Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Hump Day

Only 4 more work days for me until Christmas vacation! Yay! I am GREATLY looking forward to having an extra long weekend... don’t know what I am going to do with myself! I do know I plan on lounging around the house doing nothing except for reading my new books (I bought myself 3 of my favorites for Christmas) and watching a bunch of movies. Then I go back to work for three days followed by a four day weekend. I am very thankful I have vacation time saved up and can take a few extra days off around the holidays. I thought about taking an entire week off, but in the end, I decided that was wasteful since I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and I should really save my days for future cruises and hopefully future maternity leave. Just saying!
 
I have almost all of my Christmas shopping done and all my presents are wrapped. I am on a roll!
I spent ALL day Saturday shopping - two malls, plus JC Penny's at another mall, Kohl's, Sam's, Best Buy and Meijer. Yep, that’s a lot of shopping. My legs ached from all the walking I did...
I bought myself several items for Christmas. After two hours, I had only been to one mall and Kohl's and had only bought one gift for someone else and a bunch of clothes for myself. Kohl's was having a great clearance sale and I had Kohl's cash and a coupon. But you know what? I barely spent any money. For $25 (after $20 Kohl's cash and a 15% off coupon), I bought 2 pairs of jeans, 6 shirts and panties. I previously bought a pair of jeans at Old Navy which ended up not fitting well and need to be returned... the price of those jeans are what the 2 new pairs cost me ($8 each). But everything else, I wrapped and they are under the tree. We set ourselves a spending limit this year and are allowed to buy ourselves some stuff we have been wanting to purchase. (Hence the new clothes and books.)
 
I feel bad I have barely bought Matt anything and I know for a fact he has bought me several things (I peeked at the credit card statement). Shhhhh!!! Don't tell him. He shops almost exclusively online which makes it hard to tell what and where he bought from though. That’s okay... I secretly like surprises even though they almost kill me because of the unknown. I usually annoy him until he gives me hints.
 
We have watched several movies lately:
The Giver - I LOVED this book when I first read it back in the 7th grade and while I re-read it about a year ago. I had been wanting to see this since it was in theater. I'm glad we waited until it came to DVD. It was alright and pretty true to the book, but I guess I was just expecting more. I give it 3.75 stars out of 5.
Let's Be Cops - Started off very funny and then quickly turned boring. I would have stopped watching had it not of been for Matt still watching it. He too thinks it was just okay. And I hate to say that because I LOVE these two on the show New Girl - Nick and Coach. BTW - hilarious show if you have never seen it. 3 out of 5 stars.
Reclaim - Had some boring parts, but I liked this movie. The entire concept was a bit nerve wrecking. I cannot imagine going through what these people go through. 4 out of 5 stars.
Good People - We stuck with this movie for 28 minutes... could not get into it.
We rented all of these movies from our local library. For free! If you haven’t discovered your local library, you are missing out. Check it out!

Phone picture

Going back to Christmas... I never did show you a picture of our tree this year.
Our tree has white lights already on the tree, but I wanted some color. I added three strands of color bulbs and I like how it turned out. I would have liked more color, but I refuse to buy any new lights. Especially considering next house (no current intentions to move), I hope to buy a new bigger tree. I recently saw a tree at Home Depot which had a remote control... push the button once = white LED lights, push it again = colored LED lights, push another time and get alternating lights and then push a fourth time = get different alternating light patterns. It was awesome! But cost $300 or $350 = not in my budget.
Besides, where would I put it? My current tree isn’t very large yet the only place we can put it in our living room is blocking the front door. We don’t use our front door, but it still looks ugly right there. Next house will for sure have a larger living room with a good spot for the Christmas tree.
 
I learned a secret while shopping on Amazon yesterday that I would like to share with you. If you don’t have $35 worth of participating products to qualify for free shipping, add a $25 gift card into your cart. I added one for Red Lobster and received free shipping. Yay! I think we are going to be subscribing to Amazon Prime in the near future and will no longer have this issue, but this is still good to know.
 
Speaking/Typing about Amazon... did you know you can download some free Kindle books? I knew this, but never took advantage of it. Monday, while at work, our computers weren’t working correctly and we were unable to work and I was bored out of my mind so I downloaded a few books and actually read a full book on it. The phone is too small to read on, but I think it would be fine reading on Matt's iPad. This does not mean I plan on reading this way normally, but it is nice to have the option while I am away from home with no books. I doubt I will buy any books though - what's the point of buying something I can never touch? Can get free books from the library as well.


