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Friday, April 24, 2015

A Springtime Soireé at MySpa Chicago

As my friend, Rachel and I enter the Fairmont Chicago, we are directed towards the escalator which leads us to a short well-lit hallway ending at two beautiful frosted doors.  Just beyond those doors, MySpa is holding a small but luxurious event where guests are invited to experience mini back or hand massages, manicures and delicious small bites.  As soon as we enter the room, we are greeted warmly and offered glasses of champagne on a silver platter and a tour of the spa.  The whole room, although filled with food, smells simply of lavender.  The sound of the waterfall wall is a soothing invitation.

As we take our tour of the separate men's and women's changing rooms, large showers and relaxation lounges, I can't help but wonder why I have never heard of this place.  As it turns out, there's quite a stigma when it comes to hotel spas and restaurants.  Many believe that these are only available to hotel guests- but they are actually open to the public.  Not only that, but MySpa encourages Illinois residents to come in and receive 20% off their services.

Located right in Millennium Park, the spa features a modern design and offers the finest amenities.    They have a duet massage room, complete with a large relaxation tub for couples prior to their massages- a perfect set-up for honeymooners.  The women's relaxation lounge is dimmed with large chairs, hot towels, minimal décor and a table with coffee and fresh cucumber & strawberry water.  The men's, on the other hand, features lounge chairs and a large TV.  Toni, who has offered to take me on the tour explains that their male and female clients tend to have different ways of relaxing.  Most of the time, the women are found chatting with their friends, while the men zone out to their favorite shows.

Heading back to the lobby, I sign up for a mini back massage and a manicure.  Rachel opts for the back and hand massage.  As we wait to get our treatments, we sample the food.  A large spread offers a variety of amazing gourmet cheeses, crackers and breads, mini curry chicken salad sandwiches as well as mini avocado shrimp sandwiches, fruits and cookies. Pitchers of delicious fresh strawberry banana smoothies sit on a nearby table.  Corinne, a friendly hotel staffer lets me know that James Phillips, the hotel chef, has made everything special for the evening.

Soon, we are each beckoned to receive our services.  Rachel is whisked away for her hand massage featuring an exfoliating and age-defying salt scrub as I begin my manicure. Joy, a lovely nail artist shows me an array of color choices.  She tells me that pinks and purples have been very popular, so I go for a hot tomato red with pink undertones.  Olé Calienté by Essie is my polish of choice for the day.

Tanya, the masseuse, is courteous and makes sure I like the scent she has chosen before she gets to work on my back and shoulders with lavender scented oil.  The massage is quick but thorough.  I'm so relaxed by it that I don't even want to stand up afterwards.  If there hadn't been someone else waiting, maybe I wouldn't have.

As we exit our treatments, Corinne lets me know that they have some amazing package deals for those looking to host an event.  The Bundle includes 4 services for the price of 3, which means this is a great option for bridal showers, bachelorette parties, birthday parties or just a group of girls looking to treat themselves.

While she educates us on MySpa's packages, we are given a tour of the  hotel's gorgeous Presidential Suite.  As it turns out, if one chooses to purchase a few bundles, the 1,300 square ft suite can be tied into the deal as well!  Boasting stunning views of the city, unique décor and a customizable space via different doorways that offer privacy if you would like to shut out one section of the suite, it would truly be a luxurious and memorable experience for the hostess and her guests.

Just before we leave, I notice a wall of beauty and skincare products for sale.  Toni walks me through the different brands they carry, and while they are not all exclusive to MySpa, many are only sold here within the Chicago market.  I got my hands on a few of them, so look out for more details and reviews soon!  As a nice bonus, I'd like to note that MySpa offers 10% off products for customers who have purchased a service.

All in all, the Fairmont Chicago is a beautiful hotel and MySpa is an amazing place to host your next event or just go to get away from it all.  The accommodating employees, delicious food, appealing décor and quality services are more than reason enough to pay them a visit.  I know I'll be back!

Bacon + Art + Booze At ACME Hotel

Artists can be inspired by many things.  Music, culture, life, etc.  Sometimes, it's as simple as bacon and beer!  On Thursday, April 16th, Arts N Spirits collaborated with Revolution Brewing for Baconmania, at ACME Hotel, 15 E. Ohio St. 

Guests were invited to tap into their creativity and love for bacon for a pop-up painting class.  Inspired by Revolution's Anti-Hero and in celebration of Baconfest, the subject was a green fist holding a strip of bacon.  

Of course I joined in on the fun! I sipped on some delicious Anti-Hero for a little liquid creativity and with the help of our instructor, Dan, I created my very own piece of art.

