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!

 

 

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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Our First College Visit

With our daughter finishing her junior year, it’s time to look into colleges. Although Andi doesn’t plan to attend Illinois State University, we scheduled our first visit for ISU in Normal, Illinois. We chose this because our 14-year-old son Joey hopes to attend there for its well known business program and the circus, as an extracurricular activity, they offer. We planned the trip around Gamma Phi Circus’ spring show. We also thought visiting a school she didn’t have her heart on would give Andi an idea of what to look for in other colleges.

We weren’t quite sure where to go when we arrived on campus so we asked a student in the parking lot. Instead of just trying to tell us where to go, she walked us to the building even though it was out of her way. That was definitely a great first impression. The visit started with information about the campus, including tuition contest, types of extracurricular activities, are information and other specifics to the University.

andi and joey

The campus was absolutely gorgeous and very active with students playing Frisbee, riding bikes and walking around campus.

It is common for student groups to leave to promote events by writing on the sidewalks in chalk.

circus chalk

After touring the campus, we met with members of Gamma Phi Circus, the oldest collegiate circus program in the United States. This an extracurricular activity but does require students to be committed by training several times a week. Joey currently trains three days a week with Circus Mojo in Ludlow, Ky. so he will be ready for this commitment. GPC starts training the in the fall for its spring show, which we were able to see.

20160415_213309circus 5circus 4circus 1

My kids, along with a couple other kids from Circus Mojo, were able to meet with the performers after. They were incredible nice to the kids, letting them ask tons of questions about the Gamma Phi Circus and college life.

circus 3

I have to say that our first college visit was a success.

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?