Back to Reality

From October 17 – 22…..

That first morning back in the routine is never easy.  The struggle was very real after our late, late flight.


Lilli got her first ever report card! We don’t start “Real” grades until 3rd grade in our county and she hit it out of the park with Straight A’s and very high scores! School is the real deal this year with all kinds of homework, tests (usually about 5 a week!) and projects and she’s had a great year so far.


My very first bullseye!


We had an old watermelon that had started rotting so we did what all normal people do and shot it with our bow and arrow.  Lots of fun.


Saturday night we took the kids to Let It Shine so we could have a date night.  We tried a new chicken place and did some shopping and reading.  It was so nice to get a break!


I had gotten the girls some really cute dresses at H&M for the Halloween season, I always buy their dresses each year because they’re so fun and different.  This year’s dresses were skeletons that actually glowed in the dark.  And I just wanted one nice picture.


I think we can all see how that went.


Lilli was more than happy to oblige with a good pose showing off how cute they were.


This “Chandler Bing” look was the best we got.  And I use the term “best” very lightly.


I had a somewhat matching dress in my Le Tote box that week so I also wanted a cute pic of us girls dressed all dark for the Halloween season.


At least we got one somewhat good one!


They were better for Brent – as long as she could have a stick.


I miss those nice falls days when they could ride bikes and we could all play outside without coats and enjoy some sunshine.  She’s getting so big for her bike and Lilli is, too.  This spring we’re going to need to do some passing around and upgrade Lilli.


When we were knocking on neighbor’s doors selling Girl Scout cookies this week one of our neighbors said “Oh yeah, you guys are the ones who sit out in the yard a lot while the kids ride bikes and play.” Why yes, that IS us! And I can’t wait to be back out in the sun!!


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Fall Breaking, Part 8: Zoo and Homeward Bound

From October 16 –

Woo hoo! The very last Fall Break post! Maybe now I can get somewhat close to catching up before I forget everything – ha! As if.

We were starving for lunch so after a quick lunch in the food court we started visiting the exhibits.  One of the awesome things about the Lincoln Park Zoo is that it’s completely free, and just in the middle of town.  You can see skyscrapers all around as you’re looking at top notch exhibits.  They have it all from a fantastic primate house to lions and penguins and really all the main animals.  There were several things new since our last visit back in 2010.


The weather was nice and sunny and the chill was gone, and crowds were light since it was a work/school day there in Chicago.


Several of their special fall activities were closed during the week so we were limited on some of the things we could do, but we still didn’t have time to visit the full zoo before we needed to head back to the hotel and on to the airport.


Lilli is a savvy shopper and will save up her souvenir bucks throughout a trip.  I’ll usually give them a budget at each place we visit and if Lilli really doesn’t see anything she likes she’ll roll over her dollars so that by the end of the trip she’ll get herself a nice stuffed animal.  So she ended up with this little Zookeeper Tiger who became her new best friend.  And Abbi got an eagle keychain.


And then every exhibit afterwards was a photo opportunity with her new best friend.


I can’t remember what this even was, ha!!!


We had to skip the farm area and petting zoo, and a large section of kids hands on exhibits, but we knew we had to catch the bus back to our hotel and then a cab to the airport, all during rush hour.  Next time maybe we can spend a full day there.

Poor Abbi was so done.  She was just exhausted and tired from being on the go nonstop.


We were laughing so much at her scowls that she finally gave us a smile.  Then we saw a woman nearly get hit crossing in the crosswalk by a car that didn’t stop at the sign and we were basically all ready to get our luggage and head back to a city that’s a little bit smaller.


The cab ride to the airport.  We were a lot tired.


We made it through security and our plane was delayed once again.  So our 9 pm flight became 9:30 due to airplane mechanical issues.  We had a looong time to kill in the airport so we got one last round of Chicago hot dogs and did some shopping.  Midway is so small that there wasn’t even a Starbucks! Such a shame.  Dunkin donuts is just not the same.


