Category Archives: observations

Seasonal Changes

Pop quiz.

Where’s home to the one of the most successful franchises in baseball and soon two Zalewskis and a Finnegan Murphy?

Hint for Cubs fans: they have 11 World Championships so Chicago is out.

Site of the 1904 World’s Fair.

The first American city to host the Olympics.

Hometown to Jackie Joyner Kersey, Maya Angelou and perhaps most importantly, hip-hop artist and new country breakout, Nelly.

Batter up. The Zalewskis are taking our talents to St. Louis this fall.


But why on earth would you leave Sarasota, home to the best beaches in the country, year-long sunshine, arts, culture and the most laid-back dress code you’ll ever encounter?

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Decent Wednesday evening.

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A. Because we really miss gray winters and snow

B. Because alligators, fire ants and Trump supporters

C. Because we just love everything that goes into packing boxes and moving across the country

D. Because we were offered an earlier-than-expected opportunity to finally put down roots in a community we love, closer to friends and family and just in time to enjoy the best season the midwest puts on each year (insert all the I love fall hashtags here).

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If you answered “D” (with a sprinkle of “B”) you’re correct.

And while we are sad to leave Sarasota and everything never having to wear coats and closed-toes shoes has to offer, we know this is the right move for our family in the long run.

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Besides, since the Rams left town we won’t have to worry about standing in our driveway doing the SuperBowl Shuffle every Sunday.

You may be asking what our only sits under the AC vent, lover of the beach but not the water, greater swiss MOUNTAIN dog may be thinking about heading back to the midwest?


Well, he loves car rides and cooler temps so we can only imagine he’ll love it as much as we think he will.  

There’s at least one family member who will be pumped for a snow again after 3 years of 80-degree Decembers.

So that’s that. A little life update for you. My apologies for only using the blog for the occasional recipe and huge life change announcement.

You can rest assured that as soon as I come to grips with the fact that we just moved into a new house 4 months ago and have to do it again in less than 5 weeks, I’ll be back with more of the good stuff.

Until then we’ll be soaking up all of the sunsets and August humidity we can before heading back “home” this fall.

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On snowbirds

What if I told you that all of the defensive driving you learned over the years would finally pay off? All those times your mom reached for the steering wheel, pumped her imaginary brake and claimed we were all going to die when you turned 15. All those years navigating around ‘tourists’ who swerved anytime they heard a Chicago cabbie honk in the loop?

Well I’m here to tell you that it’s all been leading up to this moment.

Season has officially begun in Sarasota.

Yes folks, the snowbirds are back.

How do I know, you ask?

Well besides the increased frequency of observed recreational vehicles towing sedans with Ohio license plates and two-to-four beach cruisers adorning the front grills along 75 south, one can safely assume that in the two weeks following Christmas, the majority of seasonal residents have escaped the cold and ventured south for the winter (here’s your first bird reference of this post).

I, on the other hand, mark the official start of season at the date and time in which I witness my first old lady cross 5 lanes of traffic to make a left turn against a red light and somehow make it through without a scratch, dent or any awareness that the aforementioned event happened.

In this case it was 5:24 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12th.

Speaking of snowbirds, we actually had a woman walk into the office the other day and ask where along the Bayfront she should go to view the snowbirds she kept hearing about.

True story.

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I don’t know why we call them snowbirds. Squirrels seem like a better fit to me. You see like squirrels, (for those of you living in the city, squirrels are the small gray or brown rodents you may remember scurrying across the Quad in college) older generations manage to narrowly escape death by car far more often than most other creatures. Red lights. Roundabouts. Every single lane at once on the road. This is where you’ll find them most frequently.

But they shouldn’t be completely categorized as a nuisance. Instead, here are just a few reasons we should be thankful for snowbirds this season.

  • They teach us to slow down. Literally. It took me 4 minutes to walk from the entrance of the gym to the locker room because I felt too guilty to pass the sweet old lady in front of me Saturday morning.

You rock in spin class, Gloria!

  • They remind us that every day is Saturday when you’re retired.

Check out Suzie and Bob over there just hammering 2-for-1 Martinis at Bonefish on a Tuesday.

  • They get your children safely across the street, they drive cancer patients to treatment and they fill important jobs that make an economic impact on the region.

Perhaps Phyllis can make the best recommendation for a ‘supportive’ bra at Victoria’s Secret, given her years of experience and eagerness to not let gravity get her down. 

  • And they make sure all that defensive driving you practiced finally has it’s shining moment while going 75 miles an hour on the Interstate.

