Birding With Tom

People outside of Chicago often stare at me in disbelief when I tell them how open and green the city is. I talk about forest preserves and bike paths and they answer with gunshots and beeping horns. But really, Chicago has coyotes aplenty to go with deer, skunks, possums, and way too many raccoons. Oh, and there was that time a cougar was shot by the Chicago Police Department a few blocks west of Wrigley Field. Less dramatic was the time Corey and I spied a fox one late night burying a mouse across the street from our house. The birding is even more impressive with dozens of species nesting and flying over my city block including a large hawk that often perches across the street from my house. On occasion we spy a bit of fur sticking to its claws.

House Wren

House Wren at Bunker Hill/ photo by Tom Lally

If the Edison Park neighborhood is teeming with wildlife, you better believe the nearby Forest Preserve is as well. It just so happens that last Sunday our good friend Tom was leading a guided birding walk through the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve as part of the “Bird the Preserves Big Year.” The contests pits the forest preserves of Cook County against one another to see which team can identify the most birds. My money is on the team that has Tom. Why? Because if Audubon was still alive he would probably be asking Tom’s help in identifying birds. Thus far, Tom has witness all but two of the 138 species of spotted at Bunker Hill since March of this year.

Tom at work

Tom helping us identify some birds

Now I have known this stretch of Forest Preserve for quite a long time with my first introduction as a toddler riding on the back of my father’s bike. But I tend to rush through most sceneries with my eyes fixed to the road. I may cover a lot of miles but often see too few of them. Tom, however, has mastered the art of watchful lingering and knows well how to look and listen. Luckily for us he also enjoys sharing this perspective.

yellow warbler

Yellow Warbler at Bunker Hill Forest Preserve/ photo by Tom Lally

So at 7 A.M. the three of us, along with a crowd of fellow first timers and repeat offenders, were treated to a world of nests, birds, and avian intentions. A highlight for me was watching a Barn Swallow repeatedly scooping up little bits of mud in its beak to take back to its nest. Henna loved the many colorful Orioles she spied as well as an impressive Cooper Hawk sitting in its nest. Corey just liked being up earlier than maybe she has ever been on a Sunday.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole at Bunker Hill Forest Preserve/ photo by Tom Lally

This was a completely free event with Tom even bringing donut holes and binoculars for everyone. Tom leads one more guided bird expedition this spring but plans on leading more in the fall. For more information about guided birding walks throughout the Cook County Forest Preserve system, click here. And know this, there are not many things Corey and Henna will wake up early for. This is one of them.

forest preserve.jpg

Hennacornoeliday’s Family Theater Pick: Connected

This is really one trippy piece of family theater. Although at times it is a bit preachy (and I’m not so sure about the extended audience participation bit), Connected is a very creative visualization of time from the Big Bang to the present and then on to the terrifying future. Henna loved it. Corey really like it. I liked it. Hey if nothing else, it’s a good excuse to visit the hippie commune like Flat Iron Arts Building (1579 North Milwaukee Avenue). Also check out the awesome used book store across the street. Be warned, young minds might find the closing scenes a bit too intense.  

SpaceLaunch(L-R LuisCrespo,MaryMikva,AntonioBrunetti,StellaMoseley,JustinMichaelDietzel,AmberHugee,WarrenLevon,RasikaRanganathan)

L-R Luis Crespo, Mary Mikva, Antonio Brunetti, Stella Moseley (center), Justin Michael Dietzel, Amber Hugee, Warren Levon and Rasika Ranganathan/ Photo by Joel Maisonet

SolarSystem(L-R LuisCrespo,AnniePrichard,StellaMoseley,JustinMichaelDietzel,RasikaRanganathan,MaryMikva,AntonioBrunetti

L-R Luis Crespo, Annie Prichard, Stella Moseley, Justin Michael Dietzel, Rasika Ranganathan, Mary Mikva, and Antonio Brunetti/ Photo by Joel Maisonet

Tickets are $15-$30 with Sundays cheaper for families. Running through May 29. To purchase tickets go here. For my full review click here.


Dreaming Of A WIP Christmas/ WIP Theater


A few nights ago the three of us along with a few of our good friends took a stroll to the WIP Theater.  A work in progress is what WIP stands for but their family oriented late night Christmas BYOB sketch comedy revue looks pretty darn complete to us.  It is also hilarious and we laughed as hard as our kids.  Sure the Old Styles/vodka cocktails/Miller Lights may have played a small contributing factor to our enjoyment (“BYOB family theater,” by the way, pretty much sums up Edison Park), but Dreaming Of A WIP Christmas offers up some serious high end witty talent that would not look out of place at Second City.


