Chicago’s Gold Coast

My early gold coast trips included the Old Water Tower built in 1869 finally transcending across the street to the new Water Tower Place built in 1975. Also, for me, days of dining took place in an elegant room for Sunday brunch and dinner at Kontiki Ports restaurant, provided by the Continental Hotel now Intercontinental.

But the Gold Coast is truly known for prominent luxury that began on the near north side of Chicago. Millionaire Potter Palmer built his mansion in 1882 while other wealthy residents followed to the Gold coast of Chicago situated along the shores of Lake Michigan.

The Gold Coast still offers an affluent haven for rare designer stores on the Magnificent Mile and the most popular restaurants in the country located on historic Rush street.  After shopping and eating,  the district highlights some of the most prestigious hotels that include the legendary Drake .

Old Water Tower

Located in the heart of the Gold Coast along the Magnificent Mile known for its shopping, the Chicago Water Tower is the second oldest in the United States built in 1869 and is worth a visit.  Skyscrapers,  such as the Hancock Building, dwarf the building that is just little over 150 Feet. It now holds a city gallery that present the resplendent work of artists and local photographers. An ensemble based theatre in Chicago that has won 42 Joseph Jefferson  is LookingGlass theatre whose home is this historic water pumping station  and offers internships to graduated college students in professional theatre.

Water Tower Place

Across the street from the Chicago Water Tower, is 758,000 square feet of shopping with 74 floors  at Water Tower Place, one of Chicago’s largest shopping malls with over 100 stores. All business are indoors at 825 North Michigan Avenue.  Water Tower features stores such as America Girl Place where you can shop for your favorite doll and treat you and your children to a special dining experience.  Other stores include Macy’s, Abercrombie and Fitch and full service restaurants like Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch; a great sports bar on the top floor of the plaza.

Broadway Play House

After spending a day of shopping and dining, on the North side of Water Tower Place is the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower, originally a Drury Lane Theater in the 1970’s. After a makeover in 2010, Broadway has hosted Love, Loss and What I wore as well as highly acclaimed Broadway hit Colin Quinn: Long Story Shorty.

Newberry Library

Situated in the vibrant Gold Coast neighborhood but off the beaten path of Michigan Ave and its restaurants and shops, Newberry library is free and open to the public. Researchers and scholars all over the world have visited the collections that include the brilliance of literature , rare books, maps, music and manuscripts that will detail six centuries of material. The Newberry was established in 1887 and also provides programs for teachers, adult education seminars and a variety of events on  the humanities.

Washington Square Park

Across the street from the Newberry, is the serenity of  Washington Square Park  founded in 1842. During the summer months the park is celebrated with a combination of trees, picket fencing, a Victorian fountain that was added in the 1890’s and a beautiful array of floral design; a great place to take a breath and relax during your busy trip to Gold Coast.  The park is heralded as an historic district in Chicago.

900 North Michigan Shops

For high end, luxury shopping featuring Gucci, Max Mara, J.Crew and a host of others, visit the 8th tallest skyscraper in the city on Gold Coast’s Magnificent Mile.  Exquisite boutiques include designers such as Kate Spade and Karen Millen. Celebrate happy hour at Frankie’s pizza.

Rush Street

Just a one way street traveling North, Rush is acclaimed for its wealth, nightlife, five star hotels and elite restaurants that include Tavern on Rush,  Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House, and Gibson’s Bar and Steakhouse where you will find autographed photographs  of the rich and famous. If in the mood for Asian, Jellyfish restaurant has been voted as one of the 17 hottest Sushi Restaurants in the United States.  There is no telling what to expect on Rush street.

Driehaus Museum

Known as the Gilded Age, Driehaus offers collections of awe inspiring examples of furnishing and interiors the wealthy in America crafted during that era. Beautifully preserved architecture and design grace the museum from such acclaimed designers as Louis Comfort Tiffany.  You will be able to visit rooms in the Gallery that present the elegance of the front parlor, dining room and even the smoking room of the early 19th century.

Signature Lounge at the 96th and Signature Room at the 95th

Not only does the 96th floor of the John Hancock offer wonderful views of the city, but the  Signature Lounge offers a choice of over 700 wines and specialty cocktails along with appetizers that include caprese bruschetta and great chicken wings.  If in the mood for dinner, The Signature Room at the 95th floor has been named the most romantic and has been voted one of America’s Top Table by Gourmet Magazine. Fresh entrees include Australian rack of lamb and vegetable lasagna.

