Thursday, January 5, 2012

Christmas in Chicago!

(My apologies for the late Christmas update... I blame travel, but mostly Criminal Minds TV series on DVD...)

Having four families in four different states makes holidays...interesting. This Christmas we headed to Chicago to see my dad and his wife and some extended family on my dad's side. We had high hopes for a white Christmas!! Utter disappointment. There was not a lick of snow! Okay, once on the drive home Jason swore he saw flurries for like three min (I think it was dust...). That's all! We haven't had a white Christmas in the last four years! Besides that little technicality, we had a fabulous visit! ;-)

We spent our first day just relaxing (after my run in the morning!). We made a couple small errands to pick up a few last minute Christmas gifts and walked around Tinley Park, but not much else. That night we went over to my Grandma's house and had a delicious Czech meal of bread dumpling, roast pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut (at which I learned I am a terrible Czech because I like neither cabbage or sauerkraut...sorry ancestors!) We got to visit with my aunt and cousin plus her two kids and significant other. It was a nice chance to catch up with everyone!

On Thursday my dad, Jason, and I took the train to downtown Chicago. Unfortunately Mary, my dad's wife, was unable to join us because she can't be on her feet that long as she's battling a torn tendon in her ankle. We began our adventure at the infamous bean - located in The Millennium Park.

Who in the heck took the picture?!?! Ah the magic of Adobe Photoshop. :-) Here's what the original photo looked like:

Afterwards we headed to the original Marshall Fields (now Macy's) and put our name on the list to get reservations at The Walnut Room. We got there at 10:15 am. The earliest availability they had was 11:30 am. Talk about hectic! It was worth the wait though and we killed time by shopping (check out the cute new scarf and hat I bought!).

[Special thanks to Cait, Coree, and Kristin for being my fashionistas and telling me I can pull off the look! :-)]

The Walnut Room has a gorgeous display of Christmas trees by different designers. We must have done something right because we had a front row seat facing the tree and a fabulous waitress to boot! She patiently took pictures of us in front of the tree and commented that she's gotten significantly better at photography since starting work there! The food was also incredibly delicious! Jason and I split the chicken pot pie and Marcus Samuelsson's meatballs. Both were AMAZING!

After lunch we took the bus over to Navy Pier. It was quieter since it's off season, but we enjoyed walking through and seeing the stained glass display, shops, and then stumbled across the most awesome display of Christmas trees and rides I have ever seen! It was the Navy Pier Winter Wonderfest 2011 and I would definitely take kids there if I lived in Chicago! I snapped tons of pictures of the beautiful trees!

Next we headed to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) hoping to take a ride to the top, however, it had started to lightly rain and a dense fog had moved in. As soon as we walked in the people operating the elevator up told us there was zero visibility and no refunds, but we were welcome to do what we'd like. At $17 per person we said no thank you! We'll save it for another trip!

We took the train back to Tinely Park where Mary picked us up and we headed to an Italian restaurant she'd been wanting to try called Francesca's. It worked out well since I needed to carb load before my 16 mile run the next morning! Our food was delicious and our waiter was hilarious. I got incredibly embarrassed however, when I asked the waiter to bring me two glasses of water to minimize his amount of refills. Not long after my request was made, did he STILL give up and bring me a carafe. Jason joked that he should have kept track of the number of glasses I drank and estimated I was at least up to 15. Needless to say I made a pit stop before we headed back to the house. Okay, maybe I made two...

Friday morning I got dressed and ready to start my run as soon as it was light out. I somehow convinced Jason and my dad to be my water camels and meet me at mile 5 and mile 12 to refill. I was able to find a 9.5 mile loop about 3.5 miles from my dad's house giving me almost exactly the 16 miles I needed. I then made the mistake of checking the weather - 23 degrees, feels like 17. Oh boy! Fortunately I have cold weather running gear and actually enjoyed the run a ton! I think a change in scenery was nice. I did however form ice chunks in my water bottle and couldn't feel my bottom lip at one point...

[I'd say I look pretty good for having just finished a solo 16 miler in below freezing temps!]

The rest of Friday was spent relaxing before we went to dinner at the Bohemian Crystal so Jason could try REAL fruit dumplings. (We tried making our own last year for New Year's Day and while they weren't bad, they weren't as good as the real thing!) After dinner we watched Christmas movies and went to bed early.

Saturday, Christmas Eve Day, was my dad's birthday. Jason and I made bacon and waffles for a late breakfast (perhaps lunch?) and relaxed before heading to church. (I would like to point out the number of times I have used the word "relax". Those of you that know me should be proud that I actually was able to do that on vacation. I am growing. In baby steps.)

The church service was wonderful and when we got home, everyone kicked it into gear to produce a delicious birthday/Christmas Eve meal of lamb, pirogi, cabbage (it keeps appearing!!), and cake! Happy Birthday Dad!

Sunday morning we got up and opened a gifts before heading to church in Tinley Park. Afterwards we helped Mary finish preparing for Christmas Dinner. We celebrated with my grandma, aunt, and Mary's aunt and uncle. (Such a sweet couple! And they've been together for over 60 years!) We had a wonderful time and thoroughly enjoyed everyone!

Monday morning we slept in and then Jason and I headed to the mall. We decided as part of our Christmas gifts to each other we'd get iPhone 4's since we were eligible for an upgrade. That afternoon my cousin and her two kids and two other kids she was babysitting came over along with my aunt and grandma and a group of Mary's friends and their adult children. It was definitely a full house with at least 15 people! We let the kids play with our old iPhones and the littlest girl my cousin was babysitting took to Jason immediately and clung to him the rest of the afternoon. It was absolutely adorable!

That evening we went to the Brookfield Zoo with one of Mary's closest friends and her two kids (close to Jason's and my age). We ended up splitting (unintentionally) into two groups - the young and the old, and walked around looking at the lights and exhibits that were open. It was chilly, but still fun to see the laser lights and decorations.

The following day was our last in Chicago. :-( We had breakfast with my grandma and aunt at Cracker Barrell before heading back to pack. We were able to fit everything in our three suitcases and Mary sent us home with a box filled with delicious bread dumpling and smoked butt! We made it back safe and sound and (slightly begrudgingly) headed to work the following day, making the whole trip and vacation seem slightly surreal. I hope you also had a wonderful Christmas!!

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