Wheaton Grand Theater

I have fond memories of seeing movies at the old Wheaton Theater when I was a child. These days, it looks a lot different, mainly because it’s currently sitting vacant, but I was happy to see that the old sign is still hanging above the marquee.

Chicago’s Field Museum

Here’s a closer look at our visit to the Field Museum in Chicago:

There was so much to see, and we didn’t have a lot of time. We knew we weren’t going to get to everything, so we made sure we hit all the highlights. We walked through the Hall of Birds, learned about the state fossil, the Tully Monster (sounds like a Sesame Street character, doesn’t it?), visited the Hall of Gems, where we saw a likeness of the museum’s benefactor, Marshall Field, carved in green beryl, took a look at ancient Egypt, and saw meteor fragments:

The highlight of our visit was definitely the Hall of Dinosaurs:

And the best part of seeing the dinosaurs was becoming acquainted with Chicago’s most famous resident, Sue, the T. rex:

We were able to use the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership to offset some of the cost, so we only had to pay admission for three children. I thought that was a great deal for how much we saw and learned while we were there…someday, I’d like to go back and see some of the things we missed!

Brookfield Zoo

Here’s a closer look at our winter visit to Brookfield Zoo!

There was a bit of snow on the ground when we walked around (there would have been a lot more if we had waited two days!), and it was just beautiful:

The best part of the trip, though, was our experience seeing the animals. I was really worried about this aspect, because I thought they might all be hiding indoors due to the cold. In reality, though, this was the best chance we’ve ever had at any zoo to observe the animals…they were unbelievably active! The big cats were probably our favorite (we especially enjoyed hearing the lion roar…he was LOUD!), but we also saw so many other animals in greater detail than we ever have before! (Not pictured: The sea lions we watched fight over position on a rock for at least 20 minutes…they were hilarious!)

In the end, we spent around five hours at the zoo…but we had so much fun, I really thought we had only been there for about two!

I’d like to go back and see everything in warmer weather at some point, but I have to admit, this special trip, where we pretty much had the place to ourselves, will be almost impossible to top!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Four

We were worried we would wake up to more snow on the final day of our trip up north, but instead, we were greeted by the sun for the first time since our arrival! The views from the windows in our hotel room were excellent!

It was sunny, but quite cold and windy, so we loaded up the van as quickly as possible, and then headed into Chicago to visit the Field Museum. The retreating winter storm over Lake Michigan was still apparent from the museum’s windows:

One of the main reasons for our trip to the museum was visiting Chicago’s most famous resident, Sue, the T. rex. We were not disappointed!

Because I’m me, I had to brave the cold and wind to get a look at the city skyline before we left:

As we often do, we stopped for a late lunch at Portillo’s in Bloomington on the way home.

The rest of the drive was…interesting. We ran into some unexpected snow on the way home, and the last hour of our trip was slow-going and messy. But we got home at a decent time, and the clouds even cleared out for us to see the lunar eclipse later that night! It was a fun getaway, and we’re already planning our next trip to the Chicago area!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Three

Last Saturday we woke up to the winter storm that had been forecasted…in the early part of the day, even the highways were covered, and from what we could see from our eighth floor hotel room, it was rough going out there. I was a little concerned that we would have to spend the entire day in our room…

We did have fun watching even more Food Network, and I went out to clear off the car at one point, but eventually I got kind of restless, so we walked over to the Oak Brook Home Show, which was being held next door at the Drury Lane Theatre. The show was kind of a bust (I hate high pressure environments), but I did enjoy seeing the inside of Drury Lane for the first time since I was a child. We were especially impressed by the beautiful chandeliers and ornate ceiling:

Back in our room, we noticed a bit of winter drama down below. One of the hotel snowplows had managed to get stuck in a snowbank, and we rather enjoyed watching as first they attempted to plow it out, then tried with shovels, and finally gave up and towed the thing out.

The snow did finally stop, and at some point I realized that the cars in the parking lot down below were no longer spinning their tires and the highways looked pretty clear. So we decided to venture out. First we stopped at Mariano’s, which is a new grocery store chain from when I lived in the Chicago area. We were very impressed with it, and decided we’ll probably need to go back in May, if only to sample the offerings from their “mochi bar.”

Then we went to church at St. John, Wheaton:

We even managed to stop back in at Frosty Faustings one more time, where we caught a bit of the cosplay contest and took a few more pictures.

Once we were back at the hotel, we dug into the treat we picked up at Mariano’s…an Eli’s Cheesecake sampler! We really enjoyed the specialty from “Mama’s Little Bakery, Chicago, Illinois!”

More Food Network, plus some Friends on Nick at Nite before bed on our last night in the hotel. We went to sleep wondering if there was going to be more snow overnight, but at least I parked in the theatre’s parking garage this time!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Two

Day two of our winter getaway began with a look at the calm before the storm at Frosty Faustings. We were able to go in with Ryan and take a look around before it officially got underway…it was definitely the quietest the Clarion Inn was for the next two days! We especially liked Ryan’s streaming location, marked by the St. Louis city flag:

After that, the Fab Five and I headed to Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. We had stopped there briefly last January, and the children were impressed both with the size of the mall and the fact that it was actually busy. So we decided to go back this year, and walk around the entire mall. It took us three hours, but we went around every level and stopped in many of the stores. We also ate while we were there…we shared a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s and a cinnamon roll at Cinnabon (classic mall foods), and we had lunch at A&W, including root beer floats for everyone. It was a really fun way to spend the morning!