This was the second annual Baconmania hosted by ACME Hotel. Beginning March 31st, ACME celebrated Baconfest Chicago with several events inspired by all things bacon, including a Kevin Bacon movie night and bacon tastings.

This year's Baconfest took place at the UIC Forum , April 17th and 18th. A selection of Chicago's top chefs created hundreds of bacon dishes for the three course celebration.

While I didn't eat any bacon, I did get to bring it home with me! My new painting has a special place on my living room wall; a tribute to this wonderful city and it's everlasting love for bacon.

Omega-3s & me

In recent years fish oil supplements have become more and more popular. Fish oil, whether in liquid or pill form, has touted benefits such as balancing Omega-3 and Omega-6 ratios; lowering blood pressure and triglycerides; as well as reducing inflammation in the body to fight against diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. While many studies are still inconclusive, fish oil has also publicized as a way to fight against certain cancers, depression, and psoriasis.

While the daily suggested amount of omega-3s ranges from 1000-1200mg of EPA and DHA, many fish oil capsules do not contain enough dosage. As a result, many people who take fish oil may end up taking several capsules simply to get their daily dose.

Up until recently I was one of those people. As a personal trainer and an active person, participating in running, yoga, and CrossFit, I have taken fish oil in pill form for several years. Over the years, I have tried several different brands. Some brands resulted in fish burps, which are unpleasant; others worked just fine but required me to take sometimes up to five pills per day. I had been told by nutritionists that liquid form is actually preferred for faster absorption to taking pills or if you cannot eat fish. However, I never could get past the taste – until I tried Stronger Faster Healthier [SFH].

SFH fish oil comes in five different flavors, including orange, lemon, peppermint, vanilla, and chocolate. I have tried all five flavors and each one of them was good in its own right. Personally, though, the orange is my favorite. Regardless of what flavor you try, no doubt you will be as surprised as I was to discover that fish oil could taste this good. Further, there is no aftertaste or worry of fish burps. The product also scores major points for this as well.

More important than the taste though is that SFH fish oils contain over 3100mg of EPA:DHA in one teaspoon. It’s potent stuff, and a teaspoon is much easier to swallow than four or five pills I took each day, or the nine pills that it can take in other fish oil brands. In addition, Stronger Faster Healthier fish oil is also free of all heavy metals, excels in independent testing, is formulated under FDA Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines, and is free of gluten, soy, and sugar. It is a natural product that I will continue to use and stand behind.

All in all, I know that I am getting all I could ask for out of my fish oil. If you are looking to start including fish oil in your everyday diet, give SFH a try. With its potency, fast absorption, and taste, it will make incorporating omega-3s into your daily life that much easier.

White Sox call up top prospect Rodon

Days after the Cubs called up their top of the line prospect, the Chicago White Sox decided it was time to call upon one themselves.

Left handed pitcher Carlos Rodon, who the White Sox drafted using the number three overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft, made his Major League debut on Tuesday.

Image courtesy of whitesoxpride.mlbblogs.com

As a freshman at North Carolina State University, Rodon was named to the All-America team along with being voted the Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year. His stellar freshman season led to a roster spot on Team USA's  collegiate baseball national team.

In 2013 Rodon helped lead North Carolina State to its first College World Series title since 1968. His success during the College World Series continued into the summer as he was also eventually named Team USA's top player in 2013. In 36 career innings for Team USA, Rodon only allowed three earned runs while striking out 42 batters.

Rodon was named the top player for Team USA in 2013.
Image courtesy of baseballamerica.com

During his short run in the minor leagues, he only appeared in 11 games. He had one win in that span while posting a 3.15 Earned Run Average (ERA) with 51 strikeouts over 34.1 innings.

The stat that stands out the most for Rodon during his minor league stint is the 13.4 strikeouts he averaged for every nine innings he pitched. The best pitchers in today's MLB usually average around 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched over the course of a season. A wicked slider helps attribute to his high rate of striking hitters out. Just ask fellow left handed pitcher Chris Sale what it means to possess an elite slider, he may have idea or two.

Whether it be as a power arm out of the bullpen or eventually joining the starting rotation, Rodon will be a welcoming addition to a White Sox pitching staff that sports a team ERA of 4.19 which ranks in the bottom half in all of baseball.

He may not be put on a pedestal as high as that of crosstown prospect Kris Bryant, but Carlos Rodon has the makings to have just as big of an impact for the White Sox during the remainder of the season. I believe the old adage I'm looking for is "pitching wins championships"?

Dreamers at House of Blues Chicago

Dreamers, an amazingly talented rock band from Brooklyn, opened up for Stone Temple Pilots on Wednesday night at House of Blues Chicago. The group, which consists of only three members, were able to throw an energetic set that immediately made me fall in love with both the band and their music.

