Back at Busch

Yesterday, for the first time in I’m not even sure how long (at least five years!), the whole family went to a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium! We took a walk around Ballpark Village when we arrived downtown:

It’s changed a lot in the last few years!

We stopped to say “hi” to Stan, of course:

And then got in line almost an hour before the gates opened:

The reason we got in line so early was to make sure we were there in time for the giveaway…Molina and Wainwright Mystery Championship Replica Rings. This is my favorite type of giveaway, and they’re really nice!

Our seats were excellent…we were in the last row, so we had a nice breeze, and we were in the shade for pretty much the entire game! Plus, we could see the Arch, which is always nice.

When we were walking around, we found this cool life-size bobblehead of Ladybug’s favorite player who isn’t named Albert Pujols:

And Bunny, Chickadee, and I went in search of Fredbird:

Ballpark food is the best!

It was the perfect day. We got to see everyone’s favorite battery (Wainwright and Molina) start their 316th game together, putting them in a tie for second place on the all-time battery list! And we got to see Tommy Edman get his first walk-off, which was a total thrill! We couldn’t have asked for a better ending!

It was so good to be back at my favorite place!

The only thing that could have made today better is if we had gotten to see Pujols bat, but we did see him in the dugout, so we’ll call that good enough, and the perfect day at Busch!

The Markel Family Returns to Chicagoland–Day Four

On Sunday it was time for all of us (minus Ryan and Turkey) to head home so that Moose could march with his school’s band in the town Memorial Day parade on Monday. We said a sad goodbye to Combo Breaker:

And got a few last pictures:

We took one last walk around the beautiful hotel lobby:

And then hit the road. We were excited to watch the odometer kick over to 80,000 miles on the way. We were even more excited to stop at Portillo’s and eat lunch on their patio!

It was weird arriving home without two members of our family, but they returned Monday with gifts. I didn’t have the opportunity to stop at a Jewel-Osco while we were in Chicago, but Ryan found time to buy my favorite chocolate torte:

And he brought back staff medals for the entire family as thanks for the work we did over the weekend…I was rather overwhelmed at being recognized!

And so that wraps up what was a slightly shorter than usual but greatly appreciated trip up to Chicagoland for Combo Breaker. Hopefully it won’t be another three years before we make it back, but like I said, I won’t take it for granted again!

The Markel Family Returns to Chicagoland–Day Three

We were up early enough on Saturday to be on the Combo Breaker floor before pretty much anyone else (other than staff) showed up:

It was the perfect time for our traditional Combo Breaker family photo!

After that, we parted ways again to do our respective jobs. Ryan and Turkey were working the full day again, and the rest of headed off to fill more bags for the next several hours. We were working with someone which made it a lot of fun, and the time passed quickly! After we finally ran out of hand sanitizer and had to stop, we took a break for ice cream at Oberweis:

Back at the hotel, we took yet another walk…I don’t think the place has a bad side!

We spent the rest of our time that day at Combo Breaker…we knew it was our last night there, and we wanted to make it last. We got to see an auction tournament for the first time, which was loads of fun, and caught one final before we left. We also got to see parts of a wedding that was taking place at the hotel, which was also fun!

We took the long way back to our room (outside again) to enjoy the night view one more time.

Up next…all good things must come to an end!

The Markel Family Returns to Chicagoland–Day Two

The second day of our trip was the one I was most looking forward to, because after three long years, we were finally going to go back to Chicago! The weather forecast wasn’t promising, but in the end, although it was quite cool, the rain lifted, and that was good enough for us. We got to leave from a new-to-us Metra station (Palatine), so we saw a bunch of different suburbs on our way downtown.

The sights that greeted us were just like I remembered:

It was so good to be back!

Bunny took some time to feed some pigeons:

And one even photobombed her!

Mostly, we just walked around and took it all in. It was so much fun to see all of our favorite places (and some new ones), and we even stopped to listen to a street musician (who was very talented!) for a bit. The only thing we didn’t get to do that I would have liked was see Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan, but it was very windy, and that was in the opposite direction of the other stuff we had planned, so I settled on seeing a sliver of my lake from a distance.

