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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Spa at the JW Marriott

The invite from the JW Marriott in Chicago for an overnight and spa visit couldn't have come at a better time. It was just after the final weeks of winter when everything just feel blah. And at a time when I had been working like crazy and really needed an excuse for a getaway. Also, nearly all our getaways during our almost 25 year marriage have been with the kids in tow - so this time hubby and I made it into a little weekend alone. 

So, we headed downtown during the last weekend of March, hitting the Good Food Festival at the UIC Forum on our way there. We checked in mid-afternoon and were greeted by this:

And also this. It was a lovely welcome. I probably could have just hung in the room all weekend soaking up the silent time away from our houseful of boys. But...it's hard to go to the city and not take in as much as you can. Oh, and I had a spa appointment that I was looking forward to, as well.

My spa appointment was for a 50-minute massage and one I was really looking forward. Don't laugh -- ok, you can laugh. It's pretty absurd. My most recent massage was in January at a post-holiday party for a non-profit board that I sit on. The group thought it would be fun to go bowling. So, we played a few frames, overindulged in authentic catered Mexican cuisine and then had a chance to get a chair massage. Well, the massage chair was set up in the lounge. And for most of the night, it was quiet and dark in there. Well, by the time it got to be my turn, I think there were some complaints that the NFL playoff game wasn't on. So, as I went in for my massage, they turned on the t.v. and the room filled with rowdy, liquor-filled football fans. The massage chair happened to be in a corner right beneath the big screen. So, as I closed my eyes and tried to relax, the game went into overtime and everyone in the room went crazy. The game was blaring above my head. Not exactly the most tranquil setting. LOL. Sometimes I feel like I'm being followed by a hidden camera crew or unknowingly been insterted into an SNL skit. So, this time I was excited to get a massage and do it right.

The greeter in the reception area took me for a little tour when I arrived of the rooms where I could prepare for and relax after the massage. The massage therapist was wonderful - working the areas I requested without too much pressure. 

I then retreated to the relaxation room where I enjoyed cucumber water and some amazing roasted marcona almonds and thumbed through fashion magazines. I got lost in a wonderfully serene zone and hubby finally texted to see if I'd gotten lost. Had we not had dinner reservations that night, I probably would have lingered just a little longer.

Our dinner reservation was right inside the hotel at The Florentine. We sipped wine and savored such wonderful dishes as Mozzarella di Buffalo and braised pork shank. (More will be posted on dinner at the Chicago Foodie Sisters blog.)

The evening ended with a relaxing bubble bath. Then we were up early the next day to do some exploring. The valet parking allowed us a few hours beyond check out, so we checked out and checked our bags and went on our way for a bit. The JW is located in a great spot - close to theaters, shopping, the financial district. We decided to do a walk over to Millennium Park, stopping on the way for lunch and a pint at the legendary Berghoff Restaurant. We also popped in to check out the Chicago Cultural Center and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. 

The JW Marriott - and its Central Loop location - makes for a great getaway for those living in the burbs, like me. A train ride on Metra to the Van Buren station is just a short walk from the JW Marriott, so if you'd rather not have to worry about parking, that is another option. For tourists, it's a great location that is close to so much that you'll want to see and do while in this magnificent city. And, the spa is a must - do whatever you can to fit it into your itinerary. I've utilized the spa at a couple other Marriott properties and it's a luxurious addition to the stay that brings it pretty close to perfection.

Keep the JW Marriott in mind for your summer travel plans - can't believe summer is just around the corner! 

P.S. The lobby and open areas are pretty stunning.

JW Marriott
151 W. Adams
Chicago, Il 
(312) 660-8200

***The J.W. Marriott provided a complimentary one-night stay and spa service. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Berghoff in Chicago

Boasting liquor license #1 after prohibition in the city of Chicago, this old school dining spot is legendary in Chicago. If you're a fan of German cuisine, it's a place you'll want to add on your itinerary on a visit to the Windy City.

The restaurant opened in 1898 as a men's only salloon where the food was secondary - a free corned beef sandwich with a stein of beer. It was during prohibition that it became a full-service restaurant serving soda.

There's a large menu of German specialties - sauerbraten to Spinatkn√∂del to sausages, but I usually go for the basic but delicious wiener schnitzel. The tender, battered veal cutlet comes served along with German fried potatoes and a vegetable.

No visit is complete without sampling the brews. If you're not sure what to try, go for the flight where you can try out the five most popular beers on the menu. Find more info at theberghoff.com.

An old menu hangs on the wall at the entrance to the restaurant.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Blastcamp in Hobart, IN

As a mom of boys, I long ago had to get over my fear of them getting a boo-boo. Once they get to a certain point, bruises and scrapes are like a badge of honor no matter how much mom doesn't want to see them get hurt. I've had to try not to worry when they play rough and just have to shake my head when they break an arm playing dodgeball or end up taking them for stitches after they walk off the baseball field with blood oozing from their forehead.