The Drake  Hotel

One of more than 250 hotels in America, the Drake Hotel is recognized by Historic Hotels of America. The Hotel opened on New Year’s Eve with a massive gala of over 2,000 Chicago Citizens in 1919.  The Drake provides the grandeur of the early 19th century  with over 500 luxury guest rooms and 74 magnificent suites . Enjoy afternoon tea in the elaborate Palm Court and choose from 17 different tea suggestions.

Hyde Park Chicago

For me as a child, we would pull into the parking lot of the Museum of Science and Industry to visit my favorite Yesteryear, the chickens hatching, Telephone Town and the coal mine. That was what Hyde Park was all about but over the decades I was curious to explore more beyond those museum walls in Hyde Park, Chicago.

Seven miles south of the Chicago Loop located on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, the Hyde Park neighborhood hosts  the city’s most eclectic collection of antiquities, culture, historic landmarks including the college dwelling of U.S. President Barack Obama. Recognized as the established home for the University of Chicago and the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, Hyde Park has been a focal point for prominent guests such as Mary Todd Lincoln, who lived during the summer of 1865.

Museum of Science and Industry

Known as the Palace of Fine Arts at the World Columbian Exposition, this building originally housed the Field Museum which moved to the south loop in the 1920s. Currently, The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum. Well known throughout the United States, the museum hosts the Apollo 8 spacecraft, the Pioneer Zephyr which was the first diesel fueled passenger train, a 3,500 square foot model train, a trip to a replica coal mine and a German submarine captured in World

Midway Plaisance

Originally the midway point of the World Columbian Exposition  providing knowledge of other world cultures, refreshments and the exciting new Ferris Wheel, today it is a one mile long park that has remained a green area  supported by the University of Chicago. Boosting cross street bridges  with a  breaking taking view of the buildings along the Midway, the area  has been refurbished with an ice skating rink for winter and expansive gardens during the summer. The word plaisance is French and defines a pleasure ground of nature.

Jackson Park

An expanse of 542.89 acres, Jackson Park was designed after the close of the World’s Columbian Exposition featuring the first golf course in 1893. The Golden Lady sculpture and the French’s Statue of the Republic are remnants of the fair. The Osaka Garden, a 17th Century stroll garden was established in 1934 and beyond the entrance gate, a peaceful abundance of lush plants, exotic trees will exemplify peace for the weary traveler.  If you enjoy bird watching, Jackson Park is home to over 200 species. In recent years, Jackson Park provides a gymnasium, fitness center, and basket ball/tennis courts.

 

Promontory Point

Located in Chicago’s Burnham park,  Promontory Point offers spectacular views of the city’s skyline and a great place to relax. The point was constructed as a man-made peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan and can be accessed by the Lakefront Trail, a  tunnel which passes under Lake Shore Drive at the east end of 55th Street. Promontory Point also offers a variety of special events such as movies and guest performers. Designed by Alfred Caldwell, the point offers the beauty of harbor beaches and exquisite natural meadows.

 

Robie House

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House in Hyde Park is a prairie style example of his contemporary work also located on the campus of the University of Chicago. Tours are available that even include private spaces not readily available to the public. The Frederick C. Robie House is a national historic landmark and was designed in 1908 for the assistant manager of the Excelsior Supply Company. Robie and his wife Lora had selected the property in order to remain close to the University since his wife was a graduate.

Obama’s Home and Favorites

Coming to Chicago as a community organizer after graduating Harvard Law, Barack Obama lived in apartment 1n at 5429  Harper in Hyde Park if you are interested in sharing  the legacy of the President of the United States. After viewing his apartment, you may want to see the Hyde Park Hair salon and the chair where he used to get haircuts.  Located at 57th and Kimbark, for those who love the written word, stroll through the57th Street Books, another Obama favorite.

Court Theatre

Looking for professional theater, the Court Theatre on the campus of the University of Chicago provides innovative productions and classic plays  that have included Waiting for Godot, Agamemnon, Wait Until Dark, and The Glass Menagerie. Attended by over 35,000 each year, the award winning Court puts on five plays per season. It has been named the most consistently excellent theatre company in America by the Wall Street Journal.

