Saturday, November 30, 2019

Historic Long Grove, Illinois is Full of Nostalgic Charm

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were the visits I would make with my sister, sisters-in-law and mother to the little community of Long Grove, a northwest suburb of Chicago. The historic downtown business district seemed frozen in time and the village had restrictions on building in and modifying the downtown area to help retain that small-town country feel.

The Village Tavern in Long Grove, established in 1847.
We'd go for a day trip to shop in the quaint boutiques and we'd end with dinner at the old Village Tavern. On a trip to Long Grove earlier this year, I was so pleased to see that not much has changed since I was a kid. The Village Tavern, established in 1847, is still there - the oldest continuously operating restaurant/tavern in the state. A lot of the shops I remembered were still around and there were several newcomers. There's now a winery and a brewery there, too.

We visited High Tea with Gerri for the traditional tea service and it was so lovely and charming. And I popped into the Long Grove Confectionery for some goodies and visited some other shops. It's such a fun throwback and a great way to spend some time in Lake County, Illinois. For more info, go to and

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Take Advantage of Rare Opportunity to See Sanfilippo Estate During Holiday Season

On a media trip I took last year to McHenry County, we had planned for some outdoor activities that had to be adjusted when we had heavy rain. Our hosts with Visit McHenry made some calls and re-arranged the schedule a bit and instead of spending time on a lake, we boarded a bus and got a tour of a magnificent mansion in the northwest suburbs. I love spending time on the water and doing outdoor activities in the summer, but in the end I was pretty grateful for this rainfall. If it hadn't happened, we would have missed out on this tour, which was one of the best parts of the trip.

Our tour was of the Sanfilippo Estate, which is a private home not open to the public except for special fundraising events organized by the Sanfilippo Foundation. We were lucky to get this private tour. We were able to see much of the family's collection that includes steam engines, vintage music machines, a steam locomotive, an 1890 carousel and much, much more. As we made our way through the exhibits, each room was more breathtaking that the last. There's also a theatre with an 8,000 pipe Wurlitzer organ. Right now tickets are still available for three holiday concerts on December 6, 7 and 8. It's one of the few opportunities each year to visit the estate. I was there is June and I can only imagine how beautiful the place is during the holiday season. For more information, visit

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge

Disclosure: Our accommodations were provided. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

As summer was winding to a close, I thought it would be nice to take one last weekend getaway with the boys. I made plans for an overnight visit Grand Bear Lodge at Starved Rock in Utica. Located just a couple minutes from the entrance to Starved Rock State Park, it's a great place to crash and connect after a day of hiking the beautiful trails.

We stayed in a vacation villa, so it was just down the road from the main resort, but so room and comfortable. It had a kitchen larger than my kitchen at home, a full-size dining room, a living room with sofa bed and bathroom, then upstairs were two bedrooms and another bathroom. The villa is designed to sleep 8. I loved that our spacious master suite included a jacuzzi tub. We had plenty of space to spread out, but could gather together for mealtime or a movie.

The highlight of the lodge is a 24,000 square-foot indoor water park that includes a lazy river, wave pool, slides, water playground and hot tub. Admission is included for guests of the resort and they also offer day passes.

There's a lot more to do though, than just hang out at the water park. We explored the arcade and had a fun time doing mini golf. We also hung out at the Bear Island outdoor bar. There's plenty of activities scheduled at the resort as well - from movie times to crafts to hula hoop contests.

I was impressed with the food at Jack's Place Restaurant. I had a chef salad that was huge and loaded with meat, cheese, egg and avocado. We also ordered a pizza that exceeded my expectations - it had a really good crust that was nice and crispy and I loved the crumbled sausage.

They also have a cafe for sweets and snacks and a hot breakfast buffet on weekends.

For more information, visit

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Fair Oaks Farms Now Has Apple Orchard

In late August I visited Fair Oaks Farms to be part of a consumer panel for a conference being held there and had a little time afterwards where I thought I'd explore the grounds a little. I have fond memories of many visits over the years - taking my teens there when they were little, stopping in the cafe or the Farmhouse Restaurant for lunch while traveling, going on field trips with my boys to check out the Diary Adventure. I was also surprised to learn that they now have an apple orchard that has opened.

