Lots to Share

Despite the resulting exhaustion, I had the best long weekend in Chicago and Wisconsin at Country Thunder.  My trip was a bit delayed, as I made sure to vent about, but I finally arrived at Midway airport early Thursday morning.  While circling in the air for 45 minutes before landing, I was staring out of the window at the cloudy sky that surrounded the plane when I spotted our shadow!  I thought it was the coolest , so I immediately snapped a picture with my iPhone, thanks to the lovely airplane mode.

A little over two hours after departing Laguardia, I landed in Chicago…and landed hungry, obviously…I had eaten a banana and some homemade trail mix, but I was definitely craving something more substantial.  Chessy, being the sweetest friend that she is, was at the airport ready to pick me up even at that early hour, and after waiting in some traffic, we headed to Panera in her hometown of Evanston to grab breakfast.  As someone who rarely eats out, I had been to Panera only once before and that was years ago, so I didn’t really remember it.  We both decided to order the steel cut oats topped with blueberries and a tasty granola.  And let me tell you, this was a wonderful, wonderful decision.  Paired with a refreshing iced coffee I was a very happy camper.
We did some shopping at Whole Foods to pick up some goodies for the days ahead, as well as at Crossroads (a buy and sell kind of store) with Ellie, an awesome friend of Chess’.  We left ourselves just enough time to shower and pack before heading over to Ellie’s for a light lunch of snacking, discussing cheese (..yes), and taking a “buddy” nap.  And no, Ellie’s couches name is not buddy, this just means a nap you take with friends.  Learn something new everyday, huh.
Before we knew it, Chess and I were off to Twin Lakes, Wisconsin with another one of her friends to begin our several day adventure.  Despite the partially dirty camping accommodations, we had a great time.  Fortunately, Chessy and I were able to take a quick break back at her apartment on Saturday when one of the guys had to drive back for work in the morning.  One of the most satisfying showers I’ve had in a while, hands down.  Ellie also joined us for the last two days of the concert, and it was fun to have her along with us.  Back at the festival, we grilled, swam (cheers to fitting in some exercise!), and obviously listened to tons of music…I’ll have to say Luke Bryan and Toby Keith sold the festival, in my opinion, but so many of the artists were awesome.  We had some super friendly neighbors and were able to meet a bunch of fun people.  I must say it was quite a change representing the East coast minority out in Wisconsin.  I love being told that I have an accent..not so sure why.
Anyway, a few hours after Toby Keith ended on Sunday night, we packed up and somehow headed home, with the addition of a new couch, of course.  Another neighboring group of campers had one with them that they were ditching, and when this was discovered, the process of tying this three seater to one of the guy’s suburban began…college kids…
By the time we got to Chessy’s apartment, it was around 3:00 AM Monday morning, and we passed out almost immediately.  I honestly could barely keep my eyes open.
Overall, the time I had at the concert was perfect.  Only complaint: they don’t allow “professional cameras”, so I had to leave my Nikon at home and resorted to taking most of my pictures with my iPhone and a couple on a small point-and-shoot Kodak.
Yesterday morning, I got myself up around 9:30 so I could shower, pack up my things, and get ready to head out to what ended up being brunch and explore some of the city.  Chess and Ellie took me to Walker Bros. pancake house for a delicious meal to refuel our exhausted bodies.  I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes, but since this is the “original pancake house”, I figured I had to order some sort of variation.  I was surprisingly able to make my decision fairly easily.  The “Healthy Start Medley” jumped right off the menu at me.  It started me off with a fresh fruit bowl consisting of honey dew, cantaloupe, grapes, and strawberries, and was followed by a two egg white scramble (which I had mushrooms added to), and four INCREDIBLE wheat germ granola pancakes.  Best, best, best choice I could have made.  Oh, and of course I can’t forget endless amounts of coffee that I had along side.  Free refills may just be the greatest.  I was left feeling so satisfied.

After our delicious  brunch, we headed into Lincoln Square so I could get my first taste of the city of Chicago.

Poor Gene…

Between the heat and some walking, I started to get hungry again but didn’t want an entire meal, so froyo sounded exceptional.  This may have been the best concoction that I ever made with this light ice cream.  Having a choice of all non-fat flavors, I mixed the pistachio, praline pecan, and no sugar added raspberry, and topped it off with watermelon, berries, yogurt chips, peanut butter chips, a sprinkle of crushed up butterfingers, and whipped cream.  Including a little bit of everything is always the way to go :).

Re-energized, we headed to a really unique used bookstore.  It was set up like a maze, each section or wall organized by the book’s content.  I would definitely not recommend this little gem to anyone that is claustrophobic, though.
Before heading to the airport for my flight, we stopped to pick up dinner to go.  Thinking we were a bit more crushed on time than we actually were, we headed into the first place that we saw, Native Foods Cafe.  Well, turns out this cafe could not have been anymore perfect for me – everything was vegan.  While I could never terminate my dairy (mainly cheese) intake, having an all vegan menu opens up my options for selecting a dish as none of them will have any meat.  Everything sounded so amazing, but I decided on the ‘Rockin’ Moroccan Bowl’ made with quinoa, tofu, and grilled veggies, and garnished with slivered almonds, currants, as well as their homemade Moroccan sauce (which I drizzled on after taking the photo).  I would for sure suggest this food joint to anyone in the area.
So, after a few absent days, I’m back at it in New York.  As a traveler at heart, I miss being away already.  I couldn’t be any more appreciative of Chessy for hosting me and showing me around.  I met her on my trip to Tunisia a few months back and we’ve been close ever since.  She’s always a blast to be around and one of the most genuine people I know.
I’m still pretty burnt out and have work later, but I really want to fit in a workout since I haven’t had my typical fill for the past few days.  I think I’ll end up doing a quick BodyRock circuit.  I’ve said this before, but they rarely disappoint me, and I can’t come up with any excuses for not taking 12 minutes to move around.
Keep it real on this hot day.