Follow the sun
When I moved to Chicago from Colorado 8 years ago, I worried about how I would experience nature in the city since so much of my weekends had been centered around hiking and biking, mountains and lakes. So if you’re like me and looking for a great outdoor adventure in 2022, head north to Rosewood Beach (883 Sheridan Rd. Highland Park; pdhp.org/rosewood-beach-2/ ) and spend the day soaking at one of the nicest spots in Illinois. This isn’t your average slice of Lake Michigan sand: Stone steps flanked by moss and ferns lead you to a beautiful, crescent-shaped beach with modern public bathrooms, a boardwalk and an on-beach playground. After you’ve basked in the sun, head to Michael’s (1879 Second St., Highland Park; eatmichaels.online) and get a burger, fries and a milkshake in a diner-style setting. This little day getaway will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a beach town off the coast of California.
– Manuel Martinez, photographer
Bring the outdoors in
As darkness descends, remember that a fresh bit of foliage will brighten any mood. Field & Florist (1908 W. Division St.; fieldandflorist.com) is a recent discovery for me, although the boutique has been around since 2014, assembling sculptural masses of flowers and branches harvested from its own farm in Sawyer, Michigan, in the fall through spring and, when it snows, sourced from abroad. “In the past year, so many people were sensory deprived and lacking these small nice gestures that we can enjoy at home,” said Heidi Joynt, a co-owner with Molly Kobelt. Dahlia, ranunculus and lisianthus form the sweet spot of Field & Florist’s local offerings. Joynt says they are starting to get into heirloom chrysanthemums from Japan. “Really cool spider mums that almost look like a bowl of noodles on a stem,” she said. (Against all odds, the pair took the plunge earlier this month and opened a second location, downtown in the Monadnock Building, which also sells hard-to-find bottled fragrances from around the world.) If you’re feeling exotic – or have a recipient in mind who prefers beach getaways above all else – Cindy’s Lei & Flower Shoppe (cindysleishoppe.com) in Honolulu will deliver strands of tropical blossoms direct to your door via FedEx. Surely, someone in your life deserves a ray of light.
– Jennifer Tanaka, interim managing editor
Scale new heights
If you admire the seemingly effortless virtuosic talents that show up at weekday night jazz jams, you might be looking to expand your repertoire. (Hungry Brain in West Lake View hosts a friendly one on Wednesday nights.) Playing jazz could be the answer. Start by picking up a copy of the Real Book, the quintessential lead sheet collection. Choose a few standards to learn at first. Refer to this list of the most commonly called jazz standards for guidance on what is popular. As you learn a song, listen first to various recordings. I find Chet Baker’s recordings to be among the most accessible jazz to play along with. Learn the lead lines first to get a feel for the form. Then, learn the chords. Use a metronome at a slow tempo to discipline your rhythm and increase the speed as you improve. Whatever you do, don’t keep stumbling through from the top of the song over and over. Pick specific sections where you have trouble and rehearse them multiple times until you develop muscle memory. Having learned a handful of standards in both the lead and rhythm parts, you’re ready to augment your style with improvisations. This starts with developing extreme comfort with the major and minor pentatonic scales. Drills like this advanced exercise will help you progress from the basics to playing comfortably and nimbly in all 12 keys. Use the Circle of Fifths to work through each key. Then, back to the metronome, introducing more complex rhythms in your playing. From there, go back to your Real Book tunes. Can you hear the pentatonic scales in these songs?
– Nick DePrey, director of product
Jump into the saddle
On a hot and sunny Sunday in late June, a large crowd surrounded a dirt-covered field behind the South Shore Cultural Center to witness what felt like a dream: a real rodeo on the South Side. Dressed in full Western regalia and seated on shining horses, young cowboys and experienced veterans interacted with the spectators. Loud music and high spirits were encouraged by an emcee who made everyone feel like they were exactly where they should be. Since 1989, the Broken Arrow Horseback Riding Club (brokenarrowhorsebackridingclub.org) Annual Speed & Action Rodeo Horse Show brings together multicultural cowboys and cowgirls for an afternoon of horseracing events and demonstrations, including timed competitions such as relays and flag races. The club aims to provide Chicagoland and a new generation of riders with the chance to form a relationship with horseback riding and to educate about the history of Black cowboys. Accessible to all, the event works to change stereotypes of what a cowboy looks like. It is also a bright reminder for anyone convinced they know all of the city’s open secrets. While the rodeo happens every year, dates for 2022 have not yet been announced so check the club’s website.