It's been a while since I've seen a concert at the House of Blues. I was reminded of why I love the venue as soon as Dreamers began to perform on Wednesday. The stage set up was fantastic. The front of the stage was clear of any speakers or wire clutter which made it easy to see the whole band without distractions. The lighting effect was also extremely nice that night which really added a cool effect on the band as they played on the stage. In addition to the stage set up, the venue has a great sound system which makes it easy to fully appreciate the band's music.

Dreamers truly took advantage of the stage as they energetically moved around the space, encouraging the audience to sing along with them. The band was extremely charming and charismatic on stage.

For me, the highlight of their performance was when they performed their song "Wolves", a song from their EP that they performed live on our very own Fox News that morning.

If I had to choose my favorite song by Dreamers, it would definitely be the song "My Little Match" from their EP. I love the overall composition of the song. I especially love how they have parts during the song where they break it down from the starting speed of the song and strip down the song to just vocals and minimal guitar and drums.

How do you like the Dreamers? If you like what you hear, check out more of their music on their Soundcloud.

Shake the Dust Review: Art Boosting Morale in the World's Poorest Locations

Shake the Dust

Still courtesy of BOND Strategy and Influence.

Director: Adam Sjöberg
Rating: Four Stars out of Five
Will be available in coming months.

Artistic expression has a long tradition of being a safe haven for those in poverty, a way out of the route of drugs, gangs, terrorism, and other terrible things for impressionable young people. Most of the longstanding paths to expressing one's self through art are expensive habits. Paint sets are pricey. Guitars, too. Have you ever priced out lighting equipment for even the most low budget filmmaking project? It's disheartening.

For the world's poor, that barrier to entry is even harder to overcome. They have to be creative about which creative avenues they choose. That's why, for the last couple decades, breakdancing has found its way to slums and ghettos across the globe. In director Adam Sjöberg's new documentary, Shake the Dust, we get a glimpse into the lives of the b-boys and b-girls in Yemen, Colombia, Cambodia, and Uganda. Their lives, their struggles, their low-wage service jobs (if they have any at all) fade away when they pick up a piece of cardboard and, usually, a cassette-playing boombox loaded with hip hop tracks from all over the chronological and geographical maps.

The subjects of the documentary may be from all over the planet, but their stories share a through line of avoiding the most negative temptations for the world's poor. Many struggled to leave the drug trade, others resist extremist terrorist overtures, some battle forced homelessness because a corporation bought land and bulldozed their homes with no warning. They could be dejected and spiteful, but their communal art, and the relationships forged within, keep their “hearts full,” as one dancer mentions. They have been given something to care about, a passion, and it's palpable.

They aren't interested in keeping it to themselves, either. Whether through creating nonprofit organizations, visiting local schools with dance workshops, or simply inviting children on the street to join in, every group in the movie takes an active role in diminishing the harshness of life in their cash-strapped communities. This may be a bit of cherry picking on Sjöberg's part, only focusing on the charitable b-boy groups, but there are enough of them to where I'm optimistic this is a regular occurrence around the world in this art form. They teach children to read, some life skills to earn them enough money for school, give them a makeshift family if they have lost theirs. It's heartening.

Even more heartening for this visually minded writer is that Shake the Dust is shot in such an artful way so as to make the best use of modern low budget HD camera technology. In recent years, we've gotten digital releases from some of the finest visual stylists known to the filmmaking world, like Spike Lee's Da Sweet Blood of Jesus and Brian De Palma's Passion. Both of those feel off in a way Shake the Dust does not. The secret lies in the utilization of lighting. Lee's and De Palma's pictures are filled with harsh lighting and colors that may work when shot on celluloid but look garish in digital photography. Their work in the medium has an experimental, feeling out vibe, a fundamental discomfort with the technology, an indication they have not quite gotten the hang of it yet. Sjöberg, who has worked for years in digital photography and filmmaking, has none of those hangups. He intuitively understands what works best, and hardly bothers with artificial light at all, except in the darkest moments of night when he employs a simple spotlight on his dancers. Otherwise, he uses the sun and overhead lights in practice spaces to create silhouettes and dancing shadows.

But, as great as Sjöberg's technical craftsmanship proves to be, the dancers are the main event. They provide the visual oomph to the proceedings. Intriguingly, each corner of the globe injects local flavor into their breakdancing styles. In Yemen, there's a staccato aspect, a pleasing stiffness and jerkiness to how they move. The Cambodians feature more spinning, a constant urge to gain momentum. The Colombians swing around, dip and jump with a fluidness unlike their peers. It's a beautiful thing to behold.

