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.

2019-02-17 15.12.09

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.

2019-02-19 21.40.19

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.

2019-02-13 11.54.08

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.

2019-02-03 10.07.29

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):

2019-02-02 10.55.43

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.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – First Bites Bash and Chicago Restaurant Week

Not from Chicago?  Restaurant week is a national event.  To find out when your city is hosting theirs, click here.

First Bites Bash is the kick-off event to Chicago Restaurant Week.  It is a one-night celebration of food and the local chefs that make our city/state a foodie paradise.  This year (2019), the event was held at the Field Museum of Natural History.  More than 70 chefs and restaurants were represented this year.  Tasting portions, from savory to sweet and everything in between, were available.

2019-01-24 18.40.11

Tickets for the event were $125.00.  This covered all the food you could taste in three hours along with the various beverages offered.  Stella Artois, Don Julio, and Josh Wines were just a few of the liquor vendors there.  And these were not tasting portions, they were full pours.  The bash is also a fundraiser and this year’s recipient was Pilot Light, which is a non-profit that helps children make healthier choices through food education.

In addition to delicious tasting food, presentation was well-thought out for a few of the chefs.  And if you watch as many food shows and I do, or even if you only watch one show, you know that presentation is one of the key things contestants are judged on.

2019-01-24 18.31.27

2019-01-24 19.32.27

2019-01-24 18.44.25

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, sweets were available as well.  Mini portions of cheesecake, donuts, and ice cream sandwiches were there to tempt your sweet tooth.  There was also a chocolate fountain with a variety of foods for dipping.

Chicago Restaurant Week, now in its 12th year, is an annual event that actually takes place over the course of two weeks and involves some of the best restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs.  Participating restaurants put together a special “prix-fixe” menu for their location featuring some of their best dishes.  Prix-fixe means a set price for a complete meal.   Restaurants are challenged to provide a multi-course (usually 3-4 courses) dining experience for under $50 (some locations are more expensive).  Because you are getting a full meal for a discounted price, the portions are smaller.  This year (2019), Chicago Restaurant Week runs from January 25 through February 8.

One of the great things about the prix-fixe menu dining experience is sharing.  My SO and I decided to try a restaurant in the city that we had never been to before called Somerset.  They offered 4 different options for an appetizer, 3 different salads, 4 main courses, and 3 desserts to choose from. So, between the two of us we were able to try 8 different dishes.  You can see the list of all participating restaurants, and filter them by location, here.  Use this as an opportunity to try a place you have never been to before.  Or maybe a place that just opened.  Or a cuisine you want to try but are afraid to invest a whole dish on.  So many reasons to take advantage of Restaurant Week.

Happy dining!

Below is a list of the First Bites Bash participating restaurants and what they were serving that night:

First Bites Bash menu

Maggie Daley Skating Ribbon

One of the cheapest, easiest, and most fun things to do in the winter is to go skating outdoors.  One of the better places to do this in Chicago is at the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park.

The ice skating ribbon can be found in the Maggie Daley Park section of Grant Park in the Loop.  This public skating venue opened in December of 2014 and has been a popular winter stop in Chicago ever since.  It is unique in that, it is not just an oval rink, like most skating parks (indoor or outdoor).  It loops around a quarter mile path and also has different elevations.  This means that you are skating on an incline or decline in various sections.  These are not steep, so you won’t feel like you are struggling to get up the hill or speeding out of control going down.  It is very subtle.
2019-01-17 14.16.55

If you are not an experienced skater, the nice thing about skating here is that there are people out there of all skating abilities.  They have railings along the edges if you need to stop for a moment or two.  The best part is you don’t have a bunch of hockey players speeding around or playing tag.  I raised a couple of hockey players.  Trust me, I know.

2018-02-18 14.05.49

Admission is FREE if you own your own skates.  Rentals cost between $13-15 depending on the day of the week.  They also have lockers that you can rent for your belongings (only $2.00).  You can also pre-purchase parking at the Millenium Lakeside Garages but you might be able to find cheaper parking if you are willing to walk a bit.

2019-01-17 14.22.58

The biggest thing you need to know about is the Zamboni run times.  It takes anywhere from 45-60 minutes for the Zamboni to clear the ice.  Yes, that long.  And you don’t want to be arriving right when it starts and get stuck sitting there for an hour.  Or getting on the ice for a short time only to be told you have to get off so they can clean the ice.  Speaking from experience here folks.  They have a schedule on the website but even there they suggest you follow them on twitter (@MaggieDaleyPark) because the schedule could change depending on the weather.

Zamboni

Day Drinking – Koval Distillery

(Not from Chicago?  Google “distillery tour near me”)

Not every distillery tour is the same.  The process is very similar, but the result is very different from one brand to another.  Plus, this was a great way to spend a cold, snowy afternoon.

