Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

Millennium Park | Chicago, Illlinois

Millennium Park is one of my favorite places in Chicago. If you walk away from Michigan Avenue and find the fields of wildflowers, it really does feel like you’ve escaped the city — especially on gray days when you can’t see the tops of the skyscrapers.

When we were in Chicago a few months ago, I had a morning to myself while KP worked and I made it a point to walk through the park (conveniently, it was on my way to lunch at The Gage).

Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

I stumbled upon this great art exhibit in the park — Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs. It celebrates the 10th anniversary of the park with over 50 images before, during and after construction (it ends in October). A free art exhibit in the park? Yes, thank you.

Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

One image in particular drew me in — this one by Kenneth Tanaka of a little boy splashing in Crown Fountain on a hot summer day. I just love it! Without the skyline or anything quintessential Chicago pictured, it’s still just so Chicago to me.

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Stumbling upon this exhibit was just the cherry on top of my visit to Millennium Park this summer.

Staycation at Hotel Palomar in Chicago

Our last night in Chicago, our bedroom looked like this:

Bedroom

Those hardwood floors are beautiful, I know, but they don’t look so inviting, do they? All of our treasured belongings — including our bed — were ready to be packed into a big North American moving truck, so we had to stay at a hotel. I like Kimptons, so we decided to stay at Hotel Palomar in River North.

Hotel Palomar

Ah yes, that looks like a bedroom I’d much rather spend a night in.

We checked in just in time for one of my favorite things that Kimpton offers: wine hour. But by “just in time,” I mean there was only about ten minutes left so we made plans for our own wine hour elsewhere. Still, I love this little perk. Who doesn’t enjoy free wine in a cool atmosphere? No one I’m friends with…

Our room was on the 14th floor and although we didn’t have a view (except for the office building next door) the room was huge. And quite frankly, I’d rather sleep in the Palomar’s comfy bed versus my own any night of the week. The only thing I didn’t like is that we somehow ended up in an accessible room, which meant a massive bathroom with zero counter space or wall hooks to hang things. First world problems: having to apply makeup in front of the closet door mirror.

I really like this hotel and if you watch, you can usually get a pretty reasonable rate by Chicago standards. The swanky Sable Kitchen & Bar is on the ground floor and never disappoints. They had me at deviled eggs with white truffle oil.

Goodbye, Chicago. Hello, Austin!

Chicago

“This is my kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of town, Chicago is
My kind of people, too
People who smile at you”

— Frank Sinatra

It’s official. We’re no longer Chicagoans. We’re Austinites. With the chaos of packing, saying goodbyes, driving 1,100+ miles and unpacking (partially) behind us, we’re slowly settling in and will hopefully have a new routine in place soon.

Our last week in Chicago was a busy one. I drove Nora to my parents’ so that she could have some one-on-one time with them before we moved, and so that she was out of the way when the movers came. And then I drove back to Chicago. I wanted to see exactly how much time I could spend in the car in one week… KP and I spent the final days sitting around while the movers packed up our home, and then waiting for them to load the truck. Why is it that moving companies always tell you they’ll send three to four people to tackle your move, but then only two show up? And then they’re surprised when you’re angry. As is par for the course with our moves, Mother Nature decided to drop a few flurries on us on loading day. It was nothing like we had our past two moves, but snow, nonetheless. I’m just glad we got out when we did; Chicago got 15″ of snow the weekend that we arrived in Austin.

Since Nora was with Grammie and Gampa our very last night in Chicago, we made grand plans. We had to stay in a hotel since our entire home was packed up, so we booked a room at Hotel Palomar. After we checked in, we walked to the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the Hancock building for pre-dinner cocktails– something I’ve wanted to do ever since we moved to Chicago but never got around to doing.  The people-watching was fantastic and the view is spectacular.

Chicago, as seen from the Signature Lounge
Chicago, as seen from the Signature Lounge

We finally made it to RPM for dinner. We were supposed to go for my birthday but it didn’t happen, and I’m glad we were able to squeeze it in, if for nothing more than the light, fluffy mozzarella balls in the lobster (!) caprese salad. A baby-free night called for an after-dinner hot toddy at Sable in our hotel. Had to go out with a bang! Although my head at 2:30 a.m. kind of wishes we hadn’t made that decision.