Some Movies to See This Weekend, April 24, 2015

This week's cinematic offerings are a much more manageable three wide-ish releases. There's a distinct throwback quality to what's on tap this time out, all old school feeling and little modern irony. As a trend, this is probably a good thing, but we can only see about the execution of these particular movies. Let's see what's in store for us at the picture houses!

Age of Adaline
Director: Lee Toland Krieger
Writers: J. Mills Goodloe, Salvador Paskowitz
Starring: Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn

This one has an Old Hollywood vibe to it, with one of them there newfangled “high concepts” running through it. Blake Lively stars as a woman, Adaline, who drives her car into a pond and loses the ability to age. Everyone she cares about gets old and dies and she doesn't allow herself to get attached to anyone again. She has flings with men throughout the decades, sure – who wouldn't want to have romantic getaways with young Harrison Ford? – but nobody matters until Michiel Huisman's bearded hunk comes along. Twist! He's Ford's character's son. Lots of explanations will be due. Some earnest melodrama will suffice. It probably isn't as terrible in execution as my ham handed plot description makes it.

Side note: Ellen Burstyn has suddenly carved out a niche for herself as the elderly daughter of parents who don't age. My theory for Age of Adaline is that Adaline is secretly the wife of Matthew McConaughey's character from Interstellar.

Little Boy
Director: Alejandro Monteverde
Writers: Alejandro Mondeverde, Pepe Portillo
Starring: Jakob Salvati, Kevin James, David Henrie, Emily Watson

Don't let the “if you can believe it, you can make it happen” superpower theme going through the trailer fool you. This kid's dad is going to war and he will die. I don't have inside information on the movie. That's just how stories work.

“Little Boy” has an undiagnosed form of dwarfism, but the movie is unlikely to be on par with The Tin Drum. If I'm wrong about this, I will be thrilled and sing this movie's praises to high heaven. But I'm probably not. Anyway, the kid has a special relationship with his dad that involves a lot of magical realism and storytelling, with the make believe aspect being of particular note for the boy's view of the world and his abilities to shape it. Then the dad goes off to war (WWII, I guess?) and the kid tries to use his magic to bring him home. Cue lots of reviews discussing how Little Boy isn't about magic, but a Trojan horse to teach kids about how to deal with loss.

Side note 2 of the week: Kevin James is having himself a moment in April 2014, something very few would have predicted a decade ago.

The Water Diviner
Director: Russell Crowe
Writers: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
Starring: Russell Crowe, Olda Kurylenko, Jai Courtney

Russell Crowe directs and stars in this Australian Oscar-winner for Best Picture about a backwater Australian man who loses all his sons to war. But there's a chance one of them might be alive. Thus, he goes in search of his one chance to find some solace in the world that has fallen apart around him.

Again, the Old Hollywood vibe strikes this week, with this being another earnest melodrama about family and adventure, with painterly images used liberally throughout the trailer. It looks gorgeous and, while the usual Oscar complaints probably apply to the Australian versions, too – the middlebrow, least offensive movies usually win, most of them won't stand the test of time, etc. – Oscar winners don't tend to be particularly bad, either. This is most likely worth your time.

Side note 3 of the week: My girlfriend pointed out recently that Jai Courtney looks like a man made out of rocks and has since started referring to him as Geodude, of Pokémon fame. I cannot get this image out of my head whenever I see him pop up in stuff, which he has done at an exceptional rate in recent years.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Halfstack Highlights - Meet Ricardo Sebastian of Luxury Management

In today’s episode of Halfstack Highlights, I talk with Ricardo Sebastian, A Chicago mover and shaker doing big things who recently made his way to the West Coast. He’s the Youth Board President for Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity and the Founder and Project Manager at Luxury Management: a production & management company.

We talk about how Ricardo took a school project and turned it into a business. Luxury Management began as a student run opportunity for student leaders to apply their education by planning high-end fundraising events with charitable beneficiaries. Today, Luxury Management has grown into a world class organization working with a slew of fashion, lifestyle and charitable clients. Such as Julius La’Cour and Steve Grand.

Ricardo shares some beautiful insight on his career journey in Chicago, great bits of advice for young people following their dreams and a bit on what’s next for him. Keep listening for more!

Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Listen and subscribe via iTunes.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Halsftack Highlights! You can keep up with Ricardo and Luxury Management at luxurymgt.com and on social media with the handle luxmgt. While your online make sure to stop by to halfstackmag.com to check out the latest on our blog and and follow us on social media @halfstackmag.

