Friday, November 4, 2011

Pennsylvania Getaway - Hershey, Gettysburg, Flight 93 Memorial/Shanksville

The Mountains in Western Pennsylvania

What an amazing country?  We have been blessed with a wide variety of landscapes, climates and cultures.  There is so much to do in the United States it would take a literal lifetime to see everything the nation has to offer.  I enjoy traveling internationally, but the last couple of years I have spent my time on the road visiting domestic locations and it has been enjoyable on every level.  As an adult, we are limited with learning experiences; and travel is one of the few ways we can continue to learn and be educated. 

I recently returned from a wonderful short-haul jaunt to the stunningly beautiful state of Pennsylvania.  Driving through the mountains is a glorious experience.  Witnessing the rolling hills and the millions of trees is exhilarating and inspiring.  The vast terrain of western Pennsylvania is stunning at any time of year.  My only prior visit to Pennsylvania was to see the many historical landmarks in Philadelphia, but Pennsylvania has so much to offer even beyond our American Revolutionary heritage (which would be enough).  

Heading eastbound we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial outside of Shanksville.  The Memorial area is now part of the National Park Service and it is overwhelming in its scope of sadness. There are some impressive monuments to each of the passengers and there is an excellent timeline of the flight's activity from takeoff to its crash.  To call some of the men on this flight heroic is beyond an understatement.  Almost everything that could be said about the events of September 11, 2001 has been said, so the memorial in the field is worth a visit.  Most rational people will shed a tear when confronted with the reality of the madness that took place in that former stripped down coal mining area.  The irony is, of course, that it is in a tranquil and peaceful open space surrounded by hundreds of God's gorgeous trees. 

Hershey Company Factory  
On to Hershey, Pennsylvania.  This has been on the bucket list for many years.  I love chocolate and the Hershey bar with almonds ranks way up there in the world of my food choices (health reasons never being considered).  Milton Hershey was one of the most magnificent men of the 20th century.  He may very well be one of our country's most underrated human beings.  He had a dream of assisting underprivileged children.  When he died in 1945 he left a 60 million dollar trust fund. Today, it is valued at 6 billion dollars.  Children from all over the country come to Hershey for their education.  So, every time you purchase a Hershey, Reese's Cup, Twizzler, Kit Kat, Jolly Rancher or one of the company's other candy creations know that the money from that purchase will benefit children that need a leg up.  Smart and good kids get helped!  Eat more chocolate from the Hershey Company.

Hershey's Chocolate World is quite fun, but ultimately, it is mostly a store.  Want a Reese's Cup t-shirt (I did)? Well, it's here.  Desire some ice cream bowls featuring the Hershey Bar with Almonds? It's here. Want a Twizzler pillow?  It's here.  There is a simulated ride taking you through a fake factory.  The Hershey company used to offer tours of their real factory, but they stopped for safety reasons.  I don't blame them.  The fake tour is just fine.

The real Hershey factory is right down the street.  Thousands are employed at this iconic corporation and by all accounts, Hershey is a superb employer. The streets around the factory are lined with Hershey Kiss street lamps. The street names should be easy to guess - Chocolate Avenue, Cocoa Drive.  I love this place! I must say though that I expected even more.  As a Marketer, I have to admit, they should do more in this town.  Add more chocolate themed attractions.  By the way, there is a theme park, but it's not that big and it is kid-centric (of course).  

The Hershey Hotel is a stunning old property that is clean and well worth its price tag.  You get free candy bars upon check-in and the service on all fronts is outstanding.  It's a lovely property with a fantastic hiking trail! On the hotel property is the famed Hershey Gardens.  I spent three hours just walking around the magnificent gardens.  Dozens of Rose varieties, including the Dick Clark Rose.  Who knew? I stopped and smelled almost everyone of them. Glorious! The kids garden, the tributes, the paths, the trees.  It's all spectacular!

The Hotel Hershey

We drove 20 minutes to visit the National Civil War museum in Harrisburg.  It is a part of the Smithsonian, so that alone will let you know that this is an all encompassing experience.  It was a rainy day and we spent hours in the museum.  The items included run the gamut from weapons to clothing to various papers and assorted other historical documents.  There are great photographs and some contemporary historical documentary style videos. It's a beautifully designed venue and I'm not quite sure why it ended up such a distance from Gettysburg, but it is where it is. Based on the location it should have been placed closer to the Gettysburg site.     