All Abbi wanted for dinner was fries and soda.  So at this point, that’s exactly what she ate.


I sat with Lilli on the ride back, the first time she and I rode next to each other all year.  We shared an Ipad and watch House Hunters on the airplane Wi-Fi.


Even though Brent and Abbi were in the row in front of us their presence wasn’t forgotten.  HA! Our plane landed a little after 11 pm, we caught a shuttle back to our car and were home by midnight, tired but glad for a fun trip to Chicago.  Every time we ask for travel ideas for this year they both instantly ask to go back! It’s such a fun city to visit and there’s still so many things we haven’t done there yet.


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Fall Breaking, Part 7: Sunrises and History

From October 16-

On our last morning I wanted to get out and take a run on the Chicago Lakefront path and enjoy the sunrise.  The weather on our last day was going to be chilly, but sunny and warming up and it would be a perfect way to kick off our last day of sightseeing.

I’d packed all my gear and got our right when the sky was starting to show off.  Our hotel was really just the perfect location – right off Michigan Ave, right next to the lake, and fantastic views.  We were close to the buses, transportation, and everything was easy to get to.  I got down to the sidewalk and then found a bridge under the road to get over to the famed Lakefront path.


The path has lanes for runners and cyclists, but the water was so high you had to improvise a bit.  The view of Navy Pier as the sun rose was just beautiful.  I’d run that path every day if I lived there!


And the view the other direction –  I ran out this way, I think in total I did around 4 miles that morning.


The waves were so high from the previous storms.  It’s always amazing to me how much Lake Michigan seems like an ocean.


I turned around near this point, once the sun was fully up.  Such a fantastic city.


Meanwhile……two tired girls had a rough time getting up for the day.


After out last breakfast in our fancy hotel with its fancy latte machine, we stored our luggage with the doorman and headed out.  We had another 9 pm flight, so we had all day to explore.  Our first stop, while everything was warming up outside, was the Chicago History Museum.  We took a bus to it, and then just had a short walk.  We’d never visited this museum before so were excited to see something new.  Our first exhibit was one on activism through the years.  It featured a media element where you could pick some words to describe yourself and then pose.  The poses were displayed online, and then cycled through there in the exhibit.

Of course our little feminist picked Protect.


I walked in later after taking Abbi to the bathroom for the 8 millionth time and couldn’t figure out how to pose.  I thought you were supposed to lean into the camera and I went full on selfie.  Everyone was laughing at mine so hard they were crying!


And then came Abbi.  Bless.  “Participate” seems so…….appropriate.  She was so tired and worn out at this point.


Brent made a new friend.


This museum was so neat.  I’d love to visit it again in the future – it had a lot of dioramas that told Chicago history and tons of other exhibits – like this old trolley car, that you could explore.  There were photography exhibits, a locomotive inside, Sports history – if it happened in Chicago you could learn about it here.


And they had history and artifacts from the life of Abraham Lincoln.


There were so many things to explore and the kids were getting tired, the museum was getting crowded from field trips, and we still needed to make sure we had plenty of time for the Zoo before our flight.  The girls wanted to stop back in one last time for the first exhibit:


And they even had a great Kids area where you could turn yourself into a Chicago hot dog, pretend to run the Marathon and do all kinds of fun things.


The Museum was a really short walk over to Lincoln Park Zoo so we headed that direction and ate lunch there before checking out the Zoo for our last activity in Chicago…….(stay tuned!)


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Fall Breaking, Part 6: Museums and Friends

From October 15 –

I got up early the next morning and spent some time in the hotel gym.  With a treadmill view like this who needs a TV? I think more people would work out everyday if this was their exercise view!


We had breakfast in our hotel and then headed around the block to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Chicago has an AMAZING art museum but we knew the girls wouldn’t enjoy the larger museum and that it wasn’t worth the fight, so we picked this smaller museum of contemporary art to visit instead.