Dead Writers Theatre Collective Beautifully Stage Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan"

Dead Writers Theatre Collective kick off their season dedicated to Oscar Wilde with “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at Stage 773. The company states one of their aims is to transport audiences to the time and place of the writing. With scenic design by Moon Jung Kim and costumes by Pattie Roeder, the beautiful sets and costumes did just that.
The cast of Lady Windermere's Fan at the end of Act III. Photo by Michael Brosilow. In the Thrust Theater of Stage 773, the audience is on three sides of the stage. You felt you were looking back in time and in on intimate scenes taking place behind closed doors, a very pretty microcosm. Chandeliers hung down with flickering flames. The floor was black and white tiled. Stage left led off to the ballroom or another part of the house while stage right were steps leading you outside. In the Windermere residence, the room opened up on the terrace so characters could mingle or take in air during the scenes. During intermission, a fireplace was slid in front of the terrace and hand-painted ceiling to floor curtains hung on either side to create Lord Darlington’s house. A few simple changes and the stage was completely turned over, moving from airy and feminine to dark and masculine. The costumes were unique and rich in details with lush fabrics that took in the light. The details were fun to check out as the different characters made their entrances and strolled by your seat.
Megan Delay and Joanna Riopelle. Photo by Michael Brosilow. The Collective’s goal of transporting “audiences into the original world through extensively studied period appropriate settings, props and costumes” was reached. But if you’re admiring the scenery and costumes while the play is going on, something is wrong. Painstaking attention to detail can garner a lot of respect and help actors get into character, but viewers shouldn’t be focused on how someone’s making tea or writing a letter when important information is being delivered. You came to see a play by Oscar Wilde.
L-R Michael Graham, Travis Barnhart, Rob Cramer and Edward Fraim. Photo by Michael Brosilow. There’s a scene where the gentlemen are smoking in Lord Darlington’s house after leaving their club. This was one of the most natural looking scenes with its effortless scene work and it was very enjoyable. You believed you were listening in on friends talking while smoking at the end of the night. You could feel the energies shift and barbs fly. Acts three and four were stronger than acts one and two. They just acted and everything melted away. "Lady Windermere’s Fan" runs through June 7th. The Dead Writers Theatre will also include David Hare’s The Judas Kiss in August and David Grimm’s The Learned Ladies of Park Avenue in October. For tickets and more information, visit deadwriters.net

"Highronic" Times

These are 'highronic times' in deed as Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez took progressive action in marijuana reform. On 4/20, Alvarez initiated a new lay of the law by pledging to no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana cases.

Alvarez's new initiative will link non-violent, repeat low-level drug offenders with drug prevention outreach. This new program will not affect any pending cases.

These misdemeanor cases used to carry the possibilities of severe punishments, which makes this new legislation.. too little... too late.

A week ago, possession of one gram of marijuana in Cook County could of netted 30 days in jail and $1500 fine. Today, possession of 20 grams carries the punishment of a ticket. The county prosecuted 15,000 such cases last year.   That number is staggering and befuddles the benefit of prior prosecution.


Alvarez has created uneven territory. In the counties that surround Cook, states attorney's are still flooding jails and bankrolling excessive fines on the backs of  non-violent offenders. Kane County has a deferred prosecution plan and has proved successful more then 70 percent of the time.

These changes in Cook County are far from making marijuana's recreational use legal, and furthers the need for state-wide legislation. The state of Illinois is not yet united on its own front while 4 other states have legislated for recreational marijuana use.

These times are 'highronic' because marijuana use in backrooms and hush-hush scenarios is now mainstream. The reefer-madness model is no longer working and states like Illinois are still stringing it along. This new program, while very beneficial to unclogging court systems falls very short of the actual reform needed.

Medical use of marijuana is legal in Illinois as with a handful or other states, however Illinois's program is in it's infancy and has yet to see a single grower begin operations.

Need Fitness Motivation?

What if you had a constant, friendly reminder to work out throughout your day? I would like to put emphasis on "friendly". There are too many rude and arrogant reminders to keep healthy; you can always come across badgering commercials, before-after posters and persistent relatives asking if you've lost weight yet— there's plenty more where these examples came from. After these, you feel more guilty and annoyed than motivated.

Momentum is a fashion jewelry line inspired by fitness that keeps you moving throughout your day. This line of athletic friendly jewelry includes Motivate Wraps as well as FootNotes. The Motivate Wraps are comfortable bracelets that have a non-tarnishing aluminum pendant with your very own custom quote. The FootNotes are pendants with personalized sayings that loop through your shoelaces. Better yet, these are washable and lightweight, so you can wear them through any endeavor!

Going for a long run and you are thinking about stopping early? Just take a glance down at your wrist to find motivation to continue on!

