Friends forging a course together through the unexpected

Gingerbread and Boston December 18, 2013

The 7th annual gingerbread village creation took place this past weekend. This year’s event took a little more coordination than in previous years, because we met up in Boston. As you may recall from a previous post, my best friend Jill moved out to Boston this past spring. Naturally, Bethany, Jill and I wanted to keep the tradition going since we’ve been doing this for seven years!

Bethany and I booked our flights in October and once again we divided up the candy list. We did quite well this year except we forgot sugar cones for our evergreen trees. But that didn’t stop our creativity. We had lots of marshmallows and used those to create shrubberies and an igloo.

By now, we’ve got our schedule down to a science, Friday night after Bethany and I landed and ate a tasty dinner Jill made we got right to work on making our foundations. Jill whipped up an excellent batch of icing and none of us had any major issues in putting up our walls and roofs. The next morning proved to be a little more interesting.

After breakfast we got to work on decorating. Jill’s general store had an awning that proved to be quite difficult. But after some finagling of soup cans and other small cans, she made a support system that would eventually allow her candy canes to take over. Check out the gallery of gingerbread images to see all of the final products.

As for mine and Bethany’s we didn’t have any problems at all. Bethany and Jill were even impressed by my decorating skills. Usually I’m the first one done by about two hours and this year I was last! I think they tricked me though because they gave me the biggest building….

We finished decorating Saturday night just in time for dinner. Jill and her husband Jaz took us to Boston Burger Company. Jill got the Artery Clogger, Bethany the Hot Mess and Jaz and I both got the Run Down. Burgers were delicious. The place also had a nice variety of local beers. To pair with mine, I got a blood orange wheat beer by Somerville Brewing Company. The only bad thing that happened during dinner was that Bethany and my flight got canceled. Luckily, thanks to smart phones we were able to transfer our ticket to a later flight. Phew! Once that was sorted out it was time for dessert next door at J.P. Licks for some tasty ice cream. I enjoyed a small cup of eggnog ice cream that was simply delicious.

The next day Bethany met up with her sister and Jill and I went exploring in downtown Boston. Check out the Boston gallery to see all of the different places we visited and all the snow we trudged through. Here’s a bulleted list of what we accomplished in just a little under three hours:

  • The Old State House

  • Site of the Boston Massacre

  • Saw the Old South Meeting House

  • Went to Faneuil Hall

  • Ate lunch at the Faneuil Hall Market Place (I enjoyed a bread bowl of clam chowder soup)

  • Walked around Boston Commons and saw the Capitol Building

  • Picked up amazing cannoli’s at Mike’s Pastry

  • Went to a ridiculously large Christmas ornament store and bought two ornaments

  • Walked out to Boston Harbor (but didn’t throw any tea overboard)

  • Explored a small corner of Harvard University

We accomplished a lot in a half day but there is still more to see. Guess I better start planning my next trip back to Boston!

Gingerbread 2013 Gallery!

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A few images from trekking around a snowy Boston.

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‘I’m Here to Learn’ April 3, 2012

Filed under: Kelly — Uncharted @ 9:09 pm
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Those were Dave’s words as we entered the Museum of Science and Industry this weekend.   I laughed at him, but that’s just what we ended up doing.  I originally thought of the idea as a surprise for Dave.  I love surprises so I thought I’d plan one for him.  I ended up having to tell him on Saturday night because he was so antsy and I knew he’d want some say in the final plan.  To my delight he was excited about my idea so we moved forward with a game plan for Sunday.  The new Mythbusters exhibit was what peaked my interest and made me want to go to the museum in the first place.  I had heard about it and it sounded intriguing.  So off we went to the museum!

You have to have a timed ticket to enter the Mythbuster’s exhibit and our time was 12:30pm.  So we headed to the Science Storms exhibit which was right across the hall from the Mythbusters.  This is when I got really excited.  Just look at how inviting and awesome this section looks:

 We didn’t know where to go first.  We saw a huge disk full of sand that was mimicking avalanches, we helped create a tornado/vortex that went from the floor all the way to the ceiling (!), we launched hot air balloons, made rainbows, and saw lightening (yes inside!).   I think we spent the most time in this exhibit because there was just so much hands on stuff.  My favorite thing was this:

I’m not sure what it was supposed to teach me, but I had a blast making the bouncy ball float in the air.  We ate a quick lunch in the Brain Foodcourt and headed over to start our Mythbusters adventure!  This was a fun space and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone so I won’t go into too much detail.  I just wanted to say that the exhibit is very hands on and reminded me that it’s fun to learn by doing instead of always reading about something.  Just a few things we got to experiment with were: whipping a tablecloth off a set table (I only knocked 2 items over!), driving blind, hanging off a ledge, and dodging a bullet.  Yep, that’s what I said!  Just one quick picture of that:

After Mythbusters we wanted to see what else the museum had to offer.  There is an exhibit I’ve never seen before called:

