Travel Roundup: Chicago Edition


Oh, Chicago.

The Windy City is, without a doubt, one of my favorite places to visit. I often tell people that if I didn’t have an amazing job, with an organization I adore more than anything, I would probably be living somewhere in the Chicago area by now.

I’ve spent a lot of time in this city. My first trip was in 9th grade, when our band went to play at some national competition. Then in high school I had a “boyfriend” (I use the term loosely, because looking back now, he definitely wouldn’t fit what 34-year-old me defines a boyfriend as) who lived outside the city. My girl Jamie and I would sneak off (literally sneak off—I lied to my parents about where I was headed every time we took a trip) to the city every month for a long weekend. I fell in love with the architecture, the buzz of excitement that’s present in any big city, the culture, the food, and the places. (I never fell in love with the boy I was running off to see, thank heavens, lol.)

Since then, I’ve made it a point to visit the city as much as I can, which unfortunately has become not-so-frequently the older I’ve gotten. But when my girl Ruth’s cousin invited us down to spend a long weekend at their place in the Chicago burbs, I immediately jumped on the opportunity and suggested we do it the weekend of my birthday.

This trip was a memorable one, because not only was it my birthday, but my mom came with us too, and she’d never been to Chicago before. We only spent two days total in the city itself, but we saw so much and did so much in those two days, and we created so many memories.

Here’s a peek at my time in the Windy City, and some of the things I enjoyed while I was there:

Millennium Park

Believe it or not, I’d only visited Millennium Park one time prior to this trip, and that was almost 10 years ago. My mom and I are both art junkies, and I knew she would love The Bean, as well as the other sculptures and stuff that are scattered around the area. So we got checked into our hotel, grabbed an Uber, and headed on over.

Winter appears to be the prime time to visit this spot, because it was pretty much deserted. We had fun taking some selfies at The Bean (see below for evidence, lol), and there were some really awesome sculptures there as well, made from recycled tires. I tried to convince Mom to hit the Art Institute with me for an hour, because we had time to kill, but she wasn’t having any of that, as she wanted to continue trekking around and see more of the city. Still, for anyone who hasn’t yet had the chance to visit Chicago, or if you have but just didn’t make it to Millennium Park, add this to your list of places to visit when you get around to it!

Greetings from The Bean!

Millennium Park Info ->
Art Institute of Chicago Info ->


The Magnificent Mile

I can’t visit Chicago and not wander around Michigan Ave. It was cold, it was windy, and we actually did a bit more Ubering than wandering around this time, but hey, we explored the mile none the less, and hit up some oldie but goodie spots, as well as a few new ones.

Let’s spend a minute talking about somewhere that’s just off the mile—and one of my most favorite spots in the city—Eataly.

It’s my own personal version of Italian Heaven. They have everything, from amazing desserts in their bakery, to Italian fare in their different mini-restaurants, to groceries, coffee, and more! I could literally spend hours in the place. This time around we had lunch there, which was a first for me. We decided to go with the restaurant upstairs that specializes in seasonal seafood and other seasonal Italian offerings, and boy was that a good decision! I indulged in a mushroom risotto, which was exceptional, and we also enjoyed some of the cauliflower and bruschetta as appetizers. We did some shopping after this, because whenever I get to Eataly, I have to stock up on delicious cheese from their cheese counter, and plenty of Lavazza coffee, which is my all-time favorite. And I have to indulge in an iced coffee from their bakery because it’s hands-down the best iced coffee I’ve ever tasted.

Water Tower Place is another spot that I must hit whenever I’m on the mile. It’s just a mall, with the same stores I can go to at home if I want, but I just love the place. We did a little shopping there, and spent some time in the Dr. Seuss Gallery, which is one of my favorite Chicago-exclusive places. I love the pieces of original art, and there are some that Seuss did that have a dark twist to them, which you can only see at the gallery. In my perfect  world, when I buy a house in 2019, I’ll get a piece of work from there to display proudly in my space.

Ice on the Chicago River.

