Chicago, Day 3

Day three was our last day in Chicago. I had planned all the ticketed and “scheduled” stuff for Friday because I had this fear that we might miss our ride home. And, while the idea of living in Chicago is somewhat appealing, the idea of winging it in Chicago – in the cold, and with a young child – is not.

MIchigan Avenue

On Saturday we visited the Museum of Science and Industry. This is something we did the last time we were in Chicago and Maddie loved it then and was really looking forward to going back. We had to haul our suitcases with us there, though, because we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel before having to check out.

Waiting

We wandered around Michigan Avenue for a while looking for a Starbucks (I had some gift cards I wanted to use for breakfast) and then found the proper bus stop to take the 10 to the Museum. The 10 doesn’t run as often as, well, as any of the other buses, so we waited a while. Saturday was definitely the coldest of the three days we were there, so waiting wasn’t entirely pleasant, but wasn’t completely miserable either (we saved that for later in the day).

Bus Stop

We got in to the museum free with our St. Louis Science Center membership and paid $1 per item to check our suitcases and coats. Then we did the museum. It was just about everything Maddie wanted and more. We discovered we can see a lot more and a lot more quickly when there are just two of us as opposed to five, particularly when four of the five are between three and eight.

Microscope

I think it was around 2:30 when I decided we’d seen it all and that I’d feel better being in the very near vicinity of Union Station when our bus arrived. It was scheduled to leave at 4:30 and we thought it would be there at 4, so we hopped in a cab and had it take us to Union Station. We got there pretty early.

Have I mentioned that Saturday was the coldest of the three days we were there? We walked around in the whipping wind until we found a Dunkin Donuts to duck into for a bit. We warmed up in there for about a half-hour and then didn’t think we could reasonably stay any longer without buying something else.

We walked back to where we were supposed to board the bus (it was 3:45 and we figured it would just be a 15 minute wait before our bus arrived).

What followed was about the longest 1 hour and 45 minutes of our lives as we waited, outside, for our Megabus to arrive. We watched two other buses pull up, two other crowds gather and load, and two other trips successfully make their deadline. Meanwhile, we lost feeling in our toes and started to grate on each other’s nerves.

At 5:30 our bus pulled in, late from a long journey from THE BUILDING WHERE MEGABUS KEEPS THEIR BUSES IN CHICAGO. No excuse there. At that point I really didn’t even care. I was just glad we were both on the bus and were in the process of defrosting.

I called Craig and told him of the delay. Our schedule said 4:30-10:30 and everyone knows it’s only about a five hour trip from Chicago to St. Louis so I said maybe the bus driver would make up time on the road. With the two stops we had to make, we’d still get there close to the time.

That statement is still mocking me right now. I don’t know what happened that night, but Megabus assigned our route to a rookie – she went 40 miles an hour the entire way back to St. Louis. I know this because for three hours I kept saying, “sure feels like we’re going about 40 mph,” and eventually spotted a mile marker and started clocking time until passing the next mile marker: 80 seconds. Later on we passed one of those digital speed checker signs designed to make you aware of your excessive speed and slow down. It clocked us at a whopping 39.

As we were driving through Collinsville, IL, I called Craig to let him know we were about 45 minutes from arriving at Union Station. Collinsville is really about 20 minutes from Union Station.

He waited a bit, then woke up the other three girls at 12:45 in the morning and picked us up at 1:00, a full 2.5 hours later than scheduled.

Honestly, I would take the Megabus again – the price was low enough that I can’t complain too much. I’m scarred for life from Amtrak and I can’t see driving when you combine the price of gas with the price of parking everywhere with the hassle of dealing with Chicago traffic. But on Saturday night I was ready to swear off the Megabus, too. But beggars can’t be choosers.

Thus concludes the three day adventure of Mommy and Maddie in Chicago. And I get to do this (or something like it) three more times. *grin*

Chicago, Day 2

We began this day by trekking over to Water Tower Place. Our mission was two-fold: check out the American Girl Place and get Maddie’s ears pierced at Claire’s (which, yes you can do anywhere, but we decided to do it on this trip).

American Girl Place

We arrived a little too early for Claire’s, so went down to the AG Place. That store. I mean, I knew what to expect and I didn’t. It was big. It was rich. It was…hard. I think that’s a post for another day. I was excited to give my daughter this amazing experience in a great city, doing things we’d never otherwise do. I was also acutely aware the entire time that these dolls were being better cared for than children in third world countries (or probably even many children in our own country). I couldn’t get away from that.

