The Sucker Tree

My grandfather’s whitewashed farmhouse was located in small town, central Illinois framed by an ever-changing horizon and guarded by cornstalks.  Each had grown tall with gangling arms, restive and ready to capture their trespassers, twisting their leafy fingers round and round, threatening to arrest me. I was only six years old then.

I quickly made my way inside the chipped picket fence, protected from the grasp of the tawny soldiers.

The screen door creaked and cracked like the bones of an elder, opening and shutting again as Granddad reached for me with outstretched arms of endearment.

Behind the thick panes of his spectacles, his narrow eyes glistened with delight.  His face flushed with excitement, the color of the early autumn foliage that vividly shaded his home that day.

“I have another surprise for you, little one,” he spoke in a whisper.

Of course, I was expecting this and returned his words with a huge grin.  Once again, Granddad had not let me down for my visits were always greeted with something truly wonderful, a phenomena for the entire world to see but, unfortunately, allowed for Granddad and my eyes only!

He slowly took a seat in his polished, Hitchcock rocker and I piled into his lap, anxious to listen.

“Out back, only a few feet away from the house, my child, something very special is happening,” he said.

“What is it, Granddad?”  I responded, eyes wide with childhood curiosity.

He paused for a moment to gather his thought, clearing his aged vocal cords as well.

“A tree is just starting to bloom!”

……….Granddad had topped himself with amazing stories this time!  I wondered if his mind had taken a wrong turn somewhere, the grownups called it senility, I think.  Anyway, I was always considered bright for my years and knew better to believe that trees did not prosper during this particular season!  Leaves transformed from green to brown, then withered and fell to the ground to be either raked away or covered with blankets of snow at the onset of winter weather.  It didn’t take experience in years to attain that knowledge so what was this man fabricating now?

I was extremely disappointed, to say the least.

“Granddad, trees don’t bloom in autumn!”  I said in defiance.

“This one does,” he answered confidently.

Granddad had never lied to me in the past.  Did he really know something that the rest of Illinois and I had not encountered.  It was certainly possible.  In fact anything was possible.

“What kind of tree is it?”  I asked, attempting to pacify Granddad, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“A sucker tree!”  he proudly announced.  “When all the other trees and shrubs shed their leafy dress, this tiny tree begins to thrive with lollipops of rainbow colors.  One by one, they pop out like magic with stems and all, dangling from the branches.  When each sucker is ripe and just the right size, they can be picked and eaten.”

As Granddad continued to go on and on, I was mesmerized by his delightful description.  This was too good…..just too good to be true!  However, once again, Granddad had me right where he wanted me.

“Are the suckers ripe now?”  I asked, nearly jumping out of his lap.

“Well, let’s find out,” he suggested as we climbed out of the rocker and quickly headed to the backyard.

He gestured for me to go first and my impatience caused me to slide down the back steps, my bottom sore and surely splintered right through my pants!

I didn’t care because, only a few inches from me, a miracle really was occurring right before my startling eyes.

A young tree, only a foot or two taller than myself, caught my undivided attention.  Its’ trunk looked like any other and it was naked of leaves but, lo and behold, lollipops, approximately four inches round, hung delicately on their stems from each branch.  There were five or six already in bloom and pink, blue, yellow, and green colors swirled in their centers.  Each childhood delicacy gently swayed to the tunes of the afternoon breeze.

“Can I pick one?”  I uttered in a small voice.

This was a sight that would be locked in my memory for all time.

“Why, of course,” he smiled.  “Two, if you like”

My mouth watered as I let my tongue whirl around on the colors, blending the pinks into the blues, creating my own masterpiece and savoring its’ flavor while the sucker shrunk in size, eventually disappearing into my belly.

I hugged Granddad tightly, thanking him for letting me share this fascinating September event.

The following year in early autumn, Granddad had passed to another land and my heart ached for his return that could never be.  I would miss him for many years to come.

After his funeral, I removed myself from the crowd and took a seat on those familiar back steps to gaze on nature’s evolution.  Each tree had changed color and their leaves began to drop to their demise, almost like what had happened to my Granddad.

