After a long interlude, I now have another guest post to share from one of my Team members. This post comes from John Costa, our team’s Director of Marketing. While John spends his days spearheading the print and online marketing of our client’s properties, today, he’s offering up some advice on how to make the most of Christmas in Chicago.

The Holidays in Chicago

Lights on palmetto trees. Playing a quick nine holes of golf. Wearing shorts in December. While this was Christmas as usual for me when I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, it didn’t feel truly like the holiday season to a New Jersey native such as me. So, when I moved to Chicago two years ago, I looked forward to enjoying “Northern” Christmases once again.

With so many holiday offerings in the city, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short list of some of the best ways to take in the season in Chicago. Here’s my picks:

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Chicago may be best known for its Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza, but the Windy City can also brew an impressive cup of Joe as well.

In fact, the latest edition of the food and wine magazine Saveur highlights some of the best coffees in the world – and two of the top picks are Chicago-based brands (San Rafael Lot 1 from Metropolis Coffee Company and Hacienda La Esmeralda from Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea).

And if there’s anyone who appreciates good coffee it’s the Ames family. My own sister, fellow Realtor Nathalie Ames, founded her own coffee shop in Mesa, Colorado after finding the area to be nearly devoid of coffee venues. Now, in a place where the nearest Starbucks is 18 miles away, Mesa has a wonderful boutique coffee shop in Nathalie’s Blink Coffee.

Thankfully, here on Chicago’s North Side, one need not go to such extremes to get great coffee. In fact, even though Starbucks is still the most (in)famous name in town, there is still a rich offering of small chain and independent coffee shops here as well. Below are some that offer both the best ambience and the best coffee and tea.

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Update: This post is for 2008. For information on 2009 Halloween events on Chicago’s North Side, see here.

Halloween may be a one day event in some parts of the country, but here in Chicago, there’s nearly a month’s worth of parades, haunted houses, pumpkin carvings, fun runs, spooky mazes, and other events dedicated to the holiday. Many of these events are cheap (or free), are geared towards children, and don’t involve the ingestion of mass amounts of candy. In others words, they make for good, wholesome family outings.

The Chicago Parks District has a list of all their Halloween offerings, and About.com has a good general summary of city-wide events.

For simplicity’s sake, however, I had a Google map made up of all the North Side Halloween events. Use it to find the upcoming events near where you live. Blue markers are Parks District events, red markers are parades, and yellow markers are all other events.

Please click through to the website for each marker to get the most up-to-date information for each event.
View Larger Map

Did I miss any great Chicago Halloween events? Let me know with a comment!

Living in Chicago means witnessing the constant renewal and development of the city. Downtown this often takes the form of grand-scale high-rises like the Trump Tower or the more ambitious Chicago Spire. From my office in the John Hancock Center (a site developed by my grandfather in the ‘60s), I can see the tower cranes looming over The Elysian, a new 60-story hotel/condominium high-rise going up to the west of us.

Icons like these may grab the big headlines, but there are smaller developments underway that are just as exciting for the neighborhoods they affect.

For the residents of Old Town and Lincoln Park, these kinds of projects are on the horizon. Each of them is significant and has the potential to enhance home values in the surrounding area.

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Having young kids has definitely had an impact on my husband’s and my social life. (Social life? What social life?!) The energy we once spent planning elegant cocktail and multi-course dinner events has been redirected toward birthday parties for… well… babies and toddlers! Thankfully, there are some great venues for children’s birthday parties here in Chicago. Here are some of our favorites:

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Lincoln Park farmers market

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending an event where I heard Alice Waters speak. Alice is the founder of the Chez Panisse Foundation, a not-for-profit with the mission of promoting “edible education.” Specifically, the Foundation is seeking to change school lunch programs and improve the way we care for the health of our children, our communities and our environment.

The main point Alice raised was her concern over the poor diet that Americans – particularly our children – are adopting. Low quality, highly processed foods are increasingly dominating our meal plans and taking a toll on our health as well as the environment and local economies. Furthermore, the drive-thru dinner is steadily eroding the tradition of the family sit-down meal. Alice summed up this new lifestyle with a bumper sticker she had recently seen: “If we are what we eat, I’m fast, cheap, and easy.”

As a mother raising three children, I was struck by Alice’s presentation. Finding healthier food and the time to prepare “traditional” dinners is an ongoing challenge. Between our hectic work schedules, a desire to squeeze in some exercise, and spending quality time with our kids, my husband and I have minimal time to shop and prepare homemade meals. Dining out or “dialing for dinner” (aka ordering carryout) is a tempting option in a city like Chicago, but as a daily habit, it can be expensive and fattening.

The good news is that – fueled by the organic movement, a new emphasis on buying local, and an increasing desire to eat healthier – more “green” food options are sprouting up in Chicago. Some are more practical than others (raising chickens in backyards being on the ambitious side), but increasingly, there are many tempting options for those looking to buy healthy, local food.

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Movies in the Parks

For the 7th year in a row, the Chicago Park District is hosting “Movies in the Parks” – screenings of current and classic movies in more than 170 neighborhood parks throughout the city. The schedule extends well past Labor Day to September 18th.

The showings are all free, and the lineup includes some nice titles including classics like E.T., Willy Wonka and West Side Story, as well as newer films like The Great Debaters, The Spiderwick Chronicles and Hairspray.

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