Street Smart Chicago

Valley of the Dolls: Fading to Black at American Girl Place

Holidays No Comments »

Kit Kittredge

Here is my holiday advice for the Occupy Chicago protesters. On Black Friday, hike up Michigan Avenue and block the entrance to American Girl Place at Water Tower. Such a bold move would really get the media’s attention. And more importantly, you’d be doing me a personal favor.

On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my two daughters and I wander into the store. “It’s a wonderland,” says the seven-year-old. She clutches the Kit Kittredge doll Santa brought her last year. My thirteen-year-old shoots her the stink eye. The store is crowded with excited girls of all ages, many smartly dressed in stockings and bows. Most are accompanied by mothers who share a look a friend calls “North Shore constipated.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Candy Canes of Christmas

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Candy Cane Truffles from

Despite my significant domestic shortcomings, I like to give homemade Christmas gifts. Something about avoiding the mall prompts me to abandon my usual refusal to do anything creative and try, for example, to make snowmen out of marshmallows—one year’s disaster. Though the results have been uneven, I press on.

That year, I steadily crunched candy canes with the back of a knife onto a plastic cutting board in preparation for candy cane truffles that the “Edible Gifts Cookbook” assured me would be both festive and tasty. I was elbow deep in candy cane dust, knife in hand, when I heard the regular sounds of my husband returning from work: garage door opening, car door shutting, back door opening… Read the rest of this entry »

Soul Searching: Legend Tripping in the Ghost Culture of Chicago

Elmhurst, Essays & Commentary, Holidays, Naperville No Comments »

Photo: Gil Castellanos

By Eric Lutz

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But, if I did, it would be because of a weekend trip to Galena I took a few years back, when about ten seconds of “The Lovecats” by The Cure emanated from a closed laptop in the middle of the night.

I was pretty freaked out at the time, certain we’d been visited by some hipster ghost with a penchant for eighties post-punk, and wound up driving around all night until day broke.

Nowadays, I’m inclined to think the only thing scary about that night was my carbon footprint.

Maybe it’s strong to say I don’t believe. More accurately, I just don’t think about it very much. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: A Most Peculiar Holiday Guide and Gift Rap

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Shop Local. It’s a simple sentiment, one which we’ve been encouraging (and practicing) for years. Not only does it make holiday shopping a pleasure instead of a chore, but it does your city, your neighborhood, your friends a world of good, as dollars spent at locally owned merchants tend to stay in the local economy. This year, we’ve taken it a step further. Not only are we highlighting local as we always do, but this time we’re focusing on locally crafted items, whether food, or toys or other gifts. Not only will you be able to give a gift you can be proud of, but you can share the story of its maker; heck, feel free to tear out this page (or print it out online) and wrap it in your gift box. Your offering may not be expensive, but it will sure be rich. Read the rest of this entry »

Toy Story: Tree Hopper brings the wood shop home

Austin, Holidays No Comments »

If urban woodsman chic and the enduring popularity of raw lofts has shown us anything, it is the extent to which aesthetic tastes run back to the rough elegance of primitive design. And thanks to one local artisan, there is no reason that your carefully “un-furbished” interior-decorating scheme need not extend to your childrens’ toys.

After getting his degree in fine arts from Columbia College, Eric Siegel was looking for a project. When his wife became pregnant with their first child, his mind turned to all things baby and soon enough he had the idea to start his Tree Hopper line of infant and toddler toys.

“We were on a road trip out west and we stopped by this toy store in San Francisco and they had some cool wood toys and that just got me thinking. And when I came back and looked into it more and looked around at toy stores, I saw that there would be a niche for these kinds of toys.”

The hallmark of Tree Hopper is Siegel’s wooden block sets, which can be built into a wide array of configurations with their connecting rods. Siegel says that the idea for the product came about when he wanted to make something for his nephew’s Christmas gift last year. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Cards: Third Coast Collection offers Chicago-Centric greetings

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Greeting cards are brimming with sappy epistles unfit for sober consumption, and if the inside isn’t a drag, the outside is. The Chicago-Centric series from Third Coast Collection might solve those gift-card woes with hometown pride: neighborhood names and boundary streets, zip codes, bus and El routes, (312) and (773). Fit for host or hostess, sister or brother, girlfriend or boyfriend, these cards balance easily between masculine and feminine.

“They’re clever, not cheesy,” says Kara Underwood Gordon, Chicago-based designer and Third Coast founder. “A single guy can give this card to his single guy friend and not be embarrassed.”