Established in 2008, Koval is the first distillery within the Chicago city limits since the Prohibition era.  The tour takes place in a small storefront in the Ravenswood neighborhood with the actual production facility about a mile up the road.  One of the things I learned on the tour is that Koval is the largest organic distillery in Illinois (maybe the US?  I was trying to pay attention and take notes at the same time).  One aspect of organic distilling is the use of organic barley.  This is more expensive, however, they are also using local farmers as their suppliers.  Another quality that makes the whiskey organic is the use of virgin oak casks.  They purchase all of their barrels built and charred from scratch.  This prevents the spirit from coming into contact with any non-organic material.  You would think this would result in a surplus of barrels, however, they can be sold for re-use.  Besides other distilleries (that don’t require virgin casks), they also sell them to breweries who produce bourbon-barrel aged ales.  Additionally, the average consumer can purchase a used one for their home décor needs for the small price of $150.00.

2019-01-12 13.28.35

While walking us through the distillation process, we learned that Koval’s signature style is to only use the “heart”, or the middle process of the distillation, in their spirits.  The full distillation process produces what are known as the “head”, “heart”, and “tails”.  I could not even begin to describe these stages or at what point these are cut.  This link explains it perfectly and in simple terms.

Equipment

Now, what would a distillery tour be without a tasting or two (or three)?  Whiskey is not the only spirit produced at Koval.  They also bottle and sell gins, brandys, and other flavored liqueurs.  Our first tasting was of their single barrel bourbon whiskey.  110 proof.  Boom.  Now I’ve got that warm toasty feeling inside.  The second tasting was of their new cranberry gin liqueur.  I do not like gin, but I tried it anyway.  The cranberry flavor was definitely present, but it did not overpower the gin itself.  Our third, and final, tasting was a personal choice.  I chose the peach brandy.  I regret my choice only because I heard, after the fact, that the ginger liqueur was a big hit.  This is their second best seller after the single barrel bourbon  whiskey (the regular version, not the 110 proof).

Tasters

Liqueurs

The tour, should you decide to take it, is only $10 per person.  You can also find this activity on Groupon.  This one is limited to Sundays at either 2:00 pm or 4:00 pm.  They have an option for a group of two ($19) or four ($35).  The bonus is that you get to leave with a souvenir shot glass.

CHEERS!

Point Blank Shooting Range (Hodgkins)

This company has multiple locations in Illinois and other states as well.

The first thing I want to mention is that I do not own a gun.  I don’t have a desire to own one.  I do not have a FOID (Firearm Owners Identification) card.  I have just always wanted to learn to shoot a gun.  Knowledge is power – or so they say.

When I mentioned this to my cousin Chris, he immediately offered to go with us to a shooting range and to provide us with some basic safety training.  Chris has had his FOID card for 22 years.  He worked in a gun shop for 5 years.  He owns multiple guns and brought them all over for us to learn about.  So, he knows his sh*t.  Some of the key elements he taught us were how to properly hold a gun (and where to point it) when you first pick it up, how to load/unload the magazine (look at me talking shop here!), and most importantly, how to turn the safety on/off.

The handguns that Chris showed us were (clockwise from the top right): Springfield Armory model 1911 custom built .45 caliber, Colt Python. 357 caliber 6″ barrel, H&K model USP9  9mm caliber, Glock gen4 model 19  9mm caliber, Smith&Wesson model 22-a  .22long rifle cal., and a Sig Sauer model p239 .40 cal

2019-01-04 20.27.29

He also had a couple of rifles to show us (top to bottom): Daniel Defense model DDM4V7  5.56 NATO caliber and a Sig Sauer model MPX with red dot sight  9mm caliber.

2019-01-04 20.54.01

He’s a pretty cool guy to know.

Once we got to the shooting range, I was able to get in with my driver’s license as long as I was entering with someone who has a FOID card.  This location did not require that I be trained by someone on their staff, although they do offer that (and other classes) if you don’t have someone like I did to show you the basics.

Pricing varies by location.  The Hodgkins range charges $19.99 per hour for one shooting bay.  They allow two people in each bay, but you need to pay $7.99 for the second shooter.  They also have a date night package (seriously) on Friday nights for two shooters for only $16.99.  I guess the couple that shoots together stays together, right?

And then we got our Charlies Angels on.  I was nervous from the start because the guns we trained on were not loaded (naturally).  Was it going to be loud?  Was there going to be a recoil?  Yes and yes.  But I had an excellent teacher and he was right next to me the whole time.  He told me that, with the first round that I shot, I just needed to get used to it.  He had me aim for the X in the middle of the target’s chest.  Apparently, all I heard was “head shots”.  BAD.  ASS.

