Man, do these kids have it good at the playground

By Jon Cohn

I recently checked out the Maggie Daley Park kids playground. Oh, to be young again!

The playground of my day was a couple of chain swings, maybe a teeter-totter (remember those things?) and a really COOL  jungle gym. 

Fast forward some 50 years and welcome to today’s state-of-the-art playground.

At Maggie Daley Park, visitors can start with the watering hole, a special play area for 2-5 year olds. Adjacent to this is a separate area dedicated to swings, which includes three old-school, strap-in swings and one grand luxury swing, complete with big bucket seats and extra leg room.

Decked out with two giant climbing tree-house towers and a beautiful wooden suspension bridge, the main area really has the ‘wow’ factor that made me want to just climb on in, but I didn’t because I was over the age limit.  Connected to the tree-house towers are two gigantic winding slides that I would have loved as a young kid. Suddenly my old jungle gym didn’t seem so cool.

I was dubious about a four-pronged metal slide I spied. I’m not sure what metal bars were all about, but it sure would be very painful for any fully formed adult male to slide down and so I didn’t try it.

Just when I thought the playground tour was over, I stumbled across a pirate-ship area, really cool nest swings (think giant baskets where two can ride), and an enchanted forest.    

Yes, an enchanted forest, complete with winding paths, cool trees, mini statues, a maze of mirrors and more slides. They just don’t make playgrounds like they used to.

The grass, mud and wood chip flooring we had in our playgrounds has been replaced by a comfy and colorful soft, spongy surface.

I’m not sure I would say today’s kids are soft but the surface they walk on sure is.

Keep it on the down low, but I may go back when it’s a little dark and not many people are around. I just might climb up that tower and go head first diving down that giant winding slide.

Forever young.

The votes are in and the best month of the year is … September

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

In an unofficial tabulation of informal voting done by this column—with apologies to runner-ups May, November and December—the month of September has won Best in Show as the overall most enjoyable month of the year.

If you are reading this column in the month of publication, you’re living the good life (at least we hope so).

Why does September deserve the top month nod?

There’s the consistently pleasant, if not gorgeous, weather. Throw in Labor Day weekend, Jazzfest, baseball playoffs, start of the football season and the fact that summer tourists have mostly left the city streets—and you have a winning combination. Did we mention the beautiful weather?

September radiates like the smiling bride walking down the aisle, as beautiful in the beginning as she is at the end.

The minor dissent (there’s one in every crowd) could come from school-aged children who equate September with the whole back-to-school thing. Admittedly, that could be put a damper on the celebration.

But we press on.

Another key takeaway is the reminder that summer is not over. Not by a longshot. Remember, the gorgeous weather we experience now is payback for the lousy April and May weather. Soak it up and enjoy.

If you feel the season went by way too quickly and you didn’t get to all the things you wanted to do, fear not. There’s still time to hack away at the summer wish list.

If you didn’t get to that Wisconsin weekend getaway, a boat ride, a ball game, the Navy Pier excursion, the beach visit, a camping trip, cookout or any of the other myriad of summer activities, there is still time.

But don’t wait too long. Halloween candy was just spotted at your local grocery store.

Some friendly (and not so friendly) reminders for the Air and Water Show

(Published July 31, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

One of the Midwest’s great summer events descends upon the city as the Chicago Air and Water Show rears it’s noisy, but exciting, head on Aug. 17 and 18. 

Huge crowds are expected and the Chicago beachfront will be packed, which could present some interesting challenges. So, as a long-time veteran of the spectator wars at the Air and Water Show, we present some crucial “don’t forgets.”

  • Don’t forget to get there early. More than two million people attended last year, so there will be battles for prime viewing locations. For an up close and personal experience, North Avenue Beach is perfect, but prepare to be squished in among a throng of fellow viewers.

Great viewing locations exist along Oak Street, Ohio Street and Fullerton Avenue beaches. My secret spot is the long line of elevated steps between Ohio and Oak streets, offering a great view and it’s a little less crowded.

  • Don’t forget sunscreen. If it’s a hot day and you forgot your SPF 30 you will cook like a Fourth of July hot dog on a grill. A hat with a flap is also recommended.
  • Don’t forget to bring fluids (preferably water). Bring snacks, too, if you don’t want to wait in long lines for food.
  • Speaking of long lines, don’t forget to go to the bathroom before you head out. Washrooms are available along the route, but you might as well bring a book as the wait can be excruciating.

Don’t forget to bring a camera and binoculars. The up-close looks can be spectacular.

Don’t forget to keep an eye on your dog. The loud noises can freak out even the calmest of pets.

Don’t forget Friday is practice day. Many a downtowner has panicked thinking air raids or worse when the planes do their runs.

