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Are you ready for some more family? Of course you are. I promise a few of them are cute.

First off, it’s Thursday – Day 7 of the trip. It’s gone so quickly, and yet at times it seems we’ve been gone forever. To start the morning, the Boy and I head down for a quick dip in the pool. Then back to the room to starting packing up. Before we head out, we stock up on another fabulous breakfast. This is where that photo of the car comes in. We have the valet bring the car up and a bellman bring the bags down. Toss the kids in the car and start loading up the bags. Suddenly the Boy starts freaking out that he wants nothing by his feet. *sigh* Really?

Of course once he starts freaking out then the Girl starts freaking out. At this point I just shove everything in the car as fast as I can so we can hit the road. This is also where I start to suspect I’m leaving things behind. Because there seems to be more room in the backseat and the hatch doesn’t seem any extra full.

Where are we headed this morning? First out by O’Hare. We’re meeting my Uncle Chub for lunch. I haven’t seen him since the Boy and I went back to Illinois in 2009 to help Mom move. He’s never met the Girl. We have a wonderful time catching up but both kids are stir crazy. The Girl tries to keep the rest of the guests, um, “entertained” much to my chagrin. Thankfully there aren’t too many folks in one section and I can let her investigate.

A couple hours later and we’re back in the car, just in time for naps. A couple hours after that and we roll into Milwaukee. Josh is already here. Did I tell you that? He’s working the Sports Show. He arrived on Wednesday and will stay until Monday. We’re looking forward to seeing him.

We are staying at my brother’s house for the next few days. And the Boy is super excited. Quentin and his family came out to visit us this last fall and the Boy and Miss A totally hit it off. Ever since I told him we were going on this trip, he only talked about going to see Miss A.

Quentin collects his girls, then Josh. We hang out and play for awhile. Soon enough, it’s time for dinner. (Good grief, you’d think all we did was eat on this trip.) We finally decided on Five Guys. Wow. It was pretty dang awesome. Especially the fries.

I think a few of us thought we wouldn’t need to eat for the next 3 days.

After dinner, it’s back to the house to put the kids to bed, watch a little basketball and just hang out. Josh and I decide to live on the wild side. We leave both the kids to the care of Quentin, his wife Annie, and Mom while we head back to the hotel. I wasn’t worried one bit about the Girl. She had a nice dark windowless room to crash in, just the way she likes it. But I fully expected a call in the early morning hours saying the Boy was freaking out. Thankfully that call never came.

Friday morning I finally had the chance to put my workout clothes to use. After a spin on the elliptical and a shower, Josh and I headed across the street to Barnes and Noble for some Starbucks. And picked up a few books for Josh that were on super sale. Then off to catch up with the family. Plenty of play time and a nap for the Girl while we scheme. Josh will need to work the show this afternoon. Mom, Quentin, and I decide to take the kids to the Betty Brinn. Yes, another children’s museum.

The Girl loved the slide the best. It was small enough and with wide set stairs so she could do it all by her self. And boy was she proud.

Here’s Miss A.

And look! It’s my baby brother!

It just happened that the museum was having a Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl exhibit. Before we left, we wanted to get a photo of Quentin, me, and the kids with Smokey.

Yeah. This is the best one of the bunch. At this point the Boy was being a total stinker and refusing to cooperate. Bribery with ice cream didn’t even work. (And hello Miss E! Nice to see you in there!)

So back home we go to torture Mom further. This time, we’re leaving her with all 4 kids, and Annie’s parents while we go out for a night on the town. Josh and I head back to the hotel to pick up our friend Johnny B who’s working the show with Josh. Then we head downtown to the Mason Street Grill.

Holy cow people. I love Greektown. And I love deep dish pizza. But this was hands down the most amazing meal of the trip. We started with some great wine that was on the happy hour special. Then crab cakes for an appetizer. For salad, I had the Signature Chopped Salad with Mustard Horseradish Dressing. Josh opted for the Golden and Baby Red Beet Salad. Johnny had the French Onion Soup. Which he shared with me.

