Living it up in Chicago

I love Chicago! I love how busy it is. I love riding public transportation and walking every where. I love the shopping and the museums. I love how close it is to home. And I really love the food!!

I had only been to Chicago for work so this was the first time I was able to take my family. To make it even better, we got to visit one of our favorite families – the Konc family. The Konc’s used to live a few doors up from us and since we have kids around the same ages we all became very good friends. Then they moved to Minneapolis. So we flew out to see them and explore Minneapolis. Then they moved to Atlanta so we drove to Atlanta to visit them and explore the city. And now they live in Chicago so we packed up the car and drove to Chicago.

konc fam

Holland, Elliot, Roman, Andi, Joey and Winston – Friends for Life

We spent the first night at hotel in Lincoln Park. We arrived in the mid-afternoon so we decided to check out the hotel and freshen up. My son Joey has trained and worked for a circus since he was about 10-years-old. We had heard quite a bit about CircEsteem in Chicago so we scheduled a visit for him. While he was there, we drove around and let Andi take pictures at places that are in the show Shameless. It rained a lot that night so we decided to grab dinner at a diner close to our hotel and call it a night.

The next day we hit the Museum of Science and Industry. We spent several hours at this amazing museum. There were a lot of hands-on exhibits that even entertained me, my husband and two teenagers. My favorite part though had to be the U-505 Submarine. It’s a real submarine. My husband was in the Navy so it was amazing to see something like this up close.

That night we headed to the Konc’s homestead where we spent the next three nights with Amanda, Deacon, their four children and two dogs. The live in the Wrigley Field neighborhood. This neighborhood is really cool! I noticed the amazing architecture as we walked around. The Cubs Stadium was obviously my favorite. The neighborhood is also filled with cute shops, restaurants and bars.

We visited the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) and walked out on the Skydeck ledge. The view from the ledge was beautiful. Heads up though: the wait to get to the Skydeck and the ledge can be extremely long. We waited about 90 minutes to get to the Skydeck level and then about another 30 to go out on the ledge. It was worth the wait though.

skydeck

Hitting Millennium Park is a must. Cloud Gate (the Bean) and the Crown Fountain are extremely unique and worth seeing. This is also a fun way to spend an afternoon without spending any money. The Shake Shack is a great spot to grab lunch and is right across the street from the Bean.

We also visited the Lincoln Park Zoo after having breakfast at Yolk. The zoo is small compared to Cincinnati but it’s free. We have also made it a tradition to visit the zoo every time we visit the Konc’s. BTW, Yolk was delicious too.

zoo

We rode the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. I was a little nervous about this but it was actually a lot of fun for all of us to be in the cage and look out over the water together.

The Art Institute of Chicago was inspiring. I will be honest though… the adults enjoyed this much more than the children. Andi, who is 18, and Holland, who is 15, pushed for this to be on our agenda but were done after the first hour. The boys were only into it for about 30 minutes. It is a very large museum and took quite some time to get through but I had hoped they would enjoy it as much as I did.

art museum kids asleep

We enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Portillo’s one of the nights. This was definitely our cheapest meal of the trip but one of the tastiest. I had a Chicago style hot dog and fries. I probably could have eaten two hot dogs but I didn’t want to wait in line again. This place gets really busy and is not a sit-down kind of restaurant. You wait in line, order and then wait for your number to be called. You want to send one member of your party to grab a table while the rest of you wait. It is absolutely worth the wait.

We also got Chicago style pizza one night and I honestly can’t remember where it was from. It was good but it was not Giordano’s. Giordano’s is definitely my favorite place to get pizza in Chicago. Note that there is usually a wait there as well but you can order while you wait.

All of the activities were a lot of fun and the food was great but the best part was being with our friends. Honestly, we can just sit around the house with them and have a great time. The next time we visit, I want to hit the River Walk and take a boat tour!

 

 

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Spice 101 with Colonel De

I fell in love with Colonel De Herbs and Spices during a Tasting event at the Kenton County Public Library a few years ago. The Colonel and one of his chefs served barbecue made with their spices and sauce. It was so good that I convinced them to teach me how to make it and a few days later I visited the Findlay Market location to purchase the items needed. I made a huge pot of it for a party and it was a huge hit. I was sold.