Valois

After visiting the historical culture of Hyde Park, Valois cafeteria is one of the Obama family’s recommended eatery’s. After walking in the front, a sign indicates the President’s usual orders when in town. The restaurant provides comfort food with American specials such as  feta omelets for breakfast and a huge variety of beef.  In service for over a decade, Valois  greets customers with walls of murals that celebrates the Hyde Park neighborhood.  It has been said many times that if you live in Hyde Park, Valois is a family tradition.

Historic Pullman Chicago

It was in the early 1960’s that they planned on demolishing parts of Pullman to make way for industrial expansion especially between 111th and 115th. But Pullman residents including some of my own good friends, fought continuously to keep Pullman alive. They founded the Historic Pullman Foundation in 1973. Pullman was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and has received similar state and local designations. Through the years as I go travel back, I am amazed by the beauty of Pullmans original architecture.

The first planned industrial community for workers to work , live and worship with family  was the Pullman Historic District south of Chicago; a unique community established by George Pullman, founder of the Pullman Palace Car Company. In 1880, the project began with housing built as red brick row houses including indoor plumbing and spacious accommodations that workers had not been accustomed though workers did have to pay rent. However, the panic of 1893 devastated the railroad industry causing lowered wages and rents that were not decreased. It was just last two years ago that President Obama designated the historic neighborhood as a national monument.

Pullman Foundation Center

On the site of the Arcade Building, this is a great place to begin your tour of Pullman. The center provides a video of the history and exhibits that include antiques from the Pullman Mansion that was located on Prairie Avenue as well as historic rail service items. You can grab a walking tour brochure or plan a guided tour that is available the first Sunday of the month and lasts for about 90 minutes.

Hotel Florence

Known for its luxury and elegance, the Hotel Florence, named after George Pullman’s daughter, was opened in 1881 and cost around $100,000 including $ 30,000 in furniture that included maroon plush velvet upholstery and fine mahogany. A veranda 16 feet wide and 268 feet long extends around the front of the building. When opened, the hotel included a gentlemen’s reading room, a billiard room, lunch room and saloon. The hotel is currently being renovated and for the ghost hunter, many have said that the hotel is haunted.

Executive Row

Take a stroll on 111th street between St. Lawrence and Langley to view the Executive homes that were located near the Pullman company plant.  This row of homes was a showplace back in the day consisting of eight and nine rooms including several fireplaces and a basement in each. Even executives had to pay rent and the going rate was $28 to $50 a month.

Pullman and Arcade Parks

Designed by Pullman and hired architect, Solo S Berman, the Pullman Park was created for recreation and enjoying the green spaces  that are not interrupted by structures. Another Park in the Pullman community is Arcade Park donated by George Pullman once again. Formal carpeted gardens graced the park across  from the Arcade building that housed a post office, library and theatre but was demolished in 1926.

Pullman Factory Complex

Beside the administration building and clock tower, the factory building provided wonderful conditions for the working man. They were well lighted, ventilated with soft colors to provide a upbeat atmosphere, different from so many sweatshops of the era. The 1880 car manufacturing plant was a 700-foot long Queen Anne-influenced structure of brick with limestone accents. The Clock Tower and building was seriously damaged in 1998 by fire but was rebuilt in 2005 located at the northeast corner of 111th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Greenstone Church

The sanctuary is unchanged  being built  in cherry wood with the original pews. The first tenants of the church were Presbyterian in 1887 but sold to the Methodists in 1907. The distinguished  Steere and Turner organ is one of the very  few manual track organs remaining in the US, the organ has had little repair over the last 100 years with the exception of being powered originally by hand bellows.  The organ contains 1260 pipes with two manuals for the hands  and can be a physical challenge to play, though a treasure for experienced musicians.

Gateway Garden

On the corner of 111th and Langley, the Gateway Garden was the size of 5 city lots with weeds and trash until the Historic Pullman Garden Club  received a grant from Chicago Botanic Garden for development.  Trees and spring bulbs were planted and now the garden offers spectacular color of various annuals, perennials and breathtaking curved seats of shrubbery ; a peaceful place to observe such beauty. The Garden Club hosts special events and tours throughout the spring and summer months.

 

A.Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum

Celebrating 75 years of the national first Black Labor Union, Randolph and the Pullman Porters made real impact in African-American union history.  Pullman Porters were the best in railroad hospitality as they provided excellent service to passengers on Pullman’s luxury trains. In 1925, they established the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor union with Randolph as president. The museum provides a calendar of special events celebrating black history.

