Chicago

Chicago, Illinois
June 17-28

To visit my brother in the 3rd largest metro area in the US, we camped at Woodland Lake Village in Portage, Indiana.  This was our first stay in a straight-up mobile home park.  It was 45 minutes away from Chicago without traffic, but it was the closest campground we could find. But despite the rough appearance, everyone we interacted with at the place was super nice, and the nights were quiet except for the train tracks so close that our trailer shook as trains passed, and occasional fireworks, which I suppose were being set off by people who love America so much that they couldn’t even wait until July 4th to celebrate its birthday.

As we pulled into the check-in area of Woodland Lake Village, Brad and I got out of the truck and switched places.  Although we try to split the driving responsibilities between the two of us, Brad still does more of the forward driving, and I do more of the backward. An employee named Don was assigned to escort us to our site and back us in. As I put the truck in reverse, and Brad positioned himself in the site with a walkie talkie, it seemed to slowly dawn on our escort what was happing here. Don leaned in my window, cigarette in hand, to ask “So, you’re doing this, huh?”

“Yep. We share these responsibilities,” I answered.

I managed to back the trailer into the site even though it was an awkward angle, I had to jump a sidewalk, and the fact that it was hard to hear Brad’s navigation directions over Don’s opposite directions coming in the window.  After we had Stumbo in the right spot, Don commented, “Well, that wasn’t bad, for a girl.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked with a smile. No response. I guess he was trying to compliment me, and I guess that wasn’t a bad attempt…for a dude.

Clay lives in Chicago in the neighborhood of Pilsen, which was historically Czech but is now a very Hispanic neighborhood. (read: delicious tacos available) We drove to his apartment on Sunday morning in time to go to church with him.  He attends the St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago, whose bell tower still bears black smoke stains; scars left behind from the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The cathedral’s bell tower is one of the very few pieces of the city that wasn’t burned or demolished due to the fire, but the rest of the structure has been rebuilt.

Uncle Clay showing off downtown Chicago to the nieces. We enjoyed his cheap parking voucher from church by exploring Michigan Avenue after the service.
Playing in the fountains in downtown Chicago near the River Walk.
Chicago style deep dish, obviously.

Over the course of the next week, in a couple of different overnight visits to the city, we got a tour of many local sites, amazing food, and hip cocktail bars that still have trap doors in the floor from the days of prohibition.

Checking out the Chicago skyline from the top of Clay’s office building at University of Illinois.
This peregrine falcon, Nits, lays her eggs in a high window sill at Clay’s office each spring. You can watch her tend the next from a webcam, but we rode the elevator to the 29th floor to peek at her through the glass in person.
I finally got to explore the Hull House where Jane Addams changed a neighborhood and the history of social work in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She was one of my personal inspirations for getting into the career field of recreation.
Coral said that American Gothic was her least favorite painting at the Chicago Art Institute.
Clay treated us all to the girls’ very first Broadway Musical, Aladdin.
The girls’ first Broadway show experience was AWESOME! Thanks, Uncle Clay!
Clay and I enjoyed an afternoon snack at the world’s first Nutella Cafe! The front door looks like you’re walking into a giant jar of Nutella.
The girls just couldn’t get enough of the awesome playgrounds at Maggie Daley Park.
You’ve probably seen photos of this art piece before, but I just cannot describe how bizarre and fun it is to see it in real life.
Playing with our reflections at the Chicago Bean, aka “Cloud Gate”.
We’ve seen many T-Rex skeletons on this trip, but all of them were cast models, and most of them were of a dinosaur named Stan. We used our museum pass to run into the atrium of the Chicago Field Museum to see this real T-Rex skeleton, Sue.
Playing with various things on wheels at a neat bike shop in Clay’s neighborhood called Working Bikes. They take old bikes and fix them up to sell or send to foreign countries where people need the transportation. We donated the Frenchman’s Huffy.
I was tempted by the one topped with gin-infused popcorn, but got this one with freeze-dried blueberries instead.
At this wonderful dinner out with Clay at the “chef’s table” of Duck Inn, I tasted micro herbs, duck wings, pork belly, and mushrooms pickled in turmeric among other delicacies.
Clay took me to Moody Tongue one evening to try the 12-layer chocolate cake. As you can tell, we destroyed it…

We spent one entire day checking out the amazing exhibits at the Museum of Science and Industry. We watched baby checking hatching, saw our own DNA, and learned about an amazing thing called “The Golden Ratio”.

The lego enthusiasts checking out the tiny replica of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair Ferris Wheel at the Museum of Science & Industry.
This mirror maze was mind bending!
The girls taking in the Tornado Demonstration at the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry.
Sunny was a volunteer during the “Poop Happens” show, where we learned more about the processes of digestion.
Our campground was very near the Indiana Dunes National Seashore. One afternoon the girls enjoyed playing on the shores of Lake Michigan while Clay & Brad went on a long bike ride.
Brad rented a road bike to join Clay on one of his favorite Saturday pastimes. For 40 miles…

 

In between treks out into the city, we enjoyed Clay’s classy and comfortable bachelor pad.  Our computers backed up their entire hard drives on his blazing wifi, and we utilized his espresso machine, pumping out beautiful shots topped with luscious crema. Our girls played with their legos on his plush living room rug, watched movies in his giant TV, and made up games of sorting his collection of beer mats from all over the world.  One evening while Brad and Clay went out, I stayed at the apartment while the girls slept. I lounged on the comfy couch, nibbled on chocolatey snacks from Trader Joe’s, and watched limitless TV.

When we got back to Stumbo after our final visit to Clay’s, parked in between dilapidated mobile homes with our tiny bathroom, the all too precious limited wifi, and no comfortable place to sit except the bed, for the first time in 10 months, I kindof missed the comforts of home.

Before we left the area we also managed a couple of quick visits to friends in nearby areas. One was a trek up into Michigan where we met up with Mike & Crissa Boyink for lunch. They left their hometown for a year on the road with their 2 kids….6 years ago. Mike has been blogging prolifically the whole time and has created quite an online community of readers. His writing was helpful in both practical and inspirational ways as we considered and prepared for this year. We had even exchanged emails a few times as we prepared to launch, and he was always available to advise and encourage.  Since they had been such important online mentors to us, we were thrilled for the chance to meet them in person.

We thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend a few hours with the Boyinks!

We also hit the suburb of St Charles on our way out of the Chicago area to see another one of Brad’s cousins and his kids.  We had a great little lunch with him and did some catching up.  In the course of the conversation, as we rattled off all of the family we’ve been able to see over the past 10 months, we realized that we had now seen all of our extended family (besides the family living in South Africa and I think we get a free pass on that one) except for one other cousin.  This would have to be rectified….

Another great visit with another long-lost cousin.
Sunny and Adley were only born 2 days apart in 2009! We wished we had longer to play, but the visit was short and sweet.

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