Binge-watch party

The Coronavirus is slowly moving its way across the country.  Whether you agree with the decisions or not, events are being canceled, locations are being closed, and “social distance” is the new norm.  These circumstances are causing all of us to be a little more creative with our date night ideas.

What better way to spend a self-quarantine weekend (or two) than on the couch with your significant other (SO) binge-watching some new shows.  I do not have a problem starting a show that has already stopped producing new episodes.  Sometimes, getting into a show once the hype has died down makes it easier to enjoy it.  And, you do not have to wait a full year (or more) for the next season to drop.

Here are some of my favorites.  Also, full disclosure – most of these I watched without my SO because he is not much of a TV person.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t watch them with yours.

Old/Over

  • Breaking Bad (Netflix) – one of my favorite all-time shows. The writing, the acting, all of it.
  • Game of Thrones (HBO) – I didn’t hate the way the series ended as much as most people, but don’t let that discourage you from watching a fantastic series.
  • Orange is the New Black (Netflix) – not all seasons were great, but a good series overall
  • The Newsroom (HBO and Amazon Prime) – I think Jeff Daniels is amazing in everything.
  • House of Lies (Showtime and Amazon Prime) – I watched it specifically for Don Cheadle and I was not disappointed. Ben Schwartz is a bonus.
  • Veep (HBO or Amazon Prime) – Julia Louis-Dreyfus won 6 consecutive Emmys for Lead Actress in a Comedy. For a reason.

Old shows I haven’t watched but want to

Current

  • The Last Kingdom (Netflix) – Game of Thrones light, but still good.
  • Narcos/Narcos Mexico (Netflix) – I haven’t watched the Mexico episodes yet, but the original Narcos was fantastic. You need to be okay with reading subtitles.
  • Ozark (Netflix) – Laura Linney should be winning Emmy’s for this role. And I adore Jason Bateman.
  • Fleabag (Amazon Prime) – Hilarious. Two words = Hot. Priest.
  • Schitt’s Creek (Netflix) – One of the funniest shows on TV right now. I want to be Moira Rose when I grow up.
  • Drunk History (Comedy Central and Hulu) – Watching actors perform a comedian’s drunk re-telling of a historical event has to be seen to be believed.
  • The Crown (Netflix) – I am fascinated by the history of the English royalty.
  • Jack Ryan (Amazon Pime) – Three words = Buff.  John.  Krasinski.

Current shows I haven’t watched but want to

Before you judge me, I did not watch all of these series this week.  Or even this year.  Although I will admit that I have stayed up way too late in the past because I HAD to watch the next episode (Breaking Bad).  I have also binged an entire season in one weekend with my cousin (Orange is the New Black).  Right now, there are no sports being played, most events have been canceled, and many locations have closed their doors (temporarily).  This is the perfect time to have a binge-watch date night.

What will you be watching?

Cross-Country Skiing – Lessons

I do not like being outside during the winter.  At all.  My significant other, on the other hand, is fine being outside year-round.  He will jump at any chance to be active outside, regardless of the temperature.  Running, skiing, ice skating – all of it.  I do not like to run, I do not like to ski, and you can only ice skate so many times before it gets old.

So, I thought we would give cross country skiing a try.  It doesn’t look too hard and, unlike skiing, you don’t go fast or down steep hills.  I thought it might be in my best interest to take lessons first.  I’m not uncoordinated, however, I also know that I do not take direction from my SO very well.  If this was going to be a shared activity for us in the future, I needed to learn how to do this the right way.  My SO was on board for the lessons as well because he hasn’t gone cross country skiing since he was a teenager.

I learned about these lessons from my youngest son who took an Outdoor Adventure class for his gym requirement in his Senior year of High School.  This was one of the “adventures” they did that semester.  Cross country ski lessons are not readily available everywhere, and you will have to Google the closest ones near you, but fortunately I do have a location close by.  Sagawau Environmental Learning Center in Lemont, IL offers the lessons and the equipment rental in one package.

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The lessons by themselves are $20 and equipment rental is $10 (for lessons, $15 every other time).  The equipment consisted of poles, the skis, and the special shoes that clip into them.  You don’t need a helmet or goggles, but I would recommend a good pair of polarized sun-glasses (for the glare coming off of the snow).

