Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Strawberry Pickin' Good Time At The Apple Barn

It's peak strawberry season right now at The Apple Barn, and we had a great time picking berries on Monday, despite the heat. The Apple Barn is in Elkhorn, WI and under two hours north of Chicago. A four quart box was $7, as was a bag of 12 freshly made strawberry doughnuts. We bought and enjoyed both. Berrys are usually plentiful from mid June through mid July.

My parents were on their way from a wedding in Crystal Lake to a mini vacation in Door County, and were able to meet up with us for lunch and pick-your-own fun.
So, we had a blast with our multigenerational berry pickin' bonanza. We've harvested apples, grapefruits, oranges and various veggies, but none of us had ever been strawberry picking.I think it's especially important for urban kids to pick local, seasonal produce and make the connection between farms and our fresh food. The berries off the vine are so flavorful compared to the processed grocery store variety. We have two, tiny strawberry plants in our yard, but the yield has been about one berry a week, so far. So, the vast rows of bountiful plants were like a treasure hunt. Even Dad, the self proclaimed "meatatarian", who says he won't eat fruit and veggies 'cause they grow in dirt, chowed down. Everyone had a great time and devoured at least 2 quarts before we left The Apple Barn. We ended our visit with a wine tasting in the barn store. The kids sampled goats milk lotions and played kitchen with an antique stove. With our bag of strawberry doughnuts for breakfast in hand, and fresh berry juice on our chins, we hit the road back to Chi Town. It was well worth the drive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Phishing Trip-Summer 2009

This past Saturday through Monday, we camped with many old and new friends, celebrated the camping portion of Sage's 6th birthday and Father's Day and saw two amazing Phish concerts at Alpine Valley. The band stopped touring in 2004, so though the kidlets did see live Phish shows the first few summers of their lives, these two are the first they'll remember.

We camped at a small, family run campground on picturesque Turtle Lake, where we were happy to escape the heat advisories with a dunk in the water and an afternoon floating on rafts. The kids gathered large snail shells, watched frogs and minnows, and serenaded everyone.

For eight of us, it was truly a reunion. In the close to 20 years or so, that we've all been going to concerts and camping together, lots has changed. We first saw The Grateful Dead each summer at Deer Creek, Alpine Valley and Soldier Field and later, after Jerry Garcia died, we made the same mini tour with Phish.

None of us had children of our own. And camping was not just a place to crash after the show, but a fun bonding experience. Three of our friends are now high school teachers and college professors, many have higher degrees, we're all scattered across the Midwest, and we have 4 new humans among us, two of whom came along for the ride.

We even broached the subject of a living will, and asked our friends, Danielle and Tim, to raise Du-Jay and Sagezilla in the event something happens to us in the next 12 years, before the kids are legal adults. One always hopes that will be a non issue, but we didn't want to strand the kids without a plan or have the lawyers plop the kids on their porch unannounced some day! Our friends didn't run screaming, but tearfully and happily hugged us. We had to make them promise not to hire a hit man or run us off the road just to inherit Du-Jay and Sagezilla.
Still, despite all the years that have past and all the changes, much was completely familiar. We picked right back up where we left off, as friendships can do. The songs remained the same. We shared food, pitched in helping each other with camp duties, got to know the new campground neighbors, and experienced those uncanny coincidences that always magically happened.

Coinkidink 1: We drove several hours in from Chicago and our two friends came from The Deer Creek shows in Indianapolis via an overnight in Lisle with friends. We left from different points at completely different times and pulled in to the camp ground within minutes of each other.

Coinkidink 2: In parking lots full of thousands of cars, we were in the same row as our friend from Summercamp and Metronome Fest, River's Mama.
And walking from the lot to the venue, we saw another awesome Mom we met at Summercamp, who is a homeschooling book seller.

In 2004 in the Phish lot, we parked literally next to our old Naprapath and friend, Dr. Drew, whom we hadn't seen in a year.

