Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Series 3: Portage Park

Back at it with more adventures around the city! This time we checked out Portage Park, a residential spot on the city's northwest side with lots of fun gems tucked between rows of charming Chicago bungalows.

This style of house accounts for 1 in 3 stand-alone houses in the city of Chicago—in Portage Park it's more like 99 in 100, probably why Portage Park is part of the "bungalow belt." I taught the Little Dragans the word "bungalow" and for the rest of the day they said "bungalow, bungalow, bungalow" every time we saw one. That only got old after 30 seconds.

Let's check out some of the fun places we visited in Portage Park!

Chopin Park

Portage Park boasts the highest concentration of Polish people in the city limits, and this park is named after the most famous Polish composer, Frederic Chopin. The park is just a pretty standard park with a water feature, but it was fun to tell the Little Dragans about who Chopin was and play a bit of Nocturne while we played there.

Chopin joke:
Q: What did the musician take to the store?
A: His Chopin Liszt!

(Grant: That is even worse than a Dad-joke, Kathleen. 
B: Seriously, Mom, that's not even a little bit funny.)

Portage Park and Epic Outdoor Pool

Now this park is worth the trip to the northwest side! Have you been wondering what a portage is? It's the land between two bodies of water. This portage was between the Chicago and DesPlaines rivers and before roads, sewers, and drainage systems it used to flood every spring. The Native Americans loved this area because they could portage (turns out you can also use it as a verb) from one river to the other without having to get out of their canoes! B's just up there portaging away through the playground which is great fun.

Once we worked up a sweat with all that portaging we headed over to the BEST PUBLIC POOL IN CHICAGO. There, I've said it. And I should know: I swam so much as a kid that my skin actually emanated chlorine.

Built in 1959 when Chicago hosted the Pan-American games, this Olympic-sized pool with full diving well was used again for the 1972 Olympic swimming trials where none other than Mark Spitz set a new world record! The facility is beautiful, there's also a kids' area, and it is so huge that even if it is crowded you will feel like you have the place to yourself.

A word of caution: The staff there are very protective of this space (understandably) and if you are wondering if you are breaking the rules, you probably are. I broke like 16 rules within the first five minutes of being there including (but not limited to): carrying a bag, taking photos, having my hair down, B's swimsuit possibly not looking like a swimsuit, Little Guy going down the slide head first, smiling, splashing, breathing, etc. I think we should put these Lifeguards to work on the rest of the city...

Hagen's Fish Market

I love checking out these tucked away little family businesses. I love that they just sell fish! It's tiny, but so friendly. And I loved my catfish po' boy, too! Little Dragans, notsomuch, but you can't win 'em all!
Do you think the fish were scared of Little Guy's shirt?

Fantasy Costumes

This. Place. Is. NUTS.

We spent almost an hour walking around in this monstrosity that is as big as a city block and has 1,000,000 items (not an exaggeration) in stock. Costumes, accessories, decorations, makeup, wigs, and even an "over 18 only" room that we reluctantly missed out on. I seriously can't wait to come back here and buy our Halloween costumes!
Room of masks. Just masks. Floor to ceiling. See also: wig room, weapon room.

Six Corners and Josi's Frozen Yogurt
We wandered around the Six Corners area for awhile, which has some great Art Deco facades, including the old Portage theater. At one time this was the largest retail area outside of the Loop. We were getting pretty hot, so we were extra excited when we stumbled upon Josi's Frozen Yogurt!
I just can't say enough great things about this place. It's a pretty standard frozen yogurt + toppings/pay by weight cafe (along the lines of Sweet Frog), but it's the little personal touches to the shop that make it so special.
Poem machine: for when the poem-cravings strike.
Wall of post-it note love. And we do love us some post-it notes...
Toy area!
This guy likes it too. I guess all those girls I knew in college were right: The froyo diet CAN make you skinny!

But the BEST part about Josi's is that they designed their cafe and business to be an Autism Friendly Business, one of the first of its kind in Chicago. They're all about inclusion and providing a safe space for families to get out and enjoy a treat together without worrying.

In fact, once a month they host a "No Apologies" play hour before the store opens for business. You're invited if you have a special needs child, just rsvp via their website. No name tags, no forced interactions, no apologies. Just a good time with your family and some delicious treats.

