Touristy Tuesday: Chicago, Edition (Version 3.0)

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(So obviously I’m a little belated on these final Touristy Tuesday blogs from the road, especially given that the job has been done for a month! Oh well. Better late then never!) 

This half of the job Chicago has been an interesting destination to be in with the Wienermobile. The first time was tourist trap overload. I went on my own make-shift Ferris Bueller adventure and our off days were jam-packed with the quintessential Chicago experience. When Eliot and I came back to Chicago in March it was the total opposite. I don’t think I even did a Touristy Tuesday post that week because there wasn’t too much to write.

Well, I guess we didn’t do nothing. We did take the Wienermobile through a Wendy’s drive-thru. Check that off the bucketlist!

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And we did decorate the Wienermobile for St. Patty’s day, which was kind of awesome.

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Although, it took a ton of work.

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Our last stop in Chicago fell somewhere in the middle. This week we did less items that might be featured on a “Top 5 Things to do in Chicago” list, and did Chicago more like a local – mostly from the help of some locals!

On our first off day I headed to the City Winery in the west loop with my friend David. When I found out I would be coming back to Chicago and let David know he suggested we check out this urban winery he had heard about.

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He had me at winery, but the urban part made it sound even cooler. For spending the first seven months on the road in the Southwest – wine country – it is probably surprising that I haven’t been to a single winery.

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The City Winery ended up being more than just a cool venue. While looking into it David found out about an event series called The Dinner Party, described as a dinner conversation with three national or Chicago celebrities and a well known local chef. “It’s an evening filled with food, wine, chocolate, and various performances.” This probably doesn’t paint the picture I’m going for, so I’ll just put it bluntly – three really cool people plus a portly chef essentially sit up on stage and chat while sharing a meal and just talk about cool stories and the neat things they do. There is an element of engagement as well. It is broadcasted on the local public access TV station and then people watching or members of the audience can tweet in questions for the guests or comments using the hashtag #thedinnerparty.

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I was really looking forward to it because it sounded like an event right up my alley. Interesting people and wine! It got even better when David and I walked in the door and I didn’t have time to even take in the extravagant lobby because I spotted a familiar face instantly. Adam Hickey – an old Hotdogger! Adam is a Mizzou grad and Hotdogger, one who I just keep running into. I first ran into him in Chicago the day I found I got the Wienermobile job, then again at a bar in Columbia, and now again in Chicago. We’ve also hung out at the Hotdogger Reunion and in Chicago our first time in town.

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Adam was at The Dinner Party with his friend Stephanie, who moonlights as a Chicago food blogger. Since I’m an amateur blogger, talking to her was just as much fun as the Chicago celebrities. You can read her post about the evening, which does far better justice to the event than I could, here. 

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The night was absolutely incredible. I felt like I was watching an NPR broadcast, but it was even better since the food was so good and the company was great! At times it even felt like a graduation commencement speech, about seizing opportunities and making the most of your life. Perhaps being almost one year out of college exactly, but I found it motivating and invigorating, perhaps a little determined to one day end up on that stage telling interesting stories myself!

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After the cultural experience the night before, the next day at work was a 180 and entirely all-things silly at a Bologna Birthday Party. Birthdays are typically something we don’t do, unless it is on our own time. This was a special exception and once we arrived Eliot and I understood why. HOLY BOLOGNA! As we turned the Wienermobile down this family’s block it was like stepping into a magazine, the decorations were Pinterest-perfect! Oscar Mayer themed everything – from their outfits, to the Bologna sandwich bags they created.

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We brought some birthday gifts ourselves – more than 50 packages of the lunch meat, which were stacked high, overshadowing the cake.

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Talk about a great day at work. I got a hot dog balloon hat and hung out high fiving little kids all day! The couple is from Iowa, and they had speciality Sterzings potato chips brought in, so Eliot and I snacked our way through those, bologna sandwiches, and of course we had some hot dogs too.

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Even though I would barely call that a work day, since we really just hung out and ate a bunch of homemade snacks, the next day Eliot and I had an off day. One thing I had not done on any of our trips into Chicago was go to the beach. Hello Lake Michigan!