Struggling through your last few sets of an abdominal workout? Take a peak at your shoelaces to get that extra boost to finish your exercise!

Everyone gets motivated in different ways; custom make your own suede cuffs, headbands, earrings, bracelets, footnotes and necklaces here.

Cochon 555

Porc fans rejoice. The Cochon U.S. Tours proudly brings the Cochon 555 to Chicago in an epic celebration of the sustainable farming of heritage breed pigs.

image courtesy of flavorwire.com

Over the past 7 years, the Cochon 555 has run yearly. The 10-city tour features a weekend full of festivities and ends with a match up pitting local chef's from their respected regions against one another in a competition that see's the winner move onto the "Grand Cochon" in an attempt to earn the title "King or Queen of Porc"

Following competitions in New Porc City, Houston, Boston, Minneapolis, Denver, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Fransisco, and Miami. Chicago is the final stop in the tour on the way to the Grand Cochon event held at the Snowmass in Aspen, Colorado.

The weekend begins Friday April 24th with Osteria hosting the chef's course dinner paired with fine wine courtesy of Washington State Wine. Chef Erling Wu-Bower welcomes guest chefs Jason Hammel, Gene Kato, Abe Conlon, Matthias Merges, Amanda Rackman along with Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe as they work together to prepare a special feast for attending guests. ($150 all-inclusive)

On Saturday guests are treated to the "Large Format Feast". The battle of "Big Beef vs Heritage Pig" is hosted at TETE Charcuterie with Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski. The event features notable chefs as they spotlight the reinventions of pork on the traditional steakhouse menu. ($110 all-inclusive)

Saturday will also see Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe lead a panel discussion at Pastural's 5th Annual Artisan Producer festival at Chicago French Market located at 131 North Chinton Street in Chicago. This FREE festival features samples from nearly 100 producers of Artisan cheese, bread and wine.

Cochon 555 founder Brady Lowe
image courtesy of louisville.eater.com

The festivities culminate on Sunday at Morgan Manufacturing, located in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood which is also home to many of the cities best locations to dine.

In the main event the chef's are each given a full pig to prepare in their own unique fashion, trying to win the votes of the panel of judges.

The competitors include John Manion of La Sirena Clandestina in Chicago, Chris Marchino of Spiaggia Restaurant & Lounge in Chicago, Nathan Sears of The Radler in Chicago, Nicole Pederson of Found Kitchen located in Evanston, and the tandum of Thomas Rice and Kurt Guzowski of TETE Charcuterie in Chicago.

They will be judged on their dishes by not only a panel of expert judges including 2014 "Chicago prince of porc" Tim Graham of Travuelle, 2012 "Kingt of Porc" Jason Vincent, Andrew Zimmerman of Sepia, Carlos Gaytan of Mexique but the public themselves will have a say in the voting.

2014 winner Tim Graham celebrates
image courtesy of chicago.thelocaltourist.com

Guests of Sunday's event event are also invited to enjoy some of Cochon's signature experiences. Judges Jason Vincent and Andrew Zimmerman will be preparing goodies of their own. Vincent will supply guests delicacies from Agromar to go along with wine from Rioja Tapas Bar as Zimmerman presents his famous TarTare Bar. Along the way guests will sample foods from Pastoral Artisan's "Artisan Cheese Bar" and "The Oyster Bar" presented by Pearl Oyster Tavern. For the fans of Bourbon and Whiskey there will be a "Perfect Manhattan Experience" with all the servings of the classic cocktail being topped with Luxardo cherries, a special treat from Creminelli's Fine Meats. (VIP-$200, GA $125)

Come out and support a good cause while enjoying some delicate eats. For further details and on how to purchase your tickets to this one-of-a-kind extravaganza, please visit www.cochon555.com. Hope to see you there Chicago.

Thursday Night Rides

In the warm spring air, under the glow of a movie theater marquee after dusk, engines rev and tires squeal. In the Village of Carpentersville, 30 miles northwest of Chicago, a vast parking lot outside Luke's (beef, dog, and burger joint) brims at capacity. Encompassing each spot, in each group, is a culture that crosses all economic levels and bridges all racial divides.

As the night ensues, the sounds of turbo and supercharged engines increase. Car clubs from all over the area make their way to these meets every Thursday.

The turnout has grown with each week, and some of those that make their way to this tiny village, drive cars that are valued higher then 3 houses combined a mile away.

The fully-loaded European luxury, and Italian exotics sit among Detroit built American muscle, import rally cars and jacked up trucks. The packs of bikes both Harley and Honda, zip in and out all night.

