Our Epic Stateside Trip, Part 1: Chicago

For 25 days in July and August, we traveled around America, hitting 3 of her biggest cities, each of which we once called home. Here is the recap of that amazing and memorable trip.

It all started in Chicago. We arrived in the middle of the night due to missing our connecting flight in San Francisco. We drove our rental car to my childhood home in the suburbs, finally finding sleep at 4 in the morning. Miraculously we all slept until about 11 a.m. the next day and were somewhat refreshed. Sean and the kids drove back out to the airport to pick up his parents who had flown out from Oregon to visit us, while I spent almost all of my brand new stateside phone minutes making calls about our Cambridge condo’s roof leak. (Oh, the joys of being a long-distance homeowner.) But soon, the mood turned around when my sister arrived from the city and Sean and the kids arrived with Grandma Bevy and Grandad Brian! After a brief catch-up, the 7 of us went down the street to The Silo, regionally famous for its pizza, but which the kids call The Hamburger and Oreo Restaurant. What a great start to the trip.

Day 2: Antioch

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Ewww! Wax worms!

On Saturday, we drove up to Antioch to visit with my folks, Grandma Jane and Grandpa Terry, and my sister who drove up from the city. After a quick catch up at their place, we worked our way down to Lake Catherine, the lake in their subdivision that is one of the Chain O’Lakes. (Poor Sean wasn’t yet on Central Standard Time. Somehow he’d managed to overshoot the states and get himself onto Greenwich Mean Time. So he was in desperate need of a nap and stayed behind at their place while we had our lake adventure.) It was too cold to swim and so Grandpa Terry was ready with some fishing poles and worms.

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Auric got a turn behind the wheel.

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02After the boat trip, the ladies took the car back to the house while Grandpa and Grandson took the tractor and trailer back. And THIS happened. Auric was on cloud nine! What a day!

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After our visit with my folks, we headed back to Lake Bluff, where we met up with our friends, Paul and Tracy, who drove down from Detroit to see us! Tracy and I went down to the recently opened and excellent addition to the ‘hood, the Lake Bluff Brewing Company to pick up a couple growlers of beer and to grab a pint, since we were there and all. Sean and Paul began grilling the mustard chicken and the kids and Grandma Bevy were the sous chefs. It was a great meal.

Day 3: Suburbia

20Sunday saw a very slow start. We had a leisurely brunch, followed by a lovely walk, if a bit heavy on the mosquitoes, through nearby Dan Wright Woods. Then we made our annual trek to Sweets, a candy and ice cream parlor in downtown Lake Forest.

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13After Sweets, we split up. While I drove my in-laws around my hometown(s) of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, Sean, Thora, Paul and Tracy made an epic journey to multiple grocery stores in search of particular sausages and the right ingredients for Tracy’s famous chickpea salad. After a good long time in both of those pursuits, we all met up at a playground. We enjoyed another delicious home-cooked meal and great conversation. Here, the ladies pose.

01Sadly, I failed to get a photo of Sean and his bestie, Paul. As the official family documentarian, I walk the line between enjoying the moment, and stepping out of the moment to document it. I guess I was too absorbed in Sean and Paul’s on-going and ever-interesting discussion of the appropriate intake and (the also-critical) time period of intake of protein and fiber in relation to one’s workout routine to think to grab my camera. However, I couldn’t leave Paul out of the photo highlights since their visit was indeed a highlight of the trip. So here’s a picture from two years ago, at Paul and Tracy’s wedding reception. They’re sooo cute.

Day 4: Chicago

On Monday, we said goodbye to Paul and Tracy and soon after, boarded the commuter train into the city.

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It takes a little over an hour to get to Chicago from Lake Bluff, which was plenty of time for Thora to work on her travel journal.

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Our first stop was the Art Institute.

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25This was the first time that we got Thora a kids audio tour and it was well worth the $5. Most areas of the museum have several pieces for which an audio text was recorded, aimed at kids. Each time she finished listening to an audio clip, she was quick to tell us what she’d learned. Our little Art Appreciator. It was very heart-warming.

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14The three year old appreciated art like this. We’re mostly thrilled that we got out of there without being arrested. There’s nothing like watching a calm and cooperative three year-old lose his balance FOR NO REASON when you’re standing next to priceless works of art to let you know you’re alive. Sigh.

