The Chicago Trip – Part 4

After a full day in the city, and plenty of activity, it was time to head home in one way or another :)

The day started with some planespotting out into the still-gloomy skies outside, but there were a few highlights –

A dying breed, literally. American are phasing out their “Super 80” fleet slowly but surely, yet you can still find them around, like this one taxiing to its gate –

O’Hare is clearly a United hub…just a few of their planes hanging around the tarmac, plus some semis at the cargo hangar and even a train on the tracks in the background –

Lastly for this section, a commuter jet taking off for Palm Beach, Florida, which was hopefully a little bit warmer than Chicago!

After that quick spotting session, I went down to the hotel fitness center to enjoy the pool and its amenities. I was slightly dismayed to find out that the fitness center cost $15 to enter – something that almost deterred me until seeing the sign that the pool was free for guests to use. Whew!

So, I jumped in and just let my foot soak for a while, then gradually turned up the heat by first going into the steam room and then into the sauna – whoa, that’s hot, but something worth doing occasionally, as you can chill and sweat it out ;)

Walking away, I snapped a picture of this, which is a sure sign that O’Hare can be a community upon itself –

I then headed back up to my room for the final re-packing and the trek out to the car. But first, another plane ;)

Or 3, including that Etihad 777 arriving at O’Hare 49 minutes late after its flight from Abu Dhabi. Now the last airplanes, for real this time ;) I like this shot because it’s a great display of how busy O’Hare is, planes *everywhere* –

While all this is going on, I made a coffee with the in-room coffee maker and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee. For being a filter pack coffee, it was acceptable, but nothing you’d get from a proper coffee shop. I then made my way back to my car using the tram.

Remember the walk to the train station from the car? It’s still as long on the way back…only complicated by the slight problem that the skies opened up and the rain poured down. I was very thankful that I brought an umbrella, even though it could unequivocally be classified as the world’s worst umbrella, it would have been much worse without one.

I made my way to the Chicago Premium Outlets, which are definitely premium, considering this is one of the stores there:

The only other place I know has a Kipling store is the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. As a guy, handbags don’t interest me, I’m good with the suitcases that I have, and if I’m going to buy a new backpack, I prefer function over fashion ;)

However, there is a store that drew me in –

I made sure to pick up a packet of hand creme there with the outlet discount :)

It was time for something to eat, as I hadn’t had anything as of that time, and I was also ready for a proper coffee. When I was coming in, I noted on the wayfinding display that there is a shop called Crepe Cafe, which is right in front of Lindt, I may add…but I got the house special crepe –

It has banana and mixed berries topped with Nutella and chocolate dressing, along with a dollop of whipped cream, and OMG again there are no human terms to describe this!

After the crepe, I wandered around the mall a little bit, and when I got to one of the exits, there was this –

Yep, a wall of clocks. All set, like a watch ad, at 10:10. This wall only covers A-Fa (Abu Dhabi to Fayetteville…skipping Chicago). The rest of the alphabet goes through the doors into the vestibule from the parking deck. More public art…

My foot had stopped hurting as much due to me walking around, so I hopped back into the car, and started driving along the Des Plaines River Road…a road that takes a winding route, not surprisingly, along the river. I spent what felt like an eternity on this road and thought…the tollways don’t have stoplights, crossroads, and will actually get me out of Cook County by the end of the decade, let’s be smart and get on there!

This is also where the photos really end, since I was driving – I took a couple of quick stops to stretch at the Oasis, then stopped at Costco where I had a realization looking at this scene –

This could be literally any Costco in the USA…the pricing signs are the same, with date codes and stars; the produce selection is practically homogeneous – some items may be organic in one store, non-organic others. Heck, even the food court is the same.

Well, except this one was different. The beef chili wasn’t there, replace with an Al Pastor salad. Also, they still had the chocolate frozen yogurt, which is being replaced in food courts with an açaí and vanilla yogurt blend. The açaí for the new Açaí bowl offering that has started coming around. I would have had the salad, but they were sold out, so I decided against the other food court items, and dropped in at the grocery store to do a quick shop there as well. Too bad I wasn’t going to be there in a few days though!

I carried on home, listening to the qualifications for the Indianapolis 500, making one last stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee, and then I got home to unpack everything and then return the loaner, adding about 400 miles to its clock, and increasing the average fuel. Maybe it is time for a hybrid ;)

Note from Snoskred –

I hope you all have enjoyed our 4 Mondays of Travel With Sephyroth. I know I certainly have. It should be noted the entire reason all of this came about was due to The West Wing Weekly who were arranging some live podcast recordings – tickets sold out incredibly fast and Sephyroth missed out on tickets.

I follow Rob Lowe on Twitter and when he mentioned he would be touring I looked to see if there were any dates nearby to Sephyroth and it turned out Chicago was the closest. I suggested to add in a couple of days of activities and stay a couple of nights, and this trip was born.

I am hopeful this experience will encourage Sephyroth to book a couple more trips, whether it be overnight stays or longer. Travel is an awesome thing!

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 3

After what proved to be a very long Friday, Saturday came early, with alarms set left, right and centre as to make sure I was out of my hotel room in time to get to my 9AM yoga session, and I was successful, being up around 6AM and on the train by 7:45.

Getting off at the station, I was presented by what used to be these payphones, now replaced by a small mural of public phones around the world. Nice art, but not terribly helpful if your mobile is flat! :)

A short bus ride and walk later, I made it to 875 North Michigan, and headed to the 94th floor to get checked in for the class. The class was a straightforward yoga class; the highlight of which was doing tree pose with a partner – in this case the leader’s second-in-command was my partner. While tree pose can be quite treacherous, with a partner it’s quite a refreshing move, and so much easier.

After the class was over, I left the yoga mat behind as I had planned, but it wasn’t alone as there were other yoga mats in the corner for those who may have forgotten to bring a mat, which is a good tip especially if you’re travelling from further afield.

With the fog as thick as it was, there wasn’t much in the way of photo opportunities outward, unless you’re interested in the lake and seeing Lake Shore Drive.