Pullman Cafe

Complete your tour with a cozy seat at the Pullman Cafe, with fresh fruit and homemade lemon bars or dreamy bread pudding.  The charming cafe also offers a Gotham Salad with toasted walnuts, a garlic sausage pizza, or just enjoy a cup of coffee with friendly staff and all the comforts of home.  The ambience of the Pullman Cafe provides a wonderful conclusions to your trip to historic Pullman. The Pullman cafe is open daily at 112th and Lawrence Ave but currently is closed for winter but will be opening on in March of 2018.

South Shore Chicago today

For me who began her life in Calumet Heights, South Shore was an exciting trip to 71st and South Shore Drive. Here we would visit Bramsons childrens store and Dr. Block, my orthodontist once a week.

Famous residents such as Kanya West and Michele Obama began their childhood journey in South Shore of Chicago just nine miles southeast of the loop.  Predominantly now an African American community, South Shore is located along Chicago’s lakefront and offers beautiful historic architecture that was once lived in by some of the most prominent Chicago residents. The South Shore Cultural Center was a place for the visiting famous to retreat and relax and the marriage of Michelle and Barack Obama

South Shore Cultural Center

Once known as the South Shore Country Club, this center that totals almost 65 acres features Paul Bobeso Theatres, Washburne Culinary Institute and the Parrot Cage Restaurant. Founded in 1905, the center is listed on the US national Register of Historic places. the exterior of the building was used in the famous Blues Brothers film. The club has a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a bowling green, stables and a private beach on Lake Michigan

Jackson Park Highlands

Designated a Chicago Landmark, the district was built in 1905 housing some of the most elite collection of vintage homes that include stately architecture that were built for those who owned businesses on 71st such as an exclusive children’s store, Bramsons, several women’s and millinery boutiques along with doctors and dentists in the 1950s. Though not mansions, the homes reflect style, intrigue and beautiful surroundings.  Famous residents have included Jesse Jackson, Ramsey Lewis and Gale Sayers.

Parrot Cage Restaurant

Created by the Washburne Culinary Institute, highly acclaimed for being one of the best American cooking schools, Parrot is located in the South Shore Cultural center and an excellent suggestion for its Sunday brunch. Dinner service includes Thursday through Saturday and private rooms are available for events.  The menu includes blackened catfish as one culinary delight. However, the restaurant does not serve alcohol.

Mings Chop Suey

Though just carry out, the service is great and their crab ran-goons, egg roll or chicken fingers can be wrapped and add to your first picnic along the lakefront.  Located at 71st and Yates Blvd, you can watch your food being cooked and Mings offers an extensive lunch and dinner menu with very reasonable prices.

Avalon Regal Theatre

The Avalon opened in 1927 and conceived by John Eberson who always created exotic motif in design, the Avalon boosted a Moorish theme. The Avalon closed in the late 1970’s, used as a church until it becoming a venue for the performing arts in 1987 and became a Chicago landmark in 1992. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech for the presidential nomination was held in 2008 at the Avalon. Currently the Avalon is closed, but you may contact the Chicago Architecture Foundation for more information.

Eta Creative Arts Foundation

Recognized as Chicago’s leading African American cultural performing arts institutes, ETA offers a 200 seat theater, a library, and an art gallery. They are always looking for music and dance instructors to teach youth classes and ambitious summer interns in the areas of marketing, production and graphic design. Their current production Lines in the Dust presents the challenges of the Chicago Public School system and the play has received rave reviews.

Rainbow beach

Located on east 77th street, Rainbow Beach and Park offers a gymnasium, fitness center and a community garden along with a massive beach and comfort station. The beach’s history began as Rock Ledge Beach and finally expanded in 1918 becoming Rainbow; one of the city’s largest beaches One of the first beaches, I attended though some of my memories included the beach being closed because of oil slicks. Rainbow beach includes a large beach house with showers and a large pier with a boat ramp.

Michelle Obama’s Home

A final drive through the South Shore neighborhood will take you to Michelle Obama’s family home, a great example of the Chicago bungalow at 7436 South Euclid. Her parents rented an apartment  upstairs from her great aunt who lived downstairs. The house was built in the 1920’s in a respectable neighborhood with  a garden , stone bench and shaded by a large elm.

What does child poverty look like in your state?

Hopefully, 2018 will bring a better year to the poverty and homelessness crisis in the US. especially among individuals with long-term disabling conditions whose statistics increased in 2017. However, homelessness among families with children declined 5.4 percent nationwide since 2016, while local communities report the number of persons experiencing long-term chronic homelessness and veterans experiencing homelessness has increased according to Continuum of Care in Dupage County in Illinois.