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Eliot passed on the invitation, so David and I headed out for some sun followed by frozen yogurt. Talk about the perfect off day!

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That night Eliot and I drove up to spend the night in Madison. We had an early video shoot the next morning and figured it would be easier just to come the night before. On the trip up we stopped for dinner in Rockford, IL – where I went to high school. We had dinner with Maggie, my oldest friend who has known me since middle school. Since she has known me since the awkward teenage years I was hesitant to introduce her to Eliot. Luckily, she kept most of my embarrassing moments to herself and we had a good time at dinner.

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Maggie’s sister, Mari, just had a son and he came along as well. Baby Emmett was adorable. Believe it or not, I had never held an infant until that week. I think it went pretty well, and by that my standards are pretty low and I just mean that I didn’t drop him. He was pretty darn cute though!

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The video shoot in Madison was a blast. It was for a meat convention coming to town, so Oscar Mayer partnered with University of Wisconsin and basically we spent the entire day hanging out with Bucky the Badger.

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When we got back to Chicago that night I was met by my friend Sean from Mizzou (you know himwe run together) who had come up for a weekend away before finals.

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Eliot, his friend Michael, Sean, and I all went out for drinks Friday night at a place called Revolution Bar. It was cool to see more of the Chicago nightlife side, which Eliot and I haven’t gotten too much of this half. The next morning Sean did what we always do when we get together, go for a run!

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Saturday night Eliot, Sean and I all headed to Tinley Park, which is a music venue on the South side of Chicago for a Brad Paisley concert. Eliot and I were pretty excited about this, both being big fans. Sean, on the other hand, was not but tagged along anyway. The concert actually featured Lee Brice (who Eliot and I saw in Kansas City) along with a few others. We felt like we got our bang for our buck there. Brad’s actual performance was a little disappointing however. Don’t get me wrong – I loved it and had a blast – but he didn’t play some of our favorites!

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It was fun watching these girls run around in short shorts when it was 50 degrees outside! I love growing up and not feeling the need to be super cute all the time, forsaking being adorable for being practical. Remember the days when it was uncool to wear a coat? That just seems so silly looking back!

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Saturday was a late night and Sunday was an early morning. With about five hours of sleep, Eliot and I headed downtown for the Race for the Cure in Grant Park.

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This was easily the coolest event I’ve been to on the road. We were parked right next to the stage and I can honestly say all I did for four hours was dance. I just spent the day having fun, being silly, and getting absolutely anyone I could to join in. I was glad I had so much fun because otherwise I might have spent time being jealous that I wasn’t out there running with everyone else!

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Since it was a race, the work day was done by 11:00. We were already in downtown Chicago, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little exploring. When I was in Chicago in January I went to the Art Institute, but a week after my visit they opened an enormous Picasso exhibit.

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It just so happened that Sunday was the last day of the exhibit – perfect timing! Eliot drove the Wienermobile back, but I stayed in the city to check out the show. The line was tremendous, everyone trying to get in before it closed, but it was worth it. I am by no means an art connoisseur, but Picasso is so easily enjoyable to me that I had a blast!

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After I left the Picasso exhibit I headed back out to Rockford to see someone near and dear to my heart – my middle school and high school yearbook teacher, Mrs. Campbell. She has known me going all the way back to the black hair days, and was a second mom all throughout my tumultuous teenage years. As an amazing role model, Mrs. Campbell has always been someone I have looked up to and I try to see her and her family whenever I can. It came down to the wire, but with only a few weeks left on the Wienermobile I was able to drive it out to her house.

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The Campbell’s may claim they got the better end of that bargain, rides in the big dog and having it parked outside their house, but I think I easily won out. I spent the afternoon catching up with the Campbells and eating delicious homemade food! Plus, Mrs. Campbell sent me with a box full of candy which kept me awake on my drive back into Chicago that weekend.