Then we come to this – the actual skystone (not cornerstone) that was installed in the building when it was going up. The inscription states “This Skystone in the shape of a contemporary space travel vehicle was raised to the 100th story of the John Hancock Center on May 6, 1968. After public display, it will be secured and sheltered at the top of the building. Members of some future generation will break the time capsule’s seals and find within a collection of artifacts and microfilmed documents and photographs reflecting interesting aspects of the history of Chicago, Illinois, and the United States of America”

The “some future generation” happened to be my generation, as it was opened on March 12th, and the items in the Skystone, including baseballs signed by the two teams as well as a piece of the Eiffel Tower, are on display right next to it.

I wasn’t nervous about going on TILT, but if you are, there is a solution to it. Alcohol. ;)

The line goes pretty fast, and not much later it was my turn to get in the booth. At first, it’s not too bad, as they start you out with a very small angle, but after a moment or two, you’re leaning out over the city at about a 45 degree angle! It seems scary, but the adrenaline carries you through the experience – an experience made better by the fact that you have grab bars to hold and, as such, are not permitted to take your phone or camera to put in your hand.

If you’re in Chicago, it’s well worth buying a ticket to not only 360 Chicago, but spend the extra $8 and go on TILT…for such a thrill, it’s really a bargain, and make sure to buy the commemorative photographs they make of you on there. In fact, the only souvenirs I purchased in the entire trip were the photographs and magnets of 360 Chicago.

I was off to Navy Pier, but I needed fuel both for myself and my phone. The phone got situated with a stop at Best Buy for a portable charger, and I fed myself via the different shops in Water Tower Place – namely foodease, which features items from different restaurants and local sources such as appetizers from Joe’s Crab Shack and vegetarian quesadillas, plus “pickled things”, and Wow Bao, featuring steamed buns in an Asian style and Thai iced coffee.

I enjoyed my meal in a small park next to a fire house across from the Children’s Hospital. A block down the street was the beginning of the Northwestern University Chicago campus which houses the Law and Medical schools. Around the corner was one of Chicago’s Divvy bike sharing points, and I decided it was time for a change, so I rented a bike…the last time I rode a bike was three years earlier in the same situation.

I was still rusty. So rusty that I didn’t even pedal the bike, just walked it and glided along, almost crashing into a wall while going downhill, so the bike was quickly returned to the next station and I walked the last couple of blocks to Navy Pier, ready to begin my Pokemon adventure.

While my initial plan was to be solo, I actually wound up spending the entire time with 3 folks from out of town, and then our group seemed to expand one by one, but the core group of the four stayed together catching these little guys –

The highlight of the time for me was when one of the major raid bosses popped up, there was a mass of humanity that descended upon the site, and at least 3 groups of 20 formed right away. Nearly everyone in this picture is playing the game here!

As the time wound down, I noticed that my feet were starting to hurt. Why? I decided to wear my new shoes. Not a wise idea when you walk over 7 miles in a busy city. Nevertheless, I still had one thing to do before going over to the theatre, which was to go to Millennium Park and the BP Bridge. Since the original plan was to go there during the 3 hour event, I was somewhat behind. I still made my way down there by foot with a cameo from the President of Poland’s motorcade, along with hopping on another bike and actually using the pedals this time, instead of acting like Fred Flintstone.

The parks connected by the BP Bridge are a bit different to each other. On the east side is Maggie Daley park, designed for families to have a nice day out with miniature golf, a rock climbing wall and a whole playground for the kids. You then cross Columbus Drive via the BP Bridge to Millennium Park.

Millennium Park is just about one square block of green space, along with two buildings that are waterfalls with illuminating faces on them. The folks and I who were watching tourists get into the water in the centre didn’t quite get it…especially on such a cold day.

Next up, I took a quick swing a block south of Millennium Park to the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago to get a picture of the Lion (One of a Pair, North Pedestal) in front –

Getting somewhat drained, I managed to find myself at a coffee shop to enjoy a mocha while getting the chance to give my feet a rest for a bit before walking on to the next stop, which was at Luke’s Lobster City Hall, which I managed to actually miss the first time past and had to backtrack around the corner back to the restaurant. I had the Luke’s Favorite – a lobster roll, coleslaw and bag of crisps (salt & vinegar). I also had myself the rare soda, in this case a local ginger soda.

There really are no human terms to describe how amazing the lobster roll really is. You just have to try it; you won’t regret it!

It was finally time to go to the show!

What can I say about the show? Rob Lowe is freaking hilarious, especially when he tells stories about sharing his After School Special, “Schoolboy Father” with a girl who stated her dad was an actor. His name, not known to Rob until rocking up at their house? Cary Grant. He left after watching the show with nearly a lifetime supply of soap on a rope shaped like a microphone. He also shared the story of when he was a part of, well, this:

He told so many stories, but I’m not going to spoil much of what he said here :) Though the concept of a porterhouse steak requiring a “hat” made of butter is, well, different. It was something that Chris Farley did when he was eating at a restaurant with Rob and some other cast members on a show they were doing together.

The show lasted about 2 hours, including a Q&A session with Rob, where I was mildly disappointed that his dad didn’t ask any questions of him, which I’m sure would have been a blast! I now want to (finally) read his two books – Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and Love Life.

I picked up my bag from the coat check, and hopped on the train back to the hotel via the O’Hare station and these neon signs –

I was ready for another good night’s sleep to be fresh for the drive home, with a few more surprise stops along the way.

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 2

Having been to IKEA, the next goal for me was to find a Walmart to buy a Yoga mat, and then make my way to the Outlets for new shoes from the Adidas Outlet, and they did not disappoint. The instant that I walked into the store, I spotted an awesome pair of shoes that screamed my name. Two pairs of shoes, and a new long-sleeve workout shirt later, I was all set and pleased that I had only spent half as much as I expected.

With that stop done, it was time to venture into Illinois…and head into the Hell that is known as Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon. But first, I made another stop.

One of my favourite things about the Illinois Tollway are the Oases along the highway. It’s like taking the shops and restaurants from an airport concourse and melding them all into a single building right over the tollway, and then putting a gas station on each side of the highway for fueling up at. A major plus is the view out of the windows –

While there, I organised the coins that I would need to pay the toll when I exited, since their automated machines only accept 5, 10 and 25-cent pieces. No notes or cards accepted. I also grabbed a Chai Latte from Starbucks to sip on while driving in the traffic on the way to the airport.

