October 21, 2017

Robotic lawn mowers: Honda’s Miimo

A friend of mine uses an electronic system to keep her dog in their fenceless yard. Lo and behold, robotic lawnmowers are now combining that concept with that of the Roomba vacuum to keep lawns clipped and mulched.

The number one on-line choice appears to be the Honda Miimo lawn kit which comes with 3 elements: perimeter wire with pegs to mark your property’s boundaries and to mark off flowers, trees and bushes from being mowed, the robotic unit itself and the charging station.

Using a smart phone app, the owner can set the grass cutting height and the mower proceeds to manicure the lawn. The device can be programmed to only run at night with a sound equivalent to an air-conditioning unit. Contrast that with the ultra-loud power mowers of yore.

The machine finely slices the grass into mulch which is left on the lawn as a natural fertilizer. When the mower runs low on juice, it automatically goes to its charging station and powers up.
The Honda Miimo comes in two price models, the HRM 310 for $2,499 or the HRM 520 for $2,799 so only the well-heeled will be buying these mowers, for now.

A couple of my nephews make money mowing sporting fields in the summer. Let’s hope these robotic mowers don’t come down in price and proliferate until these two young guys are out of college!

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, Caldwell Lily Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon at Lincoln Park Zoo

Having lived across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo for ten years, I got in the habit of frequently visiting the country’s oldest free urban zoo, sometimes daily.  New exhibits, refreshed settings and old favorites were the draw.

Kids playing around nature forms and next to a glass barrier with a black bear on the other side

New to me was the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, featuring North American animals to the right of you as you enter from Stockton. One is immediately struck by the visual layers in the exhibit. Tree tops with nesting herons are in the foreground. Red wolves can be seen in the next layer, behind a barrier, of course. A service dog-in-training in the people zone was being intently stared at by one wolf as I reconfirmed that there were at least two fences between them. A few steps more and one can see lumbering black bears with one snoozing in a glass observation portal the day we visited. Other creatures featured in the exhibit are the American beaver, the American kestrel, the American toad, Blanding’s and Eastern Box turtles along with the Eastern screech owl and the Hooded merganser. Inventive play structures add still another layer of interest for families. Any child would love this engaging area, but I can attest that adults will be charmed as well.


The Lincoln Park Zoo Waterfowl Lagoon also appears to be newly landscaped with Chilean flamingos matching the orange tiger lilies surrounding their area. A bridge and an overlook allow the viewer to admire the swan geese and a pair of snow white trumpeter swans. In 1868, New York’s Central Park Commissioners sent the Lincoln Park Zoo two swans and those graceful birds continue to be a big draw in the zoo. Native Illinois wildflowers and grasses complete the idyllic scene along with Ruddy ducks, Baikal teals and red-breasted mergansers. 

One of my favorite areas continues to be the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond. While you may exit into the zoo from the pond area, for entrance, you must go to Fullerton, south of the zoo. The Lincoln Park Conservancy is responsible for this serene setting with its Prairie-style rock structures, birds and diverse native plantings. If you meander upon the path that circles the pond, or sit in one of the pavilions to listen to birdsong and gaze at lily pads, you can forget that you are in the middle of a bustling big city. We were lucky enough to hear the big croak of a resident bull frog when exiting, as if he were giving us an exclamation point to our bucolic visit.

I frequent the Zoo less often since I moved out of that neighborhood but the occasional stop to the environs always introduces me to some new view of nature. A big thank you to the Auxillary Board of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Zoological Society for keeping this experience free to all!

Montrose Beach and the Magic Hedge

An out-of-town friend recently visited Chicago and I decided to introduce him to Montrose Beach (the city’s largest beach) and the Magic Hedge, a bird sanctuary south of the bath house that some birders call the best bird-viewing spot in Chicago. 320 species of birds have been sighted in the lush cordoned area of trees, bushes and grasses.

Dogs tend to frighten birds, so the Magic Hedge is off-limits to canines. I took my dog elsewhere while my friend went into the interior of the nature preserve. He saw guys in safari vests with cameras, big zoom lenses, binoculars and lots of birds.

Signage indicated that a butterfly sanctuary is being created adjacently north of the preserve to provide a stopping ground for Monarchs, in particular.