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Overall, the week in Chicago was easily one of the highlights of the second half, jam-packed both with seeing friends and doing really cool, interesting and unique things – everything a Touristy Tuesday post deserves!

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Touristy Tuesday: The Tale of Seven Cities in Seven Days

During the month of April Eliot and I were moving around. A LOT. This coming from someone who packs and unpacks their suitcase weekly, logs at least 700 miles on the road in a seven day period, and never has a zip code to call home for more than a few days. April was such a crazy month that at one point I was in seven different cities, over seven days. This is that story.

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City #1: Denver, Colorado
After our time in Louisville, KY Eliot and I criss-crossed the entire Midwest Region on our drive to Denver, CO. From our farthest East destination to our furthest destination to the West. The trip took two very long days of driving, which were more eventful than our actual two days off in Denver.

After the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon Eliot and I were Westward bound. There was just one highway separating us from Denver, I-70 and about 800 miles of it. Our first drive day was broken up by two fun visits. The first was at my Dad and Step Mom’s house in Kansas City. They live just two miles off of the interstate and every time Eliot and I drive through KC we stop to say hello. Although we couldn’t stay long, it was nice to get some quality time in with my parents. As we pulled the Wienermobile out of their driveway I said to Eliot, “It’s great – my parents are literally on the way to every city we go to in the Midwest!”

Home Sweet Hot Dog Home

Home Sweet Hot Dog Home

Three hours later I called my Dad and he tells me that in the time it took us to drive 180 miles that: a neighbor had told a friend my parents were interested in selling their house, the friends had come by to check it out, and that they wanted to buy it. That means that they’re officially retiring, they’re moving, and they better find the next place to live! (More on that later!) Maybe I jinxed it when I made that comment to Eliot – so much for home being on the way now!

As I let that news sink in Eliot and I made a quick detour in Topeka, Kansas to pay a surprise visit. We had an enthusiastic Wienermobile fan who blew up social media trying to see the 27′ long hot dog and since she was on our drive anyway we figured it would be fun stop and to take her around the block. Kate proved that even big kids can get excited about the Wienermobile, that’s for sure!

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By the time we made it to our hotel in Junction City, KS for the night we were wiped out. As we were waiting to check into our hotel rooms I started chatting up some of the other guests, one of whom turned out to be an amateur storm chaser! He was traveling over 1,000 miles in an attempt to catch tornados that were headed to SW Kansas – right where we were driving to the next day.

It turned out he would just be the first storm chaser of many we would see. The next day we saw a number of storm chasing vehicles pass us, with crazy gizmos attached to their cars and stickers proudly proclaiming their boldness.

Because we had been seeing storm chasers pass us the entire drive across Kansas I wasn’t exactly surprised when I saw a minivan pass us with a camera mounted to the top. I was surprised though when I looked in the side mirror to see the next vehicle, which looked like an armored tank approaching.

“Eliot – what the hell is that, a UFO?! Quick! Take a picture!” We knew it had to be some kind of storm chasing vehicle, but didn’t know what and quickly forgot about it.

That is, until I checked my phone later to see this:

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While we were taking their picture, they were taking ours! Turns out it was the crew from the actual show Storm Chasers from the Discovery Channel! A celebrity sighting and we didn’t even know it!

Even with the impending storms, Eliot and I wanted to stop at one roadside attraction. I feel bad even calling it that – it isn’t like the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn or anything. It was the Eisenhower Presidential Library. If you follow this blog regularly you know that I’m REALLY into these Presidential Libraries, and am trying to see them all. I think I’ve gotten Eliot equally excited about them as well at this point.

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The Eisenhower Presidential Library is located two miles off of the interstate in Abilene, KS. As we drove down the main drag we noticed signs decorating downtown welcoming marathoners for the Eisenhower Marathon which was the day before. Shucks! Even though I did my own half marathon that weekend I still felt pangs of race envy swell up.

By the time we made it the two miles to the library the whole town of Abilene must have known the Wienermobile was in town, and before we even purchased tickets there was a local newspaper reporter there to interview us!