Leading the antics is the hysterically over reacting Mike Capra who works wonderfully against the more straight laced Ian Hamilton.  Natalie O’Sullivan, who claims she is only doing the gig for charity (with the men the charity case) is as engaging as she is funny.  Together the trio imagine familiar holiday topics (like Scrooge) in unfamiliar ways (what exactly does he say to the stockholders after he starts giving away the company’s fortune?).  And the bit about Santa going through the drive through is pure comedic gold.  There is also some singing and although I wish they dumped the canned music it was, and, well maybe this is the drinks talking, kind of sentimental.  But it is the jokes that will cause tears to stream down your face.

We have been to the WIP a few times now and each time we vow to come back soon because supporting local theater + comedy + BYOB = a whole lot of fun.


Dreaming Of A WIP Christmas is playing on December 18 and 19 at the WIP Theater (6670 North Northwest Highway).  Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children and can be purchased here or by calling (312) 692-9327.

Photos by:  Justin Lynk






The Pied Piper by The Forks and Hope Ensemble

In between packing our bags and surfing airbnb we took in a bit of theater.  Got to say, this one is a winner.

Photo by Tom McGrath: (L to R) Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit

Photo by Tom McGrath: (L to R) Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit

Coming in at a mere forty minutes, The Pied Piper is a rather intense, dark, and altogether brilliant performance.  It is also recommended for children ten and up for a reason (spoiler alert, it does not end well for the children).  But even with a not so perfect ending, it still ends on a relatively hopeful note (the children live on, just in a strange land away from their greedy parents).  The pop music is loud, the dancing good and you will be entertained.

Photo by Tom McGrath: Suzanna Ziko

Photo by Tom McGrath: Suzanna Ziko

I think though what I liked most about this play is that there is no filler.  At forty minutes Pied Piper is a clever and thoughtful piece of entertainment.  Expanding this to the standard kid’s show length of seventy-five minutes with fart jokes and innuendos would risk dulling the pipers tune. As it is now, the pipers tale is worth a listen to.

The Pied Piper is playing at the Strawdog Theatre (3829 N. Broadway) through June 30th. For more information or to purchase tickets ($15), go to  For my full review in Newcity, click here.

Lincoln’s Home: Springfield, IL


Lincoln's Home

Springfield is an interesting place. Not quite interesting enough to spend a full weekend but it has more to see than is possible in a day. Last time through we checked out the Illinois State Museum (free, a lot of fun, and next to the Capitol). Yesterday it was Lincoln’s home (also free and only a few blocks from Capitol).


Lincoln's Bed (replica)

Lincoln lived in the house as a successful lawyer right up to the moment he left for the White House (he learned of his victory while sitting in his front room). Some time after his death his son Robert deeded the house to Illinois and it was later taken over by the National Park Service. Most of the furniture are replicas but you do get to use the same banister as Abe (Henna was very excited over that one) and see the actual desk where he penned many of his speeches. The tour really does a good job of giving a sense of who Abraham was as well as the time he lived in. I especially enjoyed strolling from the block of 19th century homes that make up the National Historic Site to his law office (sadly just a plaque on a building). One block past there is the Old Capital which Lincoln knew well. It also is where Obama declared his intention to run for president.


The old Capital

We then took a bit of Route 66 before heading home.

Shakespeare in Chicago

We wanted to take a moment on this snow bound Super Bowl Sunday to plug two Hennacornoeliday recommended shows.  Both are Shakespeare fueled creations with one (Lions in Illyria) an original adaptation and the other (Short Shakespeare! Macbeth) an abridged production.  Both are also incredibly well done and cost just a bit more than going to the movies.

Kate McDermott (L) and Brandi Lee (R)   Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

Kate McDermott (L) and Brandi Lee (R) Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

Robert Kauzlaric’s “Lions in Illyria” is a very clever, very well thought out adaptation of Twelfth Night.  The animal characters, colorful costumes, and silly dance moves were enough to entertain our five year old niece/cousin.  Her seven year old sister also had a good time and was, per her father, able to follow at least 50% of the action.  Henna simply loved this show.  She loved its Shakespearian roots.  She also loved the basic story line with its emphasis on love and friendship.  Mostly though she loved hanging out with her cousins.  The production is intelligent enough to engage adults and is probably best appreciated by children aged 7 to 12 although I think younger kids will still have a good time.  For an extra $5 a kid Lifeline Theatre offers a fun drama workshop in between the 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. performances and everyone is encouraged to meet with the actors after the show is over.