I then focused on the sucker tree.  Its’ barren branches seemed to stretch wearily toward the sky as if asking God to return my Granddad.  Not one lollipop adorned its’ arms.  The tree was lost without him for only Granddad knew the secret ingredients that could provide the tree with eternal like.  The sucker tree had become a fabric of memory along with my brilliant Granddad sitting beside it.

30th Anniversary of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest® Live Finals

Registration Still Open For Historic Competition

Thousands of Students Compete to Pour a Bowl of Cereal in the Most Complicated and Comical Way!

New York, NY — Rube Goldberg, Inc. continues to celebrate laughter and invention through their annual RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary by having its Live Finals relocated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago April 20-22, 2018. Registration is now open and students of all ages across the country are encouraged to enter in this year’s contest, which will also premier an Apprentice Division for the first time, aimed at kids in elementary school.

“We’re excited and honored to be at the Museum of Science and Industry for this very special year in our history,” said Jennifer George, the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®’s Legacy Director and the grand-daughter of Rube Goldberg. “We’re both committed to creating a fun and engaging experience where kids not only learn a lot about S.T.E.M., they also learn to laugh at the same time.”

Started in 1988 as a college competition, the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST® uses the iconic invention cartoons of the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, Rube Goldberg as its inspiration. Since that time, thousands of students, teachers, hosts, inventors, museum personnel and Rube fanatics have participated. The competition is also a learning experience which falls in the category of S.T.E.M. / S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math– and Art) education. Rube Goldberg is often referred to as “the grandfather of S.T.E.M.”

Each year’s contest focuses on a defined task which every machine is designed to accomplish. For 2018, the simple task is “Pour a Bowl of Cereal” and the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®’s 2018 Task Sponsor is General Mills. Students from elementary to the university level are encouraged to make this simple task ridiculously complicated and will be judged on their teamwork, creativity and spirit of Rube Goldberg.  Approximately 40-50 teams will be competing in the Live Finals at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  The teams which compete at Finals have won regional competitions, where more than 250 teams compete.

“We’re very excited to host the Live Finals this year, as The Museum of Science and Industry, American’s foremost science museum since 1933, has always focused on hands-on, experiential learning. We’re looking forward to seeing the comical, creative and complicated Rube Goldberg Machines come to life in our community,” said Anne Rashford, The Museum of Science and Industry’s Director of Special Exhibitions and Business Partnerships.

Registration for the contest will remain open through March. There are four divisions to accommodate students at all school levels. Participants can go to to register and get more information.


Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist best known for his zany invention cartoons. Rube Goldberg is the only person ever to be listed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as an adjective. It’s estimated that he did a staggering 50,000 cartoons in his lifetime. Rube Goldberg, Inc. is dedicated to keeping laughter and invention alive through the legacy of its namesake. Annual competitions, image licensing, merchandising, and museum and entertainment opportunities continue to grow and enhance the brand. At the helm is Rube’s granddaughter, Jennifer George, whose best-selling book on her grandfather, The Art of Rube Goldberg, is now in its fourth printing.RGI is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to promoting STEM & STEAM education for students of all ages.

For the love of God

I took a day off from school/work last week. I did not feel well that morning and had not slept the night before. As the morning progressed, I felt better and then the guilt began. I took a day off of work…..for the love of God! But as the day continued, I found out that taking that day was how God decided to share.

It was a rainy day which are always my favorites for creativity and I finished an article on my new computer given to me by my partner where I can open one Internet tab after another without delay and enjoyed my research without re-starting the machine again and again.The light in my office was just right, cozy and warm, as I researched to my hearts content and wrote.

I was allowed the day to take breaks…. to stretch out on my bed or venture downstairs to my living room with all the beautiful things I love in furniture and design. Though I had lived in the home over 30 years, raised my children, I normally see the daylight shining on the remodeling work that needs to be done like replacing the carpet and the dinghy walls. Today, I saw the new furniture, artwork, dolls, plates and knick knacks in a whole new light and I knew why I chose this place to live; then and now.

