Category Archives: Things to do

Tour the Chicago Theater

Standard

Just a short walk a few blocks east of the Ogilvie Metra Station is the theater district. Our destination yesterday was The Chicago Theater.    We were going to see Straight No Chaser, so we planned ahead to do a tour of the theater earlier in the day.  The tour lasts over an hour and visitors get to really appreciate the architecture since the building is empty.  Below is just a few of the thousands of light bulbs in the front of this theater.  How many people does it take to change these light bulbs?  …sounds like a joke I’ve heard about a million times, but this would be a real job!

Below the bulbs are all lit….still can’t imagine how long it takes to change these babies.

The Chicago Theater opened in 1921 as a movie house and was the first of its kind.  It was a model for other theaters that followed.  For 40 years the theater was known for movies and live entertainment.  But from the 70’s until the mid 80’s the theater business hit a lull and the theater was eventually closed in 1985.  In 1986, the theater was purchased and saved from demolition.  (Are you starting to see a pattern here?  People love to knock things over.  It doesn’t end in childhood.  Thank goodness for the other little kids who yell …nooooo, I’m gonna tell Mom!!)  The theater was saved, refurbished and reopened in 1986 with Frank Sinatra as a headliner.

To marvel at the workmanship, is an understatement in this building. It was covered and remodeled in the 50’s with Formica and other trends at the time, but they were smart enough just to cover the details.  All of it was preserved underneath to appreciate today.

At just .25 for the ticket, this was an event, not just a movie.  Even the entrance to the men’s restrooms is elegant.  This is where the men would lounge and have a pipe or cigar with the guys.


Elegance and opulence was the intention.  The ceilings of today just don’t seem to get this much attention…

Treat yourself to this grand dame of a building.   A Christmas Story, the Musical, is here for the rest of December. Next time you are there for a concert or musical, try to take a tour ahead of time and take time to look around…there is so much to see from days gone by.

Straight No Chaser is still in town, by the way, at The Rosemont Theater tonight (Dec 4) at 7:30. Run to the phone if you want to get tickets.  Both shows were sold out yesterday.  They were OUTstanding. Or get some of their music, you will love it.

The Chicago Theater

The Rosemont Theater

Ogilvie Metra Station

Plan Ahead: Shop “Small Business Saturday” in a Local Downtown

Standard

Next Saturday, after all of the crazy Black Friday shopping is over, there is a call to arms to head downtown.  (Not “The Downtown” as in the o.b.v.i.o.u.s.l.y. cool phrase for downtown Chicago to make it sound like it is the only downtown you know.)  Not THAT downtown, but head to your local Main-Street-USA downtown and support a local business owner.

Support your neighbor.

You may not have been in a small American downtown in a while, and if not, you don’t know what you’re missing.  You might only shop at Amazon, Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom’s, Kohls…or Walgreens.  (It’s probably best not to tell your beloved that you got their gift at Walgreens though.)

So this Saturday, pick a downtown.  Local if you can, but if you are visiting relatives, go to their downtown. Find a new downtown.  Head West, young man!   Jump on the UP-W and shop Oak Park or River Forest, Elmhurst, Lombard, Glen Ellyn, Wheaton, West Chicago, or Geneva.  Meet the owner and thank them for being there before they thank you for the business.  And support them with your hard earned cash; don’t just eat the free food they’re serving.  We would never want our downtowns to be ghost towns.   They are the best slice of Americana there is.

And if you really want a hometown experience, head south 1 hour over the Mason Dixon Line in Illinois (Interstate 80) to Morris. (Take your passport if you feel the need.) Morris has a fabulous downtown.  Make a day of it.  Have lunch, shop, have dinner and stay for one of the live bands that the bars or restaurants schedule on any given weekend. …55 South to 80 West, you can’t miss it.  Scroll down to see just a few (ok, more than a few) of the shops in this great little town.

American Express is even helping you out with a $25 advance to spend locally.  You just have to “like” them on Facebook and pledge to shop small and they will gift your card.

https://www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday

Now get out there and do your civic duty!  Get out of your Big Box Store rut!  No need to “Occupy Anything”.   Black Friday sounds like drudgery, but Small Business Saturday sounds like fun and you don’t even have to go at 3am.   Plan ahead…  shop small, but BUY BIG, and maybe you will find that for the rest of the year you will choose to support these stores, too.

Count the number of times I used the word “downtown” and you could be a winner.  I said “you could”, but probably not. There is actually nothing to win.

Won’t You Be …My Neighbor

Standard

Won’t you please,

Won’t you please…

Please won’t you be, my neighbor.

In the Chicago Tribune last weekend, there was an article about the attraction for retirees to live in a college town.  This is a secret that we have recently been privy to.  We chose Wheaton for easy Metra access for an inbound commute to Chicago for our college son, but we have been pleasantly surprised at the college atmosphere around us.  The beauty of the school is the first thing to notice.  It is a fabulous place for my 70 pound dog to walk me.  She LOVES the unbelievable amount of active, smart, taunting, college squirrels in all of these gorgeous trees. Me and my arm sockets…not so much.  The second perk is the amount of activity the college provides to the community.  This in turn is great for restaurants and business in general.

