Chicago 2017: Navy Pier

During my weekend in Chicago I really wanted to go take my daughter on the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier.

I first rode on the Ferris Wheel in 2004.  It was the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I had attended a wedding in Wisconsin and it was ten days after my Grandma Sullivan died.  I had found out while I was working.  It was a Friday and my father and I had been planning to leave that day to try to get to Massachusetts before she passed but we were too late.

I can still remember what I did in those ten days:

Friday- Grandma died.
Saturday- Went to Massachusetts (5 hours away from my home in Maine).
Sunday- Grandma’s wake.
Monday- Grandma’s funeral.
Tuesday- Went back to Maine.
Wednesday- Helped my mother prepare for Thanksgiving
Thursday- Thanksgiving
Friday- Flew from Bangor, ME to Madison, WI (via Cincinnati) to attend the wedding of a friend that I had attended university with while I was in England.  My cousin (from the other side of the family) was crazy enough to fly up from Florida to attend as my guest.
Saturday- Wedding just outside of Madison, WI
Sunday-  Went to Milwaukee with my cousin.  We went to the Milwaukee Public Museum, had lunch at Usingers, and toured the Colonel Pabst Mansion.

I couldn’t resist posting this Wayne’s World clip.

On Monday my cousin was crazy enough to take a bus to Chicago with me.  She was crazy enough walk around Chicago with me for 12 hours in the cold, November rain.  We had pizza at Gino’s, walked by Wrigley field, went to the top of Sears tower and rode the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier.

I have no pictures of myself on the Ferris Wheel but here is one of me on the El.

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Chicago 2004

And because I talking about the cold November rain got this song stuck in my head…here you go-

I returned to Maine that Tuesday.

There were lots of things that I did not know at that time.  I had just gotten involved in politics but I had not even heard of the Young Republicans.  18 months after that trip to Chicago, I would attend the Young Republican Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.  On that trip, I would attend a party at the Romanian Embassy and on the shuttle bus ride there, I would sit behind a girl from Chicago who would become on of my best friends. (You met her here)

In the fall of 2007, I was living in Southern Indiana with another friend from the Young Republicans.  I was on a three months contract for work.  My roommate and I drove up to Chicago to see my best friend and another good friend in Chicago.  We had dinner at an Italian restaurant and then went to Navy Pier.  And we rode the Ferris Wheel.

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Chicago 2007
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Chicago 2007
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Chicago 2007

In 2007 we were single girls travelling around the country, attending political meetings and partying with future leaders and elected officials (some of them surprised us).

In 2012, we both got married.  I got married in September in Albany and she got married in December in Mexico.  Her location was a bit more exotic than mine but it didn’t matter.  We were both there for each other on our big days.

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Albany, 2012
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Mexico, 2012

We both had our daughters in 2014.  Her daughter came in April and mine came in September.  They are exactly 5 months apart.

And she was there for me when Bryon died.  She made the trip to Albany (along with the other lovely lady in her wedding photo).  They actually already had the plans to be in NYC the weekend that ended up being the weekend of Bryon’s funeral.  His birthday was the day after his funeral and she made arrangements to meet my father halfway between NYC and Albany to bring our daughter to see him for his birthday.   I told Bryon that he would see our daughter, as long as the doctors said it was okay.  He was excited.

But he died a week before his birthday.

And now I am here.  A widow.  Travelling as much as a I can this year to make up for the fact that I spent most of 2016 in an ICU room watching Bryon slowly die.  And because I promised him as he was dying that I would still take our daughter on adventures.

So that brings me to Chicago in 2017.  With my best friend and our young daughters.  And I wanted to go to Navy Pier to ride the Ferris Wheel…again.

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Chicago 2017
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Chicago 2017
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Chicago 2017

Both of the little ones enjoyed the ride.  I can’t remember if it was my friends daughters first time or not.  I think it’s safe to say that when my daughter and I return, that we will go on the Ferris Wheel again.  Maybe next time, she will be tall enough for some of the other rides.

