Frederick Colorado

Leaving Nebraska and crossing into Colorado brought us into familiar territory again, not because I’ve been to Colorado much, but because two of my oldest (as in longest ;)) friends live here.    Our first stop was in Frederick at the home of Ron and Heather Douglas.  Ron and I have been friends since 8th grade in Darmstadt, Germany, where our father’s served in the Army.  They have six kids…six delightful kids…who won my heart the moment they said “Hi Aunt Debbie.”

With the mountains about an hour away, the Douglas Family took us to Rocky Mountain National Park the next morning to show off their beautiful state.  How cool to be walking in the THE Rockies! 🙂


After a few hours of exploring the Rockies, we returned to Estes Park, where we had some absolutely divine pizza for lunch.  For a little after lunch enjoyment, Ron took us to The Stanley Hotel and kept the kids in the car while Heather and I had a look around at this historic building where Stephen King wrote The Shining.  If it has Stephen King as an author, I probably haven’t read it, but I can appreciate the beauty and architecture of an intricately ornate old building.

The next day, we stayed pretty close to home, visiting and laughing throughout the day.  When Ron found out I’d never had sushi, he decided I needed to broaden my horizons, so we left the kids home and the three of us went out for a bit of culture.  Um…yum!  I had no idea what I was missing!  Even the pickled ginger was pretty amazing!

After dinner, they wanted to show me one of their favorite state parks in the area, but when we arrived, it was closed and a gate blocked the entrance on the road.  This would deter most people.  However, Ron is not “most people.”  Ron tests (and rates) vehicles for their use in off-roading on his blog Overland Journey, and before I knew it, he had backed up, mounted the curb and was finding out what a Volvo wagon has to offer the off-roading world!  We were around the gate and headed down to the historic house and lake in no time at all.

I mentioned to Ron and Heather that I hadn’t done anything like since college when my friends and I crossed the construction barriers at Ross Park in Pocatello one night to enter the still under construction water park.  We took a fire extinguisher filled with dish soap and sprayed it on the slide for a slick ride down.  Heather mentioned that this sort of activity was a daily occurrence when you’re married to Ron!  🙂

When we got home, we dug out our button machines and spent the evening making magnets with the whole family.  Making magnets is great entertainment!  If you haven’t done it, tell us, and we will bring our button machines to your house, too!


All too soon, it was time to go!  Thanks Ron and Heather for a fabulous Frederick visit!


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When our cross-country adventure began, I was a complete novice at backing a trailer.   I knew the very basics–if you wanted it to go right, you should steer left.  Nathan and Christian were my directors and, much to Nathan’s dismay, I needed a bit of practice in order to get the trailer where I wanted it.  At times, Nathan couldn’t quite understand why I couldn’t just “get it” and would, in exasperation, say, “The other way…you need to turn the other way Mom.”  Every time he made mention of my poor backing skills, I would tell him, “When we get to the wide open spaces of Nebraska, you’ll get your turn to drive this rig.”  Well, we made it to Nebraska.

I was pleasantly surprised when we happened upon a state park about an hour in where we stayed for the night.  We were the ONLY people in this park–a park that happened to have a large one way half mile loop, perfect for the beginner driver.

We arrived not long before sunset and drove up to the lookout to watch the sun set over the prairie.  It was beautiful!  The vibrant colors of the sky against the silhouette of the trees made a spectacular combination!


The next morning, it was time to deliver on my Nebraska promise.  After twenty thousand miles of being the driver, I felt a little out-of-place in the passenger seat, but without too much trouble, I adjusted to being the side seat driver.  (Just for a side note, we did unhook the trailer.)

What a fabulous experience to have one on one time with each of my boys for a half an hour each, driving at about 7 mph.  It was the perfect situation for real conversation.  My kids have driven motorcycles, go carts, scooters and Segways, but a truck was a whole new step up in the world.  They were so excited and concentrated so completely on the present moment, careful not to anything that would endanger us or the car.  With such undivided attention,  we shared some excellent bonding time.

After our driving lessons were over, we continued on down the Nebraska highway to Sidney, home of Cabelas.  Here we needed to take an hour to scrape the South Dakota bugs off the top of the camper.  Ewww!