You are of course going 75. George? He’s going 40.

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The year of the alligator

I fielded some requests over the holidays to get back to blogging. And while it’s never my intention to go on a blog hiatus, just like skipping a few workouts, sometimes its hard to get back into the swing of things after some time off.

It’s a good problem to have, being too busy to write witty posts about how busy you are, yet keeping in mind that many of your readers have small children so your version of busy is likely laughable to them. You can see then, how one might get overwhelmed with where to start back up. But like pulling off a bandaid after you burned yourself for the fifth time with your stupid curling wand, sometimes you just have to get back to it.

It’s kind of weird, starting off 2016 without any sort of resolutions or big goals. It’s normally around this time when I tell myself I’m going to read more (never do), get organized (Finn just ate another pair of my pajama shorts), and pre-plan out our meals for the week (does anyone actually do this?).

So instead the normal resolutions, I’m focusing on faith and contentment with the hope that this strategy provides me more time to share fun, mindless updates with you. I think we all know those are more enjoyable to read than the deep philosophical journey of a newlywed couple living in paradise with a super needy giant dog anyway.

But before we get into the fun, mindless stuff, I’d like to share with you the way in which our family rang in the new year, which started out quite opposite of fun and mindless.

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They say you’re supposed to call upon alligators when you’re in a crunch emotionally, or are unclear about how to heal yourself, or if you’re having disturbing dreams. They say these creatures strike clarity into our lives when we call on them.

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Well I can assure you that neither Matt or I ordered up any clarity, but nonetheless we ended up with about 6 feet of it at our front door New Years Eve.

Growing up in the midwest, when you heard scratching at your front door in the middle of the night, you assumed one of two things as the culprit: opossum or raccoon. Small chance it was a tee-peeing teenager or drunk college student, but most of the time a mammal was to blame.

So imagine our surprise circa 2:30 a.m. when we heard a scratch at the front door followed by a loud baroo from our good at watching not so great at guarding Finn. It’s normally at this point when you open the front door to see what the commotion is about. Fortunately for all of us, Matt was in charge of checking it out and noticed what he thought was an armadillo out the front window. We’ll leave my habit of not latching the front door for another post, but I think we can all agree it’s a good thing I wasn’t the last one to let the dog out that night.

The remaining hour or so was spent graduating from shock, awe and perspiration, to feelings of concern and general empathy for what seemed to be a very dumb alligator who managed to get stuck on an open porch just steps away from the exit. You know you’re an animal lover when you feel sorry for something with little to nothing ahead of it on the food chain.

Sure we’re familiar with alligators having spent the last two years in Florida, but none daring enough to knock on our front door nor one so eager to start the New Year’s party a little early.



So while Matt observed our new friend, who I named Amelia in an effort to make her less threatening, knowing full well that only a drunk dude would attempt to make a break through the small fence posts instead of the clearly marked exit, I called a wildlife rescue number half-expecting them to laugh us silly midwesterners off the phone.

Thank you for calling Florida Wildlife Rescue. If you have an immediate alligator threat, please press 1.

(giggles uncomfortably and presses 1)

Within 20 minutes, an alligator trapper was in our driveway and Amelia seemed to have made his or her way back to the pond behind our house. Matt later informed me (now holed up in the back bedroom hiding the bait) that the trapper had little more than a flashlight in hand and a Joliet area code.

It’s not uncommon for them to try and come into your house if you have a dog.

He says.

(picking my jaw up off the floor)

No way. 

I said.

alligator, front door, swiss mountain dog, florida

Ladies and gentlemen of the Home Owner’s Association, I’d like to submit the above photograph as evidence of this crazy alligator’s attempt to enter our residence on the eve of New Year’s Eve 2016. 

So you may be asking if it’s safe to visit us in this so-called paradise yet?

The answer is maybe.

While Amelia hasn’t come back on the porch since her initial attempt, we’ve seen her out back with her amputee arm waving arrogantly on a few occasions since.

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Matt also observed a fishing pole and noose wielding man out near the pond late last week but so far the only other news we’ve heard came via email today:

Hi Sarah,

There was another issue with an alligator. I am not sure if it was the same alligator. I am assuming it is because it was near your home. I have not heard whether they were able to trap it or not. I will see if I can find out.

So if you need us in the immediate short-term, we’ll be peering out the front window and sprinting between ponds throughout the neighborhood.

Happy New Year!