We walked up the Magnificent Mile to Water Tower Place, something new for us. We stopped in to see the big American Girl store and the Lego Store (two of our favorite places):

We also spent some time in Jane Byrn Park by the historic Water Tower:

After that, we made our way to the Plaza of the Americas so we could visit the “Wings of Mexico” art installation, which is “a symbol of the immigrant journey and celebrates Chicago as a sanctuary city.” Moose didn’t care to have his picture taken, but us gals couldn’t resist!

No visit to Chicago would be complete without a stop at the former Marshall Field’s on State Street to buy a box of Frango Mints!

And then we made our way back to the train and said goodbye to my favorite city. The last time I said goodbye, I assumed I’d be back “soon.” Three years later, and without Turkey joining us because he was working Combo Breaker the whole day, I finally made it back. I really hated to leave, and I’ll never take it for granted again.

Back at the hotel, Combo Breaker had begun, so we spent some time on the floor, taking in all those sights, too.

We also enjoyed playing some of the arcade games they had set up, including Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Donkey Kong.

We couldn’t resist another walk outside, where the evening light was perfect. Also, we enjoyed watching muskrats swim in the hotel ponds…who knew?!?

We also found time for one more evening swim…it wasn’t quite the same as swimming under the stars at Pheasant Run’s outdoor pool, but it was still fun!

One last look before bed:

Up next…a full day of Combo Breaker!

The Markel Family Returns to Chicagoland–Day One

I haven’t had the opportunity to do too many “Markel Family Road Trip Wrap-Ups” over the last few years, but I’m back with a big one, because Combo Breaker returned to Chicagoland over Memorial Day weekend!

Ryan and Turkey left for the event last Wednesday, but Moose had one last final that day, so the rest of us hit the road on Thursday (major thanks to Ryan’s parents for letting us borrow their second car to make it all work!). The drive through Illinois was, as always, pretty boring, but we did get to stop at the fairly new Wally’s in Pontiac to get gas and stretch our legs, and that in itself was quite an experience…I had no idea a “jerky bar” was a thing!

Our destination was the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center, the new home of Combo Breaker. As much as I loved Pheasant Run, this was a real upgrade, and we really enjoyed just walking around the hotel (inside and out), and taking it all in:

Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, so after stashing our stuff in the “boys’ room,” we went down to the event space to see how we could help. They were, I think, happy to see us, as they put us to work immediately, filling the registrants’ bags. It was fun being part of the work that goes on behind the scenes, and we got to see a lot of people as we worked, but I don’t think we were as happy to see anyone as Bunny was to finally get to meet her favorite fighting game commentator, Tasty Steve!

I took a break from bagging to check into our room, which was very nice…we especially liked the “wish” artwork on the wall!

The view wasn’t bad either!

After we finished our work for the day, we headed down to the pool, which was very nice (it was a saltwater pool, which I enjoyed), and we had the whole thing to ourselves!

We also took one last walk around the property…it’s a very beautiful place!

Up next…a day I waited three years for!

Tasty Tuesday–The Third Disney Dinner

The theme for our third Disney Dinner was coconut…the drink, main course, and dessert all contained some form of it!

We started with a non-alcoholic version of the Monorail Yellow…I substituted apple juice for rum. It also contained orange and pineapple juice, and coconut cream…it tasted like summer in a glass!

The main course was something very new for us…an East African inspired cilantro coconut curry from Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It consisted of butternut squash, cauliflower, red onions, and tomatoes, in a very bright sauce made from cilantro, mint, jalapeño, ginger, and coconut milk. I think everyone was surprised by how much they liked it even though it was vegetarian!

For dessert I made a salted caramel magic bar blondie, inspired by the magic of Fantasia’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

All three of these recipes came from Delicious Disney…I’m already looking forward to the next dish I’m going to make from that cookbook…stay tuned!