The season was just starting and they were offering free picking to visitors, so I couldn't resist. I was in a dress and dress shoes, but it was such a beautiful day I couldn't resist taking a walk out to the orchard to do some picking. It was a weekday afternoon and I had the whole place to myself. It was quite peaceful and a I gathered a big bag of apples that I brought home to make some pies. It would make for a fun family outing - especially when paired with the other attractions.

Fair Oaks Farms includes some fun outdoor activities that kids will love - toddler tractors, rock climbing, a big air pillow for jumping on. Then there's the Corp Adventure, the Dairy Adventure, the Pig Adventure - all designed to give visitors an overview of agriculture and a better sense of where their food comes from.

No visit is complete without getting a bit to eat in the Cowfe. They served some awesome sandwich there along with some delicious rich, ice cream. I always get some of the award-winning cheese, too from the Dairycatessen. And if you have time and want an amazing farm-to-table dining experience, make sure you pay a visit to the Farmhouse Restaurant. For more info, visit

Thursday, September 5, 2019

49er Drive In in Valparaiso, Indiana

I love nostalgic spots - old diners, historic homes, shoppes filled with vintage merchandise. But one of the throwback attractions I most enjoy visiting is the 49er Drive In Theatre in Valparaiso, Indiana. Although the cars are modern and the concession stand has an updated menu, it still gives you a feeling like you've stepped back into the 1950s when you're there. 

When you buy your ticket, you always get to see a double feature (if you can stay awake that long). You get to see the old jingles with dancing popcorn buckets before the show begins. There's a grassy area for kids to play in while you get settled. The National Anthem is played before the movie begins. 

We love making our way to the 49er Drive-in on a summer night. We open the back of the SUV, snuggle up with blankets and pillows and eat popcorn while we fight off mosquitos. It's such a fun way to spend time together as a family.

The 49er dates back to 1956 and continues to thrive. With only about 330 remaining drive-in movie theatres in the country, the 49er offers a fun diversion and a way to pull kids away from the screens at home to see the latest flicks together on an outdoor screen.

49er Drive-in
675 N Calumet Ave.
Valparaiso, In

Friday, August 30, 2019

Old German Beer Hall in Milwaukee

While in Milwaukee last month for the grand opening of the Saint Kate Arts Hotel, my husband and I took a walk over for brunch at the Old German Beer Hall on Old World 3rd Street. We’d been there once before on a previous trip. Hofbrau was the favorite beer of my late father-in-law and there’s not a lot of places to get it on tap. So, hubby got the full pint. I got the miniature. 

He was in the mood for waffles and since it was a weekend they had a brunch menu with Belgian Waffles. I went for my favorite German dish, schnitzel. Most of the time, it seems like restaurants that have schnitzel serve the pork version, but I’ve had veal a few times. I was surprised that they offered only schnitzel, but that was fine with me. It came with fries, but when I paired it with some of hubby’s waffles, it was perfect - chicken and waffles the German way.

If you find yourself in Milwaukee and want to get some German bar food and some cold authentic German brew, pay this place a visit. I’ve only been there at lunchtime, but I’ll bet it’s a blast on a Friday night. They have one of those fun nail games - with a long German name that I can’t remember or pronounce.

10009 N. Old World 3rd Street

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Stay in a Historic Train Car at Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Union Station

When we travel, we always like to find unique out-of-the-box lodging when we can. There's always the comfort of predictability in staying at a well-known hotel chain, but when you venture out and look beyond the box, you can find some wonderful historic gems and places with awesome personality. Sometimes you're lucky to find a perfect balance of both the traditional and unique in one place - and that's what you get with the Crown Plaza Downtown Indianapolis at Union Station.

Originally the country's first Union Station built in 1888, each space has been converted into upscale accommodations and the station's grand hall now serves as a ballroom with 60-foot ceilings and 3,200 square feet of original stained glass. Among those who have walked through the grand hall are Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Abraham Lincoln also passed through Union Station twice. Once as he traveled to Washington D.C. for his inauguration and the other to lie in state after his asassination.

On a visit this past spring to Indianapolis I was able to stay in one of the train car rooms - The Rudolph Valentino car. I loved the accommodations, which had all of the amenities of the other rooms. There are 13 train cars were converted into guest rooms (2 rooms in each car), which is just so cool. Throughout the hotel are statues or "ghosts" of the past.