We stayed in Sidney for the night and got the wild idea that it would be fun to experiment making healthy ice cream.  So, we went to the store and bought an ice cream maker.  Nathan and Christian thought the hand crank idea was the way to go.  I was pretty sure we wanted a motorized machine.  We compromised and got one with both!

We bought the machine, the rock salt, the almond milk, agave nectar and flavoring, then returned to the camper to try our hand at homemade ice cream.  We followed the instructions down to the letter and soon produced a big pile of frozen gunk.  Perhaps too much rock salt…or not enough cream, but the concoction we came up with wasn’t very good, so we fed it to the birds.  In fact, the whole process of making ice cream is…for the birds.  Just buy it.  Five dollars a half-gallon is a bargain!

We finished our drive through Nebraska the next morning, and for the first time in the history of crossing Nebraska, I thought, “What a nice state!”  I can only chalk it up to a great sunset, driving lessons, and heading north to south instead of east to west. 🙂

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The Dakotas

With Minnesota in the rear view mirror, we put the pedal to the metal and took the most direct path to North Dakota.  North Dakota has never called to me, and we did little more than hit the southern edge before turning south.  A long drive across either of the Dakotas wasn’t very enticing, but stopping for the night midway made it bearable.  Our destination was The Badlands of South Dakota.

We stopped for the night in Sisseton (which of course we pronounced Sissy Town) and awoke the next morning to some beautiful Newberg, Oregon weather!  What a delightful treat!

I haven’t followed the weather of South Dakota, but it appears to have been flooded recently as we passed barns and sheds completely surrounded by water.  Below is a picture of the railroad tracks along side the highway…seemingly passing through the middle of a lake.

There was a lot of open road, where we went for a long time without even seeing a tree, just prairie as far as the eye could see.

One singular distinction that South Dakota had was that regular unleaded was more expensive than Super Unleaded.  When I pulled up to fill up in South Dakota for the first time, and noticed that the prices were reversed, I thought perhaps someone was doing some kind of research to see if people really looked at gas prices, or maybe a joke of some kind, but soon caught on to the trend and found that every gas station had Unleaded Plus ten cents cheaper than regular.  Odd.

Soon our prairies came to an end and desert rock popped up everywhere.  We stayed in The Badlands State Park and took a hike through the most bland color scenery I’ve ever seen.  Not only was the sky hazy, but it seemed like everything was the very same color…the color of rattle snakes.  No wonder this is a great habitation for them.

On the way home from our walk, we stumbled upon a lone frog hopping along next to the road, so we watched it for a bit.

The next morning, we continued through the park.  The formations were pretty amazing, and it is easy to see where there’s been earthquakes and erosion grinding away the rocks.  There were a few too many signs posted announcing rattlesnakes for me to fully enjoy our hike through the small valleys and plateaus.

As we were driving through the park, we stumbled upon some excellent entertainment.  We noticed a prairie dog off the side of the road and pulled over for a closer look.  As we pulled over and looked out over the plains, we realized the prairie was FULL of them!  We could see a hundred of them in every direction scurrying this way and that way.

I didn’t really know what prairie dogs ate, but I supposed they were vegetarians, so we pulled out some carrots and threw out to them.  It was fascinating to watch them eat and interact with one another.

Before we knew it, we were tossing all sorts of salad options to them just for the pure joy of watching them enjoy it!  We spent nearly an hour feeding the prairie dogs…an hour well spent.

From The Badlands, we made our way to Mt. Rushmore.  Nathan learned about Mt. Rushmore is school several years ago and has been keen to visit it ever since.   We were all pretty impressed that such amazing replicas could be formed using dynamite.  I was particularly impressed with the scope of the artist’s vision.

After we pulled away from Mt. Rushmore, I had the idea to drive north just a little.  I was reminded how much better I liked Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, so we decided to go have a look at Mt. Rushmore from the north side. I was as surprised as anyone with what we saw!  🙂

We stayed in a KOA just south of Mt. Rushmore and made our own mini bonfire to entertain us for the evening.  We’ve had more fires in the last six months than we’ve had in ten years.  I’ve decided boys need campfires, and boys sharing a campfire with their mom is an easy recipe for a happy memory.

We continued south through the Black Hills until we reached a little town called Hot Springs.  I never knew there were so many hot springs throughout the country.  What a finishing touch to a beautiful earth!