So I was obviously very excited to find out Colonel De was opening a location, that would also offer classes, in my hometown of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. The newer store is considered head quarters for Colonel De’s, which offers thousands of spices, gift sets, teas, sauces, oils and more.

col-teaching

Colonel De teaching Spice 101

I loved going in the store to enjoy the smells and the food (he often has samples) but I was somewhat overwhelmed and never knew what spice would be best for what dish. The Colonel and his staff are always more than happy to help with those decisions but taking the Spice 101 class at the Fort Thomas store was the best thing I could do.

We discovered how to use spices, match flavors, what are the Top 10 spices or blends that every kitchen should have to prepare a meal for any occasion, how to properly store and care for spices, quality, freshness, where each spice is from and how to recognize each. Chef Matt allowed us to taste several spices in the appetizers he made for us to sample.

One of my favorites was bread dipped in the the French Fines mixed with Olive Oil. It was so yummy I had to buy some of the Colonel’s oil and French Fines. I really liked the Adobo spice mixed with anything but the Colonel suggests using it as a dry marinade with chicken, beans or pork. We also learned how long each type of meat should be marinaded for.

my-shopping-bag

My shopping bag

Colonel De Herbs and Spices mixes all of it’s own spices in store. There is something for everyone, including those with gluten, onion or nut allergies. Nothing is cross contaminated. Anything with a nut product is locked up separately from the other spices. One of the things I really like is that I don’t have to buy an entire jar of anything. I can buy by the ounce so I don’t have to worry about waste or freshness. It also seems to be cheaper per ounce than our local grocery stores.

De’s also offers classes on baking cookies, choosing the right salts, menu planning, easy appetizers and kitchen hacks. Check out the Facebook page for upcoming events. Most classes cost $20 per person. I am looking forward to attending future classes and improving my skills in the kitchen.

col-des

Disclosure: I attended the class at no charge in exchange for review purposes. All opinions are my own. 

Experience Nashville with Airbnb

My husband Nick and I were pretty bummed when we found out our favorite music artist was going on tour but wasn’t coming near our hometown. But then we noticed he was coming to one of our favorite towns and it was only four hours away! We immediately decided to buy tickets to Butch Walker in Nashville, Tennessee. Next we invited our friends Aimee and Jeff to join us and we’re excited they accepted.

Then it hit me… hotels in Nashville are not cheap. Neither are restaurants. I had to find a way for us to make the trip more affordable. I had seen a lot of commercials for Airbnb recently. I had never used it or known anyone who had but thought having a full kitchen and the amenities of a house would be helpful so I started searching. I came across Cozy Home Near Airport/Downton and immediately fell in love with the quaint house set in a quiet neighborhood. At $120 per night on the weekends ($90 on weeknights), it was much cheaper than a hotel. I contacted the owner Karen, booked the house and we were all set.

Cozy Home Nashville Cozy Home Near Airport/Downton

We headed to the Cozy Home on a Friday afternoon in August. Karen text me on the way to let me know everything was ready for us and we could check in early. I’ll admit it was a little strange when we first pulled in the neighbor to think we would be staying in a stranger’s home but once inside, it truly felt like our home. Karen went out of her way to leave us little treats and a note for us. We felt very welcomed and the house was adorable. The decor definitely set the tone for Nashville.


Welcome to Nashville Cozy Home Decor Music picture

We took an Uber from the house to the concert downtown that night. The Uber cost about $15 each way. Parking can cost any where from $10 to $30 in downtown Nashville and it can be confusing to drive in an unfamiliar city so we were happy with our choice. We had dinner at Burger Republic, a burger joint that was listed as one of the best in Nashville. It was incredible!!!

Burger Republic

It was raining on and off so we decided to take advantage of something we had never seen in a downtown before – a golf cart ride as public transportation. Our waiter told us all we had to do was call Joyride and they would send a covered golf cart for us.. It picked us up in front of the restaurant and dropped us off at the concert for about $6. This is a tip only service. Joyride also offers tours of the city.