A quick musical interlude: since the car can search tracks in Google Play Music, I asked for it to play, by title, “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads. Google mustn’t have been feeling well on this day, as this starts up:


Maniacal laughing ensues, but I quickly recover and coax it to the right song, and then decide that it’s time to load up some of the club and trance music that I have in my library to help with focussing on the rush hour traffic in Chicago. I get off the tollway via this ramp with 4 payment lanes.

Four payment lanes are great, until you see what’s ahead. Within 300m, you have to merge into a single lane, and then keep an eye out for traffic from the left that could be entering your lane to exit at one of the two exit ramps that are immediately after the merge point. It certainly isn’t the greatest moment in Civil Engineering. The positive for me is that I needed that first exit to access the remote parking lot.

I’m greeted at the parking lot with a recorded announcement in the classic Chicago accent; it’s really a ‘ting’ of ‘bewdy’. The next challenge is to find a parking spot. The first spot I find is in section D12 and right next to a tree, in the blue circle. It was quite a hike to the people-mover to get to the airport.

After reorganizing my items to carry them to the airport, I make the jaunt to the people mover and travel to the airport. The check-in at the hotel was straightforward, and I was up in my room on the 9th floor with a runway view after just a few minutes.

So, what’s the view like? Look one way and you see one tower, the other way you see the other tower :) Here’s the tower to the right –

After taking a few minutes to get myself recombobulated, I had a chance to study the tarmac and had the opportunity to see the Queen of the Skies in one of her cargo configurations –

It was now 7PM and time for dinner, so I hop on the train and head to Logan Square, and then on to Fat Rice. During my walk, I was keeping my head up, and the early-1900s flats caught my eye –

Even though it was raining very lightly, it was still good weather for a walk, and I get to Fat Rice only to find out that it would be an hour for a table to open up, so I went searching for another restaurant for dinner. I find Restaurant Ecuador, which has a high rating on Google and, more helpfully, its menu posted on the window, so I chose to pop in and have dinner there.

A tip if you find yourself at Restaurant Ecuador – Spanish knowledge is a major plus. Even though you’re very much in Chicago, you have to specify to the waiters that you speak English; otherwise, it’s assumed that you know Spanish, which is something that I do know, so I had a relatively easy time chatting there.

When I looked at the menu, one dish sparked my interest right away: Churrasco, which is Steam Steak served with 2 eggs, french fries, lettuce, tomatoes and white rice. I chose that for main main, and also selected an appetiser of Bolon de Verde, which is Plantain mixed with pork skin. The waitress was suggesting that I try it with cheese, but I chose not to this time. While waiting for my food, I had a chance to look around at the surroundings. You can tell that this is a small operation since you have some basic decorations, but nothing outlandish.

After about 10 minutes, my plantain arrives with a small container of salsa:

The plantain was soft and the pork that’s in there is crispy to give a nice contrast of textures. What about the salsa? Holy cow, this is knock-your-socks-off levels of spicy, but something that I would definitely have again. Just as I’m finishing up my plantain, the Churrasco arrives –

Snoskred and I had been talking about putting an egg on top of my pizza, so it was only fitting that I did get the item that had the egg on top ;) The steak was cooked about medium-well and was quite tender, especially when you combine some of the egg with it. The lettuce and tomatoes on the bottom were a good accompaniment. The only suggestion I would have is to include some different vegetables for more contrast.

Having completed just about half of the plate, I paid the check and chatted for a couple of minutes with the waitress in Spanish about how I wound up enjoying their restaurant.

While I was having dinner, the rain picked up a little bit so I decided to catch a bus back to the train station. A quick look to the east reveals that there isn’t a bus imminently arriving, but it couldn’t be too long, right? I wound up standing out in the rain for close to 15 minutes before abandoning that idea in favor of walking back. It was fortunate since in the time it took for me to walk to the station, I saw two busses heading the other way, and nothing my way.

Getting back to the hotel around 10:00, I wasn’t tired so I decided to take a walk around the parts of the airport that I can access, and come across this sign offering Indulgence, Love, and Beauty at O’Hare-

Indulgence – “Nuts on Clark”; Sarah’s Candies; and McDonald’s
Love – Hoypoloi, an uncommon Gallery; Seaway; and Coach.
Beauty – MAC; Sunglass Hut; and Hudson.

Let’s look at this a bit deeper. Each of the categories features one really strange inclusion…for Beauty, we have Hudson. Hudson run the convenience stores in numerous airports around the world. Now…Love. What the heck is Seaway? It’s a bank. Maybe you can use the money you get from Seaway to love a new bag from Coach, if you can get through the barrier.

McDonald’s for “Indulgence”? It’s a bit of a stretch to consider anything there indulgent. Surely you could find something different, like Eli’s Cheesecake. Or, if all else fails, Dunkin’ Donuts:

Making it back to the 9th floor, it’s time to settle in for a night’s sleep in preparation for a full day on Saturday, which will come next week. :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 1

So, as I said last week, I’m planning to head to Chicago to see Rob Lowe. The plan is simple…drive my car to O’Hare airport, park it, and have a good couple of days in Chicago. There’s a lot planned, and the time is nigh.

Except there’s some problems…on Wednesday, my car decided to not start, so I wound up getting a free loaner car from the dealership, which I drove for the weekend. It’s not a problem since it’s a hybrid and it has some really cool features :)

To get to Chicago from where I live is dead simple – follow the freeway until the Illinois border, then follow the tollway – a task that would be slightly less expensive had I had my car, but it’s still worth the convenience to pay full price for the tolls (in Illinois, you pay full price if you pay cash, but if you use their electronic tolling, it’s half price).

However, I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to driving from here to there – detours are not uncommon for me; the first detour is to drop off a package, which is just a quick stop, and I’m back on the road again.

One thing about the loaner car is that it ties into my phone, and all I have to do is press the voice button, say “IKEA” and it immediately suggests that I go to the one that just opened the other day, no faffing about choosing one down a list.

It was no surprise that when I arrived at IKEA, the parking lot was nearly full, but there is attention to detail, even down to signs made up by IKEA telling you not to park alongside the road.