This is definitely a place we wouldn’t visit again.  On their website they had said it was a Free Day, and it wasn’t.  Then they didn’t offer any discount with our membership to our local art museum.  AND, over half the exhibits were not even open because they were changing out exhibits – yet they offered no discount.  So basically, there was very, very little there to see and what they did have wasn’t very good.


Abbi stayed in her stroller the entire time, I think she was just so tired, and was actually really good.


The best part was this cozy place to lounge on the bottom floor.  And the gift shop had lots of fun little toys.


From there we hopped on a bus and headed towards Lincoln Park to visit a Nature Museum.


First stop was lunch in a local Italian place – a Bears game was on and it felt like a cute little neighborhood spot to eat.


And from there we had just a couple of blocks walk to the Nature Museum.  We had visited there with Lilli on our previous trip and really enjoyed it and definitely wanted to go back.  It seems like a hidden gem and has never been crowded.  AND we got in free with our local Science center membership.


The girls could play forever in these water building sets.


Their special exhibit was a fun exhibit on backyards – it had little bikes, sand pits, swings, golf and tons of “outdoor” activities.


And the live butterfly area is always a big hit.  They aren’t as keen on you touching them here, and both Brent and I got yelled at for picking up butterflies but with reactions like this……totally worth it.


I never got one of the blue ones though!


We stayed until it closed (of course) and the kids could’ve probably stayed three more hours doing their favorite centers over and over.

From there we walked a few blocks over to meet our friends Josh and Sarah.  They came to see us in 2011,  and we had visited them in 2010 in Chicago.  I’m so glad we could meet up again – and that this time they could meet Abbi! They were about 3 weeks out from having their first baby, so next time we get together there will be one more little girl in the pack!  We met up at a local gourmet donut shop and had an afternoon snack while they all caught up and we just had a great time talking.  It’s so fun when you have friends that you don’t see in years and mostly only chat with via social media, but in person you don’t miss a beat, either! Maybe social media does serve some purpose.


The girls loved getting to hang out with them, and we all walked back to the chilly bus stop together to say our good-byes.  At least once a week the kids ask when we can go back to Chicago and see Josh, Sarah and Baby Riley.


Their favorite spot to sit on buses was in the “crinkly” connector part because the chairs spin.  For obvious reasons those chairs were always open!!


We were all so zonked when we got back to the room and Brent went out and got us some delicious Mexican takeout and we just had an in room picnic.


And once again – Abbi was wiped! You know she’s absolutely exhausted when she’s falling asleep like that!


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Fall Breaking, Part 5: Science Time

From October 14th….

After our American Girl brunch we headed back to the hotel to grab our stroller and a cab and head to the Museum of Science and Industry.  The MSI isn’t really in the core part of the city, so it would have been a couple of bus transfers and with the pouring rain we just didn’t want to deal with standing out and getting soaked so we opted for a cab to keep it simple.  Poor Abbi was already so worn out.  It’s tough being 4 in the big city.


We had never been to the MSI so we were all excited to experience something new, and WOW, is this place impressive! It’s absolutely huge and once again we ended up getting there not as early as we’d hoped and only had about 3 hours to explore.  The line to get in was so long, but we couldn’t do an online ticket because our local Science Center membership got us in completely free! What an awesome deal! We didn’t add on any extras since we knew all the included exhibits would more than keep us busy for the rest of the day.  And due to the rain this place was PACKED!


If you can think of it they have it in this museum.  Small carnival type exhibits, a full size train and airplanes, model trains, science experiments, farm exhibits, full size antique cars, farm equipment and on and on and on.  And of course plenty of hands on things.  In this exhibit you have to do funny things to get the computer people to laugh.


When you’re really funny, they start cracking up and laughing.


A view from an upper level looking down.  And that big white airplane – you can go inside it and it’s still a “real” airplane.  They also had Tesla coil demonstrations which Abbi hated because it was SO loud!


