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!

Road Trip: China Lights

(Not from Chicago? Other light displays can be found in these states)

China Lights is a large-scale lantern display that has to be seen to be appreciated. My pictures will not do it justice.  But just to give you an idea of how cool it is:

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Lantern festivals can be traced back more than 2000 years to the Han Dynasty. Traditionally, this festival took place on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar. People prayed for good health and good fortune by lighting lanterns and shooting fireworks in the sky.

This festival takes place on the grounds of the Boerner Botanical Gardens in Hales Corners, WI. It consists of almost 40 displays constructed with bright colors and illuminated with LED lighting.  Right now, the botanical garden is open from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm. The China Lights festival then opens from 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm (closed Mondays). I would definitely recommend getting there after the sun sets to experience the full effect of the light display.

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Tickets are $20 per person (less for children and seniors). I found a deal on Groupon that gets you admission plus the mobile guide (a self-guided mobile tour app – $5.00) for only $19.00. I purchased our tickets this way but never figured out how to access the mobile guide. You don’t need the guide to navigate your way through the festival so I wouldn’t pay extra for it if I were you. You can also pre-purchase parking online as well. For $10, you get a spot in a lot right next to the entrance for China Lights. There is also complimentary (free) parking and shuttle service, but I was not up to the challenge of finding those lots in an area I was not familiar with.

The displays were much larger and more colorful than I expected.

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There was also a description of that display’s significance to China’s history at many of the stops.  Maybe this is where the mobile guide would have been useful . . .

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Some of the displays had changing colors and some of them had moving parts (watch the flowers).

Stage performances, highlighting Asian culture and art, took place as well. We caught two different acrobatic acts.

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It was a chilly night for us, but this was definitely worth the trip.  If you can make it there before it closes next week, I highly recommend this.  If not, I will keep you posted on its return next year!

The 25 Year Switch on Pinterest

The 25 Year Switch is now on Pinterest! I have created the page to allow for easier access to previous blog posts. This will also make it easier for you to find date night activities or to find a post about a specific activity.  In addition to the link above, there is also a Pinterest button on the homepage of my website:

Home page button

 

 

 

 

There are a variety of boards for you to find the perfect outing. Clicking on any “pin” will link you to my blog post. In there, you can read about the activity and find links to get current dates/times as well as ticket information.

Link to the blog

First, let’s talk about the “month” boards. This option will have links to the activities that only occur on a single date in that month. For example, in the photo below, you can see the board for October. I have a link in October for the Bacon and Beer Festival. This was a one-day event that occurs every year.  These will be helpful if you need to plan ahead.

October

I will have a board for the seasons as well as a “Limited Time” board. This one will be ever changing as I add and delete activities that are only happening for a short time. Like Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-up, which is open from October 3 – November 3.

Limited Time

You also might notice that some of my blog posts appear in more than one board. That is because some activities fall into more than one category.  The Chicago Blackhawks Training Camp Festival is a sporting event, however, it also takes place on a single day in September.  I think this will make it easier for you to find what you are looking for.

Multiple Categories

 

There is a glitch in the Pinterest app if you are accessing it from your phone. Right now, if there are only two “pins” in a category, it shows the same picture twice even though they are different. Currently, in the Heritage Corridor Ale Trail board, I have a blog post about Miskatonic Brewery and another blog post about the three breweries we visited down in Starved Rock County. But the app shows the photo for Miskatonic twice. Once you click on the whole board, you will see two different blog post options. Hopefully, this kink will work itself out once I add more posts about the Ale Trail.

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Follow me on Pinterest and, hopefully, this will be an easy-to-use tool for when you inevitable ask each other “What should we do this weekend?”!