For two and a half hours, our instructor walked us through more aspects of cross-country skiing than I knew I needed.  One of the first things we learned was how to get back up on your skis after you fall.  And you will fall.  Like ice skating, it is all about balance.  We learned how to ski without the poles first.  This helped us get the actual ski motion down.  Then we brought the poles in and learned to incorporate the arm movements with the skiing.  Going up and down a hill was the final, most difficult lesson.  Everyone fell.  Most beginner trails do not have “hills”, but it was good to learn how to conquer them.

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Pro tip:  Wear layers.  You will be moving the entire time and it is quite the workout.  The day we went was low 30s, but the sun was strong.  I was way too bundled up and was sweating my a** off by the end.

I would definitely recommend looking into this winter activity.  Most of the people in our lessons group were couples.  No need to travel to Colorado or Utah for the best experience.  You can do it in any state that gets snow.  This is absolutely an activity we will do together in the future.

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Ice Art Walk – Downtown Wheaton

It is that time of year, winter that is, when many town/cities are having their annual winter festivals and other such celebrations.  A simple Google search will find one near you.  Many of these events will incorporate carved ice sculptures.  Some of them, like Downtown Wheaton, make the ice sculptures an event all their own.

One of the reasons we chose to attend Wheaton’s Ice Art Walk is because we were not familiar with their downtown area at all.  This gave us an activity and a way to explore a new town all in one.

Not all of the storefronts had an ice sculpture, but they all seemed to be open for business.  In addition to the ice walk, they hosted a Cocoa Walk for the first time.  Participants could purchase a $5.00 mug and get a cocoa taster at 10 different stops.  According to one vendor, all 500 mugs were sold before the event started.  We decided to do the walk at the last minute and we missed out on the cocoa mug, but someone was nice enough to let me take a picture of theirs.  It was a decent sized mug too – almost soup size!

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The Downtown Wheaton Association mapped out each of the carvings and cocoa stops to make sure you didn’t miss a single one.

All of the ice sculptures were created by Chicago Ice Works and each of them represented the storefront it was displayed at.  This baby rattle in front of A Baby Naturally had so much incredible detail to it:

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They had one of the Chicago Ice Works sculptors creating one live while we were there.  How they maintain control of such precise cuts, with a chainsaw no less, is beyond me.

The end result was Minnie Mouse (photo with permission from the Downtown Wheaton Association):

Minnie Mouse

If you are going to attend an ice sculpture festival/walk, I would recommend getting there right when it starts.  The day was still cold, but the sun was out so some of the sculptures showed signs of melting within an hour.

Of the 32 ice sculptures they had on display, here are a few more of my favorites:

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While we were exploring the downtown area, we popped in and out of a few shops.  We also stuck around for lunch.  I don’t usually do restaurant reviews, but Suzette’s Creperie is too good not to mention.  Suzette’s un-official restaurant week was on its last day and I took full advantage of it.

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If the ice sculpture walks near you are done for the year, they will be back next year.  It was a fun winter day date!

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Time Out Market Chicago

A new food hall opened up in the Fulton Market District in Chicago in November.  Whether you live in the city or are just visiting, this eatery needs to be put on your bucket list.  Not to be confused with a food court (like the ones you would see in a shopping mall), a food hall is more than a step above fast food dining.

Time Out Market (Chicago) is a 50,000 square foot culinary destination for anyone who likes to eat (and that would be this girl).  This gigantic space houses 18 well-known food and drink vendors as well as two full-service bars and an enclosed rooftop terrace.  Many of the chefs here come from Michelin star restaurants, some of whom are also James Beard award winners.  Pretty impressive resumes under one roof.

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Level 1 is the main spot for food.  Right now, all but one vendor have their mini-restaurant on this level.  Located around the perimeter of the space, hungry customers can find anything from pizza to Portuguese fare.  Ice cream, pastries, and other sweets/treats are also available to round out your meal.  The first time we went, my SO had an Italian beef sandwich from Decent Beef and duck fat French fries from Duck Inn Dogs (chef Kevin Hickey is from The Duck Inn).  I had the grilled prawn salad from Thai Dang (Chef Thai Dang is from the Vietnamese restaurant HaiSous).  How pretty is this dish:

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The seating on this level is very communal with long tables all set in the middle of the space.

