The official user's manual for sunshine

411: Up in the Air

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Photo: Courtesy of the Mayor’s Office of Special Events

“If you can get on a boat, you’re going to see a really terrific [view]. You can see the planes against the background of the city, ” recommends Gerry Souter, co-author of “The Chicago Air and Water Show: A History of Wings Above the Waves.” He says “it gives them a scale and also makes them a heck of a lot faster.” The best way to get on a boat, Gerry says, is to have a friend with a boat, but if you can’t obtain a boat or a friend by this weekend, he recommends North Avenue Beach. Janet Souter, co-author of the book and Gerry’s wife, attended her first Chicago Air and Water Show with Gerry in the sixties, back when it was held at Lake Shore Park at the end of Chicago Avenue. She met Gerry at the Art Institute, which they graduated from in 1952. They never guessed they would be writing about the show they saw in the sixties, along with ones before and after, but when The History Press asked if they would like to, they jumped on board. Read the rest of this entry »

Men in White: The venerable sport of lawn bowling carries on, hidden in plain sight on the lakefront

Parks & the Great Outdoors, User's Guide to Summer 2 Comments »

Bill Ibe, Sam, JoeBy Ilana Kowarski

Hidden near the parking lot of the Museum of Science and Industry, people meet in a green near a little brick building. Seen from afar, their rituals seem somewhat strange. They dress in all white, use odd hand gestures, and throw balls on their lawn. I have decided to meet these people. A Scotsman dressed in white shakes my hand, and smiles, “I’ve got something for you.” He introduces himself as John Clark, reaches into his bag and takes out a tiny ball, which he twirls between his fingers. Clark grins and exclaims in brogue, “These are the best bowling balls out there. There’s no excuse for not playing well when you have these.” I nod. I take the ball and throw it across the grass. The ball bounces and goes only a few feet. “Try again,” he tells me. I throw the ball harder, and it goes further, but in the wrong direction. “It’s not an easy game,” Clark shrugs.

Like many Scots, Clark loves land bowling, and considers the sport to be an important part of his heritage. Clark has been playing the game for years, both in Scotland and here in Chicago, at the Lakeside Lawn Bowling Club. Read the rest of this entry »

Mellow Michigan Meanderings: To Harbor Country and back by train, boat, bus and bicycle

Bicycling, Memoirs & Miscellany, Parks & the Great Outdoors, Road Trips, User's Guide to Summer 1 Comment »

michigan1By John Greenfield

On a hot August morning, I load my bicycle with camping gear and catch Metra up to Kenosha, Wisconsin. As usual I’ve stayed up late packing and haven’t slept much, so I snooze during most of the hour-and-a-half train ride.

Taking a combo of Route 32 and bike paths I ride thirty-five miles to a dock on the south side of Milwaukee for the high-speed ferry to Muskegon, Michigan. The main function of the ferry is a shortcut for drivers who want to avoid Chicago congestion, and the lower deck of the boat is packed with cars, RVs and motorcycles—mine’s the only pedal bike. Read the rest of this entry »

You Will Scream: Time for DIY ice cream

Food & Drink, Ice Cream, User's Guide to Summer 1 Comment »

haba-ice-creamIf there was ever a summer for DIY ice cream, this is it. With a new generation of cheap, efficient ice-cream makers readily available during a time of serious scrutiny in personal finance, it turns out that a $40 ice-cream machine pays for itself shockingly quickly. It’s also incredibly easy; most machines on the market simply consist of a bowl you freeze before adding ingredients and mixing, no ice or salt required.

Then it’s just a matter of getting the proportions right. Your simplest ice-cream recipe has, by volume, a ratio of about one-part milk to two-parts cream, with a little less than one-part granulated sugar. The basic ice cream recipe I use for my one-quart ice-cream maker is one cup whole milk, two cups cream (you can substitute light cream/half and half), and three-fourths cup granulated sugar, with a splash of good vanilla extract. In all cases you want to heat the dairy and the sugar until the sugar dissolves before pouring the cooled mixture into your ice cream maker.

