Summer fun for all: Parents have plenty to choose from in local summer camps

(Published April 30, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

With summer around the corner, schools, museums and even watersport companies are offering summer camps for kids.

At Camp GEMS, kids can explore the city through a six-week program that mimics the school’s curriculum, although the program is open to all kids, even non-students. Through the camp, kids explore the whole city and the build and design the city features. Each week is $475 or $2,700 for six weeks. Camp Gems is open to kids 3-12.

Taneal Sanders, a GEMS teacher, said Camp GEMS aims to benefit the entire student.

“We focus on keeping the kids’ minds and bodies active,” she said.

Each week has a different theme, and students learn lessons based on each theme. The first week is “who we are,” the second weeks is “where are we in place and time,” the third week is “how we organize ourselves, the fourth week is, “how the world works,” the fifth week is “sharing the planet” and the final week is “how we express ourselves.”

Throughout the camp, kids explore the city, design model cities, visit a theater and visit various markets and festivals in the city.

“On Fridays, we do a share-out where all age groups come together and we kind of have a little assembly where we share what we learned during the week,” Sanders said.  

Last year, kids took a water taxi to Chinatown and on another day they visited the Field Museum.

“We don’t just stay right in the neighborhood,” Sanders said. “With the younger campers, we stay close to school, but for the older kids, we venture out on public transportation.”

In addition to the cultural diversity, Sanders said Camp GEMS is staffed by GEMS teachers and the ratio is five students to one teacher, ensuring the kids are learning as well as enjoying the city.

“It’s not just for GEMS students,” Sanders said. “We love that it brings in different people and different perspectives.”

A variety of other day and week camps are available for kids.

Sailing and STEM camp

The Chicago Park District is hosting its annual sailing and STEM camp in May, June and July.

Kids can learn to sail at Monroe Harbor, with no experience necessary. The camp is for 5th-8th grade students in Chicago and it requires a $250 donation, though low-income applicants can get in free. To apply for a spot, visit

The four day-sessions (Monday-Thursday) go beyond  sailing. Students will learn science, technology, engineering and math curriculum. The course opens May 4 and meets every Saturday at 9 a.m. A June camp runs from June 24 to Aug. 1.

Visit for more details and to apply online. Scholarships are available.

Urban Kayaks paddle and kayak camp

Urban Kayaks summer paddle and kayak camp kicks off July 29. The camp runs weekly from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is aimed at kids ages 10 to 16. The course, at $550 per week with a 25 percent discount for siblings, is located at Monroe Harbor. For more information, visit or call 312-965-0035

Navy Pier’s Wiggleworms music program

While not a camp, Navy Pier is again hosting Wiggleworms, a free music program for children every Friday beginning June 21.

Wiggleworms, Old Town School of Folk Music’s early childhood music program, introduces young children and their families to a musical world. The program is at the Polk Brothers Park stage and it runs Fridays from 10 to 11:45 a.m.

Camp GEMS gets campers out and into the city for lessons. Photo courtesy GEMS

A look at the numbers behind the Navy Pier fireworks

(Published April 30, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

With the warmer weather comes Navy Pier fireworks.

May 25 is the start of the annual Navy Pier fireworks and Melrose Pyrotechnics will again produce the weekly displays, just as they have for the past 15 years.

For the audience, it’s 10 minutes of fun filled with fire, smoke and dazzling colors all set to music. But the behind the scenes is real work and somebody has to do it. One of those somebodies is Jonathan Gesse, a soundtrack producer with Melrose Pyrotechnics.

Gesse said “a minimum of 30-hours preparation goes into each Navy Pier display, which includes everything from soundtrack design, choreography, labeling, packaging, setup, product testing and transportation.”

The day of the show, five technicians set up about 10 hours beforehand, including monitoring the equipment in advance of the show.

Each show is a “unique pyromusical experience,” Gesse said. “Our team of choreographers uses industry software to ‘script’ each display according to the musical soundtrack by listening to the music and building scenes of light and color.” Once the show is ready to start, Melrose sends a “coded radio signal from Navy Pier to the fireworks crew, which the firing computer receives and synchronizes itself to the music that plays through the speakers at Navy Pier.”

Melrose gets fireworks from all over the world including China, Italy and Spain. They use 500 new products each year and more than 1,400 feet of XLR cable for the shows.

Gesse said the heights achieved by fireworks depends on the diameter of the shell. Three- and four-inch shells will generally explode from about 300 to 400 feet in the sky, and 10 inch shells will rise to well over 10,000 feet in the air before they break.

“At Navy Pier, we use aerial shells ranging from two-and-a-half inches up to 10 inches in diameter,” Gesse said.

This year, there will be 31 firework performances, each Wednesday and Saturday from May 25 to Aug. 31 with additional shows July 4 and New Year’s Eve. Wednesday fireworks are at 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays are at 10:15 p.m., weather dependent.

