Lincoln Park Zoo

When we visit Chicago, I always try to plan one last special activity that we can all do together on the way home. This year, I decided we should visit the Lincoln Park Zoo in the city, something I haven’t done for probably 35 years!

There’s something magical about seeing exotic animals amid the skyscrapers of a big city:

Even when those skyscrapers are partially hidden by fog. I was hoping for a better view of the skyline, but what we saw was lovely in its own way.

We didn’t stay long, because at this point, Ryan had been out of town for a full week, and we were all anxious to get home. But we really enjoyed having a chance to see another Chicago landmark before we hit the road!

Michigan’s Little Bavaria

I really think Frankenmuth, MI, also known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” is the most charming town I’ve ever visited. The German architecture, specialty shops, and Bavarian flags everywhere really make you feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook village!

We might not be able to visit Europe as part of this year’s summer school, but I think going to Frankenmuth and experiencing the culture (and food!) of the town was the next best thing!

Tasty Tuesday–Frankenmuth’s Bavarian Inn Restaurant

Are you ready for an epic Tasty Tuesday?

When we decided to go to Frankenmuth, we knew we’d have to try one of their famous fried chicken dinners. There are two places in town that offer such a meal, and they’re right across the street from each other! After checking out the full menus, we chose to dine at the Bavarian Inn:

It’s a beautiful (and extremely large!) building:

There are many dining rooms, each one as charming as the last:

They had both their own beer and root beer on the menu:

And they start you off with bread, both plain white bread and stollen. They also offered us fresh rhubarb jam to go with it!

We decided to try their ultimate family style Bavarian dinner (the perfect fit for our European-themed summer school this year!), which we had a coupon for, and which would allow us to sample many of their offerings, including the famous fried chicken.

We started with noodle soup and a variety of salads:

The fried chicken was just as good as promised:

We also tried the sauerbraten, bratwurst, kasseler rippchen (smoked pork loin), and schnitzel:

There were also plenty of side dishes, including buttered noodles (my favorite!), vegetables, dressing, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and potato cheese puffs. It was seriously delicious, and we definitely did not leave hungry!

The meal included housemade ice cream for dessert, and I tried the cranberry, which was amazing…I can’t believe I’ve never had cranberry ice cream before!

We also split a piece of apple strudel:

This was a pretty expensive meal for our family, even with the coupon, but it was definitely worth it…and we even had enough leftovers for a second dinner once we got home!

Markel Family Michigan Getaway–Day Three

Monday morning of our Michigan trip began with another walk along Frankenmuth’s Main Street while we waited for some of the shops to open. It is such a beautiful place!

We stopped at the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus, where we picked up a few things to try at home. It’s an amazing store!

We also visited beautiful, historic St. Lorenz:

The main event of the day, however, was stopping at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, A store I have wanted to shop at for years! And of course I had just the right outfit to wear:

There are many photo opportunities throughout the store, and I took advantage of several of them:

Some people say Disney is the happiest place on earth, but I think Bronner’s is. It’s always Christmas there!

We also visited their Silent Night Chapel, a reproduction of Oberndorf’s monument which stands on the site of the former St. Nicholas Church, where “Silent Night” was first sung.

All too soon, our time in Frankenmuth drew to a close, and we had to say “Auf Wiedersehen.”

Our fun for the day wasn’t over yet, though. We stopped for lunch at Big Boy!

And stopped to see beautiful Lake Michigan from its eastern shore:

And then, for the second time in less than a week, we got to eat at Portillo’s!

It was quite late by the time we reached home, but we got to cheer the St. Louis Blues to victory along the way, which helped the time pass. Look for more details about our visit to Frankenmuth in the coming days!

Markel Family Michigan Getaway–Day Two

Last Sunday was a very busy day! We started with breakfast at the restaurant where Ryan had his first job as a teenager. I had a Greek skillet, which was basically gyros for breakfast…delicious!

We then headed over to Christ the King’s second campus, where the retirement festivities were held, beginning with the Divine Service, where both Ryan and his mom got to sing in the choir.

There was a very nice lunch reception after the service, and it was obvious even to an outsider how much that congregation loves their pastors. It was a lot of fun to be part of it, even if we weren’t members there.

After the reception, we drove through Detroit on the way to our next destination. We stopped at historic Fort Wayne on the Detroit River (not to be confused with Fort Wayne, IN, which was named for the same general), to see a place that had been built as a defense against Canada, of all places! Unfortunately, much of the fort is falling apart, but we still got a good sense of what it used to look like.

While we were there, we saw two fighter jets flying overhead, which seemed very appropriate:

We then headed over to the Detroit Riverwalk, where we once again got to gaze upon Canada, but this time, in a more urban setting:

We also drove past Comerica Park…I know it’s home of the Detroit Tigers, but I couldn’t believe just how many tiger statues they had outside!

And then after what seemed like a longer drive than it was, probably because I was so excited to arrive at our destination, we reached Frankenmuth, Michigan’s “Little Bavaria!”

Even our hotel, which is definitely part of a large chain, had a Bavarian look!

All of Main Street is in on the Bavarian architecture, and it was just as charming as I expected it to be!

We had late dinner reservations at one of the two restaurants in town that are famous for fried chicken dinners…the Bavarian Inn. Our dinner was amazing, but you’ll have to wait a few days for the full details!

Even though our dinner lasted almost two and a half hours, it was still light outside when we were done. We were so far north, the sunset was almost an hour later than it is here at home! So we were able to enjoy a nice after-dinner walk, and actually see the town. I loved the covered bridge…but I’m really glad we walked across it instead of driving over it!