Getting closer to the parking lot, there are marshals directing you to your parking spot – you didn’t get a chance to choose your spot. I get parked, and notice something strange…an RV in the parking lot – as in someone actually came to IKEA in an RV…not a huge Breaking Bad style one, but one nonetheless.

Picking up the map, I realize that it’s in the design of the more recent IKEA maps in that it is the transit map, designed to make you spend more time in the store browsing through the showroom and marketplace, maximizing revenue for the store. One handy feature of the map, though, is that it does have the shortcut lines in it, showing how to jump to the restaurant from the entrance. The restaurant line was crazy long, and I think that they don’t have the restaurant as well planned as it could be – in the other restaurants that I’ve been at, you just queue up at the item that you want, say the meatballs, and then you get it.

I waited patiently in the line, perusing the choices for lunch, and I come across the Daim cake on the screens, so I picked that along with the Swedish meatballs and a Latte to drink while sat comfortably on one of their couches in the restaurant.

Some IKEAs have great views out of the restaurant while some others have no windows at all. This IKEA has this view out of the restaurant.

It’s definitely no IKEA Tempe…

After lunch, I took a quick trip through the rest of the store, picking up some things that I needed like plastic bags and a new kitchen brush before taking the second shortcut to the collection area, and the Swedish Food Market, now before the checkouts, a move likely designed to increase sales just that little bit more.

After checking out and grabbing a coffee at the Bistro, I went back out to the car, and noticed something else in the parking lot – U-Hauls…people actually rented U-Hauls to go to IKEA. Not just one, but five of them were in the lot! Crazy time! I will grant that if you are buying a lot of furniture, as I did last year, it may just be easier to fit it into a U-Haul instead of trying to cram it all, plus two other people, into your hatchback ;)

Now, to keep everyone sane, and to avoid having a never-ending post, we will stop here momentarily and pick things up next time. We’re only at 2 PM on Friday, and there’s still 80 miles ahead of me :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Masterplan

Hi there, Sephyroth here. I’m taking a trip to Chicago soon to see a show featuring Rob Lowe, who one cannot help but just have a deep appreciation for. The only problem is that when I travel, I am a person who has little to no manner of researching things, so I wind up just figuring it out as I go, or letting others figure it out for me. For the most part, if I’m travelling with Snoskred and her Other Half, she’ll do the research and I’ll say yeah, sounds like a plan and carry on. I mean, how else does one wind up flying in a helicopter and holding a snake? ;)

This time, the only planning that she has done for me is to suggest the show that I am going to see, along with pointing out a bridge in Millennium Park because it was the bridge that was walked along in the Netflix show “Ozark”.

She was also instrumental in getting me to book my hotel a record 4 months! prior to my trip. Looking back, the prior record was 2 months when I was travelling to Hawaii and organized a hotel room near the airport since my flight was at 7AM. There was even one trip that I’ve taken where I booked my hotel at noon the same day that I left. That trip was nice, but kind of ended up being a bit of a mess, considering that my skill in this planning led me to drive over 1,000kms in a single day. That did at least net me the opportunity to get this close to Canada…close enough to take pictures, but not cross the border since it was before getting my Passport.

However! Hard as it is to believe, that isn’t my record, since a few years later (and this was planned!) I drove nearly 1,400kms in one day–and that was in November, when it gets dark at 5:00pm!

Needless to say, for me to actually have researched things and chosen things to do is quite the miraculous event. Again, booking a hotel 4 months prior to the trip? Crazy talk! Looking at attractions to visit a month prior? Insane! Choosing restaurants…at all? Now you’re just crazy dude…but I’ve done all of that! Wait…purchasing tickets to an event 1) 5 months in advance and 2) on the same day they go on sale…I got nothing here :)

So, this trip is going to be three days and two nights, and there are a few things that, in the time between when I purchased the tickets and the actual trip, I had learnt. Those things were –

1. The opening of a new IKEA store just 2 days before I leave; and
2. As a Pokémon Go player, an in-game event occurring on the same day as the show.

So, the one thing that I don’t want to do when going to Chicago is drive in the city. Even though I love driving…especially long distances…driving in a city of nearly 3 million people as part of a metropolitan area of almost 9 million is a bit daunting. At least in Atlanta, they decided to put shedloads of lanes in their freeways to compensate for the number of travellers on the road. Chicago? The big roads are on the outskirts of the city, and the main freeway in town is, at best, 4 lanes wide…usually 3 lanes.

Plus, there’s parking in the city – when I travelled down there for a day trip on a Thursday, I wound up paying $38 for parking in a parking ramp outside of the loop…but that was fine since Eataly was near to the garage, and my curiosity had been piqued about it. Plus the event that I went down there for was near the Tribune Tower – about a 10 block walk from there. It gave me an opportunity to check out parts of the city that I’d never seen before – such as the underground road network.

All of that led me to deciding to want a hotel out in the suburbs, and near to public transit…the L trains in particular. What does that mean? Staying out by O’Hare Airport, since it’s right on the Blue Line, and there are plenty of hotels out that way, all with a really good rate usually. Also, I’d done that in my trip about 9 years ago, and it worked out nicely – as well as netting myself a stack of dollar coins when I used a $20 note to pay for parking at the CTA’s lot :D

In searching the map, I discovered that one of the best rates available in that area wasn’t at one of the airports outside of the main airport area, but actually at the airport itself, and so booking for the Hilton O’Hare was set. One of the innumerate travel secrets that I’ve learnt over the years is that, if you’re certain about the hotel you want to stay at, book from that hotel directly – not only will you actually know you’ll get that hotel, you’ll be able to choose your room, and normally get the best price…not to mention the ability to earn traveller points through something like Hilton HHonors. As someone who loves airplanes and the like, I of course have chosen a runway-view room at the hotel so I can get some planespotting in as well as some rest during my stay.

The next thing was to start looking at attractions. In previous trips to Chicago, I’ve visited the Sears Willis Tower Skydeck twice – once before the ledge, and again after the ledge was created. What is the Ledge, you ask? It’s literally a porch on the 103rd floor of the building that lets you step over the city, but don’t worry. It’s fully enclosed in glass, but it can be a bit frightening (though I did step out on it…at night). I will note that the only problem about going up in the Sears Tower in the evening is that most of the shops, except for the one on Skydeck, natch, are closed, so you kind of miss out on some of the “touristy charm” if there is such a thing, but I was able to see a cutout of President Obama.