“In many high-cost areas of our country, especially along the West Coast, the severe shortage of affordable housing is manifesting itself on our streets,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson. “With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets. This is not a federal problem—it’s everybody’s problem.”

As I walked an older woman  through the doors of First United Congregational Church of Downers Grove, she could barely speak and she pointed toward the sixth floor.  I knew exactly where she was going. I helped her as many have done for others looking for solutions.  I made sure she found a comfortable seat in the mass of people waiting to see a counselor. She thanked me with a tear in her eye as I looked around the room at so many young and old… children… who could not smile or greet me; their dignity ravished by their situation. Their only hope was Hopes Front Door.

Who or what is Hope’s Front Door?  In the southwestern suburbs of Chicago in Dupage County, Hope’s Front Door often acts as a “first responder” to neighbors who are facing financial and/or medical crises. They play an integral role in ensuring the well-being of individuals, families and the overall communities they support. When clients walk through the doors, they determine their immediate needs. They help them with either food, medical, dental and/or transportation vouchers, plus a clear pathway into the network of social agencies that can assist them with the long-term restructuring of their lives, by helping move them out of living a “crisis to crisis existence”. They serve the homeless, as well as those seeking assistance in six local communities.

Childhood hunger is not just something that happens in other cities or counties. One in six children living in DuPage County experiences food insecurity. Everyday Hope’s Front Door provides food vouchers to help area families have access to fresh food.  Over 72,800 live in poverty in DuPage County, once known as a fairly stable employment community, with over 27,000 living in extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, to afford the average rent, according to a survey completed by Bridge Communities,who also connect homeless families to a better future, you would have to work 110 hours per week to afford a 2 bedroom apartment which is approximately 1,176 a month.  A one night survey conducted at Bridge on January 28th 2016 indicated that 642 persons in DuPage County were homeless on that night, an increase from 2014.

Through the help of their program partners and supporters, Bridge Communities provides free transitional housing to homeless DuPage County families each year. During the two years each family spends in their program, they are able to save money, learn budgeting skills, and obtain better employment, so they can live self-sufficiently once they graduate. I work with one of the families children who is doing exceedingly well and loves the new opportunities given; working hard to maintain a much more promising life.

Program supporters and partners are instrumental in helping the needs of their communities and there are many ways to give your support in volunteering or making a donation as well as becoming a partner. Area businesses have become an integral part of providing special services.

As a Chicago lifer living in the city and suburbs, I have watched the deterioration of many families due to job loss, high cost of living, low wages and no adequate health care; many who are friends as well as my family. Some who are older and been homeless for many months have just chosen to mark time in emergency shelters..hoping that illness will help them leave this life quickly. Others continue to struggle with one crisis after another; losing just a little bit more of themselves as the days go on. Though, somehow, someway, they do believe in God’s love for them.  I guess we all have our priorities such as fair rights for women, gun control, ant-political protests, racism………but what about this?

 

New Years Eve in Chicago

As a child at home, it was about watching the ball drop in New York at 11 Central on TV and then turning on whatever Chicago hosted an hour later for a second New Year’s eve celebration. Sometimes I didn’t make it past 11 pm. On occasion, we would go to a friends house to spend the night. I would play with the other kids upstairs and of course, the parents would do the unspeakable…have fun…dance to the sounds of Mitch Miller in their finished basement.

Sometimes other shows were on that hosted Guy Lombardo’s Band playing Auld Lang Syne; his final New Year’s Eve appearance took place in New York, 1976. Not many may remember him.  And if Guy Lombardo traveled to Chicago, many celebrated bringing in the New Year at the Aragon Ballroom to listen to his orchestra, which was a powerhouse attraction in the 1940s.

Aragon is still in existence today at West Lawrence Ave in Uptown Chicago. The Aragon was known as one of the most elegant ballrooms in the world and has a capacity of 5,000 still offering live entertainment.

If my parents went out for a New Years Eve extravaganza, it was also to the beautiful Edgewater Beach Hotel, a resort hotel complex on Lake Michigan that featured such stars as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Other new year celebrations included live music at the Willowbrook Ballroom, that had a history of over 80 years entertainment before it was destroyed by fire just a couple of years. A variety of big bands would take the stage for dancing events that occurred on a 6,000 square foot dance floor.

