The Windy City

Oh Chicago, the windy city! What a blast we had exploring as a family! I have to tell you, I don’t think we could have possibly fit anymore in to the 24 hours we spent seeing the sights. Even with three young kids, we got it done. And I, for one, am leaving a complete and total fan of the city. And I’m not a city fan! But Chicago just might be my favorite. I’m not ready to say it’s my favorite city in the world, because come on… there is still London… but as far as the good ol’ USA, I think Chicago takes the cake!

We left Grammy’s house in Rockford around 9am. It’s just hard to get anyone in a carseat and moving before that time. Grammy graciously allowed us to use her car, and miraculously we fit three carseats, a double stroller, and all our other stuff in that Honda, and were able to avoid all the fun of trying to drive and park our giant pick up truck in city garages.

The drive into the city was pretty easy! We did hit a little traffic as we got closer, I’m not sure why so many people were that late to work on a Monday, but it was neat to watch the city get bigger and bigger in the windshield. The kids were very excited to start the day at the aquarium and so we drove through the city and made our way straight there, without allowing ourselves any distractions. Thomas continued a dialogue of all the different sites and memories that popped up as we drove, which I find absolutely fascinating. I did not grow up going to Chicago for fun! What a treat!

We found a parking spot on the street outside the aquarium, our cheapest parking of the day BY FAR, and prepared the kids and the stroller for a day of craziness. Coats, diapers, wipes and more wipes, cameras, chargers, wallets, sippys, snacks, keys, etc. Check, check, check. After about 8475 minutes, we were ready to step away from the vehicle.

Our car was parked right along side Lake Michigan, and so we had this amazing view right away of the beautiful teal colored water alongside the stunning Chicago skyline. Cities amaze me! I LOVE to visit them, but could never live in one. I’m just not that girl. But I do think they’re just as beautiful, in a lot of ways, as the mountains I already miss so much, but obviously in a completely different way. Breathtaking would be a good word.

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With three kids and all the supplies in tow, we headed for the aquarium. It’s a little complex to even get in. They’ve sure got the whole crowd control thing dialed. Enter the building to have your bag checked, to get into a line to go up an elevator, to get into a line to have your picture taken, to get into a line to buy your ticket, to get into a line to go into the museum. Just a few simple steps! And if you can believe it, most of us were still ready to go into the aquarium at the end of all of that.

The Chicago aquarium is a win. I fully enjoyed it. Fish from all over the world, separated into different countries so you know what you’re looking at, if you’re paying attention. And then if you like fish, you can see more fish. And when you’re done looking at those fish, there are even more fish if you’re interested. But if fish is your thing, you’ll want to be sure you check out all the fish!


After the fish, we found our way to the animals! I knew there was more than just fish in those dang oceans! We saw otters, turtles, penguins, every kind of crab or creature you could think of, jelly fish, sting rays, dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales. The highlight for me was the dolphins. They were in an enormous tank and had plenty of room to swim around and play. There were about a dozen of them, and they were having an absolute blast, swimming upside down, racing around and jumping out of the water. Totally cool. They were very curious about the humans in the glass tank and continued to come up and take a peek at us. I was completely amused.

Thomas took a break to feed Gage at the aquarium cafe, as he was definitely already ready for a nap- and I don’t mean Gage- while I took the big kids around to see the big animals. Teamwork makes the dream work! And after the big animals, we headed back upstairs to see some more fish!

We finished seeing most of the aquarium in what I would consider record time. We were on a mission and had a lot of Chicago to cover in a short amount of time. Around 12:30p we headed outside to see if we could find a hot dog cart- I hear they are a must visit. And as luck would have it, at least one cart knew that tourists visit museums and also want hot dogs. #Success

Although I do like hotdogs, and I do like regular ketchup and mustard hotdogs, I felt compelled to try the traditional ‘Chicago dog.’ Vienna beef is the first rule of thumb, I know this very well from my father in law. The traditional toppings include mustard, a spear of dill pickle, sliced tomato, celery salt, sweet pickle relish, sport peppers- which I had never even heard of nor tried- and chopped white onion, which I just could not partake in. I’m down for all the other random stuff that goes on that thing, but I just can’t do onion. I’m sorry, Readers.