Plus, at this time, it was when Chicago was still in the running to get the 2016 Olympics…imagine holding the sailing on beautiful Lake Michigan? At least the support was huge a couple of months before learning that they would not get the Olympics, especially at what was just then freshly renamed Willis Tower.

As much as I love going to Chicago and visiting the Loop and downtown, I’ve never explored much outside of the main downtown core. The farthest out I’d been is out to Navy Pier and the Art Museum, so I thought…what about the John Hancock Center erm…uh, “875 North Michigan Avenue”…guess that naming rights deal ended…in February! It’s the second tallest building in the city of Chicago, and I’ve never been there before. At least there’s no question to its address now!

So, I look up the John Hancock Observation deck, to find that it’s now called 360 Chicago, and they now have this attraction much like the Ledge, but slightly different, in which you are actually cantilevered out over the street below; it’s called TILT, and billed as a thrill ride…so I think, well, why not? The other part of it is that after some digging I found that there is a Yoga class that goes on every Saturday Morning at 9AM, so again…why not? I’ve done Yoga a couple of times, and it’s quite enjoyable – and this time it would be with a whole group of people, not just in my basement in front of a computer monitor, bonus socializing!

That’s Saturday morning sorted; the next thing was to figure out where to go for the Pokemon Go events…so I joined a group that is focussed on downtown Chicago. I had assumed that they’d probably congregate at like Millennium or Grant Parks. Except they didn’t in the end. They chose the following locations –

– Lincoln Park Zoo – Not a bad idea, but quite a ways north, and not something I was looking to see
– Navy Pier – easy to find, and sort of easy to get from there to Millennium Park
– “The Glen” – which I have no real clue as to what it is, but I think it’s out toward Glenview…and I was going to be downtown.

Keeping in mind all of that I was doing, it was pretty easy to figure out which place to go to – Navy Pier. My plan is to go from Navy Pier, get checked in and pick up a piece of swag, and then head towards Grant Park and Millennium Park to walk around, followed by going over towards the Cadillac Palace Theatre for the show, picking up lunch and coffee along the way.

After the show, the plan is fairly straightforward – catch the L back to the Hotel and tuck in for a good night of sleep…then get up on Sunday Morning, and head back home, possibly stopping at IKEA again, and maybe a couple of other shops along the way.

As far as finding food, I decided that stopping at IKEA on the way down for breakfast would be a great idea, and an opportunity to check out the new store — seeing that I was that weirdo who actually went to the parking lot before it opened to get an idea of the surroundings. For lunch, I don’t have a good idea, but will probably just have some coffee or a Chai Latte from a restaurant, possibly going to Eataly if I get into town early enough, or try out an illy owned and operated cafe at the NBC Tower, but that’s not open very late, so may not be the best option.

For dinner, I was researching restaurants and came across a list on the Chicago Tribune’s website that is somewhat up to date (except for the Japanese restaurant they recommended closed last year…and the map that they used isn’t loading the Openstreetmap tiles). That list has a restaurant called Fat Rice which serves Macanese cuisine, or Chinese-Portuguese fusion from Macau(o).

The best part about Fat Rice is that it’s a short walk from the L train stop at Logan Square – just about 650m, or 10 minutes walking, depending on lights and such :)

On Saturday, the only meal I’ve planned for sure is dinner – at Luke’s Lobster City Hall. I figure that meandering from Navy Pier to Grant Park, I can snag something to eat while out and about, as well as get a coffee somewhere, probably finding a local cafe and trying to avoid Starbucks like the plague.

Then on Sunday, it was a drive home, and potentially making a second trip to IKEA to do a more extensive shop and get some Meatballs.

To make things easy, here’s an itinerary, of sorts –

Friday –
* Leave home as early as possible, 8 or 9 AM doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibility
* Make a quick stop to deliver a package that would be needed over the weekend
* Breakfast at IKEA, check out the new store
* Stop at the Outlets, get new shoes since the ones that I mainly use are over 2.5 years old now (and still in pretty good shape)
* Find lunch somewhere, and coffee
* Get to the hotel somewhat early, check in and head into the city
* Dinner – Fat Rice, a restaurant that serves a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese cuisine; a/k/a Macanese

Saturday –
* 9AM Yoga at 875 North Michigan
* TILT reservation at 10:30AM
* Pokemon from 1-4 at Navy Pier, then meandering over towards Grant Park
* Dinner at Luke’s Lobster City Hall
* 8:00 The Show that I set this trip up for in the first place

Sunday –
* Check out of the hotel
* Head home via some random route, but probably the Tollway

Goals? Have fun and don’t get robbed or murdered :)

Tune in Next Monday to see how this plan goes. :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Convenience That Is Japan

Please welcome Lulu from Cherry Blossom Adventures to the blog –

This is the first time I have guest blogged on somebody else`s blog which is why this is out of my niche for me…

I grew up in Australia and was 19 the first time I lived in Japan…. after coming from a place where I had been driving since I was 16 and had to drive anywhere to be able to do anything it was an interesting transition to be able to walk outside 50m and buy an orange juice, or a beer…at 3am in the morning or any other time I chose. I also had to get used to riding a bike again, since there were no cars for us students and at that time we lived 20- minutes away from the station.

I had lived in Brisbane, just outside actually, most of my life in a place called the Redlands….it was near the water but my house really was in the middle of nowhere (My family lives bayside now)…..the closest shop was a 10-minute drive. My closest friend was a 10 minute drive….and my highschool boyfriend at the time was a 20 minute drive away and when we met neither of us could drive so we had to rely on our parents to shuttle us around.

Going from that to a place like Tokyo was a bit of a shock. Perhaps not as much of a shock as it would have been for someone from the country but a shock all the same.