Over the decades, restaurants, ballrooms and historic tradition have come and gone but for those who celebrate at home in front of their screens, you can still watch the ball drop in New York and catch other Chicago New Year’s festivities from all media, too numerous to mention. Certainly not on only four to eight channels back in the day.

Today, popular celebrations that have created timeless tradition in Chicago is a trip to Navy Pier where you can enjoy entertainment and family attractions. Navy Pier offers exquisite cruises along the lakefront with an amazing fireworks display on New Years Eve.

Reserve a table to celebrate New Years at a fine restaurant in Chicago that offers the best six course cuisine at the new West Loop, Bellemore. In the Western suburbs, you may want to try the most popular Meson Sabika in Naperville where you can enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner at this fine Spanish tapas restaurant.

Maybe your New Years Eve is just centered around pizza delivery, lots of wine and banging pots and pans in your yard with the little ones.  Regardless of how you spend the evening,hopefully, the New Year will bring to you nothing less than an abundance of health, happiness and peace.

Happy New Year!

Beat Bugs: Winter break fun

As I watched with a group of children, we could not take our eyes of the television screen as we entered the world of imaginary bugs building colorful homes in an over grown backyard. I wanted to check out the grass in our own backyard…just at that moment.. but was afraid I would hurt them.

The Beat Bugs explored, invented and sometimes found themselves in trouble, one who actually got stuck in a bottle that was filling with water, but someone was there to help. Crick, Jay, Buzz, Kumi, and Walter are the main Beat Bugs who are always learning lessons and there are visiting bugs and creatures that help teach those valuable life lessons. Postman Bee works as a postal worker and there is Doris the Spider who actually teaches the bugs to see beauty in everything including her webbing.

After watching several shows one boy said that because of Doris the Spider, he wasn’t going to be afraid of spiders anymore. Great New Years resolution!

Beat Bugs is an Emmy Award winning animated preschool series that airs on Netflix about a bunch of cute bugs who go on fun adventures. Many of the adventures are inspired by familiar Beatles songs which brought a smile to my face including Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, a dragonfly who appears as the song is played. She is known for her wings resembling diamonds and her kaleidoscopic eyes; a guest bug in the series. Kids are now hearing Beatles songs on this show and are going around singing wherever they go.

Target just launched a huge consumer product line for parents and teachers interested in buying the Beat Bugs.

Beat Bugs Hijinx Alive:

These Beat Bugs character figurines come to life (there’s also a huge plush version) when they hear the show being played on TV (or DVD or the app). They actually start singing at the right time when they hear the characters start to sing from the season 1 episodes. The figures light up and move their mouths when they sing and can also sing along with other Beat Bugs Hijinx alive toys!

Ages 3+, MSRP $24.00 for the 6″figures, Walter Plush version is $29.99 Here’s a link: Hijinx Alive and Hijinx Singing Walter Plush.

Here’s a link of all the toys available– Beat Bugs Complete Consumer Product Line

Check out Beatbugs.com for updated information, things to color and other activities. For parents and teachers, you can help your little one build a terrarium and bring their own garden inside. You can download a free fun activity book filled with coloring pages and practice pages for writing.

Shoe box of memories

Andrea gazed out the window as the first snow fell, blanketing the ground with its grace.  It was Christmas Eve and any other year she would be jumping for joy at this wondrous sight.  Andrea and her Dad would try to build a snowman or sprinkle reindeer food with dashes of glitter scattered about so that Santa’s sleigh could find the food easily.

Those moments were only memories now.  Her father had passed away the day after Christmas one year ago.  As she cried herself to sleep many times in the past year, she tried to hold on to his embrace and the image of his gentle face.  Her loneliness had continued to grow rather than subside.

Especially now.

Andrea wanted to stop the arrival of Christmas Day unless it could bring her father back to life!  No other gift could be greater than his self-assuring presence and constant love for her.

Her mother tried to create the excitement of past holidays by continuing family traditions.  Beautifully wrapped packages sat under a balsam tree decorated with favorite ornaments and twinkling lights.  Homemade dressing was being prepared for a feast of all feasts.

Yet, none of these holiday trimmings seemed to fill the gap and make Andrea whole once more.

Fortunately, she had her shoebox.  It was neatly decorated with hearts of many colors and golden stars.  Beneath the cover, photographs, travel brochures, post cards including a trip to Niagara Falls, a broken wrist watch, a tie clip and other treasures symbolizing her father’s life filled the container as well as the barren spot in her heart.

