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 canap├ęs), 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!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Three

We were up pretty early yet again (we really don’t sleep in on vacations) to attend the early service at St. John Wheaton. It felt a little more familiar than it did last year, but part of me is still shocked that they’re in a different building!

When we arrived back at Pheasant Run, we hurried over to the Mega Center to watch Ryan play in the Mystery Tournament top eight. He didn’t win his match, but he came home with a medal for the second year in a row!

After he was done running his bracket, Ryan took us to lunch at Portillo’s. I think we’ve decided that enjoying one meal there while we’re in Chicago is a must…fortunately, it’s not too expensive! I ordered the Italian beef dipped (of course!), and some of my children were adventurous enough to order a Chicago-style hot dog. It was a delicious meal!

After yet another swim, we checked back in with Combo Breaker. The farther you get into Sunday, the bigger the crowds are!

Another swim, another walk around the resort. There was a small art show in the normally blocked-off upstairs of Bourbon Street, so we took a walk though there, and enjoyed both the art and the unique view. We also stopped by the bonfire after it had been lit, which was especially nice because it was a fairly cool weekend up north.

One final visit to the Combo Breaker floor, to see a round of the Street Fighter top eight, which is the highlight of the weekend for many:

Of course we watched a little more cable TV back in our room (after I discovered that for some reason, I couldn’t get a signal for WGN and couldn’t watch the News at Nine). And we left the curtains open so we could enjoy a last evening look from our room, on the clearest night we experienced while we were there. The glow coming from downtown Chicago is unmistakable, and we even realized that we could see a few other unidentified skyscrapers by the Sears Tower!

Just one last day of family fun to go before we returned home!

Markel Family Weekend Getaway–Day Two

We were up early again on day two of our weekend getaway (although not as early as on day one), to get ready to go to downtown Chicago for our big day of exploring. We decided to depart from the West Chicago Metra station this year. I was impressed by how cute the station was as soon as we drove up.

And then our plans for the day came to a screeching halt. It turns out that there are no ticket agents on duty inside any Metra station on the weekend. We did discuss one other option for getting on the train, but we decided it just wouldn’t work out, and so we had to cancel our big plans for the day (an especially big disappointment for Bunny, who was really looking forward to going to the Art Institute), and come up with a “Plan B.”

While we were thinking, we took a walk around the outside of Pheasant Run (it was a beautiful day!), and hit the pool again, which is pretty much our default when we don’t have any firm plans.

We then decided that since the weather was so nice, we’d shift our plans for Sunday (visiting the historic Naper Settlement), up one day. We had a really great time, even if it wasn’t Chicago!

We also took a short walk on Naperville’s River Walk while we were down there, mostly so I could see the Dandelion Fountain:

Our big family dinner out for the trip was at Muldoon’s in downtown Wheaton. The food was delicious and the atmosphere just like I remembered from the old days when it was Cafe Wheaton.

After another evening walk around Pheasant Run (there’s seriously so much to explore!), and more swimming, we went back to Combo Breaker, and the children tried out the arcade machines that were set up in one of the resort ballrooms for attendees to play for free:

After that, we were ready to head back to our room, and enjoy a little more TV before bed. One of the nice things about not having cable at home is that it’s a real treat when we get to watch it on vacation! And while I was admiring the view from our 15th floor window, I discovered that we could even see the Sears Tower (about 40 miles east of us) in the distance! We didn’t make it downtown to see it, but at least were able to get a glimpse of it!

Stay tuned for Day Three!