The Top Five–Things I’m Looking Forward to in 2022

I’m not going to lie…I’m a little reluctant to even try to put this list together, because the one and only other time I came up with a list of things I was looking forward to in the new year, it was 2020, and I think we all know how that turned out (one of the five was cancelled outright, and one was postponed a full year). I do have some things I’m really excited about this year, though, things that I’m praying will all happen as expected, so let’s take a look at what I’m most anticipating!

  • Family Vacation–We were supposed to take a big family vacation in 2021…it was kind of going to be a celebration of Turkey and Bunny graduating from high school, and we were going to visit Disney World and especially Galaxy’s Edge, among other things. We realized pretty quickly that we would need to postpone the trip, so now we’re planning on going this summer, and I’m really praying it all works out, because we’ve added some destinations, and I’m really excited about it!
  • Alison Weir’s New Book–For six years in a row, Alison Weir had a new fiction book published in May, each focusing on the life of one of the wives of Henry VIII. I was pretty sad when the last book came out in 2021, because I didn’t know what I’d look forward to reading at the beginning of our summer vacation, but then I found out that this year, she’s publishing a book about Elizabeth of York…I can’t wait to read it!
  • Beijing 2022–I have mixed feelings about even looking forward to this, partly because, like the Summer Olympics last year, I feel like it should probably be postponed/cancelled, and partly because I think a diplomatic boycott is a coward’s boycott, and we really shouldn’t be participating on principle. Despite my misgivings, though, I know I’m going to watch, and I really love the Olympics…
  • The Platinum Jubilee–I have been looking forward to Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee for 10 years, ever since, during the Diamond Jubilee, a quite-young Turkey asked me what the next celebration would be called, and I guessed “Platinum.” It seemed so far away then, and Her Majesty was already quite elderly at that time, but here we are, about six weeks away from the anniversary of her accession to the throne, and I’m looking forward to celebrating her extensive reign!
  • “2”sday–I can’t believe our good fortune that 2/22/22 falls on a Tuesday! This is exactly the kind of thing that amuses me, and I’m so excited about it, I think this year Bobunk will fall on that date! It’s the little things in life…

I can already see how up to three of these things could go south very quickly, but I’m going to hold out hope that there will be no major hiccups this year, because that’s all we have…hope and a nectarine.

Road Trip Wrap-Up in the Time of COVID-19

Our travels this summer might not yet be back to what they were in pre-COVID times, but we did actually go somewhere this year! Since we weren’t quite as busy as we have been on previous vacations, I’m just going to take a look at the whole trip instead of going day-by-day.

On Monday, we left for a short trip to Bowling Green, KY. Any visit to Bowling Green includes a meal from Zaxby’s. Fortunately, we have always done carryout, so that wasn’t even any different from our usual dinner.

On Tuesday morning, we drove into Nashville to visit Cheekwood Estate and Gardens and see the Nature Pop! Lego exhibition by Sean Kenney. Both the sculptures and the estate were breathtaking!

We also drove down to the Cumberland riverfront to get a look at the Nashville skyline.

We were going to get lunch at Hattie B’s, one of the locations in Nashville known for hot chicken, but the line was unbelievably long, so we went to Chaney’s Dairy Barn and had ice cream for lunch instead!

Our day ended with a beautiful double rainbow!

On Wednesday, Bunny and I went with her grandparents to tour Western Kentucky University, where she is planning on attending after she finishes at community college:

And on Thursday, we visited the Aviation Heritage Park in Bowling Green, where we saw not only an authorized replica of Marine One, but also an aircraft flown by every astronaut who walked on the moon!

We also had an early birthday celebration for Bunny that night:

We were up early on Friday morning to head home, but we did stop for donuts at the Donut Bank on the way:

It was a little challenging coming up with fun things to do outside in the summer heat, (I wanted to go to a Bowling Green Hot Rods game, but between the temperatures and the fact that I’m still a little hesitant to be in a big crowd, even outdoors, made me table that for the time being), but we found something to do every day, and it was so nice to get away for a bit!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Three

The final day of our weekend getaway was fairly low-key. We started with a trip to the Jewel to (finally) buy an I-Pass to make driving on the Chicagoland tollways a bit easier…and then proceeded not to need it at all on the way home. Oh well…at least it will be ready when we go back up in May!