For a main course, Josh selected one of the specials, Cioppino. I selected the Pan-Seared Diver Sea Scallops with creamy polenta and roasted wild mushrooms. (Heaven) Johnny selected the dry aged New York Strip with the Maytag Blue Cheese Crust and roasted wild mushrooms. Which he also shared with me. This is where I didn’t think it could get any better. Then they brought the desert menu. Creme Brulee? Yes please. I just cannot pass that up.

After we stuffed ourselves silly, it was only about 9 pm. Since we had onsite babysitters, one of which is a pro at putting kids to bed, we headed up the elevator to the 23rd floor and Blu, a martini bar.

(This would be Josh’s artistic shot. Note the logo through the glass.)

And to make my night utterly complete, Mr. Myles Hayes, a wonderful jazz singer. For drinks we chose the Honey Basil martini, and the Savior Faire Martini. Both tasty. We sat back, enjoyed the music, the company, and the view.

This would be my artistic shot.

This is the Wisconsin Gas Building. The color of the light tells the weather forecast. I’m putting the doggerel here for Quentin and Annie since they couldn’t remember what the colors meant.

When the flame is red, it’s warm weather ahead!
When the flame is gold, watch out for cold!
When the flame is blue, there’s no change in view!
When there’s a flickering flame, expect snow or rain!

There. Now if you’re every in Milwaukee, you’ll know what that light is telling you.

With that we sent Quent and Annie back to the house. Johnny B, Josh, and I headed back to the hotel. Not too late of a night since tomorrow it’s time to start the drive back home. Already! Can you believe it?

Our second day in Chicago. The Girl tried to get us up early, but I turned her over to Grandma and went back to bed. So the Boy and I slept until about 7 am. Whoo-hoo! Nothin’ like sleeping in while you’re on vacation, eh? *sarcasm*

We started the day with one of those awesome breakfasts Embassy Suites serves. I opted for the omelet with mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese, and bacon. The kids had a bit of everything. Mom also chose the omelet. Perfect preparation for a day spent walking. And walk we did. The weather was a bit cool and drizzly, but that didn’t stop us.

First we had to find our way up to State Street. Here’s where you find out about the weird Chicago geography. Every body remember your Blues Brothers? Lower Wacker Drive (and Upper) are not just made up places. They truly exist. Some streets run above others. Some streets go under the city. Our hotel is located on what is essentially a lower drive. So first, we walk west, trying to get closer to State street (which runs north-south), and hoping to find a set of stairs with a convenient elevator. Because the kids are in the jogger. But no luck. So instead the Boy has to hop off and walk up the stairs while I haul the stroller up. This is not as big a deal as it may seem. It has nice huge tires. It bounces well. The Girl is strapped in. So up we go.

And I managed to get us within about a block of State street without ever referencing a map or a gps. Take that!

First stop – Old Navy. No, not exactly a cultural mecca. But ours closed up shop over a year ago. There are few other places to pick up decent yet cheap clothes for your kids who change sizes every few months or so. Also, I like the stuff for me too. But I don’t trust them either. Their sizing is always bizarre. I avoid their website because I fear the shipping and return fees. Trying to bear in mind how full the car is, I did practice restraint. Everything fit in one bag that fit in the basket under the stroller. And I didn’t go broke.

So on we walk. Our next stop was to meet with another Aunt and cousin for lunch. We were a bit early however, so we took the time for a few photo ops. First up, a rock solid figure from my childhood. Or perhaps it’s solid bronze

His name is “Stands in an Attitude of Defiance”

In my dreams I have a photo like this from every year of my kids lives.

You can see the Boy is pouting a bit. He loved looking at the Lions, but wanted to play on them, not take photos. So we did a bit of that too. But still no happy face. Little bugger. We’re still early, so let’s move up a block to another Chicago icon. Can you guess?

It’s the Bean! Oh okay, fine. It’s real name is Cloud Gate. But I’d bet you dollars to donuts more people know it as the Bean than Cloud Gate.

