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19 Chicagos Festa Italiana

Chicago is well known for its ethnic neighborhoods and each community has plenty to offer in the way of restaurants, shops, and history lessons.  Summertime in Chicago means festival season, and many of those same ethnic neighborhoods play host to their very own summer festivals.  The one I dutifully attend each year is Taylor Street Festa Italiana in Little Italy, my old neighborhood.

The festival started a few years ago with the tagline of “Come Back to Taylor Street”.  The aim was to bring back the residents and families that once lived in the neighborhood but had moved away.  The fest was a success and now it has become an annual event.  I am one of those residents that moved away and I look forward to meeting up with old friends and distant family members at the fest every year.

The Little Italy neighborhood is anchored by the stretch of Taylor Street between Morgan Street and Ashland Avenue.  Gentrification and the expansion of the University of Illinois-Chicago caused many long-time residents to move to other parts of the city, so the neighborhood isn’t quite as “Italian” as it used to be.  Former residents like me fondly remember “the old neighborhood”, and we look forward to getting back there as often as we can.   This year, we’ll be there for Festa Italiana from Thursday, August 5th, until Sunday, August 8th, to reconnect and celebrate our Italian heritage.  Come join us and enjoy some of the best Italian food in the city, as well as live entertainment including authentic Italian folk dancers.  Details for the fest are as follows:

Where:  Taylor Street at Ashland Avenue, Chicago

When:  Thursday, August 5, 5 pm – 11 pm; Friday, August 6, 11:30 am – 11 pm; Saturday, August 7, Noon – 11 pm; Sunday, August 8, Noon – 10 pm

How much:  Suggested donation $3-$7 (not mandatory)

20 And the finalists are

Last month, we asked you to submit your most colorful image of Illinois to celebrate summer.  We received so many beautiful images, so thank you all for participating. Two of our photo bloggers narrowed down the submissions to the top three and we’re letting YOU choose the winning photo. Vote for your favorite image by August 6th. 

The winner will be posted on August 9th.

Life Guards by Marcia Straub

Fishing by Elena

Rippled by Theresa C

[polldaddy poll=3538699]


There’s so much to do in Chicago all year round and this weekend is no exception.  There are so many festivals going on and I want to attend them all.  I love summer in Chicago, the city comes alive with smiles and laughter, complete with a huge happy face.  Let’s not forget about the all the great music filling the air at these festivals.  I am starting  my weekend tonight at the Chicago Botanical Gardens, with Hot Summer Night series.  They are featuring flamenco dancers and Spanish guitar players. 

Tomorrow I’ll be heading off to Jammin at the Zoo to see Collective Soul.  This will be my first time Jammin with the animals.  I  can’t decide who to see at the Taste of Lincoln on Saturday – the oh so soulfoul Otis Redding or the Freddy Jones Band for fun and rocking music. They are both playing at the same time…what to do; it’s times like these I was I had a clone so I could be in two places at once.  Of course I need to squeeze in the Randolph Street Market Festival for some antique shopping and delicious food.  Ok, I don’t know if I will be able to squeeze it all in this weekend, but I am going to try.  Sunday evening I will be in my hammock under the tree listening to the leaves rustle, resting for  another work week and remembering my fun weekend.  Let us know about your fun filled festival weekend?



22 Peace and Beauty near the big city

Year-round outdoor recreation awaits at Fullersburg Woods.  Part of the DuPage County Forest Preserve system, this peaceful, scenic gem is hidden amidst luxurious homes and shopping centers in Oak Brook, a western suburb of Chicago.  It was winter when I first discovered Fullersburg Woods, as it was the site of a snowshoeing clinic I attended.  It was glorious in the wintertime and made such an impression on me that I have returned during the warmer months to further explore all that Fullersburg Woods have to offer.

There are almost four miles of multi-use trails within the preserve, most of which follow alongside Salt Creek.  The trails are well groomed and shared by hikers, bikers, dog-walkers, and, in the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.  (The 2.3-mile long multipurpose trail also allows horses.)  Families with babies need not worry; the trails are easily navigable for strollers (my one-year-old daughter’s mode of transport on our last visit).  Speaking of families, Fullersburg Woods is an ideal place for a family outing.  There is a spacious picnic area right next to the Visitor Center off the main parking lot, and there are several picnic shelters located along the trails.  Bring the fishing poles and cast a line into Salt Creek for the chance of landing largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, northern pike and walleye.  My daughter especially enjoyed watching the water rush over the dam in Salt Creek, and marveled at the waterfowl flying or swimming by.

Along with recreational opportunities that appeal to every member of the family, Fullersburg Woods is also home to Graue Mill and Museum.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in northern Illinois.  The mill also was used as a hideout for runaway slaves traveling the Underground Railroad.  Visit the museum and take a step back in time.  Learn about 19th-century life from the milling, weaving, and living history presentations.  A tour of the mill also includes a special hands-on area, which is sure to be a big hit with the younger visitors.  The Graue Mill and Museum is open 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM daily; closed Mondays (except Holiday Mondays). Admission is $3.50 for adults, $3.00 for seniors, $1.50 for children 4-12; children 3 & under free.

When visiting Fullersburg Woods, it is easy to forget that you are only twenty miles outside of Chicago’s Loop.  The natural scenery and tranquility transport you far from the busy, bustling city, and it’s a pleasant reminder of how beautiful Illinois really is.

23 Route 66 Gardner IL
Nielsen Grain Co, Gardner, IL

Nielsen Grain Co, Gardner, IL

Sometimes the best discoveries come in unexpected places. We recently made a hunger-driven stop in tiny Gardner, Illinois while driving north from St. Louis. What better place to visit than a place that shares my name?

Gardner is located along the famous Route 66 (about 40 minutes SW of Joliet), and is known for being an Al Capone hangout during prohibition and for having a historic jail with two cells.

With little time to spare, getting an honest meal was our primary concern on this trip. We certainly scored at Big Fella’s Eatery, a sparkling clean establishment with home-cooked food, friendly waitstaff and quick service. The owner collects Coca-cola antiques, including clocks, which he displays on the restaurant walls. Big Fella’s specializes in pizza, but my husband and I both enjoyed an excellent cod dinner, and our kids tucked into their perennial favorite, fresh buttered noodles and salad.

Afterwards, ready for a bit of leg-stretching before hitting I-55 again, we took a peek around Main Street. Gardner’s clearly a town with farming roots, organized around the railroad and grain storage facilities. A large mowed grassy area between Main Street and the tracks provided a great place for the kids to run while my husband and I took some photos of picturesque rural remnants, including a long-shuttered door to the Nielsen Grain Co. (above).

Buildings like this fascinate me on many levels. This large structure once served as the center of its community. Now it still holds court as an informal monument to Illinois’ farm-family roots. What gorgeous colors shine out from its old siding and weathered woods! What stories this building could tell if only it could speak! If anyone knows the history of this particular building, or more about Gardner’s rural history, please add your comments. The photo below is from a series of metal silos in the same area.

Detail of unused Grain Silo in dowtown Gardner, Illinois

Detail of unused Grain Silo in dowtown Gardner, Illinois

On a future trip to Gardner I’d also like to visit the nearby Mazonia State Fish and Wildlife area. This 1017-acre park and waterfowl refuge includes Braidwood Lake, a popular boating and fishing spot. The park also allows waterfowl and fossil hunting by permit.

Happy Exploring!

– Linda Gardner Phillips