Overall, except for the obvious predicament of being unable to put all the toppings into one bite, I’d say it was a win! I could almost do with more hot dog in my hot dog, but it was enough of an explosion of flavor in my mouth, that even on the non-hotdog bites, I was still doing okay. I would also recommend someone invents a better, more suitable bun for these monstrosities. I mean, if a whole city is going to get behind all these toppings, we should be able to come up with an appropriate delivery system.

So that’s my hot dog review.

Oh, and it wasn’t too heavy of a meal, which was nice. I actually ended up sharing a second regular dog with Cadence. And it deserves to be mentioned that the view, for our lunch, wasn’t half bad either. We found ourselves a nice grassy hill to sit on and enjoy the city view, while the kids fed, and simultaneously chased away, the birds.

 

After the aquarium, we made the executive decision- after some important google research- to skip out on the convenience of going to the Field Museum, which was literally RIGHT there next to the aquarium, and instead decided to load back into the car and head over to the Museum of Science and Industry. It was a short drive, but a lot of trouble to get kids and supplies in and out. But google said we had to do it, and it was well worth it, I assure you! Even with all the in and out!

Chicago… let’s talk. The parking money game you’ve got going on… it’s fierce. We rolled into the city at around 10:30am on Monday and rolled out at about 1:30pm on Tuesday, and in that time we spent $151 on parking alone. Chicago made $151 on our car being left places. Just sitting there! Not even getting washed or valeted! It was $66 to park our car for the night at the hotel we were staying at!!! I mean, that hurts my head and my heart. I still love you, Chicago, but man… that is rough! I feel like we’re kind of in an abusive relationship.

Anyway, after paying for parking AND museum entrance at two places, we were ready for a really good time. And the Museum of Science and Industry did not disappoint! I have to say I enjoyed it even more than the aquarium, and I am a sucker for otters!

Unfortunately, because we got there a little later in the day than we had wanted, we were limited to about 2.5 hours in the enormous museum. Oh, in addition to paying for us to get in and park, we also paid for the ‘special experience’ of going on a real live captured German U-boat- that’s a submarine if you’re like me and did not know that. The boat on exhibit is the U-505, captured mid-WWII off the west coast of Africa, and it’s pretty cool.

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Although we paid for me to go on the U-boat too, Gage promptly fell asleep and helped me to waste my money as I sat outside the boat waiting for Tom and the kids. I’m glad they got to experience it though. It sounds like it was awesome inside! Merit, however, was not a fan of the simulated attack. He doesn’t like loud noises of any kind- it freaks him out. And although I did not get to see the inside of the boat, I had all the time in the world to read the plaques and watch the videos on the outside. I mean, who ever gets to do all that? Moms. That’s who.

Once we finished up at the U-boat, we explored trains, planes, weather, the circus, farm stuff, an idea factory and we even had the pleasure of watching two baby chicks pop out of their eggs. For being pretty limited on time in that place, I think we saw quite a lot. But there is still another few hundred dollars to be spent there again in the future, I’m sure of it.

Back in the car, we headed to the hotel. It was almost 4pm and we just needed a quick break. We drove from one side of the city, all the way down to the Millennium mile. We stayed at the Hilton suites there, thanks to my father in law! I offhandedly mentioned on a FaceTime with the kids that I was going to try to convince Thomas to spend the night in the city, and by the next day, we had a Hotel booked in our name. And really, it was so necessary! You need time in cities! I’m so glad we got to explore without rushing. The kids wouldn’t have even liked me if I made them squeeze everything into one day. So THANK YOU Tom and Kathy!