We had planned to walk around the Chicago Botanic Garden on the way home, but wind chills in the single digits made that a less than appealing prospect. So instead, we stopped by the Chicago Baháʼí Temple to marvel at its architecture:

We also drove through the city, just so we could see the skyscrapers:

Of course we had to stop for a moment so I could walk along Lake Michigan. Have you ever walked on frozen sand before? It’s a weird sensation!

And, as always, we stopped for lunch at Portillo’s, where I had my favorite, the Italian beef (dipped, of course!):

So that ends another road-trip wrap-up. It was a pretty short trip compared to what we’re used to, and we didn’t get to do everything I had planned, but it was still a fun getaway!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day Two

Last Saturday morning, we finally got a good look at the snow that had fallen the day before. What we couldn’t really see from our seventh floor hotel room, though, was all of the ice, because once the snow stopped, the freezing rain and sleet started! So we decided to just hang out in the hotel and visit Frosty Faustings, with some breaks to watch cable TV, because I had no desire to get back behind the wheel!

We were there as the event began for the day, and we started by checking out the games Ryan was working on (including, as he calls them, the “old man games”).

Of course we walked around…you never know what you’re going to see at these events!

We had plenty of time to play some games. A new favorite of the children was Them’s Fightin’ Herds, while I enjoyed a track and field game that was about as far from a fighting game as you can get…that figures!

For the first time ever, I even bought a piece of event merch…it turns out that if you slap a logo on a Chicago skyline, I can’t resist! (Also, Frosty Faustings has the most awesome logo ever!)

Of course I had to get a picture of the Fab Five:

And of the crowds in general:

We saw the cosplay contest finals…I’m always impressed by how creative people can be!

We ended up going back up to our room to watch the stream of the Tekken 7 finals on my phone, because the one downside to Frostys is that you can’t hear the commentary in the ballrooms, and we really wanted to hear what Tasty Steve had to say!

Up next: A little sightseeing on the way home!

Markel Family Winter Weekend Getaway–Day One

It’s that time again…time to look back at another winter weekend trip to Chicagoland!

Last Friday, we were up extra early in attempt to beat the expected winter weather out of St. Louis so we could meet Ryan up north in Wheeling for Frosty Faustings. And we did beat all of the weather on the way up (even though Moose’s school ending up canceling classes for the day!). It was a fairly uneventful drive, even though it was a bit nerve-wracking for me, as I don’t usually drive in that part of the Chicago suburbs, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

It was nice and cold when we arrived at the Westin, but still pretty much clear, weather-wise, if not clouds-wise:

I’ve never stayed at a Westin before, and it was quite nice from the moment we walked in the lobby (the infused water was especially popular with the children!)…I especially loved the Lego model of the hotel they had on display!

The room was also nice, although it felt a little small compared the giant room we had last year at Frostys!

We took only the briefest of walks through the tournament area, because we realized that all of the things we had planned to do over Friday and Saturday would have to all be accomplished on Friday, thanks to an impending snowstorm.

Our first stop was the Brookfield Zoo. Just as we did last winter, we had an amazing visit, where we witnessed some new-to-us animal behavior (did you know that camels bark?!?), and enjoyed a walk around a very empty zoo. And the snow held off right until we left.

Then it really started coming down. We had tickets to Medieval Times, and it took us over two hours to drive from the zoo to the castle…traffic was horrible, and driving was very sloppy! We did finally make it, though, just as the castle doors were opening, which was a relief!

I didn’t pay for the VIP experience this time, but we had the best seats we’ve had yet…the second row, and right in the center. We also supported a different knight for the first time…instead of yellow, we were cheering for the red and yellow knight from the County of Perelada. As always, we had a great time, even though, as always, our knight didn’t win…at least our side won this time, and Bunny caught one of the carnations, which means that all three girls have now received one!

And then the harrowing drive back to the hotel. About a half foot of snow had fallen in just a few hours, and it was a mess. But there wasn’t much traffic on the way back, and everyone on the roads was content to go slow and careful, so it may have taken a while, but at least there was no pressure to keep up with traffic, which made it much easier to stay on the road!

Up next: Saturday spent at Frosty Faustings!