I was relatively disappointed to see that the Hershey Store across from Water Tower Place closed down. I was there in 2012 on a birthday trip, and they made this ridiculously bomb cupcake for me (which I had to dance for … actually, my girl Shellie danced for it because I’m the introvert, LOL). However, there was a Sugarfina pop-up store in the old space, and we took some time checking that place out. I got a free box of mini champagne bears because it was my birthday, so that’s a plus, haha. The Ghirardelli Chocolate shop is directly across the street from there, and you can pack a tin full of as many pieces of chocolate as you can fit for $12, so away we went, into chocolate heaven for a bit. I love, love, love dark chocolate, and it’s always nice to have a mini stash at work, in case a sweet tooth should arise. 😉

Dylan’s Candy Bar is also right on the Magnificent Mile, and was literally 3 blocks from our hotel, so we had to make a pit stop there as well. I keep a few Dylan’s treats in my freezer at home, which I nosh on as a reward when I’m sticking to Paleo and working out regularly. The store has a bazillion kinds of their bars, as well as an actual bar attached, where you can get drinks with candy in them (not my style, but cool none the less). In addition, they have a whole section of retro candy, which is always fun to peruse. In an effort to not get too much of a sugar thing going, I didn’t get anything from Dylan’s, but just the smell alone when you walk into the store is reason enough to step in and take a look around when you’re in the city.

Lollipop, lollipop, ohhhh the fun at Dylan’s Candy Bar!

Dylan’s Candy Bar Info ->
Eataly Info ->
Water Tower Place Info ->
Sugarfina Info ->
Ghirardelli Chocolate Info ->
The Art of Dr. Seuss Gallery Info ->
The Magnificent Mile Info ->


The Attractions

The best part of Chicago by far are the countless museums an other places to visit when you’re in the city. Being that Mom had never been there before, she had a few places she wanted to check out—The Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum. We only had one day to ourselves to really explore and do things, but we sprung for the Chicago City Pass anyhow, because it would get us into both those places, as well as three other attractions if we had time to get there. And it gets you VIP tickets to the different places, so it’s definitely worth the money ($100).

Our first stop was The Field Museum. After some technical difficulties at the gate (I felt awful for the employee, as his computer wouldn’t cooperate, and he was redder than a tomato from embarrassment by the time we got our tickets), we headed downstairs to check out the Underground Exhibit, which is my favorite part of that museum. It’s an exhibit that’s set up like you’re literally underground, showing what happens in the soil, the different bugs that reside there, and how everything below the grass works. The best part of this is the mechanical bugs that they have scattered throughout the exhibit.

Riding a bug in the Underground Exhibit.

Fun and random discovery I made while at The Field Museum? They now have credit card readers on the collectible penny machines. I was geeking out for a good few minutes. Also, you can buy all the pennies in the machine for only 3 bucks. I’m a collector of those flat little beauties, so I got a total of 16 of them from The Field Museum to add to my booklet.

Mom got to see Sue, which was something she’d wanted to do forever, and we also got to see the Lions of Tsavo, which the movie The Ghost and the Darkness was based on. So for my mom, that was a totally rad experience.

Side note, between The Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium is a hot dog cart. A genuine, authentic Chicago hot dog cart. And that’s where we had lunch that Friday, because let me tell you, nothing is better than having a Chicago dog when you’re actually in Chicago to enjoy it.

The Shedd Aquarium will forever me one of, if not my favorite, places to visit in Chicago. It’s always the same things there when I go, except for the special exhibits obviously, but I will never tire of walking around and looking at all the sea creatures that they have.

There were a few random moments of excitement for me at the Shedd this time around. First, the anaconda snake was moving in the cage this time, and she’s never been moving any of the other times that I’ve been there. I’m scared as hell of snakes, I have a legit phobia of them, but I’m always simultaneously terrified and fascinated when I get to see the anaconda in person.

Second, I got to touch the Lake Sturgeons, which I’ve done at our aquarium before, but it’s always a thrill for me, because I’m also terrified of lake fish. So making myself touch a big lake fish is a rush, lol.

Third, we got to see the Beluga whales, and that’s another thing that I don’t remember having done before when I was at the Shedd. Also, the dolphins were out, and they’re always funny and cute to watch.

