Chicago Cousins Retreat, 17–20 May 2018

My dad’s family started doing family reunions a while ago, and each time it’s great to see everyone. At the last one, I was talking with one of my cousins about having a get-together with the cousins, which would be a smaller group. We could plan a long weekend and recapture the bond the cousins have had since we were all younger. Everything came together and this past weekend seventeen of us gathered in Chicago, spending time together and reconnecting during our first Cousins Retreat.

Thursday 17-May

Everyone arrived in Chicago, gathering in a suite that one cousin had for the night, having appetizers and pizza which was delivered. We knew we would be late, but it ended up being later than we had expected. After checking into our room, I made sure there were still people there.

We arrived at the hotel, found the floor, and expected to hear lots of chatting as we got close to the room. It was odd that we didn’t hear anything until we got right up to the door, but I did recognize the voices. Walking in, things seemed rather subdued with people talking in partially-hushed voices. Turns out they started out louder but apparently, the neighbors complained about the noise so Security asked them to keep things quiet. Everyone was surprised that happened so early in the evening, and made an effort to keep things calmer the rest of the evening.

After goodies and leftovers were doled out (we ended up with a bunch of pizza, cheese, salami, crackers, and cookies) there was a bunch of pizza left over. One cousin grabbed them and left the room. She came back several minutes later with one of the porters, announcing, “This is my new friend Miguel!” who had gladly taken the pizzas and came in with trash bags, quickly gathered all the trash, and cheerfully wished us a good night as he headed out. We also left to grab the subway back to our hostel and turn in for the night.

Friday 18-May

We had taken extra food from the night before, so ate some of that, filling out breakfast with things from the food that was provided.

Gold Coast

We would be meeting with people in the afternoon so we chose to do a walking tour in the morning. After taking the subway for a few stops, we walked to Lake Michigan and began exploring the Gold Coast.

We began at Oak Street Beach, taking in the view of Navy Pier and the Chicago skyline. Most of the beach was being maintained, with most of it free of sand so we could see the solid surface below. It felt strange to be walking along a beach, nothing but water on the horizon, but no ocean smell,

The route took us next to North Avenue Beach, walking by the chess pavilion an out towards the arc of the jetty. We walked out to about the lighthouse but turned around, as the waves and wind were bigger out there.

We then headed inland to wander through the neighborhood, looking at historic and notable buildings. One had gaslights, and another was a striking white Art Deco building.

It was coming on lunchtime, and while we had some leftovers for lunch, we wanted something else as a supplement. On the way to the subway we walked past a place that served dumplings, so even though we were going to have dumplings with dinner, you can’t have too many, right? The place was set up like an automat; you placed your order at a kiosk, then watched a screen for your name to pop up on a door which would pivot up to reveal your order.

Field Museum

Because we had so many leftovers, we took some with us and ate on a bench in Museum Campus. When the time came, we met up with other cousins and went inside the Field Museum. Since we had been there a few years earlier, we opted for the full-access pass so we could see the special exhibits. We did meet up with the others a few times inside, though, and gave a couple recommendations on things to view.

One thing that’s very different is Sue the T-Rex is no longer in the main hall. The skeleton will eventually be located on the second floor, but for now, there are markers on the floor where the feet, tail, and head of a titanosaur will sit. The new skeleton will be installed later this month, so we just missed it.

The Hall of China was pretty interesting. They showed some things from the Middle Neolithic from about 5,000–3,000 BCE, some from the early 20th century. A few of the things which interested me were dioramas of Middle Neolithic settlements, shadow puppets, and a headband decorated with kingfisher feathers.

We also walked through the mummies exhibit, and the most interesting part was the whole section about Peruvian mummies. They were mummifying remains before the Egyptians and would bundle the bodies rather than keep them elongated.

A movie was included with our ticket, so we went to the theater to watch a movie about Egyptian mummies. We would have watched the one about China, but it was the same movie we saw when the Terracotta Warriors were in Seattle.

Some of the cousins had left by the time we were done, and the rest left at the same time we did. Well, before we got to the exit we did a quick stroll through some of the dioramas and the Hall of Birds.

While we were at the Field Museum, the other cousins had gone on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise. We had a great time doing that particular cruise, and it sounds like everyone enjoyed it. It apparently started out with fine weather, then the rain gradually picked up until most of them went below.

Before heading back to the hostel, we picked up some supplemental breakfast food for the next day. Then it was back to the room to relax a bit.