My most successful variations to date have been, somewhat surprisingly, the simplest: cinnamon ice cream (add about 2 tablespoons of cinnamon, which is far more than you’ll think you need, to the basic recipe); and avocado ice cream (add one diced-and-then-crushed avocado to the mix when the ice cream is almost totally frozen). In fact, my friend Colleen and I have been talking about making an ice-cream burrito from red bean, avocado, tomato and sweet corn ice-cream wrapped in a sugared tortilla. I think we’re both afraid of trying it out for fear that life afterwards would be all downhill. Read the rest of this entry »

Hit the Deck: The back porch could use some Emily Posts as well

Food & Drink, Memoirs & Miscellany, Outdoor Concerts, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

Summer in the suburbs was sweet. On a half acre sheltered by towering oaks and dense shrubs we could perform whatever outrages we wanted and never see a neighbor without a formal invitation. Our daughter would sunbathe topless on the veranda roof with impunity, our errant son would hold drug-infested raves in the far back that the police pretended not to notice, and our artsy friends would commit abominations all over the lawns and porches free from public scrutiny.

When we moved to the city summer changed. Now we have a deck instead of gardens and terraces—a large deck, granted, but encroached on every side by other decks and porches and balconies, leaving us exposed and vulnerable. On one flank barely twenty feet away a sexy twentysomething sunbathes topless while her aging potbellied boyfriend wears an obscenely skimpy Speedo. On another side consultants from Chelsea Clinton’s firm host multinational MBAs with little in common but their True Religion jeans who chat with us across the void rather than face each other.

Deck etiquette challenges us daily. Do you greet your neighbors when they are relaxing five feet away, or respect their privacy and ignore them? Can you sit out in your pajama bottoms to read the morning paper? Is the bottom of a two-piece bikini adequate cover-up for women of a certain age? Do we introduce our guests, and do we need to muzzle our more outlandish ones? Do neighbors’ wind chimes assaulting our ear drums constitute a justifiable condo association grievance? Can I shoot my neighbors’ garrulous father-in-law, Cheney-style, when he peppers us with reminiscences of his life as a Houston orthodontist? Just because our deck offers the best views, does that mean the neighborhood kids are entitled to invade for every fireworks display and air show?

It’s trying for everyone. A fast-track young exec and his gorgeous girlfriend have to share an atrium patio with a family that includes two ADD boys under eight. A techie abandons his patio to his pugs, leaving angry neighbors retching. A misplaced social conservative across the alley emails me that we are all bound for hell.

I wish I could offer solutions, but there’s no Emily Post for decks. Navigating deck etiquette, like much else about summer in Chicago, seems just another trade-off for the excitement of living here: what you like most about it is also what you like least about it. (Burt Michaels)

The Life Aquatic: Touring the lakefront in a Speedo

Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

By David Witter

No chlorine. No walls. No ladders. There is nothing like treading water over the rolling waves of Lake Michigan and looking up at Navy Pier, Lake Shore Drive, or the Chicago skyline while you do it. Take a mask or goggles with you and on a sunny day you can see schools of minnows, shiny green perch, skittering crawfish and the occasional big white carp hanging out on, under and between the rocks on the lake bottom. Or dive into the murky black water after nightfall, then open your eyes underwater to complete darkness.

Beach closings, a falling lake level, more aggressive lifeguards and reconstruction of shoreline walls make swimming in Lake Michigan more of a chore, but there are still great places to experience the urban wonder of actually swimming in the lake.
For good swimmers, (I was a lifeguard for eight years) the best way to experience Lake Michigan is swimming off Chicago’s numerous rocks and ledges. In our recent past, any area that was not a sand beach, from Grand Avenue to Rogers Park, was littered with jagged, broken and deteriorating cement walls. Many a summer’s day I have climbed, hung and contorted my body against crashing waves to dive off of a jagged rock into the lake. Entering is the easy part, as getting out usually requires crawling up a cement block covered with slick seaweed or finding a handhold of stone or rusted rebar. There are generally no lifeguards in these areas, and the people along the secluded shoreline are often too busy making out, drinking, smoking reefer or staring at the occasional topless or thong-wearing bather to help you, so don’t try this alone. But if you are young, adventurous and a good swimmer, there are still a few places left where you and a friend can dive in and swim for as long as you want in almost any direction. Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Fun in the Summertime: Doin’ the Nasty Outside

