Christmas In Chicago

For Christmas this year, my in-laws took G and I on a weekend trip to the Windy City. Only two hours away from our quiet little country town, Chicago is a quick drive to experience city-life every now and then. It was a quick weekend full of memories and festive attractions. A big thanks to “Ma and Pa G” for this great Christmas present! It allowed G and I to get out of the house, away from work, and spend precious moments with his parents. We are incredibly blessed.

If you are visiting Chicago for a weekend around Christmastime, there are a lot of places to visit and things to do in the city. Though we couldn’t squeeze every attraction into our schedule, here is what we were able to see and do:

My friend Saki works for Hilton and has included me in her family and friends list to be able to enjoy discounts through the company while I travel. Thanks to her generosity, our little troupe stayed two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn at McCormick Place on the 21st floor overlooking the city. Our room’s window faced North, so we were able to glimpse Lake Michigan, Soldier Field, and the Wintrust Arena.

We pulled into the hotel relatively late after enjoying dinner en route. Not wanting to go out into the city at a late hour, we instead visited the VU Rooftop Bar and Lounge which was located on the 22nd floor of our hotel. We ordered drinks over conversation to kick off the weekend. I chose a glass of 2015 Carmen Gran Reserva Carmenere from Colchagua Valley, Chile. This wine was one hell of a find! It was full bodied with green pepper, blackberry, and smoked oak aromas. It offered a dark fruit jam palate. Typical to Chilean Carmeneres, there was enough acidity to nicely balance out all the rich flavors with a long spicy finish. Yum!

The next morning we hailed an Uber and made our way to breakfast. I had been told to try the Nutella Cafe on Michigan Avenue by a friend. As we entered to the sweet smells of pastries and coffee, we knew we’d made a good choice. I opted for a Nutella crepe topped with strawberries and a Nutella latte. You know, being as basic as possible for a tourist in the city. *hey girl hey*

Following the delicious breakfast, the majority of our morning and early afternoon was spent shopping on the Magnificent Mile. For those unfamiliar with Chicago, the Magnificent Mile is Chicago’s premier commercial district. A bustling area, this district is home to upscale shops and luxe fashion outlets. And around Christmastime hosts window after window of winter wear and Christmas decorations. We ventured into a few notable retail stores such as Under Armour, Nike, The Disney Store, and Dylan’s Candy Bar. Along the way, we marveled at some of the architecture such as the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, the terracotta Wrigley Building skyscraper, and the 100-story John Hancock Center.

We ended our journey on Michigan Avenue at the Water Tower Place. Mainly seeking restrooms, we made our way through Macy’s and the crowds of shoppers to the third floor of the 74-story skyscraper which house a huge shopping mall. As we discussed our next plan of action, we moseyed around the mall and looked at some of the unique gift offerings. There was a succulent stand which I loved, and a chocolate seller with some spectacular wares! The Amazing Chocolate Workshop designs chocolate to look like a variety of different tools and gadgets. From scissors to pliers, and teacups to cameras, all of their offerings are made of chocolate. They truly are amazing! I simply had to buy something from their booth, so I bought one of the corkscrews for a gift exchange I had coming up.

Done with shopping, our group decided it was time to eat. Now, Chicago is famous for its food – not only as a gourmet dining epicenter, but as the home of several local specialties. Some of these culinary staples include Chicago deep-dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog, and the Italian Beef. As any good tourists would do, we stuck to a classic and went to Giordano’s for some hearty lunch.

Since we visited Chicago on a weekend close to Christmas, the shops and restaurants close to the Magnificent Mile were packed with people. Giordano’s was no different. We were told there would be a half hour wait for a table of four. As we waited, we were able to order our deep dish pizza (sausage, mushroom, green pepper, and onion) so our wait wouldn’t be much longer to eat once we were seated. Deep dish pizzas typically take 45 minutes to an hour to cook completely. Once seated, we enjoyed an appetizer of Wisconsin cheese curds before our gooey pizza came out. It is no wonder Giordano’s is constantly making headlines, both in Chicago and nationally. The pizza’s crust was fluffy perfection, the fillings were plentiful, and the sauce was rich. We nodded our stuffed faces as to why Giordano’s has been acclaimed “Chicago’s Best Pizza” by NBC, CBS Chicago, New York Times, Chicago Magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Eater, Home & Garden Magazine, Concierge Preferred and more!

Upon our departure from the late lunch, we decided to get off the streets and out of the cold. We chose to go to an AMC theater around the corner from the restaurant. Luckily, a movie was beginning within fifteen minutes of our arrival: Ralph Wrecks the Internet. Though not a great recommendation of sight-seeing in Chicago, being able to relax in the hustle-and-bustle of the city was welcomed by us “countryfolk.” And the movie was funny and light-hearted — a great option for our little vacation.

We exited the movie to a dark sky and hundreds of Christmas lights. Calling an Uber, we set our location to our only scheduled event of the weekend: the ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. I have been to the ZooLights plenty of times in the past, but love to go every year. This one-of-a-kind experience offers a free, family-oriented holiday celebration featuring luminous displays and lots of seasonal activities. There are ice carving shows, carousel and ferris wheel rides, and over 2.5 million Christmas lights set up throughout the zoo. You’ll find lighted animal exhibits in the midst of a beautiful light show set to beloved Christmas music. The ZooLights are a must-see in Chicago during the holiday season!