Still feeling healthier as the day moved into the late afternoon, I went to Target, only a few blocks a way which is my usual stop for just about everything and anything. Today, it was cat litter…a must my Joe Bo cat can’t live without. The store was quiet since it was a weekday and not a holiday. Items in the store seemed fresh and new though I had been down the aisles thousands of times before. I slowly walked; watching my toddler son and daughter in memory point to their favorite toy which was a great Mommy field trip to the store. Then, I watched me alone today, and I enjoyed the trip just as much. Today!

After Target, I stopped at Hobby Lobby, almost in walking distance from my house. Going to Hobby Lobby was like going on vacation. I wanted to buy some blank canvas for my new art room where I am attempting to color and paint, another gift from my love who truly likes to bring out my creativity. Canvas’s are in the back of the store but I take my time.

And I realize that I am in one section where I am surrounded by love at Hobby Lobby. Every crafted wall design that includes, let love grow, P.S. I love you, every day I love you, hello love, love you lots, love you lots and it goes on. I slightly turn to gaze at the messages and I realize in a whisper that it is a special message to me. I am surrounded at school, in family circles, with friends and my partner by love. Most of all, God’s love.

Then I see my most favorite of them all…. Love never fails!

When we give and receive love, and find it most important of all things, life doesn’t fail!

Best of eating in Andersonville Chicago

Andersonville’s began in the 1850’s as a Swedish neighborhood and after the Chicago Fire, the entire commercial strip was dominated by Swedish businesses,  Today, Andersonville is comprised of unique, locally owned businesses of many cultures that add a strong sense of community to the neighborhood and has been known as another Mayberry, similar to the town in the Andy Griffith Show. Committed to encouraging unity in the neighborhood and hosting some of the best restaurants in the Chicago area, Andersonville prides itself in being known for its excellent service and prized cuisine.


On  north Clark Avenue, Anteprima offers a delectable and changing menu of wonderful Italian home style cooking.  Offering reasonable three course menus , Anteprima buys from local and organic producers whenever possible beginning every meal with rosemary salted bread sticks and ending with a dreamy chocolate hazel nut tart.  Enjoy beautifully presented pastas or break from the ordinary lunch with grilled octopus.  To compliment your dinner, high-quality Italian wines are available in carafes so you can have more than one glass.

m Henry

Looking for a great breakfast, brunch or lunch, m. henry offers an intercontinental breakfast served with a fresh baked muffin, scone or warm baguette and petite fruit salad served all day. However, known for their fried eggs sandwiches, m. Henry offers a wonderful organic coffee menu and a dandelion, shallot and leek omelet served with house potatoes. Some have also praised the quiche as being the best as well as perfect pancakes.

Big Jones

Inspired by the American South, Big Jones is known for its famous Southern heirloom cooking with Chef and Co Owner Paul Febribach who has been featured on Chicago radio with his recipes published in the Chicago Tribune, Sun-times and the Chicago Magazine just to name a few. Most recently Fehribach has been honored as a nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Big Jones gives a taste of New Orleans by celebrating with Mardi Gras classics such as buttery king cake and more.


Cozy bar and biestro, Vincent is another great place to dine on Balmoral Ave. Adam Grandt began his career at the award winning Carlos Restaurant hired as Executive Chef at Sage Grill in 2008. Now his dynamic style adds nothing but accolades for his innovative presentations at Vincent.  Mussels in saffron or any style is one of diners favorites including big burgers and orange creme sickle mousse for dessert.  Mixed drinks are excellent along with exceptional classic meals.

Antica Pizzeria

Charming and an inexpensive experience, Antic Pizzeria  offers delicious Neapolitan pizza and menu choices that include tender calamari and house made desserts that include tiramisu. Mario Rapisarda (Cocco Pazzo, Spiaggia) and Faris Faycurry (Dylan’s Tavern, Villa Nova) combined their 25 years of expertise and created the Andersonville neighborhood’s first ever wood burning pizza oven.  Antica delivers and helps families prepare special events or create a wine tasting.

Hopleaf Bar

Awarded Michelin’s Bib Gourdman for 2016, Hopleaf Bar can also be a haven for great food. With a Belgian-inspired kitchen, Hopleaf offers a great mussels and frites experiences as well as an extensive collection of beers.  The first Monday of every month features Belgian Fried Chicken served with a Kwak in its famous glass. The Chicago Traveler praises HopLeaf  for its grilled cheese that is filled with cashew butter, cheese and fig jam, pan-fried on sourdough bread.