The hotel is also conveniently located downtown with a connecting skywalk that takes you to the Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium. For more information, visit

Thursday, May 16, 2019

See All-Star Pitcher Carlos Zambrano at Chicago Dogs Game at Impact Field

I'm such a fan of the game of baseball. I grew up loving the game thanks to my dad. From the time my boys were born I couldn't wait to sign them up for little league. I spent many hours at fields watching t-ball games and then peewees and then little league. I'm a huge die-hard Cubs fan, just like my dad. And I enjoy visiting other Major League ballparks to see a game. I also love going to see minor league and independent league baseball games.

I recently learned about the newest team in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, the Chicago Dogs, when I attended the Travel and Adventure Show in January. The team began last year and they play in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont in the state-of-the-art Impact Field. Minor League and Independent League games are always a lot of fun. The stadiums are smaller than MLB stadiums, but still full of excitement for a smaller price tag.

And when I heard the awesome news that they signed Carlos "Big Z" Zambrano, I knew I'd have to get a game on my summer itinerary. Big Z is one of my favorite Cubs of all time. I liked his passion and thought he was a lot of fun to watch. He was also an outstanding player whose career highlights include being the National League leader in 2006, a three-time Silver Slugger and three-time All Star, being the starting pitcher in game one of the NLCS in 2003, starting pitcher in game one of the 2007 NLDS and pitching a no-hitter in 2008.

I have three fun memories of his time as a Cub. One was after a game and at the time, you could line up along the player's parking lot and sometimes get autographs. So my son and I would always head out to that area after the games and he'd try to get baseball cards or balls or his ball cap signed by different players. We were surprised to be standing on the sidewalk outside the parking lot and here comes Big Z walking down the sidewalk to his car that he had parked outside of the lot next to a garage. Fans swarmed him asking for autographs, but he was carrying his little girl and said, "Sorry, my hands are full" or something close to that.

My sister is a season ticket holder so we had an opportunity one year to attend a special day for season tickets holders where they would get to see some of the parts of the ballpark that the general public normally wouldn't get to visit like the dugout, locker rooms, batting cages, press box. As we made our way through the locker room most of the lockers were pretty bare with just uniforms in them. One locker had pictures of kids taped up at the top. It was Big Z's locker.

The other memory of Big Z was the last game of the season in 2009. My oldest son, who is a huge die-hard fan just like his grandpa, had won a contest run by Walgreen's to be celebrity bat kid. My son got to enter the park early and sit in the dugout before and during batting practice. When we first arrived there was no one there. The place was pretty much empty. Some of the employees were starting to stream in and there weren't any players on the field yet. My son and the other girl who'd won the contest were led down to the dugout and we had to stay in the stands. All of a sudden I look down into the dugout and standing next to my son is Zambrano. He was friendly to the kids and later on my son admitted he was trying to eavesdrop on Zambrano's cell phone conversation, but he couldn't understand any of it because he was speaking Spanish. It was an incredible experience for him to be able to hang out in the dugout and actually talk to some of the players and get a few autographs. It was unfortunately the days before smart phones were common and I think he had an old cell phone with a querty keypad or maybe a flip phone, but nothing good for taking pics and now that I think about it they probably weren't allowed to take photos anyway. But it is for sure a day neither my son or I will ever forget. 

So anyway, Big Z has always been one of my favorites and I'm so happy to see him returning to the game. I remember how exciting it was to see his no-hitter (on TV anyway - I wasn't lucky enough to be there for that game). This year you'll have the opportunity to see the three-time All-Star on the mound again. It's opening weekend and the start of an exciting season. The first series is against another Chicago-area team, the Gary RailCats. Click here to get your tickets.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tours at Blaum Brothers Distilling Co.

Blaum Bros. Distilling Company in Galena opened just over five years ago and a tour is a must-do if you're visiting this charming historic area in Western Illinois.

On a recent visit I had the opportunity to sit down with Matt Blaum and hear a little about how he and his brother, Mike, got started and how the distillery has grown.

"When we started, we didn't do it to make vodka or gin," he said. "We were whiskey nerds who wanted to make whiskey."

