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!

2018-19 School Year–Week Twenty

I know I’m late with last week’s wrap-up, but that’s because I wanted to share the cool learning experiences we had over the weekend, too! Briefly, as far as our regular subjects go, Turkey and Bunny learned about ratios in math (which tied in very nicely with their chemistry lessons), Ladybug read about Marco Polo and the Forbidden City in history, and Chickadee measured in centimeters. Oh, and there was other stuff, too, some of which was mostly the same as the week before.

On to the fun stuff! We were in the Chicago area over the weekend, so I planned some special field trips to places we hadn’t had the chance to visit yet. On Thursday, we went to the Brookfield Zoo, and had what may have been our best zoo experience ever. It was cold and a little bit snowy, but the animals were so active! We really enjoyed the chance to observe them in a way we never really have before!

On Friday, we went to the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, where we learned about rocks and gemstones, and how gemstones are cut. It was unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and we learned a lot!

Yesterday, we stopped at Chicago’s Field Museum on the way home from our trip north. We toured the Hall of Birds and the Hall of Gems. We also took a look at ancient Egypt. The highlight of the trip, though, was walking through the Halls of Evolving Planet and Hall of Dinosaurs on our way to see Chicago’s most famous resident…Sue the T. rex:

We drove through snow for about the last hour of our trip home, but fortunately, the clouds cleared in time for us to see the Super Blood Wolf Moon during the lunar eclipse:

So we had three regular days of school last week, and then a lot of fun field trip days and unique experiences…it was definitely a nice way to spend a school week in January!

A Markel Family Christmas–2018 Edition

This whole Christmas season has been a bit more challenging than usual, because of my injured ankle. My CAM boot came off exactly a week before Christmas, and I was determined to have our usual, festive, three-day Christmas event, while relearning how to walk normally, starting with our favorite Christmas Eve breakfast of Christmas Crunch:

As we have for the last few years, we had our “pick out dinner” for lunch, before heading into the city for church. This year, we had our standard crackers and various cheeses, summer sausage, buffalo Chex mix, and jalapeƱo popper and rotel dips (with festive red and green tortilla chips!). We also enjoyed deviled eggs, shrimp, pizza bagels, mozzarella sticks, sausage squares, cranberry brie bites (a new recipe that was so good!), and cheese squares.

We then went to church, where “The Bigs” and Ryan were singing in the Christmas Eve service. I was very happy to wear only an ankle brace on my left leg with my standard Christmas Eve dress!

There’s always one piece of music that really stands out to me…this year, it was “Where Shepherds Lately Knelt”:

I took a picture of the Fab Five after church…in the church basement, where the service was held because the sanctuary is undergoing extensive renovations!

On the way home, we drove through the Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows:

At home, I took more pictures, of course:

For the first time ever, the children received completely matching Christmas jammies, and they even were in keeping with this year’s Harry Potter theme:

And then time for Jesus’ birthday cake. Doesn’t it look pretty? It’s a good thing I took this picture the day before, right after I finished decorating it, because apparently there’s too much humidity in our refrigerator for the cookie icing to set up properly, and it ran everywhere. I’m told the cake still tasted good, though…I, however, was too upset to try it.

I kind of had a meltdown at that point. I was so tired, and my ankle was bothering me, and I was just done for the day. Oh, and did I mention that at that point, we were on day four with no hot water, as we were waiting on a part and a repair on our water heater? Just done. So Ryan and I didn’t play Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries like we usually do on Christmas Eve, and we didn’t watch the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker. I did get the stockings filled and the tree prepared before I went to bed, though:

Things looked better in the morning (even though I didn’t sleep much because my ankle was still bothering me). We had fun opening stockings (although the boys continued to elude me in my early-morning photography):

And enjoyed our Christmas Day coffee cake:

I have really enjoyed wearing this Pinup Girl Clothing dress all throughout the season, and I was especially excited to wear it on Christmas Day without the CAM boot as an accessory!

We then drove back into the city for the Christmas Day Divine Service, where Ryan, Turkey, Bunny, and Ladybug were singing in the choir:

Another picture in the basement, this time of the whole family:

After lunch, we opened presents. Bunny found the pickle ornament on the tree this year, so she got to hand out the gifts.

