Volunteer – Race Day with a Twist

The weather is starting to warm up which means race season is in full bloom as well.  Now, we all know that these events happen year-round, however, the Spring and Summer months seem to be the high time for these competitions.  5K, 10K, Half-Marathon, Marathon, Triathalons, Iron Man, the list goes on (and on).  Some races exist as fundraisers for causes (breast cancer, lukemia/lymphoma, etc.) and some as fundraisers for your local park districts.  Some races are competitive, and some are just for fun like the bubble run or color run.  My point here is, there is bound to be a race or competition near you sometime in the near future.  And they are always looking for volunteers.

Last year, I wrote about a mini triathalon in my area that I volunteered for.  One of the things I pointed out was that, a husband/wife couple (and close friends) volunteer every year and work the same station together.  I also worked a station with another husband/wife couple (and close friends).  It is an easy activity that you can do together while also supporting a cause and cheering on any neighbors who are participating.

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The “with a twist” that I am referring to above is, that, I volunteered for a race that my SO participated in.   So, while we were not technically doing this activity together, I was still there to see him and cheer him on at that start of the race and then I had something to do while he is running.  I also got to see him again after the race.

This year I volunteered for the Quarryman Challenge in Lemont.  This unique race hosts a 5K and a 10 mile run though the streets of Lemont.  The HILLY streets of Lemont.

What makes this particular run “unique” is the end game.  They serve free beer and pizza to all of the finishers!  This is one of my SO’s favorite runs simply for this treat.  Others would agree as they had almost 700 runners this year.

Beer vendors

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The other “unique” aspect is the prize for the top runners.  They do not hand out the standard medal.  Lemont was known, back in the day, for its quarries and the production of dolomite (a version of limestone).  Each winner (3rd place and up) gets a chunk of rock from the quarry with an engraved plate.

So, look up some races or other events near you this summer and volunteer together.  It is a great feeling to support your community and neighbors.  And who doesn’t like a free t-shirt?

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Shawnee National Forest – Part III: Where to Stay

I wrote about some hiking in the Shawnee National Forest a few months ago.  You can find those blog posts here and here.  Now that Spring has arrived (let’s hope there are no more rogue blizzards like the one we just had last weekend), you should really think about heading down there for a few days to enjoy the beauty of this area.  But, you will need a place to stay.

My SO and I were invited, this past November, to join friends of ours for a weekend get-away in Southern Illinois.  A little hiking, and a winery or two were on the agenda.  Our friends had already been down there once before and she came across this wonderful Inn in Makanda, IL.  Simply named Makanda Inn and Cottages, this bed and breakfast is located right across from Giant City State Park.

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The Makanda Inn opened as a Bed & Breakfast with just the suites in 2009 and the cottages were completed in 2012.  Loraine and Malcolm Leigh have been managing the property (they also live there) since 2015.  You couldn’t meet a nicer, more sociable couple.

The Inn has 4 spacious suite-style rooms in the main cabin.  King size beds are standard in all of their bedrooms.  Each of these rooms is artfully decorated in dark, rich colors.  Stone showers and vanities made from blocks of wood add to the rustic décor.  We slept like rocks.  Then again, we were super tired from hiking each day.  Although “cocktail hour” at the end of the day helped with that as well.  They also offer two small cabins and one larger cabin if you wanted to have some space.  The two smaller cabins have a kitchenette area with a 2-burner, electric stove top and microwave (but not a traditional stove), and the larger cabin has a full kitchen area with a full-size stove/oven and a large microwave.  The larger cabin is ideal for those looking to spend more than a couple of days (or even a week or two).

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The Makanda Inn has a spacious great room on the main floor.  Couches and tables and chairs are available for all of the guests (in the main cabin or the cottages) to settle in at the end of a long day with a cocktail or two (or more if you are in our group).  You are welcome to bring your own cooler of beverages with you.  Or, if you are feeling something different, Malcolm tends bar from 4:00-9:00 pm each night for your drinking pleasure.  Anything from their bar must be purchased and, I speak from experience, he makes a mean Painkiller.

