Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Indiana Dunes State Park

To celebrate our fourth anniversary together, and the fact that Graham finally had a whole weekend off, we went on a little adventure.

We drove to Indiana Dunes State Park, which was about 55 miles away from our Chicago neighborhood. We arrived to see many other people had the same plan for that day, as evidenced by the line of cars at the entrance. But finding a parking spot was not difficult at all.

We were delighted to see food trucks right next to the beach.

Rolling Stonebaker truck had many veggie options, but they only accepted cash. Sad face.

Our hike started in the marsh.

The trail is short but sandy and uphill in some spots. We found ourselves at a campground so we turned around and took a different route.

At one point you trek up a wooden staircase to the top of Mt. Tom, which isn't much of a climb. It's part of the 3 Dune Challenge. This is where I lost the lens cap to my Nikon (I think).

From Mt. Tom we took Trail 8 to the beach.

We spent some time relaxing and people-watching on the beach. Sundays outdoors are truly a gift, and they are even better with Graham.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Unexpected Adventures in Chicago

Chicago, you surprise me at every turn. I seem to regularly stumble upon an opening, event or attraction.

I have multiple examples in just one recent day.

On our way to Navy Pier for our Ferris wheel ride, my friend Charlsy and I just happened to join the Special Olympics torch procession. I had watched the local news earlier that day and knew it would be in Chicago, but I never imagined being directly behind it as it arrived on the pier.

Also on our walk on Navy Pier, Charlsy and I walked over a bridge over the Chicago River. We stopped, along with many others, to get our picture taken with the Chicago skyline and river in the background. I took another photo and turned around to see a bridge worker yelling at everyone to get off the bridge. Everyone had disappeared, making a run for it. I didn't know what was going on, so I ran, too. Charlsy didn't hear any of it but ran behind me. As we approached the other side, another bridge worker told us we didn't have to run, that we could take our time. We realized then that the bridge was lifting for a boat. As was later pointed out, these two Arizona gals have limited drawbridge knowledge.

I took this photo after watching the bridge lift.

Earlier, on that same whirlwind day, I wanted to take Charlsy to see the Buckingham Fountain. We started walking over from Millennium Park when we were forced to enter some sort of festival to get there. Chicago had led us to the Blues Festival, where we stood in line for free pizza samples and took photos with the banner. We had a mission (to see the fountain), so we didn't stay long, but we were thrilled at the serendipity of it all.

We later found out that we had also walked through the opening ceremony at Maggie Daley park. We had seen a choir dressed in yellow and wondered what was going on. Turns out it was the Chicago Children's Choir that we had spotted, and former Mayor Richard Daley and his family were there. I loved the skyline views from the park.

This one action-packed day perfectly captures how Chicago can lead you to the most unexpected fun. Is it the weekend yet?

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Rainy Cubs Game

Rain, rain, go away; I have tickets to the Cubs game today!

The forecast is calling for severe thunderstorms tonight, when I have plans to go to the game against the LA Dodgers. It's reminding me of the June 13 Cubs game vs. the Reds that was delayed for hours; it was actually the most fun game I've watched at Wrigley Field.

We had the best seats I've had yet. We were under the overhang, which kept us dry but still gave us an unobstructed view of the field, the screens, the rooftops and the city.

The energy at Wrigley is always electric, but it seemed on overdrive that weekend because Chicago was treated gorgeous weather earlier that day and because the Blackhawks were playing that night in Tampa.

The game logged about 5 innings before the rain became more intense. Lightning shot through the sky; it was met with ooohs from the fans. The thunder was impressive — and scary — as well. Who you gonna call? The grounds crew! We watched intently as the tarp was successfully rolled out.

But fans still had entertainment during the delay: the Blackhawks game was shown on the big screen, to the delight of ... everyone!

Sorry for the lousy photo!

While the experience was memorable, I'm hoping tonight's game — if it happens — will not be as eventful.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Navy Pier

I crossed another Chicago bucket-list item off last weekend.

Some people say not to visit Navy Pier on a weekend, or ever, because it's teeming with tourists. Despite the crowds, Charlsy and I enjoyed the Ferris wheel ride on Saturday as part of our whirlwind weekend of tourist activities. The line was a little long but actually moved quickly. The speakers blasted songs by Britney Spears and TLC, among other artists, while we waited.

Like at most tourist attractions in Chicago, a photo is taken beforehand. The location of the photo is a little odd; you can only see the bottom of the Ferris wheel and can't really tell where you are. The photo wasn't something I'd spend $20-30 on. You're then ready to board for the 7-minute ride. From afar, it looks like the wheel isn't even moving, but when you're on it, you feel like it moves too quickly.

From 150 feet high you can see the impressive Chicago skyline and boats on Lake Michigan to the east.

