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A year ago today, I started out the day looking a LOT like this and ended looking more like that.  Despite my obtuse exterior, I truly had no idea how much my heart–OUR hearts–would grow that very next day.

As summer fades to fall and we start putting away the shorts and pulling out the long sleeves, our family is inevitably going through a transition of our own.   As much as I possibly can, I’m savoring the last few days as the baby phase officially winds down.

But alas, with a kid whose nose is like a running faucet and the overwhelming temperament to match, the past few days have been hard to enjoy.  Like most families with kids in daycare/childcare outside the home know, if your kid appears contagious, he or she is banned!  Since Jeff’s been working crazy hours and I’m faced with monthly deadlines (my last for this publication!) the daycare logistics have been less than desirable.  Jack has been with me at work 1.5 days this week, home with me another and home with Jeff for half a day.    In those movies where they glamorize magazine editors, they don’t show the part where their baby completely MELTS DOWN on Park Avenue during lunch hour for every Suit on the east side to see.  To get even more graphic, since I wear black almost every day, I’ve started to look like a walking chalkboard– you know, with the runny nosed, clingy kid and all.

And to think, I once considered black a forgiving color!

But, it is what it is, right?

In a few hours, we’ll be on our way to Va. to celebrate Jack’s first birthday with family!  Yippeee and ughhhh!  And quite honestly, it’ll be, what we hope, the last major celebratory event outside of the state in which we live—aside from major holidays, of course.  Interpret it how you will, but times are a changin’.

We’re throwing a smallish family party on Saturday at Lola and Lolo’s house.  And from the looks of it, we may have the tailend of a storm for even more excitement!  Cross your fingers that it won’t rain!  Of all the things that haven’t been working out in my favor, I hope my kid’s party will be spared!  We are not driving 700 miles just to have waterlogged Lumpia and soggy cake!!

Either way, it’ll be a happy day!!  I can’t believe our boy is going to be 1!

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All the hype about Chicago? Yeah, so worth it.

Let me just preface this recap by telling you what my agoraphobic-non-city-loving husband told me: “I almost like Chicago more than NYC.”

Can you imagine? Almost!??

At first, I felt like saying, how dare you question your loyalty to NYC.

But you know what? As much as NYC has become a part of our family, I’m so glad to have finally visited Chi-Town. I almost get what he was saying…

Oh Chicago. How much do we love thee? Let me count the ways!
Chicago
Quite honestly, we were only in Chicago for 2 days, but we totally fell in love. And one of those days shouldn’t really count. On the first day, as we were out gallivanting at the Navy Pier, we got stuck outside during a torrential downpour. It turns out, while we were seeking higher ground and getting drenched, Jeff, his dad, brother and nephew were at Wrigley Field.

Apparently, tornado sirens sounded, the stadium had to be evacuated and well, the rest is history. As Jeff reminded me the other night, “You know I’m going to tell my Wrigley story until the day I die.”Chicago Children's Museum

He’s so not kidding, folks.

Before the tornado craziness, we had a chance to check out the Chicago Children’s Museum. That was fun! It wasn’t as Chicago-centric as I had hoped, but it was still a fun place to visit. One of the best aspects about the CCM was the Target Free First Monday. (And they say nothing in life is free.) I loved the Treehouse Trails– a nature-inspired exhibit. Jack in the Waterways exhibitBut of course, Jack loved the WaterWays water exhibit–a little too much. Jack loved the exhibit almost as much as Barack!

On the next day, after the storm passed, we set out to see the city. We walked down Magnificent Mile a bit and then met up with my dear friend from high school, Kathleen. Oh Kathleen. Kathleen took us to a very cool historic Chicago eatery, Berghoff–an old cafe that was in the basement level of a fancier sit down restaurant. Meeting up with Kathleen and introducing my family to her was serendipitous in ways…well, not for me, but for Jeff. As we were catching up with each other’s lives, Jeff was beside himself after one sip of his beer. “THIS IS IT!”

What was it? Jeff “found” the beer that he loved from his grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary–12 years ago. I suppose it was happenstance that my dear high school friend took us to a cool Chicago joint, that so happened to be the namesake restaurant for this long lost beer. Good friend, good eats, good beer=good stuff.

Kathleen took us around that area a bit more, and we had a chance to see Millennium Park up close and personal. As far as city parks go, Millennium Park is amazing. I’m a big fan of Central Park, but this 24.5-acre park rocks in its own way. Its website touts the park as “an award-winning center for art, music, architecture and landscape design.” That’s an understatement, btw.

The Pavilion, called the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, was one of the most incredible outdoor concert venues I’ve ever seen. It has web of outdoor speakers, and the outer “shell” itself, was a piece of art.speakers at Millenium ParkPavilion in Chicago Chicago Symphony

As if all that wasn’t cool enough, we had a chance to sit in on the Chicago Symphony Grant Park Music Festival Orchestra’s practice session, along with throngs of other tourists, of course. As always, Jack did his little jig to the music. Our visit to the Pavilion at Millennium Park provided a fun (free) dose of cultural activity. If it wasn’t so painfully hot, I’m sure we would’ve stayed even longer!

After listening to a bit of the symphony, Kathleen led us to Cloud Gate, otherwise known as “The Bean.” The Bean is described as

Anish Kapoor’s first public outdoor work installed in the United States. The 110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city’s famous skyline and the clouds above.