Tonight, it was time, time for Andrea to feel safe, secure and loved.  So, she went to her dresser drawer and carefully pulled the box from it’s’ place, cradling it like a baby in her arms.  After many minutes, she spread the contents of the box on the floor to be touched, read and admired.

She felt close to him now.

But on the floor nestled in her collection was an advertising card that Andrea had not seen before.  It was a rectangle in blue and advertised the top automobile glass companies with their phone numbers and addresses on it. Maybe her Mom had found it somewhere and put it in her box for safekeeping.

The third company on the card was her father’s “Glass Sales and Service” and beside the name, his familiar phone number.  Andrea couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that she had dialed that number, anxious to share her accomplishments at school or simply to tell him “yes, it had been a good day.” On Saturdays, her Dad would take her to his shop and she would spin around in his office chair and he would always take her to lunch for a hamburger and chocolate shake.

After he passed away, her mother had sold the business and the new owners changed its name, requesting a new phone number.  Had that number which offered Andrea private words of concern with her father been disconnected forever?

Maybe it had been issued to another business or home for those to share similar conversations as Andrea had experienced.

Andrea was tired, tired of missing her father, tired of the queasiness in her stomach, tired of feeling so alone. With her shoebox, she decided to lie down just for a minute and climbed into her bed. She was asleep in an instant and the dream began.

A voice, deep within, had prompted Andrea to find out about her father’s old phone number.  Why, she didn’t know, but, still the whisper of the unknown urged her on.

Cautiously, she picked up the receiver and dialed the number…

There seemed to be a connection!  The number had not been discontinued after all!

After two rings, a voice responded.

“Good evening, Glass Sales and Service,” followed by a brief pause, “Hello, Andrea.”

The voice was distant and almost inaudible due to crackling on the line but there was no question whom the voice belonged to.

“Dad?” she stammered, her throat parched, her heart throbbing as she shut her eyes quickly, hoping to hear a response over the pounding in her chest.

“Yes, Sweetheart,” her father said calmly and deliberately.

Andrea could not believe what was happening or how and why.  All she knew is that her father was finally here.  Tears of joy began to flow freely down her face, “Dad, are you really alive?” she asked.  There was a pause that seemed endless.

“Andrea, I cannot come back to the life as you know it.  But…..”

“No! It wasn’t true!  Andrea had been dreaming, a long and dreadful dream this year.  He was really coming home soon and……..

“What you are hearing, Andrea is the voice of your heart, my spirit that will always be there.”     She was so confused and at a complete loss for words.  Though buried within her soul, Andrea knew he was right.  His funeral had been too vivid, too horribly real and that indistinguishable voice inside of her convinced her that death was final, final in the physical way.

He did not wait for her reaction because he knew it would be too difficult for her to understand.  So, he continued.

“Regardless of where I am today, death cannot tear us apart.  If you believe in the importance of your life and look inside your heart, you will always find me waiting.  Waiting to guide you through problems and loving you as you are and will be.  Don’t ever lose hope for what is hidden in your heart.  Just open it, Andrea, like you do with your shoebox of memories and you know what, if you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……………..”

Static drowned his words.

“Dad, I love you…….”  Her voice suddenly dropped dramatically, “Dad, are you there?”

Within seconds, she heard a click followed by a dial tone.  He was gone.

Instantly, Andrea dialed the number again.  It began to ring and suddenly she heard, “I am sorry, that number has been disconnected.”

She opened her eyes and her body was shaking with emotional exhaustion.  Shock trembled through her, but somehow, she felt a peace that she had not experienced for a long time. She did not have that feeling of nausea. She had heard stories about dreams being much more than someone’s imagination working overtime. Was that it or had she really received a message from her Dad that everything would be ok?

Peace had found a place in her heart that had been barren.  She truly believed her father’s words and she knew life could go on in her world as well as his.

She heard her Mom call so she made her way to the bathroom to wash her tear-stained face.  She glanced at her reflection in the mirror above the sink and smiled.  She not only saw her own features but the wonderful love of her father standing behind her.  And as her Mom called once again, she thought she heard other voices as well.

“If you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……..sing.

Creating new holiday memories

Is it true that more people pass away during the holiday season than any other time of year? According to researchers, studies have shown that there is an increase in mortality caused by natural death. After an analysis of millions of death certificates, there seems to be a 3-9 percent increase around the season that should be jolly.

