Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

  In the aftermath of this horrible event, I would like to say a prayer for those who did not survive the disaster of Hurricane Sandy.  Thankfully everyone that I know that has friends and family on the East Coast are saying that they are hanging in there.  My sisters lost power in NYC but are surviving.  They're cold but safe.  I know that people and communities will be there for each other as they piece their lives back together.  Disasters like this could happen anywhere, anytime and I want those suffering this hardship to know that people all over are thinking of them.

November 2nd Update:
Yesterday my sisters' apartment building gained power after 4 days without it, however it wasn't all good news.  One of my sisters was home alone in the building and a fire started in one of the lower apartments.  My sister got out of the building unharmed and actually because she was in the building, she was able to let the firemen in when they arrived to put out the fire.  She saved valuable time by letting them into the building and they were able to put out the fire before it spread.  I know people all over New York and the East Coast have been having tragic experiences all week and my heart goes out to these people.  

Happy Halloween 2012!!

  Happy Halloween Everyone!!  I am currently watching "Pumpkin Wars" on HGTV.  It showcases two towns, Highwood, IL and Keene, N.H., that are competing for the world record of most displayed jack-o'-lanterns.  Since I live in Illinois, I'm partial to Highwood but I am very impressed with Keene.  Keene is determined to win even though it doesn't have the population like that of the Chicagoland area.  Click on this link for more info from HGTV's website. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicago vs. The World

  This past Friday night, we went to a charity hockey game at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL.  It featured the players from the 2010 Champion Blackhawks team and other NHL players including many that flew in from different states.  Also, former Cubs Ryan Dempster "coached" the Chicago team and Bears Robbie Gould "coached" the World team.  The game was to raise money for the Ronald McDonald Foundation and 11,649 fans showed up.  What made this really amazing was that it was all planned within 2 weeks and had no advertising besides a couple of write-ups in the newspaper.  People traveled from all over Illinois to see this game and I even saw some cars with Indiana license plates.  It was a fun game for a good cause.  Here are a few photos from the game that I thought I'd share: 


  Be on the look-out for other charity hockey games going on throughout the U.S., especially with the NHL lock-out.  Friday night one NHL player from Minnesota had mentioned that he was playing in a charity game tonight (Sunday night).  This game will take place at the University of Minnesota and will benefit the children of members of the military.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Croatia - Did You Know?

  Did You Know that it's believed that the Zinfandel wine grape originated in Croatia?

I learned this tonight on Joseph Rosendo's Travelscope:  "Cruising the Mediterranean".

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who Has The Top Transportation Systems?

  After seeing how many people used the Metra train to get to the Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois this past September, I started to think about all the times I've used public transportation in other cities around the world.  In Madrid, we took the metro to get to a bullfight.  In Munich, we took the S-Bahn to get to the Hofbrauhaus.  I've taken a train from Saint Raphael, France to Italy and then from Italy to Monaco and back to Saint Raphael.  I can not ever recall having issues with the public transportation that I have taken so far.  I think Chicago public transportation is about average.  Some days I get to and from work without an issue but other days train delays really work my patience.
  So what cities have the best transportation systems?  Here's what a little internet research turned up:

CNN provided a list of cities on May 3, 2012:

 10.  Coppenhagen, Denmark
  9.   Singapore
  8.   London, England
  7.  Sao Paulo, Brazil
  6.  Paris, France
  5.  Montreal, Canada
  4.  Madrid, Spain
  3.  New York City, U.S.
  2.  Tokyo, Japan
  1.  Guangzhou, China

 Below is a photo we shot from the Cathedral overlooking the train system in Cologne, Germany.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Humboldt Park - Chicago, IL

  Despite the dreary weather, this past weekend we made it to a Chicago neighborhood for the Open House Chicago.  After much debate, googling, and mapquesting (I don't know my way around every neighborhood in Chicago), we decided to visit Humboldt Park.  For those movie-savvy readers, Humboldt Park was the backdrop for the movie "Nothing Like The Holidays".  The movie is about a Puerto Rican family coming together to celebrate Christmas.  It's true that Humboldt Park is a mostly Puerto Rican area and this is what makes it so unique. With its Boat House, lagoon, and gardens, Humboldt Park is a green oasis in an urban setting.

  Humboldt Park has gone through many different waves of immigrants.  It started with Germans and Scandinavians towards the end of the nineteenth century.  The Germans erected statues of Alexander von Humboldt (1892) and Fritz Reuter (1893).  Then in 1901, Scandinavians enjoyed their statue of Leif Erikson (below).  Poles immigrated to the area and cherished their statue of Thaddeus Kosciuszko.  The 1920s and 1930s brought German and Russian Jews as well as Italians.  Finally, the 1950s brought large influxes of Puerto Ricans with some Mexican immigrants.

