Polar Bears in Lake Michigan

It’s not unusual to see polar bears in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan every winter.  In fact, on January 28, 2017 they are taking the plunge at Oak Street Beach.  The Chicago Polar Bear Club has raised over $300,000 over the last 15 years for charity–helping families in need.  According to their website, “One hundred per cent of every dollar has gone directly to the families..”


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But before the club even existed, there were hearty swimmers who just enjoyed swimming in cold winter water.  The three earliest known winter swimmers were from Milwaukee:  Frank Sutter, Jim Brazell, and Gustav Marx pictured above. The photo is dated, December 31, 1916.  Their friends and the press began calling them polar bears.



This photo clipping from the Chicago Tribune, c. 1922, depicts a group of men and women resting between swimming sessions at the Edgewater Beach Hotel near the snowy, icy lake front.

If you would like to support this time honored tradition by donating, watching Polar Bears take the plunge, or by taking it yourself, contact the Chicago Polar Bear Club for details at http://www.chicagopolarbearclub.com .








Let’s Have Fun Chicago

Summertime has finally arrived in Chicago and there’s plenty to do.  We’ve found some unusual ways to spend some time in the city that will appeal to all of your senses.

Chicago’s only food museum, the Foodseum, is located at 108 N.State Street (Block 37 in the Loop).  If you are interested in food–seeing how it’s manufactured, prepared and presented then this is your place.  The featured item of the exhibit–one you can taste, smell, and touch–is the famous Chicago Hot Dog. You will finally be able to answer this age old question:  What  is the proper way to make a Chicago Dog?  Check out the website for more information:  http://www.foodseum.org

Chicago Ghost Tour is a free tour by foot.  This two hour walking tour begins at 7pm every Thursday and Friday at the Congress  Hotel Plaza and finishes at the Clark Street Bridge. It focuses on the darker side of Chicago, with macabre stories of the city.  A reservation is required so go to the website for more details: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com

The Garden of the Phoenix, formally the Osaka Gardens, is  a secret sanctuary in the midst of the bustling city.  Located in Jackson Park near the Museum of Science and Industry, it has undergone major renovations and will open in June 2016.  You can sit and meditate or bring your own lunch to enjoy in this beautiful Japanese Garden. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons by Urbanrules)


Remix Chicago is an art fair and fest featuring artists who use recycled and reclaimed materials.  All art lovers must come to see this spectacular event on June 11-12, 2016 at Logan Square, 2200-2300 North Milwaukee Avenue.  For more details go to http://www.remixchicago.com

What is your favorite–off the beaten path–thing to do in Chicago?  Please tell us, we’d like to know!






The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago

Atop an acropolis–situated above the Des Plaines River Valley at 10915 Lemont Road in Lemont, Illinois–the Rama Temple with its 80 foot tower (Gopuram)– is visible from a great distance.  This symbol of the Hindu spirit entices us into the temple complex where everyone is welcomed.  Beside the Rama Temple–built in the style of the Chola dynasty–we find the Ganesha-Shiva-Durga temple in the architectural style of the Kalinga dynasty from the first century B.C.E.

When entering the temples we are asked to remove our shoes, to refrain from taking photos inside, and to be respectful of these spiritual sanctuaries.  The spectacular statues inside are meant to shift our minds away from the outer world, inward, to aide in spiritual devotions.  Hindus preach that God is formless and shapeless.  The idols are symbolic. The Visitors Guide tells us: “When one is worshipping an idol, he or she is not really worshipping the physical form of the idol, but the spiritual quality of the divine symbolized by the idol.”

Outside of the two temples, we see the Sri Vivekananda Statue, the first statue of the Swami to be installed in a public place in the U.S.  The Vivekananda Meditation Center, found adjacent to the statue, has a soft, warm, peachy, and inviting glow.

The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago is a beautiful site that can only be appreciated by those who experience it.  It is a not-profit organization.  For more information about the temple and major festivals,  find the website at www.ramatemple.org or call 630-972-0300.


Exploring Lockport: Big Run Wolf Ranch

If you live in Lockport and think you hear the howl of wolves late at night, you are not dreaming.  The rustic Big Run Wolf Ranch, at 14857 Farrell Road, is a place where you can experience North American wildlife–especially an assortment of 11 wolves.

We visited the ranch on November 28, 2015 for a family day open house event.  We parked on Farrell Road–about a block away–since the ranch has limited parking.  After paying our six dollar fee, we were free to roam about.  The docents and workers were friendly and inviting, willing to answer questions about their rescued animals. We found a Siberian tiger named Khan, Charlie the Cougar, a porcupine, a very wily Coyote, and even a horse.  Kuma, the Black Bear was in semi-hibernation–so sorry to have missed him!  Underfoot, there were peahens, and various water fowl lounging along the creek–they seemed to enchant the large group of children attending the event.