Andrea San Miguel, Tiffany Yvonee Cox, Kevin Cox  Photo by Liz Lauren

Andrea San Miguel, Tiffany Yvonee Cox, Kevin Cox Photo by Liz Lauren

Henna also loved Short Shakespeare! Macbeth.  Macbeth is bloody good fun and features the coolest witches this side of Oz (if you are ever in a bad mood, try saying “Double double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble” a few times; trust me it will put you in a better place).  Be warned though that is not for everyone.  Besides the usual murder and mayhem, there is also a touch of infanticide (done off stage but this still might be a bit shocking to your kid).  This is the Chicago Shakespeare Theater so the overall production values and the level of talent on stage is pretty amazing.  The fight choreography (Matt Hawkins) and make up/wig design (Melissa Veal) are especially well done. There is a question and answer session after the show with the actors mingling in the lobby afterwards.  Probably best for persons ten and older (and by older I mean up to 110).
Chris Genebach  Photo by Liz Lauren

Chris Genebach Photo by Liz Lauren

Macbeth is playing at Navy Pier from now through February 14 on Saturdays at 11 A.M. or 2 P.M.  Tickets are $16 to $20 with group discounts available.  To purchase tickets, call (312) 595-5600 or go to  Parking is validated, but it is still going to cost you about $15.

Lions in Illyria is in the heart of Rogers Park (Lifeline Theatre at 6912 N. Glenwood).  Tickets are $15 with performances every Saturday and Sunday at 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. through February 15th.  For more information or to purchase tickets click here or call (773) 761-4477.  Street parking is usually not a problem.

For a more detailed review of both shows click here for Lions in Illyria and here for Macbeth.

Cool Coffee House: Jeremiah Joe Ottawa, IL.


Another Winter and another great mini trip to Starved Rock (eagles, frozen waterfalls, a fireplace and a wonderful pool/hot tub-who could ask for more? ). Later on the way to Oswego to spend New Years with friends we stopped for a bit in Ottawa and found Jeremiah Joe’s. With big windows and a friendly staff it is our kind of place and 100% Hennacornoelidays recommended.  Housed below a local radio station we even had the chance to state our New Year’s resolutions over the air!


To all our family and friends, Happy New Years!

Circus World Museum: Baraboo, Wisconsin

Greatest Show on Earth

Greatest Show on Earth

From the late 1880s through the early 20th century, the sleepy town of Baraboo became a whole lot more interesting in the winter. This was when the Ringling brothers took the circus (elephants, side show attractions, and a lot of sequins) back home to rest up for the next season. After the circus combined with Barnum and Bailey they moved out of Wisconsin and left behind a bunch of buildings including those used to house elephants, ponies, and costumes. In 1959, it was opened to the public as a museum and is now a sprawling complex with the pretty Baraboo River bisecting the grounds. In addition to the tasteful displays that document life in the circus, the place also offers a crazy large collection of Circus Wagons which are packed tight in an airplane-like hanger with refreshingly little related information provided. You just squeeze in between the painted wood and gape at the incredibly detailed depictions of the natural and unnatural wonders of the earth. Being fall, we had the place to ourselves and it was not hard at all to imagine excitement these wagon would create when rolling into some sleepy mid-western town.

Most interesting cocktail party ever

Most interesting cocktail party ever

What we did not see where a lot of people at the museum. I guess this is a constant problem with one bored employee stating that the place was always in danger of going broke. Even with the daily magic shows and animal attractions (we missed the former and the later was done for the season), the museum has trouble competing with all the waterparks and wax museums (all much closer to the pricey Dells resorts than Baraboo which is a good thirty minute drive away). But I am not worried for their future at all ’cause there will always be a place for the Greatest Show on Earth.

In training

In training


A Cool Fall Destination: Hixton/Alma Center KOA, Wisconsin

KOAs are kind of hit and miss with us. The worst are impersonal, crowded, and a few yards from the expressway. They serve a purpose (showers, laundry, and saving money come to mind) but we do not miss them when we leave. There are a couple of special ones, like the one a few miles south of Mendocino, California that do the system proud. Last weekend, in north central Wisconsin, we stumbled upon a new favorite.

