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!

Markel Family Christmas Getaway–Day One

It’s time for another Markel family road-trip wrap-up, this time featuring last weekend’s Christmas getaway to Pheasant Run Resort!

This trip was a little different, because we didn’t leave super early in the morning on Friday. Instead, Moose went to school for his first three classes, and we hit the road around lunchtime. It actually wasn’t a bad drive…very little construction, and no traffic to speak of until we hit the Chicagoland area. The only real hiccup in our travels was the fact that when we arrived at Pheasant Run, their computers were down, and we couldn’t check in to our room. We had planned to go to dinner at the Schnitzel Platz with my mom, so we decided to wait on checking in, and headed straight for a delicious meal of German food. We tried a few new things this time (I had schnitzel with white asparagus and hollandaise sauce, and Turkey’s schnitzel came with a fried egg and canapés), and we heard a new musician, who played the accordion and the saxophone. We even got to hear “O Tannenbaum” sung auf Deutsch!

After dinner, the computers at the hotel were back up, and we were able to get into our room.

We took a walk around the resort, as we usually do the first day we arrive. This time we had a very specific purpose…we wanted to see the hotel at Christmastime! You can swim in the outdoor portion of the indoor/outdoor pool even when there’s snow on the ground (as there was when we arrived). I would have tried this had it not been for my broken ankle. Instead, I had to settle for watching the steam rise off of the heated water:

We then checked out the Christmas lights show on Bourbon Street…it was a lot of fun!

Next up: a busy day in Chicago!

Christmas at Pheasant Run

Our whole family loves staying at Pheasant Run every May for Combo Breaker, so when the resort offered to host us for two nights so we could experience Christmas at Pheasant Run, we were ecstatic. We made the drive up to St. Charles, IL, on Friday, and made the most of our Christmas getaway!

The first thing we noticed that there are beautiful Christmas decorations everywhere, inside…

…and out:

There is a light show on Bourbon Street every evening starting at 4:00 p.m. and running on the half hour until 9:30. We saw it several times, because it was so much fun! There was music playing, and people were dancing in the “street” and having a great time!

There are also fun activities for kids on Bourbon Street, including gingerbread house making, ornament creating, and cookie decorating. We weren’t available to take part in these activities, but they looked like a lot of fun!

The highlight of the weekend was the Santa breakfast in the New Orleans ballroom and on Bourbon Street on Sunday morning. We arrived a little early to enjoy the decorations (again).

Even before we were seated, the children were offered a sugar cookie to decorate. There were little cups of sprinkles and various colors of frosting to choose from…this was a great way to start our experience, and would come in really handy for keeping little hands busy before they get their food!

Bourbon Street had tables for smaller groups set up:

And the ballroom had large tables. For once, we were rewarded for having a large group, because we were close to both the food, and the hosts of the event (Santa and Mrs. Claus)!

Our table was festively decorated:

We were offered drinks by our server, a very attentive and kind woman named Lisa, right after we were seated. There were plenty of options, including coffee and tea, and several kinds of juice. The buffet lines opened up almost immediately, and the food choices were beyond amazing! There was an omelet station (almost all of us had one…mine included salmon, spinach, and mushrooms), a carving station with amazing ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cornflake crusted French toast that Ryan said was amazing, red velvet waffles with all kinds of toppings, fresh fruit, and desserts that included cream puffs, eclairs, brownies, muffins, and chocolate-covered strawberries. It was an incredible (and very delicious!) meal!!!

People were free to see Santa and Mrs. Claus whenever they wished, so the line never got long, which was fantastic. As you would expect, they were very kind, and did a great job of talking to each of our children in turn:

This weekend was a dream experience for our family. We enjoyed great food (Pheasant Run also provided us with a delicious breakfast on Saturday, which we had at their Jambalaya restaurant). We reveled in the Christmas spirit that was everywhere at the resort. We had a wonderful time making memories together, and we were treated exceptionally well by all of the Pheasant Run staff. It was an unforgettable Christmas getaway!

