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road trip: chicago + st. louis

st. louis sunset

A month has passed since Ben and I returned, exhausted and inspired and grateful (and engaged!), from our trip to Chicago and St. Louis. We had a lovely time, and on these alternately gray and bright days, as I consider the increasingly green leaves (promising that springtime will indeed keep on coming), I want to pause and share a glimpse of our adventures with you.

We journeyed first to Chicago: the Windy City, the City of Broad Shoulders, the city of good public transport and one of my favorite bakeries and several of our dearest friends.

With Rita and Gerard, we lingered over delicious meals, clustered around their little table, laughing hard, listening to Lana Del Rey. When we pulled in late that first evening, Ethiopian takeout was already on its way and the bottle of wine practically open. They’re the best of hosts. The next morning, we sat for what may have been hours over eggs and hash browns and fresh bakery bagels and oranges and numerous cups of strong coffee. I was with three of my favorite people, people who fill me with hope. I couldn’t have been happier.

chicago brunch

Ben and I went on a run next to the lake that morning, through unfamiliar neighborhoods, past beautiful homes inhabited by strangers. We met our friends Laura and Jer for dinner at Karyn’s on Green (highly recommended), and a stop at Goose Island followed, as we can’t much pass up a local brew. 


On Sunday, with Rita and Gerard, we went to church and flitted around the city and chatted for hours on end and brunched at Café Selmarie, where I enjoyed a scrumptious house-made croissant with scrambled eggs and a pile of veggies tucked inside.

rita & g

cafe selmarie croissant

on the bus

In the evening, Gerard made chili, I tossed together a version of this salad and we had one last long meal, crunching tortilla chips into our chili and sipping on bourbon.

And that next morning, before we left, Ben proposed to me on the pier–but I told you about that already. The two of us celebrated with lunch at Floriole, which is among my favorite food establishments anywhere experienced to date, and as we walked there, past the lovely old houses that line the streets of Lincoln Park, tiny petals fell from the trees, catching the sunlight. I felt exactly as I might have hoped, had I ever dared to hope.




We hopped back in the car after lunch and a stop at Trader Joe’s, starting the next leg of our travels and also our lives. With dreams and plans for a wedding and future quickly assembling, we were glad to have arrived: for us, there is no going back, and we are grateful.

We picnicked somewhere off the highway near St. Louis


and when we rolled into that city, down wide, dark streets, my friend E was waiting with champagne and a chocolate cake, baked despite temperatures that had soared to ninety degrees.

chocolate bundt

I’m not sure I could have dreamt up a lovelier set of days.

And thus began, with cake and champagne, our time in St. Louis. We stayed with my college roommates E and Karah, in their old, rambling house reminiscent of the one we inhabited together years ago. Ben and I went on morning runs through the big park in their neighborhood and meandered through museums and formulated wedding plans. With E and her fellow, Dan, we prepared meals and went out for pizza and made the obligatory brewery stop.

e & dan

We went to art galleries and ate gelato and spent a glorious morning wandering through the Missouri Botanical Gardens with Karah (a highlight, surely: what a beautiful place),

hello karah

botanical gardens

and day by day, we tried to understand a new city. Among the more notable experiences was the City Museum–what a strange, strange place. My advice is to take your small children, who will appreciate it more than I did.

city museum

One of our favorites stops was Cherokee Street, a charming stretch of antique shops

antique row_1

antique row_2

and letterpress studios (we LOVED the Firecracker Press)

firecracker press

and Mexican restaurants. I bought a blue vintage dress patterned with little flowers, and together we invested in a letterpress journal to fill with wedding plans; we were greeted by elderly shopkeepers and looked at decades-old ovens and rusty trinkets.

We paused in the middle of that excursion at the Mud House, where we drank cups of coffee and shared two dense, delicious breads: one with bright, spicy ginger, the other with banana.

mud house breads

mud house rest

On our last day, before we left the city, we ate (more) croissants and bought macarons and dreamed of Europe at Rue Lafayette

chocolate croissant


and then we ventured downtown and went up the great Gateway Arch, tucked into the small elevator pod with a tiny girl dressed in mismatched clothing, her curls wild, and her grandfather, who presumably gave her liberty to dress herself that morning. She chattered endlessly as we rose higher and higher, and I felt as she did: full of awe.

the arch

At the top, we stared down at the city.

inside the arch

And finally, after satiating our hunger pangs with food-truck falafel and sea-salt-topped naan chips, we journeyed home, a bright, full moon and the familiar lights of downtown Grand Rapids welcoming us gladly to a place we love well.

It was a wonderful trip, full of adventure and newness and beauty and delicious food and quality time with friends and each other. Joy-filled, indeed.

below the arch

Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

-from Sometimes, by Mary Oliver

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