Seahorse trash sculpture at The Shedd.

They had a bunch of amazing sculptures at the aquarium that were made out of trash and recyclable materials that are often found in our oceans and other bodies of water. The sculptures were beautiful, but of course the idea of that much trash and other disgusting items going into our water is a bit heartbreaking.

The Field Museum Info ->
The Shedd Aquarium Info ->
City Pass Info ->


The Food

LOL, food needs its own section, right? 😉

We checked out some fun restaurants, and a fun grocery store, when we were in the city, so I just wanted to highlight them briefly in the post.

For dinner on the night of my birthday, we headed to Texas de Brazil, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. None of us had ever been to one of these restaurants before, although we all three like to frequent Fogo de Chao, which is similar. In any case, the food was delicious, and the service was superb! We had a fantastic crew of wait staff who made the evening memorable with their humor. And they brought out some fun desserts at the end, with a nice “Happy Birthday” written on the plates, complete with a candle on one of them. If you like meat and spend a day preserving your appetite, you must give these guys a try when you’re in a town they’re in. My favorite was the bacon wrapped filet mignon. Yum!

We stumbled upon a Garrett’s Popcorn shop when we were out exploring, so of course we had to get some popcorn to enjoy while we were there. I love Garrett’s. Their cheese popcorn is to die for, and they have some specialty flavors going on right now, one of which is cheddar bacon. I grabbed a small bag of that and oh. my. stars. It was ridiculous, in the best of ways.

One tradition we have whenever we visit Ruth’s cousins is dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy. This time around we made it into a girls night, and we had so much fun! We always do the family style dinner when we’re there, so of course we ate way too much, but if you’re headed there, try their bruschetta bar, and their stuffed mushrooms. Also, the tiramisu … YUM! We tried Gigi’s butter cake too, but that wasn’t very impressive. I got some of the lemon ricotta cookies for my birthday treat, but again, those weren’t the most impressive either, at least not in my opinion. I wish they hadn’t of closed our Maggiano’s, but I love that it can be a special treat for me whenever I’m in town now.

Dinner at Maggiano’s!

Another place we like to hit up (although we now have one in Minnesota) is Portillo’s. Their Chicago dogs are amazing and their chocolate cake shake is to. die. for.  I’ve never tried their Italian beef sandwiches, but rumor has it they are also amazing.

We also visited Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Market while we were out in the burbs with Ruth’s family. I’d never been to that particular grocery store, but I love exploring new ones, and this one was fantastic! It’s got so much Italian goodies, and we totally ransacked the bakery. Ruth’s cousin got me a cannolli cake from there for my birthday, and wow, wow, wow was that cake delicious! We also picked up some good cheese and olives from the deli to snack on. They have a food counter in the middle of the store, with all kinds of Italian goodies, though I didn’t indulge, as I was saving my appetite for Maggiano’s later that night. However, if you’re in Illinois and you’re looking for a good grocery store to check out, this one should get added to your list.

Texas de Brazil Info ->
Garrett Popcorn Info ->
Maggiano’s Little Italy Info ->
Portillo’s Info ->
Angelo Caputo’s Info ->


One last thing I need to do before I wrap this post up, is give a huge shout out to Pro Nails in Plainfield. I decided it would be fun to treat myself to a manicure since I was on vacation, and picked this shop at random, as it was close to where we were staying. What a great decision on my part, because they were amazing! My nails are killer, the woman who did them was insanely friendly and good, and the rest of the staff were wonderful as well.

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The Soundtrack of 2018 #SlayIn2018 #18in2018

Every great story has a great soundtrack to accompany it.

I’m a music junkie. I connect with songs better than I connect with people at times. It’s always been a big part of life for me.

Naturally, I felt like I needed a playlist for the new year. My Slay in 2018 playlist, as I’m calling it. (Aka the Soundtrack of 2018). It’s filled with songs that are inspirational, that I love, and that will forever make me remember this year and how awesome and powerful I know it will be.

I’ll keep adding to this as the year goes on. And you better believe this will been repeat whenever I can get it playing.

Slay in 2018.

Who’s with me?