But a good night out is just what we needed before returning home to a house full of boxes. This was my seventh move and seeing your home and all of your belongings packed in boxes doesn’t ever get easy. There are always memories that were made in the place that you’re leaving, and our home in Chicago was chock-full of them. It’s the first house KP and I bought together as a married couple, and the home that we brought Nora home to after she was born. I couldn’t linger in her empty room too long.

Nora's room
Nora’s room

Leaving Chicago was really bittersweet. I love the city, and I don’t think I’ve been this sad to leave any place else that I’ve lived (except for maybe London). I had to remind myself (and still do) of all of the great things we’re going to have and experience in Austin. And the sunshine and warm weather Austin greeted us with our first full day here certainly helped (especially when Chicago got more snow dumped on it right after we left).

Life in Austin has been good so far, save for getting reacquainted with apartment life and a parking garage and hauling grocery and Target bags from said parking garage up to our 14th floor apartment. We’re living in corporate housing for the next two months or so. It’s right in the heart of downtown and we have amazing floor-to-ceiling windows that Nora can’t stop looking out of and watching the “cars! cars! cars!” It’s spacious and comfortable and both KP and I commented on how quiet it is and how well we’re sleeping — save for the usual sirens and city sounds. I think it’s good that we’re parked here for a few months; it’ll force us to get out and about and get the lay of the land downtown, plus we’re within walking distance of beautiful Lady Bird Lake.

Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake

 

Dinner at Grace Restaurant in Chicago

Grace Restaurant
Grace Restaurant

It’s pretty incredible the number of “last” meals we’ve had in Chicago so far, considering we’re still here for another week and have four more “lasts” planned. I’ve gotten good at qualifying the various “lasts.” For example, I had my last moms’ dinner at Piccolo Sogno last week. We had our last Chicago-style pizza night at the neighbor’s over the weekend. We’ll have our last sushi night and last dinner at our favorite neighborhood spot, Monkey’s Paw, this weekend. And a few more lasts on the docket next week. Clearly we won’t be doing much cooking our final days in Chicago.

Last Friday was KP’s last day at his old job, so it felt appropriate that we have our final fancy meal that night. Ever since we went to Grace for the first time last January, I’ve been plotting a reason to go back. As much as I’d love for it to be, Grace just isn’t in our regular rotation since it’s, shall we say, a bit cost prohibitive. (Nora’s pesky college savings account always gets in the way…) But it is truly a treat, and what better way to bid adieu to this fine city?

We’ve been to a small handful of fine dining restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars, but Grace is without a doubt the very best, in my humble opinion. Dare I say it’s my favorite restaurant ever? It’s simple; they just get everything right. The service, the décor and most importantly the food — it’s all just phenomenal. From the moment you walk in the door, you feel genuinely welcomed, like they are truly grateful that you’re there. It seems to be the other way around with so many high-end restaurants, the ones that give me the feeling of, “you’re lucky to be dining in this exclusive restaurant.”

While elegant and modern, Grace’s dining room is simply styled, keeping the focus on the food. After all, each dish is a piece of incredible artwork. I like how everything in the dining room has its place and there is clearly a purpose in its design. Next to or behind each table (depending on the table), there’s a small, unassuming shelf where they place the wine decanter and/or other accoutrements for your meal. It’s free of clutter, just like my house (ha!). By the way, Grace utilizes some of the most unique wine decanters I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but ask the incredibly charming sommelier if the wine dictates the type of decanter that will be used. The short answer is yes.

Alaskan King Crab kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON MINT
Alaskan King Crab
kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON MINT
Image Source

Grace serves a nine-course fixed price menu, and you can select either the Flora or Fauna menu. Both times I dined at Grace I chose Fauna. There are just too many mouth-watering meat courses to tempt me.

Grace menu

There simply isn’t a better restaurant in Chicago (anywhere?) to spend KP’s hard earned money. We enjoyed a delicious meal and lovely service. As a noun, grace is defined as, “elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action.” I can’t think of a more fitting name for this memorable, splurge-worthy restaurant.

Chicago Travel & Adventure Show

Despite a few warm-ups here and there (read: 40-degree temps), it’s still been relatively cold and gray here in Chicago. And that can lead to the dreaded feeling of cabin fever, which is exacerbated when you have a toddler. It’s bad enough that I want to climb the walls some days, but I know Nora feels the same! So we have to get creative and find things to do to get us out of the house during these cold winter months.

