Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens Rockford

Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens on the Rock River in Rockford boasts 11,00o square feet of tropical plants to enjoy. Massive palm trees soar several stories into the air within the glass enclosed building. Nestled among ponds and waterfalls, the greenery to give soothing background sounds. There are plenty of places to sit and take in the sights, allowing your body and mind to relax as you your senses take in everything around you. Whimsical sculptures appear dotted along the winding pathways. Plants stream down from the ceiling, along the walls, from pots and decorative picture frames.

We timed our visit for the butterfly exhibit where dazzling splashes of color flitted about the room and allowed for up close examination. Caterpillars and chrysalis hung in the first room as the prepared to emerge. Adult butterflies dried their wings in preparation for their move to the main exhibit area. It was interesting to note each type of caterpillar created a unique chrysalis.

Before we entered the main exhibit, we took off our coats to prevent hitchhikers from leaving with us. We entered through a set of double doors to prevent escapees. Once inside, we were handed sponge swabs doused in Gatorade to attract the insects. Every color of the rainbow was represented in the flying collection. The butterflies perched on greenery or screens allowing visiting to get an up close and personal look at each insect.

Butterflies up close

Butterflies up close

Outside the conservatory, walk through the colorful gardens near the front entrance, along the side and rear of the building filled with seasonal plantings. A lagoon with two fountains adds to the fun. Statues are perched in various locations along the paths. Bring your lunch and take in the sights from the patio area outside or indoors.

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The conservatory gift shop offers moderately priced wind chimes, note cards, jewelry and other remembrances of your trip. Toni’s Cafe of Winnebago serves soups, sandwiches and desserts.

A variety of classes from photography to yoga are available. Managed by the Rockford Park District, Nicholas Conservatory is open every day except Monday. Entrance fees are reasonable, even more so when you visit on Tropical Tuesdays when entrance fees are only $3.00.

After your visit, stroll along the Rock River. There is a paved path popular with walkers and bicyclists. We even found a unique group of statues comprised of rocks, of course, along the Rock River.

Chunn’s Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery Fox River Grove

Chunn’s Burying Ground also known as Oak Glenn Cemetery in Fox River Grove, Illinois is one of the oldest cemeteries in McHenry County according to McHenry County Historic Preservation Commission. The cemetery named after local business man T.R. Chunn, a pioneer in the area who owned the property and buried there. Several websites say the site is an old Indian burial ground.

Chunn's Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery Fox River Grove Nestled in a wooded area at the top of a hill,  the historic cemetery on Algonquin-River Road next to Algonquin Road School. Over the years the cemetery became overgrown with weeds and brush. Arnett Lines, a local historian, inventoried and transcribed the gravestones in 1944. The remaining headstones were relocated to a raised bed under a stand of trees for protection. In 2008, the cemetery was rededicated and designated a historic site. A bronze plaque on boulder at the cemetery entrance notes the historic status.

Gravestones at Chunn's Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery Fox River Grove

Today the site is well maintained quiet park lined with a wooden rail fence. A sign outside the cemetery stays “Chunn’s Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery.” As we walked through the park, we came upon a well-marked geocache. Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game where players try to find hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online. We logged our find at the geocache and online.

HIstoric Chunn's Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery Fox River Grove

The next time you are on Algonquin Road, take a few moments to visit Chunn’s Burying Ground Oak Glenn Cemetery in Fox River Grove. The peaceful setting is perfect for a few minutes of quiet reflection. You can log an easy geocache while you are there.

Big Bowl Restaurant in Schaumburg Hosts Summer Roll Class

Big Bowl in Schaumburg treated their best customers to a summer rolls making class. When we eat lunch at Big Bowl, we always order these appetizers. Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard taught the session, assisted by Schaumburg Big Bowl Executive Chef Eddie Gomez.

