Family and the Friendly Confines

My first experience at Wrigley Field involved, my family, a couple of hot dogs, and nosebleed seats.  It was wonderful.  Walking up Addison Street,  I stopped right in front of the blaring marquise that welcomed me to the “Friendly Confines” friendly for Cub’s fans that is.

My family and I made five clicks as we went through the turnstiles.  I lead the pack and stared at my ticket stub to find our seats.  Finally, I found our ramp and emerged from the concourse to be met with the beautiful Wrigley Field.

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The wind whipped my hair into my eyes as I stood facing the outfield—a good day for home run hitters I thought as I noticed the flags on the blowing straight out towards Lake Michigan.   My eyes settled on the jewel of the outfield the scoreboard—the Bible of baseball for the day.  The clock counted down the minutes until I would witness my first pitch. All twenty-eight teams were paired up to play each other divided by league.  Some of the pairs listed scores others said “nite game.”  But down at the bottom of that giant green monster listed the only thing I cared about—Mets versus Cubs.

My eyes traveled down first to the bleachers, where all the “bums” were.  In my mind, I could envision the beer and insults flying towards the right fielder for the Mets.  Farther down my eyes wandered to the ivy-covered wall where patches of brick were beginning to show through because it was September.  I saw the place where the grass meets the infield, the lip, the cause of so many bad hops and errors.  Then my eyes followed around each of the bases, lingering on first for a moment, wishing I could be down on that field.  The aroma of hot dogs met my nose as vendors floated by.  I was twelve and I was in love.

I had begged my dad to arrive two hours before the game started—to get autographs.  We had left early but traffic was bad and arrived only before the game started.  I was crushed.  Some kids wish to go to Disney World to meet Mickey Mouse, especially kids from the Midwest.  Baseball kids though wish to meet their favorite players.  I was the baseball kid.  

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Here I was 20 some odd years later.  Zach and I adamant that we get to the park two hours before game time, this time to try to get Anthony Rizzo bobbleheads.  Our five clicks have turned into eight, each of us with now bringing our respective other halves (mine was missing this day).  Even though the Cubs still haven’t won a World Series, although this year may actually be THE year, I haven’t lost that excitement I feel when I walk through those turnstiles.  Every single time I enter the Friendly Confines, I become that little girl who loved to talk about the Cubs with her dad, and teach her toddler brother to says the names of her favorite players.  I don’t think will matter if another 60 years pass, every time I walk into Wrigley Field, I will always be transported back to my childhood.     

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Chicago Eats

Cori and I love to find fun places to eat when we travel. Even though we were in Chicago to run a half marathon, our eating adventures were no different.  Though we were only in town for less than 48 hours, we found time to hit some highlights.

Portillo’s was our first stop.  We had spent the afternoon checking into the Palmer House and  attending the expo for the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon.  We hadn’t done much walking, so we decided to walk to Portillos from the Palmer House.  It was a little over a mile so we definitely had worked up an appetite by the time we arrived.

Portillo’s is always busy and chaotic, and I explained to Cori how the ordering process worked.  She reminded me that this was a lot like the ordering at Katz’ Deli which we had just visited in New York.  We both decided on Chicago dogs, shared an order of onion rings, and a chocolate cake shake.  Within 10 minutes we were walking to a table to scarf down a delicious dinner.

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Doughnut Vault was a new adventure for me too. Towards the top of the Trip Advisor places to eat in Chicago, it did not disappoint.  We were standing in line about 20 minutes before their sign said they opened, but they were already serving.  The line was already stretched to the end of the block, and we waited a good 30 plus minutes, but it was so worth it.  Located at 401 N. Lincoln, it is the tiniest shop I’ve ever been in.  No more than three or four people can fit inside at once making the line seem much longer than it actually is.  After purchasing, we sat on their community style patio and dove in.  We shared a raspberry jelly filled, gingerbread stack, buttermilk old fashioned, and chocolate glazed.  There we so rich and sweet it was hard to have more than a couple of bites of each one.  Stuffed, we couldn’t finish what we ordered but were pleased with our selections.

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Harry Caray’s, named for legendary Cubs announcer, it truly a tourist trap, but it became our lunch destination after hitting Oz Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo.  After a morning of walking, we were ready for a nice big lunch.  The wait for a table was about an hour, but we were able to snag a high top near the bar without waiting.  The only downside was that we were baking in the sun.  Starving, we started with the hummus plate which was delicious.  We contemplated sharing an Italian beef sandwich, but in the end our hunger won out, and we each ordered our own.  There are many great places to get an Italian beef in the city so I wasn’t expecting this one to live up to others I have had.  With the first bite, my taste buds exploded.  The sandwich was one of the best I’ve ever had.  This could be because I was starving, or maybe it was because I had not had an Italian beef in over a year, but either way I’m still salivating over that sandwich.

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Gino’s East, another chain restaurant, was our final eating expedition.  Cori wanted to try authentic deep dish pizza, and Gino’s East was a quick walk from the Palmer House.  We ventured over around 8, and were told there would be an hour wait.  Again, we snagged bar seating to avoid that wait which was good since our pizza took over an hour to receive.   I’m not the biggest fan of deep dish pizza, and this one was no exception.  The Gino’s Supreme had a grainy crust that caused me to scrape the insides of the pizza out and leave it behind.  The actual filling was decent, but paired with the wait and the rude staff it is not a place I would revisit.  Cori agreed that deep dish wasn’t for her either.  For me, the best pizza will always come from Lowell, Indiana.

