Local Places and Attractions


So, this past weekend we had a Thai-inspired dinner party with the Dains and Bob Stotts. To prepare for it we went on a trek of epic proportions to find the proper ingredients (galangal, etc. etc.). We tried Mitsuma Market first, which is a really cool place out in the ‘burbs, but it’s really primarily a Japanese store. So Tony thought we should try Argyle Street, which he’d heard was like new Chinatown (the regular Chinatown being over by Cermak). We drove in and checked it out.

Smaller in scale, but definitely the right kind of stores. New Chinatown is really a combo Vietnamese / Chinese area. We found almost everything we needed there (and I saw “we” loosely, as Tony did all the cooking). And we ate at a little restaurant called Pho Xe Lua at 1021 W. Argyle Street, Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 275-7512.

Definitely authentic! And pretty yummy too. It’s been so long since we had decent Asian food that it was really great. Max really liked the Thai spring rolls, but he ignored the Baby Pho (sigh). Tony had his classic Vietnamese dish — some kind of “everything” soup with unidentifiable (and some all-too-identifiable) pieces of pig and cow. And I had my favorite, cafe sua da. Love that!

There were a lot of places to try, so we’ll definitely have to go again. Nothing fancy, but most good Vietnamese places I’ve been to are that way.

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This weekend was just absolutely gorgeous. The weather was perfect. On Sunday we decided to go apple picking. Based on what some people in the neighborhood had recommended, we decided to try Homestead Orchard (11802 Charles Rd., Woodstock, IL 60098  815-338-7443) in Woodstock, Illinois. It was a nice little place, not at all commercial. The apples were fairly picked over (next year we probably need to go earlier), but we managed to fill two peck bags full. Max definitely LOVES his apples. I’ve already made one batch of applesauce out of the new apples (I keep a bunch of this on hand since he loves it). I just need to buy one of those crank apple peelers or else my thumb is going to fall off.

Mmmm, apples!

Mmmm, apples!

Beautiful day for apple picking

Beautiful day for apple picking

Max in an apple tree

Max in an apple tree

We also stopped off in downtown Woodstock to check it out. It’s a cute place with a nice little historic square and park. We found my book (!) at a nice little bookshop called Read Between the Lynes (129 Van Buren St. Woodstock, IL 815-206-5967). They had a nice selection of books and a great dog. I signed my book while I was there (they had just one copy, but she said it had been selling, so that’s awesome!). Under the “it’s a small world” category, she’s a friend of Jackie, who lives here in Prairie Crossing and had owned Under the Sycamore Tree, that lovely bookshop that closed. 😦

We also stopped and had lunch at La Petite Creperie (115 N. Johnson Street Woodstock, IL 60098 815.337.0765), which was also great. We had some of their Sunday Brunch dishes (yummy french toast for me and steak and egg benedict for Tony…and a mushed up banana for Max). They have lots of event dinners with great themes, so we’ll definitely have to go back. Tony’s thinking maybe for his birthday. Too bad it isn’t a little closer! But it’s a nice drive.

La Petite Creperie

La Petite Creperie

Max in his jumpy seat

Max in his jumpy seat

We got Max a jumpy seat while his Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom were visiting. He’s very sproing-y. 🙂 He’s also starting to walk all over in his little red car, having progressed from scooting backwards to going forwards pretty darn quickly. He’s also making progress on the crawling front…he can stick his butt up in the air now and scootle forward. Pretty soon we’re going to have to be baby proofing the house.

Max hanging on the porch with Daddy

Max hanging on the porch with Daddy

Lovely weather we're having, says Max

Lovely weather says Max

The weather has been really nice the last week or so. We even went out to the Mundelein “Barefoot Bay” water park this past weekend. Max really liked it, I think. It completely wore him out, however. He almost fell asleep mid-kick while I was holding him in the water. We’ve also spent some time out on the porch, just hanging out.

We also went to Miramar Bistro (301 Waukegan Ave, Highwood, IL 60040 • P: 847.433.1078). It’s got a great European feel with outdoor tables and white-shirted waitstaff. Great food as well and cool decor. Very city-feeling. We’ll definitely be back. We’d noticed it a while back on the way back from Ravinia one night — it had been hopping at 11 PM when we drove by. 

We happened to be in Highwood for an art festival on Saturday (small, but nice, and included an artist Guo Ji Liang that we actually have a picture from that we bought down in Florida at an art show–we’ve got one of his Southern China photos) and decided to try it out for lunch. Tony had the Croque Monsieur (awesome) and I had a specialty Italian sausage wrap (also awesome). I wasn’t in love with their fries (they have the Steak n Shake kind of skinny skinny fries that go cold as soon as you put them on a plate), but everything else was great. I think we’d have stayed all afternoon if we hadn’t had to feed Max.

Max is a happy little guy pretty much all the time. He loves it when people talk to him and play with him.

He got to go to his very first concert on Friday — Willie Nelson, of all people. 🙂 We went to Ravinia (a large outdoor venue) with him and he behaved SO well. Actually, way better behaved than the gaggle of ladies who were sitting next to us. Good thing, since we’ve got a few more Ravinia tickets for Feist and the Gipsy Kings. Ravinia is really awesome. Lots of fun and great shows. Last year we saw B.B. King and Joan Osborne.

Somehow, we didn’t manage to take too many pictures while everyone was here. Royce and Janet came and Rikki, Danny, Christian, Cameron, and Kylie. Everyone was here for a week. We packed quite a bit in, though I’d had some more things planned. But that’s how plans are. 🙂

Here’s a shot at Christmas dinner. Tony made turkey and all the traditional stuff. Happily, I didn’t get the gestational diabetes diagnoses until AFTER this.

