I am so excited to announce the winner of my Veggieversary Party Give-Away!  The winner of a selection of some of my favorite products is… drum-roll please… Laura of @Iwearthecheese!  Congratulations, Laura!  I am looking forward to hearing which items you enjoy the most :-)

In my last post, I shared what Mike and I did on Friday and Saturday to celebrate my birthday.  Since it was a three-day weekend, we had even more adventures on Sunday and Monday that I want to share with you!


Inspired by The New Healthy’s hiking trips to the Indiana Dunes State Park , we decided to do the same!  Mike and I have enjoyed hiking elsewhere in the area, but had never visited this park before.  Not only was it much closer to us than Starved Rock, where we’ve hiked before, it was also a lot less crowded!

The Indiana Dunes State Park had such a beautiful variety of scenery including beaches, woods, and marshes…and we saw it all in our ~5 mile loop.



As beautiful and inspiring as most of our day was, there were also some sad parts to the day.  Looking out at Lake Michigan, I was completely in awe…

…But then as I turned to look to the left, my jaw dropped (though the zoom lens makes the factories look a bit closer than they really are):

And then walking along the beach, I got even sadder as I saw so much trash left behind on the beach.  I had a plastic bag packed in my backpack that I had planned to use for my own garbage, but instead started picking up a bottle here, a can there.    


Within minutes the bag was nearly full and we still had a lot of hiking to do, with not a single garbage can in sight.  At that point, I decided to not pick up any more bottles or cans (though I wished I could), and to focus solely on picking up balloons, which are a serious hazard for marine life.  If balloons make their way into the water, sea creatures often mistake them for jelly fish and eat them.  The balloon then might lodge in their digestive system, potentially causing starvation.  


Walking along the beach for about a mile, I picked up at least 30 balloons that had gotten tangled in the grass by the shore.  There were countless others that I had to walk past because they were higher up on the dunes.


I remember being taught years ago as a brownie girl scout that a good scout always leaves an area cleaner than she found it.  I guess once a scout, always a scout!  Overall though, Mike and I had a fabulous day at the Indiana Dunes.  There was so much beauty and miles and miles of hiking trails to immerse ourselves in.  I highly recommend a visit to the dunes for anyone in the Chicago area – and maybe you’ll even bring a bag for litter too :-)


For one FINAL birthday celebration (wow, I really am spoiled), Mike surprised me with reservations at the Penninsula Hotel for a Vegan Afternoon Tea.  Well, it really wasn’t too much of a surprise… after reading  Melissa’s blog-post about it earlier this summer, I might have mentioned to Mike that it sounded like the perfect birthday treat…

Melissa’s summary of it captured our afternoon perfectly, so I don’t have much more to add.  It truly was a very classy and beautiful way to celebrate.  We also opted to add Champagne to our tea service – an excellent choice!

The setting was absolutely stunning – high ceilings, large windows, beautiful china… And we were enjoying the lovely classical music, though it took us a while to realize that it wasn’t recorded – hiding up in the balcony were a violinist and a cellist performing live!

In addition to their standard afternoon tea service, which Mike ordered, they also offer vegan and gluten-free menus.  I ordered the vegan tea service (though I also sampled several of the desserts on Mike’s tray).  

There was SO much food (and as Melissa noted, it varied slightly from what was shown on the menu, but it was all good!).  The highlights from the vegan plate were the Roasted Tomato & Arugula sandwich on Pumpernickel, the rich fudgy brownie, fresh berries, and the “Fruit Sparklers” (Pates de Fruits) which tasted like highly concentrated strawberry jam – YUM!

Then…another plate came out for me – vegan scones – still warm from the oven, along with the most delicious home-made strawberry jam (in addition to jam, Mike’s non-vegan scones also came with a Devonshire Cream and a yummy Lemon Curd).

And there was still more coming… A server went around the room handing each guest a “Strawberry Romanoff” (essentially a strawberry short-cake, minus the cake).  Since the Romanoff wasn’t vegan, I was offered my choice of sorbet instead.  I chose the Mango sorbet and it was like eating a fresh mango, but amplified.


There was so much food in fact, that I had to bring some of my treats home for later, and it’s a very rare occasion when I can’t finish my plate!

I truly feel so grateful to have had such a wonderful week of birthday celebrations.  Thank you so much to my friends and family, and especially to *Mike*, for making this a birthday to remember!

I’d love to hear from you!

Where do you go when you want to experience nature?

When was the last time you felt completely spoiled?