Our big group dinner was at Big Bowl, which had a mix of Chinese and Thai food. We had decided on the menu ahead of time, so all we needed to do was sit down and be served. The conversation quickly turned to ideas for the next Cousins Retreat. That was when I knew the whole weekend was a success.

Food was served family style, so bowls of food were passed around. Once again there was plenty of food, but not as many leftovers as the night before. We had the remaining food packed up, and my cousin walked the block back to the hotel to give to her new friend Miguel.

It was time for dessert, and across the street was Eataly where we had several options: gelato, pastries, and cannoli. In addition to desserts, they have other food stations, as well as places you can find ingredients you need for Italian cooking. They even offer cooking classes.

It was time to say goodbye to a few cousins who were leaving a day early. It’s hard to not linger, but we did eventually make it to the subway and didn’t stay awake very long.

Saturday 19-May

We finished the leftover pizza and our supplemental breakfast items, after which we planned out the day. We were thinking of going to the Art Institute of Chicago and had seen a sign that the hostel sold discounted tickets. We bought some then walked the few blocks to the museum.

Art Institute of Chicago

As with the Field Museum, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago but knew there would be interesting things to see. We started by doing an audio tour of Never a Lovely So Real which covered photography in Chicago between 1950 and 1980, with a large emphasis on the South Side.

We then did the audio tour which covered architecture of the museum. It pointed out many things we had missed on our last visit. One was that while we had noticed the items all along the walls of the mezzanine on the second floor around the Grand Staircase, we hadn’t realized they were a Fragment Gallery consisting of items from Chicago buildings which were torn down over the years.

The tour mentioned Fullerton Hall which was behind locked doors. However, it said that you can ask a guard to let you in, so we did that. The ceiling has a huge Tiffany dome in it, and the stage seems rather low, even if you’re sitting in one of the front rows.

In addition to pieces of the Chicago Stock Exchange building in the Fragment Gallery, the whole trading room was moved in the 1970s so you can walk around, imagining all the trades that happened. The timing was bad for us, though, since there was a private event in the room that morning. We could look in through the windows, though.

After finishing that audio tour, Melody did a short one about porcelains. I took a quick look in that gallery, then went to the next one over to take another look at the spiral staircase I remembered from our previous trip. I then went down to the miniature room gallery where Melody and I met up after she was done.

It was about lunchtime, so we found a bench in the sculpture garden and had more leftovers. We supplemented with some fruit at a deli across the street.


We had received a gift card for Garrett Popcorn, so we walked over to the store that was a few blocks away and picked up a bag. Wanting to check out a gelato place along the river, we headed due north, walking by the statue Flamingo) by Alexander Calder (he did Eagle for the Olympic Sculpture Garden, and we saw a few of his other pieces at Storm King in New York).

Not having much luck finding the gelato place, we tried looking up the address in a few different ways, getting different results. We didn’t have any luck at any of them, then Melody finally noticed in one review that it was an ice cream cart, so we figured it just wasn’t out that day. So instead of ice cream, we sat on a bench and ate the popcorn, watching the boats and people go back and forth.

Snack finished, we continued strolling along the Riverwalk until we got just past Michigan Avenue. Across the river was Apple Michigan Avenue, which is very interesting architecturally. It’s as if there’s a wide set of descending stairs, some of them glass-enclosed and topped with a roof that seems to be floating. Very striking. Inside, there’s a huge display which was showing slow-motion live video from various cameras around the city.

After shopping for the remaining items we would need for the next day’s breakfast, we went back to our room to relax a bit before dinner.


We had allowed enough time to get to the Weber Grill Restaurant that we were the first people there. We checked in and chatted with people as they arrived. When everyone was there, we went to our table.

The conversation was once again animated until our food was served, then it quickly got pretty quiet. Things must have been really good for us to stop talking!

We knew we would need to wake up very early to catch our flight in the morning, so we said goodbye to everyone. It was sad for our time together to be over, but I’m really glad we were able to make it happen.

Sunday 20-May

We woke up, dressed, ate breakfast, and did last-minute packing in time to head out the door at 5 AM. We didn’t have to wait very long for the train, then hopped on for our hour-long ride.

Everything went very smoothly on the flight home, and we didn’t need to wait very long for either the train at the airport or the bus we transferred to at UW.

One advantage of leaving early and flying west is we were home before noon, so we were able to get quite a few things done in the afternoon. Understandably, we went to sleep early.