Chicago: My Recap of Chitown

Last month, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago with five of my friends. I had never been before, and was unsure of what to expect. A large city in the midwest isn’t exactly my idea of a dreamy vacation. I’m more of a slow, southern riverfront or tropical beach kind-of-girl. But I have realized that the older I get, the more I want to see and do. And I think that includes travel to all fifty states. So when my friends suggested the trip, I was all in. I justified the expense as my 40th birthday present to myself.

To my surprise, I fell in love with Chicago. It is such a beautiful city, richly filled with history and culture. I won’t bore you with every detail of the vacation, but I do want to highlight some things. I should probably remind you that we traveled on Friday and Tuesday, so we only had three full days to explore. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do, but here is a list of my favorites from my first trip to Chitown.

Landmarks:
Buckingham Fountain – Located in the center of Grant Park, just off of the Magnificent Mile and adjacent to Lake Michigan, this towering fountain operates from April to October. It is accompanied by lights and music, and is quite the show! (Note: if there are any Married… with Children fans reading, this is the fountain shown in the opening title sequence of the show.)

Chicago Theater – This theater was the first large and lavish movie palace in the US. It is located in the Loop, on N. State Street. We didn’t have the opportunity to take a tour inside, but we certainly stopped for a selfie with the iconic sign.

The Bean – Apparently, its official title is Cloud Gate, but it has been nicknamed ‘The Bean’ because of its shape. It weighs roughly 100 tons, and is made of polished stainless steel. The sculpture can be found in Millennium Park within the Loop, just off of Michigan Avenue. My favorite part of visiting? The underneath of the sculpture. Do yourself a favor and don’t just observe the sculpture from the perimeter. Head under the “omphalos” … it’s the concave chamber also known as “the navel”. It produces the most beautiful distortions.


{Look up!! Seriously. The inside is crazy awesome!!}

Navy Pier – There is so much to take in at Navy Pier. There are too many restaurants and gift shops to name. However, one highlight from the pier is the newly renovated Centennial Wheel. It’s the first and only one of its kind in the US. The Ferris wheel stands nearly 200 ft tall and overlooks Lake Michigan.

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge – It is said that this jazz club, located in Uptown, was a local hangout during the prohibition era for various gangsters. The most well known, Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone, was said to have a secret hatch in the club that led to underground tunnels. You can request to sit in his favorite booth, but don’t ask to tour the tunnels… you will be denied.

Willis Tower – Formerly, and most well-known as, Sears Tower, Willis Tower is the home of the SkyDeck Ledge. The building itself, located on S. Wacker Drive in the Loop, is 108 stories. The Ledge is located on the 103rd floor. Access to the Ledge is via an elevator that travels the distance in a short 60 seconds. Between 1973 and 1998, Willis Tower was the tallest building in the world.

Wrigley Field – With its ivy-covered brick outfield and its hand-turned scoreboard, this Major League baseball field (and home of the Chicago Cubs) is beyond charming. It’s the oldest National League ballpark. I love that it’s tucked away between brownstones and local bars, right near the Clark/Addison “L” stops, in the quaint community of Lakeview in North Side. See below (Cubs Game) for additional information!

Restaurants:
Fiesta Mexicana – We rented a brownstone in Uptown just around the corner from this incredibly delicious restaurant. The food was authentic, flavorful, and reasonably priced.

The Parthenon – Oh my goodness! We stumbled upon this little piece of heaven on S. Halsted in Greektown. The restaurant and its staff gave us incredible, authentic food as well as a history lesson, too. As wonderful as the food and atmosphere were, I enjoyed meeting Yanna the most. She owns the restaurant, which her father started in 1968. The coolest part of it all? Her father created Flaming Saganaki. CREATED. IT.

Things to Do:
Memorial Day Parade – Little did we know that Chicago hosts the largest Memorial Day parade in the country. It travels down State Street. We found that the best place to watch was at the intersection of State and Madison, just outside of Target. Center Stage was located here so we could hear all of the announcements that went along with the parade.

Architectural Boat Tour – If you have an hour or so to spare, consider boarding the sightseeing barge at Navy Pier and heading up the Chicago River. The tour itself not only highlights the gorgeous architecture of the city’s many skyscrapers but you’ll also learn historical facts about Chicago, as well as some interesting folklore. [Side note: Check Groupon for deals!]

Chicago Cubs Game – Even if you’re not a huge baseball fan, the experience of catching a game in Wrigley Field is history in the making. Not only is Wrigley Field the second oldest ballpark in the US, but the Cubs fans are some of the best around. Even if they’re playing your favorite team (like they played my LA Dodgers while I was in town), hope for a Cubs win. There is something extra special about that team winning at home. You’ll see what I mean if you’re lucky enough to witness it first hand.

I cannot wait to head back to Chicago. There are so many places that I wanted to see but didn’t have time. There are a lot of places that I want to revisit. I want to catch some shows, and head to the beach on Lake Michigan. And truthfully, I just want to soak in this city. The history of our country fascinates me, and Chicago holds so much. I strongly recommend a Chicago vacation… even for my fellow beach bums.

 

(All photos in this post and on this site are copyrighted and should not be used without permission.)

40 Days

Simply put, Lent is a period of fasting which leads up to Easter. It recalls the 40-day fast of Jesus in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before Good Friday. The purpose of Lent is to be a period of fasting, self-denial, spiritual growth, and simplicity. Essentially, Lent is a spiritual spring cleaning for Christians. It is a time to eliminate things that hinder our personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to Him.

2012 was the first year that I participate in Lent. Some denominations do not put as much emphasis on this season as others, and I grew up attending a church that didn’t press the importance of fasting and self-denial during Lent. Feeling the need to spiritually spring clean, I decided that I would observe it on my own.