This past weekend we decided to trek out to Rosemont to check out the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show. I saw a billboard for the show on our way home from O’Hare a few weeks back, and I read a bit about it online. I wanted to go, but didn’t think it was something that would hold Nora’s interest for too long. Then I read Kirsten’s post about it over on Kids Are a Trip and changed my mind. Though Nora’s too little for some of the attractions (no camel rides yet, I’m afraid), there were enough things to hold her interest for a bit — and to get us out of the house for the day!

I think Nora’s favorite part of the show (aside from the Elmo balloon the folks from SeaWorld gave her) was watching the Hawaiian dancers on the Global Beats stage. They were so talented and cute! I was bummed that we weren’t there long enough to see the Irish dancers, which I love to watch, and I think Nora would’ve gotten a kick out of, too.

Global Beats Stage
Dancing to tunes from “Lilo and Stitch”

A team from Minnesota was also at the show with their Alaskan sled dogs, and Nora got to pet one gentle old soul (who was heading into retirement). I think she enjoyed that a bit more than seeing the animals from SeaWorld, particularly as the frog who was there kept trying to escape. Every time it happened, her little legs clenched around me!

SeaWorld animals

There were quite a few exhibitors at the Chicago Travel and Adventure Show, and KP and I perused some of the booths looking for inspiration for our anniversary trip later this year. I think I have my sights set on Hawaii…

We only spent and hour or so at the show (toddlers have their limits), but it was definitely an outing that the whole family enjoyed. We’ll have to plan a return visit when Nora’s a little older and can go for a camel ride!

Home Sweet Home… for Baby

The folks at Urban Compass asked me to participate in their Starter Stories series, which is all about people’s first homes or the roof over their head that gave them a fresh start. My story below is about the first home KP and I found and made our own for the beginning of our family.

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My husband and I are kind of like nomads. We’ve both lived in a handful of different cities and just six months into dating, we moved together from Boston to Chicago. As such, we’ve both lived in our fair share of places from Washington D.C., to Houston, to London and many places in between. All of these places have stories of their own, like his place in Allston, Massachusetts that had the flimsiest floor that you could see into the basement from his bedroom. Or my first apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey that had a door that seemed to be made out of particle board with the equivalent of a paper clip lock. No wonder my dad thought that place was so “sketchy” (his word).

When we moved to Chicago over five years ago, we rented a modern, cookie-cutter condo in the South Loop. After a few years, marriage and a dog, we moved to Lincoln Park and rented a townhouse. And then we got pregnant and knew we didn’t want to be renters anymore. We wanted to own our own home that we could do whatever we wanted to. We wanted to make someplace truly our own for our budding family. And so the search for a house started.

At first, we focused on the Chicago suburbs. We looked at homes in Evanston, Wilmette and Oak Park. Deep down, we both knew we weren’t ready for suburban life, but we also knew we couldn’t afford a single family home in any of the Chicago neighborhoods that we liked. When our realtor took us to this townhouse just around the corner from the place we had been renting, we knew we had found our new home.

Townhouses in Chicago's Lincoln Park
Townhouses in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

There was plenty to like about this townhouse, like the amazing light that shines in through the skylight in the staircase, to the patio with space for a barbecue grill and a table and chairs (hot commodity!). Best of all, moving into this house would limit the amount of change for us. We were already anxious about the addition to our family, so being able to remain in our same neighborhood and limit the newness was a relief. The Lincoln Park neighborhood has so much to offer, and this location was especially perfect for us with the park at the end of the block. Bonus: we quickly discovered yet another perk to the location — our soon-to-become new favorite neighborhood restaurant, Monkey’s Paw.

Neither my husband nor I are DIYers, unless changing a lightbulb qualifies as a DIY project. So we were lucky that our new home was already updated for the most part. Still, we wanted to put our stamp on it with new paint colors, and the master bedroom was begging for a makeover. It has a bonus loft space that I couldn’t possibly imagine utilizing as it was; we had to walk up a rickety bunk bed-style ladder to get into the loft area which was less than ideal for me at the time, being quite pregnant. Oh, and there was also navy shag carpet…

Master bedroom bla
Master bedroom bla

We moved in in February and our daughter was due May 21, so we had to prioritize which projects we were going to tackle first. And by that, I mean we had to prioritize which projects we would find contractors to tackle first. Our “must do before baby” list included painting the entire main floor, the powder room, the master bedroom and the nursery; re-staining the hardwood floors on the main floor; ripping out the shag carpet in the master bedroom and loft and laying hardwood floors in its place; getting a new ceiling fan in the master bedroom; ditching the ladder to the loft in the master bedroom and adding a staircase with storage; and installing crown moulding throughout the main floor and in the nursery. Babies like crown moulding, right?