Even more importantly, it’s a ton of fun. But soon enough, it was time to meet Aunt Pat and Gina. We met them on the steps of the Art Institute and walked a block farther to the Corner Bakery. Lunch was decent, the conversation wonderful, and the cookies?


Almost two hours later Aunt Pat and Gina had to get back. What will we do? Go back to the Art Institute of course! But this time we actually went inside. First stop:

The Marc Chagall America Windows. I remember these windows vividly from my childhood. They used to make quite the statement on the courtyard of the Institute. Recently they were removed, restored, and placed in a new location. It’s nice because there’s an area to sit and contemplate, but they don’t have the same statement factor to me. It’s also easier for 4 year olds to get dangerously close to them. Eep! The Boy even noticed something we never had:

Hello pretty lady.

Stopping to see these windows would have been enough to make the trip in worth it for me. But there are a few other favorites we had to stop and visit. La Grande Jatte, Nighthawks, a few Georgia O’Keefes, American Gothic, and the Knights. Oh and we can’t forget the Paperweights. But the Boy’s favorite exhibit was the Thorne Miniatures.

Seriously, you need to go click on that link, then on the view featured works. 68 highly detailed, itsy bitsy teeny weeny rooms. They are amazing. And I want to be able to jump into some of them for a day or two. Or maybe more. Like the one with the view of the Eiffel Tower. But I’ve been having that wish since I was probably 8 years old and it hasn’t happened yet.

Oh yeah – one other awesome thing about our visit to the Art Institute? The Girl slept through the whole entire thing. Seriously. She made it to the windows, and then fell asleep in their soothing blue glow. She woke up about the time we were ready to walk out the doors.

We walked back up Michigan Avenue, stopping to take some architectural photos. The Tribune Tower. Fun fact – there are pieces included in the construction from a number of important sites from around the world. The Bridgehouse. And some general citylife shots. I was hoping to make it to the Water Tower, but it was late and raining harder. However, we were much disappointed to find our intended destination no longer exists. There used to be a huge 2 or 3 story F.A.O Schwarz on Michigan Avenue. Apparently it’s now a Victoria’s Secret. Um, not exactly the toy store my 4 year old was promised. Thank heaven the Disney store appeared. We added a Red and a Sheriff to the Boy’s Cars collection and a stuffed Thumper for the Girl. I think it took the Boy about 45 minutes to decide what prize he wanted. Toy Story? Spiderman? Cars? Bolt? So many choices…and Mom’s a meany with a budget.

Back to the hotel with hopes for naps. Hopes quickly dashed. A quick swim and then it was time to retrieve the car from the valet and venture out to Greektown. We were meeting more family for dinner. This time Uncle John, Michael, Alice, Carter, Aunt Pat, and Another C met us for dinner at Santorini’s.

Hi Red! (And no, Greek isn’t really my kid’s thing. Plain old pasta to the rescue.)

The Boy and C entertained us with drawings. The adults enjoyed some fabulous foods, tasty wine, and lots of catching up. But soon enough, the day was catching up with us.

Some sooner than others.

And so all too soon we said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow, it’s back in the clown car heading north to Milwaukee.

Tuesday we awoke bright and early. Well the alarm woke us. And yes it was early, but not that bright yet. We packed up the car, coordinated plans, and hit the road. Mom the kids and I back in the Prius. Aunt Edna, Luke, Sara, Little C, and K in Aunt Edna’s car. We took off a bit early so we could get to our hotel and drop off our “stuff”.

We are swiftly becoming loyal Embassy Suites customers. People. You seriously cannot pass up the deals these folks provide. For instance, this trip we chose the Embassy Suites Downtown/Lakefront. Without parking, we spent about $170/night for a 2 double bed suite with a view of Lake Michigan. So our room included a spacious bedroom with a wall of windows, a bathroom, and a sitting room (with sofabed), plus an extra sink, microwave, and mini-fridge in a cubby in the hall with the bathroom.  I’d say that’s a pretty awesome deal to start with for a hotel downtown. Not to mention it’s gorgeous. But then add on the fact that the pool, hot tub, and fitness center are free (which in major city hotels, they often aren’t). Pretty sweet, right? But no, we’re not done yet. You also get free breakfast. Pretty standard in this day and age except this breakfast includes made to order omelets (with a choice of about a dozen fillings), pancakes, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, oatmeal, fresh fruit, cereal, yogurt, muffins, bagels, doughnuts, croissants, coffee, tea, juice, hot chocolate, and probably some other things I forgot. Seriously. All free, no tricks. And THEN you also get a free Manager’s Reception each night featuring free snacks (chex mix every night, meatballs one night, nachos another) and free drinks, including wine and beer. Add all that in and your $170/night room rate is a steal.

