Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

I always have to laugh at the irony that Ceecee and I often spend “Black Friday” on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. The so-called Magnificent Mile is probably the country’s third most famous shopping street, after New York’s 5th Avenue and Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. The irony is that we have almost no interest in black Friday, and certainly none in giving up our sleep to go after “door busters” and other such sales.

The reality is, we are there to spend a holiday with each other in our favorite city, not to shop. We go for romance, food, sightseeing, and making special memories, not to stand in line in the wee hours in hopes of purchasing things that we don’t really even want. It just strikes us as funny that we usually stay in a hotel that’s either on Michigan Avenue, or within a block or two, not because it’s Michigan Avenue, but because it’s central to so many of the things we enjoy in Chicago.

While others are preparing to go to great lengths to spend lots of time and money competing to buy material possessions, we are preparing to sleep late, eat a leisurely breakfast, and then go sightseeing, stopping in at a few stores if we so desire, but with no real plan for the day. We have nothing against people trying to get a good deal, or getting a jump on their Christmas shopping. We just have an entirely different agenda, and the fact that we are often right in the very heart of some of the most intense shopping you’ll find seems almost comical.

Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year. I especially hope you spent time with who you love and were thankful for what you have. Whether you bought anything today or not, I hope you have much to be thankful for. Those black Friday purchases likely won’t last or bring fulfillment, but your relationships certainly may.

Monday, September 27, 2010

We booked our room for Chicago today. It’s a place we love to go ever since we found out they have a Christkindl market there over the holidays. My wife grew up in Germany (yes, her Dad was in the army) and had always told me that her favorite memory was of an outdoor Christmas market that they would go to where there was food, ornaments, and the like. She has always said how much she wants to take me to Germany some time so I can see it.

Back in the early 2000’s, she found out that they bring a market to downtown Chicago from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. We went in 2003 for the first time and I’ll never forget the look on her face when we first walked up. She said the sights and smells were just like she remembered. I took a picture of her that I had made into an 8×10 and it’s still my favorite picture of her to this day.

Since then, we’ve gone several times, usually over Thanksgiving break from school. Once, we went to the Thanksgiving Day parade and we’re going to do that again this year. We’ll be staying right off Michigan avenue, just a block from the start of the parade route.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor day, indeed. So glad this weekend is finally over. I’m still working at Macy’s, as well as teaching, and we just finished our Labor Day sale. It’s one of the two biggest sales of the year in the furniture and mattress department where I work.

I had to work all three days and it was insane. I’ve never been nearly that busy and we had a major system crash with our computers right in the middle of it. Ceecee and I don’t really need the extra income now, and I’ll probably only stay until right before the holidays. We usually travel over Thanksgiving, so this will help pay for all that, but I’m not willing to get stuck having to work and not be able to go anywhere.

Ceecee ran 20 miles in her training for the marathon over the weekend. I don’t know how she does it.

Chicago is not only one of our favorite cities, it’s also one of my wife’s favorite musicals.  While I will readily admit that it was not only not one of my favorites, but one that I really disliked for a long time, I have come around to it over the years.  I still don’t like the storyline, but watching my wife dance around the kitchen while she cooks and listens to the soundtrack is one of life’s true pleasures.

For a long time in our marriage, I didn’t share my wife’s love of the theater and of musical productions.  I tolerated her buying soundtracks and I listened to her tell me that she wanted to go see productions onstage, but never took it seriously or ever really considered going to plays.  I didn’t see it as something that was worth spending the money on, so I just avoided it and she never pushed.

She has pretty much always been willing to try to let me get to do the things that I like, even when she has no interest in them.  Sometimes she has gone with me and learned to participate in some of my hobbies like golf or fishing, and other times she has just encouraged me to go because she knows they are things that I like to do.  I have been the more selfish person in the earlier years of our marriage, and if I didn’t want to do something, it pretty much wasn’t going to happen.

When we moved downtown, we were very close to the theaters and would always walk by the posters for the upcoming productions.  Around the time that we got back together, our little theater was putting on Cats and my wife really wanted to go.  I wasn’t really interested, but part of our new relationship was trying to be unselfish and giving her what she wanted and needed, so I was willing.