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The one thing that sets them apart, and the main reason I will be going back, is that they serve up an incredible breakfast.  I love food and enjoy eating a really good meal and Loraine and Malcolm do not disappoint.  This meal is included only if you stay in the main cabin.  You can purchase this as an extra if you stay in one of the cottages, but you need to reserve your spot ahead of time.  Additionally, while Malcolm does not tend bar at this time, Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are available to purchase if you want to start your day off right.

This was not your typical buffet-style scrambled eggs and bacon.  The first morning, we started with a small bowl of moon drop grapes.  I had never heard of these before, but they were delicious.  Then, we were told we were having cinnamon roll waffles with a cream cheese glaze.  The waffle took up the whole plate!  And, the plating was Top Chef worthy.  Photo credit for this one goes to Loraine Leigh.

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Day 2 was a pork sausage and scrambled egg burrito with homemade guacamole and salsa (and a dollop of cream cheese) along with some fried plantains.  This was accompanied by a small plate of pineapple and golden kiwi.

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Day 3 started with a blueberry yogurt parfait followed by a plate of French toast, scrambled eggs, and sausages.

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They are not playing games here.  Extra points for presentation.  Malcolm and Loraine are serious about enjoying your stay with them.  And, if they weather is on the cooler side, you might get to see Malcolm light the fireplace with a blowtorch . . . (this was a highlight for my SO)

Weekends book fast!  Maybe think about making this a part of your summer “staycation” and go down there during the week.   Either way, get down there and enjoy the beautiful weather and even more beautiful scenery.  And tell them Karen sent you!!

 

Kane County Flea Market

Some people think that a flea market is just a giant garage sale.  Some think it is just full of antiques.  Those were my thoughts as well.  Then I spent the day at one and found so much more to discover.

The Kane County Flea Market has been up and running for 51 years.  It was started by a woman named Helen Robinson and is still run by her sons today.  Held on the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles, the market hosts hundreds of vendors.  We spent a good 3 hours discovering the various treasures available.  The flea market operates one weekend per month, starting in March and ending in December.  These sellers are set up inside and outside, so check the weather and plan your outfit accordingly.  Parking is free, but the cost to enter is $5.00/person.

Going back to the “garage sale” thought process, there is the old saying “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.  Quite a few vendors had, what looked like, estate sale collections.  Plates, glass bowls, etc. Tchotchke heaven for some people.  I can’t tell you how many pieces we saw that reminded us of our parent’s and grandparent’s homes.  This is a great place to shop if you are looking for vintage pieces to mix in with your modern aesthetic.  Or, maybe the vintage look is your whole aesthetic.  Either way, the pickings are not slim here.

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One object that seems to be having a renaissance right now, is the record player.  Twenty-somethings today are asking for turntables for Christmas and birthdays.  We have a few friends who like to host Vinyl Nights as well.  Quite a few vendors had albums mixed in with their treasures.  If you have the time and patience to go through them, you will probably find something to add to your personal collection.

Albums

Furniture is a popular item at the market as well.  Some pieces are new, some are refurbished.  Some are untouched antiques.  Maybe you have been looking for that special piece to finish that bedroom or dining room you are remodeling.  Or maybe you have always wanted to try to refinish a dresser yourself.  You will surely find a good deal here.  Some of the furniture sellers were also willing to custom build pieces as well.

Furniture

The Flea Market is also a good place to go to for collectibles.  Old and new.  For the old, there were a handful of vendors who were selling Hot Wheels cars.  I couldn’t tell if they were actual collector’s items but they were still in the original packaging.  Same with the Barbies.  They looked like older versions, but I am not an expert.  I am sure there were more, but those were the two that caught my eye.

Cars and Barbies

For the new, there were sports memorabilia vendors, beer steins, rooster statues, and more.  What is with the rooster by the way?  Is this still a part of kitchen décor?  Because I see this creature everywhere.