Many people choose to give up an array of things during these 40 days. Most people select their favorite foods, while others decide to fast from certain habits. My obvious choice for 2012 was to give up peanut butter. Anyone who knows me (and my family) knows that we have an addiction to Peter Pan peanut butter. We use it as a condiment, we eat is as a protein, we add it onto our desserts… but we are most known for sitting down with a jar and a spoon, and enjoying just it with an ice-cold glass of milk. Giving up all brands and types of peanut butter was a true challenge. I craved it for weeks. Each time I wanted it, I prayed. I found myself speaking to God literally every hour of the day because that is how often I wanted a spoonful. Lent proved to be extremely effective.

For 2013, I pondered giving it up again… but decided that I needed to be more creative in my selection this year. I then considered the “Real Food” pledge, where I would eliminate all proceeds food from my diet. The pledge is to eat only whole grain, fresh fruits and veggies, locally raised meats, nuts and seeds, limited beverages, and no refined sweeteners, including granular sugar. I’m sure to a lot of folks, this could seem like a drastic measure. However, I already eat this way 99% of the time. Although denying myself peanut butter and non-organic foods for 40 days would certainly prove its point again, I felt like there were other things hindering my personal relationship with Jesus. Actually… there was one specific thing.

I have to admit that I have an addiction greater than that of peanut butter, but it isn’t in food. It’s a habit. I abuse the use of my iPhone. At night, it is right by my pillow. I use it’s alarm to wake me in the mornings. As soon as I turn the alarm off, I am checking Facebook and Twitter, my email, and Game Center (because I have several on-going games with friends). I spend at least an hour in the mornings on various apps. Throughout the day, I am constantly checking in, updating, scrolling, and pinning to the point of ignoring friends, co-workers, and family. It doesn’t stop until I am lying in bed at night… and even then, I can stay awake longer than I should if there is a good Google + chat going on.

At first, I tried to talk myself out of giving up my phone for Lent. I had every excuse in the book. What if someone urgently needed to reach me? When I travel to Haiti, how will I communicate with family? How will I let folks know where I am if I don’t Foursquare my location? The more I tried to talk myself out of it… the more apparent that I needed an intervention from the one thing that consumed a large portion of my life.

After many prayers, I realized that I can set my own rules, as long as they were drastic enough to refocus my brain, heart, and time… and help me spring clean my spirit. I don’t have to give up my iPhone entirely… but I do need to give up a large portion of it. This is what I will be fasting from and denying myself to in the next 40 days:

– My iPhone will NOT be within my reach while I’m in bed.
– I will not access ANY games.
– I will only have access to Facebook, Google +, Instagram, and Twitter from any device for one hour per day, probably 8-9pm (although the time may vary when in Haiti.)
– I will not use Get Glue, Foursquare*, or Pinterest.

– I will still answer phone calls, emails, and text messages when time permits. I plan to only respond to emails twice a day, unless there is an emergency. I do still plan to blog, also when time permits. I want to stop my iPhone dependency, live more simply, and spend free time reading books and in prayer.
*I will allow myself to check into MIA & CLT airports ONLY during my travel for my family.

The next 40 days are not going to be easy, but they are going to be worth the sacrifice.

Are you giving up something for Lent? Please comment below. I would love to pray for you during this time!

 

I’m Bringing Saturday Back!

I can’t lie. 2012 was a blur. I can’t remember how most of my weekends were spent. And that kind of freaks me out. I couldn’t tell you the last time that I had a normal Saturday. A day when I did laundry, exercised, went to the grocery store, relaxed, knocked out a few errands, cleaned the bathroom. My year last year was spent in a whirlwind. I did laundry when I ran out of clothes to wear, and admit that most of the time they were never stored away properly. I would just pull from the giant pile on TOP of the washer and dryer. I rarely visited friends. I didn’t set any real weekend agendas. And relax just wasn’t in my vocabulary.
The sad part? I didn’t even realize I was living that way!!

Until today.

I woke up at 6am, cooked breakfast and ate by 7am. Was out the door to meet a friend at 7:30, where I proceeded to walk/run a total of 2.5 miles. On the way home, I stopped by the curb market and picked up a box full of fresh, organic fruits and veggies. Then I stopped by my local service station to have the oil changed in my Focus. I even went by the ATM to get out some cash before I headed home. And do you know what? I was home by 10am. I felt like it should be 2pm. I had accomplished so much. So I showered, threw in a load of clothes… not because I needed to, but because I could. I wrote an article for On A Mission. I cooked an awesome lunch. I visited with my parents. I chatted with five friends (some on the phone, some via text). I took the cat outside and enjoyed the sunshine with her. I tried out my new camera lens, using Kitty as the model. I cleaned the bathroom, took all of my trash outside, read a chapter in a book, did my daily devotions, and put away my laundry! And here I sit, taking a break to blog again, and it’s only 4:30pm. I could get used to this. As a matter of fact, this is who I once was. I was a productive, efficient gal. I don’t know what happened or why my life ended up pure chaos… but I am here to reclaim the old me. Not the old, ignorant, immature me. But the me that could multitask and make the most of her time. I pray that I can spend every day, from here on out, like I have today. Knocking my To-Do list out early, spending time with family and friends, doing things I love, taking care of everything that I have been blessed with, and still having the time to sit here and write about it. 🙂

kitty

Don’t get me wrong. There is even more work to finish this weekend, including grocery shopping later tonight. And I have to clean up other messes that I have made (metaphorically and physically), which will take a few weeks of “todays” to do. But I really feel good about the day. It’s an answered prayer. I needed this!

What are some ways that you multitask? Do you divide your chores throughout the week? Or knock them all out on the weekend? I would love to hear how you handle your busy life.