Hamburger Mary’s

When visiting Andersonville, Hamburger Mary’s is a must with perfectly cooked burgers and a variety of toppings to select. The fried ice cream is a great conclusion to any meal at this bar and grille. Hamburger Mary’s received the Good Neighbor Award in 2013 for being the business that best exemplifies the spirit of community support and customer service. Hamburger Mary’s franchises began in San Francisco and their motto is you are what you eat only offering the best in healthy ingredients.


Butternut squash soup, cucumber mint salad and a gluten-free winter risotto are some of the delectable’s waiting for you at Andies Restaurant. A delicious Mediterranean dining experience, Chef Andie Tamras brings some of the most worthy recipes from Tunisia and Morocco. A favorite for over 30 years, Andies plants their own vegetable garden as well as herbs such as basil, thyme and cilantro. Andies gives back by contributing to community service organizations such as Care for Real and Sarah’s circle

Jin Ju

The heart of Andersonville cuisine also offers traditional Korean dishes in a romantic setting with dimly lit candlelight. Jin Ju offers barbeque pork spare ribs marinated in a spicy sweet red pepper sauce and a great seaweed soup with scallions in a mussel broth. Their Mandoo soup is wonderful with dumplings, scallions and egg in a clear broth . Jin Ju also offers private events and can customize the menu to suit your party’s needs.

Lady Gregory’s

Floor to ceiling windows bring a passionate beauty to Lady Gregory’s in Andersonville. Inspired by Irish Victorian author, Lady Augusta Gregory quoted as the greatest living Irishwoman, this Irish bar and restaurant  is acclaimed for its lobster mac and shepherd’s pie. Also know for a whiskey selection of 300 and 100 beer s. Lady Gregory’s also provides an entire separate gluten free menu as well as a kids menu.  You can also order online for a curbside pickup. A true Celtic experience and a distinctive place to visit on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Thoughts on being a survivor

Our ego’s don’t want to be ignored and occasionally let their presence be known by reminding us that it is someone’s else’s fault especially if that someone is family. It is because I grew up homeless. My mother made mistakes. My father abandoned me. My grandfather died by accident. The reason I inhale chocolate is because I never had more than macaroni and cheese to eat for dinner. I am the way I am because I was born that way and just can’t help it.

Regardless of the excuses, it is the choices we make that decides our present and future. But, once in awhile, I hear about the dysfunctional family again; that they made me do it. Many that are living prominent and basically happy lives will still blame family when they make their own mistakes.

It is a tragedy if our childhood was filled with abuse, death and desolation. As a result of our histories, sadness and confused decision-making does affect our life choices that can cause chaos. But if that happens, the true survivor turns around and gets help, they talk to counselors and mentors so that they can become confident in their decisions and stay away from the dangerous tapes of their dysfunctional heritage.

The true survivor learns to be fortunate rather than dwell on misfortune. The survivor feels that diversity is truly a journey toward success. One student I taught commented that she was always criticized for her grades in school; which was all A’s and an occasional B in math and that her mother told her she was not college material even after obtaining those excellent grades and receiving a 27 on her ACT. The student graduated with High Honors while obtaining her Bachelors and maintains the same average as she pursues her Masters. She did not think another thing about it!

Another student found herself homeless but somehow managed to create the energy and motivation to find a computer and maintain her A average. Did she feel deprived not having a secure and comfortable place to sleep and want to blame the world along with family that could have helped…yes , but she re-directed those thoughts quickly to a distant place in her mind and focused on how she could be successful today.

Yes, the survivor tends to be riddled with one assignment after another; an exhausting identity, to say the least, and sometimes the survivor takes on the problems of others along with their own. In fact, they’re expected to do just that because they are the survivor.

But that is when they get into trouble, because once again, no one is responsible for you but guess who? A successful survivor knows which assignments to accept.

One person told me that from his spiritual perspective and religious belief, we choose our parents and friends before we are born into this world. What were we thinking? However, if true, we, once again, made that choice; now for what purpose is what.. some of us are still trying to figure out.