2019-01-05 17.10.14

Total honesty here – I was actually aiming for the X 😊

Every time we hung up or took down the paper target I could not stop picturing one of my favorite movie moments from Lethal Weapon.  Especially the scene with Mel Gibson starting at the 0:50 mark.  (YouTube video courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment).

Besides the human outline, they had many targets to choose from.  We didn’t use these, but you have to be a pretty good shot to play Battleship I would think.

Targets

To the disappointment of my cousin, I won’t be rushing out to get my FOID card anytime soon.  I didn’t hate it, it was just not for me.  My SO enjoyed it, however, and is planning on going again soon.  Here is a video of my SO shooting a gun and a rifle:

Ragnarock Axe Throwing

Can I “axe” you a question?  Do you have an “axe” to grind?  Do you have the “chops” to take on some target practice?

Axe throwing is trending as the latest date night/girls night/team building activity.  It is just what it sounds like, but with games.  My SO and I found a Groupon (naturally) for an axe throwing location in Chicago, however,  they are popping up all over the suburbs as well.

At Ragnarock Axe Throwing, you get a 90-minute session that includes training and some throwing competitions in a game-like setting.  The size of your group depends on how many people sign up in each time slot but they cap it off at 24 (split between two throwing bays).  Each bay has an “Axepert” (get it?) to instruct you in the proper way to stand, hold, and eventually, throw the 1.5 lb axe.

Our group had 9 people in it and each bay has two throwing spots so this does move along fairly quickly.  After the safety training portion, they take two people at a time to do some practice throws.  The hardest thing for me was getting it to stick.  I was basically on target with each throw, but I don’t think I was throwing it hard enough.  I need to go in angrier next time.

Once everyone was comfortable with how to hit the target, we were split up (within our own group), into two smaller groups.  The first game we played was TIMBER.  This is the axe throwing version of horse.  You went head-to-head with someone from the other team and, after two throws, whoever had less points got a letter.  The bullseye has number values within each ring.  Next, we played “21” where each team had to get enough point to total 21.  Exactly.  So getting that last number was challenging.

2018-11-03 17.15.24

After the last game (a version of “hangman”) we moved into the double-elimination head-to-head tournament with our small group.  Of course, they paired my SO and I against each other in the first round.  My shining moment was getting a bullseye in this round to move him into the losers bracket.  Making it count when it matters!

2018-12-12 13.54.26

It was also a requirement that you come up with a “punny” name for the competition.  As you can see from my name tag I was Mrs. Axehole.  My SO was just plain Axehole.

An extra bonus is that this location allows you to bring food and drink into the space.  Alcohol, however, is not permitted.  For some reason the city of Chicago doesn’t believe that drinking and axe throwing are a good combination.

This was also quite the core workout.  I was sore the next day.  But it was worth it.  So grab your significant other, and maybe some friends, and go get your lumberjack on!

Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas! A Die Hard Musical Parody

Welcome to the party pal!

First, let’s start with the decades-old debate: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or not?  The answer is clearly YES.  The movie takes place on CHRISTMAS EVE at a CHRISTMAS PARTY.  I could keep going on to support my argument, but this article breaks it down even further.

As further proof that Die Hard should be considered a Christmas movie is the fact that The Den Theatre is hosting the (now) annual holiday production of “Yippee Ki-Yay Merry Christmas!  A Die Hard Musical Parody”.  This is the fifth year for the show (but it has not always been at this location).  They even have a few cast members who have continued to reprise their roles since its origination in 2014.

It is over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, comedy gold.  Let’s start with the character names.  John McClane is now Bruce McClane.  Holly Genero is now Holly Generic.  Hans Gruber is now Hans Olo.  Come on.  That’s good stuff right there.

One of the first big musical numbers takes on Holly Generic’s move away from New York, and her husband, to take a high-powered job for the Nakatomi corporation.  The whole “Working Girl” (another classic 80’s movie) vibe included the power suits and the hilariously big hair.

Working girls - cropped

My SO and I appreciated some of the authenticity as well.  Bill Gordon (Bruce McClane) sounded just like Bruce Willis.  Even better, Gary Fields (Hans Olo) sounded just like the late, great, Alan Rickman (sexiest bad guy voice ever – amiright?).  And Erin Long’s Klaus is one of the best things about this production.

Hans Gruber - cropped

The show is a mix of 80’s references peppered with some current jokes.  Like most parodies, we want to go and see it again because I am sure we missed a few puns or gags the first time around.  As a bonus, I was almost giddy when, intentional or not, the head FBI agent looked just like Bert Macklin, FBI.  (If you don’t get this Park and Recreation reference we might not be able to be friends).

