Chicago in the Summertime: Our Affordable Adventures

ChicagoNow Bloggers are banding together today to give our readers the best of Chicago in the Summer. We will be sharing our favorite places, events, and summer activities all around Chicagoland. Get ready to experience the most comprehensive list of summer hot spots brought to you by true Chicagoans.

I love summertime in Chicago.  I love it.  It's one of the reasons I stay through the 9 months of blizzards.

Well, now I would actually need to have a signed court order to move out of the state with my children so that's also a pretty good reason...

Still - summers in Chicago.  Fantastic!

When I asked myself, as part of this here series, what my very favorite Chicago summer activity might be, though, I am torn.

There are some summer festivals we attend every year.  The Chicago summer street festivals are just too much fun.  We favor Andersonville's Midsommarfest (generally the first weekend in June - so you missed it this year) and The Bucktown Arts Festival - August 24th and 25th.

We love to go to the beach.  I'm from Florida so I was a beach snob for a lot of years but there is a beach near our home and it is clean and very pretty and there are generally other children that my own children know there so they find a friend and play hard for a long time and I sit in my new beach chair and watch them and remember summers on Anna Maria Island.  So that's good stuff.

Bunny says Brookfield Zoo is great because of the dolphin show, dippin' dots, and because the polar bears are really nice and sometimes they come right up to the glass.  Bunny has never witnessed that but she has heard tell of some decent bear action there.  She has witnessed this activity at Lincoln Park Zoo, though.  We like it there, too.  And it's free so Mama kinda likes it a little more.

But you already know about beaches and festivals and zoos, right? Surely someone is covering those.  I wanted to tell you about something you might not know about.  And, because we are committed to affordable adventures, I wanted to tell you about something you can do for cheap.  So there is an activity we engage in at least twice a summer that you may not know about so that's the one I ultimately have decided to focus on.  It's actually in Evanston but it is walkable from the Foster purple line so I have decided it counts.  Evanston is practically almost Chicago.  It IS.  Shut up.

Sometimes I say to my kids "Hey!  Let's go feed the nasty fish!" and my kids always say "Yay!  Nasty fish!!!"  This is code for going over to the NU campus.  Actually, it's not really a code because it does totally involve nasty fish.  It's pretty much an identical experience each time so I'll just virtually take you along right now.

We live close enough to the Northwestern campus to walk or ride bikes over to the nasty fish.  This is why we pretty much always drive.  You take Sheridan to where it curves at the campus and you drive onto Campus Drive instead of following the turn.  There is a parking lot with visitor parking there but I got a ticket that I still haven't paid so we park on the street on Sheridan for free.  It means we have to walk about a block further but I absolutely adore listening to Pip whine so I try to park as far away as possible.  Just when the whining becomes so delicious it's almost unbearable, you can pass by the construction zone and get him interested in the cranes and diggers.  Don't worry.  Something is always under construction in that area.  If you are reading this in 2047, trust me.  Something is getting dug up over there.  Go check it out.

The first destination is the bridge that isn't a bridge.  I mean, it LOOKS like a bridge but there's only water on one side of it.  It's at the western side of the man made lake that is just north of the student center (The Norris University Center.)  There are ducks, Canadian geese, and, yes, some ENORMOUS nasty fish that you can feed with the bread ends and stale hot dog buns you've been storing in your freezer since the last trip. Feeding the birds is fun.  Feeding the fish is RIDONKULOUS.  Check them out in the photo gallery.  They're so nasty!  And we have discovered that if you throw a bunch of pieces of bread into the same area at once, the fish will swarm and some of them will actually climb on top of others to get out of the water to be closer to the source of the bread.  It's SO GROSS!  We love it.  We squeal a lot.  There are also seagulls who will hover over you and catch bread in their mouths.  And that's neat.  But those FISH!

When we have depleted our bread supply, we head over to the student center.  It's OK to go in.  No one cares.  Downstairs there are bathrooms and a couple video games.  Upstairs we stop off at Starbucks for a treat and then, if you walk to the creamer stand and then keep walking, you will end up in a teeny tiny art gallery that my children absolutely love. It's called the Dittmar Memorial Gallery.  It is always completely empty.  I recognize that this bodes not well for the gallery but it is fabulous for us.  The art tends to be stuff that my kids might be fascinated by and there tends to be a social lesson as well as some art appreciation.  So when we went in the spring,  we saw the work of an environmental artist who makes all of her art out of used plastics.  There was info on the wall about the trouble with plastics so we had a long talk about consuming less and being careful with our planet.  It is easy to think that if you recycle you are doing your part.  But plastic recycling turns the plastic into pellets.  How many plastic pellets do you think we're gonna need?  And the act of doing the recycling uses lots and lots of energy and spews pollution into the air.  It's important stuff to think and talk about.  So we did.

The most recent exhibit was by a photographer who follows the nomadic street circus performers of Peru.  So we discussed nomads and read about why they have to keep moving.  Pip called a meeting at the little table and chairs in the center of the room and asked us to discuss our favorite photos. Pip moderated.  The conversation turned to monkeys due to a photo of a girl with a monkey.  Everyone had at least one good monkey story.

Bunny asked to sign the guest book.  She carefully wrote her name and "I liked it." She said she was doing her best adult-looking handwriting so the artist wouldn't know she's a kid.  I said I thought that the artist would probably be thrilled that a kid looked at her work and liked it.

Leaving the student center, there are inevitably races down the ramp to the sidewalk.  Both children fell at different times and sustained minor injuries.  It isn't an adventure if there are no scrapes involved.

The Northwestern campus is absolutely beautiful.  If you turn right up the path on the way down Campus Drive back to Sheridan, you can wander on shady paths past beautiful old buildings.  There are little gardens with benches and young handsome men.  It's gorgeous.  Or you can just walk back to the car to the sonorous strains of a 5-year-old hollering, "I just can't walk another step!  I caaaaaaaaan't."  And that's always pleasant as well.

Anyway.  We always have a great time.  Save up your bread and send us a message.  We'll meet you there.

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