National Civil War Museum

Working back westward through Pennsylvania was the stop at Gettysburg.  If you are a Civil War buff you could literally spend a couple of weeks here.  There are hundreds of monuments representing individuals, states and various groups from the era.  The extensive battlefield location is mind altering and you can transport yourself back to the three days the infamous battle took place.  The on-site facility has a museum and it is in possession of the artistic Gettysburg Cyclorama. The Cyclorama is worth a trip to the area.  Doing a self tour is pointless unless you are an expert.  Various options are available to the visitor, but we opted to hire a Gettysburg authority.  It was only a $65.00 cost for our car and our historian was a man named John Krepps.  Krepps knew it all.  We had an outstanding two and a half hour tour and he made wise selections for the tour. We never could have accomplished what we did without his guidance and knowledge.  Go to for information.

We learned a great deal.  I thought I knew quite a bit about the Civil War, but it was an overwhelming learning experience.  Another highlight was the town of Gettysburg which includes the home of Jenny Wade. Wade was the only civilian killed during the Gettysburg campaign. Imagine, during all of this mayhem only one civilian was killed?   

Jenny Wade House

Even if you are not a Civil War buff, you will appreciate this experience.  Any critical thinker will find a deep appreciation for this historic site in American history.

When you look out over the fields of Gettysburg you can almost hear the muskets firing. Recently, they completed a ten year restoration project on this significant Civil War battlefield.  They have attempted to make it look as much as it did during the battle in 1863 as possible. They do an annual re-enactment, so check into that if you are a Civl War hound.  Also, 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle, so there will be much more to see, do and hear.    

The overall trip was exceptional on all levels.  On the surface one would not necessarily think Hershey and Gettysburg as a twofer, but both locations were on the life's list of things to do. 

Virginia Monument

Departing out of the Chicagoland area --- you will need a full six days, but you could push it and do it in four, but that won't be an easy trek.

Fabulous journey.  Don't miss Gettysburg and try not to miss Hershey. 

Copyright Chicago and Then Some 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Weekend/Weekday Getaway - Wisconsin Dells - Things To Do in the Wisconsin Dells

I've spent a lifetime travelling all around the United States and the world, but lately I'm totally in the groove of doing simple drive trips.  It works with my schedule and my new budget. I'm enjoying these trips, since I'm seeing more of the corner of my current world.

I hadn't been to the Wisconsin Dells since my childhood.  The last time I was there I was with my dad, my mom and my kid brother.  We saw Tommy Bartlett's Water Show, rode on an Original Duck and bought a few trinkets in the Parson's Indian Trading Store.  I vividly remember purchasing a rabbit's foot and a brown coin purse (with a Wisconsin Dells logo on it) at the store.  That was a long time ago.

Last week, my mom and I drove up to the Dells.  My father would have loved the journey, but he passed on six years ago, so it was an in memoriam trip.  My kid brother is now pushing a certain milestone age, he's married and I can't picture him taking a trip with his mom and his sister.  My senior mom and I had a terrific time; and I'm hoping to take another ride up to the Dells within the next couple of years; and as my mother is fond of saying - God willing.

It's a virtual hop, skip and a jump out of Chicago.  It took us 3 hours and 40 minutes to go northwest into the dairy state and outside of a couple of bad meals, we enjoyed every second of our vacation. It was a lovely drive. The skies were blue with some light billowy clouds all the way from Chicago to the Dells. 

While in the Dells one has lots of options.  Since we had no kids or teens travelling with us we didn't want to escape into the Waterpark Capital of the World.  Quite frankly, there are too many waterparks.  Kids and their parents should attempt to enjoy the nature and history of the area as opposed to spending every second at a waterpark.  Having said that, there are waterparks and roller coasters every which way you turn.  Check out the gigantic Trojan horse statue.   

The Tanger Outlet mall is nothing more than an acceptable outlet. It's nothing out of the ordinary, but I must admit if I see an outlet I stop in. The Ralph Lauren Polo shop is huge, so this is one of the highlights of this outlet.

Indian Trading Post Store and Museum 

The Indian Trading Post is fantastic.  It was there when I was a kid and it is still in operation.  They have a wide assortment of Native American items.  I bought some stunning Native American Christmas cards and two refrigerator magnets.  One of the magnets was made in China and the other one was made in Canada. Clearly, Americans can't make a refrigerator magnet. The Post is fabulous and this is a must during your stay in the Wisconsin Dells.  It's a store and a mini-Museum. Lots of photo ops are on the outside, including several totem polls.