I hope someday every business will be mindful of the needs of families of all shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and abilities. And I'm glad Portage Park boasts at least one awesome one! If you can get to Josi's, stop in and show them some love and tell them how glad you are that they're doing what they're doing in our city! I know we'll be back!!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Summer Road Trips!

As much as we love exploring Chicago in the summer, sometimes it's nice to take a break from the city. We try to take at least one road trip per month in the summer, so we'll tell you about two of them that we've taken so far!

Road Trip 1: Strawberry Picking in Hobart, Indiana
Wait a minute, Kathleen. That is not a picture of strawberries or picking. That is a picture of two sand crabs.

Well.... strawberry season lasts about 90 seconds in the midwest. I was stalking this strawberry farm and market in Hobart, Indiana to make sure we got to pick strawberries this year.
I thought we had picked the perfect day! The website assured me that there were strawberries.

But their Facebook page told a different story. At 5am (this is not an exaggeration) the day we were supposed to go they announced that strawberry picking was DONE.

Surely there had to be some strawberries left, right? We decided to chance it and made the 45 minute drive. If strawberries were done for the season, maybe blueberries were ready?

All guesses were wrong.

Me: So can we pick some strawberries?
Cashier with better things to do: No, that ended yesterday.
Me: What about blueberries?
CWBTTD (nonplused): That doesn't start until tomorrow.
Me: So you're telling me there's nothing we can PAY YOU TO PICK IN YOUR FIELDS today?
CWBTTD (missing the irony): No.

Turns out they sell pies, though. So we'll count it as a win. And it was a good pie.
Not as good as this one that I made, though:
Store-bought strawberries and blueberries. How remedial. 2/10

So we went to the Indiana Dunes, instead! We were just a few miles from Ogden Dunes and played in the sand and the (considerably larger than Chicago-side) waves for three and a half hours!
Some of us were not prepared for such a long day on the beach and now we will have very awkward tan lines and splotches (one in the shape of a hand) on our backs for the rest of the summer and possibly for life. There will be no photos of this atrocity.

Road Trip 2: Blueberry Picking in Indiana (no fooling this time)

Determined to make up for my fruit fail, I made absolutely, 100% certain that I could take the kids to the Blueberry Ranch in Mishawaka, Indiana that we've gone to the last four years running.
We picked 5.65 pounds this year, a new record! We froze half of them for smoothies and then just pretty much shoved the rest into our mouths by the fistful. I'm telling you, dear reader, midwest blueberries are just the best I've ever had. Sweet, bursting with juice, and as big as a quarter, we are very spoiled.

The fun thing about this annual trip is that it is part of a whole ritual. We drive to the blueberry ranch, then we picnic at Central Park in Mishawaka, and then end the day at Let's Spoon for frozen yogurt in  South Bend before heading back to the city tired and sweaty, but full of antioxidants.
Central Park is next to the river and we spent several hours wading and picking up shells.
Side anecdote: For anyone familiar with the Little Dragans' obsession with dead animals, you will not be surprised to learn that we found a huge floating dead trout and this became the subject of MUCH conjecture, prodding, and admonishments to NOT TOUCH THE DEAD FISH. How many times should you have to tell children not to touch dead animals that they find? Am I the only mother with this problem??

And now, back by popular demand.... BONUS BYTES WITH B!!

Hi guys welcome back to Dragan Tales. I’m B and today I’m going to tell you about our road trip. First I would like to give a special thanks to some friends who went blueberry picking with us. Thank you so much!!

So now let's get to the blog.

We go blueberry picking in Indiana about every summer and we usually take some friends along with us and then go to a park with our lunch and then to “let’s spoon” a frozen yogurt place that's really good!  Let's hear from Little Guy. Little Guy says that let’s spoon is the best frozen yogurt place and he also likes Josis!! [Mom's note: Josi's is in Portage Park and we will tell you all about it in the next post! Great foreshadowing, B!]

Now it's your turn to go to Indiana and experience all these fun things!!!!!!!

See you next time!!!!!!!!!  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer Series 2: Rogers Park

We are so excited to share this neighborhood with you!

Rogers Park (and its neighbor West Ridge) is the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago. A couple more steps, and a huge graveyard, and you've made it to Evanston.

I used to drive through Rogers Park when I worked north of the city, but I'll admit that I had never explored it. It is such a cool neighborhood!