I moved back to Tokyo 2 years ago now, to live with my boyfriend. He is Japanese, and yes we communicate in Japanese (one thing that isn’t convenient about Japan is the language…although it is not so much a problem for me anymore)…we lived in a tiny tiny apartment in a place called Kichijoji, which is in West Tokyo. It was a beautiful place, and I wish we still lived there now, except the 25m sq apartment wasn’t for me. But we lived a 2 minute walk from the closest train station, we had a 24hr 100yen shop across the road and a supermarket 100m away that was open until 2am everyday…If I had a craving for some chips at 3am I just had to walk across the road. If I ran out of beer during a house party, I just had to go across the road. If I wanted MacDonald’s I only had to walk around the corner…and it was a five-minute walk to the one of the nicest parks in Tokyo.

We still live in an apartment that is convenient (but thankfully bigger) a 6 minute walk from the station, a 3 minute walk to the supermarket and about the same as that to the local convenience store…We live closer to downtown Tokyo now and a taxi to Shinjuku costs $15 or a five minute train ride costs $1.60. It is not as convenient perhaps as where we lived before but it is a hell of a lot more convenient than where I was in Australia….We don’t own a car, and to tell you the truth we really don’t need one.

I am moving back to Australia in July this year for six months to a year so that I can spend some time with my family before my boyfriend and I get married and move back to Japan….he will study English and I will work in the city. I am not sure how I will go with having to drive to the supermarket or train station….or how I will go with paying $5 to catch the train when public transport is so much cheaper here. I love Australia, I really do, but will the convenience that is Japan have ruined me for Australia living?

Lulu is a 23 year old Aussie girl living in Tokyo with her Japanese boyfriend trying to make sense of the crazy but fun Japanese world she lives in.

And remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

Get Out Of Your Niche

Fibromyalgia Skeptics – Walk A Mile In My Shoes

Please welcome Sandy from Fighting Fatigue back to the blog –
Ever since the FDA approved the drug Lyrica for Fibromyalgia patients, skeptics have been crawling out from the woodwork to post their “opinions” on the validity of Fibromyalgia.

It amazes me that in this day and age, millions of people who are sick (3 – 6 million to be exact) with Fibromyalgia still feel as though they have to defend themselves and defend the fact that they are truly, physically ill.

I have been reading on different websites across the Internet comments such as:

– We are whiners who complained until someone gave us a drug to treat our so-called condition.
– People who legitimately suffer from chronic pain are few and far between.
– We are taking the easy way out by popping a pill and refusing to deal with the realities of life.
– We have so-called psychological issues due to the fact that we were neglected or treated unfairly as children.
– We expect the world to revolve around us and expect people to bow down to us because of our illness.

Yes, these are statements that I have been reading! All I can say to all of the Fibromyalgia skeptics who are out there, come live with me for one week. By the time you have spent 24 hours a day with me for 7 days, you will realize that it is impossible to fake this illness. Walk in my shoes for one day, one hour even, and you will have a new appreciation for what real strength is.

To those who don’t believe, I pray that the day comes where you are not struck down with a chronic illness. If you are, and if you seek out compassion, understanding and acceptance, remember how you treated others.

Sandy Robinson is 38, Female, live in the Northeast, married with a 6-year-old beautiful son. Sandy started the Fighting Fatigue website to help raise awareness and offer support to others for the chronic illnesses I Sandy personally suffers from: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and Interstitial Cystitis.

Sandy the incredible thing about this post is I could easily replace the words Fibromyalgia and chronic pain with words like depression and everything you wrote would still apply. I don’t think sufferers of Fibromyalgia are alone in feeling that lack of compassion, understanding and acceptance.

I sometimes think many illnesses are like the existence of God – either you believe they exist because you personally suffer from them or you know someone who does, or you don’t believe they exist. People with mental illnesses like depression often feel that same need to defend themselves and rather than try to prove they are ill, they’ll just shut up. :( Good on you for not being silent about this.

Sandy also wrote – Maintaining A Positive Attitude While Chronically Ill previously as a guest poster for get out of your niche here on the blog.

And remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

Get Out Of Your Niche

Sue Blimely – Out Of Her Niche

Please welcome Sueblimely as today’s guest poster –

I haven’t suffered the agony of writer’s block since I started blogging, that is, until my mind turned to this guest post. I have learned, with trial and effort (there have been many trials to practice on) that life does offer solutions, if you open your mind and let it . Something I read yesterday brought the solution that I should have thought of myself. I will write about a subject that has been a daily part of my life for 17 years now.

If you have heard of Fragile X Syndrome, you are probably still in the minority. When I heard the word 14 years ago it was only after 3 years of searching for the answer and 3 years of doubting my ability as a mother. Surely it must be my fault that all my son’s the niggly little illnesses, infections, ear infections, rashes and 3 years of a runny nose were due to lack of proper care and hygiene; his slow development a result of post natal depression, which saw me hospitalized for a month when he was 6 months old. Three years of doctors and nurses ignoring my concerns: “he is just a slower developer than your other two were my dear – he is doing things within the normal limits”. I can imagine the notes they made – “neurotic mother, suffers from anxiety and depression ” Doubts were my constant companion. Certainly having two older children who walked by 9 months, could read by 10mths, play the piano by 11mths … must be clouding my judgment – you detect exaggeration there – quite correct but they were in general earlier than the norm in all their ‘baby steps’.

When my son was 3 my health center nurse saw the light and referred me to a Pediatrician. I wanted to switch that light off again, wanted to believe all I had been told over the last three years. I did not want to believe a dismissive doctor who told me my son had a developmental disability, that it was unlikely the cause could be found (so he was not going to try) and “please close the door on your way out”. The first stage of grief hit, knocked me for six – denial and isolation. Thankfully the second arrived soon after; the anger that propelled me to action. If this b… doctor is not going to bother to even try finding an answer then I damn well was. My normal determination and single-mindedness returned in strength. A couple of months later I found my savior, a pediatrician, specializing in disability, who had heard of Fragile X and knew of a few things to look for. Seeing my son constantly flapping his hands in excitement (throw him off a cliff and he would probably be able to fly), noticing that he had only one palmer crease instead of two on his hand and that he was quite double jointed (he still relaxes on his bed with head resting on his foot!), he sent us for tests. Yes us, plural.

The results: my son suffers from Fragile X syndrome, the most common known cause of inherited intellectual disability and I believe the only known cause for an Autism Spectrum disorder. I am a carrier, as is my older son. My daughter is clear of the condition, as she inherited my X chromosome that does not have the Fragile X fault on it. Both my daughter and older son have an IQ near genius level.- not telling you mine :-). My mother was a carrier too, as I suspect was her father.

