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.

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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 . . . !

Adventure Film Festival

Not from the Chicagoland area?  This is a traveling film festival and could make a stop in your state.

Adventure Film began in 2003, according to their website, with “a vision of a community-based, mission oriented outdoor adventure film festival that tied indie film with art and activism.”

Over 400 films were submitted this year, from all over the world, covering all aspects of adventure.  The Boulder Festival in Boulder, Colorado is the kick-off event before the world tour.  The selection committee narrows it down to the top 30 films, all of which can be screened at the kick-off event.  This is also a multi-day festival that includes speakers, outdoor activities, and a street fair.

The world tour is not as extensive, depending on where you live, but totally worth your time.  Chicago hosted their 4th annual Adventure Film Festival this year at the Music Box Theater on November 11, 2018.  Here, they narrowed it down to 11 films that were screened over three hours (plus a short intermission).  The shorts varied in length from 3 minutes to as long as 26 minutes.  Below are the films we had the privilege to see this year:

Adventure Films - part I

Adventure Films - part 2

These were not just films about adventure seekers jumping off cliffs or skydiving in volcanoes.  No, these were human interest stories that made you appreciate the good that people do for others.  And also for themselves.  There was one story about Lonnie, a blind man who found a love of kayaking and travels all over the country teaching other blind people how to kayak with their disability.  Another story covered the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and how a rock climbing community is using their unique skills to help clear trees and roads in Puerto Rico.  Our favorite story followed three U.S. veterans, all of whom did tours in Iraq, who returned to that country to explore the natural beauty of the country absent of the war.  They actually went skiing in the mountains!

There were two options for admission.  You could simply purchase a general admission ticket ($20) which covers the screening of the films.  The VIP option ($45) included the screening, a private VIP reception that included food, two Revolution Brewing beers, a small popcorn, and a gift bag.  Here are the goodies from our gift bags:

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There were also some pretty good raffle items available.  All of the proceeds from this event went to the Sierra Club’s Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors.  Chicago ICO is, according to their website, “a volunteer-run community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth to explore and protect the natural world, while developing their leadership skills and honoring a love of the outdoors.”  They take kids hiking, canoeing, camping, etc.  They raised over $6,500.00 for this small event.  It might not seem like much but it will go a long way for an organization like this.  And we were happy to be part of it.

Look for this event next year and make you way into the city for an inspiring evening!  You won’t be disappointed.

A Girl’s Gotta Eat – Food Hall: Eataly

Not to be confused with a food court (the fast food variety usually found in shopping malls), a food hall is an artisanal shopping and eating experience all under one roof.  The concept is said to have originated in Europe and is fast becoming a go-to dining experience here in America.

Since we were going downtown for a smaller activity, we decided to make a day of it and include one of the more well-known destinations, Eataly, into our plans for the day.

Eataly is an Italian food hall concept that was brought to America through a partnership that includes famous Italian chefs such as Mario Batali*, Lidia Bastianich, and Joe Bastianich.  They have locations in Los Angeles, Boston, and two in New York.  The one in Chicago is considered to be the largest in the U.S.

This two-story location is overwhelming when you first walk in but, fortunately, they have a map and guide that walks you through each department so that you don’t miss out on anything.

Self guided tour

We decided to do the self-guided tour and, as directed, we started upstairs and got a glass of wine.  You can walk around with it so, sure.  From there, we hit the olive oil department, and this is where you realize what you have really gotten yourself into.  ROWS and ROWS.  I had no idea there were so many types and flavors of olive oil.  I expected this from the wine department but not olive oil.  Every department is like this.

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And bring your appetite – hence the Girl’s Gotta Eat connection.  There are a few sit-down restaurant style options.  They are smaller spaces, but we had no problem getting seated.  Take away counters are available as well for sandwiches, panini, and other Italian specialties.

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But don’t fill up upstairs.  Once you get back down to the main level you have way too many desserts to choose from.  There is a gelato bar, pastry counter, cannoli bar, and Nutella station.  Oh, and coffee.  I’m getting full just remembering this visit.

So, all in all, this was a great way to spend a couple of hours together and share some great food as well.

*For those of you who are aware of the sexual misconduct allegations against Mario Batali, Eataly has terminated its relationship with the chef and all products bearing his likeness have been removed from the shelves.

Saturday Night Live Exhibit

If you were born in the 60’s, like me, you have probably watched Saturday Night Live since it aired in 1975.  Maybe you haven’t watched every episode of every season for the last 43 years, or maybe you have, and you are my new hero.  Especially if you stayed with it during the 1980-81 and 1985-86 seasons.

So, when I came across a link about an SNL exhibit in the city, I had to check it out.  The show memorabilia is currently on display at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.  It runs through December 31, 2018 and tickets are $25.00.  This price also gets you access to the 3rd floor (see description below).

The SNL exhibit is a self-guided tour that takes you past video clips, costumes, and various set mock-ups.  Here is a brief description directly from the MBC website:

“The SNL exhibit is a 500 artifact, self-guided exhibit that takes you through the six-day creative process on how the show is produced and ready to go on air by Saturday night.  It is an immersive experience with much to read, watch and interact.  On average, it takes about 1.5 – 2 hours to get through SNL:The Experience, but admission also grants you access to the museum’s 3rd floor television gallery.  Avid museum goers will find themselves spending at least 2-3 hours with us.”

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There were TVs in a couple of the rooms and, thankfully, they were playing old show content on a pretty short loop.  Otherwise, you would have to deal with people like me who could stand there all day watching old clips of the show.  The sets were really cool too.  You could take pictures on a Jeopardy! set, the basement from Wayne’s World, and the Weekend Update desk.  They also had costumes and other memorabilia scattered throughout the exhibit.

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The 3rd floor is the museum’s regular attraction.  With artifacts from B.J. & Dirty Dragon, Ray Rayner, and the Bozo Show, it was a step-back-in-time visit to my childhood.  I mean, who didn’t have a Cuddly Duddly stuffed dog?  Spoiler alert:  ME.  But my husband did 😊.  We didn’t spend as much time on this floor but it was worth stopping on.  And it was included in your ticket, so why not?

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One great thing about this museum is there is cheap parking right across the street.  The cost is $9.00 (if you use the promo code) for 6 hours.  STOP!  Go back and read that again.  Nine dollars for downtown Chicago parking.  For SIX HOURS.  So, if going downtown just for the museum is not appealing, you now have 3-4 extra hours to fit in other fun stuff.  Plan your trip to include lunch or dinner.  If it’s a nice day, explore the Riverwalk.  Or better yet, schedule a boat tour since you are right near the river.  There are so many options.

One final note:  If you love SNL, and also like to read, I highly recommend finding Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests by James Andrew Miller on Amazon or at your local library.  It is a behind-the-scenes history of the show with commentary/stories from writers, cast members, and hosts.  Full disclosure:  this clocks in at 800 pages.  The nice thing about this book is that you can put it down for a short time and pick up where you left off without having to go back and re-familiarize yourself with plots and characters.