Doll Hair Salon

After looking over all the options, Maddie decided to use birthday money to get her doll’s ears pierced too. I sprung for the extra $5 to get her cleaned up. That was well worth it, I think. Poor Kit hadn’t had a bath in three years and she really needed one. They brushed her hair for us for free. Nice of them.

Brushed Out

Then it was back upstairs to get the real girl’s ears pierced. She wasn’t nervous until they pulled her hair back and loaded the guns.

Anticipation

And then, before we knew it, it was over.

Done

She teared up when it was all done, but she was brave. I told her it was okay to cry. She was glad it was over. She dressed Kit in a new outfit and glasses and with the two newly pierced ladies, they pretty much looked alike.

Twinkies

From there we walked to a local Italian diner, had a nice lunch and grabbed a train to the theater.

Wicked

The show – was amazing. I’ve heard people either really like it or really don’t. I’m in the former group. Really, really, really liked it. Maddie did as well. What a way to go for her first experience with major Broadway! (And let’s be honest, one of my first experiences with it too…)

Wicked

Had to take a tourist shot of this Chicago sign on our way back to the train.

Chicago

Caught the train and went back to the American Girl Place.

Train

We had a nice dinner. A little over-priced, but I didn’t struggle as much with the fancy dinner as I did with the store.

Fancy, Schmancy

I could have taken her to a nice dinner anywhere and paid a comparable price. I didn’t mind so much that we did it here where her doll could also come and have a seat at the table.

Dinner at AG Place

Blurry, but necessary:

American Girl Place Chicago

We walked back to our hotel, found a movie Maddie wanted to watch while I read a good chunk of the book I brought and relaxed after an incredibly busy, but fun and full day.

Chicago, Day 1

Craig and the other three girls dropped Maddie and me off at St. Louis’ Union Station early on Thursday morning. We’d heard good things about the Megabus from friends; the tickets were cheap, so that’s the option we chose. It was great all the way to Chicago. Coming home, however, will be a story for the post on Day 3.

Megabus

Maddie wanted to sit in the front seat of the top deck of the bus, so that’s where we were the whole way to Chicago.

Kit on the Bus

We didn’t have a lot of plans for Thursday other than simply getting to Chicago, so I checked into Navy Pier and sure enough they were doing something. They had a Winter Wonderland inside with lots of things to do – rides, ice skating, etc. We went. It was extremely crowded, so we chose not to buy the $12 wristbands for the rides (there were lines at every station, 30 minutes deep); instead, we just walked around and watched everyone else do it.

Then we walked by the Create-a-Cookie station.

Winter Wonderland

For $2 they give you a sugar cookie and you take it to a table with squeeze bottles full of red, green, and white icing, as well as tubs of sugar sprinkles. Maddie made one.

Created Cookie

We tried to walk around some more, but mostly saw the crowd.

IMG_1242

We stared out the window at what looked to be a very cold Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan

We then went to the Chicago Children’s Museum and got in free with our St. Louis Science Center membership. We sculpted.

Children's Museum

We (okay, I) made fun of the man sitting next to us who was sculpting scary monsters in an attempt to traumatize small children at the Chicago Children’s Musuem.

Man Making Monsters

We went to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. for dinner (Maddie is a shrimp fan).

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

We purchased the obligatory Navy Pier/Chicago sweatshirt.

Souvenir

We then walked back to our hotel. From there, we talked a lot about the upcoming years, what she can expect to happen to her as she develops and all that. We tried to go to sleep about 9:30, but had some neighbors having a party in the room next to us. I like to be a good neighbor and all, but an hour later I finally called the desk on them (I had to call twice before they sent someone up and it quieted down soon after that).

And that was Day 1 of our Chicago Adventure.

Home!

On Michigan Avenue

Three full days of fun and, um, “navigating” Chicago, and one extra-long bus ride from Chicago back to St. Louis later and we’re home. Good trip, good time, more to come.

Great Expectations (Mine, Not Dickens’)

I just started blogging for WORLD Mag. My first piece went up today: Great Expectations.

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My oldest daughter turned 10 this week. I’ve told my girls (all four of them: ages 10, 8, 6, and 5) that when they turn 10, I’ll take them on a special road trip to Chicago, just the two of us. On this excursion they will get their ears pierced, eat dinner at The American Girl Place, attend their first Broadway show, and have me completely to themselves for three days.

If the trip goes as perfectly as I’ve planned it all out, after we get back home we will never have any relational issues-set up to enter the teen years problem free.

OK, so that’s pretty na├»ve, or at least it would be if I believed it. I know we won’t live together problem free from that point on, but I’m hoping the transition into this next stage of life for all of us will be smoother than I hear it sometimes can be.