Was I upset by the results – no way. I had had to accept my son’s disability, but not being able to do anything had been tearing me apart. Now I went into action.. Read, research, learn, teach. A foot high mountain of bits and pieces of medical research from around the world was soon transformed into 20 pages of information, written in layman’s terms. This was then used by a fledgling Fragile X Support Group as an information package for those impacted by Fragile X – and to teach the medical profession, which was required regularly in the early days.. More importantly I had an insight into why my son behaved as he did, which was a huge help to me in dealing with it and helping him cope in life. My self esteem improved, there was a reason for his autistic tendencies, ADD, allergies, rashes, ear infections, eye problems, vomiting 30 times a day, lateness in talking, walking, hand flapping and why he could put his legs over his head with incredible ease. There was a reason why this adorable child could melt hearts with his smile even though he could not look them in the eye. His is a sociable kind of Autism. The world and its stimuli full of sights, smells, taste, touch and sounds are often too much for my very precious “Fraggle” to deal with but he is interested in it and its people.

I also found an answer for my own intermittent problems with depression and constant anxiety, which had ranged from mild to “stop the world I want to get off.”. Us female Fragile X carriers tend to be like that. I eventually, stubborn fool that I was, got the whole gamut of help I needed for this; which changed my life. Life is good.

When I read yesterday that a drug to cure Fragile X Syndrome is likely to go into clinical trials as soon as this year imagine how pleased I was. I have written about it on a site that I am developing for a friend who was part of that fledgling support group I mentioned earlier.

Please take some time to read the details on Fragile X and check out the links for more info. There are many children out there with Fragile X who have not been diagnosed. Male Fragile X carriers suffer from a condition known as FXTAS which can be misdiagnosed as Parkinsons. Female carriers are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, early menopause and have twins. The more people who are aware of the condition, the more children and adults will get the help they need.

Snoskred – My nephew is autistic, though it wasn’t diagnosed until he was around 4. It can be quite frustrating to communicate with him. I absolutely adore him but I don’t think I could handle it on a daily basis. Enormous kudos to all the mothers out there with kids who suffer from any kind of disability, no matter how small it may seem.

You can read more from Sueblimely at Blogging Sueblimely.

And remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

Get Out Of Your Niche

Kelley Out Of Her Niche

Please welcome Kelley from magneto bold too! with today’s guest post.

I was 6 when my dad got cancer for the first time.
Hodgkins lymphoma. Back in the late 70’s there was not a lot they could do.

They gave him 3 months to get his affairs in order.

I remember him coming home after that diagnosis. My brother and I in bed in our shared bedroom. An enormous room in our newly rented house after coming ‘home’ from a year living in rural Queensland. A room with a huge scary picture of the Queen in one corner, a wall of window and a makeshift partition to give us our own space.

He was drunk. Although I didn’t understand that at the time, as my father never drank. He was yelling and screaming and my mother was crying.

I was worried that he might wake the bird.

Kids.

He went to hospital. We played. We went to school. We made cubbies in the yard and collected skinks in an old pool.

One afternoon I was sitting in the lounge marvelling at how amazing eyes were. I was eating an orange and it squirted in my eye. It stung. Then I started contemplating how eyes work in my fascinated, unlimited imagination. It involved little men with levers and a boss with glasses giving out orders. And they were yelling cause I got orange juice all over their floor.

My mum came in and told me we were going to visit Daddy at the hospital.

We went on the train. We had icecream. We went to the bookstore and bought a book for Daddy and a book for me. Kids Own Book. It had activities and fun stuff to do in it. I was so excited about showing Daddy that book.

Down streets, up elevators, walking down scarily long corridors and finally we were at Daddy’s room. He was smiling. He looked tired. And skinny. But the other people in the room looked worse. But that was OK, cause this is the place that would make Daddy feel better and then he could come home and I could sit on his lap and cuddle again.

I looked out the window while my parents talked like adults. Boring adult stuff. I don’t remember the details. I was staring at the Nylex sign. The time keeper of Melbourne. An icon. Not that I knew that at the time, it was just a really cool, really big clock.

The Nylex Sign

Soon it was time to go home. I don’t remember leaving. We went to McDonalds.

Kids. Funny the things they remember. So insular. Such a blessing.

A few days later Daddy was due to come home. But we weren’t allowed to go near him. Something about being radioactive.

I told the kids at school and they thought it was so cool. They said he would glow green! So in the middle of the night my brother and I crawled on our hands and knees to look under his bedroom door.

There was no glow. There was no pulsing light. We were jipped.

I don’t remember any more from that time. And that is because this is a happy tale.

Almost 30 years later my Daddy is still here. He was the doctors guinea pig. They tried every single experimental drug they could find on this young strapping healthy man with a death sentence. Drugs that today are common place. Therapies that are now saving thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives today.

Not that my Daddy had a choice in the matter mind you, but I like to think that my Dad made his mark on the world. A wonderful positive mark. And he did it with grace and quiet dignity so that all his children remember of that time is what they ate and a huge freaking clock outside his hospital window.

Now how was that for out of my niche? Seriously. No potty mouth in sight.

Kelley is a self-confessed potty mouth blogger and shoe addict. A fellow Aussie Blogger, Kelley is part of a new project which I am a big part of – one of the reasons I haven’t been around so much lately, details to follow soon. I am a huge fan of her blog and admire her for feeling free to use language on her blog which I was a bit gutless about using here.

You can read more from Kelley at magneto bold too! but be aware there is language present which may offend some readers.

And remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

Get Out Of Your Niche

Lightening Out Of Her Niche!

Please welcome Lightening to the blog –
When I first contemplated taking part in Life in the Country’s “out of your niche”, I discounted the idea on several levels. The first of which was my own confidence in my ability to write something that anyone else would want to read. That’s kind of a funny attitude for a blog writer to have really. But when I first began my blog I wasn’t considering the fact that anyone would actually read what I had to say. It was more for me than for anyone else.