If you’re wondering about the hats…we did traditional Christmas crackers before dinner. If you’re wondering why I even posted this picture of myself, considering I look like some kind of round, deranged Christmas elf, I really have no defense. Posterity, I suppose. Just remember, I’m like 6 1/2 months pregnant here, alright? And tired. And have no makeup on.
While Christian was here he had to pay up on a bet he made with Tony last year (UF vs. Ohio State…we all know how that turned out). He was supposed to actually eat 24 hot wings but Tony had pity on him since he never eats hot stuff. It was reduced to 2 hot wings and a few medium ones. Even so, I think it took him a good 1/2 hour to do it, along with some yogurt and strawberry milk. You can see how happy he looks about it. I betcha he won’t be making any bets with Uncle Tony again anytime soon.

So…while they were here…
We took them by Gurnee Mills where they ice skated, played some laser tag, and did game room stuff. Also took them into town and walked around Millenium Park and a bit of the Mag Mile and (after Rikki, Danny, and Kylie went back because Rikki wasn’t feeling well) took the boys to Navy Pier to do the Winter Wonderland stuff and the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze (fun, though cheesy with a spinning tunnel that made us all woozy). The Winter Wonderland stuff was really cool. All indoors, with ice skating and tons of activities for kids of all ages (including Uncle Tony — I got in some “mom” practice, being the one to hold everyone’s stuff while they did the activities).
Cameron and Kylie got in some play time with some kids in the neighborhood, Cameron especially (I’m still clueless as to why 9 year-old boys will build this cool snow fort and then just knock it down…is this a boy thing?). We also played a lot of cards and family games and did some shopping, stuff like that. And the guys worked on the new guest room down in the basement (it’s looking good).
I think that about sums it up, though I feel like I’m missing something. I think I’m already getting the mushy mom brain.

We walked through parts of Grant Park and Millenium Park (you can find out more about both of them — and many others — at a website for the Chicago Park District) both going to and coming from The Field museum.

The Buckingham fountain is arguably the most famous part of Grant Park (remember Married with Children? It’s the fountain you see in the opening sequence). I didn’t get a picture of that because a) the first time we went through it was crawling with marathon runners and you could hardly see it and b) on the way back, it was crawling with workers dismantling tents and bleachers and thinks like that.

But I did get some pictures of these other fountains that I didn’t even know were in Grant Park. They are a little overshadowed, I suppose, considering the size of the big fountain.

I thought these were quite pretty.

The park system in Chicago is actually really nice, especially this stretch along the waterfront. It was created in order to keep commercial interests from completely taking over the area and it was a great idea. The waterfront is pretty and accessible to everyone.

Millenium Park kind of runs into Grant Park. It’s right off of Michigan Avenue and really takes center stage. There are gardens (including a rather strange tree garden area where the trees are all fenced in) and famous statues (like the Bean) and an amphitheater type area where concerts and various other things are held.
There are also the fountains — officially the Crown Fountain. I’m not sure why it is called that; I always just think of it as the faces.

Also officially, here’s the description of them:

The fountain consists of two 50-foot glass block towers at each end of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video images from a broad social spectrum of Chicago citizens, a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.

Plensa adapted this practice by having faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens and having water flow through a water outlet in the screen to give the illusion of water spouting from their mouths. The collection of faces, Plensa’s tribute to Chicagoans, was taken from a cross-section of 1,000 residents.

There are always, when the fountain is running, a ton of kids at the fountain splashing around and dodging the spray and generally having a great time. It’s a good place for people watching. When the spout of water comes out, I dare you not to smile.

As an added bonus, if the weather is really hot, the water feels great on your feet. We walked around it a little.

There are some other things in the park as well and there’s almost always something going on there (children’s tents with activities, salsa dance classes, you name it). It’s one of my favorite spots in the city.

As a bonus, it’s within walking distance of the big shopping district (Magnificent Mile) and a bunch of restaurants AND Union Station.

So, Sunday we went into the city. We took the train and walked from Union Station down towards the waterfront to go to the Field Museum. It also happened to be the day of the Chicago Marathon, which we’d had no idea was going on.

Okay, so we can be a little oblivious sometimes.

While we were wading through the thousands of runners and their families around the Buckingham fountain, they actually announced that the race was canceled (though a fair amount of people had finished it already) due to the high temperature. One runner died and a large number of others fainted and/or passed out and/or required medical attention.

Yet another reason not to be a runner, as far as I’m concerned. More power to ’em, but it just ain’t for me.

We did finally make it through the crowd of really sweaty people (not that I blame them; hey, they just ran a marathon) and got to the Field Museum.

We’ve actually been there before, but it’s been years. The Field is HUGE. It is a ginormous museum, full of ancient dinosaur bones (including the famous Sue) and lots of stuffed endangered and extinct animals. There are plants too, and lots of special exhibits.

If you go, wear comfortable shoes. Trust me.

And don’t expect to see everything, unless you plan on going more than one full day. It really is a monster big museum. It has an impressive amount of collections, though the big draw (especially for the younger set) are the dinosaur rooms and the exhibit with the man-eaters of Tsavo (remember that movie with Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas? The Ghost and the Darkness?). They’ve got the real deal at the Field — the stuffed maneless man-eaters immortalized in that movie (and in the fear they gave to hundreds of railway workers). There’s even another man-eating lion down in the lower level that’s even bigger than the team from Tsavo.

The Field is also in a great location — just off the waterfront. Here’s a pick of Pam and Mike right outside the field, looking towards the city.

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