Collectibles

Vendors selling new, craftier, items were scattered throughout the grounds as well.  If you like jewelry, holy cow is this the place for you.  So many sellers.  So many beautiful pieces.  Clothing, scarves, and purses were available.  As was the largest selection of “bags” for all of your picnic gaming needs.

New items

I know this adventure is not for everyone, and I was skeptical going into it as well, but, if you have a Saturday or Sunday afternoon free, this was a relaxing way to spend some time with your SO.  Beautiful weather, lots of exercise, lots of treasures to explore.

Big tip:  Bring cash.  Some vendors do not have the ability to process credit cards.  And haggling is a thing.  Not my thing, but if it is your thing, you can definitely hone your skills here.

On The Road: Chicago Cubs – Spring Training (Mesa, Arizona)

See my original article about the Cubs here

I had the opportunity to tag along on a business trip with my SO down to Phoenix, and I jumped at the chance just to get out of Chicago and the winter that won’t end.  He only had to be down there for two days but we extended it for some personal R & R.

One of the biggest draws for getting down there a few days early was that baseball’s Spring Training games were still being played.  These are exhibition games that are played before the start of the regular season. The teams, during this pre-season play, are not divided into the standard American and National league.  Instead, we have the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League.  The Cactus League is based in Arizona.  The Grapefruit League is based in Florida.

While the Chicago Cubs and White Sox both play in the Cactus league, our team of choice is the Cubs.  The North Siders primarily play out of Sloan Park, which is located in Mesa, Arizona.  The stadium is fairly new, built in 2014, and was designed to resemble Wrigley Field.  It was originally named Cubs Park but, in 2015, Sloan Valve Company signed a “naming rights” deal to the ballpark.  Sloan Park is the largest spring-training facility, with a capacity of 15,000.  This does not include the lawn because when we were there, the attendance that day was 16,100.  Tickets need to be purchased pretty far in advance.  We were attending games in late March and, when we tried to purchase seats in mid-February, the only thing available were lawn seats.  Still, a great view.

 

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Getting there is easy and parking is even easier.  They have one big, gigantic lot and it is only $5.00 to park.  Depending on how late you get there, you might have a decent walk to get into the stadium, but they have cycle rides available if you are not feeling the hike.  Not sure what they charge though.

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Inside the park, everything you need to enjoy a game is available.  Food, drink, team store shopping, etc.  If you are sitting on the lawn, bring a blanket.  We forgot to pack one and had to find something at the last minute.  The only other thing you can bring into the stadium is unopened water bottles.

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We enjoyed this trip more than we expected and cannot wait to go back again next year.  I’m sure the 80+ degree temperatures helped.

Not from Chicago?  Click here to find out where your team plays their Spring Training games.

Baseball – Chicago White Sox

Chicago is a big sports town.  It is big enough to produce two Major League baseball teams.  And, while some look at it as a rivalry, I choose to believe there is enough love in this great city to support two teams.  I know there are haters on both sides, but I am not one of them.  We were invited to a game last season and happily accepted as we are both always up for attending a sporting event.

The original ballpark was built in 1910 and served as the home of the White Sox through 1990.  The new Comiskey Park was built right across the street from the old one.  As a matter of fact, the home plate from the original building can still be found in one of the parking lots.  True Sox fans know where this is, and it didn’t take me long to find someone with a picture to use here.  (Photo credit: Sandy McDaniel)

home plate

home plate 2

The ballpark was renamed US Cellular Field in 2003 and is now known as Guaranteed Rate Field.  Aside from the original home plate, there are many tributes around the park for you to explore.  At the main entrance you will find a bronze and granite sculpture that celebrates the 2005 World Series Championship.  You can also find sculptures around the inside of the park dedicated to Minnie Minoso, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, and Paul Konerko.  There is also a special plaque dedicated to Jim Thome and his record-setting home runs in the 2008 season.