The Bean
It was perhaps one of the coolest outdoor sculptures I’d ever seen. In a way it reminded me of the Elsa Peretti Tiffany Bean, but on a much grander scale. Besides the humidity that day, it was also one of the most perfect days to view it. It was sunny, bright and the sky was filled with clouds. The reflection on the Bean lived up to its official name, and every inch reflected something spectacular. The Bean- reflectionAnyone that appreciates the beauty of a skyline would appreciate an installation like this! We walked beneath the sculpture, to check out the curvature of the Bean. The concave shape of the underside created some unreal reflections. I was able to walk backwards in my paparazzi-like way and catch a glimpse of Jeff’s head. It’s dizzying but very cool. Because Jack loves “the baby in the mirror,” this art installation naturally, was a huge hit!

Jeff under the Bean
The baby in the Bean
As we made our way out of the park, Kathleen was telling us all about this really cool wade pool– something we know all about. The Crown Fountain, as its officially called, was a juxtaposition of wet, frolicking children in a reflection pool.

Crown Fountain, ChicagoCrown Fountain, Chicago

The backdrop on either end were fountains that project various faces on these huge LED screens. It was an interactive fountain in the true sense of the word and as the website describes, they were also a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles in fountains, where faces of mythological beings were sculpted with open mouths to allow water, a symbol of life, to flow out.

After a beautiful afternoon with Kathleen, it was Jack’s naptime so we bid adieu to my good friend. We retreated back to the hotel for a bit, in time to get ready to meet up even more loved ones!

Jack, Uncle Cesar and ChristineWe had the chance to meet up with my uncle (my dad’s cousin) and his daughter, Christine. This is the first time I’d met my second cousin and the first time either of them met Jack. We learned that Christine is quite the budding DJ and has mixed at various big venues, including one in Manila. We had dinner at Pizano’s and enjoyed the deliciousness of real Chicago Deep Dish pizza. Nothing goes together better than good food and family! Speaking of family, I keep nudging my bro, John, and telling him he’d love Chicago. Who knows? Maybe he’ll go and love it, just like I imagine he would!

Due to the insane weather upon our arrival, sadly, I missed out on seeing a few friends. But luckily, I DID get to see one of my BFFs from jr. high (!). Oh, Vicky B. Liz, Vicky, me and JackHow I missed you, my dear friend. After several plan changes, Vicky agreed to meet me and the boys at the airport on our way out of town. What a reunion that was! Vicky and I have been friends since I think we were 12 or 13. With the advent of the internet and social media, we’ve been able to keep in touch.

And like I’ve said before, good friends, no matter how long you’re apart, always pick up where you left off.

With that, I’ve decided that Chicago is now our good friend. We’re hoping to go back again soon, and this time, to experience even more (minus the tornado sirens)…and pick up right where we left off.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for us with the traveling, catching up and resuming our daily craziness.  Jack isn’t quite back to his normal routine yet.  Just when I thought he was settling back in, the poor kid woke up with a stuffy nose.  No fever, just a clogged up nose.  With that stuffy nose, he almost sounds like his father when he snores!

Since I finally got around to doing 4 loads of laundry tonight, memories of our trip came flooding back.  We went to Wisconsin for Jeff’s (extended) family reunion, and what a time it was!  So, here’s my synopsis of our Midwest travels.
On the road again
Traveling with Jack this time around was much more seamless. The shorter flight, extra set of hands and morning departure worked out in our favor. The 2hr. car ride from Chicago to WI, however, not so seamless. I ended up having to hop in the backseat because Jack was in hysterics for half of the ride probably because he was so restrained all day long!  Lesson learned:  with small children in tow, direct flights are the way to go.
Once we finally made it to WI, we saw all the east coast family at the hotel and had fun hanging out and catching up.
Friday Night Fish Fry
The first night, we went out to dinner– Friday Night Fish Fry. From what I understand, this is a big thing in the Midwest. Not sure what other areas do it, but it’s pretty prevalent in this part of Wisconsin. This was my 2nd experience at Friday Night Fish Fry.  It’s exactly what it sounds like– the family gathering and enjoying a smorgasbord of fried fish and other goodness.
Later that night after we got the babies to sleep, all of the adult cousins got together at the “Uptown Bar.” We enjoyed the the $5.75 PITCHERS of beer. Jeff and I couldn’t get over the price difference. In Hoboken and moreso in NYC, often times, you can’t get a single drink under $6. Jeff was like a “pig in shit”  (As he likes to say.)  Beer for EVERYONE!

Saturday was the best day of the whole weekend. We all made it out to the family farm, where 2 of Jeff’s uncles still live. The farm was turned into acres and acres of wildlife refuge.The trails
Jeff’s uncle maintains the property and it is gorgeous! I can’t even begin to verbalize the beauty of the wide open spaces. We had a catered pig roast, lots of beer, wine and booze and plenty of ATV riding and exploring the property. All the kids–young and old–took turns riding the ATVs and getting a taste of life on the farm.  Because of location, we don’t get to see these relatives all that often, so it was such a wonderful day to spend with family. It was a great opportunity to introduce Jack to WI and a few new PA relatives. But to see Jeff channel his country boy side was quite the sight. He had so much fun riding those ATVs and doing what boys do.

Country boys...It was a well planned party and a much needed reunion. It’s so interesting to see how each sibling has lived their life and followed different paths, and then of course, seeing their children and grandchildren who are the products of those paths they’ve chosen. From the photos, you can tell that we’re from all different walks of life, but certainly bound by common denominators. Such is the beauty of family.

As they always say, family seems to get together for weddings and more weddings. I’m so glad this gathering had a much different motive –family togetherness– and one that I hope we all get to do again!

Chicago recap is next up!