Joyride

The Butch Walker concert at the Cannery Ballroom was amazing. The venue was really cool and Butch always puts on a great show.

Butch Walker Concert Butch Walker at Cannery Ballroom

Once back at the two-bedroom house, we were able to enjoy snacks, watch TV and enjoy each other’s company in the living room. The beds were extremely comfortable and everyone was able to get a good night’s sleep at the Cozy Home. We made lunch, barbecue and baked beans, at the house before heading out for the day on Saturday. The kitchen was fully loaded with everything we could possibly need. Karen also stocked the house with board games, movies, magazines and plenty of towels.

Cozy Home Living Room Dining Room Bedroom


Another bed Settled in Cozy Home Bathroom

After lunch we headed downtown and grabbed ice cream at Mike’s before hitting the strip. The strip is filled with bars featuring live music and lots of shops. There are no cover charges so we were able to pop in and out of many venues and watch several live acts. We grabbed a fantastic dinner at The Stillery in between stops. After several hours of enjoying downtown Nashville, we headed back to the house for snacks and another good night’s sleep.

Mike's Ice Cream

Whiskey Bent Bar

Us at Whiskey Bent Saloon

Amy and Jeff at Whiskey Bent Saloon

The Stillery Restaurant
stillery-pizza stillery-mac-n-cheese-and-hot-chicken stillery-dip stillery-chicken

I will definitely stay at Karen’s Cozy Home the next time I visit Nashville since Karen was so easy to work with and the house was fantastic. I will also look into Airbnb for all of our future trips.

Have you used Airbnb? What did you think? What’s your favorite thing to do in Nashville?

 

Disclosure: I was given one night’s stay in return for my review of the Cozy Home. All opinions are my own.

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Zipping Over the Gorge

I’m a big believer in experiences as gifts. A coat will go out of style, small appliances break, we lose interest in toys and electronics but are memories are forever. So my husband and I gave our five children (Josh, 24, Jordan, 21, Joel, 20, Andi, 16 and Joey, 14) an experience gift for Christmas 2014. We booked a beautiful cabin at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and took all but Jordan, who was pregnant, ziplining last June.

Photo by Josh Stegner

Photo by Josh Stegner

We had planned this trip well in advance so there wasn’t much we could do when we found out it would be pouring down rain all weekend. We weren’t going to let rain and cold stop us though. Ziplining with Red River Gorge Zipline Tours over the Gorge was breathtaking. I won’t lie… the rain hurt my face and I was shivering at times but it was worth it. The tour offered five ziplines anywhere from 330 feet to 1900 feet and lasted about 2-1/2 hours.

We stayed at Red River Gorge Cabin Rentals – A Ma Zing Grace. The four bedroom, two bathroom cabin could easily sleep 12 people so the seven of us were more than comfortable. We stayed out of the rain some by playing board games, pool and watching movies. The kids even embraced the rain with a dip in the hot tub.

gorge hottub

gorge rest

 

We had an amazing view from the cabin.

gorge fog

gorge view

No trip to the Gorge would be complete without a stop at Miguel’s Pizza. It  is just a little family owned business that serves great pizza, bottled drinks and has a cool outdoor area. I definitely suggest checking it out.

gorge pizza

On our way back to the cabin from Miguel’s, we decided to checkout a nearby waterfall.

gorge waterfall j

gorge fall

Natural Bridge is basically next door to the Gorge so we checked it out as well. Some of us had been there a few times but it was a first for some of the kids. They couldn’t believe the gorgeous view. You can hike up to the bridge but we took the Sky-lift.

gorge skylift

We had fun exploring.

gorge tunnle

gorge andi

We stopped on the bridge for a family photo.

gorge natural bridge

All of us loved every aspect of this trip and suggest staying at the cabin I mentioned, enjoying the nature all around the Gorge, checking out Natural Bridge and taking a zipline adventure. This was our last trip before our blended family started to expand. Nick and I couldn’t be happier that Jordan has found Chad and has a gorgeous baby girl. It was nice though to have this one last experience with just mine and Nick’s kids. But I can’t wait to have Chad and Eden join us on our next adventure!