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Hot, sweaty nights. Breezes that offer no relief. The silken moisture of feverish, sweat-slicked flesh. All of these meld to make Chicago the perfect place for outdoor sexual activities…especially when that blink-of-an-eye period we so love called summer comes and goes like an insensitive one-night stand. Lakefront nooks and crannies, woodsy parks, abandoned buildings, alleys, beneath the el and under Wacker Drive are all locales that can be pursued with abandon, especially when the chill of fall, winter, and spring aren’t breathing down our necks. And speaking of that chill, it’s probably why Chicago citizens are so feverish to connect when summer arrives: they’ve been storing up all that pent-up wanton lust during cold, frigid months and by the time the heat of summer rolls around, it’s simply aching for release. Read the rest of this entry »

Blowing in the Wind: Michael Workman goes and flies a kite

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A few years back, I tried flying a dual-line stunt kite at the Eiffel Tower. It was a violently hot day and the only wind was an occasional dry wheeze. The standard launch technique of backing the kite off the ground by yanking the grips doesn’t work in such conditions. At best, it stays aloft a few seconds before crashing to earth. There’s simply not enough wind.

While the Eiffel Tower may have been just for the birds, summer in the Windy City attracts kite fliers from all over the country. Chicago’s a natural for the pastime. But there are some unique challenges to kiting in the city: power lines are everywhere, all the parks are lined with trees, there are very few wide open spaces. FAA rules don’t permit flying above 400 feet and it’s rainy enough to deter fliers who know that: even though they’re flying with a cloth line, it’s still capable of conducting electricity when damp. Nonetheless, throughout mid-summer, the sky above the city’s lakeshore gets dotted with everything from traditional diamond kites, four-line “quad” sport kites, parafoils and seven-foot Japanese Rokkakus, or “roks,” octagonal kites with richly illustrated sailcloth front panels. Occasionally an inflatable lizard or an octopus kite shows up floating across the ether in Astrobright orange, as if it just crawled up out of Lake Michigan and took to the skies, trailing tentacles of wind-whipped Mylar. Read the rest of this entry »

Spoil the Rod: Reeling in the city’s best offerings for fishermen

Fishing, Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

By Ellen Fox

You don’t have to leave town anymore to spend a day waterside with the rod and reel. Yes, you can go fishing right here in Chicago—on the Lake as well as on the much-maligned Chicago River—and this summer the folks at the Chicago Park District are seeing to it that you’re encouraged to catch some.

“Clean-up efforts have revitalized the water and revitalized the fish, ” says Park District special project manager Bob Long (“the fishing guy”), and over the last few years, word of better fishing has really gotten around, says Henry Palmisano of Brideport’s stalwart Henry’s Sports & Bait Shop. Should you need any more proof of the renaissance, the prestigious Bassmaster Classic will be held along the Lakeshore—its first time in Chicago ever—this July. Read the rest of this entry »

Urban Jungles: Sampling Chicago’s natural and manmade wonders by the dozen

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By Shelly Ridenour

The hunter, weary from hacking through the road-rage safari that is Lake Shore Drive, scans the familiar terrain of the concrete jungle. Towering above and blocking out all traces of sunlight  are not trees but the massive monoliths he has come to know as “skyscrapers.” The natives scurry along, careful never to make eye contact lest they are accosted–not for their scalps, but for spare change. It is a sensory overload: the sound of honking cabs, the smell of bus exhaust, the occasional sight of a disarmingly domesticated pigeon. From tiny speakers hanging above the store windows of Marshall Field’s, the call of the wild blares forth; today it’s Toni Braxton, mooning over a broken heart. Donning his bravest gameface, our modern Hemingway takes a deep breath and reinforces his resolve. Today’s holy grail: to bag a restaurant wait time of less than thirty minutes.

Just another day in the Chicago “wilderness.”

The term may seem about as relevant as “jumbo shrimp,” but there actually is such a thing—at least according to the Chicago Wilderness consortium. Recently, the granola league came up with what it calls the Twelve Natural Wonders of the Chicago Wilderness. No, we’re not talking Sears, Hancock, Monadnock, et al; this is a serious collection of classic Midwest landscape–prairies, savannas and woodlands. Since we love dirt and plants as much as the next person, we couldn’t resist the temptation to check out this list. We even came up with some wonders of our own.

So, whether you’re itching to get back to nature or whether the very thought of purple loosestrife makes you itch; whether you’d rather hike a trail or a sidewalk; whether you’re into the song of the dunes or some honest-to-God Chicago blues, we’ve got the perfect summer day escapes—a combination of Chicago’s twelve natural wonders and their dozen man-made, citified parallels. Read the rest of this entry »