Medieval Times–The VIP Experience

Over the last few years, the Fab Five and I have become big fans of Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament. We went for the first time in 2017, and really enjoyed the show. When we heard they had an all-new show for 2018, this time featuring the castle’s queen, we returned. And when we were back in Chicago in May, I decided we should go back, because we were at a point in our history curriculum that fell right in the middle of the medieval period.

Things were pretty much the same upon arrival, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a walk around, especially when we got to stop and talk with the falconer and learn how they train their birds.

The meal was also mostly the same (although, instead of the pound cake we were looking forward to eating for dessert, we ended up with ice cream):

But the big difference in our experience was that I splurged on VIP tickets. Now, it was only the “Royalty Upgrade” which is the cheapest option, but we very much enjoyed the benefits, starting with the special lanyards and cheering banners we received (and we even got to support the Yellow Knight for the third year running!):

We also got to jump part of the line at entry, which was nice, but the biggest bonus was that we also got priority seating that landed us in the second row! We got a great view of all the of the action, and it was a whole new level of exciting!

Based on normal family rules, once we do a thing three times, it’s a tradition. Unfortunately, I had to tell the Fab Five that we can’t go back next May when we’re in Chicago, because it’s just too expensive for a large family to make it an annual event. You never know where I might find a loophole in the future, though!

Skydeck Ledge

I could talk all day about the amazing views from the 103rd floor of the Sears (Willis?) Tower. Being able to look out over Chicago and Lake Michigan and the suburbs beyond is an unbelievable experience.

But today I especially want to focus on the experience of stepping out on The Ledge, something I hadn’t done before our trip north in May. If you look way, way up, at the very top of the photo, you can see the tiny glass boxes “hanging off” the building:

My brain knows that this experience is safe. But there is something unbelievably disconcerting about stepping out onto a glass floor when you’re 1,353 feet in the air. Looking down and seeing the tops of other tall buildings beneath you is incredible, and a little scary, if you’re afraid of heights, and yet it’s also exhilarating!

This was the number one experience I wanted to share with the Fab Five during our time in Chicago this spring, and I’m so glad we had such a beautiful, clear day to look out over the city!

Brick Safari

I already mentioned that we visited Brookfield Zoo in May. And while we really enjoy any trip to a zoo, this trip was scheduled for one specific reason: to see the Lego Brick Safari exhibit that they’re hosting through the end of September!

The exhibit includes over 40 life-size animals of all kinds. There were signs with information such as how many bricks it took to make the animal and how long it took to build, and some of the animals even included a bonus challenge!

We really enjoyed seeing the animals that were accompanied by their young!

I loved how the young tigers were depicted:

The pandas were adorably role-poly!

Don’t these guys look they’re straight out of The Lion King?

Other signs included scientific information about the animals, which was very helpful:

There were plenty of sea creatures:

And immense animals:

And animals of every other size, too!

This was a really cool exhibit (it very much reminded me of the Nature Connects display we saw at the Missouri Botanical Garden a few years ago), and I’m glad we happened to be in Chicago while it was on display!

Brookfield Zoo–Part Two

I’m still trying to catch up on all the fun we’ve had this summer! Today, let’s take a look at Brookfield Zoo, a place we visited for the first time in January, and had such a good time, we knew we wanted to go back in May!

Some things were pretty much unchanged from our winter visit (the camels and lions were basically doing the same thing as when we saw them in January), and some were different (we saw a peacock spread his glorious feathers, and the giraffes were in their outdoor habitat):

The grizzly bears were very busy, and entertaining to watch!

We really enjoyed having the chance to see Snowflake, a rare albino alligator, who was temporally visiting the zoo:

Instead of a beautiful snow-covered landscape, we enjoyed seeing flowers and fountains:

We actually bought a year-long membership to the Brookfield Zoo to make this visit happen, so we’re looking forward to going back at some point before it expires!

Michigan’s Little Bavaria

I really think Frankenmuth, MI, also known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” is the most charming town I’ve ever visited. The German architecture, specialty shops, and Bavarian flags everywhere really make you feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook village!

We might not be able to visit Europe as part of this year’s summer school, but I think going to Frankenmuth and experiencing the culture (and food!) of the town was the next best thing!