Anniversary in Bellevue, Kentucky

It’s hard to believe that Nick and I have already been married a year. As our anniversary was approaching, we discussed not spending a lot of money because we have a few trips planned this summer with the kids that we want to save for. We decided we would get away for a night but do it locally.

We booked a room at the Weller Haus Bed and Breakfast in Bellevue, Ky. We also made dinner reservations for Virgil’s Cafe in Bellevue. As we were planning our evening out we kept joking about our big anniversary being spent in Bellevue, less than 10 minutes from our home. We knew we would have a good time but were both secretly wishing we could go a little farther away.

better front front

It ended up being perfect though. We checked in at the Weller Haus around 5:30 p.m. The inn keeper gave us a tour of the beautiful facility including the breath taking garden. We headed upstairs two our two-room suite. The bedroom, private bathroom and Jacuzzi breakfast room were all amazing.

garden

We headed to dinner at Virgil’s. We were immediately taken to our table and served champagne on the house since they knew it was our anniversary. I will admit I don’t normally like champagne but this was delicious. I ordered the mushroom risotto with a winter salad. Everything was fantastic.

After dinner we headed back to our room to enjoy the Jacuzzi. It was extremely relaxing. We then headed down to the guest kitchen to grab a few drinks and snacks. We also grabbed a movie from their DVD collection. The Weller Haus provided us with chocolate covered strawberries as well. They were fantastic.

We requested that breakfast be served in our bedroom instead of the common dining area. We were able to choose from several items.

breakfast

I probably gained five pounds in that 24 hour period but it was well worth it! It may have only been a few minutes from our home but it really couldn’t have been more perfect.

Spring Break Getaway with Teens

The week before spring break I asked Andi, 15, and Joey, 13, want they wanted to do for spring break. I gave them at least two dozen ideas of places within a few hours of home. CoSi Museum in Columbus? The Airforce Museum in Dayton? The Science Museum in Louisville? Hiking in Hocking Hills? The Columbus Zoo? The Kentucky Horse Park? Shaker Village? Explore Yellow Springs, Ohio? Play in the waterfalls at Clifty Falls? Paintball? Ziplining?

You would think they’d be excited, right? Nope. They both looked at me like I was crazy. They made all kinds of jokes about just sleeping their spring break away. Honestly, my feelings were kind of hurt that they weren’t excited about going out of town with me. I decided they were going whether they wanted to or not and I would pick the spot. My 19-year-old step-son Joel announcing he was going did help the other two get on board. They love spending time with their big brother.

So I decided we were going to Cave City, about 3 hours south west of Northern Kentucky.After doing some research, I booked a cave tour, rappel and zipline at Hidden River Cave. After that we stopped at the Kentucky Action Park to go horseback riding. We went back to The Action Park the next morning to enjoy the ski lift, another cave tour, an alpine slide, a rock climbing wall, go-karts and more.

I could go on and on about how much fun we had but I think I’ll just let our pictures tell the story.

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Not only did we have a lot of fun, we truly enjoyed being together. It was our first real trip with Joel, that didn’t involve a Military graduation. I enjoyed watching the three kids interact, talk, laugh, tell jokes and just be silly. One of the best laughs was when Joey used Andi’s prescription face cream to brush his teeth and announced “this toothpaste tastes like crap!” It really was an awesome time!

Money Saving Tips:

We saved more than half with a Groupon for the activities at Hidden River Cave. Save money at The Adventure Park by buying a day pass for $25 per person. This allows everyone to enjoy everything at the park, except for horseback riding and ziplining, all day long. Horseback riding was actually really affordable, only costing $18 per person for an hour. If you are going to zipline at The Action Park, get a couple buddies together and buy three zips for $100. I was extremely impressed with The Action Park because they offered free day passes, free horseback riding and free ziplining to active military. We were able to save a lot of money since Joel is in the National Guard.

Have you been to Cave City? What was your favorite adventure?