The Original Duck ride was terrific.  We did this forty years ago and I didn't remember too many specifics, but this one hour ride over land and water was quite fun.  It's a bit pricey, so please note that this isn't an inexpensive tourist destination.  However, it is a a nice expedition through the local forestry and waterways of the Dells.  

Tommy Bartlett's Water Show

Tommy Bartlett's Water Show was high camp and kitsch at its best.  This show has been around for sixty years and quite frankly outside of the staffing line-ups not a whole lot has changed, but it is enjoyable, but again it is campy.  Hokey jokes, a goofy clown and pretty girls in bathing suits.

The Dells Boat Tours offer superb rides through the Upper Dells and another trip through the Lower Dells. I went on the Upper Dells tour and the scenic beauty is on full display. We received a significant discount by staying at the Great Wolf Lodge. This lodge is quite interesting! If you don't have a child in your party you may want to stay elsewhere since this is quite kid-centric, but the kid at heart will enjoy the stay too. It's a gigantic property right off of the Interstate and the waterpark is a great way to spend an afternoon. It's also located directly across from the Outlet Mall.   

If you were a kid when Sinclair stations were all over the Midwest then you will recall the green brachiosaurus/brontosaurus.  I did a photo op with the big green Sinclair dinosaur for old times. Fun and a moment of sentimentality. There are two Sinclair stations in town. There is a smaller dinosaur statue for a full view photo and a giant one right by the Great Wolf Lodge.

The River's Edge Resort restaurant provides a good meal at an excellent price. I indulged in grilled salmon, a baked potato, Texas toast and a large sum of baby carrots for $14.95. The restaurant has a nice ambiance, including several gorgeous aquariums.  This meal is a true value and it is also one of the better meals you will get in the Dells.       

There is a tremendous amount of natural beauty in the area, including three state parks, so hiking, backpacking and cycling are a must for the adventure lover.  Wisconsin is just a rocking beautiful state!   

The highlight of the Wisconsin Dells trip was the 1/2 hour horse drawn carriage through the Lost Canyon. I loved this place and so did everyone else I encountered on our journey.  The canyon is 500 million years old. The Winnebago Indians used to meet here for their tribal gatherings.  This canyon is stunning.  Please don't take history and nature for granted.  The great breeds of workhorses (Percheron, Shire, Clydesdale and Belgian) go two by two down the narrow canyon and the guides are joyful in their descriptive tales of the historic canyon. Support small business, but more importantly, enjoy the pleasures of God's beautiful planet and appreciate the history of the area.  Let's try to get this canyon protected status by the state of Wisconsin. 

The beautiful, 500 million year old Lost Canyon

     Go to the Wisconsin Dells.  Enjoy your journey. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Summer in the City and Assorted Other Pleasures

Ron Smolen Orchestra

I recently started putting together a list of summer songs for an event I'm planning and I loaded in one of the great songs from the 1960's, "Summer in the City" by the Lovin' Spoonful.  What a dumb name for a group?!  Seriously, think about?  The Lovin' Spoonful?  Great song though and it made me think how alive we all become with 70 degree plus temperatures, flowers in bloom, trees that are spread to their full green and grills that wrap themselves around our neighborhoods with the most delightful of scents.

One of the other great joys of summer?  Our various communities come alive with all types of events, festivals, concerts and whatever else they can pack into the hazy, lazy days of summer.

Last night I took my senior mom to the Palos Park Village Green to hear the Ron Smolen Orchestra.  That's right!  A ten man orchestra that plays big band, 1940's, World War II music.  I love music, so I gravitate toward anything that is good and if you know anything about music you have to love the big bands from the Depression/WWII era. The Knights of Columbus assembled this evening filled with commercials, public service announcements, news updates and music from another time and in many ways from another place.  They called their night, "Big Band Ballroom Radio Broadcast."  I was one of the younger members of the audience, but much to my delight there were people younger than me in the group assembled on a chilly summer night in the Midwest.

The Ron Smolen Orchestra features a ten man band of guys ranging in age from 70something (he wouldn't exactly say how old he was, but he admits to being born in the 1930's) to a youngster who comes in at the age of 41.  They were terrific.  They played the hits of Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby (not a band, but hey, he was Bing), Wayne King, Lawrence Welk, Frankie Yankovic and a couple from Glenn Miller.  How on earth can you not love "String of Pearls" and "In the Mood?"

