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3 summer bucket list

Belmont Music Fest, courtesy of Kevin Willison

Having recently moved to Chicago, I was slightly overwhelmed with the task of getting to know such a diverse and exciting city.  After just a few weeks, I came to realize how many (mostly free!) activities will be taking place here this summer.  I started a Summer Bucket List to make sure that I do a variety of awesome things this summer and to simultaneously help narrow down the crazy number of options here in Chicago.  I’m proud to say that I already have some items to check off of my list.
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4 looking for something to do

The Groupon Cat

Most people don’t know this, but social commerce pioneer Groupon started in Chicago less than 2 years ago. I had a chance to visit their HQ in the 600 West Chicago Ave building that also houses Japonais and the David Barton Gym. The space, which used to house the now-defunct Montgomery Ward offices, is beautiful.

I was visiting Groupon HQ to shoot a final project for school and I walked away from the experience with some mind-boggling information. Since its inception in November 2008, it now has 440,000 subscribers in Chicago alone, 4.4 million nationally. Groupon expanded internationally into Toronto and Vancouver earlier this year, with plans to be in the UK by 2011.

Groupon is at its most useful when you’re trying to find something good to do in Chicago, or 55 other metropolitan areas. Enthusiasts oftentimes check it when they know they will be traveling to another American city, because they trust Groupon’s finger on the pulse of what’s hot, new and fun.

Personally, I find it serves another practical, more psychological purpose. I struggle with my budget, going through boom and bust cycles—happiest when there’s lots of money in the accounts, depressed when I’m broke. With Groupon, that spare ramen in the back of the pantry is collecting dust—the next time I’m completely devoid of funds, find me at Café Laguardia, Karyn’s on Green, or The Drawing Room—the three I’ve purchased so far.

Poverty never tasted so good!

– Jeremie Rosley

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5 summer fun with your dog

Audrey taking a fun and safe road trip!

Summer is finally here! And just because you’re eager to get out, enjoy the weather and have some fun, doesn’t mean you need to leave your dog behind. Whether you’re a long time resident or planning on visiting Illinois this summer, there’s no reason why your dog needs to miss out on all the warm-weather excitement!

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6 exploring the shawnee national forest parks of southern illinois

Burden Falls

I stand upon an outcrop of natural occurring rock, gazing at the different shades of green that unfold in the distance.  A hawk flies below my vantage point giving its unearthly screech and brings a smile to my face.  I am standing in the Shawnee Hills of Southern Illinois.

It is here that the glaciated prairie land of the north meets the rolling hills of the south.  This arbitrary line begins just below Route 13 and  stretches from the Mississippi River east of Carbondale to the Ohio River west of Harrisburg.

Nestled below this line lies a forested canopy filled with a few of the natural treasures of Illinois. Here is where our only national forest, the Shawnee, rests.  Here resides bizarre rock formations, such as Anvil Rock, Camel Rock, and Noah’s Ark at the aptly name Garden of the Gods.  Here amongst the flourishing trees and sweet smelling wildflowers is a “city street” made entirely of sandstone bluffs at Giant City State Park.  Here is where  one can look upwards with awe at a bridge not made by the hands of man, but created with the patient force of water and time at Pomona Natural Bridge. Here is the greatest concentration of intermittent waterfalls, with  names such as Burden, Jackson, Bork’s, Rock Bluff and Ferne Clyffe, with many others with no name waiting to be explored.  Here is the only road closed for snake migration twice a year at La-Rue Pine Hills.

It is our Shawnee Hills that can slow down time if you let it.  If you bring your sense of exploring and discovery to this area you will be able to find that inner child who longs to connect with its natural side.  You may come to love these Shawnee Hills in Southern Illinois as much as I do and when you do, you too can call these Shawnee Hills your home away from home.

– Gary Marks

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Chicago will play host to one of the most powerful, riveting and socially relevant film festivals in the world beginning June 3.

The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival will present 12 distinguished fiction, documentary and animated films and videos from around the world that showcase the heroic stories of activists and survivors who have faced real threats to their freedom, their dignity and to their own lives.

Seven films will be seen in Illinois for the very first time.

The festival kicks off with a benefit screening of The Oath on June 3 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The Oath, which recently drew praises from The New York Times and The New Yorker, tells the story of Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s former bodyguard, and Salim Hamdan, a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay Prison and the first man to face the controversial military tribunals. Filmed in Yemen and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, The Oath is a family drama about two men whose fateful encounter in 1996 set them on a journey that would lead to Osama bin Laden, 9/11, Guantanamo Bay Prison, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Oath’s director, Laura Poitras, will be at the event that night to speak with the audience after the film, alongside Human Rights Watch’s Terrorism and Counterterrorism director. Ticket information is available here.

The festival continues through June 10 at Facets Cinematheque (1517 W. Fullerton). Facets will be showing 11 amazing films– from Afghan Star, which follows the first season of the Afghan version of American Idol, to My Neighbor, My Killer, which documents the reconciliation process between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, to Youth Producing Change, which blends clips from winners of Human Rights Watch’s inspiring annual youth film contest.

The Human Rights Watch International Film Festival has something for everyone.

Cathy Stein is a volunteer for Human Rights Watch and co-chairs the June 3 benefit screening

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