Tag Archives: Chicago

Summer Vacation: Explore Chicago

Summer is officially here and I am continuing with a collection of trip recommendations. We often overlook opportunities to explore in our backyard, at least I do. Last summer I embarked on hitting some sites that were obvious to tourists but I had yet to do them. Here is a quick recap of some options to try next time you visit Chicago. I am not suggesting these can be done in one day—they are highlights of a few trips.

I have one son, who was 9, and sometimes the adventure was for him to have a first-time experience downtown.

We did breakfast at Margie’s, which is an ice cream parlor located in the Bucktown neighborhood. Now that I am thinking about it, another breakfast there may be in order!

Water Taxi Ride

Let’s be clear: the weather in Chicago is not great for about six months out of the year. Summer is really the most reliable time to venture around. And it is also the best time to be on the water/Lake Michigan. A ride on the Chicago Water Taxi is a fun way to skip traffic and take a look at the architecture that makes the city unique. You can board at Union Station and take it to Michigan Avenue. A walk down the “Magnificent Mile” provides a terrific mix of retailers and history. The views are spectacular day or night.

Navy Pier offers visiting exhibits, places to eat and rides. The giant

Fun at Navy Pier

ferris wheel is new this year (replacing one that was here) so that’s worth a visit. Live music and an IMAX theatre provide other options to keep everyone occupied. And fireworks shows occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The museum campus has a cluster of wonderful options to explore. If you are prepared to do some walking, venture through Millennium Park, over to Buckingham Fountain, then back to the Art Institute to take in an array of sites. The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers tours to maximize your experience.

Visit Chicago this summer and make some new memories with your family!


In Real Life

Riding the Camel057Several years ago, I lived in Sonoma, California and worked in a small business. I hired a marketing assistant who became a friend. I was single and Trish was married but we connected. She made plans to travel to Tunisia to visit her husband’s family and she invited me to accompany them. It was a unique offer. I had never actually considered a vacation to Tunisia. It turned out that we would need to fly through Paris, so that was going to be a few days’ visit. I decided to do it. It was an interesting trip. I had not thought through the language challenges. Her husband was tri-lingual and I had assumed his family might also be but they were not. So while he spoke English, no one else did. He sometimes would translate into French for Trish (she was bi-lingual) and she could turn around and let me know in English what was happening. Sometimes I could not follow. Perhaps the funniest episode was we were driving and I got excited as we spotted a man walking with a camel. A camel! Live, in person, just walking along the road. I wanted to take a picture, so we stopped the car. Then, Trish’s husband approached the man and said something to him in Arabic, so he stopped to pose for me. It got better! He invited me to jump on the camel. OK—I reacted without hesitation! Perhaps I should have paused to consider it more. As I sat on the camel and it stood, I was almost pitched off its back. You don’t think about it but how a camel is built, with long legs and neck, means it is a bit awkward in its movement. As it stood, it rocked forward and I did not expect to go in that direction. So I squeezed with my legs with all my might because I immediately thought of flying to the ground and having to go to a hospital where no one spoke English and then calling my mother to tell her I was hurt and thousands of miles away. This could not happen. It did not.
Well, Trish ended up quitting, then getting divorced, and she moved to Chicago. Then she returned home to Tennessee. Years passed and I moved to Chicago. I got married and had a son. She became an artist and produced theatre work. We have sent each other Christmas cards and Facebook came into existence, so we have watched as we posted random notes or photos. We have visited each other twice since I moved to the Midwest.
A week ago, I had a business trip to Nashville and she came to get me. We realized very quickly that it had been TEN YEARS since we actually had seen each other in person. TEN YEARS! I’m not sure how that much time had passed. She’s never met my son. I never met her second husband. We ate lunch, we drove to the airport, and we chatted non-stop. It was so much fun and it reminded me that I need to get to Nashville more often. I cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the years and I rely on social networks to keep in touch. For the most part, it feels like it works. After all, we can’t jump on planes and travel all over the country every year. But seeing someone live, in person, really is so much better. That short visit covered so much territory.
I have other friends, who live in California, who I’ve seen more than once in ten years. Like my friend since junior high, Susy, who was in my wedding and has come out to Chicago multiple times. Or, Aileen, who I have known for more than two decades. I saw her son as a newborn and her second son just had his Bar Mitzvah. Their kids have grown up mostly in pictures, so it is nice when you can see them in real life. Status updates or tweets only provide a limited amount of information. It is good to be reminded how to connect the old fashioned way.

My Favorite Bookstore: After-Words

After-Words is located in downtown Chicago ( 23 E Illinois St, Chicago, IL) and it is a hidden gem.  I think it is an odd location, surrounded by offices and restaurants.  It is hustling during the week but rather quiet on the weekend.  I cannot remember how I found it but I love it.  It is a two-story building with a mix of both used (downstairs) and new (upstairs) books.  You can drop off books at the front desk and begin browsing immediately.  I love that!  I live in the suburbs and had once tried a used bookstore that needed a week to evaluate and estimate a value for books you intended to exchange.  What is the point?  I’d rather drive downtown and have the immediate satisfaction of leaving the store with some new items.  They have a great selection from which to choose.  I’ve ventured into different areas on each visit.  I’ve gone in looking for a new cookbook and came out with a fun, huge one to try.  I’ve gone with nothing in mind and found some books by authors I’ve read previously (Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book was a recent acquisition).  More recently, I focused on the children’s section and came out with some great new additions for my son’s collection.  Dr. Seuss is well-represented but I also got something by Mo Willems (Piggy and Elephant), as well as Inkpen (Kipper).