Enjoy your summers, but take advantage of all of the events that pop up across the country during these lovely three months smack dab in the middle of our calendar.  Life is brief and fragile, so enjoy your lives, families, friends and your communities.  There's a whole lot going on in our realities and sometimes you experience something that is downright memorable.  My mom loves this music and I will always remember her smile upon hearing this local orchestra playing the opening chords to Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls."

I love you mom!            

Friday, June 3, 2011

Weekend Getaway - Memphis, Tennessee - Things To Do in Memphis

Looking for a weekend getaway? A long weekend getaway.  Look to Memphis, Tennessee.  From Chicago it takes eight to eight and a half hours. That's it. It is an easy and quick trip. You take the 57 South to the 55 South and head on into the great state of Tennessee.  You will go through Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and yet it is no more than an average workday to get to and from one of the most interesting cities in America.

My original reason for heading to Memphis (and it was a long time in the making, since I've been trying to do this trip for several years) was to go to Graceland.  I liked Elvis Presley, but I was certainly not  an Elvisphile and I only owned two of his music collections (both greatest hits collections), but for some reason going to Graceland was on my earthly bucket list.

Many things to know.  Even though I left on Sunday, May 29 with a return on Wednesday, June 2, I managed to do and see more in two full days than the average tourist.  Also, please note, it's hot and humid in Memphis even at this time of year and it's a bit draining if you AIN'T a heat loving person.

When you go you must visit the Sun Studios for their vivid and electrifying tour.  The young woman who gave the tour on Monday (Memorial Day) was a loaded gun of information. I realize that's her job, but you'd swear it was the first time she'd deliver this heavy ammo of material. I realize that's her job too, but she was a fantastic tour rep through the mighty fields of the history of Sun Studios.  Johnny Cash! Carl Perkins (intensely underappreciated, if even remembered by anyone under a certain age)! Roy Orbison! Jerry Lee Lewis!  B.B. King!  Of course, Memphis was the home of the King of Rock n' Roll - Elvis Presley! The tour provides a heavy homage to that Tupelo born one man dynasty!  I stood on the spot (yes, an X marks the spot) where an 18 year old Elvis recorded his first song (a tribute to his mom). The microphone is as it was the day Elvis Presley first walked through the doors.  Great story we learned while there.  Bob Dylan once came to Memphis and went to the studio and walked in only to kiss that x and then he left. Go Zimmie! The famed million dollar quartet photo was taken here in late 1956. That shot was taken after Elvis had already made it!  This place is a highlight, so it's a must see for any music lover and for that matter any lover of history.
Near the final stages of the handcrafted guitars at the Gibson Guitar Factory Tour.

The Gibson Guitar Factory tour is quite splendid as well.  The actual facility is humid due to the needs and the environment of how you handcraft a guitar.  By the way, who knew?  It's complicated to make a guitar! You will never look at a guitarist in the same way again.  We were there on Memorial Day, so the staff was given the day off, so the tour was not noisy or wood chippy!  Their artisans have built guitars for all of the giants, including B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. 

The Peabody Hotel is quite famous in American Southern folklore tourism.  As you sit and wait for the ducks to depart to their elevator it seems silly on the surface, but then the hoopla begins and it's such a lighthearted moment in life you must enjoy it and then treasure it.

Be careful where you eat.  Here we were in Memphis and two of their notable BBQ Rib dining establishments were closed so we ate at one of the worst rib joints ever. I ended up getting physically sick from these fatty, non-completely cooked ribs.  The cole slaw was even bad. Bad cole slaw? Yes.   

Since we wanted to drive into Mississippi we had lunch in South Haven.  We dreamed of going to Tupelo to fill out the Elvis spectacle, but we didn't feel like pushing on for another 100 miles.

Now, to the best part.  Graceland!  I've always liked Elvis.  If you love rock music you have to like Elvis.  He had it all!  He was a superbly gifted singer, vocalist, stylist, phraser, interpreter and he did it all with the greatest performer/entertainer gifts God ever granted.  Plus, he was stunningly beautiful. The best looking man I have ever seen (even besting John Kennedy Jr.) was Elvis during the 1968 comeback special.  Having said all of this I never really loved Elvis.  From that rare field of pop culture icons from the 20th century I always preferred Frank Sinatra and the Beatles. Overall, their music catalogs have outlasted Presley's. Having said that, Graceland has been on that proverbial bucket list for years.