My youngest had long been looking forward to turning 10 to be old enough to go to a paintball field. He was quite pleased with his first experience - an outdoor paint ball field in Hobart, Indiana called Blastcamp.

The site of a former Nike Missle Base is open for walk-on play or groups. There's some neat history there. You can read more on their website, Blastcamp.com. It's been in businesses for 25 years.

Do a little online research before a trip as I was able to get a good deal through Groupon.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chicago Dining Cruises

365 Days of Fun: Day 7
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots from over two decades of travel in Midwest)

Because I'm from the Chicago area, I often write about travels elsewhere and sometimes neglect to emphasize the fabulous attractions in and around Chicago. One thing I always recommend to visitors to Chicago is to somehow see the city from the water. 

There are many boat tours you can take on the river and on the lake. There are architectural river tours where you can learn a lot about the history and architectural style of many famous landmarks in the Windy City. There are Wendella Sightseeing tours, which give a brief history as they make their way down along the river and out onto the lake (going through the locks is always a thrill!) There are speedboat tours out of Navy Pier on the Seadog for the thrill seekers. And there are a number of dinner cruises at Navy Pier where you can enjoy an upscale meal with dancing and spectacular views. These are my favorites - being a foodie they combine my love of good food with my favorite city!

Chicago Dining Cruises has a fleet of four ships that cruise from Navy Pier - three that offer regular dinner cruises: the Odyssey, the Mystic Blue and the Spirit of Chicago. The Odyssey offers a luxurious meal with appetizers and entrees served tableside, award-winning wines, microbrews and inspired cocktails, upscale DJ and a relaxing rooftop lounge with spectacular views. The Mystic Blue offers cool drinks and a tasty buffet freshly prepared onboard, dancing and DJ entertainment, a fabulous view of the city's beautiful skyline through the largest picture windows on the lake and a a modern rooftop lounge. The Spirt of Chicago features a new menu developed by Chopped champion and celebrity chef, Eric LeVine, an interactive MC, dancing on spacious dance floors and a rooftop lounge offering breathtaking skyline views.

My most recent cruise was aboard the Odyssey last winter to preview the menu for Chicago Restaurant Week. It was an amazing meal at a discounted price in celebration of the yearly Chicago Restaurant Week where you'll find deals and so many great city dining spots. The Odyssey offers lunch, dinner, brunch and specialty cruises. You can visit the website, OdysseyCruise.com and search the promotions and special offers tab where there's often a promo code to get a percentage off of your reservation.

Photo by Carrie Steinweg
Dessert on an Odyssey Cruise during Chicago Restaurant Week.

Take a peek at this special prix fixe menu available on Friday evenings from January - March for just $44.90 per person on the Odyssey:

Prix Fixe Plated Dinner Menu

First course

Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
Romaine Lettuce & Arugula | Pickled Shallots | Orange Vinaigrette

Entrée Choices

Oven Baked Atlantic Salmon Filet
Lemon Orzo with Red Onion & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Citrus Dill Sauce
Maple & Mustard Glazed Chicken Breast
Fingerling Potatoes & Chives | Haricot Verts | Dijon Mustard Cream Sauce
Greek Zucchini Fritters
Lemon Orzo with Red Onions & Sun Dried Tomatoes | Spring Onion & Cucumber Tzatziki


Odyssey Signature Dessert Station
Mini Pastry Cups | Cakes | Pastries | Seasonal Fruit
*Price does not include taxes or fees. Menus, times and prices are subject to change.
For more information, visit Odyssey.com. The website for Mystic Blue is MysticBlueCrusies.com and you'll find more on Spirit of Chicago cruises at SpiritOfChicago.com.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lincoln Amphitheatre

365 Days of Fun: Day 6
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots in our years of traveling as a family)

I love when we can take advantage of a sporting event, a concert or a show when we are traveling. One of the most memorable was a play - actually a musical if I remember correctly (it's been 6 years since we were there) - about Abraham Lincoln's life from his childhood to the end of his life as President of the United States called LINCOLN: Upon the Altar of Freedom. Seeing a production about Lincoln isn't that unusual. He's our country's most beloved and most celebrated president. What made this play stand out was the venue. It took place at the Lincoln Amphitheatre. Again, it's not unusual to be in a theatre named after Lincoln. There are tons of landmarks all over the country named after our 16th president - from schools to government buildings to streets. However, this one isn't just named for Lincoln. It's set in the forest at Lincoln State Park on the land that Lincoln himself once roamed as a boy.

Lincoln State Park is located in Lincoln City, Indiana where he spent his childhood and early adulthood, from age 7 to 21. The far southern Indiana community contains the Lincoln State Park and  the Lincoln Boyhood Home National Memorial, part of the National Park Service. The National Memorial is incredibly impressive with exhibits and recreations of significant parts of his life. Lincoln's mother is buried on the property and replicas of buildings that were there when the Lincolns inhabited the land can be toured and experienced though costumed guides when staffed at busy times of the year.