East of the preserve, more trees and greenery have taken up residence amid the dunes on the beach. This is also a no-dog-zone. A jetty curves out from the end of the beach affording a stupendous view of the lake and the city skyline.

Just south of the Magic Hedge is a stand of ornamental trees that were planted in honor of famed journalist, Mike Royko in 1998. The dozen or so now lush trees have been dubbed Royko’s Grove.

The Montrose Beach area itself has a bath house that looks like an ocean liner with kayak and volleyball equipment rental and an outdoor cafe that features live music. A sanctioned dog beach is to the north of the Montrose bath house.

There is the harbor itself with slips for 711 boats, both sail and powered, along with the Corinthian Yacht Club and a bait shop.

A day at the Montrose Beach area is like a mini-vacation. My dog thinks so, too.

Montrose Beach and Harbor
4400 N. Lake Shore Drive (at Montrose Avenue)

http://www.cpdbeaches.com/beaches/Montrose-Beach/

Riverwalk Extension Opening May 20, 2017

Whether you are visiting Chicago or are a longtime resident, you will want to find the time to check out the 1.25 mile River Walk that runs from Lake Michigan to Lake Street. The city has found a way to showcase our previously industrial-oriented Chicago River and make it an actual destination with food, leisure activities and delightful infrastructure design.
This hearkens back to architect/planner Daniel Burnham’s vision of riverside promenades along the Wacker Drive viaduct.

Architect Carol Ross Barney

One of the architectural brains behind the 21st century 15 year project is Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects who along with collaborative partners Sasaki Associates (MA), Alfred Benesch & Company and Jacobs Ryan Associates have created 8 distinct areas between the cross bridges, referred to as Boardwalk, Jetty, Water Plaza, River Theater, Cove, Marina plus two other areas east of Michigan Avenue.

Here is a great photo montage of Riverwalk at the Ross Barney Architects site: http://www.r-barc.com/projects/chicago-riverwalk/

I love the Water Plaza from LaSalle to Wells which features a zero-depth fountain and water jets with colored lights. Children were splashing away the day I visited. Equally impressive was the River Theater (Clark to LaSalle) which will seat hundreds for events or allow people to just hang out.  Imagine a production barge set up in front of the seating for concerts and theatrical events. Count me in!

This whole project gives me newfound architectural pride in the City of Big Shoulders.

Check out the events from 9 am to 9 pm for the Saturday, May 20 opening:

https://www.chicagoriverwalk.us/season-opening

Here is a blog post I did on the previous Riverwalk phase completed in 2015: http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/09/chicago-riverwalk-from-lasalle-to-lake-michigan/

Three Arts Club Cafe in the Restoration Hardware store

I fondly remember giving a concert in the old Three Arts Club in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Built in 1914 to house women involved in music, painting and theater, the brick building was the architectural work of the storied Holabird & Roche firm. With sadness, I heard that the club had been sold to developers in 2007.

Much to my relief, Restoration Hardware has created a five-story emporium that has left many of the architectural details intact. The courtyard houses a delightful restaurant called the Three Arts Cafe which kept the old fountain and features an all-weather glass ceiling that allows diners to be bathed in sunlight.

The food is as impressive as the setting with a curated menu including “seasonal ingredient-driven” recipes. The shaved vegetable salad was beautiful to look at and to eat with brightly colored root vegetables and baby greens dressed with finely chopped pecans and cider vinaigrette. For sheer gluttony, I ordered a side of bacon which was the thick-cut kind found in British cuisine. My luncheon partner ordered a bacon club sandwich which she endorsed by eating every morsel.

The menu is small but there are several items that entice me to make return visits such as the Truffled Grilled Cheese sandwich, the slow roasted chicken with garlic confit and the house-made chocolate chip cookies served warm out of the oven.

After lunch, we strolled the five floors of rooms decorated with Restoration Hardware furniture, lighting fixtures, accessories, bedding and even some articles of clothing. The top floor has two outdoor terraces which must be divine in the warmer months. The main floor has a Three Arts Club Pantry that sells scrumptious looking donuts and hot beverages.

A visit to this historic building is like a mini-vacation with excellent food and drink sampled before or after one peruses the five floors of tastefully decorated display rooms. I’m wondering if they would let me move in?

