Do you have plans to get away this summer?
These days that greeting seems to be as much of a conversation starter as comments about the weather.
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For a number of reasons, I'll be staying close to home. We have weekend getaways for the annual Mitchell family reunion in July and I have a class reunion in August. Otherwise, no big plans.
Plus, I've discovered Naperville offers many enriching destinations within our boundaries and just beyond where we can escape.
Downtown Naperville, Naper Settlement, Fredenhagen Park, the Riverwalk, Knoch Knolls Park, Central Park, several art galleries and theaters at North Central College as well as the Arranmore Center for the Arts in Oswego can help fill days and evenings with culture, outdoor concerts, nature walks and unique shopping and dining experiences.
Even a brisk trek along neighborhood sidewalks can provide peaceful resistance to uncertain challenges that seem to crop up daily.
Still, sometimes you just have to get out of Dodge. So my husband and I looked forward to a recent Friday evening in Chicago to celebrate our son Jeff's 29th birthday. Our plan was to meet Jeff and his friend, Katherine, at 8 p.m. at Home Bistro, one of their favorite independently owned eateries in a cozy storefront at 3404 N. Halsted.
Since a big concert featuring Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters was scheduled at Wrigley Field that evening, Jeff recommended allowing extra drive time, so we left Naperville at 6:30 p.m.
Considering rush hour, the trip into the Windy City was OK. While inching our way along Lakeshore Drive, however, the beautiful calm of Lake Michigan as the sun began to set created a stunning contrast to the jerks trying to exert power in the bumper-to-bumper traffic we encountered in the far right lane.
My husband, Jim, phoned progress reports to Jeff along the way as we followed a white stretch Lincoln limousine, stuck without a chance to change lanes because none of the lanes was moving -- and that's when our adventure became more interesting.
Suddenly the back door on the right side of the limo opened. A young man got out, jumped over the barrier and disappeared into the distance. We imagined he was looking for some relief.
Several minutes later, two women and another man climbed out the same car door -- their actions were reminiscent of red-light-green-light, a silly prank wrought with confusion my friends and I played as teens. I watched them dash over the barrier, too, toward restrooms located by the marina. I never did see them return before we turned left onto Belmont, now headed toward Halsted.
Moving right along, Halsted was bustling with sidewalk activity as well as an SUV pulled over while a police officer issued the driver a ticket. More delays.
When we arrived at the quaint restaurant, Jeff and Katherine already had ordered. Their first choices to share just had arrived -- a cheese tasting featuring selections from the Netherlands, Italy and Kentucky as well as an order of house smoked pork jowl with ader kase bleu cheese, Calabrian peppers, red onion and fava beans. I love the buttery texture and nutty taste of fava beans, now in season!
As we studied the one-page menu, Jim asked for suggestions, striking up a conversation with our server, proprietor Joncarl Lachman, whom he recognized from a photo on Home Bistro's website.
"Are you from back East?" Joncarl asked Jim, adding that he originally hailed from Philadelphia.
Jim admitted he'd grown up mostly in Tarrytown, N.Y., with 16 years in New York City after college. Different cultural experiences began to emerge in the congenial conversation.
Joncarl, who usually cooks in the kitchen of the BYOB restaurant, mentioned he enjoys working the front of the house on Fridays. We were inspired by his culinary experiences as well as the wonderful flavors presented in his fresh foodstuffs. We also noted he embraces his Dutch heritage by placing "eet smakeliijk!" at the top of the menu.
When we pulled into the driveway about midnight, I felt as though we'd just returned from a whirlwind vacation, complete with great memories of celebrating Jeff's birthday.