The hotel was awesome, and perfectly located. Hilton get’s winning marks from me for sure, and I’m a total hotel snob! The hotel was clean and we had a great view of the city! Zero complaints, with the exception of the rape that happened with the parking game. $66?? I mean, come on!

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But seriously, how convenient is it to have a suite with two separate spaces when you have kids? I actually had a Facebook live event to do that evening, and having a door closed between my voice and sleeping kids was absolutely wonderful! I wasn’t waking them up, and they weren’t disrupting my work! Win win! And because of the space, I was actually able to get things done and go to bed at a reasonable time! What a thought? So hotel for the win across the board!

However, before we settled in for the night, we had to head out and eat another meal. It is Chicago after all. And even before we had hit the city limits, the dinner destination had already been decided- Lou Malnatti’s deep dish pizza. Again, I have been hearing about the war of the Chicago deep dish pizza joints since joining the Cunningham family a decade ago. Everyone has their favorite pick, and this is the pick of the Cunninghams.

Fun fact: For the past 10 years, when the Cunningham’s have talked about this pizza place- and it’s more frequently than you might think- I thought they were saying Illuminati’s. You know, like the secret society? Yea, I definitely thought that was what it was called until Aunt Sarah referred to it as ‘Lou’s’ when we were talking, the very day before we headed into Chicago. Well, imagine my surprise to discover it was Lou Malnattis and not Illuminati’s. Other than changing my visual of what this place would be like a touch, I was still very excited to check it out.

So now I can officially say that MY vote for best deep dish pizza in Chicago is… Lou Malnatti’s! Yes, you might say that because I’ve only had one, I shouldn’t be able to vote, but I say when you find the one, you stop looking, right? This was quite an experience!

We started by ordering bruschetta and wine- both delicious. I had the Malbec and the Pino Noir and I liked them both, but the Pino wins if I’m picking favorites. The bruschetta was good too, although different than what we love to make at home. The bread was the real winner of this dish- well flavored and soft without getting soggy- much harder than you would think to accomplish! The topping itself could have been more flavored, but overall, it was a hit even with the kids.

We ordered a ‘crustless’ pizza for the kids, due to Gage’s gluten allergy. This means that in place of traditional crust, they make a thin crust of sausage. I can’t describe to you how good of an idea this is. However, I don’t have to describe it. Lucky for you, Lou Malnatti’s ships anywhere in the country! You can go online and order it so you don’t have to wait and wonder in suspense. And I fully recommend you do this right away. God knows, I’ll be having some shipped down to Tennessee once I get there! It was amazing. And we ordered just the most basic of pizza’s they make. Sausage crust, cheese and sauce. SO so good. Both Thomas and I had a piece, even though we ordered a ‘grown up’ pizza for ourselves, and we both agreed that the crustless pie absolutely was more delicious than the ‘famous’ butter crust they claim on their menu. Our pizza came with extra cheese, tomato, garlic and spinach and it didn’t hold a torch to the ‘kids’ pizza. You’ve got to go try it! I would eat it right now all over again!

The waitress tried to recommend a small pizza for both the kids and us, but we opted for the medium. We love pizza and the kids can totally put it down, no problem. Of course, we left with a FULL pizza between the two that we ordered, and promptly put it in the fridge of the hotel and forgot it. SAD day! I was so looking forward to left overs because we all know left over pizza is the best thing ever.

On the way home from pizza, we walked by a Sprinkles cupcake shop. And who is not going to stop at a Sprinkles cupcake shop? Thomas, that’s who! Lucky for all of us, I’m a part of this family too! And I’m so far off the diet reservation that I just figured, you know what? When in Rome! Cupcakes for everyone! Thank you Sarah Linker for turning me onto this gem of a shop on our trip to San Diego. I would have never known that they put actual sea salt on their delectable caramel frosting. And that’s important information to know, wouldn’t you agree?