Another compelling reason to go here is that even if they do not want to resell your books, they can donate the rest to charity.  Either way, your books find a new home.  I feel good clearing some space on my shelves and sharing my books with other people.  As I sit here typing for a blog, I realize fewer people are buying books and e-books are more a thing of the future.  As long as we do continue to own bound editions, why not keep the cycle going via independent stores like this?







Is home where the heart is?

This morning, as I was sitting at my desk, I received a call from an aunt in California.  With the time difference, I knew it was bad news.  My Aunt Toni had passed away during the night.  She was battling cancer and had been going through chemo but in recent weeks I had not gotten any updates.  Sometimes no news is good news but in this instance it was not.    It was a bit stunning, since the last messages I had received were about my uncles visiting her and making her laugh.  They were rallying around her.  My father was the oldest of five children and this was his next sibling.  Ironically, I was sitting at my desk when I got the news of his death, too.

As I received a call from a cousin in California, I learned that they had started hospice a week ago.  Well, had I known that I would have been mentally prepared today.  I guess it was determined the chemo was not working.  I don’t blame her.  I am a firm believer in the quality of life and sometimes when I hear of extreme measures being taken for a person to live, I wonder why the choice was made.  But, this all drove home the point that I know and struggle with: I am not at home.

I’m one of two people in the family not residing in California.  We don’t have a huge family but obviously it takes more effort to keep us apprised of the latest events.  So now I need to decide if I will travel back for the funeral.  I would have preferred to see her alive.

One happy note is that we used modern technology to stay in touch.  I had mailed some recent photos of my son to her daughter.  I also sent a video message of him to her that was funny.  That went two weeks ago.  She does not use a computer, so I relied on my cousin to take a computer with her to share the updates.  I have to credit shutterfly with making this process really easy.  The site offers a password-protected share site for both photos and videos.

Well, more to consider: I’ve lived in Chicago for 8 years.  That is not temporary.  When will it be home to me?  Hmmm…where do you consider home?

Giving Back in 2010

As 2010 was starting, I decided to submit an article to the “Yummy Mummy Club” website.  The editorial calendar called for pieces about giving back (for January) and that topic sparked my writing very quickly.  It was the first time I was published somewhere and so I thought I’d continue with it.  I’m expanding that original work since they had a word limit, I can elaborate on a few things and thus begin my new blog…

I don’t recall what prompted me to visit the children’s hospital near my college, but I did and I found out that I could volunteer there in the recreation therapy room on a weekly basis.  The kids and their families were optimistic and strong in the face of chronic ailments.  I continued to do volunteer service as I started my career and I found that it helped me to better balance the stress of a job with the more important challenges of life.

When I relocated to Chicago in 2002, I looked up the Stanford University alumni association.  I found out that it had established a partnership with Chicago Public Schools and I ended up judging science fairs and history fairs at Curie Metro high school.  We all seem to be strapped for time, especially those of us who juggle motherhood with careers.  Finding extra hours (or minutes) in the day might be a tall order, but it is possible to make a difference in small ways.  As I met those young students, and interacted with the faculty at the school, I saw that a few hours really helped them and I enjoyed the time spent there, too.  It was not an on-going commitment but the one-day experience made an impact.

This past year I had the opportunity to help launch the corporate social responsibility program at our company.  I got to do research on non-profits across the U.S. as we sought a partner of national scope.  We decided to go with the Ronald McDonald House Charities (www.rmhc.org).  It has been very gratifying to see how the relationship has blossomed across the country.  On a personal level, I have enjoyed working with them and value my counterpart in the organization.  But before we made that decision, I discovered so many worthwhile organizations I want to promote to others.  A couple I’d like to share here:

DonorsChoose.org — Here’s how it works: public school teachers from every corner of America post classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org. Requests range from pencils for a poetry writing unit to violins for a school recital.  Then, you browse project requests and give any amount to the one that makes your eye twinkle. Once a project reaches its funding goal, they deliver the materials to the school. You’ll get photos of your project taking place, a thank-you letter from the teacher, and a cost report showing how each dollar was spent. If you give over $100, you’ll also receive hand-written thank-you letters from the students. You can give as little as $1 and get the same level of choice, transparency, and feedback that is traditionally reserved for someone who gives millions. They call it “citizen philanthropy.”

First Book – if you are reading this right now, I’m guessing that you enjoy reading in general.  The idea that children can be growing up without books to read made me sad.  It shocked me, really.  This organization’s mission is simple: First Book provides new books to children in need addressing one of the most important factors affecting literacy – access to books.  Now, nearly 20 years since its start, First Book has delivered more than 65 million books to programs serving children in need across the United States and Canada.  Learn more at www.firstbook.org

Closer to home, I like Lamb’s Farm (http://www.lambsfarm.org/).  It is an organization that empowers an extraordinary group of more than 250 people with developmental disabilities to lead personally fulfilling lives.   As a result of the earthquake in Haiti, I also chose to personally support the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (www.clintonbushhaitifund.org).  Back in California, a long-time favorite of mine for the past decade has been Project Open Hand (www.openhand.org).  San-Francisco-based Project Open Hand provides home delivered meals, groceries and nutrition counseling to people living with HIV/AIDS.

As I look at the groups I gravitate toward, they typically cluster around helping people be self-sufficient and providing food or shelter.  I have less time to devote to volunteering so I tend to give money lately.  As my son gets bigger, I intend to have him join me in some activities.  More on that later.

What are some of your favorite non-profits?  Are there other unique ways you’ve found to give back in your community?