It wasn’t until I began venturing out into the wider blogosphere (wider than myself and a few friends) that I read the idea that a blogger should really decide exactly where their “niche” is if they’re going to have a successful blog. The idea of a “successful blog” did appeal to me somewhat. I liked getting up of a morning and discovering that people had actually visited the blog. Even better, some would take the time to stop and leave a comment. I even got a few “thankyou, you really made me think” or “thank you, your post today made me smile” type comments. Wow! What a buzz!!!!

But having a “niche”???? The concept continues to allude me. My blog isn’t JUST about being a mum, or cooking, or gardening, or someone on the path to recovery from a nervous breakdown. It’s not really about simple living or frugality or making others smile. I can’t really claim to have menu planning down pat or say that my blog is mainly about home organization (okay, it’s not even a little bit about home organization lol). It’s all of those things and more. The only common denominator I can put it down to is “me”. My blog is about “me”. Is that a niche? I have no idea!!!

So if I don’t really know what my “niche” is in blogging terms, how can I really write a post that is “out of my niche”? Hmmmm…… maybe I was overthinking this idea just a tad (who me??? LOL).

After some thought it occurred to me that I could write what I DO know about a “niche”. To me a “niche” is a place where I feel comfortable. So, I consider the idea of “stepping out of your niche” as being similar to stepping out of your comfort zone.

Well, I certainly stepped out of mine about 12 years ago. I took pride in my standing as a “city girl”. In fact, it never occurred to me that I might be anything BUT a “city girl”. I spent my teenage years in Melbourne (the capital of Victoria in Australia) and it’s a place I’m still very passionate about. So how did I end up living out in the middle of nowhere on a farm? I married a farmer!

The day I met the man who is now my husband, carries with it quite a funny story. In the first conversation I had with him, I told him point blank that I didn’t want to be a farmers wife. I have no idea why! I don’t usually make comments like that to blokes I’ve just met. It wasn’t some premeditated decision I had made at some point in my life. In fact, I wasn’t even AWARE that I didn’t want to be a farmer’s wife until those words flew out of my mouth that day.

Admittedly, like many girls, I had wonderful visions of a knight in shining armor galloping into my life and whisking me away to a life of beauty and luxury. Never once did said knight come wearing a dusty old Akubra and a blue bonds singlet!!! LOL. But still….it was a rather strange conversation to say the least. If nothing else, it made good speech fodder for the wedding reception!!!

I’ll skip over all the boring bits of the past 12 years. I did suffer withdrawal symptoms for MANY years over the fact that I couldn’t just pop out for a few hours shopping. BUT I was rather relieved to discover that the farm did indeed have electricity and even a TV! Hey, these days we even have Broadband internet access – we really do live in the real world! (well….. almost).

I stepped out of my “niche” and married a farmer. Am I glad I did? Every day! Mostly because he is the most awesome man I could ever imagine being married to. But there is more to it than that. I love the open space, the beautiful views and the peace and quiet that we have out here. I love the way my children have plenty of room to move and run around and numerous places to explore. I love many parts of the lifestyle that living in the country has to offer.

It has occurred to me that had I not been prepared to step out of my comfort zone, I would have missed so much that life had to offer me. Yes, it is scary to take that step away from the comfort zone but many times it is oh so worth it! It is at these times that we learn and grow so much.

To me, that is what life is really about – learning and growing every day! In fact, if you visit my blog you may notice that one of my own definitions of the word “Lightening” is “to learn and grow daily”. It has become an important part of my own purpose in life (and therefore in blogging) that I learn and grow daily.

Recently I took another step out of my comfort zone when I took up Snoskred’s offer of moving my blog to a self-hosted site. This also meant switching from a blogging platform I had become very familiar with (blogger) and moving to the unfamiliar (WordPress). I am enjoying WordPress but I can also say that it is stretching me in many ways. I sure am learning EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. But oh, what I would have missed out on had I not been prepared to take that step. My blog looks like a million bucks in comparison to my tired old Blogger blog. It far surpassed my wildest expectations. And the options now available to me with my blog are so much wider than what I had before. Well, I have to learn how to use half of them first, but that’s okay….that’s good in fact! :)

I could have stayed with my old blog where I was nice and comfortable. But to have done so would have meant I’d have missed all the wonderful things that my new blog has to offer me. I have gotten so much MORE than a new blog out of this experience. My confidence in my own ability to learn new technical stuff has grown in leaps and bounds. I have met some wonderful bloggers and discovered the generosity that abounds in many sections of the blogworld. I have learnt that some people don’t mind when you ask them questions. That in fact they LIKE to be helpful. Every day when I open my blog, it makes me smile. That in itself is a wonderful gift.

(When I first planned to write this piece, I hadn’t yet decided to switch my blog to a self-hosted site. But it has ended up working in just nicely with what I was planning to write about.)

I want to encourage each one of you reading this to have the courage to step out of your comfort zone today. Whether it be deciding to take your blog to the next level, applying for a new job or promotion or simply saying hello to a neighbour you’ve never spoken to before. Take a step away from your comfort zone and watch how you and the world around you grows. Spread your wings and fly. It’s time to get “out of your niche”. ;-)

I cannot remember how I stumbled across Lightening’s blog originally. The amount of times I have just been surfing around clicking on links and found someone who eventually becomes such an important part of my daily internet life still amazes me. Lightening is one of the people I truly adore – though this may come to her a a surprise because I don’t normally tell people that.

I watched Lightening struggle with Blogger for a long time. The truth is that Blogger is not the most user friendly when it comes to wanting something unique and special. Sure, you can install your own template and change the colors but you really have to know what you’re doing to make it work. Those like me who didn’t have the confidence or technical ability found it much harder. Sephy was the one who made my Blogger theme work – I messed with it for days and just ended up angry and frustrated.

So I’m thrilled you made that move Lightening – and I do think you are probably finding self hosted WordPress to be a lot easier than you expected? I know I am. People often think I am this technically capable person but the truth is – I often have to find how to guides, I often have to ask for help from The Other Half, I’m always learning how to do new things too. So to find now that not only can I do website design to the level that I’ve recently managed, but I can also do graphics that I think look incredible.. If I can do it, anyone can. :)

Remember, you can get out of your niche tooall bloggers are welcome. Just contact me.

Get Out Of Your Niche