In Hot Springs, we came upon The Evans Plunge.  With a name like that, we couldn’t just drive by, so we stopped for an afternoon of soothing spring water and a water slide that was as nearly straight down as I’ve ever seen.  After my recent experience with water slides and egos, I felt no need at all to take the plunge.  Nathan and Christian, however, did it, and I was, on this occasion, happy to live vicariously through them. 🙂

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The Largest Water Park in America

When we arrived in Minneapolis, America’s largest indoor water park didn’t open for four more days, so naturally, we had to stick around a few extra days until it opened.  To pass the time, we checked out a few of the 15,000 lakes that dot the Minnesota landscape.  Our night at Minnetonka State Park was completely delightful, and I went away loving Minnesota purely for the happy memories with my boys that night.  We skipped rocks for a while, then Nathan wandered off and Christian and I just laid on the dock looking up at the sky and talked.  I loved it!

When Thursday FINALLY arrived, my kids were thrilled!  The pool didn’t open until 3 pm, and we were there at 2:30 ready for the action to begin.

Water parks are NOT my thing.  At all.  They rank right up there with a root canal on my list of enjoyable activities.  I don’t like the free flailing feeling of shooting down a water tube.  It is more terrifying than enjoyable.  BUT, as I changed into my swimsuit and entered the water, I promised myself to have a fun day with Nathan and Christian and keep my chicken heart self tucked away for the afternoon.

We were the first ones in the park, and it took Nathan 7 seconds to get from the door to the Surf Simulator.  He was in the water in no time!  He was a natural and moved from his tummy to his knees to his feet like a born surfer.

It wasn’t long after we arrived that it was time to take on the ten story high slide.  Ten stories is a long way up…a long way to consider the awful nature of what is about to occur.  I found myself saying a prayer that went something like this:

Dear Father…

I am not especially good at things like this.   You mixed a little too much chicken heart in the pot when I was created, but I am the only parent these kids have at the moment.  I need you to give me courage to go up these stairs, get on that tube and have a fun time with these boys!  If not courage, could you just take away the catatonic fear for the afternoon?

Thanks in advance.

I made it to the top and put on a happy face about going down, but inside I was feeling terrified.  I stepped in the big tube and instantly I sunk to the floor of the tube and my body went limp.  I closed my eyes and didn’t open them again until I got to the bottom.  Amazingly, it wouldn’t have been terrible if my kids wouldn’t have screamed all the way down. With every scream, I knew I had a drop coming in .2 seconds.  We made it to the bottom, and I burst into laughter!  It wasn’t as horrible as I had imagined, and hearing my kids scream with fright and delight all the way down was somehow incredibly bonding for us!  I didn’t feel any need to do that slide again, but I did the sixth floor slide with them throughout the afternoon.

Nathan took right to surfing and everyone that gathered around was impressed as he learned how to do twists and turns.  Christian gave the boogie board a go and had a great time.  I tried the boogie board, and it WAS pretty fun!

We spent the afternoon sliding, tubing, floating, boogie boarding and having a fabulous time!  I loved watching all the surfers try out the simulator.  As I sat there, I had a distinct conversation…with the little voice in my head.  It went like this:

Can you surf?  Oh, that’s right, you don’t know…you’ve never tried…

Hey, wait a minute, I’ve never had the opportunity.  I used to skateboard a bit…maybe that transfers to surfing…and Nathan is a natural…it is quite feasible he gets it from me.

Well, sit in your chair watching and walk away tonight not knowing if you are a brilliant surfer or not…walk away and you’ll never know…walk away and you’ll never know…walk away and you’ll never know.

Ok fine…I’ll give it a go…

So I got up from my chair and decided to go for it.  I’d just watched a hundred people do it. I was sure I could do it, too…after all, I did skate board a bit in high school! 😉

I got up and took my place in line.  There were six people ahead of me.  The girl in front of me went, and before I knew it, it was my turn.  The lifeguard put me on the board and said, “Have you done this before?”  I joked that I hadn’t but that my sons had been doing it all afternoon and…I used to skateboard. 😉  She said that the most important thing to remember is to keep all my weight on my back leg.  She took hold of my hands and helped ease me out into the surf.  I didn’t let go.  Soon she said, “I am now going to let go.”  And she did, and this is where the story gets a little fuzzy.