This was another one I really liked because it teaches you about humans.  I got to see my heart beat on a huge heart on the wall, and test the calmness of my mind by playing Mindball against Dave.  You put a little strap on your head and sit down at a table with a ball in between you.  Then you try your best to calm your mind.  Whoever is calmest moves the ball away from them and if they continue they will win!  Here is a shot of our Mindball game:

Those are my brainwaves on the left, and Dave (the winner) , calm as can be, on the right

Dave’s favorite area was called ‘Fast Forward… Inventing the Future.’  I must say it was pretty inspirational.  There were many different pioneers highlighted in the exhibit and they all are involved in things I could never dream up on my own.  Music from a table, farming in a high-rise building…much much more, but you can go see it yourself.  I will show you the quote on the wall when you walk out.  It made me think twice:

We also had a lot of fun seeing the classic Museum of Science and Industry exhibits.  Colleen Moore’s Fairycastle is always a favorite of mine as well as the Farm Tech exhibit.  Here you can see me enjoying the farming area in this lovely John Deere tractor:

And what would a trip to the museum be without a plastic mold to take home?


Night Out in Evanston October 26, 2011

What do you know about Evanston? Besides …

  • That the purple line goes there
  • A little university called Northwestern
  • Tasty neighborhood restaurants
  • Cozy live theatre venues
  • Headquarters of Rotary International
  • Quite a few museums
  • Umteen galleries
  • And a whole bunch of cultural organizations.

Honestly, I only knew about the first two. Thanks to my dude and Google, I learned about the rest. My northern boundary for the most part is Irving Park Road. After a fun evening in Evanston this weekend I found out I need to do more exploring.

The night began at Campagnola Restaurant. The restaurant received many points throughout the night.

  1. They proudly use locally grown and organic products
  2. Nice variety of wines
  3. Delightful desserts – I had the vanilla bean bread pudding…and warned my date that I might have to lick the plate
  4. The atmosphere is intimate, relaxed and chic
  5. Succulent entrees – I had the special – halibut in a cream corn sauce with sweet onions

So, yes I would go back to Campagnola. After dinner the next stop was the Piccolo Theatre. And a literal stop it was, on the Metra. Housed in the unexpected location of Evanston’s working train depot, it provides one unique location.

Spectators were treated to a theatre-in–the-round style of closing night of “Comedy of Errors”.  It was an intimate performance with only around 30 seats.  Focused on engagement, the actors easily interacted with the audience during the show. In such a small space, the use of key props as doorways made the stage seemed larger and acted as great transitional cues.

The show was highly entertaining. The live band played a perfect background tune setting up each scene, whether adding drama or complimenting Dromio’s lament. If you’re looking for a neighborhood theatre with quality actors, go no further than the Piccolo.


Paddle On August 24, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 3:10 pm
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Groupon is a pretty good resource to find nifty deals around Chicago. A few months ago, in my daily deals email, I spotted a kayaking deal. For the bargain price of $50, I purchased two single kayak Skyscraper Canyon Trips with Chicago River Canoe and Kayak (CRCK). One for me and one for my dude since I didn’t trust his skills in a tandem at the time. However, for the record he definitely proved himself and I’m looking forward to our next adventure on the water.

Originally we were supposed to redeem our Groupons two weeks ago. Unfortunately Mother Nature decided to veto that move with a thunderstorm. Ryan Chew, one of the key folks over at CRCK was majorly apologetic and immediately got us rescheduled. So, this past Monday we showed up 2120 Canal Street to get our paddle on.

The weather was perfect: low humidity, clear, puffy white clouds and not 110 degrees like earlier in the summer, but rather a comfortable 70. We met Ryan right away and he helped to get us outfitted with life jackets and gave us a run-down on getting fitted to our kayaks. After that we met up with the rest of our group, and had a mini pow-wow where the staff explained more about our six mile tour, gave a paddling demo and a rules of the water speech.

Armed with our paddles and proper techniques, we were off! We launched around the intersection of Canal and Cermak and continued on north into the Loop. The water in the beginning was nice and still, making for a pleasant ride under the blue sky. However, when we got to the “hub” around the Michigan Avenue Bridge (our turn around point) the water picked up to a decent chop, all due to boat traffic. Water taxis, sight-seeing tours, private boats and even barges made for interesting passing maneuvers. Needless to say, my arms were looking forward to heading back south to the calmer water.

As we headed back, the sun was setting and the buildings began to glow. The views were so unique due to our vantage point in the water and then adding sunset equals Chicago architecture awesomeness. We paddled by landmarks such as the Merchandise Mart, Union Station, Willis Tower, and the Leo Burnet building.

My favorite part of the tour came at the end. We were on our way back down the river when our guide told us to stop and turn around. We looked back from our kayaks at a beautiful night cityscape. Breathtaking would be a fitting word to describe it.

All in all, I’d totally recommend the tour if you’re looking for fun outing that involves a slight workout. Definitely check out CRCK as an option. Their staff was great and very informative. Now I just have to wait for another kayak Groupon…


Sleepy Summer Vacation Spots August 10, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 5:00 pm
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Last week I took my “normal” week of vacation to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Back in the day, I used to spend the entire summer enjoying the fresh air, swimming, going to the range, and of course shopping. Now as an adult, I’m lucky to have one week to escape to my beloved lake house.

