The Top Ten–Chicago Attractions

I’m doubling my usual “Top Five” list…there are so many great attractions in Chicago, I had to choose ten! These are pretty touristy, but they’re the places I’ve been trying to make sure the Fab Five see at least one of each time we visit because they’re important to me. If you’re going to Chicago for the first time and/or have limited time to spend there, these are the places I think you should visit first for the quintessential Chicago experience!

  • Art Institute–This museum has, in my opinion, some of the best art in the world, and also some unique exhibits, like the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Make sure to take time to see the Chagall windows while you’re there!
  • Museum of Science and Industry–Where else can you tour an actual U-505, visit a coal mine, see a Tesla coil in action, and watch baby chicks hatch? If you’re lucky enough to visit at Christmastime, you can also see an amazing display of Christmas trees from around the world!
  • Adler Planetarium–All about space…need I say more? Oh, and the views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline are amazing!
  • Field Museum–This museum, named after Marshall Field, the Chicago department store magnate, is home to one of Chicago’s most famous residents: Sue the T. Rex. There are many other exhibits, too, which bring the history and culture of many civilizations around the world to life.
  • Shedd Aquarium–If you want to see fish and other sea creatures from around the world, this is the place to be! You can also touch sea stars, stingrays, and sturgeons, and take in a show at the Oceanarium featuring dolphins and beluga whales.
  • Boat or Bus Tour–I’m a fan of the Wendella boat tour, but any chance to get out on the water (Chicago River and/or Lake Michigan) or on the top of a double-decker bus and see the city from a unique point-of-view while hearing a guide share some of the city’s history is a great experience!
  • Brookfield or Lincoln Park Zoo–The two Chicago area zoos are very different from each other, so you’ll have very different experiences at each. My favorite is the Brookfield Zoo, but I’ve been to both, and they’re both fantastic spots to see wild animals!
  • Sears Tower Viewing Deck or John Hancock Observatory–I suppose I should refer to these as Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower and 360 Chicago at 875 North Michigan Avenue, but I’m old school. Whichever you choose, you’ll get great, bird’s-eye views of the city…just make sure to go up on a clear day!
  • Wrigley Field–I feel a little guilty even mentioning this, being a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but there is something special about historic Wrigley Field. Whether you go for a Cubs game (I’ve only been once) or for a tour (something I’d like to do in the future), you’ll have a unique Chicago experience and get to see the famous “Ivy on the walls.”
  • Chicago Botanic Garden–This is a new favorite Chicago-area location (it’s technically in the northern suburbs, in Glencoe), for me…I visited it for the first time last year. But it’s a beautiful place to take a walk in the winter and spring, and there’s always something new to see!

Bonus item: Christkindlmarket–I didn’t think it was fair to put this in the main list, because it’s open for such a short portion of the year. But if you find yourself in Chicago in late November or December, this is definitely worth a visit, and one of my very favorite things to do in Chicago!

Not mentioned…the FOOD! I couldn’t narrow it down to just one restaurant, or even one type of food, because there’s so much to love to eat in Chicago. But you’re going to need to stop and eat while you’re visiting all these amazing attractions, so grab a Chicago-style pizza, some Italian beef, gyros, a Chicago-style hot dog, or a Rainbow Cone while you’re out exploring!

And, yes, I know Navy Pier and especially the Centennial Wheel are missing from this list. So here’s my confession…I’ve never been to Navy Pier. I actually would like to take the Fab Five there in the future, if only to say we’ve been, and if I do, and I like it enough, I may have to modify this list at a later date!

Snowy Garden

Here are a few more pictures from my walk in the winter wonderland that was the Missouri Botanical Garden on Sunday. While the garden is beautiful in the spring with all the flowers blooming, I think this might be my favorite way to see it, covered in snow!