Don’t forget to duck when the Blue Angels or The Thunderbirds head your way in a screeching, loud, downward spiral. It’s a natural reaction, we all do it.

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the show.

A good, long walk: Therapy for the soul

(Published June 30, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Stress is something nearly everyone has to deal with. Thankfully, in this modern age, there are plenty of potential remedies available.

Varieties of yoga, mental meditation and restorative mindfulness practices (not sure what mindfulness is, but if it works, I am all for it) are just a few of the popular options for getting rid of stress.

But nothing works like a nice long walk to regenerate the spirit, get the blood flowing and cut through daily strife.

A walk offers great tension relief, heart health and can be mentally refreshing. Walking is easy on the body and fits around almost any schedule. There is no need to sign up for classes and there are no annual fees.

There are many wonderful potential walks in the nearby Lakeshore East vicinity—the Riverwalk, Michigan Avenue or any Chicago streets—where you can get your exercise and do some great people watching as well. Then there is also the quieter, more sublime beauty of Northerly Island or a morning beachfront stroll.

My favorite walk includes a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—the best tacos in Chicago.

For this route, head to the lakefront and begin walking south. Stroll past the beauty of DuSable Harbor and Monroe Harbor, gazing quickly at illustrious Buckingham Fountain as you pass by. Then around the bend, toward Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. Take a peek back for one of the most gorgeous views of the Chicago beachfront and skyline. But don’t stop there. Keep going as the path dead ends finally at Twelfth Street Beach.

There you will find some of the best tacos on the beachfront at Del Campos Tacos. Fresh, tasty and filling, they are a just reward for a great, long walk.

After the tacos, there could be a temptation to Uber home. No, no, no. You worked too hard for all this, and the walk back is just as invigorating as the walk there. 

Outdoor grilling: A guide to make sure we all get along

(Published on May 30, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Summertime is upon us, and with it comes one of the great pleasures of the long days and warm weather: outdoor grilling.

That scrumptious smell of steak, burgers, chicken or fish cooking on the grill. Rubbing them all with your favorite sauces, maybe some grilled veggies and, of course, the sound of one’s favorite beverage popping open.

It all sounds great, and it usually is.

But there are some challenges, especially for those living in the city with shared grilling areas and much closer quarters than suburban backyard. This requires a little common courtesy and understanding with the neighbors.

For instance, those living in condo buildings with designated areas often find themselves in situations where the number of grillers is greater than the number of grills.

I have seen instances where more than the grill gets overheated.

Occasionally, the group cooking experience looks more like a rugby scrum, complete with pushing shoving, and a few far less-than-polite verbal jabs. People get caught up in the conflict and, tragically, the meat on the grill gets neglected. Never let this happen!

Cooking on your own balcony comes with its own challenges. Respecting nearby neighbors, keeping the area clean as possible and bring sound down to a minimum. And don’t sweep any excess off the balcony onto floors below. That is a huge condo no-no.

When it comes to safety, Chicago Fire Department Chief Walter Schroeder said it’s best to grill in the shared grilling facilities, but if a balcony must be used then an electric grill is best.

“Obviously charcoal grills are very dangerous on a balcony,” he said. “That’s not something that should be utilized in that type of an environment.”

He added propane grills are both dangerous and illegal in most apartments and condos with more than occupants in the whole building.

“It acts like a bomb if it should have a leak,” he said of propane tanks.

And no matter what sort of grill is used, Chief Schroeder said cooks need to remember some basic safety tips.

“We want to make sure you’re practicing fire safety,” he said. “Don’t leave the grill unattended. Don’t leave it too close to the building. Don’t let children or pets around it. Sometime pets can knock it over. Really, those are all common sense practices, but sometimes we forget these things and get carried away.”

Beyond safety, downtown residents will want to remember courtesy, too—especially when using a shared space.

Some additional dos and don’ts to help prevent barbecuing courtyard anarchy:

Do come prepared, so when you get to the grill you are ready to go without delay.

Don’t hover over somebody who is doing their cooking while waiting for your turn.

Do offer to share your grill if there is room to spare.

Don’t forget to scrape and clean the grill when you are done. Ditto for the grilling utensils.

Do feel free to strike up conversation. Grilling can be a great way to make new friends.

Don’t talk so much you neglect the meat. Many wonderful cuts of beef have gone to over-charred heaven due to the griller flirting with a neighbor.

Do enjoy the experience and take in all the wonderful smells that bring joy to our olfactory senses.

With a dash of patience and a pinch of friendliness and common courtesy will make the outdoor grilling season more enjoyable for everyone.

The ups and downs of riding on elevators with dogs

(May 1, 2019)

By Jon Cohn

Let’s talk for a minute about man’s best friend. No, not the cell phone, but instead our beloved fine, furry, fluffy friends.