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Level 2 only has one food vendor, Arami.  On our second visit, we both ordered sushi from here.  There is additional seating up here and another (smaller) bar.  Tucked away in one corner is a specialty cocktail bar.  This is not a speakeasy (as some websites have called it), however, it does have a speakeasy secret vibe to it.  You place your order at the window, the drinks are made behind-the-scenes, and then picked up at another window on the side.  My SO had the Ghosts & Empties and I had the Way Way Way.  Both were delicious!

Drinks

Also located on the second floor is a Demo Kitchen.  According to their website, “the demonstration kitchen allows Time Out Market to showcase up-and-coming culinary talent and accomplished visiting chefs who want to reach new audiences, support community initiatives or simply try out a new experience.”  The two times I was there, the demo kitchen was not in use.  They have a calendar of shows and events on their website to you can plan ahead.

Demo Kitchen

Level 3 is the reason we came back a second time.  I had no idea there was a rooftop bar (or a third level for that matter).  It is small but with lots of windows.  It was a snowy evening when we went which gave it a magical ski resort feeling.

Rooftop bar

They will also have outdoor seating, weather permitting, but that was not an option for us that night.

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This is a great destination if you cannot agree on where to go for dinner (I know I am striking a nerve for some couples with that statement).  Variety is the key here and I want to go back to try more dishes.  The portions are decent size as well.  The food hall trend is having a moment and Time Out Market has set the bar pretty high.  Happy eating!

If you are reading this all the way to the end, I have a bonus recommendation for you.  Just a few storefronts down is a real speakeasy called the Blind Barber.  The storefront looks like a barber shop, and inside it functions as a barber shop.  But once you walk through the secret door, it takes you to an intimate little club.  Enjoy!

Blind Barber secret door

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Restaurant Week

What is Restaurant Week?  It is a week-long (sometimes longer) event that celebrates the culinary delights in a particular city.  Not all restaurants participate, but, those that choose to must adhere to certain parameters set by their city.

Small Plates or a special “prix fixe” menu are popular models for most Restaurant Week events.  Prix-fixe means a set price for a complete meal.   In some cities, restaurants are challenged to provide a multi-course (usually 3-4 courses) dining experience for a set dollar amount (usually $50 or less but some locations are more expensive).  Both of these concepts are great because they give diners the chance to try a place they have never been to before.  Or maybe visit a place that just opened.  Or sample a cuisine they want to try but are afraid to invest a whole dish on.

Another great thing about the small plates (or the prix fixe menu) dining experience is sharing.  In 2019, my SO and I experienced our first Chicago Restaurant Week.  We 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.  A few days later, we dined at The Hampton Social and again enjoyed multiple small plates.  Here is their menu from 2019:

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Most cities will list their participating restaurants well ahead of time.  The larger cities, like Chicago, will even let you filter the restaurants by location or cuisine (link here).  In some cases, you can view the establishment’s menu before you make a reservation.

Not all restaurant weeks happen at the same time.  These dates are also set by each city.  I found this link last year that lists Restaurant Week dates for every state.  Do not be concerned about some of the locations still showing last year’s dates.  These “weeks” are updated as the city announces them.  Some cities have been updated for 2020, some have not.  If your town is not on this list, that doesn’t mean they are not hosting the event.  Maybe your personal city is not participating, but the suburb next to you is.  Just Google “(City Name) Restaurant Week” and you can find the dates and locations nearest you.

Happy dining!

 

Best of 2019

As the year comes to a close, I am reflecting over the first full year of activities my SO and I have done and the blog posts that I have written about them.  Here are some of my favorites . . .

China Lights

I had to travel into the lower part of Wisconsin for this one, but it was totally worth the drive.  China Lights is a beautiful display of structures built with an array of colors and hundreds of LED lights.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.  This is a traveling festival so it will hopefully be back in 2020.

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Matthiessen State Park

I love a good day hike.  This is one of my favorites in Illinois.  Located near the more well-known Starved Rock State Park, Matthiessen, for me, is the better hike.  It is smaller but it has less traffic and more waterfalls.  I also stopped by a few breweries, all part of the Heritage Corridor Ale Trail, after the hike.

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Architecture Boat Tour

Whether you are a lifelong Illinois resident or just visiting, taking a boat tour on the Chicago river is something you should do at least once.  I have taken many visitors on this trip and they all agree it was the perfect snapshot of the city.  I like the Wendella Lake & River cruise because, in addition to the informational river tour, the boat takes you out onto the lake for some really stunning views of the city.