No Coast. No Kings. Combo Breaker 2018

I’ve shared bits and pieces about this year’s Combo Breaker, held in the Mega Center (plus a ballroom) at Pheasant Run Resort, as I’ve recapped our trip north, but now it’s time to take a closer look at the event itself!

I think we spent more quality time at Combo Breaker than ever before this year. We actually saw a final in its entirety! We watched more top eights than we ever have, too. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Ryan play this year (he competed in the Mystery Tournament again, but we missed it), but we did see him hard at work volunteering many times, because he was busy with running brackets and being part of the security team all weekend!

We saw the cosplay contest this year, and following it, we got to see Samus up close, and I asked if I could take a picture:

We also spent more time at the arcade this year. I love how there was something for everybody to play…even me! I stuck with the pinball tables, but the children enjoyed lots of different games, including Crazy Taxi, Killer Instinct, Bubble Hockey, Hydro Thunder and Duck Hunt. It’s also always fun to take a walk through the vendor area, and some of the children bought something with the money they had been saving. And there were game-themed Redbull beverages again this year, which I find very amusing!

I think the most exciting moment of the weekend, though, was when Ryan was given this medal. He earned medals at the previous two Combo Breakers he went to (fifth place in Tekken Ball in 2016 and seventh place in the Mystery Tournament in 2017), but this year, he didn’t advance far enough to be in contention for an award. On Sunday, however, he was given this medal in thanks for all the hard work he did helping with setup and the event itself…we are very proud of him!

So that’s it for another Combo Breaker. The staff and volunteers worked so hard, often behind the scenes, to make this another fantastic event. It’s clear, even to someone with no familiarity with fighting games like myself, how much blood, sweat and tears goes into making it happen, and making it run smoothly. And even though I neither play nor truly understand fighting games, this has become one of the highlights of my year, because the community is so great, the energy and enthusiasm in the Mega Center is so fantastic, and the event is so well-organized, that it’s impossible not to love it and have an amazing time. After three years in attendance, Combo Breaker is firmly in “family tradition” territory, and we are already looking forward to going back next year!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Six

Last Monday morning, it was time to say goodbye to Pheasant Run and Combo Breaker.

But we weren’t quite done with our trip. We headed east, for a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden, where, despite the extreme temperatures, it still looked like spring!

We then drove to the south side of Chicago to try one of the Windy City’s specialties: Rainbow Cones. We were not disappointed!

We took the long way south to Normal, where we had one last taste of Chicago at Portillo’s before heading home:

And so our vacation came to an end. We have more fun trips planned for this summer, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s Combo Breaker!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Five

Last Sunday morning, we celebrated the Holy Trinity at St. John Wheaton. We didn’t say the Athanasian Creed, but we did get to have donuts after the service!

Following church, we hurried back to Combo Breaker. I had to take a picture in what I’m calling a “Sailor Moon Bound” Pinup Girl Clothing outfit with my Sailor Jupiter lanyard that Ryan bought for me before the trip:

And, as always, we had to get a family picture with the big Combo Breaker screen in the background:

We went for one last swim:

And then returned to Combo Breaker, to see the Guilty Gear final, which Bunny was very excited about:

We celebrated my 1st 39th birthday a few weeks early with my mom at the Schnitzel Platz, where I got to hear “Happy Birthday” played on cowbells after dinner!

Back at Pheasant Run, we visited the arcade one last time:

While we were doing that, Ryan received a medal for the third year running…this one was very special!

We saw some of the Dragon Ball top eight, but it was getting late, so we headed back to our room before the final. Turkey watched it on my phone while the rest of his siblings fell asleep watching…more Food Network!

