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It's been a long year. Melanie and I have both had challenges that made us grow. Some of those were by our own choice. Some, we didn't want. What matters is how we pulled together to help each other. As a reward for making the most of the year, we decided to return to Chicago again for a few days. We lived an hour west of the city until we moved to Iowa in 1992. Periodically, we return to explore new things and renew friendships with familiar people and things in the Windy City. It was a good visit. Yes, it was windy. But, the sun shined brightly and people were smiling and friendly.

Come below for a tour of some highlights of our trip. If you know Chicago, you will recognize most of the sights. If you've never been there, consider this an invitation.

We arrived mid-afternoon and checked in to our hotel. After a rest, we headed out for some dinner and entertainment at Andy's Jazz Club. These views greeted us across the Chicago River just outside of the Hotel 71 lobby.

View to the west from the Ballroom floor 39.

The same view during the daylight hours.

Art Around the City

One of the enjoyable things about Chicago is the array of outdoor sculpture and art on display. The downtown Loop has some of the most iconic pieces. Can you name each? Answers are in First Comment.

Federal Reserve Money Museum

One of our first stops was this museum. Melanie worked within the banking industry for many years. She taught about money and banking, too. I've heard about the Fed from her and in the news for years. We entered the Federal Reserve building lobby off of La Salle Street. Security was high. A young man asked us what we wanted. He took us around the corner to pass through the metal detectors to the museum. Inside we were greeted by 'Mr. Statistics'. That's not his real name. But, he could spout them continuously. He helped us get oriented. Displays of the history of the money used in the U.S. and the Federal Reserve System were all around. Two in particular caught our eyes. It isn't often one gets this close to a million dollars. Melanie liked the $20s. I liked the $1s.

The Chapel in the Sky

We were exploring the area near the Daley Plaza. At the southwest corner of the intersection was this building, the Chicago Temple. It isn't particularly tall or impressive. There is a cross on top. The sign on the front also identified it as the First United Methodist Church. We thought it might be interesting inside and went in. The lobby had six elevator doors. At the back was the entrance to the sanctuary. It was late morning and few people were there. We quietly entered to look around. Upstairs was a balcony that seemed to offer a better overall view, but the balcony doors were locked. As we stood thinking about what to do next, a woman came up the stairs headed for the offices of the church. She asked if we had an appointment and could she help us. We explained that we were just exploring. She wondered if we knew about the Chapel in the Sky and the tour at two each afternoon. That sounded interesting. We said we would come back the next day for that. We already had plans to meet two kossacks for lunch (more about that below) and to explore the Art Institute.

This building is the fourth one on this site. The first was in 1838, a year after the city was founded. By 1845, a more conventional brick structure was erected with a 148' spire. In 1858, the Methodists built a four story multi-use structure with stores and businesses on the lower two floors and church space in the upper two. The Chicago Fire destroyed it in 1871. It was rebuilt with the same plan. In 1922, the congregation decided to build a Methodist temple on the site. It became the tallest building of the city in 1924 at 568' to the spire top. Today, floors 1-4 are for the church and offices. Floors 5-21 are city, county, and state offices. Floor 22 has a history room. Floors 23-25 are for the parsonage. At the top is a small octagonal Sky Chapel. It is said to be the highest place of Christian worship above ground level in the world at 400'. Click on the chapel image for a bigger view.

This is in the ceiling of the Sky Chapel.

Embossed in the face of the altar is this scene of Jesus watching over the city of Chicago. It has a matching scene in the main church altar down at ground level of Jesus watching over Jerusalem.

Atria - New and Old

Near the Daley Plaza is the State of Illinois building built opened in 1985 to mixed reviews by critics, ranging from "outrageous" to "wonderful". The atrium is striking.

On State Street is the former Marshall Fields department store, now Macy's. The bronze plaques on the corners still mark the building as Marshall Fields. If you can't find it there, you should stop shopping. We were admiring the view down from the sixth floor of the atrium when the building facilities manager walked by and stopped to visit. She said she had been working there for 15 years and was very happy with her job. She pointed out several interesting features and facts. She urged us to go see the Tiffany Dome and the Christmas Tree.

Field Museum of Natural History

Our final day was spent mostly at the Field Museum. It is the home of creative exhibits and huge amounts of artifacts from around the world. This is Stanley Hall decorated simply for the holidays.

We headed for the Gems and Precious Stones room. These are old friends. We come to this room every time we visit. Melanie's father showed us around this room many years ago. At the other end of the hall is the Jade Room.

And what would a visit be without a dinosaur skeleton? This is Sue. She takes center stage as you walk into Stanley Hall. Below is the actual skull on display. Her largest teeth are 8" long including the root with sharp cutting edges for tearing flesh.

Kossack Meetup

In planning our trip, we made a point of looking up a couple of kossacks we knew who lived near Chicago in hopes of getting together for lunch. That turned out to be broths and figbash. We arranged to meet at the front of the Art Institute. figbash said to look for the orange feather boa. That was easy. We went inside for a picture before going to lunch. We liked the of Gods and Glamour reference. That is figbash with the boa and broths at the right. From there, we went half a block west to the Russian Tea Room right at the starting point of Route 66. It was great fun to meet them and enjoy face to face conversation. They are both delightful kossacks.

In crossing, we encountered a man selling a guide pamphlet. He insisted on telling a joke if we bought one. He said to be sure to go to Macy's because the Janet Jackson bras were half off. We crossed that street four times. He told us a joke each time without requiring payment.

After lunch, we headed back to the Art Institute. We found some rooms and exhibits we'd never seen before. It was an excellent visit. Here are two from a beautiful exhibit of the works from 300-500 BC in the Middle East.

And this by Marc Chagall called America Windows. This is the center of three panels.

Besides seeing so many fascinating sites and items, we also enjoyed the people around us. We had the chance to meet figbash and broths. We also met up with an old friend of Melanie's, someone she went to grade school and high school with. We enjoyed a great Greek meal with Mark, talking and laughing and crying a little, for 4 hours that evening.

But the people in the city, complete strangers to us, were uniformly cheery and pleasant. We had the chance to interact with museum and store employees, security guards, restaurant workers, and people on the street. Chicago is my kind of town, for the beauty, the arts, the food, and the friendly atmosphere.

Originally posted to Jim & Melanie in IA on Mon Dec 17, 2012 at 07:30 AM PST.

Also republished by Pink Clubhouse and Community Spotlight.

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