Graceland Mansion, built in 1939 and purchased in 1957 by a 22 year old Elvis Presley!  Elvis loved Graceland.

Graceland is more than I bargained for.  The mansion itself has been left intact to exactly the way it looked on the day that Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977.  The house itself is historic on several levels, including the design.  Presley authorized a remodel of the home in the mid 1970s, so it is a living example of the times.  On the tour you go into the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom his parents used (his mom's dresses still hang in the closet) and of course, the famed Jungle Room. The property the home sits on is a stunning green mass of slightly inclined hills and the stables are on the property.  Presley loved horses and Priscilla Presley has maintained them and from what I have read she has even gotten involved in horse rescue.  God bless that effort.

The best looking man God ever created.  The Elvis of the 1968 Comeback special. 

You walk down a long corridor filled with all of the honors, accolades and gold records achieved by Elvis.  It's quite touching.  Many have a hard time feeling sorry for Presley, but anyone with a compassionate heart has to view it from the perspective of a lonely and sad man who had become so isolated that he clearly was miserable.  Unlike Sinatra who had street sense and the Beatles who had one another, Elvis seemingly had no real friendships.  He relied on a paid entourage who encouraged the concept of yes.  Watching footage of Elvis Presley from the '68 comeback special you have to wonder how did he end up as this eccentric, bloated, drug addicted death machine less than nine years later.

I purchased the Platinum package at Graceland (beyond reasonable rates) and with that I received the tour of the mansion (you don't go upstairs to the private quarters and the bathroom where Elvis succumbed to his death) the fashion king, the '68 comeback special, the Elvis automobile and motorcycle collections and the private planes.

I came back and immediately started downloading Elvis music.  Nothing better than "Rubberneckin."  One of the best Elvis songs ever recorded.  The man was an artist without peer.  His powerhouse vocals on "Jailhouse Rock," his bluesy reality of "Heartbreak Hotel" and his pop perfection on "Kentucky Rain" will live on for years to come.  The problem is I'm a little sad even 34 years later that no one helped out the King of Rock n' Roll.

Go to Memphis.  It's one of the best trips you will take in the United States.  There is much more in Memphis than even what we accomplished in our two full days in Memphis.  There is a Civil Rights Museum, a couple of other music museums, the Mississippi River Museum, the Mississippi River itself.  On a completely different note, the Reverand Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.  The Lorraine Motel is as exactly as it was 43 years ago.  We went to see the motel and to view the wreath hanging at the spot where James Earl Ray took down one of the most remarkable people of the 20th century. 

The Lorraine Motel.  The setting of the assassination of Martin Luther King. God rest his soul. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Real Chicago Code

Recently seven Chicago Police officers received the 2011 Red Cross Law Enforcement Hero award. These men went the extra mile last November by rescuing citizens from a burning building. They are: Officer Victor Chan, Officer Christopher Davies, Officer Kristopher Krizka, Officer Vincent Foggey, Officer Juan Perez, Sgt. Thermon Royster and Officer Bryan Zydek.

Officer Krizka happens to be my nephew. Here is a kid from the Southside who dropped out of high school then joined the Army. After finishing his enlistment, he obtained his G.E.D then completed two years of college in order to qualify for the Chicago Police Department. Here is a young idealistic man who wants to do a public service for the people of Chicago. I am sure the others have similar high ideals. For every bad apple in the department there are hundreds if not thousands of fine officers who daily face criticism, insult and danger. This is the real Chicago Code.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chicago Code

It’s fun watching a show or movie set in one’s own hometown. Trying to recognize the buildings and neighborhoods and picking up on hometown nuances while picking apart artistic changes is great spectator sport. Spending most of my life in Chicago and coming from a long line of Chicago cops, I am naturally drawn to TV series involving Chicago Police. Though few and far between, I can recall a couple of such shows.

I remember back in the late fifties when tough guy actor Lee Marvin was cast as Lt. Frank Ballinger on special anti-organized crime detail in the series M-Squad. I watched it on a regular basis but the only Chicago connections were some street scenes and verbal local references. Otherwise, it was just Lee Marvin getting the best of the bad guys. Not bad viewing, but no local flavor.