The Ferris wheel is a fun activity to do when friends are visiting, but not something I'll do regularly. I wouldn't try to grab lunch on the pier on a weekend either; we were quoted a 1-hour wait at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and other restaurants on the pier looked just as busy. I will be back, though, because I simply must see the skyline views at night.

Now it's time to get ready for another Chicago weekend. See you Monday, weekend warriors!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chicago River Architecture Boat Tour

The architecture boat tour is hands down the best activity I've done in Chicago.

Charlsy and I bought our tickets for the 75-minute Shoreline Sightseeing tour on Navy Pier after our Ferris wheel ride. I initially thought 75 minutes would be too long, but it actually felt like 30 minutes.

The tour is not only fun, but it's educational. We went on both the north and south branches of the Chicago River. The seats lean slightly back so you can comfortably see the towers. I had no idea what the difference between Art Deco or Modern or Post-Modern architecture was until the guide pointed out each building and described its style and history. I can now say that Art Deco is my favorite, and I'm not a big fan of Modern.

Tourists and bridal parties and residents waved at us as we passed underneath bridges throughout the tour. It seemed all of Chicago was on and around the river that day.

Sears (Willis) Tower

And the weather was perfect. By perfect I mean I went from being too hot to being too chilly, but for the most part it was pleasant. I would have been better prepared had I worn sunglasses and a hat, but that didn't stop me from having a good time. I hope another cruise is in my near future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sears Tower, Round 2

My second visit to Skydeck Chicago was a lot more enjoyable than the first, when Graham and I spent hours waiting amid the odors and noise of a large crowd. It only took 30 minutes sans fast pass to get to the Skydeck on Sunday. It would have been even shorter had we decided to buy tickets online.

We skipped the movie to make our way to the elevators. This time I didn't have to take the service elevators up; it was one short continuous ride to the 103rd floor. Our game plan was to head directly to one of the four clear ledges for photos. We picked what seemed like the shortest line and waited as other visitors took their photos.

My heart began to race when it became clear we were next. My legs were trembling as I walked onto the clear surface. Somehow I felt a little more comfortable sitting and lying down. I tried to forget how high up we were for a few seconds, with little success. Besides the unsettling height, it's a little uncomfortable to have people stare as you take photos, but we got through it. I walked off the glass feeling exhilarated but ready to leave.

I have a feeling I will be back to the Skydeck many more times when Graham and I have visitors. I only wish the attraction offered an Illinois resident or frequent visitor discount. See you next time, Sears Tower!

The experience added a few more grays to my hair.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Get Some, Homie! | Homeslice Wheel House, Chicago

I tried the same restaurant not once but twice this weekend. On Friday, I met with a former co-worker at Homeslice Wheel House on Webster Avenue. I got the recommendation from Taylor of the Daily Tay on Instagram. Thanks, Tay!

We only had time for a drink and some appetizers; we chose the goat cheese and bread sticks, which come with marinara sauce, and the hummus with veggies and pita. In an effort to have more grown-up drinks, I ordered the bourbon sangria. Just one drink was enough for little old me.

Later, I got the surprise of the year when one of my favorite humans showed up at my apartment in the middle of the night. Graham and Charlsy had been in cahoots to surprise me. On Sunday, after working up an appetite during our whirlwind weekend of exploration, we decided to go to Homeslice. It was the best decision of the day.

I ordered the Miller White pizza (sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta, mozzarella, provolone, garlic and olive oil) and she got the pepperoni. We each had a mimosa and admired the patio. If this is Chicago in the summer, I never want the season to end. But the best part of dinner followed. We tried the awesomeness that is the cookie dough bites. For $2, you get a ball of egg-less cookie dough covered in sprinkles. Two of them were enough to convince Charlsy she needed to move to Chicago. Our server informed us we could get a jar to go, which we later regretted not doing. Do yourself a favor and get the dough to go.

This is just one slice of the epic weekend we had.  More to come this week as I recover from the fun.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Adventure Run Chicago, June 2015 Edition

The odds were in my favor last night. I came away from the Adventure Run Chicago with a month of free yoga from Yoga Six in Lincoln Park, two entrees from Smash Burger and a one-hour massage from Massage Envy. I was one of those people who say they never win anything — until last night.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I met several members of my running group at the Road Runner Sports store beforehand to try to score some extra tickets. I did five burpees and wore a butterfly mask for more tickets; the theme of the month was "Junebugs," and a mud-run type race gave tickets for the burpees. I had the option of trying out Newton shoes for the run, but I didn't. Our group usually runs with the pacer, which also nets us extra tickets. The secret checkpoint was adjacent to the store, and I had prepared by looking up the secret word to get our raffle tickets. (It was the name of one of the organizations Newton helps, Trickle Up.)