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The library itself was certainly a relic and honestly lacked the grandeur of some of the other libraries, like Nixon’s. It delivered on content though, with some really great timelines and displays of Eisenhower’s military experience. If anything, it was more than worth it to go to the museum because the volunteers told me if you become a member of any library you get into the other ones for free. WHAT?! This was the fifth library I had been to in the last year alone. I should have joined JFK’s from the start. Oh well. I am now a proud member of the Eisenhower Presidential Library. I also get a +1 to any of the libraries, so it looks like I’ll get to drag a friend to Carter’s when I’m down in Georgia.

After two long days on the road we finally pulled into Denver, only to be met with the absolute worst traffic. Worn out from the road and exhausted, I was getting squirmish – something that happens in traffic that both Abe and Eliot can attest to. In an attempt to placate me, Eliot tried to appeal to my two favorite things: running and frozen yogurt. “There are some nice trails around here!” he cheerfully pointed out as we crawled past a park. “I. NOTICED.” I probably growled back, staring at the miles left to our destination on the GPS. “I’ve been looking for some froyo – maybe we’ll pass a place on the way,” he tried to perk me up with next. “I’ve been looking too. There aren’t any. They’re miles away on Yelp. Let’s just get there.” And finally, after what seemed like eternity, we pulled into the hotel just as it started to snow. We made it! (And Eliot was still friends with me by the time we parked, so that was cool too.)

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Our days in Denver were substantially less exciting than our drive to Denver. The blizzard had us snowed in and we didn’t do much besides laundry and catch up on work. We decided to save our adventure for the weekend, when we made a trip to see a former Hotdogger, Tracy.

City #2: Boulder, Colorado
Friday night that week Eliot and I drove out to Boulder, where Tracy – a Hotdogger from last year – lives. We went out for Thai food with her and her boyfriend Sam in downtown. Eliot and I had won the Perfect Month Challenge at work and had $60 to spend on dinner. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to use it and figured it would be nice to treat Tracy and Sam to dinner since they would graciously be putting us up on their couch and air mattress for the night.

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After dinner we headed to the Pearl Street pedestrian mall to a basement bar called the Sundown Salloon, where we met some of Tracy’s new coworkers, played some darts, and had a great time all around. It was fun to talk to Tracy now, when I was about 10 months into the job, and compare notes from when I talked to her in September, when I was just four months in.

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The next morning I crawled out of bed, slightly dehydrated and slightly hungover – so basically in the best condition for a long run! I did 10 miles on the Boulder Creek Trail, enjoying the beautiful view of the mountains.

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City #3: Estes Park, Colorado
After our night in Boulder on Friday, Eliot and I returned to Denver on Saturday to work during the day. After we handed out that last whistle I didn’t stick around too long, and instead headed up into the mountains of Estes Park, to see my aunt and grandma. I was exhausted and honestly slept most of the drive into town, but it was fun to get to have dinner and (surprise surprise) frozen yogurt with them.

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In the morning we had breakfast in quaint little place in downtown Estes. There had been more snow and there were plenty of elk out to be seen on our way. That’s one thing I love about Estes – the wildlife might as well be town residents!

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It was great to spend some quality time, however brief, with family. That was been one big advantage of the Midwest – I’m always seeing friends or relatives!

City #4: Lexington, Nebraska
Sunday it was back to Denver for one more day of work. Typically we have dedicated drive days, where we just wake up and drive, but this day we actually had to log a few hours that night. Because of some last minute schedule changes Eliot and I just had a day and a half to make it to Chicago.

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This drive was substantially less exciting and marked mostly by bursts of song when the Pandora station came up with a karaoke-friendly selection.

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City #5: Chicago, Illinois
Monday we woke up and drove. And drove some more. And some more. Or rather, Eliot drove. This was Monday, April 15th – the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. It was a rough day for me and Eliot was a champ, tackling most of the miles. If I-70 was our best friend on the way out to Denver, I-80 was our best friend on the way back.

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In Chicago we were doing a video shoot for Kraft, Oscar Mayer’s parent company. We didn’t have to do too much, other than being our usual corndog selves, but we did get the opportunity to meet the CEO of Kraft. Now that was a cool day! Not many people can say they’ve done that!