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Okay, so then bed.

In the morning, Thomas got up with Merit and Gage, bless his heart. Cadence was so exhausted by about noon the day before, that she was just not even herself. I knew that she was overdue for a sleep in. She is by far, my best sleeper. She can sleep through pretty much anything. But she needs sleep more than anyone in the family. When she gets overdue, she has to catch up. This was that day. So Thomas got up and gave both boys a bath, got them dressed, and headed out into the rainy morning with them to grab Starbucks.

Did I mention I love him?

Sidebar: I forgot to mention that the weather the first day was absolutely perfect. The sky was clear, it was relatively warm- at least compared to what I expected- and it wasn’t even too windy! Day two actually didn’t disappoint either. It rained in the morning, but stopped once we decided to head out and take on the day, and although it wasn’t a clear day, it wasn’t too cold and the visibility was still absolutely fine!

Back to the morning: When Cadence and I were up, I showered and she enjoyed her croissant and hot chocolate, before getting dressed. We asked for a late check out and headed over to the neighboring Hancock Tower to see what we could see from the top of the world. There was NO ONE in line! Can you believe it? Maybe it was because it was a little rainy, maybe we were early, but for whatever reason we basically had a private viewing of the city from the 94th floor. And boy could we see everything there was to see. They say you can see like 4 or 5 states from up there. I was just in awe by the city for one, and the enormous Lake Michigan for another. That Lake is just dang big. I can’t believe it. It absolutely looks like the ocean. But it’s so pretty and so calm.

For reference, Thomas pulled up a map for me to get a look at how big Lake Michigan is as compared to Lake Tahoe- which is a pretty big lake and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Alpine lakes in the world. I literally laughed out loud when I saw Tahoe on a map. It looks so wimpy next to Lake Michigan. I mean, I knew it was bigger, obviously, but I didn’t realize it was laugh out loud-able. It is.

Coming back down the elevator- 94 floors and over 1030 feet in about 45 seconds- we decided to head to the Lincoln Park Zoo in the middle of Chicago. If you can’t tell, our family loves animals. And it’s one of the last FREE zoo’s in the country and so we figured it would be a chance to stop the hemorrhage of money! Well, the zoo is free, but if you happen to have come in a car… you’re going to be offsetting that free zoo by leaving your car in the lot.

It is what it is, right?

I have to say the zoo, although beautiful, did not start out well. All the animals- every last enclosure we walked up to- did not appear to have any actual animals. I was starting to understand why this zoo might have been free. But finally, after maybe 45 minutes of exploring, we found a polar bear! And I happen to be a fan of polar bears. So that was cool. And the bear sort of broke our bad animal karma because from then on, we had pretty good luck. We saw all the normal animals- lions and tigers and bears- and then some that I hadn’t seen before, like a red panda. And now I absolutely think I need a red panda as a friend. You should google it!

The zoo was a hit. It reminded me of the zoo in the movie Madagascar, where there are all these African animals in the middle of this big city. Kind of strange, a touch sad, but very unique. And we wrapped up the zoo experience with dad splurging for a ride on the carousel. Considering he was definitely ready to get the heck out of the city at that point, it was very nice of dad to be such a good sport for the kiddos. And they had a blast! They love carousels! If you ask them what they’re favorite ride at Disneyland is, it’s probably the carousel. Except Gage. Yea, he hated it. Definitely didn’t like the fact that the calm, cool and collected Panda that he picked was suddenly coming to life. Not a fan.

After the zoo, Tom was ready to split town and pick something up for lunch on the way out, but I just couldn’t eat fast food when I knew I COULD have had lunch in Chicago! I asked on Facebook for suggestions, which of course I got many, which of course overwhelmed me. So instead of going for something that might take hours or require a wild goose hunt, I googled the closest Diners, Drive ins and Dives featured restaurant, and as luck would have it, it was on Navy Pier! That was the last tourist attraction that I had hoped to hit on this trip into the city. So off we went.