Blaum said some distilleries try to speed up the process by using smaller barrels, "but people who drink whiskey can tell the difference," he said. They're using big barrels and aging their whiskey for a long time - the old fashioned way. It takes a lot of patience.  He noted that they could rush through making something easier to sell to tourists, like a flavored moonshine, but that they're more interested in making a reputable product.

Matt Blaum

It seems to be working for them. Last year they sold the maximum amount of their product that they could under current liquor laws. In Illinois, you can't sell more than 2500 gallons at the distillery where it's produced (they are able to produce more than is available through distributors). In December, they hit that limit. In the midst of the holiday season, they could still do tours and had held back enough to make cocktails in their tasting room, but the shelves in the store were bare.  They're the only Illinois distillery to hit that limit so far.

One of their most popular sellers is a vodka infused with peppers called Hellfire Vodka. Blaum explained that it was something that was really just intended as a one-time experiment to make Bloody Marys. Again, they could go an easier route, but they prefer to do it the hard way, cutting and de-seeding half of the peppers to infuse the flavor. "We could order a chemical and be done in an hour, but we didn't do this to make a buck overnight," said Blaum. "We're looking for longevity."

So, what are the Blaum Brothers the most proud of? Whiskey, of course. Their 4-year Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the oldest Illinois distilled bourbon that is ready available. That's out of 31 distillery licenses in the state. "As two guys were were bourbon nerds, that's our baby," said Blaum. Their 4-year rye will be release soon, as well.

Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. products can be found at Binny's and Mariano's stores and many of Chicago's trendy restaurants, including Girl and the Goat and RPM Steak.

If you are in the Galena area, stop by to visit the gift shop, have a drink in the tasting room and take a tour. Tours are done every day at 3 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, there's also an 11 a.m. and a 1 p.m. tour and on Sundays, there's also a 1 p.m. tour. Tours take about 45-minutes. They start in the tasting room and take you through the distillery floor where you get a little history on the company and on distilling. You end back in the tasting room where you get to try some of the spirits. The tour is $10 and kids under 14 are free. For more information, visit

**I was hosted with a complimentary tour. I was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Blaum Bros. Distilling Co.

9830 W. US Highway 20
(815) 777-1000

Story, Indiana: Population 3 Humans, 4 Dogs

In the spring of 2018, I took a trip down to Indianapolis for the Indiana Media Marketplace and the opening of a new outdoor sports exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. I decided to tack on one more night to the trip and head toward Nashville, Indiana since I'd heard so much about it. In researching Brown County, I stumbled upon the story of Story, Indiana. It seemed the this little town had a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant. So, I worked in dinner at the Story Inn to my itinerary.

It was a long out-of-the-way drive to get there, but that's what I love most about it. There's one road going into town that dead ends just past town. It's isolated and peaceful and historic and tranquil. The entire town is an inn. Fourteen structures exist in Story. There's a former general store that houses a restaurant, tavern and has rooms on the second floor and there are also several rental cottages and a century-plus old barn that is a setting for weddings.

The community dates back to 1851. The lumber town was founded by Dr. George Stay and had a church, grain mill, blacksmith shop, two general stores, butcher shop and post office. After the Great Depression there weren't many people left in Story and the county lost half its population between 1930 and 1940. When the road leading out of the area was cut off and the town became surrounded on three sides by state and national forest, it became pretty much a ghost town. A "hippie" couple later opened a bed and breakfast there, but by the early 1990s it had closed and Story Inn sat empty until it was purchased by Rick Hofstetter in 1999. He purchased not used the former general store, but the rest of the town, too. 

When I visited I was greeted by Hofstetter who told me that the current population was three humans and four dogs. Yes, the dogs outnumber the people there. It's totally frozen in time and such a unique place to visit and stay.

You can now rent the entire town for a wedding, visit for brunch or dinner or enjoy cocktails at the Story Still. Read more about the dinner I had at the Story Inn hereThe co-owners of the Story Inn (and the other two residents of the town) are Jacob and Kate Ebel, both chefs who met when working in Alaska. 

Kate Ebel
I've seen posts online this past week about the town being for sale. It sounds like the inn/restaurant is there to stay, though. So, put it on your travel list for this year. It's a getaway like no other that will provide lasting memories. For more info, visit

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...