What you don’t know about Christmas in Chicago

Holiday2From the Saturday, Dec. 20, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Sometimes, Chicago can be a Polar Vortex.

But the Windy City also can be a Winter Wonderland. And during Christmastime, its buildings, streets and parks are filled with holiday fun – and all sorts of fun holiday facts, many of which you might not know.

To help put you in the Christmas spirit this weekend, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite holiday facts from all around the city.

It’s a tradition

Chicago has more longtime holiday traditions than you can shake a Christmas tree branch at.

Among them: For 64 years, the Museum of Science and Industry has celebrated the birth of Jesus with its spectacular “Christmas Around the World” tree exhibit. For 36 years, Goodman Theatre has told Charles Dickens’ classic tale by staging “A Christmas Carol.”And for 23 years, the Art Institute has held the annual “Wreathing of the Lions” for its pair of bronzed felines along Michigan Avenue.

The CTA Holiday Train (and Bus)

Riding the “L” in Chicago isn’t always the most pleasant experience. But if you’re lucky, it actually can be magical in December.

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Jon Lester’s Deal Isn’t About 6 Years – It’s About 1

LesterToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) Is Jon Lester really worth $155 million? Probably not.

Was Alfonso Soriano really worth $136 million? Definitely not.

But would a Cubs World Series championship be worth either price?

Oh, you bet it would.

Since last week when the Cubs signed ace left-hander Lester to the richest deal in club history and the second-wealthiest pitching contract in the game, the move by Theo Epstein & Co. has been widely celebrated – and for good reason, considering the relative dearth of impact arms in the Cubs’ organization.

But as ESPN.com’s David Schoenfield pointed out last week in a blog entry, “$155 million is a lot for a pitcher who hasn’t necessarily proved himself to be a consistent No. 1 starter, let alone the second-best starter in the game.”

It’s a great deal of coin that comes with a good deal of risk. Even if he stays healthy, the reality is that with Lester turning 31 on Jan. 7, it’s almost certain that due to age he won’t be worth his average annual salary of $25.8 million during the latter seasons of his record deal.

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Chicago’s best brewery taprooms will fill you with cheer

lagunitaschicagoFrom the Saturday, Dec. 13, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Santa may be fine with milk and cookies, but for other elves age 21 and over with an interest in something a bit stronger, there’s plenty of “Christmas Cheer” to be had in

Chicago’s thriving craft brewery scene.

The following are some of the city’s best taprooms worth visiting this holiday season – or any season, for that matter.

Lagunitas Brewery
1843 S. Washtenaw Ave.

The newest arrival to Chicago’s craft beer scene is also its biggest. In April, Rogers Park native and Northern Illinois University alum Tony Magee returned to the Windy City after having left more than two decades earlier to found the original Lagunitas Brewery in northern California.

In Pilsen, Magee opened a massive 300,000 square-foot facility inside a former steel plant that has served as a set for NBC’s Chicago Fire. In June, the brewery opened a sprawling 300-person taproom located on the building’s third floor that’s reached via a long hallway playing the theme from Willy Wonka. And it is quite the wonderland, featuring an array of long picnic tables and a large bar that feels like something of a hipster version of Oktoberfest. The taproom also offers a 360-degree view of the brewing operation, live music, delicious food – and, of course, a full lineup of Lagunitas’ celebrated beers.

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A To-Do List For Tim Beckman, Mike Thomas

dudekTuesday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) The Illinois Fighting Illini have themselves a bowl game. Tim Beckman has himself another season as coach. And the football program now has itself back to where it was in 2011 when Ron Zook was fired after a 6-6 season.

Struggling just to get back to .500 and play in a lower-tier bowl wasn’t the plan three years ago when Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas explained Zook’s dismissal by stressing a need for increased Big Ten success and declaring that, “It is imperative that our program shows some consistency and competes for championships, and I think a change in coaches can help us get there sooner.”

So far, that hasn’t proved to be the case with Beckman, as he’s posted a record of just 4-20 in conference and 12-24 overall. However, the embattled coach did close out the regular season on a surprising two-game winning streak, earning himself a reprieve from the chopping block.

And so as the Illini use this bonus month of practice time to prep for the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Dec. 26 – and the 2015 season beyond – here are some action items that I’d suggest Beckman and Thomas put on their to-do list if they hope to give the weary Illinois fan base what it deserves.


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Our sports stocking is stuffed with both naughty and nice


From the Saturday, Dec. 6, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

’Tis the season to be jolly.

Especially if you’re Illini football coach Tim Beckman, who somewhat miraculously – check that, completely miraculously – pulled off two late-season Big Ten victories and wriggled his way off the chopping block that felled conference peers Bo Pelini and Brady Hoke.

Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman, on the other hand, is probably more Grinch than giddy right now considering how he’s found his stocking stuffed with lumps of coal – and bad defense – ever since September.

As we hurtle toward the heart of the holiday season, here are a few other thoughts about our local sports scene, covering both the naughty and the nice.

Derrick Rose resurgence?

He once was more beloved around these parts than St. Nick, but these days a lot of Bulls fans don’t very much like Derrick Rose, although I still think they very much want to.

But Rose has to give them a reason.

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Christmas events warm up Chicago during December

skateFrom the Saturday, Nov. 29, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Besides summertime, there’s no better time in Chicago than Christmastime.

Michigan Avenue is awash in glittering lights. The windows at Macy’s on State Street burst with festive fun. And people everywhere bundle up with a few extra layers of holiday cheer.
With the Polar Vortex, they may need it.

So much holiday hoopla goes on throughout Chicago in December, that it’s impossible to do it all. But if you’re making a list (and checking it twice), here are a few things that I’d suggest putting right near the top.