One of my favorite shows in the eighties was Crime Story. It was only on for two seasons but was considered one of the better shows on television. Set in the early nineteen sixties (the good sixties as I call them) it followed a group of Chicago detectives doing battle against an organized crime figure. The star was Dennis Farina an ex-Chicago cop. Local research was done on the show and, along with meticulous set and costume design, a real sense of authenticity prevailed. In the second season a major change occurred…the location moved to Las Vegas. I was greatly disappointed at this turn of events but continued to watch.

Late last year and early into this year there was much hype about the new TV series Chicago Code. I have to admit that prior to watching the premier episode, I was somewhat apprehensive about the casting of Jennifer Beals as the police superintendant. To me it made about as much sense as casting the late John Wayne as Genghis Kahn the 13th century Mongol leader in the 1957 drama The Conqueror. It’s not that a woman superintendant is not in the realm of possibility…it’s just unlikely in the current situation. Additionally, to have such an attractive woman in charge may be bordering on fantasy. I am sure there are plenty of nice looking female officers out there. However, from what I have seen in real life, there are no Jennifer Beals candidates for the top job.

In addition to growing up in a police family, I have always followed local news and politics and have had opportunity to work with the police during my neighborhood watch years. As a result, I found myself very disappointed with Chicago Code. Now I admit that I have only watched the first episode…but that was enough for me. Needless to say, it is not my cup of tea. I understand the concept of dramatic license…but…the Irish Mob??? I feel that Italians should be upset at not being credited with generations of hard work. Besides, I thought the Irish Mob were the elected officials! Then there is the Polish cop who doesn’t tolerate profanity and the alderman who seems to be the most powerful figure in the city. I'm afraid that this is too much suspension of reality for me. The corker for me was the car chase in the first episode. Going after a known suspect, the Polish cop engages in a high speed chase followed by a long two column parade of police vehicles. This goes on for a few minutes and the Polish cop even catches up with the suspect and has a side by side high speed conversation with the individual. Well, that kind of did it for me. It is common knowledge that high speed chases are not allowed in the city. On the plus side, I did appreciate the actors attempt to use a Chicago accent.

As I probably couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag and don’t possess the talent do a screenplay, my criticism should be taken with much caution. However, it seems as though the general viewing public agrees with me as the rating keep slipping. I wish everyone involved the best, but once was enough for me.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Restaurant Review - Local Boy Makes Good: Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant

The past couple of years have seen some lean times for the restaurant business. There are more specials and coupons than ever before. In fact, I usually feel a bit guilty when I don’t take advantage of some of the deals that are offered. Often I will inquire about the status of the business and the answer is usually that it is a bit off. There are a few places that seem immune to economic fluctuation. One such establishment is Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. Passing by the Orland Park location on any given day, one will note the full parking lot at lunch time as well as the overflow lot at the dinner hour.
This is a real success story. The founder is Tim McEnery, age 33. Mr. McEnery opened the first location (Orland Park) in 2005 and will soon be opening his fifth location in Indianapolis. The final revenue tally for 2010 is expected to surpass $30 million dollars. This is quite an accomplishment for such young a person. Tim labored long and hard in the restaurant and wine industry starting out at age eleven washing dishes. He came up with the concept of a winery and restaurant combination while working at a country club. As part of the preparation process, he worked for a major local winery for a number of years before finally hatching his concept. Today, after five years, his dream has blossomed into a 23,000 member success.

Just prior to the opening of the Orland Park location, my wife and I decided to take a walk by. It was late morning and we were just hoping to take a peek inside the windows. As it turned out, we saw activity inside and walked in the front door. Though not officially open for business, we were greeted cordially and were shown around the facility. After the tour, we were offered a couple of free tastings…now that’s hospitality! We were given brochures and had the membership requirements explained to us. It wasn’t long after that we went back for an official wine tasting and joined the wine club. Although we have been wine drinkers for some time, we have never joined a wine club due to the restricted nature of past offerings. Cooper’s requirements were more flexible and only required one bottle per month as opposed to two.

Cooper’s offers over forty different whites, reds, sparkling, fruit and dessert wines in addition to a wide variety of other drinks. All the wines are produced in their own production facility with many stored kegs in the restaurants. My personal favorites are Cabernet, Pinot Noir and Cooper’s Red which is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. The menu runs from salads to sandwiches to a variety of entrees and desserts. A favorite dish of many is the Red Wine & Mustard Short Ribs served with mashed potatoes. My current personal favorite is the Trio of Medallions consisting of Horseradish, Bleu Cheese, and Parmesan-Crusted Filet Medallions, broiled and served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Also very delicious is the Fresh Filet of Grouper which is sautéed, and topped with a pistachio crust served with mustard sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus. I can also recommend the Tenderloin sandwich consisting of melt–in-your-mouth sliced beef tenderloin with provolone, Dijon, mayo and crispy onion strings on toasted Ciabatta. I am getting hungry as I write this. All food comes with a paired wine recommendation. It is absolutely necessary to make weekend reservations. You can get there early for a wine tasting. At seven dollars for eight generous pours (you can get second tastings too), it is a very good deal.