– Justine Tobiasz, media archivist
Travel back in time
For more than 12 months during the pandemic, I neither shaved my beard nor cut my hair. I made these choices because I wanted to look like a Viking. And I wanted to look like a Viking for precisely one reason: the Bristol Renaissance Faire (12550 120th Ave., Kenosha; renfair.com/bristol) in Bristol, Wisconsin. For nearly five decades, the annual event has offered Midwesterners the chance to travel back in time, just 90 minutes from Chicago. Most literally, the Faire is a family-friendly festival that recreates a historical-ish English village from 1574, complete with the requisite troubadours, turkey legs, jousting, jesters, corsets, costumes, merchants, beer and fake British accents. But for me and like-minded “rennies,” Bristol has come to mean so much more. Over the decades I’ve been attending, it has grown into a seasonal safe space for all stripes of nerds, rebels, roleplayers, cosplayers, goths, gamers and weirdos not otherwise specified. Yes, you’ll see people dressed in Renaissance garb. But you’ll also see World War I Tommies, anime characters, pirates, orcs, fairies, elves and even the odd Trekkie. So if you’re into being an outcast, set aside your weekends from July 9 through Sept. 5 to bask in the glory of a medieval milieu where dudes in cargo shorts are the odd ones out. And if you’re not, put on some comfy sandals, pack up the kids and strap in for some family fun and Olympic-level people-watching.
– Alex Keefe, engagement editor
Garden for good
Don’t write off the monarch butterfly just yet. Illinois’s state insect is part of the eastern population of the species, whose numbers have declined as much as 85% since the 1990s. The numbers are bad enough that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nearly classified Danaus plexippus (the butterfly’s scientific name, Greek for “sleepy transformation”) as an endangered species last year – but the agency was too busy adding other species to the list to include the monarch. Conservationists offer a variety of explanations for the population collapse, citing the usual culprits of climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. If that all sounds hopeless and overwhelming, keep in mind that you can do something about that last part: habitat. Planting milkweed is the most impactful thing you can do to support future generations of butterfly larvae. Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, preferring swamp, butterfly and common varieties of the native perennial. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago will mail you a free packet of milkweed seeds, or you can look up a native plant sale in the springtime or purchase some starts from your neighborhood garden shop. (Farmers Market Garden Center on Elston can hook you up.) You can also register as a community scientist with the Field Museum and volunteer to monitor milkweed gardens in the Chicago area. There’s still hope that Midwesterners can awaken eastern monarchs from their sleepy transformation and avoid extinction. In November, volunteers in California counted 100,000 western monarchs during their annual migrations – a 50-fold increase from 2020.
– Matt Kiefer, data editor
Stir, slurp, repeat
When I was growing up, my family would head to the now defunct root beer stand in my hometown to order the creamy, bubbly dessert. Every mug was a project. You had to carefully plan to ensure you had a good mix of spoonfuls of ice cream, marinated with root beer. And then let the ice cream melt just so to suck the remaining perfectly sweet combo through your straw. I’ve been dreaming again about these sweet treats and want to go on a Root Beer Float Crawl. I already have a list going based on obsessive googling: Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash Ave.; elevencitydiner.com) in the South Loop to get that “soda fountain” feel, Au Cheval (800 W. Randolph St.; auchevaldiner.com/chicago) in Fulton Market to feel fancy and I’ve heard excellent things about Top-Notch Beefburgers (2116 W. 95th St.; facebook.com/topnotchbeverly/) in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. Now to decide if I do it all in one day… could definitely be worth the sugar coma.
– Ariel Van Cleave, interim managing editor
Drift awayOne of the best self-care activities I discovered during the pandemic is sensory deprivation floating. It feels a little weird at first: an hour floating in a completely dark, completely silent, oversized pod. But the point is to give your brain a break and your muscles a chance to unwind. For about the cost of a massage, floating has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, while increasing clarity of mind and creativity. And the high magnesium salt concentration in the water (what keeps you floating, kind of like the Dead Sea) helps relieve pain. If you snooze while afloat, your session will be the best, most-refreshing nap money can buy. My favorite spot is Float Sixty (303 W Erie St. plus three other Chicago-area locations; floatsixty.com) in River North because they give you a hot cup of tea afterward, complete with a loose-leaf diffuser in the shape of a man floating.