City #6: Madison, Wisconsin
Promptly after the final “cut” was shouted from the video crew, Eliot and I hauled buns out of town. We continued to rack up the miles for the week with a drive to Madison. Eliot is a University of Wisconsin grad and was very active in WASB – the Wisconsin Alumni Student Board. WASB puts on a series of programs called “Dinners on Wisconsin” where UW grads buy dinner for current students and talk about what they do.

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Eliot and a Hotdogger from last year, Tyler, put together a program for the Wienermobile and we stopped in Madison to have dinner at the Roman Candle, a pizza place, with about 7 current badgers. Not only was the pizza to die for, but the company was great! Since we are both so passionate about the job, it was fun to share that with other interested students. You can’t help but hope they get equally excited!

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While Eliot and Tyler picked up the students in the Wienermobile I waited at the restaurant to hold the tables. While I was reading a book filled with Pizza Poems, I glanced up to see a familiar face.

I wasn't kidding. Pizza Poems are a real thing.

I wasn’t kidding. Pizza Poems are a real thing.

In walked Louise (–SPELLING–), a girl I went to high school with. Even though we didn’t really know each other too well I had to say hello! Talk about a small world!

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City #7: Oshkosh, Wisconsin aka OshVegas
While my parents live (or rather, lived) on the way to pretty much every city Eliot and I have visited in the Midwest, Eliot’s parents most certainly do not. He is from Oshkosh, WI which is pretty far North, near the Greenbay area. Luckily, Oshkosh showed up on our schedule and Eliot got to bring the Wienermobile home.

Oshkosh was our last city of the seven in seven days. Although we had two days off in town, it didn’t quite feel like it. Our first day off we had to drive from Madison to Oshkosh. Eliot’s family greeted us with a home-cooked meal, which hit the spot after the drive-thru diet that week. The next day the entire city of Oshkosh came over to Eliot’s house to see the Wienermobile. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, believe it or not. They did have a lot of friends over though, which was fun to meet every person who has ever met Eliot ever.

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To prepare for that event Eliot’s mom, Carol, and I created a Wienermobile centerpiece – a rice crispy masterpiece.

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The Wienermobile is made out of rice crispies, licorice, thin mint tires, and some marshmallow headlights. In case you’re wondering, it was just as much fun to eat as it was to make!

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Seven days later, we had covered quite a bit of ground. Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. It was a long stretch, but worth it because of all the diverse experiences we had along the way – from friends and family, to future Hotdoggers and the CEO of Kraft!

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To finish up our travels in April, I’m just going to mention a few of our other stops along the way.

Once we made it out of Oshkosh, we headed to Milwaukee. We might as well have been in Eliot’s hometown still. He has more than 30 first cousins, so we continued to meet people left and right at work.

I was headed back to Kansas City on our off days that week to see my folks. Why would I fly back to KC after just seeing them just a few weeks prior? Well remember how I mentioned they decided to up and sell their house? Just as rapidly as they made that decision, they had to move out! By the time I would be back in KC in May, they would have to be out of the house. Luckily I had packed most of my belongings before I left to drive the Wienermobile, so I didn’t have too much work to do.

Once I packed up my few remaining boxes we went on a road trip to check out their new house, down at the Lake of the Ozarks. Let me first admit I was pretty leery at first. It is in the middle of nowhere. I don’t mean it’s kind of isolated. I mean, literally the middle of nowhere. As in 22 miles to the nearest grocery store. As in no cell phone service and dial up internet. Why would they want to move out to Edwards, MO!?

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Then I saw the view. HOLY. MOLY. You are greeted by floor-to-ceiling windows when you walk into the house, which overlook the lake and beautiful foliage. The house is spectacular and they have a ton of land to garden on. Since my parents don’t mind the whole living-in-the-boonies thing, this is perfect for them! I left KC very happy for them to start their new adventure, and slightly bitter that they wouldn’t be just two miles off the interstate any more for me to visit them.