Let’s Talk About Christmas Lists

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas Lists. You see, I’ve always enjoyed the tradition of paging through catalogs around the table after Thanksgiving, each family member attempting to jog memories of all the things they desperately needed throughout the year but can’t seem to remember when the blank yellow pad of paper is in front of them.

Who doesn’t need a new pair of fuzzy LLBean slippers? I could use another blanket for the couch. One can never have enough cable knit throws, can they? Nope. Especially when one lives in a tropical climate. 

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I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas lists because my love language is gift giving. I get it from my Nana. And while I love the idea of getting someone something that is written on their Christmas list, there’s an internal struggle I have each year around this time between buying what’s on the list and buying what’s NOT on the list.

Yep. I’m that girl. The girl who wrecks her brain for weeks trying to come up themes for everyone’s gifts, crafty and homemade additions to the gifts or, if the Christmas magic is really with her, the perfect gift for the person who doesn’t necessarily know what the perfect gift is. That, my friends, is the spirit of Christmas if you’re a gift giver at heart. Well, that and the birth of Jesus, but the Magi have that one covered.

And depending on your family and the members in it, you may fall on one side or another when it comes to gift lists, too.

There’s the mom who stuffs her purse with various iterations of other people’s lists but never really manages to end up with anything on hers. It’s ok though. Stick with anything that smells good, feels soft or keeps her warm, preferably in a neutral shade and you’re good to go.

Or the older nephew who unlike any other 9 year-old in town, tells you he doesn’t really need anything this year.

Or the sister who every day leading up to Christmas is very interested in what’s on every other family member’s list yet only manages to list one gift on her own. And a very small one at that.

And if we’re talking about lists, I’d be remiss to not mention the dad who if he’s anything like my dad, Murfs up any holiday with his version of a wish list. You may remember the years he spent asking for a conga drum so he could…

“…jam at some gigs with some cool cats.” 

Or the Father’s Day request for the book, Five Strides on the Banked Track: The Life and Times of the Roller Derby

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised then when I received an email from my dad with the subject line: “Dad’s xmas list add-on” a link that led us here.

Just a houseboat add-on to this year’s list huh, Murf? Let’s not discuss the barriers to gifting the aforementioned item such as loan restrictions, satellite installation for his DVR habit or the simple fact that he still resides in the Midwest. Those things aside, for the past 275 days or so, I’ve been reminded about the houseboat interest via text message and in conversation. The barriers to the now digitally recorded wish list item are endless yet the drive still seems to be there.

The gift of list making is strong with this one.

So I remind you as you open your Christmas presents this year, consider the gift giver’s intention before you scoff at those bracelets you assumed were napkin rings.

After all, as I was told my great-grandfather used to say each time this year,

We all got all too G*d D*mn much. 

Happy Holidays!


Cookies and Catch Up

Great news, guys. The Murphalewski Bed and Breakfast just wrapped four straight weeks of out-of-town guests. That means 7 midwesterners are entering the winter season a little bronzer than usual and many local restaurant staffers here in Sarasota are actually starting to think I have friends. It’s a win-win!

Now you may be asking if I’m glad the four-week rush is over. Truth is, I loved having our friends and family stay with us. Each visit came with a reminder of how blessed we are to have friends and family that love us enough to leave crappy weather behind and sit on the beach all day. We realize our location may benefit us this time of year but regardless, we appreciate the time and effort (and flight delays) spent coming to visit.

So what have I been doing with all my free time since the last houseguest left on Sunday? Baking cookies of course.


It seems like the only thing I have to show for the last 4 weeks, aside from the slightly increased body fat percentage, are pictures of cookies long ago eaten by co-workers.

It’s not like me to leave you hanging over a holiday weekend without some sort of ode to a sweet treat on the blog, but I’ve been sidetracked. You see, I’ve been trying to come to grips with the fact that our entire shopping district has been lit up like Rockafeller Center on Christmas Eve since October 24th. I’ve been wrecking my brain trying to figure out in what world this is acceptable but then I remembered a saying my dad always says this time of year.

You know, this might be the last nice day we have to put the Christmas lights up so we better get to it. 

Wait. I’m sorry. He usually waits until an ice storm is in the vicinity around December 20th to say that. And they still live in Illinois so…

So in spite of the extremely prematurely lit palm trees and unseasonably hot temperatures, I thought I’d share a few photos from the last four weeks to catch you up.




but how about that sweet lady in the background?