The stops were similar to the April run; they included Derby, Massage Envy, Yoga Six, Exercise Coach, My Fit Foods and Smash Burger. The most creative ways to earn more tickets were at Smash Burger (hopscotch); Yoga Six (take a photo of a yoga pose); and My Fit Foods (drink a protein shot and do three pushups, five lunges and seven jumping jacks). iO Chicago asked us to read a page-long poem for more tickets, but there wasn't enough time.

Our efforts paid off, because almost all of my group members went home with prizes. One of them took home new shoes! I'm looking forward to next month's run.

Photo credit: Adventure Run Chicago

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Weekly Workout Recap, Vol. 3

I'm going to consider this week a pre-training week. I used up my excuses, and now I need to get serious about my half-marathon training. I don't believe I have lost the fitness from marathon training, but I want to ease back into my mileage after a month of inconsistent running.

Monday: 3.5-mile group run followed by dinner with my fellow runners. I met some new friends and made plans to run more.

Tuesday: Work was stressful  I was glued to my laptop. I managed to pull away to run a quick mile around the block to burn off my frustration.

Wednesday: National Running Day! I ran about 2.5 miles, though my location was turned off on my phone so this is just an estimate. I had planned to run 3.

Thursday: Yoga at home. I started the day with Yoga International's Backbends, Handstands, and More: AM Express Practice class. I liked the teacher's instructions for practicing handstand at the wall, namely not moving your feet off the wall unless you can lift both off at the same time by engaging your lower belly muscles. I liked that the class involved practicing handstand and forearm balance for a full minute each. I find that often in class these poses aren't practiced for that long, so I appreciated the extra time spent on them.

Friday: Yoga class at the studio. Again, we held high lunges and Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1) for what had to be 15 breaths. the instructor likes to lead us into the pose, walk around the room, adjust two people, and then cue us to keep breathing before we can move out of the pose. By the end of it I am losing my breath and my legs are shaking. The next day I noticed my side body and hips were sore.

Saturday: No exercise, but I walked more than 13,000 steps around Shedd Aquarium. I regretted skipping a run that morning after a night out.

Sunday: Yoga at home and run 2.2 miles, doing some speedwork at a track.

Week's mileage: 9.2.

June mileage so far: 9.2 miles so far.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Chicago Comes Alive

Nearly every person I have met since I moved to Chicago has said something along the lines of, "Chicago comes alive in the summer. You'll love it!"

These people are all telling the truth.

"You can't turn a corner without running into a street festival."

So true.

It seems that events are scheduled every single weekend day and most weeknights. I have already inadvertently double-booked myself for an upcoming Sunday. Choosing between things to do is as difficult as picking a favorite child.

I don't want to miss a thing. Does this mean I have a fear of missing out?  I like to think I'm living life to the fullest.

I'm discovering that's really how you have to spend each summer day here. A sunny day spent indoors is a day wasted.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Day at Shedd Aquarium

People-watching at Shedd Aquarium over the weekend raised some questions about how we experience life nowadays. It also brought up the subject of protecting wildlife.

The aquarium was teeming with children and their camera-toting parents. At each tank, people would snap a photo and walk along. But did they take a look without the lens? I really hope so, because there's a lot to see.

A blue lobster. A more than 80-year-old lungfish. Sharks. Clownfish. Penguins. The aquarium is home to more than 32,000 animals. You can easily spend an entire day there; we got there about 10 a.m. and left around 3 p.m. We did everything except the Stingray Touch experience and the Spongebob Squarepants 4-D movie. (We loved the Sea Monsters show, though.)

I'm not immune to the impulse to put everything we see in pixels. I took plenty of photos. But I also really observed and admired the sealife. I loved spending the day with Graham. I'll share some of those memories here.

One of the highlights for me was seeing the turtles from around the world. I also liked hearing about the instances in which some of the animals were saved. Nickel is a turtle who is housed in the Caribbean Reef tank. He suffered an injury when he was hit by a boat and can no longer live in the wild. The back of his shell seems to want to float at the surface, which hinders his swimming. And the show hosts often repeated the story of Cruz, the blind sea lion who was rescued in California.

More sights:

A serious note

When we walked up to the aquarium we noticed protesters against the capture of whales and dolphins. Their signs reminded us that "The Demand Stops with You." I recalled the movie "Blackfish" and wondered if we are part of the problem. To be honest, I didn't go to the aquarium to see the aquatic show (which also has a penguin and a dog). In fact, I found the show underwhelming. I had a much better time viewing everything else. The aquarium would have plenty to see and do without a whale show. I wasn't aware of the beluga whales being captured for the aquarium and I haven't found much information about it. I tried to find something written about the subject on the Chicago Tribune website and haven't seen anything written since 2012. An article in the New York Times noted opposition to the import of 18 beluga whales in October 2012; Shedd Aquarium was set to be one of the destinations for those whales. The centers I'm sure would defend the action by saying that it is needed to introduce diversity into the captured whale population. I don't have the answer to the problem, but it would benefit all of us to become more aware of how our actions affect wildlife and our planet.