We stopped at the Bavarian Inn’s lodge, where they have a huge fun center, and we found my favorite game…skee ball! I think the dinner weighed me down, because the best I could do was tie for first!

We needed to stop at the store and pick up a styrofoam cooler for our dinner leftovers, and I was tickled to discover that even the Kroger looked like it was built in Bavaria!

It had been a long day, and we were all full and tired, so we headed back to the hotel after that. I really wish we could have spent more time in Frankenmuth, but we did have a few more stops planned for Monday morning before we left town!

Markel Family Michigan Getaway–Day One

Last Saturday, we were up dark and early (again), this time for a short road trip to Michigan. I think we were all dreading the long drive, but it ended up feeling really quick, and I think that was partly due to a brief stop in Casey, IL, which is home to many of the world’s largest items, including this rocking chair…it’s seriously huge!

Anyway, it was a really good drive, and we arrived at the Hampton Inn in Southgate in a good mood, even though rain was starting to fall. I can’t remember the last time I stayed at a Hampton Inn (if ever)…it was a really nice hotel!

After we got all of our luggage into our room, we headed to Bishop Park in Wyandotte, where I got to look across the Detroit River at CANADA! I know it sounds silly, but this was the first time I’d ever seen another country with my own eyes, and it was very exciting!

We then visited the church that Ryan grew up at, Christ the King, Southgate. We loved the beautiful stained glass windows!

We also drove by Ryan’s old house:

And then stopped at a convenience store so we could introduce the children to one of the best drinks known to man:

Did I mention why we were in Michigan? The pastor from Ryan’s childhood church was celebrating his retirement last weekend, and the church was having a big celebration in his honor. He and his wife hosted a lovely reception at their home for out-of-town guests Saturday evening, so that’s where we headed next. Fortunately, the rain abated while we were there, and we enjoyed our dinner outside. Afterwards, we headed over to Meijer, a store we don’t have in the St. Louis area.

The reason for our stop? To stock up on the previously mentioned world’s best soda:

After that, we headed back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a swim in a pool that had cool lights that changed color:

I know that this is going to come as a shock, but when we got back to our room, we didn’t watch the Food Network…instead, we watched Nick at Night, which was showing Full House and Friends!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Seven

We’re always sad to say goodbye to Pheasant Run, but that’s how the final day of our trip north began:

We weren’t quite ready to leave Chicagoland, though, so we stopped for a walk around the Lincoln Park Zoo.

We also needed fuel for our journey home, so we went to Rainbow Cone for a treat:

And we stopped in Bloomington/Normal for an early dinner at one of my favorite restaurants…Portillo’s.

And so ended our extended trip for Combo Breaker. We had a lot of fun and made a lot of memories, and summer is only just beginning!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Six

I had big plan for Memorial Day, because for the first time, we were going to be staying a Pheasant Run an extra day, giving us time for extra activities. My plan was to go to Cantigny Park, which is a fun place to visit any day:

But a really special place to visit on Memorial Day. In addition to a lovely ceremony, where they laid a wreath by the Doughboy statue, there were demonstrations of many kinds, including a fife and drum corps, and an army drill team:

The only real disappointment of the whole trip was that the concert at Cantigny, featuring the Wayne Messmer Big Band, was cancelled due to rain. I was really excited to hear Wayne Messmer sing in person for the first time, but I guess I can hope that we can do that next year. Anyway, we drove back to Pheasant Run in an absolute torrent, and headed up to our room to dry off…we were almost as wet as if we had been swimming!

We went back to Alfie’s Inn for another dinner of appetizers (nachos, wings, spinach and artichoke dip, potato skins, and onions rings), plus another dessert (brownie à la mode).

Thankfully the storms stopped, so we had the chance for one last swim in the Garden Atrium pool:

After our swim, we went back to our room to watch the St. Louis Blues play in the first game of the Stanley Cup final…unfortunately, they lost, but at least we were able to watch them away from home!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Five

On Sunday, we stopped by Combo Breaker just as the pools were starting for the day. Since we were dressed for church, I took a picture of the Fab Five in their Sunday best:

And as is my tradition, I made sure to get a picture of myself wearing Pinup Girl Clothing on the Combo Breaker floor:

We then went to church at St. John Wheaton, where we unexpectedly ran into someone we knew…the Lutheran church is so small!

And then a stop at Oberweis for ice cream:

The lemon-blackberry was delicious!

After some lazy time in the hotel room, we went down to Combo Breaker for the Tekken 7 Top 8. The crowd was on fire, and I think this was my favorite fighting game to watch!

Ryan received a medal, as he has every year he has attended in one way or another:

That was the end of Combo Breaker, but we still had a few fun Chicagoland activities planned!

Markel Family Combo Breaker Getaway–Day Four

Last Saturday, we were really hoping the rain would miss us, because we had lots of outdoor plans for the day…and for the most part, it did!

We started at Brookfield Zoo, a place we visited in January. We wanted to see what it was like in the springtime, and we wanted to see the Brick Safari LEGO exhibit (more details on that in the future)!

After a quick stop at the hotel, we headed to Giordano’s for a dinner of appetizers (calamari, a sampler platter, a wings flight, and fried cheese curds), plus a very delicious dessert (Nutella cannoli bites):

And then we made the short trip to Northwestern Medicine Field to see the Kane County Cougars, a Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, take on the Beloit Snappers:

We didn’t stay for the whole game…at 9 pm, after two-and-a-half hours of play, they were still in the sixth inning, and the Cougars were winning 8-1 (the final score was 10-1), so feeling confident in the Cougars imminent victory, we headed back to the hotel for a little more Combo Breaker fun:

Next up: The final day of Combo Breaker!