Saturday, December 15, 2007

Thanksgiving in Illinois

Let’s see... So the last time we blogged, we had visited Mammoth Cave and solved our mouse problem. That was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 20. That afternoon and evening, we drove to New Lenox, Illinois, to visit Brian’s parents for the holiday. We were happy to see them, excited to be sleeping in a bed, and thrilled to take showers, since our last showers were before our six-day Smoky Mountains backpacking trip. We unloaded everything from the car into the garage, leaving the mouse-contaminated stuff in quarantine for the night, and set out the traps again, just in case.

Next morning, Brian checked the traps. Guess what: Another little gray guy was caught in the plastic jaws of the trap. So we’d had two mice! They must have been little lovebirds (love mice?), building their nest and their food cache and bedding down for the winter. No wonder the nest and the cache were huge! Since this new mouse was so far from its Tennessee home, it didn’t get buried in the family mouse plot – instead, Brian tossed it into the woods behind the house, where it surely made a tasty meal for some larger creature.

This time, there was cause for optimism, though: The other traps still had their bait. The bait’s advertising claimed it to be more irresistible to mice than peanut butter. Presuming that to be true, if we had yet another mouse, it should have either been trapped or evaded the traps and made off with the bait. Since neither happened, we felt more confident that the mice were gone. But then again, we’d felt pretty confident after capturing the first…

Anyway, most of the next day was spent cleaning the mouse-contaminated stuff with Clorox wipes, sweeping and cleaning the interior of the car with assorted nasty chemicals that were sure to kill any mice germs (and hopefully not us), and washing all of our clothes. After all of that, we felt like we had a fresh start, although the car would smell like lemony-fresh chemicals for the next several weeks.

Brian’s sister Christie drove into town on Wednesday, and Brian’s grandparents came over for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Much turkey was consumed, along with all the sides, pecan and pumpkin pie with ice cream and whipped cream, and plenty of bottles of beer to wash it all down. A fantastic meal, preceded and followed by extensive football watching.

The next day was Black Friday. Brian and his dad were up at 5:15 and in line at Office Depot at 5:45 for the assorted deals that were available when the store opened at 6. Then they came home and read the Fry’s ad, and they realized that was a must-stop, too. After an hour of shopping at the only Fry’s store in the entire Chicago area, collecting into a shopping cart all of the free-after-rebate items and cheap electric shavers that had drawn them in, they found out that the end of the line was marked by a Fry’s employee holding a bunch of balloons, and the balloons were currently smack in the middle of the store. Not a good sign. Brian decided to walk the line to see how long it was and discovered that it snaked around the entire store – through a few aisles to the front left corner of the store, then through some aisles back toward the middle of the store, then to the back left, then clear across to the back right, then finally back to the front of the store. At that point, the line went back and forth through some amusement-park-style fences, and finally to a row of 74 registers. When they got in line, the estimate was an hour and a half, and by the time they got to a register, they had beaten the estimate by a whole 15 minutes. Then they drove home, filled out rebate forms for a while, and luxuriated in their free and heavily discounted treasures. Ah, Black Friday – gotta love it.

But while we were in Illinois, we did much more than eat and shop – we ate some more! Friday night, we went to Giordano’s, a Chicago-area pizza chain that has some of the best, cheesiest Chicago-style pizza we’ve ever eaten. Just like we’ve never found great Tex-Mex food outside Texas, we’ve never found good Chicago-style pizza outside Illinois and the Chicago area. It was great to feast on pizza made the way it should be – with buttery, flaky crust; a thick layer of cheese piled on top of that; and a thin layer of tomato sauce on top of the whole thing. Mmm. You have to take small bites – otherwise, you’re chewing the cheese forever and when someone asks you a question, you have to use hand gestures to precisely convey that your mouth is full of cheese but don’t worry, you’re not choking.

While we were in New Lenox, we got to decorate two Christmas trees. One benefit of traveling around the country, visiting family and friends, and having little in the way of responsibilities, is that you get put to work decorating Christmas trees. These were our first two, but certainly not our last, of the season.