Individuals are exposed to weather changes, stress and tend to be less cautious when it comes to dietary restrictions and alcohol consumption. Therefore, the next question raised; do many just mentally give up during the holidays? Is it because they may not have the financial means or the people in their lives that they want to celebrate with?

Regardless of how lucky I should be, I do shed tears on occasion due to the loss of many family and friends that are no longer with me while staring at my Christmas tree or watching a holiday tear-jerker on the tube every year.

I cry for my own childhood lost and too many packages that I could not count under my family tree. I cry for my own children when they were young who couldn’t wait to sprinkle oatmeal food sparkled with glitter outside so the reindeer could find their way to our home at night. I long for the seats at my dining room to be occupied next to the place cards of my mother, father and all the ones that were invited for the holiday feasts of the past but only appear as ghosts in my memory today. I cry for those holiday celebrations that offered smiles, laughter, friendship, hugs, kisses and the feeling of not having a care in the world!

My holidays have changed over the years and maybe yours have too. But with time I have learned to just be grateful for past holidays that have been wonderful and glad to have that memory.  I have learned to be grateful for my tree, lights and magical ornaments without the mountain of boxes from childhood or even my own children’s. toys.

I have learned to love those who are here today and create new memories for the future. I have learned to let my daughter cook and create her own place cards instead.

I am creating new traditions and activities; maybe a choice to give instead of getting such as volunteering musical skills at a church or retirement home, crafting a scrapbook or watercolor canvas that someone today will really appreciate and taking a co-worker that doesn’t expect an invitation to lunch or dinner.

Just Sunday, I attended the children’s pageant at church of those students who are in my first grade class. So many hugs I received in return for attending their performance was worth more than any gifts under my tree.

Though many of our loved ones have passed on and are sorely missed, I do not think they expect us to drown in misery because they are gone but want the love and gifts they gave us, especially during the holiday season, to be transformed into happiness rather than pain for others to experience and enjoy.

You would be surprised who needs that hug from you now!

The best holiday plays in Chicagoland

My first trip to see the play, A Christmas Carol, was in April… not the holidays.  Mid 1960’s it was hosted at Drury Lane Theater in Evergreen Park and I sat through a 2 1/2 hour show with a broken arm. I tripped on a dimly lit step during an afternoon matinee for my best friend’s birthday party.  Unfortunately, the details of the performance are vague since I was focused on not moving my arm to avoid massive pain. That night, I was hospitalized at South Chicago Hospital which was the way of doing things back then and operated on the next day since my arm was broken in three places.

Since, I have enjoyed numerous performances and movies of A Christmas Carol without interruption. Today, if tickets are still available the Christmas Carol, can be enjoyed in the Chicago land area. Though the Evergreen Park Theater, is no longer open, Drury Lane Theater still exists and is presenting A Christmas Carol between now and Dec 23 at the Oakbrook Terrace theater.

Established in 1925, the Goodman Theatre has been a part of Chicago’s loop for over 80 years and I can’t remember the countless shows I have seen there. However, I will never forget one of the best performances of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. You can also see A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theatre Chicago through December 31st.

In the late 1960’s, I also got to the see the Nutcracker Ballet though it was difficult for me to understand the story when I was about 7 or 8 because I kept waiting for words in between dances. Though confused, I still could not take my eyes away from the amazing costumes, dance and music.

It is a story written in 1816 by German author E. T. A. Hoffmann, in which young Marie Stahlbaum’s favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. The story begins on Christmas Eve.

I loved ballet and watching them stand on their toes, something I  could never get right.. I, too, took ballet early on as a young girl.

It is strange that I think about the Nutcracker this year since the Joffrey Ballet is performing this holiday masterpiece.  And I saw the Nutcracker again as an adult when the Joffrey was only New York and Los Angeles based. Now, the Joffrey, which trains to the highest standards, lives permanently in a new facility, Joffrey Tower, in Chicago.

It is also strange that I think of my childhood experience with the Nutcracker as I watch my first grade students learning the story in their music class. We have listened to the famous March, read the book, and watched a beautiful video with different interpretations, names, but always followed by the same exceptional music including  Waltz of the Flowers and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

Fifty years later, still, I am mesmerized by the video of creative color and song. My little ones cannot pull their eyes away from the beauty of the Nutcracker either.