Coinkidink 3: The kids talked about what songs they'd like to hear Phish play and got 4 of them their first night! Three of those songs had been answers to a 3 question trivia game we made up and played in the car on the way to the show.

Coinkidink 4: We were talking with a woman in the lot, making necklaces, and discovered she grew up near where Dug did. Her family business bought their place from his to a place owned by the company his Dad worked for till retirement. Small world.
Sage is still hoping to camp with some of her 6 year old friends and their families, but logistically we couldn't make it happen before fall, so we told her this would be camping birthday and friends (tho grown up friends). Two out of three isn't bad. We brought a big chocolate cake to share and topped it with fresh fruit. Friends celebrating their anniversary brought champaign for mimosas. And we all sang a rousing "Happy Birthday" on the shores of the lake.I brought fabric markers and Sharpies and we communally decorated a birthday dress for Sagezilla at the camp ground. She wore it to the 2nd night of Phish (also Father's Day and summer solstice) where the dress decorating continued through the lot scene and the show. Kind strangers gave her glow sticks, a funky colored hair headband, bubble swords, and a beautiful, handmade necklace, where she got to choose her own beads. By the end of the concert she had declared it the bestest bubblin' birthday EVER.

We were near the front of the lawn for the 2nd night, and the kids caught literally hundreds of glo sticks to throw back out into the crowd (or in Zilla's case, also into the face of a guy who was in her space). They wrote messages on balloons and sent them soaring into the audience. Sagezilla made balloon works of art, her favorite being a creepy and detailed "baby vampire crying blood tears, because he's too young to HUNT." The flip side of the same balloon was a cute little anime looking frog with long lashes.

She sent it into the crowd, where it vanished, only to have it come back to her about 15 minutes later. She was on my shoulders, excitedly following its progress, as it bounced around the crowd. But, like a boomerang, it kept returning to her. She was happily laughing as she virtually played catch with an audience of over 40,000. Even the security guards got in on the act, spiking the little vampire back to Sagezilla when it ricocheted out of our section.

Finally, after multiple balloon rebounds, Sage had to pee, so she made the long trek up the steep slope, to the back of Alpine Valley, with the vampire balloon clutched in her hand. It lasted through the two of us skipping to and from the portalets and magically meeting up with the male half of our family, who had made a break for the potties a half hour before. The baby vamp lasted through the kids rolling down the back side of the steep hill repeatedly.

Then...... it popped. Sagezilla wailed, "I worked so hard on that balloon!" and I gently reminded her that that's the nature of bubbles and balloons. But she got to fill it with her breath, created it, and enjoyed it immensely while it lasted. "She smiled and happily exclaimed. I got to see it die!" Du-Jay added, " You were there for the balloon's whole life cycle!"

Dug put up with the rest of us, since it's not his favorite music by a long shot. That's true love for ya--and on Father's Day, even. But, he got a few good weeks of grumbling mileage out of it and got to keep his Punk Cred.
Phish did cover Talking Heads, "Frankenstein" by The Edgar Winter Group and Jimmi Hendrix--all bands he does like. These two shows wrapped up the early summer portion of Phish's tour. We have tickets to one more show in August, at Toyota Park. Till then, we'll play our sets from the taper section and remember the fun we had Phishin'. Mr. Miner's Phish Thoughts is a good source for set lists, downloads, photos, and insightful musings, if you're interested in more Phish food for thought.

Please remember to vote for ChiIL Mama for best blog, Chicago. You can vote daily through July 15th, by clicking on the circular button--the bright shiny button--to the right, under the slide show and selecting ChiIL Mama. Thank you. Tomorrow we're off to Portland, OR. So our next post will be from the coast!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I ♥ Faces--Let's Hear It For The Boys


In honor of Fathers' Day, this week's contest at I ♥ Faces is a boy bonanza--no girls allowed. For the adult entry, here is my own Dad, having a playful moment with his grandson in our swing chair. My son helped design the matching earth t-shirts that say "Let's Peace It Together" and were a school fundraiser.