3artsclubcafe.com

Chicago’s CTA Holiday Train and Bus 2016

How have I missed the CTA Holiday Train in the 25 years that it has run on the tracks around the Chicago area? To this day, I have only seen video footage of Santa with reindeer and sleigh gliding through the wintry urban scenery. Each brightly lit train car has an elf inside passing out candy canes. Yesterday was the last Santa train this season on the yellow line. Santa drove his CTA sleigh from Nov. 29 through Dec. 23 on all eight CTA train lines. Drat, missed it again!

The CTA also runs a special Santa bus which makes runs on the various city bus lines. If you were taking the No. 3 King Drive bus yesterday, you may just have been lucky enough to board this festive vehicle.

These photos and the video below will have to suffice until next year when we can perhaps view these illusive sights with our own eyes:

Chicago’s Merchandise Mart gets a facelift

My husband wanted me to see the $40 million in-progress transformation of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart last weekend. As you’d expect in a business operation catering to interior designers and their well-heeled clients, the Mart wanted to freshen its look by opening space both inside and looking out.

At 4.2 million gross square feet in its two city block and 25-story structure, the Merchandise Mart has bragging rights for being the second largest office building in the world (the Pentagon is in first place.)

The food court where CTA el users exit is one of the biggest transformations. Large windows now feature views of River North and the elevated train station. Comfortable seating, modern lighting and a mirrored ceiling go along nicely with food from Billy Goat Tavern or Mezza Mediterranean Grill.

Also stunning is the 50-foot wide marble staircase rising from the lobby. Red leather seat cushions make the steps another innovative place for people to congregate with a retractable 25-foot wide projection screen above the “Grand Stair.”

The second level features a lounge overlooking the Chicago River replete with a bar, couch seating, pillows and coffee tables with board games.

Another new area to the Mart is River Drive Park with umbrellas and seating arrangements overlooking the Chicago River. The project designers even included an area for food trucks to park during warm weather months.

Whether you work in the Mart or near it, this is now a destination to check out, at least once.

http://themart.com/

Chicago Beach bar/restaurants from Oak Street to Hollywood on Lake Michigan

This is the perfect time to check out some of the park beach houses and food/bar spots.

Oak Street Beach Food + Drink Talk about a great view of the lake, the Drake Hotel and Lake Shore Drive. You must be at the Oak Street Beach sipping a frozen margarita and munching on a chicken mole taco or a BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich.

http://www.oakstreetbeach.com/

Castaways at 1603 N. Lake Shore Drive features DJs and live bands to go along with your cold brewskies, your jerk fish tacos or Castaways signature burger.
Then again, you could go fancy and order the Riva Shrimp Chopped salad or the blackened grouper sandwich.

http://www.castawayschicago.com/

Bacino’s at 248 W. Diversey, west of the Diversey Driving Range, an Italian Grill open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring Bruschetta, salads, panini, pizzas, burgers and gelato.

http://www.bacinos.com/DIVERSEY/contact.html

The Dock at Montrose Beach, at 200 W. Montrose Harbor Drive, with a liquor license, full-fledged restaurant and live music.

http://thedockatmontrosebeach.com/

Nacho Mama’s Burrito Bar at 5701 N. Lake Shore Drive, Osterman Beach House. One of the newer lakefront venues with non-alcoholic beverages like hibiscus tea, ginger beer, coconut water and, you guessed it, nachos.

http://www.nachomamasbeachbar.com/new-page/

I know there are beach bar/food businesses north and south of the ones mentioned above. Please let me know if you have any favorite spots along Lake Michigan in the city.

Graceland Cemetery, a Chicago treasure

In my last week’s article on the South Park system in Chicago, I wrote about a famous large sculpture by Illinois artist, Loredo Taft. As a co-incidence, I also visited the lovely Graceland Cemetery on Memorial Day and saw two more evocative Loredo Taft statues in this storied graveyard.

Far from being morbid and forbidding, Graceland is as much an arboretum and architectural treasure as it is a final resting place for many.

I urge you to stop at the visitor’s center when first you arrive to pick up a brochure with a map of famous Graceland “residents.” The roster reads like a “who’s who” of Chicago architecture, industry, sports and culture.

