Millenium Park and The Bean

We couldn’t skip a trip to The Bean! The kids enjoyed posing!

We then wandered through the several parks that are connected to one another. Elle remembered Maggie Daly Park from a soccer trip a few years ago. She really wanted us to go find the huge playground, so we did. The signs said the equipment was for kids “12 and under.” Elle is 13 and Ally is 14 but I told them they could pretend they were 12. They tried the slides and ran around a little bit. Suddenly they were very glum, realizing that they had outgrown the playground scene. Elle said, “I feel like my childhood is over!” I think she had a slight existential crisis. The two of them sat on the grass and talked about how they were getting too grown up. Elle said the playground seemed “SO MUCH BIGGER” last time she was there. Bless their little hearts!

We walked around some more and they found a man selling light-up balloons. They both got one with their spending money and cheered up pretty quickly, then found some cotton candy, which made things even better!

From there we walked through a lovely garden till we came to the Sullivan Fountain, which was pretty awesome, too. After a very long day, we took a Lyft back to our hotel and crashed. 🙂

Navy Pier

The kids were very excited to go to Navy Pier! We had our Chicago Pass which allowed us a ride on the giant Ferris wheel as well as some additional rides. Elle was very nervous about the Ferris wheel and wasn’t sure if she wanted to get on it. We told her no biggie, she could skip it if she didn’t want to ride. With some encouragement from her cousins, she decided she would give it a try….and of course she ended up loving it.

Next they wanted to ride on some swings that whip you around in a circle but it was closed due to high winds. We thought it was a little odd that this ride was closed but the Ferris wheel was not…??? We did ride the carousel; well, the females did. The males were too cool for that.

After wandering around a bit more, we decided to eat at Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” restaurant on the grounds. First off I went to use the bathroom and was directed to the back of the bar by some workmen who were hanging lights on the ceiling. There was no one in the bar but I guess it was not open yet. I used the toilet, thankfully only #1, flushed, turned my back on the potty while I washed my hands, kept hearing water running, turned around, and the toilet was spewing water up into the air! OMG! It totally freaked me out. I jiggled the handle hard and it finally stopped. There was water everywhere! I came out and told the workmen I was really sorry that apparently that toilet is not working properly and I caused a flood in the restroom. They looked at me and one of them said, “oh, yeah, you’re not supposed to go in there!” I said “that’s where you sent me!” They basically just looked away and I sheepishly headed back into the restaurant to tell the rest of our group what I had done. They got a good laugh about that!

When we finished dinner (and laughing), we thought we’d walk to Millennium Park and the famous “Bean.”

Architectural Boat Tour

After our shopping morning, we walked back to the hotel to meet up with the guys and head for the pier for our previously arranged architectural boat tour. Rich and I were very interested in doing this activity and I think the kids were sorta “blah” about it but were humoring us. Once we got going, they loved it and it ended up being almost everyone’s favorite thing we did. Our guide was fun and engaging and told us lots of facts about various architects, architectural styles, and the evolution of Chicago architecture over the decades. After the big Chicago fire, the whole direction of city planning and building changed into something more progressive and dynamic.

It was a little breezy but sunny and nice outside. The kids were very attentive and learned a lot. We all especially liked the “city within a city” where people’s cars had to be valet parked backwards so the cars wouldn’t go off the edge (with or without people in them) into the river!

Girls’ Morning Out

Ally and Elle were dying to go shopping and had some money to spend so we set out to find a few stores while the guys stayed back and watched a movie. Honestly, they missed all the fun! 🙂 Last night we had walked around and found a couple of stores and a shopping mall but they were all closed…who knew things closed at 7 PM in Chicago?! So this morning was our chance to check things out and the girls were certainly not disappointed! We found several cute/fun stores and they enjoyed trying things on and buying a couple of items to take home. I had fun just watching them having fun. 🙂

Hop On/Hop Off

Before we left Texas, we purchased some “Go Chicago” passes which included four items we could do in two days. The first day we decided to get the lay of the land on a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour and then we’d go back to some of the things that piqued our interest. Well, we also had some things in mind that we wanted to do, but this was a good start. Everyone got up early in good spirits and feeling better. Our hotel had breakfast so we went down to get something to eat before striking out for the bus station. It was such a beautiful sunny day! We wandered around, taking in the views before we found our spot to get on the hop on/hop off. We decided we’d ride the whole loop to see everything from the bus and then get off at the Shedd Aquarium when we got that far. Our driver was amusing and told us lots of fun Chicago stories as we rode around. About halfway through, I really needed to use the bathroom and we were getting kinda hungry so we decided to get off and have some lunch before resuming the rest of the tour. That’s why they call it hop on/hop off, right?!