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Water Lantern Festival

This might actually be my favorite activity of the year.  It was inspirational, peaceful, and beautiful.  This event happens all over the United States, and in multiple locations in Illinois.  Your donation includes the lantern kit and it supports a great cause.

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Old Joliet Prison Tour

I have a weird fascination with abandoned buildings so, an abandoned prison is about as weird as it can get.  The Old Joliet Prison had been closed for years but was unfortunately left vulnerable to vandalism.  Thankfully, the Joliet Historical Museum and the City of Joliet joined forces to rehabilitate the prison and open it up for tours.  I want to go back again because I have seen pictures of friends’ tours since I went and they were able to get into buildings that I was not (which means more progress has been made on the rehabilitation!).

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I hope you have enjoyed my posts this year – I have certainly enjoyed exploring them for you!

Potted Potter – The Unauthorized Harry Experience (A Parody by Dan and Jeff)

Are you a Harry Potter fan(atic)?  I am, but I know there are bigger fans out there.  I mean, I don’t even know which house I belong to!  I remember reading the first book with my oldest son when he was 5 or 6 and was home from school with the flu.  We were hooked.

Then, the movie version came out.  I am an avid reader, and I try to stay away from the movie version of any book.  I am almost always disappointed.  Sometimes it is because of how they cast the characters.  Sometimes it is because they had to cut a good scene from the book for time.

The Harry Potter movies, in my opinion, have been cast perfectly.  I cannot imagine anyone else but Alan Rickman playing Severus Snape.  What if Robin Williams played Hagrid?  It almost happened.  According to this article I found on Hollywood.com, there were quite a few famous actors/actresses who were being considered for a role in the series.

Fans of Harry Potter can now relive all 7 books (or 8 movies) in the production Potted Potter” now playing at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago.  The venue, located in Water Tower Place, is an intimate 500+ seat venue.  Originally built as a Drury Lane location, this theater was renovated and reopened as a Broadway in Chicago location in 2010.

This two-man show was created by two actors, Dan Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, as a 5-minute street show.  This was expanded to a 70-minute show and now tours all over the United States and the United Kingdom.  While this is advertised as a parody, it is a family friendly show.  So, while it was not “adult humor” funny, it was still quite funny.  One running joke was that one of the actors spent the whole prop budget, which resulted in the props being less than spectacular.  One example is the dragon that Harry battles in the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) is reduced to a hand puppet:

Dragon 2

There was also one audience participation scene where two children were brought onstage to help facilitate a group quidditch match.

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“Potted Potter” is playing until January 19, but the show has been in Chicago in the past and is sure to return again.  Tickets can be purchased through the Broadway Playhouse website, or you can grab discounted tickets through Goldstar.  And don’t be afraid to show your Harry Potter pride.  There were a good number of people in house scarves, robes, and Harry’s signature glasses.  And yes, I am talking about the adults in the audience, not the kids.

Chicago Botanic Garden – Lightscape

Just in time for the holidays, the Chicago Botanic Garden is debuting a Christmas light display throughout the grounds this year.  Located in Glencoe, IL, the Botanic Garden Lightscape is open from November 22 – January 5.

A mile-long path is illuminated with LED lights, music, and colorful holiday displays.  Entry times start at 4:30 pm with the last entry time at 8:00 pm.  The garden doesn’t close until 10:00 pm so you will have plenty of time to walk around.

Many of the displays are choreographed with music, like this flame garden:

The trail of singing trees was exceptional because each tree “sang” a different part of the song (alto, tenor, etc.)

I enjoyed the row of cherry blossom trees because they were pink, but also because each of the lights on the trees was a small flower:

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This enchanting walk can be even more festive with the purchase of a cup of hot chocolate or cider which you can find along the trail.  There are also plenty of opportunities to take pictures together.  Or, if you are like my SO, you can cut me completely out of the selfie you take together.

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Plan ahead because this event will sell out.  Ticket prices vary depending on the date you choose.  Purchasing tickets the day of the event will cost you an extra $2.00.  I would also recommend purchasing parking when you order your tickets because they are half-price online ($10).

Happy Holidays!