Whenever I go anywhere with all four of my girls (and since we homeschool, this usually applies to anytime I go anywhere), I get at least one nod of sympathy from some random stranger. “They all yours?” I get asked. I smile and claim them and wait for the inevitable: “You just wait until they are teenagers”-the implication being that my life will end when my girls are 18, 16, 15, and 13.

In truth? Life will be different then, but life is supposed to be different. We will all change-all of us. I’m expecting that and hoping to embrace it. I’m hoping this three-day getaway to Chicago will begin to usher in that change with love and intentionality. Really, that’s all I’m expecting from this weekend away. I think that’s a realistic goal.

 

A Tale of Three Pictures

After all the posting I did about Chicago, you’d think I’d be done by now. But I have one more story: how Amtrak derailed our return trip on Saturday.

Picture Number 1:

IMG_3611.JPG

This was our view of Chicago as we said good-bye from the last car of the train (which surprised us by leaving on time). Ever hopeful, we should have known better. We learned to dread the train sound system, because every time it came on we heard something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the conductor. I apologize for the delay, but ________. We plan to be on our way shortly. Thanks for your patience.”

The various scenarios included (and I’m not making these up):

  • A broken track switch, causing us to have to stop while they attempted to fix it, then backed up to a previous track switch when it was determined they could not. Time lost: 1 hour.
  • An unidentifiable object (alien spacecraft? grain silo?) on the track, requiring removal before proceeding. Time lost: 30 minutes.
  • A “rail issue,” though no clear word was ever given as to what this was. Time lost: 30 minutes.
  • A possible train hijacking, complete with East Alton, IL, police and Union Pacific rail officers called to secure our train and conduct a thorough investigation. Time lost: 3 hours.

Picture Number 2:

IMG_3617.JPG

It’s not a good picture of the police cars, I know, but what else are you doing to do while waiting for 3 hours with no word from Amtrak as to what in the world is going on? You try to take a picture to post on your blog, of course. This was after making sure all the girls had shoes on and that my purse, camera, and computer were within easy arm’s reach in the event we had to make a speedy evacuation.

In my mind, I kept thinking, “It’s drug related. No, it can’t be drug related, if it were, they would be searching all the bags and there would be a drug dog on board. Not drugs. OH NO! IT MUST BE A BOMB! Wait, it can’t be a bomb. If we were in danger of being blown up, wouldn’t they have evacuated the train already? They would, wouldn’t they?” You know, calm, rational stuff like that.

Picture Number 3:

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My family at – can you see that clock? – 12:17 am. We just hadn’t had enough of Amtrak by this point, so decided to wait around the station for photo opportunities. While we did this, we took bets as to whether the 3 bags and 1 box that we checked made it back with us. Our bad train karma prevailed: half of our bags were either left in Chicago or headed on toward Little Rock. Nobody knows.

The important thing is that all the children made it back with us. Oh, and our train was not, in fact, hijacked after all. And we slept until 9 this morning. And all the dirty laundry from the week is taking a joyride on an Amtrak train somewhere in the Midwest. It’s all about the silver linings.

We’re officially two for two on bad Amtrak experiences. We’ll see if the lure of the low price will draw us back the next time we decide to go to Chicago. After last night, it’s not likely.

This Game’s Almost Over

I had two options for today: Lincoln Park Zoo or the beach. Last night, the girls voted for the beach; this morning, they all voted to just stay in the room and watch cartoons (they are really tired).

I think it was a good decision, as I was a bit overzealous in what I thought we could do this morning before having to check-out by 12:30. As it is, we’re relaxing. We’re going to take another quick walk down the street in a little bit to get them their little Chicago souvenirs, as well as a bag of Subway sandwiches to take on the train (did you know Amtrak sells hotdogs for $3.75 – they think they are major league baseball stadiums or something).

I don’t feel the need to do “that one last Chicago thing”. We’ve experienced it, it has been fun, and I’m pretty sure we will be back at some point in time. But I’m ready to go home and prepare to return to some sense of routine.

I think we all are.

Thursday: Navy Pier

Yesterday we tackled Navy Pier. My plan was to do the Chicago Children’s Museum, which we could get into almost free with our Magic House membership, then eat our packed lunch on the Pier, play around on the beach, eat dinner at Joe’s Be-Bop Cafe (chosen for its live jazz), followed by a river boat tour of Chicago.