Inside the airplane.  There was literally so much to see, do, and touch here that I could never get them both to look at me at the same time!


On the bottom level they had a full train system with buttons you could press.  It started with models of Chicago and then


showed the train moving out West through the mountains ultimately to Seattle’s coastline.  Abbi was a huge fan of this exhibit.


We stayed until they closed and then took a cab back to our hotel area.  We decided to head over and eat at Cheesecake Factory in the base of the Hancock tower.  It wasn’t raining as much anymore but was so foggy you couldn’t see the top of the tower.


When Brent and I first visited Chicago in the summer of 1998 as part of a college class we ate here with the group.  It was the first time we’d ever eat at a Cheesecake Factory and this one is so crazy because it’s designed like the inside of a cheesecake! We thought the girls would enjoy it and it’s just a fun touristy spot.  Their food really isn’t all that great though, but it was fun to go back and visit again 19 years later!


This time we just had two additions.


Outside they had some fun Cubs scarecrows since they were in the playoffs hoping to make it to the World Series.


Brent wanted to run in a couple of stores so the girls and I went back to…..American Girl.


They’d been dying to swim in the hotel pool and we’d told them we’d try and go later.  Once we were back in our room the lightning started up again and was really, really strong.  And swimming in a 27th floor pool with total glass windows just didn’t seem like a great idea.  And the lightning kept going and going and going.  Finally Brent took them up for about a half an hour – Abbi was so thrilled she was tall enough to stand in the most shallow part of the pool.  And when we got home and people asked her the best part of the trip “I could stand in the pool.”  Well, there you go.


When they got back to the room she was completely tuckered out.  She’s definitely getting big but a trip like this with so much to do and not a lot of down time would wear her out and she fell asleep in every cab we took.  We weren’t excited about bringing a stroller but it was so nice when she was tired to have something she could sit in and take a break.


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Fall Breaking, Part 4: American Girls

From October 14:

I could basically never, ever get tired of waking up to that view.


We knew this was going to be our rainiest day of the trip – the forecast had called for hard rain all day long.  Blah.  So we’d planned our activities for it, and came prepared with rain coats, hats, umbrellas and enough gear to get us through.  Vacation stops for no weather!


I’d made us reservations for breakfast at American Girl months earlier, as soon as they opened up spots for the day.  It turned out to be a great way to start such a rainy day.  And American Girl was literally just around the corner from our hotel, so we could walk, even in the pouring rain.  Lilli even brought rain gear for her doll, Kate.


The American Girl store in Chicago is pretty much unbelievable.  It has everything and anything a little girl could want, and several floors of it.  The Nashville store looks like a 7-11 compared to it.  They also have the Cafe, a bakery, a real salon for you doll and so much more.


The cafe – basically the entire Nashville store could fit in just the cafe.  We had the first reservation slot of the day and by the time we left the entire cafe was full. Getting reservations there is no joke!


The food at American Girl is so good and this breakfast was no exception.  It’s a fixed price so you just pick from the selections and you even get cupcakes for dessert!


And just like here your doll dines with you and gets a little cup and saucer to keep, along with your napkin “ponytail holder”.  It was definitely our favorite meal of the trip, the food there is so good and it’s really not any more expensive than other restaurants.


Afterwards we did some shopping and spent the rest of the morning in the store.  This is where Lilli fell in love with Tenney, the American Girl country singer from Nashville.


And where Abbi fell in love with the Bitty Baby double stroller.


They have huge sections for each of the Beforever girls, and human size props in just about every section.  Julie’s egg chair was a huge hit and we all tried that out.


On our way out – two very happy American girls.


Ready to brave that rainy walk back to the hotel!


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Fall Breaking, Part 3: Shedd and Millennium Park

Well, Christmas has come and gone and we had such a great one but SO busy! There just hasn’t been a free second to sit down at the computer even once and catch up on the blog.  I guess I’m just going to always be hopelessly behind but I really would love to catch up this year.