Be A Tourist In Your Own City – Chicago Sports Museum

If you are a big sports fan, or more importantly a big Chicago Sports fan, then this is the place for you.  Memorabilia galore.  Lots of opportunities for pictures and interactive activities to keep you entertained.

Located on the top floor of Water Tower Place, and connected to Harry Carey’s restaurant, the Chicago Sports Museum is small in size but large in content.  Admission is only $10.  If you eat at Harry Carey’s first, you will get complimentary admission into the museum.

There are so many little things to discover in all of the displays.  You really need to take your time to look at the items, read the description cards, and take it all in.  This is just one of many display cases:

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We had fun with the interactive stuff too.  There was the Scotty Pippen wall where you can compare yourself to his height and the length of his outstretched arms.  I came up short (pun intended) on both:

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There was a wall of basketballs and you could compare your hand size to some of the greatest players.  My SO’s hand was like a child’s on the Michael Jordan ball.

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There were a number of virtual reality games you could play while you are there.  You could play quarterback in a Bears challenge, try to hit a high speed pitched baseball in a White Sox challenge, and try to stop Patrick Kane from scoring on you in the Blackhawks challenge.  My SO tried his hand at the hockey shooting drill:

There was a whole room devoted to curses and superstitions.  Stories of such things lined a whole wall and they were fun to read.  Some I had never heard of and some I was nostalgically reminded of.  One of the most famous items in this museum is the infamous foul ball from Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series.  In addition to a plaque describing the ball’s history, there is a TV screen that shows a looping video of the journey of said ball after the game and its ultimate destruction.

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The funniest thing, for me, was the gym shoes you see when you first walk in.  They are a size 28 and the largest shoe size in all of basketball.  I look like I have clown feet:

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So, if you are in the city and have some time to kill, this is a good museum to add to your list.  It is small and will not take you more than an hour to get through.  And as long as you are in Water Tower Place, you can do some shopping and/or have lunch at Harry Carey’s!

Binge Watch This! – Modern Love on (Amazon) Prime Video

Modern Love debuted 15 years ago in the New York Times in October of 2004.  It began as a column of essays about love, loss and relationships in general.  To date, there are over 750 columns in their archives.  If you are interested in reading some of these, the NYT has compiled  “a collection of 25 of the most read, most shared and most memorable Modern Love essays”.

The Modern Love podcast debuted in January 2016.  Each week one essay is read by an actor or actress.  For the purpose of this blog, I downloaded two episodes.  The first, by the fabulous Catherine O’Hara.  The second, by the adorable John C. Reilly.  Side note:  if you are not watching Schitt’s Creek, you are denying yourself Ms. O’Hara at her absolute best.  I’m not sure if Modern Love tries to pair the actor/actress with the right story, but I found both of these to be that much more enjoyable when I pictured that person as the main character in the story.

Modern Love debuted on Prime Video in October 2019.  It consists of eight 30-minute episodes based on actual essays submitted.  Not all of these short stories are hits, but I had a few favorite episodes from the eight:

#3 – Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am.  This is a pretty powerful episode about a woman (Anne Hathaway) who is struggling with the dating scene as a single woman with a bipolar disorder.  I am not a fan of Anne Hathaway, however, she is fantastic in this role.

#4 – Rallying to Keep the Game Alive.  This episode is my blog in a nutshell.  A couple on the verge of becoming empty-nesters, they realize they have spent so many years focusing on their children, they forgot to focus on their marriage.  Based on an essay submitted by Anne Leary (wife of actor Dennis Leary), this couple discovered that finding activities to do as a couple is key to keeping the relationship on track (or getting it back on track).  This episode could be considered a cautionary tale of where you could end up if you continue to put your marriage on the back burner.  Whether you are almost empty-nesters, parents of younger children, or just the two of you – sharing experiences that you both enjoy will only serve to strengthen your bond in the long run.

#7 – Hers Was a World of One.  Only because it starred the hot priest (Andrew Scott) from Fleabag season 2.  Also, on Amazon Prime.  Also, amazing.  It just won a bunch of Emmys.  For a reason.

If you still can’t get enough Modern Love after watching the Prime episodes, you can read all of the essays and tiny love stories here, you can purchase the book, and you can follow Modern Love on Facebook.

Check out the official trailer below (courtesy of YouTube) and enjoy these feel-good stories together!