The plethora of vehicles invites many spectators. The crowd like the drivers, vary in age range. The freedom to see these masterpieces of ingenuity, proper maintenance and severe dedication

With hoods up, and fine tuned sound systems blaring, families with children walk around this unofficial car meet. There are no the felt ropes, no entrance fee, just opportunity for this car culture to inspire a younger generation. With no shortage of vehicles, the Thursday night car meet at Luke's of Carpentersville is a great night out for the boys, the family, and fellow car enthusiasts.

Here, everyone shares the same passion. The passion for the vehicles that move us.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chicago Indie Artist Spotlight - Meet 4 Chicago Creatives: Dona Stretch

Following your passions can be a scary thing, even more so when you are pursuing them on a professional basis. Being a working artist is thrilling, rewarding and can sometimes be daunting. The world puts so much pressure on people to be successful that they can sometimes forget to enjoy the process. Practicing your art, day in and day out, takes perseverance and strength. Artists are a special breed of people; they see the world from a different perspective and play a significant role in society. Art is a language of the emotions and speaks of what the people are feeling.

Today’s art has evolved tremendously from the art of the past, but it is still a way to communicate. Art in its many forms is a historical imprint of the world in a visual format and artists can be signifiers of the zeitgeist of the time. Artists can, and often do, create to make a statement that reveals the issues and complexities we face as a society. In its purest form, art speaks to us, moves us and touches us to our core. This issue, we wanted to share some Chicago artists creating on their own terms. We share their journeys in a Q & A format below for your enjoyment. Halfstackers meet: Juan Chavez, Dona Stretch, Vince Wolfe and Arlan Derussy.

Name: Dona A. Stretch
Type of Artist: Stain Glass / Photographer
email: visionaryglas@gmail.com website:www.facebook.com/visionaryglass

1. Can you tell us more about yourself, your background and how you have established yourself as such a sought after artist in Chicago? 

My name is Dona Stretch born and raised in Chicago and grew up in a blue collar family. I didn’t know when I’ve never had the love, passion and interest in art. Upon completion of graduating from St. Benedicts High School located on Irving Park Road in Chicago, Illinois, I received a four year scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago which I pursued. Studying and working with various mediums of art i.e. lithography, photography, textile, designing and sketching my love and compassion lies in Stain Glass and Photography. 

After attending the Art Institute of Chicago, life was about getting married and raising a family. I've been married for 38 years this June, two children 32 and 29 both married and four beautiful granddaughters. Despite having to raise a family, my eye never strayed away from my passion of art. Freelancing became a part of my life while raising our family. 

Now that my family is grown, I have been able to jump back full time into my passion which is the love and the creativity of my artistic talents of Art. The word “Art” is not a hobby... I call it my “Life”. My hobbies include being a season ticket holder to the Chicago Lyric Opera House, attending the Elgin Symphony, painting interior homes, golfing, reading, experiencing life that has not been touched and being involved with charitable organizations.

2. Can you explain what your creative process is like when it comes to your work? What kind of research goes into it, where do you find your inspiration?
The creativity process of my work comes from within. LET ME EXPLAIN - Where ever I go, my camera is always within reach. For it is that split second of time, that if you blink, that moment of capture is gone and is in the past. For it is that moment that you see with the naked eye to expunge on the feeling and create the emotion it brings you to elaborate your talent. 

My creativity comes from an inner passion of working with my hands, my mind and thought process of creating something that is beautiful within the emotion of who I am and hopefully have people enjoy what they see through their eyes.

One of the things that I enjoy when creating my art work is that I have the ability to let go and get lost in the moment and really pour myself into my work. I allow my mind to be completely blank with no outside distraction which is wonderful and rewarding. I’m living the moment of which the majority of people don’t know how to do because they are always thinking want they need to do tomorrow or the next day. I’m in the realm of my own awareness to put it bluntly.

3. What have been some of your most profound moments, projects you are most proud of as an artist?

As of January 2015, my stain glass art work, for the first time hangs in Decorators Gallery in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin. I have done commissioned stain glass window panels for a brown stone home in the Gold Coast area of downtown Chicago.

Designing and making stain glass “Freedom Hearts” for the Wounded Warrior Foundation to assist in raising money and awareness is a project I am proud of. . The story behind the “Freedom Hearts” - In 2009 after my son graduated from college he decided to enlist into the Unites States Army. The hearts are a reminder of bringing my son back home and for all military men and women that served our country. This heart that I designed still hangs in our window as a reminder to say thank you for all those who have served. A total of 50 hearts have been designed and hang in other families homes throughout the United States. Donating my work for charitable opportunities is something I am always proud to do.

