Out of the Blue...

I am an unapologetic planner.  I like to have my schedule locked down weeks in advance, if not a full month ahead of time. Spontaneity is a word that scarcely fits into my vocabulary. Still, I know how to recognize a good opportunity, and when to pounce on it if necessary. So when I was talking to my friend, Abel, on Friday morning about when he and his new wife, Sinead, might be able to squeeze in a visit to Chicago during the limited amount of time they'll be in the United States between stints living in Japan and Ireland, I knew I had to seize upon whatever might work.

What I wasn't expecting, however, was that the only time that would work for both of us would be yesterday and today. That's right, I agreed to have weekend house guests with less than 24 hours' notice. Even Justin, who has only gradually come to accept my need for structure and logistical clarity, was thrown for a loop.

It was important to me to see Abel, however. After all, Justin and I are traveling to Ireland for their official wedding ceremony in November, Justin had never met either of them. I hadn't seen Abel for over a year and a half myself. Last time we spoke face to face, he had only been dating Sinead for a couple months, and now they are married. Plus, I had never met her, and it felt odd to have a friend of mine be married to a complete stranger.

By the time they showed up early yesterday afternoon, I had put together a full agenda for our guests, in addition to whipping my house into guest-ready levels of cleanliness in near record time. For their first day in Chicago, I threw together a mini-Wash U reunion by inviting over Brad, the only other person in our circle of college friends that lives in the area. We had a cookout, featuring my new obsession, banh mi burgers, and the fruit salad that has become a staple of my summer entertaining.

Rain very nearly threatened to ruin our grilling session, but we managed to get the food cooked before the storm got too heavy, and we spent the remainder of the evening catching up and playing Cards Against Humanity, a card game similar to Apples to Apples (the game that more-or-less defined my college years), but for people with a very twisted sense of humor. I really need to look into scoring a copy for myself...

Obligatory photo in front of The Bean -- a total tourist move, I know.
Today we took Abel and Sinead into the city, for a day of traditional tourism. We started off the morning with brunch at Ann Sather, and by brunch, I mean a huge plate of delicious, delicious cinnamon rolls. I've gotten to the point where I don't even bother ordering other food besides a side-order of ham to provide a salty, savory counterpoint to the buns; the cinnamon rolls are a meal unto themselves, and they're really all I want to eat anyway.

I knew I wanted to take them to a museum (not only to showcase Chicago's considerable cultural assets, but because I can get people in for free as a museum employee), so I let them choose where they wanted to go. Secretly, I was hoping they would pick the Art Institute, because they have an exhibit there on Roy Lichtenstein that I've been wanting to see, but they opted for the Field Museum instead because Sinead had never seen a dinosaur skeleton before. Apparently, natural history museums in Ireland mostly contain the remains of ancient deer, because that was what was native to that region.

We did get to see the Field's temporary exhibit on Ghengis Khan, though I'm not really sure it was worth the extra money we had to pay for it. It mostly seemed like an lesson on Mongolian culture in general, though there were a few sections on Khan's specific contributions to the world, and his military strategy. Mostly, I was struck by the absolutely ridiculous video segments that punctuated the exhibit. Their production values were such that they could have been culled from a low-budget Chinese soap opera, and they probably would have offended any real Mongolians that saw them.

Even if the special exhibit was kind of a bust, Sinead did seem suitably impressed by the dinosaur remains, as well as the Field's considerable collection of Native American artifacts. Though anyone who's grown up in Illinois finds such artifacts a little tedious, it was refreshing to view them through the eyes of someone who is seeing them for the first time. There is some truly amazing craftsmanship to behold there.

After the museum, we made a quick pit stop to pick up some Garrett's popcorn on the way to Giordano's for deep dish, delivering a one-two punch in terms of classic Chicago foodstuffs. I think Sinead was taken aback by the unabashed American-style excess of the deep dish, but she was a good sport about it, even if it offended her European sensibilities. When in Chicago, do as the Chicagoans do, after all...

Making the most of the long days of summer, we stopped by Millennium Park on our way back to the car (which we had parked at my parents' condo building for free), for the mandatory visit to The Bean, the Gehry bandshell, and the Crown fountain. All too soon, it was time to return home to see our visitors off.

Even if their visit was totally unexpected and a bit of a whirlwind, I am so glad that I got to see Abel and Sinead while they were in town. Now both Justin and I are even more excited to travel to Ireland in a few months to celebrate their marriage. It will be our first time traveling internationally together, and there couldn't be a happier reason to embark upon such a grand adventure. I can't wait!

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