Apparently, I didn’t keep my weight on my back leg, because, in what seemed like the very moment she let go, the surfboard flipped up sending my legs over my head.  At this point, everything went black…and extremely quiet.  In fact, the quiet was so intense that I could hear with clarity each of the four cracks in my neck as I landed on my head.

I stood up from the water holding my neck only to find the lifeguard rushing over to me asking me if I had popped my neck.  In my best jovial voice I replied, “Wow, that was like a trip to the chiropractor.”  This was precisely the wrong thing to say to the dutiful lifeguard.  Within two seconds, she sounded the alarm, shut down the water, and had my head braced in her hands.  In another few seconds, I was sitting down and the First Aid Squad was headed my way…with a gurney.  I said, “You’re not putting me on that are you? I’m fine!”  She said, “Hold still please, we need to keep you braced until the ambulance arrives.”

“What? Ambulance? I don’t need an ambulance…I don’t want an ambulance…I’m fine.”

By this time, I had a half a dozen lifeguards gathered around and a new lifeguard had taken over the head hold.  He asked, “How are you feeling?”  I replied, “Embarrassed.”  Another girl came up to get my information.

She asked for my name and contact information.  At this point I became cantankerous and said, “I don’t want to give you my contact information, I don’t want an ambulance…I don’t have any insurance to cover ambulances.”  They explained how they needed me to cooperate with them, and this was their protocol.

That was when the police arrived.  The police?  I couldn’t believe this.  He wanted to know how I was feeling.  I replied that I was feeling nervous about a $3000 ambulance bill when I didn’t need an ambulance. He just smiled and like everyone else told me to hold still.

Then the ambulance arrived.  The two EMTs came in and checked me over and wanted my address.  I told them I didn’t have one and that I currently lived in a camper.  Of course, they didn’t believe me given the cranky part of my personality that had blossomed.  I had to sign off that I didn’t want treatment, and then they left.

This was the first time I could actually move my neck on my own since the fall.  It was sore, but I wasn’t about to go to the hospital for x-rays like they suggested.  I would simply wait until the next day to see how I felt.

At this point, we changed out of our swimsuits and left.  As I left, I felt incredibly grateful that I still had a neck attached, and I told that voice in my head, “Brilliant surfer or not? Well…now I know.”

With America’s largest indoor water park experienced, I was ready to get out of Minnesota and far away from that surf simulator. We set out for North Dakota that very night and the last leg of our 48 state adventure.

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Minneapolis, Minnesota

While we were in Chicago, we couldn’t find an open RV park, so after several days of dry docking, we opted for a hotel room.  We have the inconvenient habit of leaving things wherever we go, so when we were ready to check out, I was sure to drill my kids about making sure they had everything they brought inside.  We checked out and were on our way several hours before I started wondering where I had put my phone.  I assumed that I must have put it in my bag in the camper, and proceeded toward Kansas without double checking.

It wasn’t until sometime the next day that not having a phone started to be irritating.  I searched the car and the camper to no avail, so that night I emailed the hotel to see if they had come across my phone.   Another day went by, and they finally replied,  saying yes they had my phone.  They said they would mail it, but it ended up being another week before they actually made it to the post office.  It wasn’t until we pulled into Bloomington, Minnesota that we had a phone again.  Ahhh…having a phone is not overrated!

We stayed our first night in Bloomington at the Radisson Hotel.  It boasted the largest water park in America.  The balcony in our room faced a massive indoor conglomeration of slides, fountains, pools, and a lazy river.  Unfortunately, it didn’t open for the season for four more days.   As we stood gawking at this amazing water park, four teenagers came in, fired up the surf simulator and started knee boarding, surfing and doing all sorts of tricks.  I’m not sure their inside connection, but their show was enough to convince us to stick around the area for another four days until the park opened.

The next morning, with a phone in my pocket, we were ready to take on the Mall of America! I am not a mall shoppin’ sort of girl.  No one found me at the mall on a Friday night in high school, and twenty years later, not much has changed.  BUT, with four floors of shops, amusement rides, games, and cafes this was no ordinary mall shopping experience…and one that even I could not pass up!

After checking out the games and the arcades, we made our way through the shops filled with Rubix Cubes, Legos, Crocs, and something for everyone.