What actually happened, though, was this: we went to the museum, along with the entire day-camp population of Chicago (which, if you were wondering, is a LOT). It was so crowded in there we couldn’t move. I finally asked if they were always this crowded and if we could leave and come back. We were told that field trips come a lot, but that the afternoon tends to be better, so we took our chances and left. We walked toward the Ferris Wheel where we just took pictures standing next to it and not riding it, then had our lunch.

We did the boat tour next, followed by three pretty non-crowded hours at the children’s museum, where the girls had a ton of fun once they were able to walk in it. When their Free Family Night on Thursdays began at 5 and the place filled up to the brim again by 5:30, we headed down for dinner. I talked the girls into skipping the play time on the beach and we took the free trolley back as far as it would take us.

Here are the girls, touristing in front of the Ferris wheel:

Ferris Wheel

And a Chicago River view of the city:

Sears Tower

Of course, no boat trip is complete without a picture of these two first mates:

Aaarrrrgghhh, Matey!

Choosing just one picture to capture the children’s museum was tricky. The museum was fantastic and we could have stayed much longer (than three hours even!). I settled on the shadow shot:

Shadow Girls

Chicago is fun, but the hours we are keeping are not. They translate into some pretty significant relational issues in our family which we all have to compensate for, and we don’t all do a very grace-filled job with that. I’m really hoping my girls remember this trip as something enjoyable and fun, and not one in which we all drove each other totally nuts. The jury is still out on that one.

In Which We Figure Out the Bus Thing

Today I woke up bound and determined to do the bus thing here in Chicago. I had a map; I had a hotel concierge; I could do this. I armed Maddie with a list of questions to ask regarding proper bus numbers and pick up locations and sent her down to find it all out for us while we got ready this morning.

She came back with answers. Answers I trusted. I will never do this again. To make a very long story shorter, we were sent to the wrong location to wait for bus #10 to the Museum of Science and Industry. I did not figure this out until 30 minutes passed, and then went to the correct location where we waited another 25 before I almost gave up altogether. This was when the bus arrived. We made it from there without incident.

Seasoned Bus Riders

The museum was a lot of fun and, interestingly enough, the farm exhibit was one of the highlights for us because it was about everything Grandpa Rog does or did (and stuff Craig used to do as well), and the girls were pretty fascinated with it, particularly the pig-birthing portion. They had a real John Deere tractor and a combine set in a “field of corn.” It looked like they were really harvesting corn on the combine. Chloe was totally excited to climb up inside it and push every single button she could find. Maddie was more like, “We can do this anytime we want to for real with Grandpa!” and moved on to the soybean and pig exhibits.

Nursing Piggies

There were many great things at this museum, including the Fairy Castle (a large “dollhouse” with exquisite miniatures), real chicks hatching out of eggs, and the Toy Maker 3000, where for $5 you could buy the privilege of watching a plastic toy top being assembled before your very eyes. We skipped the $5 part and watched other people’s toy tops being assembled before our very eyes. It was really pretty interesting, the whole assembly line production thing. I’m leaving a lot out, but that museum was really fun, too, especially since we were able to get in totally free with our St. Louis Science Center membership.

Fluffy Chicks

The bus ride home was easy. I must have looked like I thought it was, too, because a fellow tourist looked at me after we both sat down on the bus and said, “You look like you know Chicago well. Can I ask you a question?” I started laughing and said she was asking a very scary thing, but that I had a map and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

We got back to the hotel ten minutes before Craig did from his third day of conferencing, and we all headed off to grab some dinner together before taking advantage of the Art Institute of Chicago‘s free night tonight from 5-8. We didn’t mean to, but we actually walked all the way down there (about 1.5 miles), but then took a bus back, since I’m now an “expert” with Chicago public transportation (tongue firmly in cheek). We got off pretty close to our destination, found a cute city playground, and the girls played away.

And this concludes day four of our town mice in the big city adventure. We’re so very tired…and going to bed.

One Last Fling

American Girl Place

We happened to walk by the American Girl Place on our way to Subway. I’d already talked to the girls about how we weren’t going to go on this trip, but that I was saving it for a special one-on-one trip with each of them when they turn 10. They’ve been totally fine with this plan. We walked by, though, and just *had* to stop.

I said we could go in, but only for a few minutes and they were not to ask for anything. We walked in and their eyes became big as saucers – not because of the merchandise, but because of the amount of girls running around the store getting stuff. There were a lot of girls and a lot of shopping bags. Maddie looked at one thing and said, “Wow, this stuff is expensive.” Yes, my dear, I know. They didn’t want to stay. “Let’s get out of here,” they said. I willingly obliged. The window in front was more exciting than the chaos inside. We’ll go back when we can enjoy it – and preferably mid-week during the school year.