And we haven’t even talked about the free entertainment. Glass elevators. Well, elevators in general are free amusement to a 4 year old. But add in glass elevators and you could ride for hours. A player piano in the lobby. And at many Embassy Suites there are “streams” with real koi running throughout the lobbys/restaurant areas, along with bridges crossing the streams and plants everywhere. Not at this one, but the lobby was on the 6th floor of the building. (Below it? Bowling alley. Movie theater. Multiple restaurants.) Our room was on top, 17th floor. The Boy thought that was pretty awesome. I also liked that the rooms were all decorated with photographic work featuring iconic scenes of Chicago. We also love Embassy Suites because every room is a suite.  So for the first time this trip, everybody had their own bed. Suite? SWEET!

You can see plenty of professional, beautiful photos of the hotel on their website. My take-away photo was a night shot from near the elevators:

So, now that my hotel love has been fully proclaimed…what are we doing in Chicago today? Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier.

Oh my goodness. We could have stayed at the museum for DAYS. The kids had so much fun. The Boy started off climbing a 2 story pirate ship. (Okay it’s not officially a pirate ship, but that’s what he has christened it.) The different levels of the ship are connected via rope ladder tubes. You know, so nobody falls off. Plus wooden swing bridges on the way down. I fully expected he’d get halfway up the first rope ladder and freak out. But nope, up up up he went and then down down down he came and then back up up up he went. Unfortunately with the rope tubes the photos aren’t very good. Next stop the Firehouse.

They even had a (small) firepole to slide down. Turns out the Boy was too chicken, but the Girl loved jumping off the platform. She didn’t quite get the idea of grabbing onto the pole. I didn’t think the Boy would ever make it to the rest of the museum, but I finally pried him out of the fireman stuff and on we went.

A whole section for construction. Here’s Sara, the Girl, Little C and K working on a project. And then…then my kids died and went to heaven.

An entire water play area. Complete with raincoats. Because there might be crazy folks like us there who will do this to you:

Although there were no coats small enough for the Girl. Who probably needed it the most.

Seriously. She tried to dump at least 3 buckets full on her head. The Girl loves the water.

Other parts of the museum to explore included a dinosaur dig, a bugs and butterfly room, a treehouse room, an invention room, and “main street” complete with grocery, bus, post office, construction company, and car wash/mechanics shop.

I know you like to “roll with it”, but this will not turn you into an actual tire. Sorry.

After exhausting the kids with the Museum, we had one more stop we had to make on Navy Pier.

Yes it was March, and yes, the weather was only 30ish some odd degrees, but we rode the Ferris Wheel. Well, not all of us. We three kids, plus the three bigger kids. The Girl and the Grandma’s stayed safely on the ground. Inside. The cars do have plexiglass around them so the infamous Windy City wasn’t whipping the wind through.

(Yes, I have a thing for “self-portraits”. So what.)

Unfortunately the carousel was closed while we were there. So we walked back through the Pier and finally said goodbye to the cousins. We were sad to see them go, but we sure had fun with them. Here’s hoping they come visit us this summer!

We walked back to the hotel and the Boy and I hit the pool for a quick splash. It was pretty cool, but of course I never took a photo. Something about taking my camera to a nice wet splashy location.

After swimming we picked up some snacks from the Manager’s Reception and then headed back upstairs to figure out dinner. We’re in Chicago. There was one thing I really, really, really, wanted. And thankfully they deliver.

And with that, we fell into bed.