I procrastinated buying the tickets so badly that when we finally went, it was to the very last show and we could only get standing room tickets.  Despite my blowing it with not getting us seats, she still loved the play, and it really affected me to see the way her face lit up and how much she enjoyed the experience.  It was our first time to the theater together, but it wouldn’t be our last.

When December came, we planned to go to the production of Miracle on 34th Street.  Once again, I put it off and put it off until I finally discovered that there were no more shows that had two seats together left for sale.  We weren’t going to go and not sit together, so we ended up missing it altogether.

I knew that they were putting on Chicago in April of 2011 and after these two disappointments with trying to get tickets at the last minute, I knew I couldn’t take the chance with Chicago.  I went to the box office before Christmas and bought the tickets and gave them to my wife for a 12 days gift.  On the one hand, it was somewhat lame in that she got them for Christmas, but the play wasn’t for four months.  On the other hand, it showed her that I realized how important it was to her and that I was making it a priority to make sure that she got to go and there was no worry or stress over tickets or seats.

Not only did she get to see Chicago and loved it, but we have since made it to a number of productions and it has become something that we both enjoy and look forward to. I bought her a Chicago poster that was signed by the entire cast and now hangs on the wall in our loft.  I gave her something you can’t buy, and that is the gift of fulfilling one of her wishes and desires.

We got a phone call from one of my wife’s former co-workers at Dillard’s while we were on the train coming back from Chicago.  We had to be at the station early Saturday morning to catch the train back to St. Louis, so we only had time to get up and have a quick breakfast before heading out.  The call was from the furniture manager.

While she had worked there, my wife had picked out a sofa that she wanted for the loft.  It was too expensive, but she got an employee discount and the furniture often went on sale.  When she resigned and we still hadn’t been able to buy it, we told him that if it ever went on clearance to call us.

We didn’t expect to be on a train in another state when he did, but that was the day it got marked down, and we knew that it would probably go fast.  Earlier, we had tried to do the same with a leather recliner and it had been sold before we could get there.  I explained where we were and offered to give my credit card number over the phone if necessary, but he said he would mark it sold and make sure that we got it.

The train crossed the river into St. Louis right around lunchtime, and our beautiful city had never seemed more inviting.  We decided to drive to The Hill for lunch at Guido’s, the same place we had gone with my daughter the day the tide began to turn for our marriage.  It seemed only fitting after a spectacular weekend of restoration in Chicago.

We made the drive home in the afternoon and went straight to the mall to pay for the sofa.  In the meantime, I had listed what we called “the mushroom,” an odd shaped sofa/loveseat sort of piece of furniture on Craigslist, as it would have to go to make room for the new couch.  We wouldn’t be able to pick up our new one until I could borrow a truck, so we had a little time to work with.

As a final stop before going home, we pulled into the Steak and Shake near our loft for peppermint shakes.  My wife loves all things peppermint, but will almost never eat or drink any outside of the Christmas season.  The shakes signaled the unofficial beginning of the season for us, and allowed the glow of the trip to linger for just a little longer.

It was important from a memories and association standpoint (and especially for my mental health) to replace a lot of the furniture and change the appearance of the loft.  We needed to make it our place, not the place my wife had lived while we were separated.  Someone came that very night and bought the mushroom, clearing the way for us to pick our new couch up the following afternoon.  We had already gotten a new dining room table, and just those two things changed the loft a lot.

We got some other surprise blessings that helped us finish the process just about the time we were getting ready to move.  I hadn’t wanted to breach the subject, since the loft we were living in was the one she had picked out, but even with the changes, it was difficult for me to live there.  Fortunately, between her understanding, and a growing frustration with the property manager’s lack of response to any of our maintenance requests, she was all too willing to begin looking for an upgrade with me.  By moving into a brand new loft together, we would be able to leave behind all of the reminders of what had happened, and free ourselves from some troublesome issues related to our past.