Some facts:

It really is very far north. Just when you think you're almost there, you're halfway there. Chicago's longest street (Western Ave) is 23.5 miles long, so it's just one long city and this is its north pole, so to speak.

Rogers Park is the most diverse neighborhood in the entire country: socioeconomically and ethnically.

EIGHTY different languages are spoken by the residents of Rogers Park. I have a hard time even naming eighty languages! This was anecdotally confirmed when Little Guy and I played hide and seek with some girls in the first park we visited and they spoke Bosnian!

Going to Rogers Park is like taking a trip around the world without even leaving Chicago. Check out some of these fun sites!

Tel-Aviv Kosher Bakery - 2944 W Devon
Devon Avenue is this fantastic mile of the city where half of it is Indian and Pakistani restaurants and fabric shops (don't worry, we'll get to these) and the other half is Russian and Kosher Jewish bakeries and stores. It is almost a surreal experience to walk down this street and realize you're still in the U.S.! 

Tel-Aviv is a fantastic stop for bagels, pastries, cakes, treats, etc. They gave the kids samples of cookies and the adults samples of Rugelach - Hebrew for delicious, delicious pastry (think croissant with some extra sweetness rolled up in it.)

We bought most of the store. 

I have heard that they also have a great selection of sugar-free treats, but where's the fun in that??

Indian Boundary Line Marker - corner of Clark and Rogers

The Indian Boundary Line established in the Treaty of 1816 runs straight through Rogers Park. This was the line that was negotiated with the Native American tribes living in the area at the time, namely the Potawatomi, the Fox, and the Sauk among others. They were supposed to make their camp north of the line while Chicago grew and developed south of it.

It didn't last long.

After just 17 years Chicago decided they wanted more land and pushed the tribes even farther north.

Studying history is hard. It is really hard to read about these decisions with a modern lens. But I think we have to keep reading and remembering, and showing our children and teaching our children so that we can learn from the mistakes and injustices of the past. 

This marker is the only designation left for the Indian Boundary Line. It's on the side of a building at the  northeast corner of Clark and Rogers and it's now hidden behind a huge stoplight control. But we found it!!!

This makes a fun treasure hunt for the kids, and then you can have the boundary line discussion after they find it.

Readers who have never visited Chicago may not realize that it's located on Lake Michigan, and that the lake is so huge you can't see the other side. It feels a bit like living on the ocean! I was totally surprised by the Great Lakes when we moved here. This might sound dumb. I just couldn't wrap my head around how big they were!

Loyola Beach is a really fun one to visit for a couple of reasons:

1) Way less crowded than the touristy beaches around Navy Pier.

2) The beach is angled so that you can't really see the skyline, so it feels more remote.

3) They have a natural dune restoration project, the only one of its kind on this side of the lake.
4) The Artists of the Wall. This is my favorite part of Rogers Park. After graffiti on the breakwalls became a problem, neighborhood activists decided to turn this section into a huge community art project. Each year on Father's Day residents come out to paint a section of the wall according to an annually selected theme. The result is a vibrant stretch of community pride that is so much fun to walk along!
I feel like I did a pretty terrible job photographing this, it kind of needs to be seen in person!

Look at that teeny tiny city way south of us!! B says Thumbs Up to Loyola Beach!

I told you I had a thing about wooden playgrounds, didn't I?

This park is SO COOL. There's a ton to explore including a pond (with turtles!), a splashpad with dancing bears, really nice tennis courts, an old zoo that is now a nature center, and of course, ice cream vendors who come around ringing their bells every few minutes.
This park alone is worth the trip up to Rogers Park with little ones!

Devon Ave - Devon and Western
As I mentioned before, this street is such an anomaly and an absolute must experience in Chicago!

There are so many great restaurants along Devon, I really don't think you can go wrong. This is from Viceroy and I loved every single bite. I love buffets for trying new things because well, I love to eat A LOT of food, and I find the buffet allows me to be more adventurous since it takes the intimidation out of having to order. 
Little Guy agrees. Buffets for the win! That's kheer (Indian rice pudding) and it's his third bowl. So proud.

I hope you've enjoyed exploring Rogers Park with us! I give this neighborhood an A+ for its flavor, uniqueness, and the surprises it offers around every corner!

Next up: A summer road trip and then Portage Park