Walking around the campground

Walking around the campground

Honestly this is one of our favorite campgrounds (private or public). What made it special were the little things (like the countless decorations put up by the owner’s grand daughter) that went along with the bigger attractions such as the quiet little trails leading to viewpoints of the surrounding valley. There is also a not so clearly marked trail that leads to three distinct rock shelters. A lot of people have camped on this land and the faint petroglyphs hint at a culture 10,000 years past. Many stone tools, arrow heads, and other artifacts have been found in the area and some of them are displayed in the laundry room.

The Dwyer Rockshelter on Silver Mound (located within the campground)

The Dwyer Rockshelter on Silver Mound (located within the campground)

Our cabin was heated (which was a good thing because it was in the 30s the first night we stayed). Some of the cabins (called lodges) have bathrooms but ours did not. The shower/bathroom area, however, was clean and next door. They also had two camper sinks (yeah!) and the tent sites are very large and private. And while bigger attractions like the Sparta-Elroy trail are a good hour away (the price we paid for staying somewhere a few miles away from an expressway) the surrounding area does have it charms. Like a ton of gourds, apples, and pumpkins to share. At one place there was a field, a drop box (a dollar a pumpkin), and a couple of scarecrows watching over the scene. Another farm involved a couple personally welcoming each visitor and offering everyone a spot of coffee or a sucker depending on their age. The inside area proudly displayed a “Kindergarten Hall of Fame” with photo after photo of smiling little faces holding their favorite gourds. Their dog was friendly too and followed us around the place. At the Cain Orchard we, and two other families, were given a tractor pulled tour of the farm. It was all blueberry bushes (a beautiful fall red), golden harvested fields, and brightly turned trees in the distance. The apples were a delicious after thought.

View from cabin

Our cabin

If you want to go this season, you better hurry cause they close down soon. The heated pool probably makes this a good summer place to hang out too. Follow this link link for more information.


3 Hours or Less From Chicago: Mississippi Palisades State Park

Why on a map the Mississippi looks like a never ending S
The Driftless Area in Illinois (a hilly land that glaciers have never known) is confined mostly to Jo Daviess County with charming Galena the definite tourist hub. Away from Galena, the country is decidedly less built up with towns like Savanna (about thirty miles south of Galena and situated near the confluence of the Mississippi and Apple River) neither thriving nor overtly struggling. Immediately north of Savanna is Mississippi Palisades State Park.
Campfire fun
For us, camping is usually more a means to an end instead of a destination. Some of our favorite places to be last summer, such as Twillingate, involved us sleeping in a crowded field (but man the icebergs and whales were something to see). Mississippi Palisades State Park is an inversion of that. Although a beautiful area to explore, the main attraction for us was the tree ringed campground. There also is no light pollution which in August meant scanning the Milky Way streaked skies for shooting stars (which we counted until our sore necks returned us to the fire). And aside from the hooting owls and howling coyotes (whose sudden cries startled us around midnight and then stopped just as suddenly) we had few neighbors. The campground also features many restored prairie areas that were bursting with colorful grasses and flowers. The hummingbirds were many, the bugs were few, and for $10 it was the perfect place to be.
The state park is divided into two units with the southern one better geared for hiking. We especially enjoyed the loop trail leading to an overlook of Sentinel Rock (a premier Midwest rock climbing destination). Past the overview the trail does involve some bush whacking and if you park at the base of the hill, make sure you follow the sing to the “Main Shelter” in order to return to your car. Other trails from the southern unit are shorter and lead to nice views of the forever windy Mississippi. The campground is in the northern unit and has a series of poorly marked, buggy trails that lead to obscured views of the river. Good times there.
Fartheewell Summer
Driving home on our beloved Route 20 (which will take you west all the way to Newport, Oregon) we stopped at a wonderful farm stand a little east of Freeport. Sitting near a bunch of pens holding sheep and other animals, I met a man watching his two great-grandchildren. He was young for a great-grandfather (maybe early 60s) and looked to be as content as a man could be. The more I talked to him the more I liked him and pretty soon I learned that he and his wife were more than just watching the great-grandchildren (his daughter “has some troubles”). I also learned that he lived in Schaumburg but fell so in love with Jo Daviess County he moved to the country a few years ago. The only thing he misses is the restaurants. Watching Henna contentedly feeding the lucky farm animals I understood his decision. Eventually we had to leave and, with our car filled with sweet corn and other goodies, we made the trek back to Chicago.