 

Vegas Vacation

Every winter, Bryon and I liked to go on a cruise.  We had one booked that was supposed to leave today.  We were supposed to sail on the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas and we were supposed to sail out of Miami and go to four brand new ports (Labadee, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao).  I cancelled that cruise even though my daughter’s godmother said she would go.  I appreciated her offer but declined because I would be too sad.  Cruising was our thing and if I were to go without Bryon, I would probably cry the whole time.  And it would not be fun to be on a cruise if you are crying all the time.  Maybe someday I will be ready to cruise again with friends.  

My best friend was going to Vegas with her husband and her two year old daughter because her husband was in a tournament and she invited my daughter and I to come along.  I figured it would be nice to get away and see my best friend.  I don’t get to see her often because she lives in Chicago.  I remembered the promise I made to Bryon that I would take our daughter to see the world.  We would do Vegas Mom and Toddler style.

This was my first time flying by myself with our daughter.  I used to fly by myself all the time as a singleton but I only flown by myself once since I was with Bryon.  That was to my best friends wedding in the Cancun area (same best friend I was traveling with on this trip).  Bryon wasn’t able to attend the wedding because it was during his busy time at work.  I remember being overwhelmed on that flight because I got so used to travelling with him.  And he even booked that flight for me and even researched what to expect when going through Mexican customs.  He was so organized.  He had a folder with all pertinent travel documents and he did all the heavy lifting.  But he is no longer here and he would want my daughter and I to continue living so I figured we would be brave it by ourselves.

In some ways, traveling with my 2 year old on a cross country flight wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.  I was prepared for everything to take longer.  Luckily we had TSA Pre-check so security was easier.  The car seat couldn’t fit through the bag screener and I was instructed to bring the stroller to the metal detector and I had to wait until they were individually checked.  Coming back they were able to put them both through the bag scanner.

Luckily my daughter likes to people watch so she is generally entertained in places with lots of people.  But I had brought books and dolls.  Also, toddlers like to eat and there is usually lots of food in airports so I think she ate three bananas, an orange and a bag of M&M’s.  I also had gotten her a frozen yogurt with strawberries on it.  She ate the strawberries but pretty much played with the rest.  Maybe not the best dinner but I was more concerned about keeping her happy.   I guess there could be worse things for her to eat too much off.  All I know is when I went to grab some M&M’s, they were gone.

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Fun at Newark

When we used to fly with Bryon, he usually did most of the heavy lifting while I took care of our daughter.  He always made comments that he was the pack mule.  Well this time I got to be the pack mule and take care of our daughter.  So I texted one of my good friends, the one that I can talk to completely uncensored (nothing I say can shock her) and I said that I needed to get a boyfriend just so he could come with me on vacation to help with the heavy lifting.  Experience at installing car seats would be a plus.  I would even pay for the fictional boyfriend’s vacation and he wouldn’t even have to hang out with us.  During our conversation, I remembered that I am not ready for a boyfriend (even if he is fictional) and I would then have to break up with this fictional boyfriend after vacation and give him the “yeah…this isn’t going to work…it’s not you, it’s me…” speech.  Also, I like to travel a lot so I would need an off-again, on-again type of relationship.  I was starting to become stressed out over this fictional relationship.  My conversation with my friend concluded that next time I will just check the car seat and learn more about minimalist packing and wait for a real relationship to come in it’s own time.

I was surprised that so many people were willing to help.  Turns out I don’t need a pack mule boyfriend.  I did have offers from many people to help carry my bags onto the plane and to carry the carseat.  I was surprised at the kindness people showed us.  Or maybe it was pity.  Most likely, they were just victims of my daughter’s adorable looks and charming personality.

Our flight was supposed to arrive around 8:30pm (close to the time that my friends flight was due to arrive from Chicago) but we didn’t get in until after 10pm (local time so it was after 1am Eastern time).   My best friend and her husband and daughter came back to the airport to get us.  It was so good to see my best friend.  It was late and we went to bed when we got back to the hotel.

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Welcome to Las Vegas!