The school has a long history of excellence.  Wheaton College, known originally as Illinois Institute, was one of the first large occupiers of Wheaton, IL.  The first was the railroad…(I feel so connected).

Who wouldn’t want a neighbor that looks like this…

or this…

or this…

One of the main streets in Wheaton, Blanchard Street, was named for the first college president, Jonathan Blanchard.  He arrived just before the Civil War broke out.  Blanchard Hall, the photo below, is the original campus building.  It was patterned after buildings at Oxford University in England and was built entirely of limestone from Batavia, IL.

And one of their most recent additions is the Todd M. Beamer Student Center.

Besides the typical concerts and sporting events, the best part of a college atmosphere is how active it makes the community feel.  I was in Noodles and Company last night and there was a small group of college kids, (they looked like football players), having a Bible group.  (Not typical in most college or non-college towns.)  There is always a young person running, rolling, or walking past me.  One morning while my dog was walking me, I felt like I accidentally stepped into a 5K…but it was just the number of people up early running.

So whether you are retired or not, living in a college town definitely has it’s advantages.  To check out a beautiful campus, local history or art exhibit, concert or sporting event just take the Metra UP-W to Wheaton College.

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

This college is…a great neighbor.

Death by Cocoa Bean

Standard

If you’ve gotta go, I can’t think of a more pleasant way.  I decided to “take one for the team” and register for a dessert class.  The Cocoa Bean in Geneva was referred to me by my friend, Julie, who reveres their cakes.  Each year on her birthday her sister gives her a whole cake to enjoy all by herself.  No sharing required, unless she wants to.  She does not want a new bag of the season, not a piece of jewelry, not a trip to Vegas, not even a dinner out at a five star restaurant.  She wants a cake.  A whole cake and nothing but the cake.  On second thought, I don’t want to speak for her.  I am sure she would never turn down any of those other aforementioned things, (ahem…Kyle), but this cake must be gooood.

So after hearing this, I knew I had to check it out.  While reading the website I noticed on Sunday afternoons they offer classes, so I jumped on the UP-W line and headed west to Geneva.  It is a little walk when arriving, but Geneva is so beautiful that it is not a sacrifice….and I was going to a dessert class, for heaven’s sake, I could stand to burn a few before and after.  Best surprise of the day…another French Market at the train station!  More on that in the Spring, since this was the last one of the season.

Could this weather be better? I think not. And neither did the gazillion other people enjoying 3rd Street in Geneva.  This street alone could keep this blog going indefinitely.  So many people were out and about loving the weather and the shops and restaurants.

Our class started at 12:00 in the working kitchen of the bakery. For a person like me, that was a great place to be sitting.  Surrounded by ovens, a marble slab counter, small, medium and giant mixers, and every whisk, spatula and gadget imaginable.

We dove right in with a pumpkin mousse and sponge cake roulade.

Think: dessert rolled like a giant Hostess Ho Ho. (I loved peeling and eating those when I was young…I would still love peeling and eating those if it wasn’t culinarily incorrect, which is like politically incorrect only referring to bad stuff we can no longer openly buy in a grocery store and put into our bodies without guilt…shame…and transfats…WHAT? There are no transfats in Ho Ho’s???…putting that on the grocery list for next time.)

This homemade Ho Ho was made with vanilla cake with pumpkin mousse cream filling.  Pastry Chef Paul (owner) made it two ways; layered with a chocolate ganache and also layered with raspberry. Obviously, this was the raspberry.  Dessert #1 in the stomach….this could get crazy.

Next, he made a simple pumpkin bar with homemade cream cheese frosting. Simple and common, but the techniques we learned were very helpful.  How to prevent bubbles, or dense cake, or ugly cutting.

 Dessert #2 in the stomach… Starting to worry.

Next on the list, a pecan torte in a chocolate crust.  I had to stop.  I just could not make myself take a bite of another dessert.  No matter how much the people around me raved…I had to stop.  But you don’t think I just skipped it, do you?  They said at the beginning they would give us boxes to take things home…I am always planning ahead.

Lastly, he made crème brulee in a roasted pumpkin shell.  The presentation was gorgeous, daarling.  Love learning the tricks of the trade.  Roasting the pumpkins with cinnamon and sugar, learning about real vanilla, when to use tempering, and hot water baths.  (Not with bubbles and lavender, silly, as a cooking method.)

The class was informative and filling…need to go run a 5K.   (I should have run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Chicago yesterday, but that might have defeated the purpose since there was hot chocolate,  chocolate fountains and fondue after.)