My kids entry is my son, picking me a clover bouquet. He's still in that sweet on Mom, young boy phase. He's gentle, mellow, extremely creative, artistic and affectionate. As one friend described him, "He's a walking hug."

However, everywhere we go, people mistake my 8 year old son for a girl. When he first decided to let his hair grow, and people began calling us ladies or telling him he was in the wrong bathroom, he was a bit upset by it. I told him he could cut his hair or not let it bother him. I also said, until he's old enough to grow a goatee, people will make silly assumptions. Since then, he's been very zen about the whole thing. Usually, it's his little sister that belts out, "He's NOT a girl. He's a long haired boy! That's my big brother."

So happy Father's Day to all the Dads, Gramps, Grandpas, Pop Pops and the sons and grandsons who love them.

Friday, June 19, 2009

X Hits The Spot At Double Door 6/18/09

Last night, the kids had a sleep over with friends and we had the pleasure of seeing the legendary band, X, in the intimate Double Door club. Exene was incredible, belting out her lyrics with amazing energy, despite her recent diagnosis of MS. John Doe was out of his mind and rocked out as well. Billy Zoom stared down the first few rows with intensity, deflected with an occasional grin, and played like a maniac.

All four band members looked like they thoroughly enjoyed playing, despite jokes about the heat, ala "So, why is it so hot in here? What. Double Door didn't pay their electric bill, so no air conditioning?" It was warm, with the ineffectual fans just blasting hot air, like a hair dryer. But the sweaty crowd was undeterred and danced hard anyway.

The show, first night of a three night run, was amazing. People are able to vote on their favs for the set list each night, on the official site, for the Total Request Live Tour. Check in with Jam Base to hear songs, see upcoming tour dates, etc. I was even able to score an excellent X youth M shirt for $10, for the kidlets to share.

We ran into our moustached friend, who writes for Spin Magazine, whom Dug has known since high school. After the show, we bar hopped and ate late nite Flash tacos with other TV/film industry friends who had to get up this morning and work. There are some things in life worth missing sleep for.

Sagezilla lost her 3rd tooth while on her sleep over and was elated to discover the tooth fairy found her there, too. However, she was out of the usual gold dollar coins, onyx animals and slices of agate. But she left 4 quarters and a very cool horse necklace with a colorful stone in the middle! It takes a village..............

ChiIL Mama will be gone Phishin' this weekend, so check back in Monday for lots of photos and a recap of the weekend.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Swede Times In Chicago's Andersonville Neighborhood

Big Sage (or Winter Sage), Little Sage and Dugan
both Sages are heading for 1st grade

Saturday was filled with intermittent, but severe thunderstorms, so we put off going to Midsommerfest till Sunday. It was a good choice, since the whole day was sunny and warm. We started with Dalerna horse decorating at The Swedish Museum booth. The excellent children's play village was free all weekend.

While there, we registered Du for Pioneer The World Camp at The Swedish Museum, a fantastic week long day camp where campers "travel" to a different country each day. Last year they got passports and boarding passes for a great cardboard plane and flew around the world. Each day they made crafts and food from the host country and learned songs, kids games and culture. The week culminated in a big, international show for all the families. Camp is for ages 7 and up.

Then we hit the kids area where we had another Sage sighting, and made masks and party cones (with our little friend who has a birthday the day after Sagezilla)and climbed the free inflatable climbing wall. Then we got bike maps and stickers and tested our knowledge of bike safety. The kids got a kick out of running into school friends. The oldest daughter (who was born the day before Du--same year) was dressed to perform with her Irish dance troupe.We wrapped up the fest with lunch at Andi's Mediterranean Restaurant. Mmmmm gyros and mojitos at the Swedish Fest. I feel more multicultural already.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chicago Blues

We thoroughly enjoyed The Chicago Blues Fest last Saturday and Sunday. It was a chance to hear some free, world class music and hang with friends.The kids had a great time putting on shows for an appreciative audience with their ribbon dancers, hula hoops and poi balls. At one point they came back to the chairs we were watching them from, and announced that they were going to perform again, then ask for tips, to which I replied, "OH NO YOU'RE NOT. Do it for the joy of it, for fun, not for money!" Then they sheepishly said they were kidding, causing the women behind us to crack up.