Right before our move, I got an extraordinary deal at Macy’s on a new bedding set.  There was also a black leather recliner there that I wanted, and I had been waiting for it to go on clearance, much like we had waited for the couch at Dillard’s.  One of the people I worked with told me that she had bought one recently and now didn’t need it, and would be willing to sell it to me at a fraction of the cost of a new one.  I was able to buy it, and buy the floor model (it did go on clearance at about the same time), so we had matching chairs to complete our new living room set.

Those kinds of blessings have been common throughout this entire year.  We just take them as that much more evidence that God is with us in the process of restoring our marriage.  The New Testament teaches that marriage is symbolic of God’s love for His church, called “The Bride of Christ” in the scriptures.  He is very interested in not only saving our marriage and making it strong, but also in doing the same for anyone else who will give Him the opportunity.

There was no doubt that Chicago in 2010 was going to be an epic stop on the restoration tour.  This time, we were going to make sure that it was the most special of all the visits.

Under ordinary circumstances, that can be hard to do, and can even backfire.  Sometimes, the harder you try to set something up just right and make sure that everything is perfect, the more the pressure causes it to fall apart, or the fact that it doesn’t live up to the hype leaves a lingering disappointment.  In our case, we had found our love again, and that was the secret key that unlocked the magic of our restoration trip.

My wife loves traveling by train, and we found out that we could catch Amtrak in St. Louis and take the train on to Chicago.  Since we don’t drive in Chicago anyway, not having a car there not only isn’t a problem, it saves having to pay for parking.  The only drawback was that we had to catch the train in St. Louis at about 4AM.  I figured we could catch up on our sleep later, which we did, and we even caught a few winks on the train.

This time, we went up the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we got a hotel right on the loop for three nights.  My wife knows how to find amazing deals online and we paid only slightly more for the three nights than we usually pay for one when we stay out in the outskirts.  We were right off Michigan Avenue and literally one block from where the parade starts.

Almost everything was within walking distance, so we hardly even needed the bus or the El Train.  That’s one of the benefits of being active and in shape.  We walked up Michigan Avenue, to Navy Pier and all over downtown.  It doesn’t cost anything to walk, you don’t have to wait on buses and trains, and you get to see things you would ordinarily miss.  For example, when we walked past the Tribune Tower, we discovered that there are bricks and stones inserted into the exterior wall that come from famous locations all over the world.  Passing by in a vehicle, we would never see any of that.

The first day we took a nap at the hotel and then walked to Navy Pier.  For supper, we stopped in Fox and Obel and bought ingredients to make our own deli sandwiches and a bottle of wine to take back to the room.  It was mostly a relax and rest first day, so that we would be ready to get up early and go to the parade the next morning.  This time, we wouldn’t have to get up insanely early and take a train downtown to get a good spot.  We could just get up and pretty much already be there.

The parade was amazing and the weather was absolutely perfect.  Afterward, we walked to the opening of the Christkindlmarket, where we ate German food for lunch and bought souvenirs.  My wife got a picture with the Christmas fairy from Nuremberg, and we had a wonderful time at the market.  After another nap at the hotel, we realized it was Thanksgiving Day, so not much was open.  We decided to revive an old Thanksgiving tradition of ours and go to a movie.  We walked to a downtown theater and watched “Tangled,” which had just come out.  After the movie, we grabbed a bite at a sports bar and called it a night.

We didn’t have any big plans for the rest of the trip except going to Pizzeria Uno, so friday was pretty much wide open.  It was black friday, and we had no desire to fight the crowds to shop for things we didn’t really want, so we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast.  Eventually we ventured out and walked around Millenium Park and visited a few of the stores on Michigan Ave.  We did do a little shopping, but at our own pace and just for the fun of it.

We went back to the market for more German food and just because we enjoy it so much.  We always buy a Stollen to bring home, and we also collect the souvenir mugs that they serve the gluhwein, a hot spiced wine in.  This year, we also wanted to bring back some ornaments from the Christmas shop to remember this trip by.  Then we got our Chicago pizza at Uno and the trip was complete.