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While the north side team has more of a block party atmosphere, Comiskey Park (yes, I will always think of it as Comiskey Park) has a tailgate atmosphere.  There are multiple parking lots and Sox fans come out early and ready to party.  I have always liked the tailgate scene with people sharing food, drinks, and playing bags.

This is a great stadium to watch a game in.  It is very modern and comfortable.  I didn’t look into the variety of food they serve because I am a pretty basic baseball fan.  I need a hot dog and a beer.  And a good view.

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The White Sox offer many promotional dates on their schedule every year.  They have the usual “give-away” nights that include t-shirts, hats, and bobbleheads.  Additionally, they have $1.00 hot dog Wednesdays, post-game fireworks nights, music nights, and dog days (bring your dog to the game).  We happened to go to a game on Chicago Blackhawks night.  Alex DeBrincat threw out the first pitch.

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One of their more popular promotions is “Family Sundays”.  Twelve Sunday home games in the 2019 season will have tickets as low as $5.00 (upper level) and parking for only $10.00.  This is a cheap way to see the game, however, if you are looking for a date night away from your own kids (don’t be shy, we all need them now and again), this is not the deal for you.

There are a couple of ways to get tickets: a) Go to the White Sox main website or other ticket vendor (StubHub, etc) and you can purchase single game day tickets, b) go to Groupon or Goldstar and you can get discounted tickets – but they only have a handful of upcoming games available at a time.

We saw a great game, even though it was not a winning game.  We did, however, get see a Sox player hit a home run and, with that, came some fireworks.  Baseball is America’s pastime – get out and enjoy a game on the South Side!

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Support Your Local Theater – Little Mountain Community Theater

(Not from Lemont, IL?  Google “community theater near me”)

I am not a theater geek.  Never have been.  I wouldn’t even consider myself one now.  I have, however, found an appreciation for it since my youngest became a theater geek.  As a Freshman he participated in the Fall and Winter plays but never the Spring musical.  Then, as a Junior, he decided to give the musical a try and he has been hooked ever since.  And we became fans by way of supporting him.

His passion further became a part of our lives as he was discovering songs and soundtracks from some of the more popular productions like “Hamilton”, “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Legally Blonde”.   He kept on insisting we listen to these new songs he obsessed over when we were driving to/from hockey games.  Eventually, we became fans of the “Hamilton” songs so much we bought tickets to go with our son to see it.  Fantastic, by the way.  I highly recommend going to see it.

This past summer, our son auditioned for, and got a part in a musical called Barnum that was being put on by our local community theater.  I had never heard of Little Mountain Community Theater up to that point, even though they had been putting on shows for the past 5 years.  I also have a cousin who is very active in her community theater in Kalamazoo, Michigan and have made a few trips up there to see her perform.  So, I know a little about how much work goes into these productions.  And how much they rely on fundraising.

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Every community theater has a fundraiser (or two) during the course of their production season.  Last weekend, Little Mountain hosted a “Broadway Bound” event that featured past performers singing a favorite tune of theirs from a Broadway musical.  Our son, home on Spring Break, decided to participate so we were happy to support him as well as Little Mountain CT.  It was hosted by a local restaurant, Gelsosomo’s, in their back room.  The cost was $25 per person and we got a pizza buffet, beverages (non-alcoholic), and the show.

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Now, not every performer was a professional.  Some were singing on stage for the first time.  Some, like my son, did not have the chance to practice their song more than a handful of times before that night.  It was an entertaining mix of talent that night.  Here is a list of the songs we heard that night:

Song List

If you enjoy theater, even a little, look into supporting your local community theater.  Even if it means just attending their show(s).  Many local stages produce a musical in the summer.  And, many make their show announcements April 1.  Do some research now and plan a date night and support your local arts!