The gender-neutral colors and sharp, bold designs emanated from a simple quest for a thank-you card. Gordon ransacked her favorite stationery stores in the Chicago area but could not find that ideal blend of “not feminine, not cheesy, not a Hallmark card” for her male cousin to send to his graduate-school interviewer. Read the rest of this entry »

Plush Job: Pock-it Palz are the stuff teen dreams are made of

Elmhurst, Holidays No Comments »

While plush toys are traditionally thought of as children’s playthings, the bizarre stuffed monsters of Luisa Castellanos’ handmade designer toy line, Pock-it Palz, make quirky gifts for lighthearted people of all ages.

Castellanos is a remarkable entrepreneur not only for the high quality and inventiveness of her products, but for her young age. A senior at York High School in Elmhurst, Castellanos is 17 now, and has been making Pock-it Palz since she was 11.

At first all of Castellanos’ creations were made via hand-stitching, but the fabric toy maven has since moved on to plying her great-grandmother’s sewing machine in the basement workshop of her suburban home.

Castellanos says she learned to sew in Girl Scouts and picked up some more tips from her grandmother. Her inspiration for Pock-it Palz, however, came out of a treasured childhood pastime. “When I was a kid,” she explains, “I would doodle weird little creatures. And I decided it was a different way to express my art, with sewing monsters and making them three-dimensional.” Read the rest of this entry »

Big Bang: Newcity’s Guide to New Years Eve 2009

Events, Food & Drink, Holidays, News etc. No Comments »

BARS, NIGHTCLUBS, HOTELS AND MOREist2_4331566-champagne-toast

Listen to DJ Arkitek spin as you take advantage of a premium open bar and appetizers. There’ll be a chance to win prizes and a champagne toast, too. 1856 W. North, (773)772-5500.

Alhambra Palace
This two-floor, five-room spot is hosting an extravagant party from 9pm-1am with entertainment provided by DJs Shawn Edwards, Tony Tone, Ryan Pollano and others. For $75-$100, guests can get their drink on for four hours with a top-shelf open bar and fill up on an appetizer buffet. Additional information can be found at 1240 W. Randolph, (312)666-9555.

Angels & Kings
The DJ duo The Fabulous Ladies of Fitness will make an appearance alongside additional guest DJs as guests enjoy snacks, a dessert bar, a champagne toast and a souvenir champagne glass. 710 N. Clark, (312)482-8600.

Angels and Mariachis
Tables range from $50-$100 and the party package (10pm-1am) includes an all-you-can-eat taco bar, sangria, beer, margaritas, cocktails and a midnight champagne toast. Bottle service is also available for $50-$300. 1721 W. Division, (773)227-7772. Read the rest of this entry »

Santa’s Upgrade: Doors open on the left at North Pole

Events, Holidays No Comments »

widget_aTT7mKmDHkNQHp8FolyGWZHuddling under the heat lamps at the Brown Line stop at Damen, four rosy-cheeked little girls and three parents chat excitedly as they wait for the holiday train. A distant rumbling signals the arrival of yet another false alarm.

At 6:36pm, the train finally pulls in, just a few minutes behind schedule to the sound of cheers and screams. “Oh my gosh! It has so many lights on it,” one of the girls shrieks with delight.

Indeed, the CTA has gone all-out. The outside of the car is coated in Christmas bulbs, flickering and flashing ceaselessly. Between cars is a giant float, complete with sleigh, Christmas trees, a brick house (presumably Santa’s) and free candy. Inside, people mill around in wonderment, gazing up at the red and green fluorescent lights that bathe the car in an oddly eerie glow. The seats are reupholstered with red and green Santas, and the poles we normally grip with a single finger, like Captain Hook during rush hour, are wrapped in a candy-cane stripe. “Let It Snow” streams from the speakers. Wide-eyed toddlers clutch their parents, at once amazed and terrified. It’s like being in a Christmas-themed dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: A most peculiar holiday guide and gift rap

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Two words: Shop local.p.-1-Cover-11.26

With the retail economy still in the tank for another Christmas, that little shop around the corner might just be barely hanging on, counting on an emergency shot-in-the-arm from this holiday to inject the medicine it needs to survive. That’s not the reason to shop there, though. Shop there instead because you’ll find a range of charming and creative gifts that are not for sale at your local Wal-Mart, because you’ll get knowing, thoughtful help from merchants—real merchants—who will offer living proof of that service that your grandfather complains doesn’t exist anymore. And when you’re done, you’ll have at least a fighting chance to experience the kind of Christmas you used to fantasize about as a kid, rather than the depressingly over-commercialized dreckfest it has so often been.

For Presents this year, we offer up our Twelve Shops of Christmas, each and every one local, many featuring the work of local artists and artisans. But don’t despair if you’re not nearby: the city—your neighborhood—is full of equally compelling shops that are more than worthy of your time and money. Spend thoughtfully  and you’ll help keep it that way. Read the rest of this entry »