– Mary Hall, digital producer
For all of you job changers, promotion seekers and just-hanging-on-by-my-fingernails-ers in 2022, a suggestion: Ditch your personal brand, and develop your personal mission statement instead. I was asked recently about “building a brand” for a talk at a large Chicago tech firm. Having had to consider a big job change a few years ago, I remembered the exhaustion of feeling the need to present a persona to potential employers. It became obvious that creating a personal brand depends on someone else buying what you’re selling, and that is terribly hard to maintain. Your personal mission statement, however, is your own operating manual: What are your priorities? Your core values? These answers are going to be different for everyone – and, heaven knows, they may evolve over time – but they will provide a road map for where you want to go. For me, this didn’t necessarily make changing jobs easier, but it did clarify where I needed to be. For you, it may be a gift you give yourself: understanding how you want to spend your one precious life.
– Mary Dixon, Morning Edition host
Yell and stomp
In a glimmer of cheer, 2021 was a watershed moment for women’s sports in Chicago: The Chicago Sky (sky.wnba.com) won its first WNBA championship and the Chicago Red Stars (chicagoredstars.com) made it to the National Women’s Soccer League finals. So, now is the time to hop on the bandwagon and support our local superstars by attending their home games in 2022. For the Red Stars, that means coming out for Casey Krueger (Naperville), one of the NWSL toughest defenders; Tatumn Milazzo (Orland Park); Kayla Sharples (Naperville) and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (Naperville). For the Sky, keep your eye on Dana Evans (Gary, Ind.), who came off the bench and scored 9 points during game three of the 2021 WNBA finals. Of course, there is DePaul legend Allie Quigley (Joliet), a three-point assassin and the Sky’s all-time leading scorer. And, finally, it goes without saying: Naperville’s Candace Parker, the GOAT. The atmosphere is top notch, whether it’s the creative in-game chants from Red Stars’ boosters Chicago Local 134 or the Sky’s time-out and half-time entertainment. As someone who has been to every home game (minus two) for both teams, I have to say there is no better way to spend your summer.
– Marquita Wiggins, audience engagement manager
Meet your neighbors
Social distancing made eavesdropping impossible during the pandemic. But now that I’ve got all my COVID-19 shots, I’ve been diving back into this sport at one of the best places to eavesdrop in Chicago: The New 400 (6746 N. Sheridan Rd.; thenew400.com), a neighborhood movie theater in Rogers Park. I once overheard someone getting arrested in the middle of the It remake. And during Black Panther, when T’Challa gets thrown over a cliff by Killmonger, the dude sitting next to me yelled, “Bye, Felicia!” This small neighborhood theater opened in 1912 and has survived two pandemics now. You can catch the latest movies at prices way cheaper compared to big name theater chains. For some, it’s a secret gem that has a full bar and the best audience commentary you’ll find. To others, it’s a grungy dive that looks like pieces of the ceiling might fall and you may lose a shoe on the sticky floor.
– Hunter Clauss, newsletter editor
Test your taste
This winter, I am enrolling in a culinary adventure called “cheese school” – except I’m basically the instructor, the paper and pencil is just a note on my phone, and the “classroom” is cheese shops around town. Here’s how it works: Find a store, buy cheese (bonus for places with folks kind enough to offer a bit of insight), take your goods home, snap a picture of the label and let the fromage taste test begin. Add the picture to a running note saved to your phone and rate your cheese on a five emoji-star scale. Don’t forget to write a short review. So far, Brebis Pardou, a sheep’s milk cheese from France, is my sole five-star awardee. That cheese came from All Together Now (2119 W. Chicago Ave.; alltogethernow.fun), a lovely little café and market in Ukrainian Village. For future cheese school lessons, I’ve got my eye on Beautiful Rind (2211 N. Milwaukee Ave.; beautifulrind.com) and the Great American Cheese Collection (1400 W. 46th St.; greatamericancheese.com) in Back of the Yards.
– Courtney Kueppers, digital producer
Pump the local economy
Two of my neighborhood mainstays are The Coffee & Tea Exchange (3311 N. Broadway; coffeeandtea.com), a corner coffee shop and roastery crammed with tins of tea and bags of beans, and the Unabridged Bookstore (3251 N. Broadway; unabridgedbookstore.com), home to one of the largest collections of LGBTQ+ books in the city. A few other spots on my list to check out in 2022? Black Luxe Candle Co. (1741 N. Damen; blackluxecandles.com), a Black-owned artisan candle store recommended by Rundown reader Liv Medina, and Comercio Popular (2901 W. Cermak; instagram.com/comerciopopular.co), heralded by reader Sal Garza for its curated collection of items made by Mexican designers.
– Libby Berry, digital producer