If you do visit the ZooLights, also know you do not have to take a lot of time out of schedule to do so. We walked through the entire space within a half hour’s time. Though we definitely could have spent more time meandering the zoo, the cold temperatures of a Windy City December left us wanting to be indoors. Thus we looked up a dinner option and walked the short distance out of the zoo to Clark Street to find Green Tea Sushi.

There is nothing I enjoy more for a meal than sushi. Unfortunately, Southwest Michigan does not offer a ton of fresh options. When G and I do decide to go on a sushi date, it’s always a fancier date night than typical as it means we’re having to go out of town or to a formal restaurant.

Therefore, we were looking forward to sushi in Chicago. Green Tea Sushi, by appearance, did not seem to be an ideal place to get a high-quality sushi like we wanted though. It is a small, skinny restaurant thrown into a corner of Chicago’s Lincoln Park. The restaurant only had six seats at its sushi bar and six tables for seating. When our group of four entered, we took up an entire fourth of the guests’ space. However, it was a fun experience and made for an intimate dinner. G and I ordered three rolls to split: a Philly roll, a spicy tuna roll, and the Dragon.

Wow.

Talk about an experience. The sushi was by far the best I’ve ever eaten. Fresh. Flavorful. Gorgeous to look at…

It goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover. This little gem will forever be a staple for our future Chicago travels. We chose two “safe options” with our typical Philly and spicy tuna rolls, but the Dragon was outside our comfort-zones. The roll featured shrimp tempura, crab, and cucumber wrapped with fresh water eel and avocado. It. Was. Delectable. I am still having dreams about this sushi roll and cannot wait to return and discover new rolls.

All of those attractions and food adventures took place on Saturday. On Sunday we returned home. But not without stopping by the Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall in Michigan City, Indiana on the way home. It was interesting to see some of the same products at the stores in Chicago (namely at Levi and Nike) at half the prices at the outlet mall. G and I were happy we opted not to purchase anything in the city, and instead bought a few Christmas gifts at the mall for a fraction of the cost.

All in all, we loved our short trip to the Windy City with my in-laws but are happy to be home in our little corner of the world. The city is fun to visit. But for this girl, I love my small-town life.

Until next time,

 

 

 

Do you know of any attractions and/or restaurants that are go-to’s in Chicago during the holiday season? I would love to hear from you and add to my list for future trips. Please leave a recommendation below in the comment section. 🙂

White Elephant Gift Exchange (With Printables!)

The holiday is quickly approaching and that means festivities are abound! One of my personal favorite parts of the holiday season is to attend and host Holiday/Christmas parties and be surrounded by family and friends. One fun way to increase the laughs and interaction from all those at your holiday shindig is to host a White Elephant Gift Exchange.

Not sure what that entails? In the case you have never participated in a White Elephant Gift Exchange, I have drawn a little list together of how to host one and even provided some graphics for easy planning! Here is how the exchange works:

A White Elephant Gift Exchange is basically a surprise package in every way. First of all, every guest/participant should bring a wrapped, unlabeled gift along with them to the party. The gifts may have a monetary limit to them (my friends and I have decided on a maximum spending of $20 for each of our gifts) and be of any theme possible. The wackier the gift, the more entertaining the reactions and exchange!

Once the exchange time is arrived, arrange all the wrapped gifts in one area to allow them all to be visible. Some may be very small and other very large. Be sure every participant is able to see them all.

Then have guests choose a number from a hat/basket/whatever. This number represents their position in the exchange and is completely random. (Check below for a printable which has pre-designed numbers already available.)

When all your guests have a number, the exchange may begin. Number One is first up to select a gift from the pile. After he or she chooses their wrapped gift, he/she opens it in front of the group. Number One then returned to their seat with their new gift and waits for the exchange to continue.

Now it is Number Two’s turn. Number Two can choose one of two options: select an unwrapped gift from the pile OR steal the gift which has now been unwrapped. Some gifts may be more desirable than others, so Number Two has to make the decision. If Number Two decided to open a new gift, then he/she does so in front of the group and returns to their seat just as Number One did prior.

However, if Number Two decides to steal Number One’s gift, then Number One can select a new gift from the pile. It is a dog-eat-dog world after all.

After Number Two’s turn (or Number One’s new choice is unwrapped), Number Three has the same decision to make: unwrap a new gift or steal one of the gifts previously unwrapped. With the complete randomness of gift selection, prepare for laughable moments!

This process continues through all the numbers. Following the last number’s selection of opening or stealing, Number One gets one more option to keep their current gift, open a gift (if there are any more), or steal one final time. Upon Number One’s final choice, the exchange ends and all gifts are now the property of their current owner. Merry Christmas to you!

Each gift can only be stolen THREE times before it must remain in the possession of the True Master. True Master = Permanent Owner This means the third thief gets to keep that stolen gift for the remainder of the exchange with no more threat of loss.

White Elephant Printable

For anyone wishing to host a White Elephant Gift Exchange, I designed this little printable. Please feel free to print this, frame it, and use at your party. The PDF also includes a page of 1-40 numbers for your easy convenience. Cut them out, throw them in a hat, and you’re ready to party!

Click here to download the White Elephant Exchange rules and number sheet.

The best part about this gift exchange is that you can tweak it to fit your needs. Decide on the cost of the gift and have guests bring the gift wrapped and unmarked to the party. You can even set a theme for the gifts: handmade, coffee table books, movie, gag, etc. There are so many way to have fun with a White Elephant Gift Exchange! I’ve collected some great gifts over the years including a sushi recipe book, yoga ball, and neon-colored duct tape.

I would love to hear about your experience of having a White Elephant Gift Exchange! Did you get anything exciting?

Have fun, friends!