The displays last 10 minutes while the July 4 and New Year’s Eve displays last 15 minutes. Last year, CBS reported that nearly 100,000 people attended the July 4 celebration and that the fireworks performance had 2,000 firework shells go off with “300 different effects.”

Architecture Center offers spring break programming

(Published April 4, 2019)

The Chicago Architecture Center is offering a slew of activities for kids over spring break, April 15 — 19.

The STEM programming offers educational activities for kids 5-16 and some projects involve make-and-take activities. Everything is free with CAC admission, $12 for adults and $8 for students. Kids must come with an adult, though older teens may come alone. The camps are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

Chicago Architecture Center is located at 111 East Wacker Drive, steps from Michigan Avenue.

Easter fever: The best local egg hunts

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

Many parents in downtown Chicago don’t have lawns for children to hunt eggs—but the city provides a plethora of alternatives, some including grandiose spectacles, for both kids and parents.

New Eastside’s Maggie Daley Park hosts the Great Chicago Egg Hunt on April 19, which, as the name implies, is not small affair.

Besides the Easter Bunny, the egg hunt includes various performances from event sponsor Medieval Times’ knights and princesses. The event is open to any child from 1 to 11 years old. though parents need to register kids. A spot is $10 per person online or $15 per person the day of the hunt. Parents can register on the park district’s site,

Parents should register sooner rather than later because it is popular. “We had 5,000 people last year,” park supervisor Jackie Guthrie said. “It’s a pretty big egg hunt.”

She explained the hunt is actually several hunts, handled in waves, and a Medieval Times’ trumpeter will sound off each hunt.

The event is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and registration begins at 9 a.m.

A Rainforest adventure

Across the river near Streeterville, kids and parents can get a hop on Easter  breakfast with the Easter Bunny April 13 and April 14 at Rainforest Café, 605 N. Clark St. The Cha! Cha!’s Egg-Cellent Easter Adventure breakfast includes a breakfast buffet, an egg hunt and basket and goodie bags for the kids. Children 3 and under are free, 10 and under are $14.34 and tickets for everyone else are $24.75. Tickets are available at

Lake Shore Park Easter egg hunt

Streeterville families can take part in the Maggie Daley Park egg hunt and then, the next day, April 20, families can go over to Lake Shore Park, 808 N. Lake Shore Drive, for the Streeterville’s Easter egg hunts for kids 12 and under. Bags will be provided for the eggs. The event is free and open to the community from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Besides the hunt, there will be snacks, face painting, crafts and there will also be storytime reading by Blue Box Libraries and parents are asked to bring a book to donate. The event is free to the public and parents can register at

The event is sponsored by Lake Shore and Seneca Park advisory councils and Church of the Beloved.

Hospitality goes to the dogs with DineAmic’s pet-centered brunch

(Published April 1, 2019)

Abhinanda Datta, Staff Writer

The brunch scene heats up in spring and Chicago’s DineAmic has created a dog-friendly menu that will allow your pet to chew on some delectable treats while sitting next to you, so you don’t have to leave your beloved pet at home.

According to Cara Zizzo, DineAmic senior PR manager, the inspiration behind the idea stemmed from the company’s general canine-friendly policies.

“We allow corporate employees to bring their dogs to work with them every day. In the past, DineAmic’s restaurant patios allowed dogs on their patios with each dog receiving a treat and bowl of ice water. But last year, we wanted to take a step further,” she said.

Launched last summer, the Puppy Menu includes entrees such as chicken breast, a burger patty and skirt steak, as well as dessert. All entrees are grilled with extra virgin olive oil with no added seasoning. The Woof-Cream dessert has dairy-free whipped cream and is served on an eco-friendly disposable plate.

Since the DineAmic chefs have dogs, making food that would cater to a canine’s tastes was not a huge task.

“We have seen a huge response from dog owners consisting of all sizes to try out the menu. There have been Huskies, French bulldogs, bulldogs, pugs and even dobermans who enjoyed the entrees and dessert specifically catered to the four-legged animal,” Zizzo said.

“The response has been positive from both sides, canines seem to scarf down the meal and their owners love the option.”

Although there have not been any brawls between the dogs, Zizzo has witnessed unbridled excitement.

“A Siberian husky named Wolfgang was so excited to get the food that he finished his meal before the plate was set on the table,” she said.

Bring along Fido as an additional guest to one of the following locations:

· Siena Tavern (51 West Kinzie St./River North neighborhood)

· Bar Siena (832 West Randolph St./West Loop neighborhood)

· Barrio (65 West Kinzie St./River North neighborhood)

· Public House (400 North State St./River North neighborhood)

Escaping the screaming screens

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Spring is jam-packed with sports viewing events. With college basketball, baseball and NBA games, it can be difficult to escape the hum and roar of sports, even at local restaurants. If patrons desire a quiet meal without cheers and jeers, it can be challenging to find restaurants without several televisions broadcasting. For those looking for screenless dining experiences with family and friends, there are several local options, for any kind of patron.