That was (sadly) our last night at Pheasant Run, but we still had a few fun activities planned before we headed home on Monday!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Four

Originally, we had planned to drive up to Milwaukee on the fourth day of our trip, but that ended up not happening. That was ok, though, because we got to spend extra time at Combo Breaker! In addition to watching more of the tournament(s), we also spent some time in the (free!) arcade, playing games like Crazy Taxi, bubble hockey, and pinball. It was crowded and loud and a lot of fun!

We did venture out for a bit in the unusually-hot-for-May temperatures to visit Kline Creek Farm, an 1890s living history farm. The animals seemed to enjoy the heat about as much as we did, but we did get to pet a sheep and some chickens. The horses, cows, and pigs were too busy trying to stay cool for us to get close to them.

Have I mentioned the fantastic view from our 15th floor room at Pheasant Run?!? On a clear day (and there were many) you can see the Sears (Willis, whatever) Tower dominating the Chicago skyline in the distance, over 30 miles away. And on a really clear day, you can see about three other unidentified skyscrapers, too!

We didn’t have money for a full meal at Giordano’s, but I had to stop and get an order of their limited-time fried artichoke hearts. They were delicious, and I managed to convince all of the children to try at least one…and most of them liked it!

We went back to Combo Breaker to see the cosplay fashion show, and afterward, Samus was kind enough to pose for a picture for us:

A moonlight swim at Pheasant Run’s outdoor pool was high on our priority list, and it was a great night for it. The moon was almost full, and you could even see a few stars (which is an accomplishment in Chicagoland!).

Back in our room, we enjoyed the view, and more Food Network shows before bed.

Up next: The final day of Combo Breaker, and the penultimate day of our trip north.

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day One

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a week since we packed up the car and headed north for our annual trip to St. Charles, IL for Combo Breaker! We left super early that morning, and while we were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to check in upon our arrival (because of the early hour), we found that our room (the exact same room we had last year on the 15th floor of Pheasant Run’s tower!) was ready and waiting for us!

After we dealt with our luggage, we made a Super Target run, partly because we needed a few things, and partly because we just love Super Target!

Most of the rest of the day was spent in one of Pheasant Run’s pools. I don’t think we’ve ever spent that much time in the pool in one day before!

We did take a break to walk around Pheasant Run and see if anything had changed…for the most part, nothing had.

When we got back to our room, we were tickled to find a tray of cookies and some milk waiting for us…it was so nice of Pheasant Run to welcome us that way!

Up next: Probably our busiest day of this year’s weekend getaway.

Combo Breaker

I realize I’ve mentioned Combo Breaker a lot here and there, but I’ve never really gone into any details about the event. So here you go.

Combo Breaker is a fighting game event that is held annually over Memorial Day Weekend. It’s current home is at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, IL (which is about 40 miles west of the Chicago lakefront), where it takes up the Mega Center, and this year spilled into the St. Charles ballroom, as well. It is a BIG event!

It’s a three-day event, from Friday morning through Sunday night. 18 different tournaments are contested, and include games like Super Smash Bros., Tekken 7, and Street Fighter V. There are also auction tournaments and a cosplay contest. There is a vendor floor, where you can buy all kinds of video game merchandise, and even an artist alley if you’re looking for something handmade or even commissioned. And it’s a 24 hour event, meaning there are always people up for playing casuals, even if there isn’t a bracketed event running.

For the last two years, Ryan has both run brackets and played various games. And both times, he’s come home with a top eight medal from the Mystery Tournament, which is a big Chicago thing!

There are free arcade games of all kinds set up for participants to play…the children loved that!

This year, in addition to Red Bull slushes (non-alchohoilc), they also had video game-themed adult drinks, also prepared with Red Bull. I don’t know why exactly, but this really amused me!

The “No Coast. No Kings” motto is the perfect way to describe Combo Breaker. It celebrates the midwest, and no one player is more important than another.

This event has even become the perfect opportunity to take some family photos!

I’m not going to lie. I’m not much into video games, and I really don’t get fighting games at all. But Ryan and the children like them, and the community that gathers for Combo Breaker is very friendly, and the energy is great, so even I look forward to going every year!