We all know dogs are part of the neighborhood scene in Chicago. Most love the idea. The unique connection of man and dog goes without saying. Who amongst us hasn’t reached out at times to pet a nearby stranger’s dog?

But, we have to be respectful of the fact that not everyone shares this close connection with dogs. Especially when it comes to riding the elevator.

So we offer some quick friendly reminders for dog owners when their beloved pets are joined by other passengers in a sometimes very-close-to-each-other elevator ride:

Try and keep your dog sitting, and as far from the other riders personal space as possible. If Mr. or Mrs.  Elevator Stranger asks about the dog or wants to pet it, be as open as you (and your dog) feel comfortable.

When the elevator door opens, and this requires a little reading of the body language of the other riders, let them go out first. Most will signal you with your dog to go first—but just in case, be ready to step back.

Of course no sniffing, barking or worse yet growling—from you or your pet. Those go without saying and are the trademarks of a well trained dog (or well trained owner).

The issue while insignificant to some, can, in fact,  be problematic for others.

“There are definitely a few people in our building who are terrified when they get on the elevator and there is a large dog, said Harbor Point resident Monica, who is not a dog owner. “Sometimes even the small dogs are afraid!”

Aqua building manager Alana said, “We have no written policy about dogs riding on elevators, and really in my years here we have had very few complaints.”

Bottom line, gang? We are all in this together. Strangers, often thrown together for a brief moment in time.

With a little common sense and basic respect we can all enjoy the ride down to the ground floor, and that includes man’s best friend.

First we learn to crawl, then we learn … to drink?

By Jon Cohn

I’m not sure how the great tradition of the “pub crawl” started.

I’m not even sure that Chicago is the home for these particular events, but based on the number of them coming up we might as well be.

For those not familiar with this unique concept, let’s loosely call it a form of recreation, socialization, physical exercise (remember, there is walking involved!), and of course drinking. The basic idea—and there have been many takes on this—is for groups of people to meet with a common theme and wander to various drinking establishment in the assigned area. One drink per location. A rule, not surprisingly, that is broken early and often.

As you can see from the description, the concept isn’t very complicated. The beauty in its simplicity.

Here’s the good part: Whether you are a veteran pub crawler or a novice looking for a new experience, there are plenty of opportunities to get in on the fun coming up later this month.

St. Patrick’s Day alone offers several opportunities.

Among your selections would be the Irish Stroll Pub Crawl in River North, the Wicker Park Bar Crawl, the Lincoln Park Bar Crawl, the Division Street Bar crawl, the Logan Square Bar crawl, and the Shamrock Crawl in Wrigleyville—again, all on St. Patrick’s Day. There’s no lack of opportunity to “get your crawl on” if you so desire.

Can’t make it St. Patrick’s Day but the idea still interest you? No worries. There are many more to come, such as the Cultural Crawl (drink and explore new neighborhoods) on April 13, The Office Trivia Bar crawl April 6, and the Cover Your Bases bar crawl in Wrigleyville on May 18.  September, October and Halloween bring on another barrage of potential pub crawl experiences.

Check out eventbrite.com/d/il–chicago/pub-crawl for more complete listings.

Final note: These pub crawls often start at 8 a.m.— yes a.m. — not a typo.  Pub crawls are apparently not for the faint of heart (or liver).

The art of the thank you

Leontina Richardson, president of Stepping Into Etiquette


Let’s face it: There’s going to be at least one gift under your Christmas tree this year that you’d

rather sell on eBay. We’ve all been there. But the reality is, you still need to write that person a thank-you card. Although you wouldn’t be caught dead in that itchy scarf your coworker made everyone in the office, she still put a lot of time and thought into it. The relationship is what really matters.

Here are some tips for writing good letters this holiday season.

1: Don’t go digital

Handwrite your cards. Not only will your recipient appreciate getting a letter that isn’t a bill, but they’ll also recognize you put time and thought into it. Texting “Thanks, Grandma,” is far less endearing.

2: Don’t begin your card with “Thank You”

If you say thank you first, then your recipient won’t pay much attention to the rest of the letter

because they know what to expect. Instead, write your letter with the following guidelines:

The Beginning: “Dear [insert name here].”

The Middle: Write something that elicits an emotional response equal to the thoughtfulness of

the gift. Try, “I am blown away by how perfect your Christmas gift was.” Then include what you

enjoyed about the gift. Try, “These dishes look so good with my new dining room set.” Now you

can express your gratitude: “Thank you so much.” Then add any closing thoughts you have, as in, “Now all I’m missing is your company for lunch. Let’s get together soon.”

The End: You’ll likely want to sign off with either “Best Wishes,” “Best Regards,” or “Warmest

Regards.” Only use “Love” for your closest relationships.