The rest of the day was spent snacking, relaxing, and preparing for the big Christmas feast, which we had yesterday. The star of the meal was a smoked ham from Beast Craft BBQ. We also had mashed potatoes and gravy, roast carrots, butternut squash gratin, croissants, and our favorite cherry Jell-O “salad.” You may notice a lack of festive table photos…that’s because I didn’t use the china (other than serving pieces) or set the table with our linens. My ankle might be healed, but I’m still kind of slow and still tire easily after being on my feet all day, so that was something I let go of this time.

I made a trio of Christmas desserts…an apple-cranberry bread pudding, a gingerbread-eggnog trifle, and a Buche de Noel. They were all delicious…I especially liked the bread pudding, which was a new recipe.

So that was Christmas 2018. More things went wrong than I would have liked, but most things went right. What really matters, though, is that we were all together, and we had plenty of opportunities to celebrate our Savior’s birth!

2018-19 School Year–Week Eighteen

We’re done with school until next year!

This week was all about finishing up. Turkey and Bunny finished chapters in history, math and science. Ladybug finished a vocabulary lesson and Justin Morgan had a Horse. Chickadee finished a section in math and a handwriting lesson. We also read A Christmas Carol, watched several productions of the Nutcracker, made ornaments, and read some other Christmas stories. We even found time to visit the St. Louis Science Center to see their new lights display, “Science Illuminated.”

So that’s it for a few weeks. We’ll be back to work in January, hopefully feeling rested and ready to tackle the second half of the school year!

Christmas Traditions 2018

Today we made our annual trek west to St. Charles, MO, for the Christmas Traditions festival. (This is not to be confused with the trek north we made a few weeks ago to St. Charles, IL, also for Christmas-related reasons!)

The day was as beautiful as the picture looks, although it was a bit warm for our tastes. But the spring-like temperatures brought our larger crowds than we’ve ever encountered before…it was a good thing they finally decided to close Main Street to vehicular traffic, because I don’t know how all of the pedestrians would have fit on the sidewalks!

St. Charles is never more charming than it is at Christmastime:

One of the best parts of going to Christmas Traditions is seeing all of our favorite characters. We’ll call this year’s attempt a “successful failure.” We saw the number one character we wanted to see (Jack Frost), and a really cool new character (Ded Moroz), but there was no Frontier Santa this year, and we didn’t see the Master of Revels, and a number of the other characters we enjoy seeing every year. In the end, we collected 31 out of 41 numbered character cards, plus one of the bonus cards, which is really not bad!

Bunny had an especially good visit with Jack Frost, the “Bob Ross of Frost” this year. He even embellished his character card with a bit of his artwork for her!

This was a challenging visit to St. Charles for me, since I’m still wearing the CAM boot. The uneven brick streets made walking more difficult than I would care to admit, and our parking space, which was practically on the other side of the Missouri River, made our walk extra long. But I was determined to have fun today, and do the things we usually do, because I hate to miss out on anything. So, even though climbing the brick steps up to the gazebo wasn’t the easiest thing ever, I even got my annual picture of the Fab Five, and I think it might be the best one yet!

And just like that, another year’s visit to Christmas Traditions is over. Even though things were a bit different this year (we were too late to see the parade, and we missed the gingerbread houses), we had a great time! I’m already looking forward to seeing what changes they might make next year…but not as much as I’m looking forward to not having to navigate the event with a broken ankle!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day Three

The third day of our Christmas getaway was also the real reason we were there…to attend the Santa Breakfast at Pheasant Run. We enjoyed the decorations, a great meal, and a nice, leisurely morning together. Before we left the ballroom, we took a family picture with the host of the event:

It’s always hard to say goodby, but at least this time, it’s only six more months until we go back, instead of a whole year!

Before we really hit the road, we had one more stop to make. Since our Chicago Christkindlmarket experience didn’t exactly go as planned, we stopped at their satellite location in Naperville at the Naper Settlement. I was shocked by how big the market was, and how similar to the one in Chicago. I guess I had assumed that it would be kind of…dinky…but it wasn’t at all, and we had a great time!