Even Mama hooped after much useless not-in-public protesting and much chanting of "Hoop Hoop Hoop", by the peanut gallery. I even earned a round of applause!

Saturday we had some family time playing frisbee and catch in the "zone of flying objects" at the back of the lawn. Jugglers and expert hoopers with giant hula hoops abounded. And after dark there were ubiquitous glow sticks and even a glow hoop and glow juggling balls.

We ran into one little girl we've seen at every Blues Fest for years. She's named for an Indian Goddess and has her namesake's likeness on a jean jacket that she's worn for years. She appeared at The Flaming Lips concert at Summer Camp last year and down at the beach behind Charter One Pavilion at Northerly Island during the Phil Lesh/Levon Helms concert. We'd still recognize our little friend, even if she outgrows the jacket next year!
Sunday, I went solo with the kids and met up with several Mama friends and their kids.

We all shared food and fest toys like poi balls, diablo, devil sticks, bubbles, hoops and a contact juggling ball.

Sagie chose to wear what was my favorite dress in Kindergarten. My Mom saved it for 37 years! The weather was finally warm and gorgeous and all the kids were playing happily together with little intervention.Even D'Arcy, who has been trying to make it to Blues Fest to meet up with us for years, made it!

At one point, we sent the kids to the back of the lawn (always within sight lines!) to play more rousing games of football, Frisbee and catch, while we caught up on conversation and tried in vain to keep the youngest toddlers closer to our folding chair encampment. When D'Arcy was ready to head out early on the train, we went to retrieve our 4 kids from the back. They had snagged the rope we used to tie the chairs to the wagon and were playing "hunter".

In the short time it took us to walk back to them, a drunk 20 something guy had joined in the game and encouraged the kids (ages 3,6 & 8) to all be hunters. They tackled him and in short order my 6 year old bound his ankles tightly and tied a number of knots (like Gulliver's Travels)! As we ran up, the guy was laughing on the ground, saying "I don't know how this happened. She's the mastermind, behind it all." Of course he pointed at Sagezilla! Taken down by a 40lb. girl. I didn't know whether to crack up or be weirded out that our kids had tackled and tied up a drunk stranger..........2 plus 2 is 4, 4 plus 4 is 8...........tie up drunken strangers......cause Blues Fest's always great. It's sweet home Chicago.

Even though we saw the whole thing go down, and he was probably a harmless goof in a well lit field full of people, we had to have an urgent refresher course at home, about tackling, touching and tickling (not to mention tying up!) being restricted to friends we KNOW.

We went over basic fest non negotiables again, too. For our kids, that includes rules about always telling an adult where you are going and not straying from the immediate area of the adults after dark, because it's too easy to get disoriented or out of sight.

Fests are full of police and crowded, so I think there's a false sense of security. But those same crowds make it easy to lose site of a quick moving kid. Too many children go missing or are harmed, and it's not worth taking a chance on. When in a large crowd, we require a least one adult to SEE where all kids are at all times, even if we tag team it.

Of course the mounted police are always a big hit with the littles. Fortunately they're friendlier to the little hippies than to the grown up tie dyed masses. Back in the day, we dreaded the horse police because they'd aggressively come through at the end of the fest and chase us all out of the park, intentionally trampling coolers, blankets and anything in their way. Now, we want to foster a good relationship between our kids and the boys in blue, in case they get lost............ or get arrested for roping drunks.

We'll be regulars at lots of Millennium Park and Grant Park concerts all summer. Blues Fest is one of our favorites, but it's only the beginning of the awesome free concert season in Chi Town. So watch your ankles people! Sagezilla's in the park.