After our mall trip, I wanted to do something educational, so we went to the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst. This was a really unique experience, and I think we all learned a lot (including what the word “lapidary” means!). There was a lot of beautiful stuff on display, but Castle Lizzadro was probably the most beautiful of all:

We then stopped briefly at Frosty Faustings to see what was going on. We didn’t have much time, but we did get to take a look at all the vendors, a little bit of the game play, and we saw Ryan at work on the stream:

Then we went to The Popcorn Store in Wheaton. Originally, I had planned to do this Saturday, but thanks to the impending winter storm, I wasn’t sure that we would make it then. It was definitely too important of a stop to miss, so we squeezed it in to our already busy Friday.

Then on to dinner at Alfie’s Inn in Glen Ellyn, where I enjoyed an amazing patty melt.

We stopped at the Jewel on the way back to the hotel. I continue to be amazed at how little it has changed over the last 20 years…sure, some things are new, but for the most part, it looks like it did when I used to shop there!

Back at the hotel, we divided up our spoils from The Popcorn Store and watched more Food Network while we waited for the snow to start. It was another very relaxing evening!

Up next…the winter storm hits!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day One

It’s time for another look back at a winter getaway to the Chicago area!

Last Thursday, we hit the road at 4:15 a.m. (yes, you read that right) so Ryan could be in Elmhurst to help set up for Frosty Faustings before 10. Even with some poor weather along the way (fog, fairly heavy rain, and snow), we made good time, and were there before 9:30, which was perfect timing, because once we dropped him off, the Fab Five and I headed to Brookfield Zoo, and were there pretty much right when they opened.

I was a little worried about visiting the zoo on a cold, and still somewhat snowy, January morning. It was a free admission day, though, so we only had to pay for parking, and I figured we wouldn’t lose too much if the trip was a bust. You can imagine my shock, then, when we had what was probably my best visit to any of the zoos I’ve ever been to! Between the weather and the fact that it was a weekday, we pretty much had the zoo to ourselves, and despite the cold, the animals were out and so active. We had a great time and got to see some animals that the St. Louis Zoo doesn’t have…in the end, we walked around for about five hours! It was a great zoo trip!

By the time we were done at the zoo, our hotel room at the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Suites. As soon as we saw the lobby, we knew we were in for a treat:

Our room(s) did not disappoint. We had both a living/office area with a sleeper sofa, and a bedroom with two beds. We also had what I think is the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hotel. Our eighth floor room was on the corner of the building, so we even had two different views!

We were pretty worn out from our very long day, so we let Ryan have the van for the rest of the afternoon/evening, and we settled in for a pleasant night of watching the Food Network on the hotel’s cable TV. It was a relaxing way to end a very busy day!

Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago does an amazing Christmas tree display every year, featuring trees decorated in styles unique to many different countries around the world, from every continent save Antarctica. It’s been maybe…20 years?…since I last saw it, so I was really excited to see how it had changed. Now, my memories are pretty fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure the exhibit is much larger than it used to be, and it was a lot of fun to go through it, and see how different cultures celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays!

This doesn’t cover every tree in the display (I think maybe I have photos of about half of them), and also doesn’t cover the displays featuring holidays such as Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, because they were in glass cases that were very hard to photograph with all of the lights reflecting off of them. I did also include examples of some of the displays that were included beneath the trees, which was a very nice touch, as well as the signs that accompany them. With one exception, I included only one photo from each tree. It was impossible to keep track of which tree went with which country, so you can try to figure that out on your own!

The grand tree in the center of the exhibit was an unbelievable sight!

And a bonus picture of the Pioneer Zephyr, all decked out for the holidays!

I’m so happy I got a chance to see this display again, and even happier that I got to share it with the Fab Five…we all learned so many things about how Christmas is celebrated around the world!

Christkindlmarkets

I was so excited when Belleville finally opened a Christmas market. For years, I had said that it would be the perfect way to honor the city’s German heritage, and add a little extra Christmas fun to the town square. And we’ve enjoyed visiting it in the five seasons it has been open.

But now I think I’ve ruined it for myself. I already mentioned that one of my top priorities when we went to Chicago was taking the Fab Five downtown to the Christkindlmarket. I was a little worried that I would be disappointed, because I thought that over the years, I had built it up in my head, and it wouldn’t be what I remembered. But it actually turned out to be so much more…more stalls, more food choices, more crowds, more everything. Sure, the rain was a downer, but the market itself was beautiful and huge and exactly what I wanted it to be.

And then we stopped at the satellite location in Naperville the next day on the way home, to make up for the rainy experience the day before. I had looked at the map ahead of time, so I should have anticipated what it would be like, but for some reason, I was expecting it to be small and disappointing after Chicago. But it wasn’t at all. Maybe not quite as big (or maybe it was!), but still plenty of options for shopping and food and photos:

And now I realize just how small Belleville’s market is. I know it can never be the same as the Chicago version, but I really thought the Naperville market would be more similar to what we’ve become used to, and it’s not. I know I’ll still visit the Belleville Christkindlmarkt every December, probably more than once, but it will never really be the same to me, after seeing just how German the markets up north are!