Legoland Discovery Center

Possibly the most highly-anticipated event of our trip to Chicago was our visit to the Legoland Discovery Center outside of Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg!

I had read up on the experience before we went, but I still wasn’t totally sure what to expect. I had purchased our tickets ahead of time (which I highly recommend…the rate was significantly cheaper!), so we just had to get checked in, and then we were free to roam. The first stop was the Chicago Miniland, and I think it might have been my favorite part of the entire outing. There were tons of familiar Chicago landmarks, and they were still dressed up for the Christmas season, so we got to see the Christkindlmarkt set up in Daley Plaza! The lighting also changed from day to night, so we got to see the city lit up in different ways!

Next up was the Jungle Expedition. We loved all the Lego animals!

We peeked in on the Lego Master Builder Workshop twice, and one of those times, we saw a Master Builder hard at work!

There was also a Star Wars Miniland, which was very popular with the children:

The Kingdom Quest area included one of the two rides in the building:

The Friends area was quite small, but it was still fun to see the characters:

There was a cycle of four movies playing in the 4D cinema. We only saw one of them, and it was a lot of fun, but it hurt our eyes a bit.

There were cool “stamp stations” in every different area. If you buy an activity pack (either ahead of time when you purchase your tickets, or when you arrive), you receive a booklet on a lanyard with information, building instructions, and places to collect all the stamps, which was fun!

Turkey was really looking forward to the Racers Build & Test section. They had all kinds of vehicle parts, and a rather satisfying ramp to test out your creation. All of the children had a lot of fun with it, even though at point, it was getting really busy!

The second ride was right next to the racers, so we got to see how it worked before we took our turn.

There was also a playground with climbing equipment, slides, a water table, and more fun Lego builds. Part of this area was the Duplo section, which is clearly designed for the smallest visitors.

There were so many other cool details scattered throughout the experience, and we made sure to take our time and really look at them all:

When we were done, we walked through a Lego Store. It’s not a true Lego Store like you find in a mall (although there is one of those across the street inside Woodfield), and they don’t give you VIP points for your purchase (but if you show your card, they will give you a small discount right there), but the selection was good, and they even had a few unique items.

So there you have it…everything you always wanted to know about the Chicago Legoland Discovery Center. I would say it’s geared for children up to about age 12, so a few of mine weren’t the target audience, but we are such a Lego-crazy family, we all had a great time, and not one of us got bored while we were there (for almost three hours!). Now if only we could make it to a full Legoland theme park someday…

The Little Popcorn Store

Have you ever wondered where you might find what is possibly the narrowest store in the Chicagoland area?

It’s at 111 1/4 (that’s how small it is…it has 1/4 in its address!) Front Street in downtown Wheaton. The Little Popcorn Store has been at that location since 1935 when E. Claire Brown put a roof over an alleyway of his new store location, which, at 256 square feet, was over 150 square feet larger than the original store location a few doors down!

It is no joke to say that this store is narrow…and always busy! You have to go into it with the mindset that you’re going to get real cozy with the other customers, and that’s part of the charm!

Be sure to look up, and get a nice view of the ceiling, which I’m assuming dates back to the 60s based on the color scheme:

And then put your mind to choosing some candy…if you can. There are so many different varieties that it can be hard to make a choice, but it’s not really practical to buy one of everything. For the most part, each piece is 10 cents, so either way, you’re not going to break the bank!

The Fab Five and I tried to have some discretion when we went two weeks ago…I think we did ok! (I personally had to get Pop Rocks…the Little Popcorn Store is the first place I ever tried them many moons ago!)

I have fond memories of walking to the Little Popcorn Store after school, before volleyball or basketball games when I was in grade school, and I’m so glad it’s still there, because I really want the Fab Five to have the experience, too!

Winter at the Chicago Botanic Garden

When we were in Chicago two weeks ago, one of the things of the things I wanted to do was visit the Chicago Botanic Garden using the reciprocity that comes with our Missouri Botanical Garden membership. I’m so glad we had time to go!

The weather was actually very nice for Chicago in January, but there was still snow on the ground, which made our walk even more fun. Without question, our favorite part of the Garden was the Japanese Garden, Sansho-en. There were two islands we were allowed to visit (a third is visible, but not accessible), and the winding paths were lovely.