The English Woodland Garden–January, Part Two

I know I just shared a picture of this year’s “MoBot Through the Year” location last week, but St. Louis was lucky enough to be blanketed with 10 inches of snow this weekend, so of course I have to share another, this time including a frosty white blanket:

The English Woodland Garden–January

I won’t lie…I had a really difficult time selecting a location for my monthly photo series at the Missouri Botanical Garden this year, the fifth year I will have undertaken this project. There are just so many beautiful spots! Originally, I was thinking about either the Chinese Garden or the Ottoman Garden, but when I asked the Garden what they thought on Twitter, they suggested the English Woodland Garden in addition to those two. So yesterday, I took a walk through the English Woodland Garden, and I decided it really is the perfect spot. It’s very different from the locations I’ve done so far, because there are no structures in the shot. It also includes flowing water, which is different…while I’ve had reflecting pools in two of my photo series (in front of the Climatron and the Linnean House), and the big lake in the Japanese Garden in a third, I’ve never included a stream before.

I’m really excited about photographing this spot…I can’t wait to see how it changes throughout the year!

A Markel Family Epiphany

Epiphany has always been a festive day in our house, because it’s Ryan’s birthday. But for the last few years, it’s been an extra big deal, because Epiphany is the biggest day of the year for the children’s choir. This year was a little different because the holiday fell on a Sunday, so instead of the usual evening Divine Service, Epiphany was observed as part of the regular Sunday morning Divine Service, and the adult choir sang with the children on Mendelssohn’s “There Shall a Star.” Ryan even got to be part of the trio in the first part!

There is always a reception after the Epiphany service, but it was different this year, because it was a brunch reception instead of an evening one. The ladies did a wonderful job of decorating the church basement and putting everything together! As for me, my annual contribution is baklava (my signature dish, apparently), and I added in a more brunch-appropriate coffee cake, as well.

We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at home following the service. Ryan picked chili for his birthday dinner, and it made the house smell amazing for several hours!

He also picked a Guinness cake for dessert, which is definitely our family’s favorite!

So this Epiphany was a little different from normal, but all the basic elements were there…a church celebration and a birthday celebration. It’s a fun way to say goodbye to Christmas!

New Year’s Eve 2018

Here we are at another New Year’s Eve. Not my favorite holiday (especially not just a week after Christmas, which is very much my favorite!), but I’m always looking for ways to make it special for my family. This year, I decided on a build-your-own-sandwich bar for dinner, which was a huge hit with the children. We had our favorite brioche buns, three types of meat (turkey, ham, and roast beef), four cheeses (cheddar, American, Muenster, and provolone), lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, plus the usual condiments.

Tonight we went to New Year’s Eve church (which is actually the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus) for the first time. To be honest, if we hadn’t been serving on Altar Guild, we probably wouldn’t have gone this year, but it was nice to have a reason to get us out of the house and into the pew.

Back home, we enjoyed our annual New Year’s Eve hot chocolate bar while we watched Apollo 13. These are our two firm New Year’s Eve traditions, and the best thing about the day!

As usual, Ryan and I had our toast to the New Year well before midnight, because who knows if I’m going to be able to stay up that late?

So that’s another Markel Family New Year’s celebration. I’m making a nicer meal for New Year’s Day tomorrow, but nothing spectacular. Mostly, I’m just thankful for the blessings 2018 brought to us, and looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store!

2018 in Review

This has been a weird year. There were some major highs (especially our vacation to Orlando!), but there were also some maddening lows, mainly, I don’t know, everything in our house breaking…roof, dishwasher, garage door, hot water heater, my ankle… I’m actually not sure how I feel about it in the end…but I’m looking forward to starting fresh with 2019! Before that, however, a look back at 2018…

January kicked things off with a bang, as our dishwasher broke at the same time our town had a multiple day boil order. Talk about frustrating…I couldn’t even use the sanitize cycle to make sure things were really getting clean! Even with all that hassle, I managed my first attempt at Japanese cooking for Ryan’s birthday dinner…but I think I’m still recovering from cleaning up all those dishes! We also took a weekend trip to Chicago, where we visited the Adler Planetarium, the Legoland Discovery Center, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Little Popcorn Store, and Portillo’s.

February was fairly quiet. The highlight of the month was the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. I learned how to cook some Korean dishes, and we had a taste of Asia to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

March is always a busy month, and this year was no exception. Chickadee lost her first tooth! We had our traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Turkey turned fifteen!!! A few days later, Chickadee turned six! The Hofbräuhaus finally opened, but we wouldn’t make it there until the following month.