Lake Windemere Bridge - Photo by E. DoyleLake Windemere, a small body of water amidst the greenery is especially lovely with a small bridge leading to an island containing the tombstones of Daniel Burnham and his immediate family. A pleasant walk takes you to the grave sites of Louis Sullivan, John Root, Fazlur Khan, William Le Baron Jenney and Mies Van de Rohe, to name a few architects of note.

A Taft sculpture depicts a soldier from the Crusades guarding the grave of newspaper publisher, Victor Lawson. George Pullman (Pullman railroad cars), William Kimball (pianos and organs), Phillip Armour (meat-packing) and Cyrus McCormick (the horse-drawn reaper) are but a few of the industrialists buried here.

A second Loredo Taft sculpture entitled Eternal Silence marks the grave site of Dexter Graves. Looking into the face of the eerie hooded figure, according to myth, gives the viewer a glimpse of their own death.

Eternal Silence by Loredo Taft - Photo by E. Doyle

Eternal Silence by Loredo Taft – photo by E. Doyle

Other historic figures include Carter Harrison Sr. and Jr., father and son who both served as mayors of Chicago, Alan Pinkerton of the famous detective agency, Joseph Medill of Chicago Tribune fame and Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, an African-American surgeon who performed one of the first open heart surgeries.

Parents or teachers could give their children and students a pretty wonderful overview of Chicago history with a walk through this verdant retreat. This is land within the Wrigleyville neighborhood that is truly full of beauty, serenity and yes, grace.

http://www.gracelandcemetery.org/

Chicago’s Stunning South Parks: Jackson, Midway and Washington

Memorial Day seemed like the perfect time to visit some park attractions on Chicago’s South Side that I had read about but never seen.

First up was the “Golden Lady” statute at the intersection of Richards and Hayes Drives in Jackson Park on Chicago’s south side. The original statue, three times the size of this copy, was by sculptor Daniel Chester French and was placed in the Court of Honor during the 1893 Colombian Exposition. The larger original work, “Statue of the Republic” was unfortunately destroyed in an 1896 fire. This newer and smaller version is completely gilded with the lady’s right hand holding a globe with an eagle on top and the left holding a staff with a banner that reads “Liberty.”  D. C. French is more well known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln that graces the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.

If you want to keep exploring, head north towards the Jackson Park Driving Range. Several golfers were unloading golf bags so this looks like a fun place to improve one’s swing. North of the driving range is a marked nature trail that leads to the water basin in back of the Museum of Science and Industry. Off to the west, one can see the storied “Wooded Isle,” with it’s Osaka Garden, also built for the 1893 Colombian Exposition. Alas, most of the park is under construction and several pathways are blocked for public admittance, including the island with Japanese landscaping and structures.

Photo by Elizabeth Doyle

The trail is still worth checking out with it’s verdant foliage and flowers and the spectacular view of the back steps of the Museum. Big things could be ahead for Jackson Park since it is in consideration for Barack Obama’s Presidential Library. World renowned artist Yoko Ono is also slated to install a new, permanent artwork called SKY LANDING on the Wooded Island in the near future.

Three areas, Jackson, Washington and the Midway Plaisance were actually designed as one big South Park. The Midway Plaisance joins Jackson Park on the east and Washington Park on the west. During the 1893 Colombian Exposition, the “Midway” was the site of less high-brow entertainment such as sideshows and rides. Today an ice-skating rink is on the site of the world’s first Ferris wheel which premiered during the 1893 Fair. The mile-long swath of green is next to the University of Chicago and seems part of the campus even thought it is public land.

Continuing west along the park boulevard system, the big artistic attraction on the border between Midway and Washington Park is Loredo Taft’s amazing concrete sculpture and reflecting pool called “Fountain of Time.” Inspired by the poem “Paradox of Time” by Henry Austin Dobson, the large scale sculpture features Father Time looking across water at a procession of one hundred humans. Private and public entities have donated money to preserve Taft’s national artistic treasure.

Loredo Taft, an Illinois sculptor born and bred, had his art studio nearby in a converted barn at 60th street and Ellis.

I definitely plan to be back as these three parks continue to thrive and evolve. The western area of Jackson Park holds particular interest, especially if Yoko Ono completes her art project on the picturesque “Wooded Isle.”

If you want to see the projected plans for Jackson, Washington and Midway Park areas, you may find this site interesting:

http://www.project120chicago.org/