Since we were already so far south, we didn’t even have to get on the tollway, which was a nice surprise. Just a few hours south on 55, and we were back home. It was definitely a quick trip, but extremely memorable! I’m already looking forward to our next family trip!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day Two

Day two of our Christmas Getaway was a BIG DAY. A day I’ve been planning and hoping for for years…the day where I would show the Fab Five Christmas in Chicago!

But first, a look at the view from our 11th floor room in the tower at Pheasant Run. We’ve never had a north facing view before, and while we missed being able to see the skyscrapers in Chicago that we’ve been accustomed to (with the way the weather was in Chicago last weekend, there’s no way we would have been able to see them anyway!), it was fun to see something different. It was also nice of Chicago to hang onto the snow until we had a chance to really see it, because it was pretty much gone by the end of the day!

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Pheasant Run’s Jambalaya restaurant, compliments of the resort. It was a great meal…I especially enjoyed my eggs Benedict, a rare treat for a person like me who doesn’t usually eat breakfast!

And then we headed out. Our first stop was the Museum of Science and Industry, using the reciprocity that comes with our St. Louis Science Center membership to get in for free! We were there to see only one thing…the “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light” display, something I enjoyed as a child who grew up in the Chicago suburbs. It’s much bigger than I remember it being, and we were definitely not disappointed…I think it took us over an hour to see all of the trees and other displays!

After the museum, we stopped briefly to take a look a Lake Michigan, which was wild…way wilder than the children have ever seen it, and possibly more so than I ever have! We really enjoyed watching the waves crash against the shore! It was a grander display of wind and waves than we even saw the two times we’ve visited the ocean!

We then headed into the heart of downtown, a harrowing experience that involved a crowded parking garage with narrow spiral ramps that terrify me, and no spaces available until we hit the 10th floor. I can’t tell you how glad I was that Ryan was driving! Despite my terror, it was a good place to park, and fairly close to everything I hoped to see. It was only a short few blocks’ walk to Millennium Park, where we saw the city Christmas tree:

And the “Bean.” Since Ryan hasn’t had the opportunity to see it with us the last few years we’ve visited the city in May, I made sure to get a picture of him with the children in front of it:

Of course I had to show the children the Art Institute lions with their wreath manes:

The number one thing I wanted to share with the children was the Chicago Christkindlmarket. I have happy memories of going downtown with Ryan when we were in college and having lunch and shopping at the stalls, and I really wanted the Fab Five to have that experience, too. It was so rainy and windy when we were there, though, that we didn’t spend much time at the market. We had a snack (not a full meal), and didn’t get to do any browsing. I didn’t even get a picture of the children there, although I did get a few shots of the market:

We then went to Marshall Field’s of Blessed Memory, where I wanted the children to see the Christmas decorations, especially the tree in the Walnut Room. And that’s when the second disappointment of the day occurred, because I discovered that apparently, you can no longer go up to the eighth floor and view the Walnut Room and its tree from above. I was not happy about that, but we did still buy a tin of Frango mints, so it wasn’t a wasted trip. And by the time we had purchased our treat to take home, the rain had stopped, so we could admire the Christmas windows outside:

After we finally made it back to the car (the garage was right across from Macy’s, but I was over using my knee scooter, especially with all the standing water that had collected everywhere, so I wasn’t moving too fast), we drove over to the Adler Planetarium so the Fab Five could see the city at night. Due to the weather, they really only saw the lower third of the city, but at least they got an idea of what Chicago’s night skyline looks like:

We decided to take the long way back to the resort, so we got on North Avenue basically where it begins in the city, and drove…and drove…and drove some more. There was traffic and construction and too many potholes to count. But it was still kind of fun (other than the potholes), and we stopped for a favorite treat from our college days on the way…Italian ice from Johnnie’s. This was a first for the Fab Five, and they really enjoyed it.

When we got back to Pheasant Run, we headed back down to Bourbon Street to see the light show again…this time, we caught it in its entirety, and then saw it again!

When we got back to our room, we indulged in one of favorite hotel activities…watching the Food Network on cable TV. It was hard to believe our second night at the hotel was also our last, but we still had a day of fun to look forward to on Sunday!