So, back to the theatre. It's a large 1500-seat covered theatre essentially in the middle of nowhere. You're surrounded by green and nature and it's so serene and peaceful to take a seat and hear birds and crickets in place of highway traffic. The cast was amazing and you were totally transported to another place and time. If visiting the area, be sure to check the calendar of performances and see if you can take in a performance. It's one of the most memorable plays and venues I've been to - and there have been many. Everyone living in or visiting the Midwest should experience it at least once.

For more information, visit LincolnAmphitheatre.com.

Photo source: SantaClausInd.org

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Amish Acres

365 Days of Fun: Day 5
(A series of 365 of our favorite spots in our years of traveling as a family)

This is one to tuck away for a few months from now when the weather is warming. From the online calendar it looks as if they re-open for the season in March.

Some of our favorite travels as a family have been to Amish country and we first visited Arcola, Illinois when our oldest was just a tot. We had a favorite B & B in Arthur, Illinois that we visited several times and even brought my parents and my nephew there. Heart & Home it was called. After doing some searching online it appears that it no longer exists. It was run by a lovely couple. She was raised as a mennonite and they were wonderful hosts. Some of our earliest travel memories as a family were of sitting on the porch at that B & B in Arthur listening to the clop of horses on the brick streets on a warm summer night. There's something about spending time among the Amish that brings such a feeling of peace. There's so much joy in the simplicity of their lifestyle.

But, this post is about another place visited at another time. When we visited Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana our family had grown and we were there with five boys as opposed to our earliest visits to Arthur with just one son. Our kids enjoy any place where there's open space to run and explore and this fit the bill. But besides giving them an opportunity to run around outdoors, it also offered a lot in the way of history. With over 40 attractions on the grounds, visitors can explore everything from the windmill, a barnyard and a hog house. The site gives great insight into the life of any early farmer and into the Amish culture.

The Round Barn Theatre, originally built in 1911, still hosts performances of the live Broadway musical Plain and Fancy. The 2016 season will also include Forever Plaid, All Shook UP, Crazy for You, Fiddler on the Roof, The Miracle Worker and A Christmas Story. 

Be sure to enjoy an Amish-style Threshers Dinner of Amish specialties in the Restaurant Barn.

Also on the grounds are a vegetable garden, wagon shed, bank barn, orchard, ice house, cider & grist mill, broom shop, meat and cheese shop and more. A country-style inn provides lodging on site with Amish patterned quilts on bed, pine furnishings and rockers on the porches. 

In our fast-paced world where we are constantly connected to electronics, an up-close look at how the Amish live can be an eye-opener for kids and a special time at a slower pace to enjoy quality family time together. For more information, visit AmishAcres.com.

Photo source: AmishAcres.com

Photo source: AmishAcres.com

Monday, January 4, 2016

Studebaker National Museum

365 Days of Fun: Day 4

In our travels over our 21 years as parents, there have been many auto museums on the itineraries. My husband is a big car lover and a fan of antique cars, in particular. The boys have followed suit and all have an interest in cars. So, if we are visiting a city where there's a car museum, you can bet we will be stopping by. 

One of the best ones we have been to is the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. Our first visit to the museum was many years ago in an older, smaller location. The new location opened in 2005 adjacent to the Center for History. 

The museum covers the car maker's 114-year history from its beginnings as a blacksmith shop in 1852 to the last Timberline Turquoise Cruiser to come off the line in 1966. You'll find exhibits that chronicle the makes and models that were introduced over the years (including horse-drawn vehicles and electric cars) to the company's leaders to the effects on the automobile industry during the second World War.

The museum focuses on products put out through Studebaker, but you'll sometimes see other makes among the collection in temporary exhibits.

Photo source: StudebakerMuseum.org
On display through October 3 is Hoosier Made: World Driven. According to the description on the website, “Hoosier Made: World Driven” looks at the heyday of Indiana’s automobile industry when some of the world’s finest motorcars were built in the Hoosier state. The exhibit will be presented at Indiana’s theww leading transportation museums, each with its own special exhibit focus: The Studebaker National Museum in South Bend will feature the “Brass Era” (c. 1900-1915); the Kokomo Automotive Heritage Museum in Kokomo will showcase the “Jazz Era” of the late ‘teens and early 1920s; and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum in Auburn will spotlight “Classic” cars of the 1930s.

My favorite part of the museum is the Presidential Carriage Collection featuring luxurious carriages made for Lincoln, McKinley, Grant and Harrison.

For more information on the museum, visit StudebakerMuseum.org.

Oh, and P.S. while you are in South Bend, be sure to grab some candies at the South Bend Chocolate Factory and stop for lunch at the N'Awlins-inspired Chickory Cafe. The po' boys are awesome!