My cell phone never adjusted to the time change and the clock stayed in Eastern time so it didn’t surprise me that I slept in until 10am Eastern (7 am local).  We had a view of the strip and the girls were fascinated with the tiny cars down below.  They kept exclaiming “Cars!  Cars!”  My best friend and I got our two daughters ready which was quite an ordeal in itself.  As I was getting ready, a few of Bryon’s contacts (he used the daily disposables) fell out of my toiletry bag.  He probably put them in there while on our last cruise in February 2016, a month before he got sick.  I threw them away as it didn’t make any sense to keep them. I felt a twinge of sadness because over time, those little reminders of Bryon are going to slowly disappear.

After we were finally ready, we went down to the lobby and had crepes at one of the cafe’s in the hotel.  (We were staying at Paris).  We then went next door to Planet Hollywood to do some shopping at the Miracle Mile Mall.  I was on a mission for the Las Vegas Pandora beads.  And I wanted to buy my daughter a Vegas T-shirt as well as a Vegas Christmas ornament because I like to collect Christmas ornaments from places I travel too.

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Crepes!  Oh lala!

For lunch, we went to Hash House A Go-Go at The Linq.  The portions were HUGE.  Then we walked around the Venetian, got Gelato, dealt with several bodily fluids (ah, motherhood) and then got lost in Ceasar’s Palace.  My daughter lost a shoe which we never found.  We went to use the elevator because of our strollers and there was a homeless man sleeping in the elevator.  So we had no choice but to (carefully) use escalator with a stroller.  Then we went back to the hotel to curl our hair before going out to a steakhouse where I got Maine lobster pasta because I am weird like that.

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Who orders Maine Lobster pasta at a Steakhouse?  

Oh and it was raining.  In the desert.  I am still kind of confused about that.

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Nightlife. Like 9pm. 

The following day we took the girls to M&M World which consisted of 4 floors of pure excitement.   I felt the need to buy my daughter a M&M stuffed animal (yellow), a M&M mug (yellow), a Christmas ornament (yellow- notice a theme?  I think it is my daughter’s favorite color) and some overpriced M&M’s (but oh, all the color choices!  But not yellow because you can get those in regular packages) and I spent so much that I could get the M&M character blanket for $5 so of course I did.  And I bought the $2 reusable tote bag because I am a sucker like that.  I got pecan pie M&M’s which were delicious and my best friend got butterscotch M&M’s which she let me try and they were amazing too.

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She couldn’t contain her excitement.
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All the colors!

After M&M world, we walked over to New York, New York and had lunch.  The kids had hot dogs and the adults had pizza.  We then walked through the castle (i.e. The Excalibur) and took the tram to Mandalay Bay.  We planned on taking the girls to the Shark Reef Aquarium.

I had stayed at Mandalay Bay in 2005 when I attended the Young Republican National Convention.  It was the first of many Young Republican National Federation events that I would attend.  As I walked through the hotel and convention center, I started reflecting to my best friend (i.e. verbal diarrhea) about how eerie it felt to be in the place that changed my life.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my decision to attend that convention in 2005 completely altered the course of my life. I had a great time at that convention and I made connections and decided to get further involved in the organization.  I met my daughter’s godmother at the following board meeting in Little Rock, AR in the fall of 2005.  I met my best friend the following spring in Washington, D.C. at the Young Republican Leadership Conference.  She was sitting in front of me on the bus that took us to and from the reception at the Romanian Embassy.   And I met Bryon at the Fall 2006 Board Meeting in Louisville, KY.  If I had not attended that convention, I would not have (eventually) met my husband or my close friends, I would not have my daughter and I would not be living in New York.  Also, almost all my friends in New York became my friends originally through Bryon.  This completely blew me away.

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An event that would change the course of my life.

We took the girls through the shark reef aquarium.  I was very impressed.

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

 

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

After the aquarium, we drove down the strip and to the other side of the Stratosphere.  We passed Silver and Gold, the pawn shop from Pawn Stars.  We also drove through some local neighborhoods.