We sat in tables of four with prepared fresh vegetables in front of us. Marc described the seasonal ingredients Big Bowl uses and their mission to serve local, organic and eco-friendly foods when possible. Marc highlighted the vegetable choice for make your own stir fry meals and noted where each of these items came from.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard highlights local, organic and eco friendly produce

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard highlights local, organic and eco-friendly produce

Big Bowl sources produce from four local farms and many of which use organic methods. Marc recently bought a five acre farm that he and his partner work. Some of the vegetables Big Bowl serves are grown at the farm. Big Bowl Schaumburg General Manager Sean Schorp told me the staff at Big Bowl leased a two acre farm and they work the land themselves for more local produce. “We are growing garlic, cilantro and other foods for our restaurant. The only time it is hard to get amazing fresh produce is the dead of winter,” he continued. “Some farms are installing hot houses.”

Big Bowl Schaumburg sources produce from local farms

Big Bowl Schaumburg sources produce from local farms

Marc described each summer roll ingredient beginning with the package of hard rice paper or spring roll skins. We also had seasoned noodles, pickled vegetables, carrots, bean sprouts, red bell peppers, seasonal lettuce and chopped peanuts at our tables. Marc combined flat rice noodles with sesame seed oil, peanut oil, lime juice and fresh herbs. We saw how salting the vegetables and letting them sit draws out water and condenses flavors.

Marc dipped the rice paper skins, a hard plastic like disk which softens up when dipped in water, and stretched the sheet out on the workspace. He layered the fresh produce in the center and demonstrated the rolling technique. He pulled the rice skin tightly over the food while compressing the rest of the roll.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard demonstrates summer roll making

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard demonstrates summer roll making

Then it was our turn to make Big Bowl’s famous summer rolls. Each of us started with a rice paper skin and filled the sheet with noodles and veggies of our choice. We rolled the rice paper over the colorful mix with varying degrees of success.

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard offers tips to Noel F. Williams

Big Bowl Executive Chef Marc Bernard offers tips to Noel F. Williams

At the end our class, Big Bowl treated us to their tasty summer rolls prepared by Big Bowl’s chefs and served with a variety of tasty homemade sauces. Big Bowl Schaumburg is part of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises with 31 restaurant concepts.

Big Bowl on Urbanspoon

Big Bowl Asian Kitchen on Foodio54

ARRL Amateur Radio Field Day Ham Radio Saves the Day Again

Field Day 2012 opened today at 1:00 pm CDT. Field Day is an annual event organized by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) in Newington, CT. Many amateur radio operators, or ‘hams’, belong to this national organization. Field Day is a twenty-four hour period in which ham radio operators test their ability to set up and coordinate emergency communications in the event of disaster.

You may ask, “Why go to all the trouble when we have cell phones and the Internet?”. Well, often in times of disaster, these systems fail for many reasons. Ham radio operators are able to communicate with each other without relying upon any of these systems or even power from the electric company. This means that when disaster strikes, in many cases, ham radio is the ONLY way to pass emergency traffic within or out of the affected area.

 

Setting up our 2 meter and 440 antennas on an empty field SUHFARS Field Day 2012 Tower

 

This year, our Field Day site was an empty lot in Wauconda, Illinois. April M. Williams (N9GYG) and I (KE9AU) arrived around 9 am to help with the set-up of our club’s Field Day station. We belong to SUHFARS, the Suburban UHF Amateur Radio Society with members from McHenry and surrounding counties. Our club has about 50 members from around the Chicago area. When we got there, things were already well under way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first job was to erect the antenna systems. This was not trivial, as some antennas needed to be pretty high up in the air in order to have the best signal. We quickly assembled a 50 foot tower and, with coordinated teamwork, put it upright. Next, we strung up a 300 foot wire antenna through the trees and then set up the radio equipment.

Scott KC9TNX calling CQ on 6 meters at SUHFARS Field Day 2012

By 1 pm our emergency station, running on generator power, was on the air and making contacts with other hams across the country. Our station will be operating throughout the night, testing the ability of our members to reliably communicate with others under less than ideal circumstances.
There are more than 700,000 ham radio operators in the USA and our numbers are growing. To learn more about this great hobby and indispensable public service go to ARRL.