John Basile, the owner who had started the ranch thirty years ago as a not for profit refuge and wildlife educational center, gave a talk and presentation featuring Sitka, the youngest wolf on the ranch.   We could see the playful spirit of Sitka, who was playing ball with her handler–but had to keep in mind her wild nature.  There is a reason that the animals are securely kept in their compounds inside a rather large fence.

Basile told stories about the animals.  We especially liked the one about Kuma who was sold at a flea market for $300.  Eventually, the black bear  was confiscated by authorities (it is against the law for unlicensed citizens to possess wild animals) and brought to Big Run.

Santa was there too!  What a photo op!

The ranch is not open to the public but scheduled groups (school field trips, overnight camping, corporate events, birthday parties, etc.) can arrange to visit the facility.  We recommend that you take advantage of the next open house on January 30, 2016, which will feature a dog sledding demonstration. Contact http://www.bigrunwolfranch.org for more information.  Wear your boots and dress warmly to enjoy your adventure in the great outdoors.

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Santa…photo by K. Schonauer


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Sitka… photo by K. Schonauer

Exploring Chicago: Architectural and Historical Cruises

The best way to enjoy Chicago is to take a boat tour.  We’ve taken tours on Chicago Line Cruises (chicagoline.com)  over the past three years and find them a wonderful way to relax for two hours.  Embarking from  the historic North Pier Docks, the boat either travels on the Chicago River or onto Lake Michigan.  Either way, you can’t go wrong, especially if your tour guide is Pat Kelly.

On the Lakefront tour, Kelly tells the story of Chicago from the time of the Chicago Fire in 1871, in which one third of the population was left homeless, to modern day–all while discussing the buildings that pertain to the historical facts. The boat travels through the locks near Navy Pier to proceed onto the Lake.  It travels along the lakefront while Kelly recalls the Century of Progress Exposition–called the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-34–which stretched from Navy Pier to past The Shedd Aquarium.  There’s plenty of time to take photos and ask questions, while sipping a complimentary beverage.

The Chicago River Tour is equally entrancing.  On the river, you may encounter water taxis, kayaks, and other boats traveling along the way.  The architecture is amazing.  You pass the Civic Opera Building, Trump Tower, The Wrigley Building and more.  Gothic design is contrasted with Post Modern buildings on which the images of the surrounding sites are cast in reflective light.  Chicago becomes magical when seen from this point of view.  But you will have to experience all this for yourself. As the official brochure says, “Chicago…will take your breath away on one of our guided Historical or Architectural Cruises”.

Chicago Skyline, photo by K. Schonauer
Chicago Skyline, photo by K. Schonauer
Tour Guide Pat Kelly
Tour Guide, Pat Kelly

Exploring Chicago: The Cloud Gate Controversy

Cloud Gate aka “The Bean”, located in Millennium Park, is one of the most photographed pieces of public art in Chicago.  The sculptor, Anish Kapoor, who created the 33′ x  66′ x 42′ piece from 168 highly polished stainless steel plates, claims to have a copyright on the work.  Any use of the photographs, other than “fair use” which is meant for educational or critical purposes, may be considered a copyright infringement.  The city will sell permits for those who want to use the photographs commercially.  It seems that after a sports writer was stopped by park security when trying  to take a photo in 2005, the city relaxed its permit to photograph requirements.  Now, film crews  of more than ten people are still required to buy a permit in order to photograph the sculpture.  However, the copyright laws apply to publishing.  (Here, I refer to Daniel Grant’s article in Sculpture Magazine, May 2005, Vol.24, No.4, http://www.sculpture.com)

Has Kapoor lost sight of the concept of his own work?  It’s surface reflects the city–by night and day–in snow and in rain.  Each photograph is a unique interaction with the piece and should be considered a work of art in itself. The public has rebelled; photographers freely publish their work on the Internet despite Kapoor’s restrictions.  One may ask:  Is public art for the aesthetic interpretation  of the public or is it for the aggrandizement of the artist?

Kapoor now has accused  China of infringing on his rights. Oil Bubble, a giant highly polished steel sculpture in the shape of an oil bubble in the city of Karamay, an oil town in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in Kapoor’s mind, is a direct copy of Cloud Gate.  Of course, the Chinese  disagree.  In their view, the Oil Bubble reflects the earth, while Cloud Gate reflects the sky and the City of Chicago. Kapoor wants to take legal action and even has asked  Mayor Rom Emmanuel for help in the matter.  Emmanuel’s laid back approach was reflected in his commenting that imitation is the highest form of flattery.

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Cloud Gate, photographed by Nick Aguinaga
Oil Bubble, photographed by China News Agency, Zhou Jianling