In April, we celebrated Easter, and then the Cardinals home opener. I won a Nintendo Switch?!? We attended Chinese Culture Days at the Missouri Botanical Garden. We finally enjoyed a meal at the Hofbräuhaus!

May is another busy month every year. I got to see my name in print as a published writer! We enjoyed a beautiful spring in Forest Park and Tower Grove Park. Ladybug celebrated her 11th birthday. Ryan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a tea party the day before the Royal Wedding. Turkey, Bunny, and Ladybug received choir awards on Ascension Day. Pinup Girl Clothing sent me a box of Mary Blair print items which I joyfully reviewed. I had a very pleasant Mother’s Day. Turkey, Bunny, Ladybug, and Chickadee finished the 2017-18 school year, and then Moose finished elementary school! We went on what is now an annual Memorial Day weekend trip north for Combo Breaker, where the Fab Five and I spent a fun day in Chicago and took a Wendella boat tour. We also visited the Chicago Botanic Garden for the second time in the year, and had a Rainbow Cone.

And then June. It started off fairly calm, but that didn’t last long! We took a trip to Bowling Green, KY, where Bunny attended WKU’s volleyball camp. While we were there, I celebrated my first 39th birthday…we even went to Mammoth Cave! Back home, the children attended a very busy week of Kantorei Kamp…and that was the calm before the storm, because we had a big, Harry Potter-themed vacation up next! We headed to Orlando, where we visited Legoland, Universal Studios Florida, (including Diagon Alley), Islands of Adventure, (including Hogsmeade), and had a fun cabana day at Cabana Bay Beach Resort. We even saw a SpaceX launch (from a distance) early one morning..so many dreams came true on our trip!

Our vacation wrapped up in July…we even visited the ocean on our way home. It was the most amazing vacation ever! Bunny and Ladybug joined Turkey for a week of RSCM camp. While they were away, Moose, Chickadee, and I took a little train trip. Bunny celebrated her 14th birthday when she got home from camp.

In August, we finally made it to the special summer event at the Missouri Botanical Garden: Flora Borealis. Our summer school wrapped up. We got ready to begin another year of school…our first day of homeschooling for the 2018-19 school year saw Turkey and Bunny starting 10th grade, Ladybug starting 6th, and Chickadee starting 1st. Moose had his first day of junior high! Moose, Chickadee, and I went to a Cardinals game and hung out with Fredbird.

We were back at the Missouri Botanical Garden in September, this time for the Japanese Festival. The girls and I went to Art Hill to experience the Great Forest Park Balloon Race’s Balloon Glow for the first time. Bunny and I went to Powell Hall to watch Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on the big screen while the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra played the score.

In October, we finally got to see the much-awaited Olympic Spectacular in St. Louis. The Fab Five and I went to Braeutigum Orchards to pick pumpkins and baby porcupines, apparently. We headed west to St. Charles for the third year of Legends and Lanterns.

And then November. The month started out so promisingly, with our annual Extra Life for Kids fundraiser…which also turned out to be the day I broke my ankle. I was really afraid that would be the end of our fun for the year, but I was determined not to let it ruin things, so we eased into the celebratory season with Moose’s 13th birthday. Garden Glow was a bit of a challenge, but I was able to (slowly) make my way through the event. Thanksgiving was a scary proposition this year, but somehow, we got everything done, and had a nice dinner, even if I did overcook the turkey. We even made it to the Boar’s Head Festival for the first time since Chickadee was a baby!

December started with a Christmas Getaway north to St. Charles, IL and Pheasant Run. We got to experience a rainy Christmas in Chicago while we were there. We celebrated Santa Lucia Day. Moose and I got to go to Powell Hall and watch Home Alone on the big screen while the St. Louis Symphony played the score. We traveled west to St. Charles, MO, for Christmas Traditions. Our hot water heater died right before Christmas, but we pressed on and enjoyed a mostly typical Markel Family Christmas.

There was much about this year, and especially the last two months, that was difficult. But I found strength I didn’t know I had, and accomplished almost everything I set out to, and really, what more can you ask for? I hope that in 2019, I will continue to conquer every hurdle I face!