We decorated my grandparents’ tree as they looked on. Hanging the ornaments is too much work for them, but Grammy likes to help out by untangling the knot of ornament hooks left over from last year. Grampy got a big kick out of Brian nicknaming her “the hooker” – he was roaring with laughter while Grammy chuckled. When we were done, they declared it the fastest Christmas-tree decorating they’d ever been a part of.

The second tree was at Brian’s parents’ house. That one was an all-day affair – first Mom assembled the tree and selected which 10% or fewer of her vast ornament collection would hang on the tree this year. Then in the evening, in a frenzy of activity that lasted less than an hour, we covered the tree with ornaments as we sang along with Christmas music playing on the stereo. Like the grandparents’ tree, this one came out beautifully, and the house felt like Christmas.

On Wednesday, November 28, we went to Chicago. First we visited the Christkindl market, a German market that gets pretty touristy on weekends, although on a weekday afternoon many of the vendors and customers were actually speaking in German. It had a pretty Christmas tree, plunked down amidst the downtown skyscrapers:

Brian and his parents posed in front of the tree:

Brian drooled over the assortment of beer steins, but to his disappointment, discovered that none of them were full:

After the market, we went to Macy’s, which used to be Marshall Fields, the premier Chicago department store – longtime Chicagoans were outraged when Macy’s acquired it a few years back. But the store still puts up a huge Christmas tree every year in the Walnut Room. This time around, Martha Stewart designed the ornaments – we thought it was kind of ugly:

We found ourselves with some free time before dinner, so we walked to Millennium Park. Several attractions are there, including an acoustically excellent outdoor theater and two stories-high video faces that spit real water in summer. But the best-known sight is the mirrored sculpture known as The Bean, which reflects the Chicago skyline beautifully at night:

After hanging out in Millenium Park for a while, we had dinner at an Italian place, where Brian and his mom got another round of Chicago-style pizza that was at least as good as the pizza at Giordano’s. Then we went to the Steppenwolf Theater where we saw a goofy, hilarious rendition of “The Nutcracker”. There was no ballet dancing – the closest thing was some synchronized prancing around the stage. The story was heavily updated, focusing on Claire’s attempt to recover from her soldier brother’s death as she fought the mice in the walls and her own growing insanity with her collection of toys, come to life and sent into battle.

Christie had left the Saturday after Thanksgiving to get back to Bloomington, Indiana, so the following weekend, we drove down to Bloomington to visit her. We got the tour of her apartment, which was the second floor of a historic building. We ate at an Irish pub for lunch, visited the Indiana University campus and Nashville, Indiana, during the afternoon, and hung out at the Video Lounge, commonly known as “the Vid,” at night. A $5 pitcher of PBR (college towns are great!) and a few games of darts later, we called it a night.

The following Tuesday, we went into Chicago again. We started with dinner at Adobo Grill, where they mix fabulous guacamole right at your table. Then we went to the Second City comedy club, where many famous comedians have gotten their starts, for “Between Barack and a Hard Place”. Second City’s shows are always a series of skits, typically with a political or social bent. This one had a set of skits about the 2008 election and Barack Obama in particular. We saw Barack claiming to be everything to everyone (“I am black,” “I am white,” “I am gay,” etc.) and conversing with Abe Lincoln, and we saw Hilary Clinton attempt to hire an assassin to knock him off. As all Second City shows are, it was a riot.

The next day we ate out one last time, meeting up with Brian’s aunt and cousin for dinner at Maggiano’s. Then they and Brian’s parents shopped at Land’s End. Since we moved into our car and gave up all of our closet space, we haven’t been very interested in acquiring new stuff, so we went to Starbuck’s and sipped a peppermint mocha instead of shopping.

The next morning, we loaded up the car, and headed back out on the road – next stop, Ohio!

1 comment:

famousthecat said...

yay! new post! by the way, i was thinking - if you have the need to get me one more present for christmas, i could really use a good europe budget-travel/guidebook. amelia and i are going to be buying tickets to heathrow in january, and we want to go EVERYwhere. just a thought. :)

i love the bean pictures! they look so professional! you guys got talent.