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 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.

Five of the best Chicago land holiday light presentations

It was called the Christmas Tree House. That’s what my kids called it, anyway, back in the early 1990’s. And you had to wait…a mile long car line on Christmas Eve to see the house in Downers Grove, Il. Neighbors of the Gorsham family also decorated to excess so you were entertained while you moved pleasantly through the neighborhood…your children oohing and ahhing in the back seat.

The Gorsham house had a booth that held Santa and Mrs Claus on weekdays and the house was highlighted with a beautiful train village in the garage and several booths of animated scenes.The crew members would begin decorating in October and the Gorsham’s would end up with an electric bill of 3 to 4 thousand dollars. They finally retired and moved to a warmer climate selling their stock to a neighboring village.

Where are some of the best places in the Chicago land area to view decorations and lights today? The zoos are the first favorites to begin.

Lincoln Park Zoolights 
Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago
On the north side of Chicago, for over 20 years Lincoln Park Zoo has provided a beautiful light display of over 2 million lights. You can also find beautiful ice carvings throughout the zoo grounds and other holiday related activities such as ice skating where you can bring your own skates or rent a pair.

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo 8400 31st St. Brookfield, Il 60513
Just south of Chicago in Brookfield at the zoo, you can see over 30 years of celebration for the holiday season. Visitors can be dazzled by over a million lights and can enjoy caroling with the animals and special treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Several corporations have set up trees set to music and one that you can actually interact.

Aurora’s Festival of Light’s
Phillips Park, 1000 Ray Moses Drive. Aurora, IL 60505
Free admission to the festival in Aurora just southwest of Chicago which is considered one of the largest displays. You can drive through a dazzling mile of lights that are animated and a Christmas Tree that is 20 feet tall and actually sings.

Larsens in Elburn

When he was a senior in high school he was awarded the lawn maintenance contract for the City of St. Charles; a huge contract and from there he went into landscaping and design work.

In 2000, Brian Larsen incorporated County Wide Landscaping, Inc. and pretty much got out of maintenance and concentrated on design work. He went to CAD architectural school and focused on designing outdoor living spaces. Since he has won awards for his work and has designed his own Christmas house since 2006. People have traveled from all over the world to see this show light show during the holidays. Brian uses a little over one million lights and because of how the display is set up, over 20,000 extension cords.

According to the Larsens, inside the house you can’t even tell what is going on outside unless you look out the window. The music is also transmitted to play on the visitor’s car stereo via a FM transmitter so you don’t hear the music.

Mooseheart Holiday Lights

Holiday Lights at Mooseheart in Batavia is one of  the largest Chicagoland’s light displays! The lighted route is approximately 1.8 miles and has more than 80 lighted displays to view.

New this year is a half-mile extension of the route to include Mooseheart’s farm area for the first time. A live Nativity scene will highlight this new portion of the show on Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 14 and Dec. 21-24.

Even though Santa is extremely busy this time of year, he couldn’t turn down an opportunity to visit Mooseheart! For six nights this year – Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15-17 – the admission price includes not only the Holiday Lights show, but also a chance to see Santa Claus at the Mooseheart fieldhouse.

Santa will sit for free photos beginning at 5:30pm. In addition to Santa Claus, children can enjoy a crafts, holiday music, hot chocolate, and Christmas cookies at the fieldhouse.

Decades of holiday decorations

Growing up on the south side of Chicago in the early 1960’s, for my Dad, it was the Christmas Tree. The Christmas tree that was real. Not the fake trees that were first metal, silver and generally had coordinated ball ornaments that were all the same.  The metal tree also rotated in a stand to music with floor lights. My father had to have an 8ft real tree with over 600 colored bulb lights where two lights of the same color were never together, bubble lights which were effectively scattered as well as intricate ornaments  placed with care on each branch to compliment the space. Tinsel was hung one string at a time. And that was it…sometimes he would put colored lights to frame his creation around the front window facing the street.  The tree took hours, sometimes days to complete but it was his masterpiece and still remembered by many today.