See all the photos on the SUHFARS Facebook page. Learn more about joining SUHFARS.

Setting up our fifty foot town on an empty field SUHFARS Field Day 2012 Tower

Setting up our fifty foot town on an empty field SUHFARS Field Day 2012 Tower

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

I met Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at the Pillars of Honor program in Elgin honoring local veterans. These two gentleman shared a couple of their stories with me.

Andy Balafas was a teenager when he joined the Army then decided to make a career of it. He was just 19 years old when he attended jump school. Andy is the first to admit that this program was physically taxing. During his career, he made an impressive 7 jumps.

Angelo Diliberti also attended jump school, though not until he was 47 years old. In his long career in Special Forces, he completed over 100 jumps.

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas at Pillars of Honor

Angelo’s most memorable jump occurred during a demonstration at Cantigny with the Airborne Reserves. A sudden wind gust yanked his parachute off course in the cramped drop zone and he found himself dangling with his shoot entangled in the trees.

Angelo attended President Eisenhower‘s funeral, attending to General Omar Bradley for the week.

Angelo is Commander of the St. Charles Amvet’s Post and a member of the Amvet’s District staff.

Thanks to all our veterans and service people who protect our country.

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas talk with April M. Williams

Army Veterans Angelo Diliberti and Andy Balafas talk with April M. Williams

Pillars of Honor Brings War Memorial to WW2 Veterans

More than thirty World War 2 veterans were the heroes at a Pillars of Honor program hosted by Elgin’s Gail Borden Library. Family, friends and community members gathered to show respect for these local men and women, former Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Frances Mai-Ling, an alternative-classical pianist, set the mood performing original compositions.

The packed room enjoyed period songs before a mixed branch color guard presented the colors. Guest speaker Lt. Kevin Milligan, US Navy, thanked the vets for their service and shared stories from his four tours overseas.

Pillars of Honor

Vets and families viewing a model of the Washington, DC WW2 Memorial

On display was a scale model of the World War 2 Memorial on the mall in Washington DC. This is the original model Senator Bob Dole presented to Congress to gain approval for the memorial. Many of these veterans are unable to travel to the memorial and the Pillars of Honor program brings the memorial to them.

Dessee Dye

Retired Army veteran Jessee Dye. His son shows photo of his Dad as a WW2 medic

We met Retired Army medic and author Jessee Dye. His son showed us a photo of his Dad back when he was a medic in Europe.

To date, fifteen Pillars of Honor programs have shown appreciation for our vets with plans to continue at least one a month. Follow Pillars of Honor on Facebook for details on upcoming programs.

Happy Buddha Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant

We had lunch at Happy Buddha Vietnamese Vegetarian Restaurant in Barrington this week and look forward to a return visit. This tiny diner shares a building with a computer repair business. Look for the McDonald’s next door as a landmark.

Happy Buddha opened 7 months ago as a vegetarian only restaurant. Many patrons requested items with meat and a non-vegetarian section was added to the menu.

We started our meal with a pot of green tea and vegetarian spring rolls filled with soy shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts, mint, lettuce and rice vermicelli noodles wrapped in rice paper. A dish of peanut dipping sauce came on the side. These were a delicious blend of crunch and smoothness.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Hot Green Tea

Vegetarian Spring Rolls and Hot Green Tea

The lunch menu includes many choices reasonably priced at $6.95. We both chose pho from the regular menu, a broth with rice noodles and vegetables served with bean sprouts, bay leaves and lemon to add yourself. I had the vegetarian version while my partner had the beef version.

Vegetarian and Beef versions of Vietamese Pho soup

Vegetarian and Beef versions of Vietamese Pho soup

I also tried the avocado shake which I highly recommend. The generous serving was so thick it towered over the top of the glass. While we usually thick of avocado as an ingredient in Mexican foods and salads, my son has used them as an ingredient in his smoothies for several years.

Happy Buddha is alcohol free. Two Vietnamese sisters run the restaurant and be aware of possible language barriers. Be patient as the confirm your order with you. Service was attentive on our visit. If you have a party of six or more, they request you call in advance.