Now let me caution that the pricing is somewhat high, though not outlandish. I believe the success of the enterprise is due not only to the concept, but also to the customer friendly environment. Current locations are in Orland Park, Burr Ridge and South Barrington with soon to open restaurants in Wheeling and Indianapolis.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weekend/Weekday Getaway - Springfield, Illinois - Things To Do In Springfield

If you are looking for a fabulous two day trip, there is no finer place to drive off to (or take the train) than Springfield, Illinois. Go to the headquarters of the Land of Lincoln.  Obviously, Abraham Lincoln has ranked consistently high on the list of the finest U. S. Presidents and the state of Illinois has captured his life and career in every which way possible. 

It's an easy trek for Chicagoland residents making a trip to Springfield. Springfield offers great bed and breakfast options, along with the traditional hotel and motel chains.  You only need two full days to take in everything, so plan on staying one night if you are heading in from the Chicago area. Obviously, if you go during State Fair week, you will need more than two days.   

The most not to miss destination in Springfield is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  I’ve visited multiple Presidential Museums (Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, among them) and this is as good as any of the others, if not more so. It is a monumental achievement in this day and age to build something so magnificent; and it works on all levels. It is engaging, entertaining (dare I say) and inspiring. It’s a superb combination of full frontal scholarship along with great theatrical elements of mass entertainment.  You become bonded with the location and with the times in which Lincoln lived.  This is a destination not just for Chicagoans or Midwesterners.  I would recommend this Museum to any thinking person.  It’s history defined at its best.

The Museum/Library is home to a huge volume of Civil War material.  The collection is immense, but whether you are a civil war buff, a history lover or just a passenger passing by, this collection will stun you.   
Lincoln Home

Several attractions are just a short walk away, so you can take in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site which is in walking distance from the Museum.  It’s a wonderful place to walk around and get a feel for the times of Lincoln. The house is surrounded by similar structures that are now used as office spaces for government agencies. Everything has been kept true to the architecture of the day. You can pick up a free ticket to tour the Lincoln Home at the visitor center.  Definitely visit the visitor center. The center alone is an attraction and you will gain lots of tips about the area.   

Walk on over to the Lincoln Herndon Law Offices and you get to see the building Abe Lincoln worked in prior to his political career.  The place is amazing in that it is pretty much like they left it!  Quite historic!

Old State Capitol Building

You can also walk over to both the old State Capitol and the new State Capitol.  You can take tours of both, but the highlight is the old State Capitol. The building is stunning from the outside and the inside. You will feel like you have been transported back to the mid 19th century.  

You will have to drive out to Lincoln's New Salem Village to see what a village looked like in the days of Lincoln, but it is worth it.  No trip to Springfield is complete without seeing this village.  Keep in mind, it gets hot and humid here in the summer, so this is not something you may want to do in mid-July. There is quite a bit of walking here, so bring the sunscreen and a wheelchair for older companions.

Last, but not least, no visit to Springfield should take place without a memorial trek to the Oak Ridge Cemetery.  Lincoln is buried here under a tremendous amount of pomp, but could any American, outside of George Washington, be worth the pomp and glory that Lincoln gets here at Oak Ridge.  The outside of the tomb is a majestic structure erected in honor of the nation's 16th President and the deep underground burial location is haunting and lovely. Lincoln's wife and three of their four sons are buried here as well.  

The cemetery is also home to the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials for the state of Illinois.  All of them are stunning displays in tribute to the men and women who served their nation.
Lincoln's Majestic Tomb

On a lighter note, the original Route 66 made its way through Springfield and there are several landmarks along the way to help you mark the spot.  

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spring has arrived in Chicago!