After paying way too much to leave our car in a garage- it was now just hilarious- we headed onto the Pier towards DMK Burgers. There is more than one location, and I’m not sure if that means in the city, or if it expanded outside of the city, but either way there was no wait, an interesting menu and a view of the water!

Gage had a bunless burger and ate every last bite. I’m pretty sure he has hit a growth spurt on this trip because he’s eating far more than usual. Maybe that’s my problem too. I must have hit a growth spurt!

Merit and Cadence split an order of fish and chips and actually ate all the fish! And by an extra stroke of luck, the restaurant was playing Moana, so they were quiet and entertained, which was nice.

Thomas and I both ordered the most unusual item on the menu and for me, it was absolutely the right decision. It was a bison burger- and you know I love bison- with a super fresh bun, and it had goat cheese and blueberry barbecue sauce! Thomas ordered his with the pickled red onion, and of course I did not. But man, that was one delicious burger. The blueberry barbecue sauce went perfectly with the goat cheese, and there was quite a bit of both things, and yet the burger wasn’t soggy or over flavored. I could still taste that good bison burger flavor coming through too. I would absolutely go back and order that exact thing again! We also upgraded our fries to parmesan and truffle fries, because you’re just going to do that. And they were good, but not as good as I was hoping. The truffle-ness came by way of a dipping sauce and the parmesan was just dumped on top of the fries. Good flavor overall, just could have been executed better on the delivery method. But the burger, no complaints!

After lunch it was finally time to head back to Rockford. We couldn’t find any other reasons to pay for parking and so we had to go. The baby fell asleep as the city fell into our rearview, and it was a quite and peaceful drive back. I even dozed off for a few minutes. We absolutely jam packed that over nighter.

The dogs were thrilled to see us when we returned. I think they’re very confused as to what’s going on, and where we live, and if they’re going to be left behind at any moment. You know what happens when dogs are taken to go live on a farm somewhere…

We bathed the kids and got all the city life off of them. We’re a farm family through and through. And then it was off to bed, as everyone was absolutely exhausted.

Once the kids were in bed, you won’t believe it but Thomas ordered deep dish pizza from Giordano’s to be delivered. Not because we were hungry- good God, have you been reading? I haven’t been hungry in weeks!- but because we had to do a side by side comparison. And sure enough, this deep dish pizza was a completely different experience. We got bacon, spinach and garlic this time, and although it didn’t even come close to comparing to the ‘crustless’ version from Lou Malnatti’s, it was close- but in my opinion not as good- to the second ‘grown up’ pizza we had ordered from Lou Malnatti’s.

With Lou’s pizza, one slice was the meal. It was very filling and rich and amazing. With this pizza, it was lighter, not as rich, and more of a dessert pie like crust. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it just wasn’t as good as Lou’s. See, this is why I was confident casting my vote for Lou’s as best pizza the night before, even though I had only tried one Chicago deep dish. When you know, you know!

But now I’m glad I really know.

I feel really grateful that we’ve been able to give our kids this trip. From the Black Hills of South Dakota to the top of the Hancock building in Chicago, I think we’ve given them about as much perspective as we possibly can rolling into this farm experience. As we leave each location- all of them having been quite different from the last- I ask the kids if they still want to live on a farm, and the answer each time is YES!

It’s been a blast to explore and see the country both through my window and also through their eyes. Although I’m quite nervous the closer we get to this farm, I have to say I’m growing more and more confident in when it will mean to my kids. I know they are going to see every single day as an adventure. I know they’re going to realize how very blessed we have been, and how much trusting in God’s plan does really pay off, even when it seems absolutely crazy to most people- and even when it seems crazy to me! I’m loving every second of this, and feeling so grateful that I’ve been allowed to feel truly present in each day.

THANK GOD for the road less traveled. It’s just never crowded….

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