Free Rein

224 N Michigan Ave.

Located in the St. Jane Hotel, Free Rein is a “contemporary American Brasserie” without screens. It’s a quiet escape with a Michigan Ave. hustle and bustle backdrop. Free Rein offers breakfast and all-day dining from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. most nights, 9 p.m. on Sundays. They also offer brunch on weekends until 2 p.m. The menu includes items such as duck breast, striploin and oysters. For a more casual experience, their attached café opens daily at 7 a.m., serving coffee, pastries, and other fare.


205 E Pearson St.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is home to screenless Marisol, featuring dishes from Chicago chef Jason Hammel. Marisol serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday. They also have a bar, with happy hour options Tuesday-Friday, and counter service. Dinner options include wagyu tartare, linguine with clams and half chicken.


117 E Lake St.

227 E Ontario St.

For the more casual diner looking to escape the TV, Nando’s is located at Michigan and Lake Street. with the entrance on Lake. The location in Streeterville is 227 E. Ontario. Family friendly Nando’s serves their specialty chicken and other dishes with a fusion of Portuguese and Southern African flavors. Kid’s menu available. Nando’s is open every day 11 a.m.-11 p.m. They also offer beer and wine.

Other local screenless restaurants:

Brown Bag Seafood

340 E. Randolph

Francesca’s On Chestnut

200 E. Chestnut

Les Nomades

222 E. Ontatio

Maggie Daley Park adds slime and archery programs

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

In March, area residents got their first chance to sign up for spring programs for 2019 at Maggie Daley Park.

Park supervisor Jackie Guthrie said residents will see the same standard programs from summers past along with a few new programs to check out.

One new program targets kids with special needs.

“It’s a new program citywide that the special recreation program is offering,” Guthrie said. “We want to provide different programming to make sure we’re hitting different audiences, and we want to make sure we’re offering programs for kids with and without disabilities.”

The park is also changing with the times. Slime is a big hit among kids these days, so Guthrie said there’s a program for that, too.

“Kids love slime so we’re going to do a class all about slime,” she explained. There will now be an adults-only archery program offered on Saturday. In only a week of sign ups, Guthrie said that program, aimed at beginners, is getting a bit of interest.

“I think for a lot of people it’s just sparking their interest,” she said. “It’s people who wanted to learn a new skill and they want to take a new class to see if they like it. That starts in April.”

A four-week session  is $20 and the park provides all the archery equipment. The park is also offering a slew of afterschool sports for youths. Sports such as track and field, tennis and soccer begin at 4:30, Guthrie said. Meanwhile, pickleball, a popular local sport for adults, will add sessions.

“Last year our pickleball days were Monday and Wednesday, and starting in May it will be Monday through Friday, and that’s free,” Guthrie said.

Residents looking forward to getting out and doing something other than lacing up skates will have some of their favorites activities return as soon as April.

“Our climbing wall and our scooter and roller blade rental will be opening April 13,” Guthrie said. “That’s something exciting for everyone in the neighborhood.”

For a list of activities, times and costs, visit the park’s website,

Riverwalk to re-emerge with new look

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

As the weather turns warm and the streets of the city begin to go from brown to green, the Riverwalk, too, is reemerging after months of extensive renovations.

In mid-December, the city closed the thin, serpentine ribbon of land hugging Wacker Dr., from about Michigan Avenue, and excavators scraped the landscape bare. But finally, later this month, the Riverwalk will re-open, fresh and newly developed, though landscaping will continue through the end of Spring, according to a city spokesperson.

The 1.2-mile development project is focused on some of the oldest parts of the Riverwalk, according to a news release and the spokesperson said the renovation is intended to accommodate more visitors and businesses.

The Riverwalk is a hotspot for dining, drinking and boating recreation as well as bicyclists, joggers and walkers. Urban Kayaks, Island Party Hut, The Northman, and Chicago’s First Lady operate businesses along this portion of the Riverwalk though more will be coming.

“Vendors in the Esplanade section are also making improvements to their locations,” said the spokesperson. “A portion of the Civic District will be getting a new community marketplace. Eight new Riverwalk vendors will be in operation beginning in June.”

There is not an exact date for the re-opening, the spokesperson said it would likely be at the end of April.

“A new path is being installed along with new lighting, seating, landscaping and a railing along the dockwall,” the spokesperson explained. “A new Community Marketplace is also being constructed between Wabash and Michigan Avenues. Portions of the ramp have been removed to create the market which will feature local minority- and women-owned businesses. An elevator is also being installed in this area.”