Flight Club

Flight Club, which opened in May 2018, is not your neighborhood bar to go and throw darts for the night.  It is two-story bar and restaurant that caters exclusively to playing darts.  It is a concept they call “social darts” and it is fast becoming a must-do for small groups and/or date nights.

Social darts starts with the actual playing area called an “oche” (rhymes with hockey).  Each oche can hold up to 20 people.  Not seat, hold.  It can maybe seat 8-10.  It has the dart board, space for food and drink, and three throwing lines (rookie, regular, and pro).

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Everything is high-tech.  The boards are actually cork but they have instant scoring and technology to track your throws and to show instant replays (generally shown when someone wins or “checks out”).  There is an easy-to-use interface to choose your game and input the names of your players.  And it doesn’t matter what order you put them in, the order of throwers changes with each game.  Also, be prepared to take a selfie with you player name.  And it is not being taken from an attractive angle either.

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The cost to play is $15-$22 for 30 minutes and $30-$40 for 60 minutes.  The difference depends on if you are coming in during peak times.  They recommend making a reservation if you have 6 or more in your party.  Right now, they have 5 different games to choose from.  We kept it simple and played the 180 game a couple of times.  Everyone starts with 180 points and each throw brings that number down depending on where your darts land.  And you have to get to zero without going over.  We then played one fun game of Snakes and Ladders (their version of the children’s board game Chutes and Ladders)

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I enjoy throwing darts, however, I am wildly inconsistent.  Every once in awhile I will get lucky and actually hit the number I was aiming for.  In our final game of the night we played a round of 180. One of our players, Diane, had checked out but three of us still had a turn in this round.  The other two guys busted and I got lucky and hit my number on my first throw and checked out as well.  So, then it went into a tie-breaker where Diane and I went head-to-head with only 60 points to play down from.  She went first and on her first throw she nailed a triple 20 and checked out.  WHO DOES THAT?  Obviously, not me.  True story.

Flight Club also functions as a restaurant if you would prefer to eat before or after playing darts.  But you can also order food to be brought to your oche.  We tried the mini poke tacos, al pastor skewers, and two flatbread pizzas (chicken sausage and four cheese) from the sharables menu.  It was all very good.

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Shareables

I’m sure versions of this concept will be opening up in other cities and suburbs but, until it does, try to work this one into your schedule the next time you are in the city.  (You Tube video courtesy of Flight Club)

WNDR Museum

The WNDR Museum opened in September 2018 as a “pop-up” (temporary) exhibit but its popularity here in Chicago has earned it a permanent location in the West Loop.  It is described on its website as an “experiential” museum meaning it is “involved in or based on experience and observation”.  This could not be more true.  Lights, sounds, and mirrors all combine to provide a platform where science meets art.

Full disclosure, my SO for the day was my favorite oldest child.  He has wanted to check out this museum since it opened, and I wanted to write about it, so he jumped at the chance to let me pay for him 😊 The ironic thing about our pairing is that, this is a very Instagram-friendly activity and you couldn’t find two people more averse to having their picture taken than the two of us.

Some of the exhibits in the museum were hands-on interactive, like this light bulb wall:

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Don’t be fooled into thinking this place is just for kids.  There were exhibits and activities for all ages.  They have an optical illusion room that is still mind-boggling to me when I look at the pictures.  We were only standing a couple of feet away from each other!

Optical Illusion room

Let’s not forget about the science part of it.  Each exhibit had an educational aspect to it, some more appealing than others depending on your interest.

Clouds

Be careful though.  There is a 100% chance that the child in you will come out at some point.  My 23 year-old and I got into a balloon fight with an 8 year old (we totally won, just sayin’).

Balloons

By far our favorite exhibit was the floor that lit up when you walked, or danced, across it.  The video below doesn’t do it justice and we honestly could have spent an hour watching the colors dance.  It was so pretty.