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42After the museum, we had fun walking around The Bean, a giant chrome statue shaped like a bean, which, after looking it up just now, I learned is actually called Cloud Gate.

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It’s great how accessible it is. Of course, the kids loved getting up close. Above, Auric is showing The Bean his brand new souvenir magnets.

Thora’s scolding someone. But I’m behind the camera, so it can’t be me. (Phew.)

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When you walk through the tunnel of the The Bean-shaped Cloud Gate, the ceiling looks like this.

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Here’s our group portrait in the side of The Bean. (If you click on the photo, you should be able to get a closer look.)

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Sean stepped behind the camera to capture this photo of the kids and I, with The Bean in the background.

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12Walking away from The Bean, along Millennium Park, I was struck by the interplay of the old urban, the new urban, and the natural. And then this goose flew across my line of sight, contributing to my little moment and I had to snap this.

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Just north of Millennium Park is this funny public art installation by Japanese-born, Omaha-based sculptor, Jun Kaneko. The kids thought these bear/pig statues were hilarious. They couldn’t stop demanding photos with each and every one. Here are four.

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35Then, despite my sister’s advice to the contrary, we decided to walk from Millennium Park to Navy Pier, to ride the big ferris wheel. (She was not advising against going to Navy Pier — although it’s totally touristy and I wouldn’t blame her — but rather, advising us not to walk. Spoiler: she was right; it took forever.) However, we admired the architecture along the way. In fact, it was on this walk that the seed was sewn for the architectural riverboat tour we would take the next day.

36We enjoyed looking at the facade of the Tribune Building, and in particular, that it includes stones from other famous buildings around the world.

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Finally, after what felt like an hour of walking, Granddad Brian, the kids and I made it to Navy Pier.

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41I overcame my fear of heights so that we could all take the 10-minute ride on the oversized ferris wheel. During that middle 5 minutes, when I was just trying to breathe, my darling children thought it was hilarious to rattle the bars and to tell me which screws they thought were coming loose. They’re just darling.

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Here are the two shots I managed to take from the ride. In spite of my borderline hyperventilating, I could appreciate how truly beautiful it was up there.

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Day 5: Chicago

01Our last full day in Chicago started again at Millennium Park. This time, however, it was The Crown Fountain that held our attention. The tall screens behind the cascading water display faces that smile, laugh, and go to sleep. Periodically, the faces pucker their lips and a spray of water arcs out of the face’s mouth into the shallow splash pool that provides a much needed cool down for hot kids and adults alike. Here the kids do their version of the pucker.

Then it was off to meet Aunt Natalie for the Architecture Riverboat Tour done by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Although I don’t have much insight to pass on (I was paying more attention to the kids than I was to the tour and spent a bit of time inside with the kids when the rain picked up), I would highly recommend this tour if you have limited time, or members of your group (read: little kids) who wouldn’t appreciate a walking tour. It was a relaxing and enjoyable way to see the sights and to learn a bit about the architecture that lines the branches of the Chicago River. Below are the highlights.

The Wrigley Building

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I think this is the Wrigley Building on the left and the Tribune Tower on the right.

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The Marina City Towers

03The marine-themed residences on the banks of the Chicago River.

04The Chicago skyline

06The Chicago Skyline, in action

07The Willis Tower (I’ll always know it as The Sears Tower)

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02After the riverboat tour, we made our way, slowly, out to the Field Museum, Chicago’s world-class natural history museum. In addition to the animal exhibits, we especially enjoyed the references to our new home. In the bio-luminescence exhibit, the Waitomo Glowworm Caves featured prominently. And we were able to show my in-laws an original Marae (a Maori place of worship and gathering) that came from Tokomaru Bay, which lies only an hour up the coast from our home in Gisborne.  Of course I didn’t get photos of any of those. But I got this great photo of a stuffed jaguar. Also, I learned that you can tell a jaguar from a cheetah because jaguars have spots within spots, whereas cheetahs have just spots. You’re welcome.

After a couples hours at the museum and a worrisome but ultimately successful wait at the taxi stand outside the museum, we made our way to The Greek Islands restaurant, in the heart of Greektown. We had an amazing dinner there before catching a late train back to the suburbs. We packed up, and the next morning we were bidding farewell to Grandma Bevy and Grandad Brian, who were staying on to continue their discovery of Chicago. What a first 5 days!

Stay tuned for Part 2: New York City!

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