Chicago is known for many things (deep dish pizza, historical gangsters, corrupt politics, the “blues,” superb sports rivalries, the most gorgeous lakefront and skyline in the entire universe). Among the more infamous traits of this fantastic city are some dismal winters (even though I don’t mind the cold).  Our summers are short, but they are hot and humid and often, not particularly pleasant.  Our autumns are lovely, but our spring season is fabulously spectacular.  Spring here is a relatively short season, but it is the time of year I most feel alive. Literally, feel alive!

I honestly cannot think of anything more pleasant in life than the days growing longer and longer as we approach the summer solstice!  I love spring time.  I always have.  I have spectacular memories of growing up and rushing home from school on a wonderful spring day.  You’d see the trees budding, the bulbed flowers blooming and the birds would be returning to their spring/summer homes.  What a kick I still get upon that first sighting of a red-winged blackbird!   

Remember the smells of the flowering trees and wildflowers?  Remember the Katydids? I could literally spend hours listening to the songbirds as we strolled through our glorious neighborhood!  You’d get up early for school and attach your face to the sunrise peeling up from the east and think that in a couple of months you’d be getting out of school. Yippee!  I still get that sensation after all of these years. 

This is the time of year when the bulbs poke up out of the ground and the leaves begin to open.  I am breathing fresh air!  You can smell each season; and spring is driven by all kinds of fabulous sensations. Everything is fresh!  Flowers have decided to join us on our newly opened path of life!  Here they come.  The daffodils, lilacs, peonies, crocus and lilies!!  I would go out and pick some flowers for my mom.  I also hand selected some fantastic dandelions for the little vases.  I thought the dandelions were as lovely as any other flower.  They were golden yellow and beautiful, just like my mom.

The days are getting longer here in the Midwest and you can feel the warmth on the horizon.  There it is!  That sensation of the sun on your face, your hands, your back. Everything is green.  It’s not quite Ireland, but I swear I can see 80 shades of green!  
Cook County Forest Preserve Trail

I can’t wait to plant, although I have already put my Iris bulbs out on the porch!  I anticipate getting on my bicycle and riding along the stunning trails in the mighty preserves of the Chicago area. Rain showers!  Yes, it will rain and it will rain often.  The sound of that rain still gives me a great feeling on the inside.  I love thunder and lightening!  You can even smell the rain before a drop lands!

Your attitude changes in spring.  You smile more often. You feel good. We anticipate vacations and gardens and life itself.

The wildlife is readily seen from the roads.  There’s a family of deer and the ultimate kick – there is a pack of coyotes!  Well, the deer may not quite get a kick out of that vision!

Ice cream is waiting for me to devour the scoops!  Shall it be Brown Cow in Forest Park, the Plush Horse in Palos Park, Margie’s in the city or the mighty giant of the Chicagoland chain, Oberweiss Dairy? I will hit them all up during the next six months of outdoors time.

Baseball starts on Friday!  What could be more sensational than going to a game on a spring night?!

Enjoy life!  It’s brief and fragile and it’s beautiful!     

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


After quitting my job, I went into a three week spin of things to do.  One of those agenda items was to find a storage unit for "my stuff!" I didn't want to put "my stuff" into one of those drive-by storage units.  I thought of the highly unfortunate news stories that featured rats making homes in your couch and serial killers hiding body parts in bags, so I opted for a business storage unit.  The price, for all intents and purposes was the same.  My sister had stored my eldest brother's life accumulation in a storage unit for some time after he passed away and when she pulled it out, everything was exactly as it had been when she put it in.  That's all I needed to know.

I contacted Hallett Movers and Storage in Summit, Illinois and asked for a rate.  It was a fair and balanced price, so I gave them my arrival date in Chicago and they put everything into their crated units.  I witnessed the entire process and it went along quite beautifully.

I pulled everything out a few months back; and the move-out of their storage unit and the move-in to my home came off without any problems.  During the time "my stuff" had been in storage my monthly rate had never been raised and all of my life's accumulations were in good shape. They were in the exact shape as they went in.  The moving crew was superb. They were courteous, positive and careful.


I recommend Hallett Movers & Storage. They were friendly and efficient at all times; and my items were impeccably kept. Reminder: the rates never increased!

On the back end, I would use their facility again (if the situation ever called for it).  They are a professional and downright nice group of people. 

If you need to secure items in an excellent, clean and professionally run facility, please contact Hallett Movers & Storage at 1-800-645-6683.

They are quite well known in the library and commercial warehousing industry, but they handle the average American home as well as they handle the world's finest libraries.

Hallett Movers & Storage
7535 West 59th Street
Summit, Illinois