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The Strip  2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Stratosphere
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Pawn Stars
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Pawn Stars

We decided to have dinner at Burgr, one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.  When the food came, my daughter had an epic tantrum.  I admit, I am spoiled because she is generally a very easy going and well behaved kid.  I know they say you can’t reason with a toddler but I can usually reason with her.  But she wasn’t having any of it.  She was tired and she was overstimulated.  I had to take her out of the restaurant and I strapped her into her stroller.  I found a quiet corner where I sit down on the floor and I start crying.  My best friend came out and I proceeded to completely melt down about how it all wasn’t fair.  Why did Bryon have to die?  How come everyone else in the world gets to be happy except me?  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  We were supposed to grow old together.  Not one of my proudest moments and I couldn’t even blame it on alcohol because I was sober.

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Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr
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My Sandwich that I didn’t get to eat.

After I finished my meltdown, my best friend and I went to Holsteins in the Cosmopolitan for adult milkshakes. That made things better.

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Adult Milkshakes at Holsteins

This trip was great because I got to see my best friend and my daughter got to play with her daughter.  But I couldn’t help but feel like Bryon was missing.  It felt like he should have been on this trip with us.  He would have loved Vegas.  He would have loved the fact that the people came from all walks of life (including the homeless man sleeping in the elevator).  He would have loved the gambling and all the food.  He would have loved the casinos.  He would have loved the ride through the neighborhoods near the strip. He had been my travelling buddy for 8 years so I definitely felt his absence.  While I know he will always be with me and that does comfort me to some level, I hope in the future I won’t feel so empty from his absence when I travel.

A Promise

During Bryon’s final hours, one of our closest friends and I sat in his room and we would take turns going over to him to talk to him.  He wasn’t conscious at this point but no one really knows how much he heard or if he could even hear us at this point.  But we continued to talk to him.  I am not going to tell you about everything we talked about but I am going to tell you about one promise I made to him.

I was probably rambling at this point.  But I started talking about our travel maps.  I struggled on a good first anniversary paper gift but decided that we should buy a large map of the U.S. and a huge map of the world and put them on large bulletin boards and pin all the places we travel.  True to my nature, I even found a way to make it more complicated by adding color coded pins to denote places that only I had traveled  (blue) and places that only he had traveled (green).  We used red pins for the places we traveled together and yellow pins to denote places that we both had been but not together.

In a perfect world, I would have made these maps for him and given them to him as a gift.  But I knew that there was no way I could hide them.  So I presented my idea to Bryon and he liked the it and true to his “take charge” nature, he located the items online, purchased them and put the maps with the adhesive onto the bulletin boards. He did let me help with the assembly.   He even indulged my system of color coded pins.  Though one day as a prank, he put one of my pins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia even though I have never been to Africa and didn’t tell me.  He waited until I figured it out.  He thought it was the funniest thing ever so I left the pin in place.

Anyway, as I was talking (or rambling) to Bryon during his last night on Earth, I started talking about these maps.  I remember saying that I couldn’t believe that there wouldn’t be any more adventures together.  We loved to travel.  We had so many plans and so many places we wanted to visit. We would never go to San Diego and visit all the Top Gun places.  We would never go to Branson, Missouri (it was always his dream to go to the Nashville of the Ozarks.  A dream I never understood).  We would never go to Scotland, or Seattle, or London or Texas.  Travelling with Bryon was amazing because he was a planner and he would make the best of wherever he was.  We could be in some random place but give him 5-10 minutes on his phone and he would figure out the top tourist attractions, the most random tourist attraction, what famous (or not-so-famous) person lived there, if there was a Waffle House or a Chick-Fil-A nearby and what the best local places to eat and grab a drink and he would come up with a plan to see it all. Literally, all I had to do was show up and enjoy the amazing vacation.

Our adventures were going to be over.  We wouldn’t put any more red pins into our map.  But I told him that I promised that I would still take our daughter on adventures even though it would be hard to do it without him. Bryon would want her to see the world.  We brought her everywhere with us.  By the time she was 16 months, she had already been on two Caribbean cruises.  Bryon wouldn’t want us to stop travelling.  I even bought special pink pins to denote our girl trips.

So today my daughter and I embark on our first adventure without Bryon.  It is going to be hard without him.  It will be the first time I will fly alone with my daughter.  We will be going to a place that Bryon had never been but always wanted to go.  We will be spending time with my best friend and her two year old daughter.

So get ready Las Vegas.  The McKim girls are coming.