 4. Have there been any key people that have influenced your career, your art, your life?

As a young girl I can remember going over to my paternal grandparent’s house and admiring the pencil and charcoal drawing of my great grandfather, Ole Valde, that hung on my grandparent’s walls. I was mesmerized by the detailed work that was put into his pictures. One in particular was the gathering of the political historical people of “1776”. I was so intrigued by it, that in my sophomore year of high school I recreated the picture on an ink scratch artist board and won the Sears Scholastic Award that took first place. 

I can remember this as if it was yesterday. I ask my grandparents if I could borrow my great grandfathers charcoal picture off the wall to draw it and submit it for a drawing competition. Another person that influenced me in pursuing my artistic talent was my high school Art teacher by the name of: Sister Irene Beader. Without her guidance and her encouragement, I would have never received a four year scholarship to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and have the passion of art the way that I do.

5. Are there any artists that you look up to? If so, who and why?
I have always been intrigued with Georges Seurat paintings especially “Afternoon in the Park” on Island of La Grande. Seurat famous Pointillist Painting. It is a popular park on an island in the Seine River near Paris.

On my lunch breaks while attending the Art Institute of Chicago I would I would find myself visiting that picture that hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago Gallery. Seurat Post Impressionism / Pointillism was bench mark of an unusual technique of subject matter. In his picture Seurat shows many different people of different social classes participating in a majority of different activities. How one dot formed on a canvas can be created into other dots and therefore creates an optical theory of colors and movement.

For Seurat to have a technique so perfected and to create such a beautiful masterpiece took patience. Being an artist you need to have patience.

6. What do you consider innovation in your field, how can artists continue to push the boundaries?

Working with stain glass one needs to know what the trends are and what to produce for clients to come back and purchase your art work. Generations of different styles come and go and then return bigger and better. Artists need to go beyond their limits of creating different styles, different textures, and different methods and never put limitations on themselves or their ability to push boundaries.

7. Have you faced any struggles or obstacles as an artist throughout your career? If so, how have you overcome?

Yes, I have had to overcome obstacles in my life as being an artist, however I wouldn't label it as an obstacle. I would call it as “Having a Family”. My life had to be devoted to raising two children and putting my career on the back burner for a short time. Yes, I have overcome it. I always had my eye on my art talent but I could not devote myself 100%. To keep my hands in the fold I did some freelancing. When my children were at their teenage years that’s when I regained my passion of art in full swing mode. I went back into learning and took stain glass classes.

8. If you could go back and tell your 18 year old self one thing, or give yourself one bit of advice, what would it be?

Never lose sight of your passion that gives you the drive to feel free. Never give up on a passion that you hold so true into being yourself.

9. How has staying in Chicago affected your career as an artist, what would you say to those who believe that you can only find great success in places like NYC or LA?

All I can say is “Success” is where you make it! The only person that holds you back is yourself. You need to go to the source; the source doesn’t come to you. If you want your artwork to be seen and taken seriously you need to circulate yourself. You can spend a lot of money in Marketing and advertising; however the best Marketing tool is you. 

As an artist you need to get out into the community in meeting people. Go into galleries and see if new artist are being taken on. But the one most important tool is never give up on a passion of which that is you. Success is not a given thing, it is something that is nurtured and grows into potential. I have been working on being an artist almost all my life and I will always be working on it. Share the beauty you see with your eyes with others.

10.What kind of advice would you give young artists looking to turn their passion into a career that has meaning?

First I would say go for it! Don’t give up or give in if things don’t move as fast as you would want them to move, Rome wasn’t create in a day. Be patient with your results and embrace your achievement no matter how small they are.

Don’t be afraid to get your feet wet if you’re up against a challenge that takes you out of the box. But also make sure that your enjoy the ride.

11. Any upcoming shows, gallery showings, etc that you would like to share?

These are the events that I have on my calendar for stain glass / photography art exhibits;

May 2, 2015 - Presence Saint Joseph Hospital Fashion Derby which will be held at 
Stone Gate in Schaumberg, Illinois

May 3, 2015 - Elgin Symphony Fund Raiser
Anvil Club in West Dundee, Illinois

Coming in Fall 2015 Annual Presence Saint Joseph Hospital Auxiliary Gala (location undetermined)

October 10,11,12- 2015 
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin Pumpkin Festival

Wounded Warior Foundation Project in raising money for Wounded Warriors and their families. Stain Glass Freedom Hearts always available to purchase for $65.00. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Wounded Warrior Foundation. Purchases can be made at email: visionaryglas@gmail.com or website: www.facebook.com/visionaryglass

12. Where can we learn more about you and your art?

email: visionaryglas@gmail.com or website: www.facebook.com/visionaryglass

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