We were all sent home with boxes of goodies.  This was in the box.  Can you imagine making these thin layers??  There were croissants and pastries from the storefront, samples of what we saw Chef Paul make, a pumpkin with crème brulee, and a serious sugar high.   That won’t deter me from going again, though.  I am much tougher than that.

Their website has the schedule for the rest of the holiday season.  Mark this in your calendar for a must do, just make sure to eat lots of vegetables a for few days before.  It’s all in the training.

Greetings, Canadians!

Standard

Although I have lived 1 hour from Chicago my entire life, I usually have only done the normal touristy stuff.  Sears Tower and Water Tower as a kid, Wrigley and old Comiskey as a teen, musicals and plays as a young married, museums as a new parent and Michigan Ave and restaurants as a …what am I now?  not sure…dare I say it…middle aged?  I even recently went to the Lyric for 2 seasons.  I was not middle aged there.  I felt YOUNG!  We have been to Venetian Night, 4th of July Fireworks, Air and Water Show, etc…but I have never really known the REAL city of Chicago.  So when we moved close to the Metra I was excited to get to know the city.  Chicago ~ Maureen,  Maureen ~ Chicago.

I found the Chicago Greeter website and did a little research about which tour would fit me.  Some tours require a 7-10 day window to match you with a greeter, but InstaGreeter is a lot more flexible and I just didn’t want to commit unless the weather was good.  (Yes, I am a fair weather fan for sports and everything else.)  This was how pretty the day was…

So I hopped on the UP-W line and headed in on the first nice day that was also a Friday, because Instagreeters only do weekends.   I arrived at the Chicago Cultural Center building on the corner of Michigan and Randolph in the late morning and found the counter inside easily enough.

The note on the counter said they would be back at 11:30.  The tours take a little over an hour so I had time to spare before and roamed around the building.  It really is a cool place.  (More on that later.)  There is a giant map on the wall and I decided to take the LOOP tour.

When the tour guide came back ready to give another tour, we had to fill out a short form to say where we were from.  There was only 1 other woman waiting with me for the tour.  She wrote down Vancouver, Canada.  I wrote Wheaton, IL.  The greeter raised her eyebrows, tipped her chin down and said…”You’re from Wheaton?”

Have you ever had an imaginary conversation in a matter of a second?  In the time it took her to raise her eyebrows and tip her chin, here is what we said…in my imagination, that is…

Her: You’re from Wheaton?

Me:  Yes, why?

Her: Why do you need a tour? You’re from Wheaton.

Me:  Because I’ve only lived there 2 months. And before that I lived in Morris…you’re right, I probably should have written Morris, since that is south of the Mason Dixon Line.  One hour is muuuuch different that 45 minutes.  And actually the story is complicated and I kind of still live in both…

Her: I guess you can walk along, but I probably won’t address you .  I will only talk to this worthy tourist from Canada.

Me:  But …but I’ve never seen the REAL Chicago.  The real working Loop.  I still get lost sometimes on the one-way streets. I am worthy…I am worthy…I am worthy…

Her: Well OK, whatever…

Me:  Ugh.

I know that seemed like a lot of silent communicating in one second, but that really is what the brain is capable of when someone raises their eyebrows and lowers their chin.  She did chill out after I proved myself to be a good listener and question asker.  Next time I am going to say I am from Canada.

So we headed toward the Thompson Center.  I have never been inside before…

It is surprising to think that the inside looks like this,

when the outside looks like this.

We hit lots of landmarks and just regular office buildings and banks.  Here is one that the inside looks like this…

The whole ceiling is lined in gold foiling…really gorgeous.

We visited City Hall and the County Building (same building – different entrances).

We walked to the Board of Trade  (that building right at the end of the street…See? I can be a real tourist?? I can stand in the street while a taxi is coming right at me and take a picture….worthy, I tell you.)

and the Rookery

This was all remodeled because it was so dark at one time, but they left one column open on one side to see the original intricate wood work from yester-year.  The remodel was a Frank Lloyd Wright creation.

We saw a church I had never noticed before…Yes, that is a church on top of that skyscraper.

This is the beautiful entrance.

…and the Chicago Loop Synagogue, which after going to their website, I wish I had seen the stained glass after dark.  Chicago seems to have been built as a very religious city.  There are lots of evidence of faith in the obvious and not so obvious places.

And also lots of beautiful artwork where you least expect it.

I loved seeing the part of the city, known as The Financial District, which doesn’t technically serve as a tourist destination, (There was no cotton candy or lemon shake-ups to be found.) but more of a work destination.  The architecture is beautiful and the interior details had to cost a fortune at the time.  To replace any of it today would be a Bill Gates’ fortune.

I have never worked in the city so I had no real reason for going to this area to explore.  My brother was at the Board of Trade for a while, but I have no idea how we got there.  Now I know.  You will, too, if you take a tour with an Instagreeter.  So be brave, be proud…explore the city and write down where you are really from……Canada.