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Next time I’m looking for places to eat in the city, I’ll probably stick to the hole-in-the-wall types and leave the chain restaurants for the tourists.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through Downtown Chicago

Chicago is my favorite city.  I love the reflection of the city in the bean, the sparkle of the lights on the Chicago Theater, the smell of Garrett’s popcorn wafting in the air, the breeze off the lake.  All of these things I was able to share with my running buddy as we tackled the Chicago Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

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Staying at the Palmer House was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  Upon entering the revolving door I felt like I had just stepped into The Great Gatsby.   Golden peacock doors (with their own history) greet you once the revolving door deposits you inside the lobby.  Then up a short staircase one’s eyes are greeted with a fresco covered ceiling that makes you feel like you’ve just entered Rome, not a Chicago hotel.  The peacock theme is continued throughout from the wall paper to the carpeting.  And upon entering our room, the most inviting olive green velvet chairs beckoned us to sit, put up our feet, and sip on a mint julep.  I never wanted to leave Old Sport.

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But I had a race to run…

Pre-race was a breeze.  It started with a 4:45AM wake up call, lounging in the hotel room until 6, then finding the Half Fanatics on the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago for a group picture.  This was my first time running as a member, and I have to say they are the most supportive group.  I was so glad I wore my Half Fanatics shirt and was a true member of the asylum.

From there it was off to the corrals which were more of a suggestion than a rule.   The humidity was stifling, and I was worried about finishing, so we may have moved up several corrals to provide a little bit of a cushion between me and the cutoff time.

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The race started at 6:30, but my feet didn’t cross the start until 7:15.  I hit the start on my Garmin, and I was off telling my running buddy I’d see her at the end.  We started up Columbus Drive before heading under a bridge where I immediately lost signal on my GPS.  This continued to happen throughout the race.  It would go in and out, and at mile 3 it said I had done a 35 minute 5K which is five minutes faster than normal.  I decided I was going too fast, so I slowed down.  However, my GPS was not accurate, and when I passed the real 5k marker, I was at 45 minutes.  From there on out I stopped paying attention to my Garmin.  It was so off that at the end of the race it said I had run 15 miles.  Apparently lost GPS signals is a common problem while running through the city.

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The humidity was brutal, but there were the occasional lake breezes which provided some relief.  I know that I train in this kind of humidity in Florida, but it is still hard to cope with.  The race advertised eight water stations which there were, but it was too few for as humid as it was.  I was glad to have my hydration belt.  I had to fill it up twice in addition to hitting every water station.

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Ice bags and a misting station were a welcome relief along the course, but the best part was the sponges and ice packs towards the end of the race.  They were a welcome distraction from the blazing sun.

Around mile 9 there were boxes of salted watermelon Gu, but I didn’t want to try anything new, so I stayed with my Honey Stingers.  Mile 12 had us passing Solider Field.  And then it was over.  With a medal around my neck,  I was searching for my running buddy and a place to sit and cool off.

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Entertainment was sparse throughout the entire course.  There were three bands and a few stilt walkers.  Miles 11-12 had a DJ blasting music on the course.  There were three bands performing after the race, but we didn’t have time to get over to see those.  I enjoyed the scenery for the most part, and with my own playlist I was never bored.

The finish line area was very organized.  After crossing I snagged my medal, a water, and was handed a popsicle.  The popsicle was the best post race food I’ve had in a long time.  There was also chocolate milk, bagels, and a variety of other things to eat.    Then it was back to the Palmer House to wrap up our Chicago weekend.

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The Rock and Roll series is great at communication and post race goodies.  I loved the t-shirt, medal, and the Palmer House, but the advertised entertainment on course seemed to be lacking.  I might give them another chance before saying I would look for other racing opportunities.  Perhaps another city might give a different experience.  At least I can cross Chicago off my list of cities to run in, and I got to add another state to my half marathon list.

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Follow the Yellow Brick Cab, Or How to Get to Oz Park

It’s funny how you can live near a place half your life and still find things you never knew were there.  Thanks to my running buddy and Pinterest, this happened on my most recent trip to Chicago.

When I asked Cori what she wanted to do on our brief trip to Chicago, she did what all women do now, started a Pinterest Board and shared it with me.  The top of her list was Oz Park  located in the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park.  I had never heard of it before, but as one can imagine from its name, it is filled with statues honoring Frank L. Baum, the author of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, who resided only a few miles away.

On Saturday morning after a trip to Doughnut Vault, we were ready to catch the Brown Line which would act as our very own yellow brick road to the park.  So as we walked to the train station, with stomachs full of dougnutty goodness, we were surprised to see the station closed for repairs.   After consulting Google Maps for the next closest train station, our yellow brick road became a yellow cab instead.

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Our cab dropped us at the corner of Larabee and Lincoln and we were quickly greeted with the Tin Man, his blank eyes and serious countenance contradicting the welcome sign situated below his feet.

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Oz Park was busy this Saturday morning with baseball practice, runners, and children visiting the aptly named “Dorothy’s Playground.”  We strolled through the garden-lined paths on a Wizard of Oz scavenger hunt.  Park designers could really have played up the Wizard of Oz theme here by adding a yellow brick road on the meandering sidewalks.  Instead, we were forced to imagine them as we came upon the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and Toto. Pausing for a few pictures of each, we continued our search for the Cowardly Lion who was the sculpture we struggled to find.

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Alas, he too was found and with one last flurry of camera flashes, we were off to our next adventure…the Lincoln Park Zoo.

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