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round

 
I saw tat least hree of those little guys above throughout the city within the crosswalks. Any ideas what they are there for??? They seemed so out of place.
After eating our hotel breakfast, we got guidance from the wonderful hotel staff and headed to Walgreens to get our transit passes. Transit passes are on Mastercard credit card like things and cost $5 for the card. You then load money to your card to use the transit system within the city. For $10, you get all day access for 24 hours on the buses and trains. This is what we did on Saturday.
If you remember to register your card online the first day, you get your $5 back in the form of a credit on your card. Easy enough to do from my phone. Plus, the card is good for 5 years and between Matt and I and my parents, I am sure someone will use the cards over the next 5 years.
We learned a very important thing on our first bus ride... We thought you just stood up and got near the door to be let off. This is not the case. After missing two bus stops, my mom asked the driver if we could get off the bus. We were then informed you have to pull the cord above the windows to notify the driver you wanted off. This would have been embarrassing if there had been people on the bus, but luckily, we were the only ones on it and he seemed pretty nice about the whole thing. Lesson learned.
In case you are wondering, the buses were heated, clean and seemed safe. I would definitely ride on them again.
 
Our first bus ride took us to the Shedd Aquarium.
Took some good shots of downtown Chicago and then headed into the building. Which, by the way was stunning with all the attention to detail in the ceiling tiles to the molding around the doors to the light fixtures.
We had purchased a Groupon ($48) for our admission into the aquarium so we stood in a different line then the people waiting to pay. Took such a long time to actually get into the place. Locker rental costs $0.75. Well worth it since it allowed us to not have to carry anything.
Admission included a free show with dolphins and beluga whales and a 4-D showing of Ice Age. I believe this was my first time seeing beluga whales and I gotta say, they are beautiful animals. I think they are even prettier then dolphins.
He looks like he is smiling.

Navy Pier from the aquarium...
After three hours of wondering around the aquarium and seeing all there was to see, we took another bus to Navy Pier. It was freezing being out on the water! Thankfully, most of the pier has an indoor area which will take you down most of the pier, but once we were exposed to the wind outside, it took everything in me to enjoy the views and take a few pictures. Good thing I enjoy a good adventure!
The above picture is out of place. I just left it though.

I can see how this place would be fun during the warmer months though. I would want to ride the Ferris wheel here in the summer. And I imagine there are a bunch of vendors with carts selling all sorts of foods.
 
Once done at Navy Pier, we took another bus to Portillo's for lunch. This was my choice to eat and it was exactly like I remember it. So damn good! The food and the environment were exactly what I was wanting to experience.
Back to the hotel for a quick stop before walking back to the bus stop to take a bus to see Lincoln Park's Zoo Lights. They had the entire park decorated for Christmas. No cameras can do this place justice. It was beautiful! And free!
Check out this view from the zoo - wish I lived here!
They had a few indoor areas where you could see some of the animals.
Aren't they cute?
This is where/when we messed up with the bus routes.... we went to the same bus stop as where we had been dropped off... Not thinking about the direction it was headed, we got on that bus. After about an hour of it not turning around, we finally got off of it after I asked a guy next to us if it was ever going to turn around. He said it would get to the ending point and then they usually make everyone get off and go on another bus. We should have caught a bus on the opposite side of the road. In hindsight, DUH!
So we got off the bus, crossed the street and noticed we had just missed the bus. Dang it! And on top of that, the bus stop sign said one only comes every 30 minutes opposed to the less than 10 minutes we had gotten used to within the city. Not only was it cold, but it also seemed like we were in a bit of a sketchy area with nothing too close to us. I would have preferred a store nearby with nearby people. Thank GOD a bus came after about 15 minutes! 2.5 or 3 hours later, we were back downtown. Yay! Lesson number 2 learned.
 