After a full day at the Mall, we needed to cut back east to Wisconsin, where we were going to stay the night.  We pulled over to check out a map and decide where we were going to stay.  Not knowing which RV parks were open yet, I wasn’t sure where to go.  As I was looking at the map a man walked up to the truck out of seemingly nowhere and asked if I was looking for a place to camp for the night.  He then directed me about 20 miles north to a fabulous state park.  I thanked him, drove away and marveled that we always find a perfect place to stay…always and just in the nick of time.

This was a beautiful state park, and it didn’t take long for us to get settled in and off on a hike.  It was about a mile hike to the waterfall, and along the way as we were walking and talking, I heard a slithering in the bushes.  I caught sight of a black and yellow snake.  I was thrilled and quickly called my boys over for a look.  It was about two feet away and Nathan says to me, “Mom, don’t you know the saying, ‘If it’s black, stay back?”  I told him I didn’t know that saying, in fact, aside from a rattle snake, I didn’t know the first thing about snakes.  All of a sudden I felt really foolish calling my children over to check out a snake up close without knowing if it was poisonous or not.  We googled it when we got home and found out it was just a garden snake, but I will be more careful in the future.  I guess that’s what happens when Florida and all those free roaming alligators are so fresh in your mind…sorta makes you let your guard down!

The waterfalls were worth the hike, and we spent a bit of time watching the rock climbers and enjoying the scenery before returning to the camper.

The next morning, we made our way into Minneapolis and went to the statue garden downtown.  We spent several hours walking through the statues, crossing the bridge, and playing at the park.

From the statue garden, we went a little out-of-the-way to go and see the Minnehaha City Park…just because the name makes me laugh…well, a small laugh anyway! 🙂

We walked through their park and enjoyed the rapids and waterfall.  Above Nathan and Christian are playing the wishbone game…a game we made up a few weeks ago on a hike.  The rules are simple, you find a stick with two limbs, make a wish, pull your side of the stick and whoever gets the bigger half, gets their wish to come true.  It is a fun little game! We finished up our night with a trip out to the Minnetonka State Park.  The park didn’t end up having camping, but we found a GIANT playground and a fabulous view of some of Minnesota’s 15,000 lakes.  We spent nearly an hour just sitting on the dock watching the sun go done.  It was a perfect night!

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Kansas City to Des Moines

Having Kellie join us for a couple of weeks was a complete pleasure!  It was delightful to have another adult in the car to talk with, choose our course, and recall our many memories together.  But after two vigorous weeks of travel and sight-seeing, we made it to Kansas City and our time with Kellie came to an end.  We got her on her flight and immediately slowed our olympic travel pace down to a crawl.

We didn’t stay long in Kansas City, but we did take time to go downtown to 18th and Vine Street–the Jazz District.  I played the saxophone through college and have a soft spot in my heart for the buzzy, growly, funky sounds of jazz music.  It was fantastic to go in and listen to the skattin’, thumpin’, rhythmic samples of the best of the best.


From Vine Street, we nipped across the river to Kansas for dinner, then turned north toward Iowa.  We found a great little state park and took an early night filled with skipping rocks and walking about the grounds.  We have skipped about a thousand rocks in the past six months, but still easily spend an hour at a time gliding the rocks over the surface of the water.  As we walked along the lake, a tremendous rain and wind storm arrived, and we were happy to run our little selves back to the shelter of the camper.

Below is a picture of one area of the lake.  We weren’t too keen to jump in for a swim, but it was cool to look at! 🙂

The next morning, we were slow to get moving, but made it to Des Moines by early afternoon.  We tried to find parking by their lake downtown, but there was no room for a trailer.  Instead we made our way to the park and had a picnic.  After lunch, we went for a walk through the park and were pleasantly surprised with what we found.

My kids are avid four-leaf clover hunters and can easily spend a half an hour combing through clovers in search of a lucky charm.  This park was FILLED with clover, and Christian was determined to find a couple of four-leafed ones to catch up to Nathan’s seven he has found on this trip.  Within about a minute he had found one.  Then, in another few minutes he found a second one.  I sat down and started hunting with him.  I’ve never found one and the odds were looking favorable for me to break out of my rut.

Within just a few minutes I had found one…then another.  This went on for nearly an hour until together the three of us had found TWENTY four-leaf clovers!  The park was crawling with them!  This left us wondering what kind of luck was shining down on Des Moines, Iowa!  My kids were thrilled, and I was…well…ready to buy some lottery tickets! 😉

This is actually a fun way to spend an hour!  The enjoyment of four-leaf clover hunting really increased for me when I actually started finding them myself!