After seeing my parents, I then got to see my sister in Milwaukee. She drove in from Madison one night and we did a little bit of bridal gown shopping and a little bit of celebrating for her birthday. In one month I got to see my aunt, grandma, dad, step mom, and sister. With the exception of my mom, who lives in Europe, that’s pretty much everyone! (A big shift from the SW region where I never saw anyone I knew!)

She didn't get this dress so I'm allowed to post this picture, right?

She didn’t get this dress so I’m allowed to post this picture, right?

We ended our time in Wisconsin the right way. First by working this event called Stein and Dine, which is a beer, sausage, and cheese sampling event in Milwaukee. Naturally I had to get my picture taken with the Brewer’s Racing Sausages after work.

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Our final stop was at the Cheese Castle, right before the Illinois border.

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After copious amounts of cheese sampling, I felt it was only fitting to get a good cheese head photo to mark the occasion.

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And that was pretty much all of April. I know I crammed it into one Touristy Tuesday post, but it seemed to move so fast that you could barely distinguish one week from the next. April, probably more so than any other month on the road yet, was when I felt the most like a road-warrior. I’m glad I had friends and family to see along the way, because that helped make it as enjoyable as it was. Packing and unpacking was almost fun, knowing we would get to see familiar faces at the each new destination!

Touristy Tuesday: Chicago, IL

This should really be called Touristy Tuesday: Ferris Bueller edition! Last week Eliot and I hit the hot dog highways and headed to Chicago, Illinois, where the Windy City greeted us with zero degree weather and good times.

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Before I really got into tourist mode though, I set out to catch up with friends in the area.

The first night in town I headed over to Deerfield to have dinner with David. He was my first friend at Mizzou. In fact – we were friends even before we made it to campus in August. The summer after high school a few of us from the area met up downtown and bonded over bleeding black and gold for the next four years. Of course, we instantly became closer when I showed up at his dorm room door crying, looking for a friendly face after hell week … err sorority rush week. Four years later I showed up at his door again, but this time in a giant hot dog!

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We went to this cool Korean place in the area, where David took on the role of Grill Master, cooking our dinner right at the table-top grill. Having taught in Korea last summer, where this style of dining is common, David was a pro at grilling everything – well, except the broccoli!

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I also met up with Maggie, a girlfriend all the way back from middle and high school. (Speaking of the Chicagoland Mizzou Meet-up, she had also been there that summer.)

This was some old football game back in the day, but I thought it was too cute a photo of David and Maggie not to include!

This was some old football game back in the day, but I thought it was too cute a photo of David and Maggie not to include!

We did two things you have to do when you’re in Chicago: shop and eat pizza! Even though it was a chilly nine degrees, I still ended up buying three dresses that evening! (I guess I just can’t accept that I am back living in the Midwest!) We also had dinner at Lou Malnati’s. I’m not sure it beats Gino’s East for Chicago Deep Dish Pizza in my book, but it was close!

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Friday night was a reunion of a different kind – a Hotdogger Reunion! Now if I had been up on my blogging you might recognize one character – Ron, who is a fellow Hotdogger and Mizzou Grad. He picked the Chicago Brauhause on Lincoln Square. Perfect for Hotdoggers because they serve beer in boots, and if there is one thing these people like in large sizes it seems to be hot dogs and alcohol.

Eliot & Adam

Eliot & Adam

Adam (Class XXII), Allison (Class XXI), and Taylor (Class XXIV) all joined as well. As Allison so eloquently put it, when Hotdoggers get together it becomes a shouting match of intoxicated Type-As one-upping each other with stories from the road. Let me tell you – that’s fun!

Honestly, at this point we probably looked better in black & white.

Honestly, at this point we probably looked better in black & white.

A three digit bar bill, two boots of beer, and one lost iPhone later, we called it a night.

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After adventures in Germantown and even a stop in Boystown, I had to get a taste of the Chicago Jazz Scene as well. This is Chicago after all – you can’t skip a night of live jazz music for the itinerary! Saturday night proved to be a fancy night out at Andy’s Jazz Club, putting to use at least one of the dresses I so foolishly purchased with Maggie earlier in the week.