2018-12-06 21.21.53

A few things to know before you go: 1) the Den theatre is small.  Maybe 150 seats.  Shows are already starting to sell out. 2) there is no parking at the theatre.  Metered parking and street parking only.  Plan accordingly.  3) Tickets are $45, however, I was able to find them on Goldstar (discount ticket site) for $22.50.  I know.  It’s a gift.  You’re welcome.

If you are a fan of the original Die Hard movie, this is a really fun date night idea.  If you can’t make it in before Christmas, you are in luck.  This play runs through January 12.  Yippee Ki-Yay . . . !

Christkindlmarket and Naper Lights Show – Naperville

A Christkindlmarket, or Christmas market, is a street market that is open during the weeks leading up to the holiday.  This outdoor shopping/dining experience originated in Germany back in the Middle Ages but can now be found in cities around the globe.  In Chicago, the Christkindlmarket can be found at the Daley Plaza.  In 2016, a second location popped up on the grounds of the Naper Settlement in Naperville.

The Christkindlmarket in Naperville is smaller in scale to the one in Chicago but it is just as quaint.  It is open Thursday – Sunday through December 16 and then it is open daily through Christmas Eve.  Also, bonus – it is free.  Admission AND parking.

We did not have any food that night, but they have a number of stands with a variety of options.  Austrian specialties, cheeses, crepes, Belgian waffles, pierogi, chocolates, pretzels, cookies, and candies.  There are also quite a few options for beverages.  Belgian hot chocolate, beer, wine, and ciders.  We tried the Honeycrisp apple cider and the salted caramel cider (whipped cream topping).  And of course we had to buy the signature Christkindlmarket mug.

2018-11-29 18.18.42

There are craft vendors as well.  Some of them have very unique pieces of jewely, wood carved statues, and hand knit creations.  If you are a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I found the snowblowing/ski mask that you didn’t know you needed:

2018-11-29 18.02.58

And then there are the ornaments and other Christmas collectible.  Do you collect Nutcrackers or buy them for someone who does?  Check out this selection:

2018-11-29 18.10.45

How about white lace ornaments?

2018-11-29 18.10.35

Or just ornaments in general?  If you gift special ornaments each year or participate in an ornament exchange (it’s a thing.  It’s not my thing, but it’s a thing), you need to hit this market.  Every size, color, shape you can imagine.  Or theme.  Animals, sports, occupation, hobby.  The list goes on.

2018-11-29 18.13.24

2018-11-29 18.10.06

Click here for a full list of vendors and what they offer.

There were no choirs or other groups performing the night we were there but, you could plan your night around some additional entertainment as well.

When you have finished eating/drinking/shopping, take a stroll through the Naper Lights display.  It is right there on the property.  Multiple light displays, some set to music, can be found on this short walk.  It’s just festive, so why not?

2018-11-29 18.29.42

2018-11-29 18.33.15

This holiday event is only open until Christmas Eve so get out there while you can!

Shawnee National Forest – Part II Ferne Clyff Waterfall Trail and Cave in the Rock

 

The waterfall trail (#5 on the map) is a ½ mile long trail in the Ferne Clyffe State Park.  The park itself covers 2,430 acres and contains 18 trails of varying degrees of difficulty.  The waterfall trail is rustic but not difficult.  By rustic I mean it is not paved or really even flat, but easy to navigate.

2018-11-16 10.44.21

This time of year, the waterfall is typically dry, however, the day before our hike, southern Illinois got an unseasonal couple of inches of snow.  I was hoping, with the warmer temperature that day, we might see a small one with the melting snow.  Sadly, no, but we got some other great views.  During our hike, the sun was shining and the melting snow from the trees made it feel like we were walking through a rain forest.

The precipitation also provided a beautiful snow-covered landscape for our hike.

2018-11-16 11.10.10

At the end of the trail, during a wetter season, you can see the waterfall cascading over the top of a giant rock formation.

2018-11-16 11.11.52

During our weekend trip, we also found our way to the Cave in Rock State Park.  Specifically, to see the cave in the rock.  Technically, this scenic point is just over the border into Kentucky.  So now I can say I have been to Kentucky.  Although there are other trails nearby, this geological wonder is a popular destination even for non-hikers.  I wouldn’t even call this one a hike.  At the base of a fairly short staircase, you can see the mouth of the cave to the left.

2018-11-17 15.25.03

The cave itself is not very deep and there is nothing particularly creepy about it.  No bats or hibernating animals to worry about.

2018-11-17 15.27.55

My favorite picture was taken upon leaving.  The view coming back out was of the sun shining down on the Ohio river.  Spectacular.

2018-11-17 15.28.23

There are so many hiking trails and points of interest in the Shawnee National Forest.  I plan to spend another long weekend down there exploring more of them!