Holiday Lights Trolley

Enjoy Chicago’s nighttime sights in all their holiday glory on the Holiday Lights Trolley through Jan. 4. For $29 ($19 children ages 3-11), the 2.5-hour tour begins at John Hancock Plaza (875 N. Michigan Ave.) and makes stops at twinkling Lincoln Park Zoo and Daley Plaza’s Christkindlmarket Plaza before eventually ending at Hershey’s Chocolate World, where you’ll receive complimentary hot cocoa and cookies.

For hours and additional information, visit chicagotrolley.com.

Caroling & Ice Skating in Millennium Park

During the holidays, Millennium Park bursts with Christmastime activities. That includes Caroling at Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) with notable chorale groups from 6 to 7 p.m. on Fridays through Dec. 19, followed by optional skating at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink.

Skating is always free at the rink, open through March 8 at 11 N. Michigan Ave., while skate rentals are $12. Additionally on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, the rink offers free skating lessons.

For more information, visit millenniumpark.org.

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Will Thomas Hold Beckman To Zook’s Standards?

mike-thomas-624x416Today’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) For recent Illinois football coaches, the third time has been the charm.

In 1999, after he posted a 2-14 Big Ten record during his first two seasons, Ron Turner broke through in Year 3 by reaching the MicronPC.com Bowl. In 2007, after he posted a 1-15 conference record during his first two seasons, Ron Zook broke through in Year 3 by reaching the Rose Bowl. And now in 2014, after posting a 1-15 Big Ten record during his first two seasons, Tim Beckman has his own opportunity to break through in Year 3 by reaching a bowl game.

But if Beckman does achieve six wins and qualifies for the postseason with a victory at Northwestern on Saturday, will it qualify as a breakthrough?

Or will it instead be considered a breakdown?

That’s what Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas must weigh this week as he wades into a tricky situation regarding his handpicked football coach that’s completely of his own making.

If Beckman loses on Saturday in Evanston, the decision about his future should be a pretty easy one for Thomas. After all, firing a coach with a 3-21 Big Ten record in three seasons who has clearly lost the support and interest of his program’s fan base is a logical call.

However, if Beckman goes out and wins against the Wildcats, then his future gets considerably more complicated, along with Thomas’ job.

It’s difficult, after all, to dismiss a coach headed to a bowl game. Although, three years ago, Thomas did just that when he ousted Ron Zook following a 6-6 regular season that had his team bound for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

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Derrick Rose Is The Sum Of All Our Fears

Chicago Bulls v Golden State WarriorsToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) He’s questionable for tonight’s game in Utah. He’s already sat out the last four and eight of 13 overall. And so far this season, he’s been able to finish a grand total of three contests.

He, of course, is none other than Derrick Rose.

And he’s Chicago’s headache. As well as its knee ache, its ankle ache, its hamstring ache and whatever ache comes next.

Here in the Windy City, Rose isn’t our first injury-plagued superstar, but the Bulls’ part-time point guard may indeed be unlike any of those who have come before him – because, as it turns out, he’s all of them balled into one.

In fact, you could actually call Rose the “Sum of All Our Fears,” because I’m not sure there’s been a more disappointing Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Kerry Wood. And I’m not sure there’s been a more frustrating Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Mark Prior. And, I’m also not sure there’s been a more heartbreaking Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Gale Sayers.

Since 2011, we’ve watched Rose’s career devolve from the heights of an NBA Most Valuable Player award into the current slog that it is following two major knee surgeries and an array of lesser injuries, including the strained hamstring and pair of sprained ankles that have hampered him this season.

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DePaul arena needs to take its ball and head home

DePaulFrom the Saturday, Nov. 22, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


On the basketball court, DePaul’s scores may add up, but when it comes to the Blue Demons’ proposed hoops arena near McCormick Place, the numbers sure don’t. And with taxpayers on the hook, that’s a problem.

In May 2013, when the 10,000-seat venue planned for a site in Chicago’s South Loop was announced, the estimated cost was about $140 million with the publicly funded Metropolitan Pier and Expansion Authority (McPier) and private-school DePaul slated to pay $70 million apiece.

This past Tuesday, however, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that due to the arena’s partially subterranean design, that price tag has now jumped as high as $250 million, 75 percent more than originally projected.

McPier spokeswoman Mary Kay Marquisos told Crain’s on Wednesday that it won’t cost that much, saying, “We’re confident that the proposal that will be presented to the (McPier) board next Tuesday will be within the budgetary parameters established for the project and well within the spirit of the original design.”

We’ll see exactly what that means. But I’d say it’s almost a certainty that the arena’s ultimate cost will significantly exceed $140 million. And if it does, overruns are likely to be covered by McPier – or, in other words, by you the taxpayer.

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Illini Have The Talent, Now Need The Consistency

GroceToday’s column from CBS Chicago

(CBS) On Sunday night, after his Illinois basketball team blew the doors off Coppin State in a 114-56 romp at State Farm Center, coach John Groce said that he knew which version of his Illini would show up for the game.

Even if the rest of us didn’t.

“I woke up this morning and I told my wife, ‘They’re going to play today,’ ” Groce told reporters. “They played.”

With a record-tying 15 three-pointers helping to spark runs of 16-0, 14-0, 15-0 and 12-0, they certainly did. And by doing so, the Illini looked like the polar opposite of the squad that just two days earlier had struggled throughout a shaky 80-71 victory over Georgia Southern in the season opener.

Now, as for who the Illini truly are this season, well, that probably falls somewhere in between these two yin-yang performances. It’s too early for us to really tell.

But this much we do know for sure: If Groce is to meet expectations in his third year and truly cement himself as the guy to elevate the Illinois progam, then Jekyll and Hyde are going to have to stop suiting up for his Illini.

Because they’ve been in the lineup way too often the past two years.

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