   When we arrived in Humboldt Park, it wasn't raining yet so we seized the opportunity to check out the Boat House (1440 N. Humboldt Dr.) and surrounding lagoon and gardens.  Walking along the path was very peaceful and I was surprised at how many areas there were where people could get right up close to the water.  There was even one guy that was fishing.

  Next we visited the Field House (1440 N. Sacramento Ave.)  On the main level there was a workout area and basketball courts.  Behind the Field House was an area that used to be a beach.  Now it just looks like a bunch of water-logged sand.

  After the Field House, we headed over to the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.  We didn't really know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when we were greeted by a trio of college students who gave us a tour.  We viewed a lot of interesting artwork and photographs.  We also got to see the former office of landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951). Originally from Denmark, Jensen at one time lived in Humboldt Park and designed the garden areas along with those of Garfield Park.  Jensen also helped to establish the Illinois State Parks system, the Cook County Forest Preserve, and the Indiana Dunes State Park.  The building that the Institute is housed in was once stables for horses.  Years ago, people would use the Institute building to park their carriages and have their horses tended to.

  At the Boat House, Field House and Institute, we were able to park for free.  We had to pay for street parking when we made our way down Division Street.  We stopped at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (2739-41 W. Division St.).  This is a charter school with an average class size of 12 students.  We got a tour of its rooftop green house which took a lot of money and effort by the school to make happen.  The green house is a hands-on learning tool for the students and they even grow and harvest their own vegetables there.  One of the science teachers told us what they went through to get the green house up and running and what kinds of things they were growing.  He also showed us tropical fruit plants that he had brought back from a trip to Puerto Rico.  Even with our harsh winters, Chicagoans still try to find ways to bring the tropics to the Windy City.
  Next we moved on to Cafe Colao (2638 W. Division).  After viewing the Cafe's century-old ovens in the back of the restaurant, we enjoyed an avocado sandwich.  Quite delicious!  Across the street from the Cafe is La Casita De don Pedro (2625 W. Division St.).  La Casita is a traditional Puerto Rican style house where cultural and educational events are held.  It has a zinc roof and porch and inside there are some traditional Puerto Rican decorations and furnishings.

    We ended our Open House tour with a visit to Architechs Inc. (2541 W. Division).  The owner gave us a nice tour where he described what he went through to acquire the office space and how he designed the interior.  All different types of materials were used and it was interesting to see what he did to make the space look and feel a certain way.
  As we walked back to our car, I had a big smile on my face just thinking about how much I learned in one day.  It's amazing how Chicago has all these nooks and crannies that I didn't even know existed!  Even though this is only year two of Open House Chicago, I'm hoping that it grows and envelopes even more areas of Chicago. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Open House Chicago

  Last weekend was Open House NYC, this weekend it's Chicago turn to show us what it's got.  Open House Chicago is the one weekend a year where different buildings around Chicago are opened up to the public.  The public can see areas of buildings that they would not normally be able to see.  Some buildings are giving special tours, others are showing off some of their secret gems.  These areas of Chicago have Open House buildings:  Downtown, Gold Coast, Pilsen, Rogers Park/West Ridge, Uptown, Hyde Park, South Shore, Bronzeville, Little Village, Garfield Park/North Lawndale, and Chinatown.
  For more information visit:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pandas - Did You Know?

  I wouldn't call myself a huge TV person but I do have to share that I absolutely love the Nat Geo WILD channel.  Animal Planet and HGTV are tied for my second favorite TV channels.  The main reason I love HGTV is because they have House Hunters International.  Even though I've read online that this show is somewhat fake, I still enjoy seeing the different cities and what types of housing there is outside the U.S.
  Sometimes while watching Nat Geo WILD, I learn these really fun facts which I like sharing.  I've decided to once in a while do posts called my "Did You Know?" posts.  Then you have to tell me whether or not you knew these fun and interesting facts.

Today I have 2 facts on Pandas:

Did You Know that Pandas are rented from China (usually by zoos) for $1 million a year per Panda?

Did You Know that Pandas are only fertile for 36 hours a year?