Combo Breaker in the Time of COVID-19

We thought this day would never come!

After a long wait of three years, Combo Breaker is back! Like everything that has taken place since the beginning of the pandemic, it looked a little different, but one of the most obvious differences wasn’t even pandemic-related…Combo Breaker has a new home at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center! (In related news, the now-defunct Pheasant Run Resort burned down the week before the event began, and there’s so much irony in there I can’t even start.)

So how was Combo Breaker different in the of COVID-19? It really wasn’t…vaccinations were required (you received a wristband to wear all weekend after you showed your proof of vaccination) and masks were mandatory at all times (except for when you were eating or drinking, of course…and I have to say, in general, compliance was excellent). Everything else felt familiar, though…the crowds, the games, the commentators, the artists, the fantastic energy on the floor. It was just all much bigger, because the space was enormous…even though the main stage screen was the same size as it has always been, it looked tiny compared to my memory of the event because the room was so huge!

For the first time, all seven of us Markels were able to volunteer at the event. Of course, Ryan always works, but Turkey drove up with him on Wednesday, and pitched in from Thursday-Saturday. The rest of us drove up a day later, and on Thursday and Saturday we helped fill thousands of registrant bags, and Ladybug even got to help run a bracket Friday night! There was something special about all of us being able to help out during the first event back after the pandemic, and even though most of us had to leave to come home before the Sunday night finals, I think this Combo Breaker will always have a special place in our hearts, because it just meant so much!

Tasty Tuesday–The Second Disney Dinner

For our second “Disney Dinner” last week, I turned to my other Disney cookbook, Entertaining with Disney, for inspiration. I decided to make two recipes from the “Moana Motunui Island Summer Barbecue” chapter, starting with Te Fiti’s Tropical Punch, a mixture of blue Hawaiian Punch, pineapple juice, and orange juice:

The main course was Moana’s Motunui Sliders (pork tenderloin in Hawaiian BBQ sauce with bacon, pineapple, and pepper jack cheese on King’s Hawaiian rolls):

After being interrupted by the tornado sirens, we finally got around to dessert, a recipe for Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen Menu Hummingbird Cake from Delicious Disney.

I’m really enjoying our Disney Dinners!

Be Our Guest

“Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious. Don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!”

We didn’t have a Disney Dinner tonight, but I did make a dessert from Delicious Disney. “Grey Stuff.” The classically dubious dish mentioned in Beauty and the Beast‘s “Be Our Guest.” Except this wasn’t dubious at all…it was delicious! It consisted of cookies and cream pudding piped onto homemade sugar cookies. Mine didn’t turn out quite as pretty as the picture in the book, but it was still fun and tasty!

Tasty Tuesday–The First Disney Dinner

If you know anything about me, you know I love themed meals and hands-on activities. When I started planning our Disney-focused summer school (details to come!) to coincide with our postponed family vacation, I knew I had to find some kind of cookbook to go with our experience. I really hit the jackpot, because a new cookbook created for the 50th anniversary of Disney World was recently published, and it contains recipes from all kinds of park locations!

I planned our first “Disney Dinner” to go with the last day of the 2021-22 homeschool year last week…a real kick-off to summer vacation! We started the meal with a Disney classic, the Orange Bird Flip. Yes, it contains raw eggs, which might be scary or disgusting to some, but we liked it!

The main course was Puerco en Salsa Verde from the Mexican pavilion at Epcot. In addition to cooking the pork, I also fried the potatoes and made the salsa verde from scratch (which may have been a mistake, because now my family wants me to never buy jarred salsa verde again!)…I was pretty proud of the effort I put in!

For dessert, I made the Brown Derby’s grapefruit cake:

Yes, you noticed correctly…I even bought two special serving pieces to go with our Disney Dinners…and Orange Bird cup and what is technically a Mickey Mouse pasta bowl, but also works well as a plate. In the end, they’ll make good souvenirs as well as dishes! I’m looking forward to trying more recipes from this cookbook (and one other one I already had) this summer!