Happy Buddha on Urbanspoon

Cafe Firefly Coffee Shop Algonquin for Work or Relaxing

Cafe Firefly in the heart of historic downtown Algonquin is the perfect place for a few hours of work on your laptop or relaxing with friends over coffee. Owner and head baker Allie Gilberts ensures the customer favorites such as Hello Dolly bars, Strawberry – Lemonade cupcakes and biscotti are always plentiful. <Update: I understand the new owner is Wade Merritt.> Daily specials change and may include cupcakes, cookies, scones and bar cookies. Several sandwich choices are on the menu for those with a heartier appetite. Drink selections include a variety of coffees, smoothies and hot chocolate.

Service is friendly and attentive often remembering your previous order. Tables and chairs are perfect for working or informal meetings. Log in to your laptop or tablet with the free wi-fi.

Curl up with a thick book on the couches near a corner wall of windows and soak in the natural light. When the weather is temperate, take your order out on the patio and watch the downtown scene pass by.

Allies’s Cafe Firefly treats must spark creativity. Recently a guitarist quietly strummed as I reconnected with a friend. Open mic nights draws locals with various talents.

Follow Cafe Firefly on Twitter, Facebook and check in using FourSquare to earn loyalty bonuses.

Allie GIlbert's coconut lime cupcakes at Cafe Firefly

Allie GIlbert’s coconut lime cupcakes at Cafe Firefly

Cafe Firefly on Urbanspoon
Cafe Firefly on Foodio54

Mission Hope Chicago Operation Supports Our Troops

The goal of Mission Hope Chicago’s Support Our Troops drive is to provide care packages for all 225,000 deployed US soldiers to remind them that we appreciate their service. Since Memorial Day 2011, they have delivered packages to over 3,250 solders.

Mission Hope Chicago partners with Operation Support Our Troops to determine items requested by deployed solders. Donations are used to purchase and ship these goods overseas. What’s on these soldier’s wish lists? Things we often take for granted in the United States. Most requested items include:

  • Tuna
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Crackers
  • Canned soup and pasta
  • Granola bars
  • Canned nuts
  • Eye drops
  • Foot powder

Collection sites are conveniently located throughout the Chicagoland area.

Troops also appreciate your cards and letters of support. A tax deductible contribution of $200 will purchase packages for 10 soldiers and cover shipping expenses. Gifts of any amount is welcome.

Submit your soldier’s address to Support Our Troops. For more information on the program,  email Ben Thompson. Mission Hope Chicago is a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization.

Ben Thompson working one of the many Mission Hope Operation Support Our Troops donation collection events

Papa G Restaurant Serves Greek Specialties in Elburn Illinois

Heading back from a trip to Sandwich, Illinois, we stopped at Papa G’s in Elburn for lunch. It was a Sunday morning and we has a short wait for a table. The restaurant is bright, clean and airy. The specials of the day were cheese or vegetable lasagna.

While perusing the menu, we ordered saganaki. The cheese appetizer arrived hot, though not flamed at the table, as is common at many Greek restaurants. Accompanying bread basket selections included raisin bread hearty French bread, crackers, bread sticks, butter and jelly.

Saganaki at Papa G's

Saganaki at Papa G’s Elburn, Illinois

Our server was friendly and helpful. Searching for a vegetarian choice, she offered to have the kitchen make a custom wrap using the veggies on hand and salad dressing. This was served with cottage cheese and French fries. Noel ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes chicken gravy. The meal came with broccoli, tomato and orange slices.

Fried Chicken dinner at Papa G's Elburn, Illinois

Fried Chicken dinner at Papa G’s Elburn, Illinois

The large menu includes burgers, steak, Greek salads, pasta, chicken and Athenian steak includes some vegetarian items. A large party celebrated a family event in a separate room in the rear of the restaurant separated by glass doors.

Papa G’s is also located in Huntley, Illinois.
Papa G's on Urbanspoon

Papa G's on Foodio54

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