The Claw Chooses… Kevin Durant?

imageI can’t see a “claw” game anymore without thinking of the Toy Story characters’ bad boy neighbor Sid playing one at the Pizza Planet. This one doesn’t have aliens – or Sheriff Woody – but it does have… a Kevin Durant plush doll??


Walking Back in Time on a Friday Evening

image“I look exhausted,” says my wife in response to me showing her this photo (right). She sportingly agreed to accompany our youngest son and me on a walk last Friday evening after a week of teaching and auditing a class. She may have been tired but her spontaneous¬†hug of our son in the pre-sunset light made for an excellent photo.

We took this picture near the beginning of our walk last Friday, as we were strolling – of all places – the campus of McDonald’s corporate offices in Oak Brook, Illinois, just a few miles from our house. Somewhat surprisingly, the McDonald’s campus is a beautiful, highly accessible natural area of prairie plants, oak savannah, and several ponds and waterways with Olmsted-like landscaping.

As we continued our walk, following Salt Creek on the eastern edge of the campus, we saw flowers, birds, butterflies, and almost no people. The quiet and the closeness with nature relaxed us and put me, at least, in a philosophical frame of mind.

wedding picturesWhen we arrived at the other side of this corporate campus-nature preserve we stopped on another bridge. We looked over a small dam, a large pond, numerous bridges, and on a little peninsula across the water, a bride and groom in wedding garb working with a photographer (photo right). It was, indeed, a wonderful wedding photo location with even more wonderful light – the golden glow of the last 20 minutes before sunset.

Even from a distance we could see the couple engaged in the usual poses for wedding photography: gazing lovingly in each other’s eyes, smiling, embracing in various ways as the photographer snapped away, occasionally stopping to re-position the pair.

It then occurred to me: Yes, this is how it starts. The wedding couple. They’re hugging each other exclusively right now. But in a few years they’ll be back here with a son or daughter, posing lovingly on a bridge for a family photo.

And they’ll look over at this picturesque little peninsula, smile, and remember a romantic Friday evening in 2014.

Shared Urban Gardens Grow Food, Community

Urban community gardens include plants and vegetables (of course), rain barrels, benches, artwork, and more!

Urban community gardens include plants and vegetables (of course), rain barrels, benches, artwork, and more!

One of the best things happening in Chicago and other big cities is the spread of community gardens. Not only do these urban oases provide fresh food and contribute oxygen, but they are natural community builders as well. The planning, planting, weeding, and harvesting are some of the shared activities they provide for neighbors.

This afternoon I biked past this garden (photo right) in East Pilsen, one of dozens in the neighborhood where I work in Chicago. La Huerta Roots and Rays garden is one that I watched grow from day 1 since it is almost across the street from my office. In almost every case, volunteers grew the garden out of an empty lot, an eyesore, sometimes an industrial waste land. The result is a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together and learn and grow and share.

And eat!

A Touch of Beauty Thanks to a Son

imageWith three sons in the family, our home relies on my wife to provide the stereotypical “feminine touches” or, sadly, they usually don’t happen.

But occasionally we experience some surprises.

Today my youngest son (age 10) found this flower in the garden and decided it would look good in the house. He brought it in, trimmed the base of the stem, and placed it in a vase he somehow found in the kitchen. He added water and set it out for the rest of the family to enjoy. He did this all without saying a word.

Needless to say, his mom couldn’t have been more pleased.

Salt Creek on Two Wheels: Biking in Chicago’s Western Suburbs

The somewhat unfortunately named Salt Creek begins in Chicago’s far northwest suburbs and meanders through forest preserves, golf courses, and backyards until it meets the Des Plaines River in the west suburbs near Ogden and 1st Avenues.

DSC_0041The Salt Creek Trail is a mixed-use recreational path that follows the eponymous waterway for 27 miles, including an asphalt-paved stretch through beautiful woods the last six or seven of those miles.

The trail comes within a half-mile of my house so I bike it often. I have a rather basic hybrid bicycle – a Trek 700 – that allows me to get off the pavement when the mood strikes. The woods around the trail offer lots of opportunities to do that, including this beginner-level single track in Bemis Woods near Wolf Road and 31st Street (photo right).

Chicago Block Parties

Neighbors get to know neighbors by volunteering at their local summer block party.

It’s a cliche, but Chicago is a city of neighborhoods. Chicagoans identify themselves by their neighborhoods and the annual tradition of summer block parties is one way they build that identity.

Every summer weekend in Chicago finds block closures around the city as neighbors come out and throw a party right on the street. The city provides security, some recreation – usually an inflatable jumping place for the children – and even portable bathrooms.

Neighbors themselves make the food and provide the beverages. At least one neighbor is always an amateur DJ and sets up a sound system, which entertains other neighbors for blocks around (whether they want it or not).

A block party near my office in the Pilsen neighborhood yesterday included meat smoking on the grill, basketball hoops, an improvised soccer “field,” and volleyball. Right on the street.