From October 13th-

After the boat tour we were all starving for lunch.  We looked up the closest Portillos (our fave Chicago dog chain that we don’t have anywhere near us at all) and were walking there when we came upon a Shake Shack.  We’d heard great things about Shake Shack and since we were all starving and we don’t have one here we decided to try it.  The place was packed and we got the last table.  We all got burgers, fries, and a couple of shakes to split.  It was all really, really good! Everyone else’s burger was better than mine since I got the gluten free bun.  Live and learn!


From there we were headed to the Shedd aquarium by city bus.  Abbi was so happy to be on a bus.  This girl loves her various modes of transportation! It was so much easier traveling in Chicago this time logistically.  With phones and mapping programs we knew when buses would be arriving and it was so much easier to get places.


Shedd Aquarium! We’d been before, a few times.  Lilli had been when she was little, but of course didn’t remember.


We ended up only having about 3 hours for the museum.  We got tickets to the last dolphin show, and made sure to move through all the aquariums pretty quickly to get to the best part of the building with the dolphins, whales and larger sea animals.  They kept stressing to get into the theater for the last show and we left the sting ray touch area more quickly than we would have.  That was a total mistake because there was plenty of seating and basically we had to keep Abbi from running wild for 20 minutes while we just sat there – 20 minutes where we could have been seeing more exhibits!

Overall the show was pretty lame.  It was only about 15 minutes long, so we spent longer waiting for the show than the actual show lasted! The girls enjoyed it, but compared to other shows we’ve seen this one was just nowhere near as good.  Overall the aquarium is getting a bit dated and definitely wasn’t worth the admission price.  It’s something you “have” to do once, but Brent and I have done it at least 3 times now, maybe 4, and next time it’s something we’ll skip unless they really add something exciting and new.


The penguins are always my favorite animal to see.


We took a picture of Lilli with this same penguin last time.  I think she’s grown a little since her last visit to Chicago!


One thing that was really interesting – the new bag tax.  Which we ended up paying most everywhere we went since we were tourists and didn’t have shopping bags with us!


And our first experience with the soda tax!


From the aquarium we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day and walk up to Buckingham fountain and Grant Park, and visit The Bean.  We knew this would be our best day of weather the entire trip so we wanted to make the most of it.  Can you tell rush hour was starting??


My favorite picture of Lilli on the trip, and maybe the entire year! She looks like quite the sassy urban girl here! She just loved Chicago and skipped up and down the streets in her sparkly boots every day.


We told her how last time she was here she nearly made it through the fence before we could catch her – so she wanted to try again and see if she’d fit.


Chicago vibes!


And the famous Chicago Bean! It’s amazing how popular this crazy little attraction is and all the fun stuff you see people doing in their pictures.  I think the girls could have posed forever at the Bean.


The four of us – Abbi looking thrilled.


We really don’t remember why we were doing the strange arm motions.  I wish we did, especially since it made the Christmas card this year.  I’m sure there was a very good reason the girls were sharks and I was a tea pot.




Inside the Bean.  Such a neat art piece.


From there we took the Subway back towards our hotel to find a spot for dinner.  At this point poor Abbi nearly got stuck a subway turnstile going the wrong way, nearly headed back down in a subway tunnel after we’d come up, and was basically trying her best to get separated from us and get run over in traffic.  It had been a long day with a 4 year old.  We eventually stopped at a small soup and sandwich place for dinner and then did a little shopping.  It was Day 1 and I needed some Garrett popcorn.  You can’t be in Chicago for 24 hours without stopping for some Chicago mix.


This particular mall was right around the corner from our hotel and housed American Girl as well as the Lego store and about 7 other floors of shops.  From there we headed back to our room to prop our feet up after a long, but fun, day in Chicago!


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