In an effort to maintain its presence in Chicago, the museum will close periodically to refresh its exhibits.  One such update will take place the entire month of April 2019.  This doesn’t mean it will be completely new each time it reopens.  They will continue to evaluate which experiences people respond to the most and keep those while replacing less popular ones.  One crowd favorite that will most likely make the cut each time is the infinity mirror room by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.  My pictures did not even do this one justice.  It absolutely needs to be experienced.

Tickets for the museum are $32 per person.  You have to schedule your entry as this helps avoid a traffic jam once you are in there.  You should also expect to spend at least an hour there.  There is also no onsite parking and street parking is very limited.

One last picture before you go, this exhibit was made with STRAWS.  Using plastic without destroying the planet.

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Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra

Not from Chicago?  Google “orchestra near me” for your local concerts.

I will be totally honest with you, spending a Sunday afternoon listening to a symphony orchestra play classical music is not top on my list.  I was not raised with an appreciation of the Fine Arts, but I find myself open to experiencing them more as I get older.  We attended a concert this past Sunday because our friend, Amy, was asked to sub in with the CMSO for this performance.  So, it gave us an opportunity to see her play, and it provided me with an activity somewhat out of my comfort zone to share with you.

The CMSO was founded in 1921 and currently performs their concerts at the Gottlieb Concert Hall in the Joy Faith Knapp Music Center in Chicago.  The orchestra’s current musical director and conductor is Russell Vinick.

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The concert on Sunday, February 17 was called “Coming and Going” and was described as “An American’s impression of a visit to Paris and a Czech composer’s salute to his time in America”.  It featured the music of Desby, Gershwin, and Dvorak.

Program cover

Tickets were only $18 and the concert lasted about 2 hours (including an intermission).  My SO said there was a good amount of food available during the intermission as well.  The next performance takes place on May 19 and features the music of Strauss and Beethoven.

Oh, and I can’t finish this story without a picture of our friend Amy playing the trumpet in this concert.

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Day Drinking – Chicago Ale Fest – Winter Edition

Did you miss the winter edition?  Mark your calendars: the summer edition will take place on June 1, 2019.

Chicago Ale Fest is a bi-annual event that takes place every winter and summer.  This year the winter one took place on Saturday, February 2 at Lacuna Artist Lofts.

Like many other beer festivals, there were more vendors than you could visit in one afternoon.  Majority of them were local craft breweries, but there were a good number of out-of-state options to try as well.  Sours were trending this year (not my thing but my son loves them).

There are two entry times to choose from: 12:00-3:00 pm (with a 1 hour early entry option) and 6:00-9:00 pm (also with a 1 hour early entry option).  We chose the earlier session (with the extra hour).  The cost for 4 hours was around $70 but you know your girl found this on Groupon and only paid $44 (with a 20% promo code).  I love a deal!

With the entry fee you get a signature tasting glass and they also gave you a lanyard with a punch card attached.  The vendors were supposed to mark off a beer every time you received a pour.  As you can see from my pic below, no one was particularly diligent in marking your card (‘cause you know I did not just have one).  It was way too busy for that.

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Quite a few vendors also had “treasures” available.  We collected logo stickers, coasters, koozies, and bottle openers.  The most interesting one was the Grapefruit IPA chapstick.  Well, that, and the bottle opener with the roach clip.

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A handful of food trucks were in the parking lot to fill all of your buzz-fueled hunger needs.  The beef skewer from Chicago Culinary Kitchen and the pork on naan from The Roaming Hog were delicious.

Food trucks 1

Food trucks 2

The location changes each time and the 2019 Winter Edition was held at the Lacuna Artist Lofts in the Pilsen neighborhood.  Once the world’s largest macaroni factory, the Loft is now home to some offices and retail spaces for painters, photographers, sculptors, clothing designers, and other creative minds.  This was a really cool space and below is a picture of one of the rooms (there were 3 or 4 rooms total):

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The Summer Edition will be taking place on June 1 at Butler Field in Grant Park.  This event is already available on Groupon.  The Winter Edition was available on Goldstar so I am assuming you will find the Summer Edition on there eventually.