My brother-in-law graciously agreed to come help my husband paint a few of the rooms to help save us a little money. He could probably moonlight as a painter given how much painting he’s done over the years (he and my sister are equally nomadic). They tackled the master bedroom (a feat in itself with its cathedral ceilings), powder room and the nursery; to me, there was something sweet about our daughter’s dad and uncle painting her first bedroom.

Painting crew at work in the nursery
Painting crew at work in the nursery

We enlisted the big dogs (a.k.a., professionals) for the bigger projects like the staircase and floors in the master bedroom and the crown moulding. Ditching the navy carpet and replacing it with dark-stained wood to match those on the main floor made such a difference.

Good-bye, shag carpet!
Good-bye, shag carpet!

I didn’t just want to replace the ladder to the loft area with another ladder; I wanted an actual staircase. But the challenge was figuring out how to build a staircase without encroaching on the room itself. It needed to be as streamlined as possible. After poking around online a bit, I found what I wanted — a staircase flesh with the wall with storage underneath (thank you, Pinterest). The loft was so much more accessible with the staircase, and we netted two shelves and four more drawers to boot.

Updated master bedroom
Updated master bedroom

Being preggers, I did my best to be a good supervisor, but luckily I had a very loyal assistant to keep everyone in line.

Trusty foreman
Trusty foreman

We didn’t make a lot of changes to our new home, but we did enough to make it feel like ours. Walls were painted and floors were laid and we were ready to welcome our daughter into her first home.

Ready for baby
Ready for baby

While we made some cosmetic changes to this house to make it our home, it really wasn’t any of these things that made it our home — it was us, the people who live inside it, and all of the sweet — and even the not-so-sweet — sounds that come from our daughter’s bedroom (at all hours of the day and night).

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Urban Compass is an apartment search portal for sales and rentals in New York City, complete with Neighborhood Guides. 

Swearing off Vacations

Groundhog day

Image source

Remember when we returned from our lake house vacation last month to find that our basement sustained a shit ton (pun intended) of damage from a sewer backup? It must be groundhog day, because the same thing happened to us at the tail end of our East Coast road trip.

Last Friday morning I was up bright and early — 5 a.m. EST. I’d been up a good chunk of the night with what I would assume were contraction-like pains (I have no idea what my contractions felt like because my dear anesthesiologist got me good with the epidural). Not pregnant and thus knowing the pain wasn’t actually contractions, I simply curled up in the fetal position and pondered, did I eat something bad at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze that caused this? Or was it Nobu? Or was it all the booze? What if I have to stop drinking? And my mind wandered from there.

As I’m wanton to do, I clicked on my bedside buddy, my beloved iPhone, and pulled up the Chicago Tribune to see how many people had been killed the night before. The headline was something about torrential rain and major freeways and CTA lines being shut down. Panic. For a brief second I thought, oh god oh god oh god what if we return home to a basement full of mess again? But I decided I was being ridiculous and forced myself to go to sleep.

Fast forward to two hours later when both KP and I were officially up for the day and I received a text from our neighbor, asking me to call her. I knew. Reading her text, I knew it was bad news bears. She told me that they only got a little water in their bathtub and offered to take a look at our place. Of course we got more than a little water in our bathtub but we were optimistic that it wasn’t too bad, since the pictures she sent didn’t look remotely as bad as the first time around.

Wishful thinking.

So here we are again. As I type, the remediation company’s monster fans whir in the basement, where our brand new carpet has been ripped up and parts of our walls cut out. Oh, and our new bathroom vanity, too. Though, I didn’t love it so I’m not too sad about that. I am, however, sad that all the work that was just finished has to be done all over again. Sadder, still, that we will likely have to wait some time to have it done as we’re waiting for some other work — which is outside of our control — to be completed first. Gotta love condo associations… And as we all know, patience is not my strongest virtue. I just hope all I want for Christmas isn’t a new basement.

What are the odds of this happening twice while we were on vacation? It’s enough to scare me out of going on another one for a long, long time.