3: Don’t wait too long

For the holidays, get your thank-you cards out within two weeks of receiving gifts. For dinner parties and other small events, you can wait up to a week. For weddings, three months is best. Remember, you want your recipients to feel appreciated, so don’t put it off until the last minute.

When it comes to expressing thanks, a well-written card goes a long way. Be an example to those around you this holiday season by always keeping a stack of thank-you cards on your desk. Not only will you be prepared for the unexpected gift, but your friends will feel safe knowing that you’ll love their gifts no matter how itchy they are. It’s the thought that counts.

Leontina Richardson is the president of Stepping Into Etiquette, a consulting firm specializing on manners and style. For more information, visit the company website at www.steppingintoetiquette.com

Football fandom for complete dummies

By Tom Conroy, Staff Writer

The weather is cooling off and the leaves are starting to change, which means it’s time to stay inside all day Sunday and watch football. This can be daunting for someone who may only be a casual fan or has never watched the game. If the latter sounds like you, and you find yourself at a bar or a Sunday watch party, here is how to get by like a pro:

  1. Following multiple games is necessary

Your friends might all be Bears fans, but don’t be alarmed if someone insists on switching over to the Steelers-Bengals game. It probably means that someone at your gathering has Ben Roethlisberger or A.J. Green in their fantasy game. If you find yourself lost, just pick a team. Latch onto the Bears’ bandwagon and cheer whenever you see the navy blue and orange pop up on the screen.

  1. Everyone hates Roger Goodell, and you do, too

Your friends will probably bring up the NFL commissioner at least once, and it will be negative. Whether it has to do with the national anthem, concussion protocols, new penalty rules or his $200 million contract, Goodell will always draw the ire of fans, regardless of their viewpoints. Do not waste time forming your own opinions about the man; just hiss whenever you hear his name.

 

  1. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are necessary evils

Bears fans are sick of losing to Rodgers and the Packers. The entire NFL is sick of watching Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl. However, refrain from wishing season-ending injuries on either quarterback.

 

I was at the Bears-Packers season opener at Lambeau Field, where I witnessed Bears fans cheering at the sight of Rodgers leaving the field with a potential knee injury, only to exclaim in agony when he returned later in the game to pull off the victory. Guess what? It was one of the most exciting and compelling games I’ve ever watched. Rodgers and Brady may win all the time, but football is more compelling when they are on the screen.

  1. Sundays are now your new cheat day

Diets are hard when pizza, wings, beer and every other game day indulgence surround you. If you know you’ll be gorging yourself on Sunday, plan ahead. Get in your exercise and healthy eating during the week. Pack some fruit if it is a potluck gathering. And make sure to drink plenty of water to avoid a Monday hangover.

 

Unbearable: The best jerseys to troll Bears fans

By Tom Conroy | Staff Writer

When I first got to Milwaukee, I received strange looks whenever I wore my favorite football jersey because of the name “FAVRE” stitched on the back.

Little did I know that students on campus, most of whom were Packers fans, were still bitter about Brett Favre going back on his retirement following the 2007 season to play for the Jets. This experience made me wonder about how other teams’ fans felt when they saw certain players’ jerseys, so I asked some Chicago Bears fans what would incite their rage.

Brett Favre: Packers fans may have been upset with Favre for a few years, but Bears fans will probably hate Favre forever. Fans always feel the strongest about divisional rivals, and the Hall of Fame quarterback posted a 22-10 career record against the Chicago Bears.

“I would rip their Favre jersey off,” joked Adam Ruff of Crown Point, Indiana.

Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady: Nationwide, these two share the distinction of being hated because of their dominance as the two best quarterbacks in the league.

Like Favre, Rodgers is an easy target of animosity because he’s the Packers quarterback (and he boasts a 16-4 record against the Bears). I was surprised to hear from so many Bears fans about the Patriots QB. “The problem with Brady is that he’s a great player on a great team with a great system and still he cheats,” said Jesse Patton, Jr., referring to the “Deflategate” scandal of 2015 when Brady was suspended for four games for allegedly tampering with the air in the footballs.

Rex Grossman: Grossman has the distinction of being the only Bears alumnus that came up. After all, he is blamed for Chicago’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI. Considered to be the weakest link on the team during the 2006 season, Grossman threw for only 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in the 29-17 Super Bowl loss.

Players linked to controversies:

There were several players who came up based on incidents off the field. Bears fans mentioned Ray Rice because of his assault of his then-fiancée that was caught on video, while Colin Kaepernick came up because of his kneeling during the national anthem.

The takeaway: Avoid the jerseys of players whose actions off the field are discussed more than their performance on field.

Published September 4, 2018

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