We went to Portillo’s for lunch and had Chicago dogs or beef sandwiches, all very tasty. Had a potty break and then walked around the neighborhood for awhile because we had to wait for the next bus to come by.

Back on the bus! We got off at the Shedd Aquarium, which was AMAZING, but my phone died so I didn’t get many photos. We got to pet sturgeons, starfish and stingrays–super cool! We saw a beluga whale show and the girls got splashed by the whales. Aidan loved the sea otters and wanted to take one home. 🙂 We saw a bunch of different fish and the dolphins were very cute. A favorite stop!

Really, really, really great first full day in Chicago! We love it here!

We Made It! And Gpa’s Bday!

Everyone was tired and a little grumpy after a long overnight on the train. It didn’t help that we’d been delayed so the trip took longer than expected. We thought sleeping in the seats wouldn’t be too bad but we didn’t really get a good night’s rest. Elle said she had a headache and didn’t feel well. I was hoping this was not a foreshadowing of the days ahead…really wanted the kids to have a blast and to look back fondly on this trip with their grandparents!

We were SO glad to get off the train at the beautiful Chicago Union Station! We walked outside and immediately everyone was happy and excited! Took a Lyft to our hotel, an Embassy Suites right downtown in a great location for walking around. It just happened to be Rich’s birthday so after we checked in and rested a bit, we went out for Chicago deep dish pizza at his request. We all loved the pizza, well, except for Elle who still wasn’t feeling great and had some pasta and butter instead. 🙂

We walked back to the hotel and got some ice cream on the way, then played a few rounds of Sushi Go before retiring for the night. The guys are sharing a room and the girls are next door with me. There’s a laundry room so I decided to do laundry–this was a mistake as there is only one washer and one dryer. I put our clothes in the washer but someone else already had the dryer and it took hours for their clothes to get finished. In fact, I gave up and brought ours back to the room and hung them all over the place. 🙂

Hello, Chicago! We are thrilled to be here and have a couple of big days planned ahead!

Chicago Cousins

My dad was the youngest of eight kids; most of his siblings grew up in NJ and stayed in the area but his sister Cass ended up in Chicago with my uncle and cousins.  We only saw our Chicago cousins on rare occasions–a family reunion or a stopover in their city coming or going from one AF base to another–so we never knew them very well.  In the last few years, we’ve managed to see my cousin Mary and her husband John a couple of times and have enjoyed  them a lot so we asked if we could come spend the night with them as we made our way to the East coast.  They were nice enough to say yes.  🙂

We had a long day’s drive from Warrensburg to Lake Forest, IL (just outside Chicago) in time for dinner at Mary and John’s. My cousin Cate also came, and one of their nieces, Lisa, whom I’d never met.  I thought she was about 25 but she said she’s in her late 40s and I almost fell off my chair.  I guess I am getting old when everyone looks so much younger to me (though she really does look young!)  It was fun getting to know Lisa a bit and catching up with Mary and Cate.  We’ve had great weather all along on this trip and it was no exception last night when we sat out on the patio for dinner, drinks,  and conversation.

They’re all big Cubs fans so we watched a ballgame on TV while continuing our conversations.  Mary, Cate and Lisa are all pretty liberal like us so we had a good time talking about issues and making a bit of fun of John, the lone conservative in the group. 🙂

Mary and John both had to work this morning so we got up early, too, and headed out for Wheeling, WV.  I dearly love spending time with family and getting to know more about them. Because my dad was in the Air Force, we didn’t live near any of our cousins and I always felt I’d missed out on having those close relationships as a kid. We were constantly the “visitors” rather than the cousins the other cousins hung out with.  Now that we are older adults, I feel like we are running out of time and there’s so much I don’t know!  I have 31 first cousins and I wish I could be more involved in their lives.  We did talk about having a big reunion in NJ next summer to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Mary and Cate’s mom, my Aunt Cass, and her twin, my Aunt Jane.  I hope we can pull it off!