Both of these facts I learned from "Miracles Babies" on Nat Geo WILD.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Amana Colonies, Iowa - Oktoberfest 2012

  This past weekend I took a 4 hour road trip to Iowa and traveled back in time 150 years.  Coming from the congested Chicagoland area, I always look forward to the more low-key lifestyle that most of Iowa provides.  My mom is originally from Iowa so I am no stranger to I-80 and the endless corn fields.  Sometimes we would drive to Iowa for a weekend away but this weekend we actually had plans to join in the rivalry of the Amana Colonies Oktoberfest.
  Amana Colonies are located about 5 miles north of I-80 and a little less then 20 miles west of Iowa City.  The Amana Colonies were created in 1855 and were a final destination for German immigrants escaping persecution and looking to form their own settlement.  These immigrants worked together in a communal way of life and began running farms, meat shops, wineries, woolen mills, and furniture stores.  Although many people believe Amana Colonies is Amish, it is not.  The immigrants came from a religious group called True Inspirationists that originated in southwestern Germany.  Finally after so many years, in 1932, the residents of Amana decided to stop living communally and begin owning their own houses and businesses.  Although there have been many changes in Amana over the years, visitors can still see original buildings and understand how life used to be 100 years ago.
  The Seven Villages that make up the Amana Colonies include Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, and Homestead.  As a little celebrity side note, Ashton Kutcher grew up in Homestead and went to Clear Creek Amana High School.  Amana does have modern homes and conveniences so don't worry about imagining Ashton living a "simple" German immigrant life.  I do have to say though that the Midwest can produce some beautiful people.  Amana is the largest village and the main setting for the Oktoberfest.  Amana Colonies have other festivals throughout the year that include "Maifest" in the spring and "A Prelude to Christmas" in the winter.
  The Oktoberfest parade started at 10am on Saturday and we had absolutely beautiful weather.  There were many locals but I'd say just as many, if not more, tourists.  Below are a few shots I got of the parade.


   After the parade the crowds dispersed into the restaurants and shops.  We made our way over to the Millstream Brewing Company to watch the high school jazz band play.  At one time Amana had three breweries however the Millstream has made a name for itself with its award-winning craft beers and delicious sodas.  Since it was about 11am when we sat down to listen to the band, we opted for a root beer and creme soda instead of their beer.  In the Oktoberfest schedule, I had noticed that the Amana Furniture Store had two public tours scheduled for Saturday but we had to call and make a reservation for the tour.  I called and was able to secure spots on their 1pm tour.  After the band finished playing, we made our way over to the Woolen Mill and enjoyed a short group tour that explained how garments were made over the years.  The Amana Woolen Mill is the only operating woolen mill in Iowa.  When the Inspirationists came to Iowa, they installed their German equipment and created a woolen mill first in Amana and then in Middle Amana.  By 1908, the mills were producing 20,000 blankets a year which were being sold around the nation.  The Amana Woolen Mill was destroyed in a fire in 1923 but was rebuilt while the woolen mill in Middle Amana closed in 1937.  Today, the Amana Woolen Mill is still operating and producing beautiful blankets and scarves. 

From the Woolen Mill, we made our way over to the Amana Furniture Store.  It appeared that our tour was a special tour because of the Oktoberfest and is not a regularly scheduled tour.  I went to the Furniture Store's website and I could not find tour information.  If you ever are able to do a tour of the Furniture Store, I would highly recommend it.  We learned a lot about how Amana furniture is made and how the store can do all kinds of custom work for its customers.  Our tour guide talked about the different woods that are used and the high skill levels of their woodworkers.  One unique offering of the Amana Furniture Store is that they are able to replicate any of their furniture pieces that have been created in the last 30 or so years.  If a customer bought chairs for a table 25 years ago and he wants more chairs made, the Furniture Store has no problem building exact replicas of the chairs.

  After the Furniture Store, we wandered into the Village Winery and sampled some of their fruit wines.  Dandelion wine is a unique Amana wine that many tourists love to buy, although a winery employee told me that their cranberry wine was the most popular.  We purchased a bottle of cranberry wine and a bottle of raspberry wine for ourselves and a bottle of elderberry wine for a friend.

  Next we headed over to the area where the games and contests were being held.  There was the "keg throw", the "saw the log", and then a "hammer the nail" contest.  I was tempted to try the "saw the log" contest but in the end just opted to watch.


We ended up wandering more, just taking in the different Oktoberfest activities.  There was live music and a village carriage ride along with fun food vendors.  We also bought a huge bag of kettle corn that I am still working on finishing.

  We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to enjoy an Oktoberfest, especially in the Amana Colonies.  I would highly recommend spending a day at the Amana Colonies, whether it's for a fest or just a simple get away.