There have been lots of little restorations and a few big ones during this past year.  Chicago was definitely one of the biggest.  It was, and remains, a place where we feel as though we can step outside the stress and busyness of real life and go to our romantic dream world once a year.  We are just as much in love now when we are at home as we are anywhere else, but Chicago holds a special place in our hearts, and of all our treasured memories from nearly 15 years of marriage, there may be more from Chicago than anywhere else.

My wife was an army brat, so she tells people she isn’t really from anywhere, but she considers Germany home.  She lived there for much of her childhood and teens and, almost from the time we started dating, she told me how much she wanted to take me there.  Of all the things she talked about, the thing she loved the very most was the Christkindlmarket, an open air market that was set up during the Christmas season.

About 10 years ago, she was surfing the internet and discovered that they actually bring a Christkindlmarket, with vendors from Nuremberg and other German towns, to downtown Chicago every year.  We still haven’t been to Germany, but our love affair with the city of Chicago began with our very first visit.  The Christkindlmarket runs from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas Eve. and they set it up in Daley Plaza, right in the heart of Chicago.  We drove up on Thanksgiving Day that first year.

I’ll never forget the look on my wife’s face or her reaction when we arrived.  She said the sights and smells were exactly as she remembered, and she was absolutely glowing with excitement.  It was a magical trip, with more memories than I can possibly list here.  I took a picture of her in her new coat standing in front of the 80 foot Christmas tree and we had it made into an 8×10. It’s a photo that I treasure to this day.  When she moved out, she didn’t take it with her.  There are not many possessions that mean a whole lot to me, but that’s one of the few that it would break my heart to lose.

Not only did we experience the Christkindlmarket for the first time, but we also discovered Navy Pier.  Jutting out into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier holds a shopping mall, ferris wheel, children’s museum, and more.  There is a stage where plays and family oriented performances are held, and there is so much there that you could literally spend an entire day.

Of course, we spent time on Michigan Avenue, also known as the magnificent mile.  It’s especially spectacular at night with all the Christmas lights up.  Even though we are not big shoppers, the beauty and fame of the street make it a “must see” part of any trip to the windy city.  Just to the east, Grant Park runs for miles between Michigan Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, which literally follows the western shore of Lake Michigan.

Since that first visit, we have been to Chicago many times, but always during the Christkindlmarket.  Much like The Hill in St. Louis, it has always been an extremely special place for us.  Through the years, we have discovered additional pleasures like Pizzeria Uno, where you usually have to wait over an hour for your table, and we always do.  The pizza is so thick that it is impossible to eat much more than two slices, and it is now an every time stop when we’re in town.  We also love Fox and Obel, a gourmet food store and much more.

When the kids were in high school, we told them we would take them on a senior trip and they could pick anywhere they wanted to go.  They all picked Chicago.  Only two of them have actually taken the trip (others are still pending), but I guess they’ve seen how much we’ve loved it and they wanted to experience it for themselves.

We got to experience another dream come true when we took our son on his trip and that was seeing the Thanksgiving Day parade in person.  It was so cold that we couldn’t feel our feet before it was over, and we headed straight for the nearest Starbucks to revive ourselves, but we were there, almost at the front of the crowd at the corner of State and Washington.

That was also the trip that marred our nearly perfect memories of holiday trips to Chicago.  It was a couple of years ago, while I was having doubts about our marriage and our future.  I wasn’t the same person then that I had been before, and while the trip still had its good moments, it had some tension and problems too.  At one point, we were in a downtown Old Navy store and I was in a really foul mood.  I’m not even sure why, but I turned on my wife in the store and said some really hurtful things to her.

They were the same types of things that I sometimes said at home when I would get selfish and irritable.  They always caused her pain and confusion, because she never knew what she had done wrong.  Truthfully, there was usually nothing that she had done; she just caught the blame for my own issues.  The fact that it happened in Chicago during the holidays made it nearly unbearable.  We had a whole year to live with it, but we knew last year’s trip during the restoration tour was going to be spectacular…