the gold ones are my favorite). The giveaway will close at midnight CT on Friday, December 15. Open to U.S. readers only. One randomly selected winner will be notified by email.


Good luck!!! And happy holidays, friends!!!!!!

(This post was sponsored by Wayfair. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Make the Most.)