The rest of the snow-covered garden was beautiful, too. We saw as much of it as we could with the time we had.

We did eventually get cold (nice or not, it was still January!), so we enjoyed a walk through the greenhouses to warm up:

And we took a look at the bonsai trees  on display in the Regenstein Center. Don’t let their small size fool you…some of them are over 80 years old!

We loved our wintertime visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I’m really hoping we’ll have a chance to go back in the spring.  know there is a lot more water throughout the Garden than it looked like because of all of the snow, and I really want to know how it  looks when you can see it all!

Tasty Tuesday–Schnitzel Platz

When we were in Chicago recently, we had the opportunity to go to dinner at Schnitzel Platz in Glendale Heights. For those of us anxiously awaiting the opening of the Hofbräuhaus downstate here in Belleville, an authentic German meal was very welcome!

The inside is just what you’d expect in a German restaurant, and I loved it! It also smelled like a German restaurant (so pretty much like beer, sauerkraut and pork), even before we walked in the front door!

The menu is amazing. One look at the extensive selection of schnitzels was all I needed to know that I would be able to find something fantastic!

I tried to photograph all of the German foods at our table, from the pre-dinner pretzels to the soup and salad selections, and of course the main courses! I personally enjoyed the liver dumpling soup, which is something I had never tried before and is way out of my comfort zone, but I shouldn’t have worried…it was delicious! I also had my favorite preparation of schnitzel…the Jäger Schnitzel, which has a nice mushroom sauce. In addition, I chose Spätzle (of course!), and sauerkraut to complete my meal. I had a Spatenbräu with my dinner, and some of the children enjoyed Sprecher root beer (they loved that it was served in a mini stein!). Also pictured are the German salad plate, which had beets, red cabbage, and cucumber and carrot salads, Wiener schnitzel with Spätzle and red cabbage, Panierte Schweine Koteletten (fried pork chops), with red cabbage and a dumpling, Goulash, and Käse Spätzle from the children’s menu.

We especially enjoyed the live accordion music that accompanied our meal:

There was also a lovely dessert selection…unfortunately, we were all too full from dinner to try anything, but it sure was nice to look at!

Our meal was amazing. Everything tasted just right, and the portions were quite generous. The only downside was how busy it was on a Saturday night. Even though we had a reservation, we had to wait to be seated, and we waited even longer for our food to be prepared. But between the live music and the great energy in the restaurant (various diners were singing and/or dancing most of the time we were there!), even that wasn’t too big of a deal, and I’d definitely go back if I had the chance…just maybe on a week night next time!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Four

Our last day of our winter weekend getaway was pretty low-key. We slept in as long as possible, and watched a little more Food Network before we had to pack up and leave the Clarion Inn.

I stopped at the local Jewel-Osco one more time before we left town…I love visiting local grocery store chains when we travel!

And then we hit the road. We weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to Chicago, though, so we stopped at Portillo’s in Normal, IL, on the way home. There’s nothing like Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef!

And that was the end of our little vacation. This is the third time we’ve visited Chicago when the Fab Five were really old enough to enjoy it, and we’re already looking forward to our next trip!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Three

Did I mention why we were in Chicagoland in the first place? Ryan was working at/playing in the Frosty Faustings fighting game tournament. We couldn’t get free spectator passes like we have in the past at Combo Breaker, so we didn’t get to see much of the event, but we did peek in on Saturday morning:

We had more plans for Saturday, starting with a visit to Wheaton College’s campus to see the Perry mastodon and the Billy Graham Center Museum, which included a walk through “heaven:”

We also enjoyed a lunch featuring some of Chicago’s best foods at Flip’s in Glen Ellyn:

It occurred to me last year that I had been remiss in not taking the Fab Five to the Popcorn Store in downtown Wheaton, so we visited what is probably Chicagoland’s narrowest store, and picked out about $10 worth of candy to share:

Then we went back to the hotel for a little more cable TV, and a nice picture of the Fab Five:

We went to church at St. John Wheaton for the third time, but this was the first time we were there in the evening:

After church, we enjoyed a German dinner at Schnitzel Platz:

Once we were back at the hotel, we stayed awake watching Worst Cooks in America for as long as we could since it was our last night in the hotel!