One of my favorite things that my family and I did this year was a day trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin. Located in the northern tip of Wisconsin on Lake Superior, Bayfield is known as the gateway to the Apostle Islands.

We stopped in at a very helpful tourist information building and picked up brochures galore about the ferry ride, local shops, restaurants and boat rentals. Since my mom and I were in the lead, we checked out the cute boutiques first and left my dad to explore the used bookstores. We met up at the Rittenhouse Inn and enjoyed a delightful lunch.

Bayfield looking out from our ferry

After lunch, we made a beeline to hop on the ferry to Madeline Island, the largest of the Apostle Islands and the only one with commercial development. We landed at La Pointe, on the island and walked to the history museum. My dad and I are both into history, so it was no surprise we spent about two and half hours exploring the different buildings. My favorite part of the museum was the interactive shipwreck finder that listed all of the recorded wrecks in Lake Superior. My dad, however, may argue that the involvement of local townspeople in the Civil War exhibit was the best part instead.

Mom and Dad outside the History Museum on Madeline Island

Next, we walked around the island in search of ice cream and meandered through a few of the local galleries and shops. Once we had our ice cream we sat on the dock and enjoyed the view of boats sailing off into the sunset. And before we knew it, it was time to board our ferry back to the mainland.

Bayfield and Madeline Island are definitely fun places to visit. Next time I go, I’m totally renting a kayak and exploring some of the caves on Lake Superior and hitting up a few wineries. Alas, I think that might have to wait until next summer but now I have something to look forward to!


Mondays as Fun Days? August 3, 2011

A few weeks ago, I took a day off. It is very rare for me to take just one random day; I am more of a week+ sort of person, especially when travelling internationally. But I have to say, for my first solo day off it went really well, and spending it in downtown Chicago and Naperville didn’t hurt.

It started off by hitting up a favorite for breakfast, Bakin’ & Eggs, since they have “flights” of bacon. Yes, you can get a sampling plate of 4-5 different types of bacon. Getting hungry? Their breakfast sandwiches and scrabbles are also quite tasty. I had a fabulous scramble with caramelized onion and blue cheese and a few links of turkey sausage. I was a proud member of the clean plate club.

After a delicious start to the day, it was time to work off breakfast by walking around the Lincoln Park Zoo. LPZ has several positive points, number one – it’s free. Two, it’s compact. Three – just check out their annual summer concert play list for a unique concert experience. Four – the people watching is almost as entertaining as animal watching. (My personal favorites regarding animals are the seals and polar bears. The penguins come in a closer third.) Five – if you get there early or get lucky, there’s free parking on Stockton.

After the Zoo we started to hanker for tapas…and naturally the only place to go was Meson Sabika in Naperville. Situated a little past downtown in a beautiful historic home, the ambiance radiated awesomeness.  Taking a seat outside on the patio, our group ordered peach sangria that cooled the palette and left you refreshed and maybe on the floor if we had ordered another pitcher. Small plates were shared of garlic potato salad (don’t plan on kissing anyone later because you’ll want to lick the entire plate), bacon wrapped dates, blue cheese stuffed beef tenderloin, and many other dishes. Oh, and of course we each got a dessert. Flan, chocolate cake, cheesecake, dulce de leche, and ice cream were passed around for tastes.

All in all, I’d say it was one solid day off. I might have to do that more often.


Exploring Chinatown June 1, 2011

Filed under: Karla — Uncharted @ 10:07 pm
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Exploring is always more fun when you are with someone else. Luckily I have found someone (a wonderful dude) who is equally into trying new things and going to new places in and around Chicago. One neighborhood in particular that neither of us had yet to visit was Chinatown. Well, that was at least until last Friday.

Chinatown is an easy El ride on the red line southbound right off of Cermak. The neighborhood’s borders are the south branch of the Chicago River on the north, Clark Street to the east, 26th Street to the south, and Halsted to the west. There are an estimated 8,000 residents, the majority of whom are Chinese. Did you know the first Chinese arrived in Chicago after 1869 when the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed?

Based on a recommendation for dinner we went to Lao You Ju on Wentworth. Walking in, the restaurant was very busy filled with young, hip locals. The décor was urban chic – a mix of black, white, and red with glass chandeliers. I felt pretty swanky sitting at our table. The menu was definitely not lacking and included pictures – which I think is a bonus.

Settling on pot stickers as an appetizer we then scoured the large menu for our main course. I chose the ginger chicken and my dude decided to go with the spicy fish soup. The pot stickers were amazing! I have never seen such a unique presentation that tasted so good. Dinner was equally fabulous and I definitely went home with leftovers for the next day.

We were looking forward to doing a little exploring after dinner but unfortunately the weather did not cooperate. But that just means we have another reason to go back, right?


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