Next stop was to the John Hancock Building to experience 360 Chicago. Only when we got there, we were told they had just closed early for a private party. Well dangit - had we not of taken the wrong bus, we would have made it! No worries - thanks to my in-depth prior research and the girl at the counter, we knew to go upstairs to the Signature Room for drinks to take in the views. Chicago at night was absolutely stunning to see from way up on the 96th floor. Beautiful! We only stayed for about 5 minutes though since my mom couldn't tolerate the thought of being so high up (she's afraid of heights). I managed to snap a few pictures.
Off to the Magnificent Mile to walk the road at night and see the lights! We shopped around Eataly where we had authentic cannolis. YUMMY! I could have ate like five more if they would have allowed me to have them for free and I wasn't worried about gaining 10 pounds. Ha ha ha! If only!
After desert, we went back to Portillo's to bring dinner back (ribs for me) to the room and then went to sleep. I was pooped - didn’t stay up very long to read.
 
Sunday morning we slept in a bit, ate another hotel breakfast and headed out for our last few hours before heading to the airport. We knew we wanted to see the Hershey store and Water Tower Mall which is 8 stories of shopping.
While at the mall, we saw Garrett's Popcorn and I knew we had to try it. (I had read about it online.) It didn’t disappoint. I had cheddar and bought Matt and a bag of the caramel pecan. He enjoyed his as well.
 
Ate one last time (third time) at Portillo's for lunch. I had the hotdog, cheese fries and strawberry milkshake again. It was all delicious! I already miss it!
 
Well, that's our weekend trip.
Had lots of fun. Like all my vacations, it went by too quickly.
I really don’t have anything negative to say about the entire experience. I hope to come here again within the next few years during the warmer months and have a whole other experience. Maybe I can convince Matt to come here and we can explore the streets together. Probably not though - odds are, the next time I come here will be with my mom again. Matt hates 'the big city'.



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Weekend in Chicago, IL

I had three blog posts typed out and ready for pictures to be uploaded onto my blog.
Guess what though? They have been deleted and I have looked everywhere I can think of to find them and I had no luck. I am so mad! I worked hard typing our my trip to Chicago, IL. I am hoping what I am about to type is as long as my original posts. I wrote the posts on Monday and Tuesday while everything was fresh in my mind. Now it's Thursday and I am annoyed I have to type it all up again. Especially since I was so careful with making sure I was very thorough on certain aspects of the trip.
Well, here goes nothing
 
Over this past weekend, my mom treated me to Chicago for my birthday. We had such a nice time over our three day weekend in the city.
Thursday after work, I left for Tennessee so we could have an early flight out of Nashville since the earliest flight I could get to Chicago from Louisville would have been around 11AM. I did not want to waste half of my vacation day at the airport.
We arrived in Chicago by 8AM and took a town car to our hotel. To travel the 12.3 miles from the airport to our hotel cost $65 plus tip - $80. Yes, the town car was fast to get to us and we had a pleasant ride to the hotel, but I felt it was a bit over priced for the 30 minute ride. My mom was perfectly happy with the whole situation though. And since she paid, I didn’t have much say.
I'm going to jump to the end of our trip for a minute and tell you I did convince my mom to cancel the town car back to the airport and we took the train. The train is $2.25/pp if you do not have an all day pass. We walked a few blocks to get to the train station and then followed the signs to the correct platform. Each train is color coded with the route they make. Very easy to understand. I felt safe while on the train and I would definitely ride on it again. $5 was a much better price then the $80.
For hotel, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Chicago Downtown/River North. It is right smack dab in the middle of everywhere we wanted to be and even had the added bonus of being directly across the street from a fire department. Prior to getting here, my mom already knew we wouldn’t be able to check in, but that we would be able to leave our luggage and they would call us when our room was available. And this is exactly what happened. When we got there, we were immediately greeted by the wonderful people at the counter. Stephanie is the lady who checked us in and let me tell you - she was an excellent 'display' of customer service. Every time we saw her, she remembered us by name and was always very informative/helpful with giving directions and making recommendations. She should be promoted. Seriously. She had such a good attitude the entire time we were there. They also had a bell hop who was very friendly, but I cannot remember his name.
 