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As much fun as I had with the Hotdoggers, this jazz place was much more my scene. The accordion from the Brauhaus had been swapped with a grand piano. Instead of schnitzel, I had an absolutely divine tuna steak. And the two boots of beer were exchanged with two bottles of wine.

Both nights were a total blast though and I couldn’t have had better company either evening.

The second half of the Chicago stint was where I went into tourist overdrive. I think I was just lacking the fanny pack. I wasn’t kidding when I said it was a Ferris Bueller kind of weekend. If Baseball was in season and I could have gone to Wrigley Field, I would have hit all the hotspots. Sears Tower – Check! Deep dish pizza – Check! The Art Institute – Check! I even added a few that weren’t around back in the 80’s, including Millennium Park, the Bean, and The Second City.

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Sunday started with a trip to the Skydeck at the top of the Wilils Tower. Yep, over the course of a 110 story elevator ride, I must have been brainwashed to refer to it by the Willis Tower instead of the Sears Tower. Maybe it was all those fun facts. Did you know there are 25,000 miles of electrical cable in the building? There are also 992 toilets and 16,100 windows, to be exact.

They measured in the tower in Obamas, Orpahs, and Michael Jordans. Now THOSE are some fun facts!

They measured in the tower in Obamas, Orpahs, and Michael Jordans. Now THOSE are some fun facts!

The Skydeck itself was pretty cool. After skydiving, I feel like an old pro at heights! You can fit about 10 people on the ledge at once. No one was amused when I tried to get us all to jump at the same time. I wonder why…

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Unlike all those squares on the Skydeck who didn’t want to test the weight limits, I didn’t lose my appetite up there and instead was ready for some food. Just down the street was a Giordano’s. Just to be contrary, I didn’t order deep dish pizza (maybe once that week was enough for me) and instead went with a light and refreshing order of bruschetta. Turns out it was anything but light – it was massive!

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Once the waiter brought it out and I recovered from gasping, I had to ask him just how many tomatoes went into it. There were six. Six whole tomatoes! In case you’re wondering, there are only four pieces of toast under all of that!

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Shedd Aquarium. For $9 you get into the aquarium, but they charge you an extra $20 if you want to see the sharks, dolphins, or whales – and let’s be honest, isn’t that the whole reason anyone goes to the aquarium? Frustrated by the bait and switch (pun intended) I decided to make the most of the $9 ticket, which proved to be well worth it!

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I had goose bumps the whole time (for some reason fish, eels, and everything else in there just give me the willies) but it was a lot of fun! I decided that out of all the exhibits the animal that best represented me was probably the otter. Those guys are fun, cuddly, and just a little bit mischievous.

Having been a nerd most of the day it was time to do something a little more adult. Back in May I had gone to a performance at The Second City and had so much fun I wanted to go back. A lot of it is improv, so you’re bound to get something new every time. This was no exception – it was absolutely hilarious!

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It might have been even funnier because of the wine tasting across the street at Dinotto’s right before the show! If I ever go back to a show at The Second City, I would definitely go back to Dinotto’s – their staff was just as charming as the restaurant itself.

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On my last day in Chicago I had to do a few things that would make my mom happy: mainly see the Chicago Art Institute and the Bean. We had a spectacular time together when we went to the grand opening of Millennium Park in 2004, and she had previously taken me and my sister to the Art Institute when Toulouse-Lautrec was on exhibit.

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I was a little reluctant to go back to the Chicago Art Institute because I’m not really artsy fartsy and I figured I had seen it all before. Was I wrong! The three hours there were not long enough. I mean, half an hour was probably devoted to the miniature rooms exhibit alone! (The Paperweight exhibit only took about five minutes to get through though.)

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As much as I think I lack creative disposition, going back to the Art Institute, exploring the contemporary wing, and thinking about how much fun I had at the ICA in Boston, I’ve realized I might actually really enjoy these art museums! There is a Picasso exhibit coming to Chicago this month that I might go back to see when we come back in March.