In addition to commercial improvements, the city will invest heavily in native plants.

“More than 100 new trees are included in the landscaping, which will provide a diverse variety of species,” the spokesperson said. “The new seating areas will be available to the public and guests of the businesses in that area to enjoy a picnic or beverage.”

The project is expected to cost $10 million, according to a city news release issued last year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the project will boost the city’s economy.

“The riverfront investments we are making will make the entire 1.25-mile stretch inviting to residents and visitors, increase recreational opportunities and continue to promote economic growth,” he said.

The work is being done by Fleet and Facility Management, the city department that oversees the Riverwalk.

(Snag the before/after images from P. 14/15). Caption: The Riverwalk project will bring more venders to the popular walking area and it will also add more greenery and more space for pedestrians. Photo and artist’s rendering courtesy the City of Chicago

While the Riverwalk was still nowhere near finished in late March, the city expects to have the area finished in late April. Photo by Jesse Wright

Door decoration ban sparks confusion

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

Leanne Fox is a mother of two, Ryan, 4 and Ethan, 3 and like most young children, they like to draw and paint.

Fox, a resident in North Harbor Tower, 175 North Harbor Drive, doesn’t know why anyone would object to her sons’ artwork but in March, she said someone did—her building’s management.

Fox said she had been hanging the artwork on the outside of her apartment door as a way to show off her kids’ artistic ability and the most recent piece had been on display since Mother’s Day of last year when she got an email from her building management.

Fox said most of the email concerned maintenance issues at her apartment and was routine. Until the end.

“And by the way,” Fox said, paraphrasing the email, “The apartment across from you is now vacant and my bosses up there were showing it or looking at it and they noticed you had pictures on your front door and you need to take it down.”

Fox has no idea why. She said she’s not seen any written policy on door decoration and other apartment doors are decorated.

“We hung up a wreath for Christmas,” said Adam Birch, a resident in North Harbor Tower.

His brother, Noah Birch, who lives at the Shoreham, said so far as he is aware, the Shoreham does not have a problem with door decorations.

More to the point, after Fox protested the notice on Facebook, two other residents who live in the building responded that they or someone they know posted children’s artwork without any consequence.

Waterton manages the property, but an executive with the property management company declined to offer any statement or provide clarity on any policies. If Waterton does ban all decorations, they may be an outlier in the neighborhood as several nearby residential units allow decorations.

So, Fox is left confused and her door is left without decoration.

“It’s not religious, it’s not political,” she said. “It’s not offensive. It’s just squiggly lines.”

And Ethan, Fox said, is left hurt.

“He asked, ‘what happened to picture? Mommy no like it anymore?’” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

While Fox has seen no written rule on the incident, she did say an employee at the building warned her the residence could look bad if everyone decorated their door.

“When I repeated again, why him? Why the target? I was told, ‘Well, imagine if every person was allowed to put art or decor on their door, it’d look like a college dorm,’” Fox wrote in an email. “OK. If that is the thought then why allow some and not others? Why target a 3 year old’s picture? Other families have artwork up on their doors as well. So what’s going on?”

The best tips for storing winter clothes

(Published March 31)

By Jesse Wright, staff writer

Winter gear isn’t cheap, and now that it’s time to put it away, it’s important to store it right.

Pamela Sherman, owner of Chicago Organized Home, a home organizing service shared some tips from her years organizing homes.

“We recommend heavy coats stay hanging,” she said. “Either in a guest closet (that is mostly empty) or in the back of the main hall closet (if there’s room) and if there is no room in any of the main closets, we recommend a hanging rack that is covered in a basement or storage area.”

The same goes for shoes. “We love to store winter shoes in clear shoe bins, high in the master closet or kids’ closet,” she said. Scarves and gloves, meanwhile, should be in a labeled bin in another out-of-the way closet.

Most people will probably want to wash their winter gear and Sherman said unless a label says otherwise, most winter gear doesn’t require professional cleaning.

“We recommend all season gear be stored clean, so if you can do it at home, great; if not then yes it should be professionally cleaned,” she said. “For fur coats, we recommend storing at the place of purchase during the summer months. They will clean and fix anything that was weathered in the season and make room for more seasonal minded items in your closets.”

Bedding, too, often changes with the season and Sherman said storing bulky bedding material in any out-of-the-way place is best.

“If space is super tight you can use vacuum sealed storage bags to condense the size of the duvet and blankets,” she said.

For folks who really can’t find the space, Chicago Organized Home offers custom closet organizing system.

“Most standard ‘builder’s closets’ consist simply of a single rod with a shelf on top,” she said. “We love designing closet systems that optimize spaces so it can hold more and be easy to access items. We design with a host of closet systems so that we can help our clients find the right solution for them based on their tastes and budget.” That service is free.

Find out more at

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