After Dad passed away , I tried to carry on the tradition in the 1970’s for my Mother. She switched to a fake, green tree with the new Italian lights and garland while living in Dolton.

And then during the 1980’s and 1990’s, Christmas became more involved with my own little ones and the art of decorating traveled outdoors. I also worked for Christmas Around the World part-time and still have the manger scene today. Now, it wasn’t about just the Christmas tree, though we did have a perfect cathedral ceiling foyer to show off our large green, fake tree. It was about the entire house even changing out the art work to celebrate the holiday. It was about stringing lights to frame the garage and wrapping the garage with ribbon.

And the new millennium came and it was still about Christmas trees, though now we had switched to white lights and lace lights trimmed the porch and frame.  The fake tree finally fell apart and still in the same house with the cathedral ceiling all these years, we are back to a real tree from Home Depot and unfortunately, not quite as large. Though the indoor decorations have remained, the outdoor lights have broken, wreaths have withered, faded, a wooden replica of Rudolph has lost its leg and Santa flying his sleigh with his plastic reindeer have seen much better days.

As for this year specifically, I have had help, we have scaled back as far as outdoor decorations though the weather in Chicago has been unseasonably warm.  A deck decorated in lights from last year still works and flower pots from summer are left in their spots filled now with fake poinsettia leaves and maybe other items from the dollar store.  An easy fix.

It is a little sad for me as I leave for work everyday and think …..hmmm….maybe today when I come home, I will add a few more decorations outside. Though I haven’t yet.

But when I do leave in the morning, it is strange that the sign of hope by my driveway seems to be especially illuminated with light from the sun, sky or the spirit world. Every morning it gives off an unusual brilliance….a special message.

Many friends and family have passed away through the decades, and maybe this is there way of telling me that it doesn’t matter what kind of costly decorations we have to celebrate the holiday season, as long as we share the sign of hope with others, there is nothing else that is more vibrant….more important! There is always hope if we truly believe.

Favorite holiday children’s books through the decades

For me in elementary school in the 1960’s, it was Brenda Brave helps Grandmother, a beautifully illustrated story I bought at one of my first book fairs. It still has the price tag, $1.00 and the code for how book fairs demonstrated their books. The story was about a little girl named Brenda Brave who lived with her Grandmother in a small cottage. Grandmother raised Brenda when she was a baby. Grandmother makes candy to sell in town but one day Grandmother falls and hurts her leg. Brenda takes over the cleaning, cooking and Christmas even selling candy. And for Christmas, Brenda gets the beautiful porcelain doll that she always wanted from Grandmother.

For many of us then, it was the most elaborate story of  The Night Before Christmas  that we had in our holiday collection as well as Frosty the Snowman that possibly had a record and A Charlie Brown Christmas. We may have received our books as gifts or a traditional purchase at the downtown Marshall Fields book floor. Krochs and Brentanos may have been another choice.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was another favorite as well as Rudolph.  For many of my Jewish friends, to celebrate Hanukkah, I remember learning the Dreidel Song and game more so that reading Jewish stories. The Littlest Angel and The Christmas Story came in many colors and styles that shred the birth of Jesus.

As the years passed especially in the 1980’s, it was more artful creations of The Night before Christmas  as well as Madelines Christmas and The Polar Express that came in a box with a jingle bell.  Different versions of the Christmas Carol were published to compliment many levels of reading as well as celebrating Kwanzaa.

In 2015, there was a parakeet named Dreidel that taught the story of Hanukkah and collections of books that includes how to catch Santa and how to catch an elf.  Santa arrives in Illinois on Christmas Eve is always fun to read to see if your home is on his list this year.

Today,  The Night before Christmas is still the ultimate favorite with awesome illustrations to read the night before Christmas and depending on religion, The Christmas Story from Amazon or maybe Target or Walmart’s book section. Versions of the classic, A Christmas Carol ,is required reading in many schools followed by a field trip to see the play. Polar Express is complimented by the movie with Tom Hanks and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a must read and much watched movie with Jim Carey. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace is a fully illustrated children’s book that is mainly poetry. The story of a treasure thought to be lost in a batch of tamales is also a great Christmas Eve read called Too Many Tamales.