When we did get to head to the room (I forget the time - we were too busy exploring the city), we discovered Stephanie had gotten us a corner room on the highest floor of the building. In my opinion, this was THE BEST room in the whole place! Whether we got the room because of my mom's elite status or because she knew it was my birthday, I do not know. Either way, it was very nice of her and it made our trip even more memorable since we had three different windows showing three different views.
More about the hotel - the breakfast was probably the best hotel breakfast I have ever had. No lie. Granted, I don’t stay at many hotels, but I was very satisfied by what they offered. Both mornings we were here I enjoyed a waffle with whipped cream and fresh blueberries along with fresh fruit and half a bagel. The waffle was very delicious! In the evenings, I enjoyed hot tea and hot chocolate. Saved money not having to go down the street to buy some. I only wish they had a pool and/or hot tub.
 The views....
After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we headed down to the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue to take in all the sites and stores. We headed straight to Macy's to see the famous window displays first. In case you didn't know, this used to be Marshall Fields, but when Macy's took over, they seemed to have maintained all the old traditions. I loved how creative all the windows displays were and I especially loved how one of the trees in one of the windows was decorated with the same candy garland I have and am looking for two more strands (at least). I was hoping it was a re-make and I would be able to find it in the store; this was not the case.
 The candy garland...
We then entered the store so my mom could find some sneakers since she made a poor choice on her foot attire for walking the city. While she started looking, I went to the 7th floor of this massive 9 floors of shopping to get us a reservation at the world renowned (I might be making that up) Walnut Room for lunch.
Looking down...
 Looking up...
Here's the lowdown on how to get a reservation here. Do as we did and try to get there right when they open (no reservations taken over the phone during this time of the year). You then stand in line for a pager which will work throughout the store. You tell them when you want to eat and then you wait for your pager to go off. Our time was 11 - 11:30AM. Once the pager went off, we then turned it in to the lady at the start of another line where we then waited to be seated.
Lucky us, we got seated right next to the giant Christmas tree. What a treat! I was able to take some great pictures from this vantage point. Although, my mom did point out we could have enjoyed the tree more if we had been further way from it. I was happy with our seating arrangement regardless.
The food was mediocre - I ordered the chicken pot pie and my mom had the meatloaf. I wouldn’t go here for the food, but the atmosphere was great and made the meal worth it. They must be making a ton of money here because not 5 minutes after ordering our food, it was at our table. We were in and out within 30 minutes.
From the 8th floor, you can see our table - it's the empty one right next to the tree.
While shopping in Macy's, we bought some Frango Chocolates which are made and sold only here in Chicago and (I believe) only in Macy's. They are very yummy! I bought two boxes - Matt and I are trying to each only eat two a day to make them last. The lady who helped us in this section was named Valerie and she was very helpful. Even let us sample the salted caramel which we both bought.
Within this Macy's, they have store such as Build A bear and Finish Line. It was like its own mall with stores and restaurants.
 
From Macy's, we walked to Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate. I KNEW I wanted to see this since I have seen it on several movies. I am so glad we got to see it and take pictures of it. If and when I go to Chicago again, I will be visiting it. I liked seeing the skyline in the reflection as well as seeing myself. Friday was a good day to be here with the smaller crowds too.
I kept wondering in my head if someone comes and cleans it from time to time. I imagine they must or there would be bird poop and other gross stuff on it don’t you think? I'll have to research that one day.
If I am remembering correctly, this is when we went back to the hotel to check it out after getting a phone call that our room was ready. We rested a bit and then headed back out for more exploring.
 
First stop, the Christkindl Market which is a German Christmas market with merchants from all over Germany (mostly). They had many items I wouldn’t have minded buying if I wasn’t so cheap and didn't want knick knacks around my house. (I'm slowly trying to cut back). We did both try the Gl├╝hwein which came in souvenirs mugs (Yuck!) and I bought some REAL made in Germany Haribo Gummy Bears which taste much better than the crappy (which I still eat) made in the U.S.A Haribo Gummy Bears. Would it kill them to use the same ingredients as the Germans? If they had been a little cheaper, I might have been tempted to buy a large supply of the them to last all year. Instead, I bought three bags. Matt doesn't read my blog since 'he lives through it' (his words, not mine) so it’s okay for me to say I gave one bag away and the other two will be going in our stockings.
My mom's choice for dinner this evening was Lou Malnati's Pizza. We had a medium pizza with sausage and I forget what else. Although I don’t typically like deep dish pizza, I did enjoy this pizza both fresh and cold straight from the refrigerator the next day. The cheese was especially tasty!
After dinner, we walked back to our room where my mom promptly fell asleep by 6:30PM. Yep, you read the time correctly. I stayed up for about two hours reading and then went to sleep. Considering we both worked Thursday and then I drove down to TN followed by waking up that morning by 3AM for our flight, this explains why we woke up early the following morning.