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IMG_5484sugar cookies, royal icing, baking, breakfast at tiffany's cookies, bridal shower, dessert, tiffany blue sugar cookiesIMG_5482sugar cookies, royal icing, baking, breakfast at tiffany's cookies, bridal shower, dessert, tiffany blue sugar cookiesAnd now you know what my photostream looks like. I’ve got two weeks until Thanksgiving and our next visitors so if you need me I’ll be either running or napping in preparation. Happy Friday!


Of these things, I’m fairly certain

There comes a point in a thirty-something’s life in which the random things she’s heard, learned, experienced, seen, tasted and smelled over the first third of her life finally start to stick with her. After all, you rarely hear a twenty-something referred to as ‘set in his or her ways.’ No, this art takes years to perfect. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and call up your grandparents for a lesson. Don’t text them. Don’t email them. Pick up the phone and call them. Heck, by now your parents should be as set as a Ronco Showtime Rotisserie Platinum so you might as well ask them while you’re at it.

What was I getting at again?

Oh yes. Life lessons.

Up until this point, you’ve let these observations float in and out of your life without taking any ownership of them. Sure, you’re brand loyal to a degree, but you’re a millennial for goodness sake and you better believe that you are going to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing world around you, right? Kind of like the way you’ve shifted every time Apple launches a new iOS or Facebook changes their newsfeed.

And then you turn thirty. And all of a sudden the phrases you use to utter in your 20s like pregaming or late night bars are replaced with let’s just have everyone over for a dinner party or do I have to put on real clothes or can I go in this? 

So today I present you a list of things I’m fairly certain of:

  • That I will never get all of my personal identification documents to have the same last name again. Ever. This weekend I nearly had to provide a retinal scan at The Gap to pay with a (new chip-encrypted) card that still listed me as Murphy because it sat in my wallet next to a drivers license that lists me as Zalewski. Meanwhile, my handsome yet mute in these types of situations husband waits patiently as I toss two debit cards, two credit cards and a blood donor card at our friendly cashier to prove I’m not a spy.

  Oh you have a Costco card? That will work just fine.

  • That there’s no way our dog proves my hypothesis about animals taking after their owners. Nope not our guy. So different, he and I.


  • That a landscape that includes pumpkins and palm trees will always be weird, but never having to wear socks will always be awesome.

  • That heckling is an art form maybe moms are just too sweet for it.

  • That if pumpkin obsession is a real addiction affecting basic girls everywhere, you can crown me pumpkin princess of autumnville. I actually felt a nervous swell when I realized I was down to my last can of pumpkin this weekend for a french toast recipe. And when my audible gasp was met with a side eye from Matt, I yelled, ‘there’s a shortage, you know!’ 

So I’ve got that going for me.

And because nearly everything I’m certain of this time of year relates to pumpkins, I’ll leave you with a recipe for pumpkin french toast sure to satisfy your cravings. That is, if you can get your hands on the limited supply!

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Pumpkin French Toast (recipe adapted from Cooking Classy)

  • 3/4 C almond milk (I didn’t have regular milk but by all means use it if you have it)
  • 1/2 C pure pumpkin
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 TBL brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 6-8 slices multigrain bread (or challah or texas toast)
  • Butter (for griddle)

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Heat a cast iron skillet to medium heat. In a large bowl, whisk almond milk, pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla and spices together. Set aside.

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Prepare skillet with butter. Dip bread into pumpkin mixture until saturated. Cook on both sides until browned, repeating butter before each slice.

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Serve with maple syrup or honey and dust with powdered sugar.

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Wedding Snapshots: The Groom

You know who doesn’t get enough fuss at a wedding?

The Groom.

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And why not? Last time I checked, they were just as much a part of the 1+1+1=1 equation as the bride. (For those of you who with an engineering background, the extra one is representative of God) And yet, here they stand on the wedding day, looking all relaxed and sipping bourbon after their long morning workout. Meanwhile, when their bride attempted to go for a run, she got 10 minutes out and realized she didn’t in fact have time for it and spent the rest of the morning just trying to stop sweating long enough for the makeup artist to finish up thus killing any chance at an endorphin release for the next 12 hours.

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But this is about the groom, remember? And what a handsome groom he was. And today, some 65 days since we made our vows to love one another as long as we both shall live, we celebrate the birthday that puts him two years closer to the finish line than I am.

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I think we all know he’s far too healthy and stubborn to go before I do.

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So here’s a montage of my handsome groom in celebration of his 33rd birthday. A post he’ll 80 percent scoff at, and 20% secretly love.

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