After the museum, it was also necessary to get a few photo ops with Cloud Gate, the bean-shaped sculpture in Millennium Park.

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And just like that, I was on the train back to the hotel. After a week of sightseeing, drinking, and playing tourist, it had come to an end in a uniquely Chicagoan way – surrounded by bums all trying to stay warm and out of the winter wind.

Rockford Half Marathon

All the driving aside, this turned out to be a really fun weekend!

Saturday my sister and I drove up to Wisconsin so I could take her back home. We didn’t stop at the World’s Largest Truck Stop near Davenport, Iowa, but we did stop to see the new neighborhood she is moving into!

After dropping my sister off, I decided to drive back to Rockford that night instead of staying in Wisconsin. I didn’t want to make the 2 hr drive at 4:30 in the morning on Sunday. Great choice! I stayed at the Studio Plus hotel after Travelocity booked me at a sold out hotel. Shuttling between hotels wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do at 10 p.m. the night before a race, but it all worked out. For the sake of others who may consider staying in Rockford – book early, soccer tournaments are always buying up the hotel spaces!

I PR’ed at one race after having a few drinks out on the town the night before, so now superstition dictates I have at least one the night before a race. With these single-serve wine glasses you’d think I’m still in college! Sorry for the terrible quality pic!

The expo for the Rockford Marathon was, to be brutally honest, grim. You grabbed your bib and t-shirt and that was it. There were two stands – one for a medal display rack and one for the pace groups. At least I was in-and-out in less than 10 minutes! I know it was a smaller race, but coming directly from the Flying Pig Marathon I couldn’t help but wish there was at least a running store sponsor or some kind of nutrition product giving away free tastes!

Beautiful, albeit hot, day for a race!

Race day I woke up in a funk. I had gotten to bed pretty late, hadn’t really prepared, and was going into the race with some pretty sad training runs. I had been doing 9:30, even 9:45 min pace on almost all of my runs these last two weeks after the marathon. I didn’t have high expectations going into it. As a small town race, there also weren’t many spectators and there was no entertainment along the course. With the heat and boredom, I thought it would be all I could do just to finish this race.

Luckily, one step after crossing the start line I met Kathy! She had just run the Little Rock marathon and I had just read a race report about it on Dan’s Marathon. In unison, we both said “the medals were the size of dinner plates!” I ended up running with her for 12.5 miles until the half and the full marathon split.

What a gem! She was just lovely. Having also lost 50+ lbs and also working toward running in all 50 states, we had a lot to talk about. Toward the end, she did most of the talking though because I was was running on fumes for the last 5k. She held a great pace and really pushed me. I told her, “I’ll run with you until mile 5 and then I might have to slow it down.” Then it was mile 8, then mile 10, and finally I told her she had to run me in! She was just the enthusiasm and motivation I needed for the race!

At mile 12.5 she headed off to finish the rest of the full marathon, but by this point we had caught up with one of her running buddies Tim, who ran with me that last mile. Those two really pushed me in and I finished in just under two hours at 1:59:22! While that wasn’t quite a PR, it was only my second time finishing under 2:00! I also finished 5th in my division, out of 31! This was a huge victory for me because I never suspected age awards would ever be in my grasp. I might have some new goals to train for!

Here was our pacing throughout the race. Not bad – fairly consistent! I wish I had kept a little gas in the tank to power through my last mile and PR, but I was still extremely happy with how this race turned out!

The race was also a success because I ran into two high school teachers. One I had as a teacher only for the second semester of my senior year. I’m surprised he recognized me because I barely made it to class that semester. I was so grateful to have run into him because I was finally able to personally deliver a much needed apology. Full of senioritus, I skipped class more often than I attended back then, and it was so nice to let him know I felt bad for slacking as a student, but that I went on to graduate college with honors and a job! 

The rest of the weekend was just as fun, but I’ll save that for another post!

What races have you done that turned out to be surprisingly more successful or fun than you went into expecting?