After our lucky hunt, we went to a HUGE second-hand book store where we peacefully spent the remainder of the afternoon immersed in all sorts of books and cds.  I love that my kids love to read and find it impressive that two and three-inch books don’t intimidate them.  I didn’t learn to love to read until I was reading Harry Potter about ten years ago and have had a lot of reading to make up for lost time.

After keeping such a busy schedule from New York to Kansas, it felt wonderful to slow down and take time to simply be together.  When Kellie left, the couch that we had used as a seat the entire trip was still made into a bed, and it called to the three of us to snuggle together and take in some movies and read our second-hand books!  We spent the next three days SLOWLY making our way to the Twin Cities and enjoying every minute of our lazy schedule!

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Niagara Falls and The Windy City….

Niagara Falls is a one of those places I hope everyone gets to visit at least once in their lifetime.  We decided to cruise on by the American side and bust out our too seldomly used passports for Canada.  For several miles before we reached the falls, we could see the hovering mist which only made the anticipation grow.  When we finally arrived and parked, we found a spectacular rainbow hanging around to greet us.

We arrived not long before sunset and were able to enjoy the waterfalls for a short time before the sun went down.

Once the sun went down, the falls lit up and the whole city was brought to life with spectacular color.

The surrounding wildlife, the beauty of the scenery and the massive amounts of water that roar over the edge make this natural wonder one of the most beloved places in North America.  We opted for the full Niagara Adventure package which allowed us to go down below the falls, cruise out on the Maid in the Mist and walk the plank of the most deadly rapids in the world.

Along these rapids, were heaps of stories of daring thrill seekers that successfully made their way through these rapids…and many who lost their lives trying. Having NO need for thrill, I cannot understand the high one would get in going over Niagara Falls in a barrel or walking a tightrope over the cascading falls.  With as impulsive as I am at times, I am grateful that I do not have any urge to try such a feat.

From the raging rapids, we boarded the Maid in the Mist which took us out into heart of the waterfall spray.  Now this is the kind of adventure I like…feeling the water on my face, while my feet are on solid ground. 🙂

We concluded our Niagara Tour with a walk back past the falls.  What a marvelous sight to behold!

From this magnificent wonder of the world, we headed down through Kirtland, Ohio, along the edge on Indiana and caught a corner of Michigan before reaching Chicago.  I loved being able to see the Great Lakes.  Lake Eerie lived up to its name with its grey skies, cold weather and man carrying a machine gun along the water! 🙂



There is a reason these are called THE GREAT LAKES and Lake Michigan knocked my socks off with its enormous size.    It was like the ocean…you could not see the other side. We spent ages hunting for treasures along Lake Michigan.  The shoreline was full of interesting rocks and shells.

On the way back to the car, we came across this beauty!  If you look closely, you will see that what you think is tree is really one GIANT cocoon!

Once we filled our pockets with rocks and treasures, we continued on into Chicago.  We were out of luck finding an RV park and ended up at a hotel for the night.  Ahhhh!  Their big fluffy bed felt DIVINE!  I am not the least bit worried about readjusting to my bed when I get home.

I’ve always pictured Chicago as a big ghetto.  I’ve never heard anyone, not one time, say they thought Chicago was pretty, and I don’t know why.  We crossed through some sketchy industrial area coming into the city, but the heart of the city was beautiful!  I thought it was very clean, sleek buildings, a great path by the water, and sprinkled with cool art throughout.

In order to fully enjoy our tour of the Windy City, we listened to our favorite songs about Chicago as we drove around.  I chose “The Night Chicago Died.”  It was my favorite 45 when I was little. “Billy, Don’t be a Hero” was on the back, and I wished my sister, Pauletta, was there to sing out the words with me…just like when we were eight and ten.  Kellie knew a cute little song from a musical that went something like, “The windy city is mighty pretty.”  It’s probably a famous song that everyone but me knows…that’s how I roll. 🙂

We stopped in for some authentic Chicago Pizza, checked out The Bean, visited Harpo Studios and saw Marilyn before leaving town.  I give this city two thumbs up and will definitely add it to my must-return-to list.  I’ll be back!

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