Plainfield resident and bestselling author Mary Kubica’s latest thriller, Just the Nicest Couple, tells the story of two pairs: one happily married, the other full of animosity.
When Nina’s husband, Jake, goes missing after a heated fight, she assumes he is being spiteful. But after a few days, she realizes something is wrong. Her friend Lily may have been the last person to see Jake before he disappeared, but Lily and her husband, Christian, are determined to keep that a secret.
“I wanted to explore the idea of a missing husband,” Kubica says. “There are so many books, shows, and news reports about missing women. I decided to flip the script to see what happens when a husband goes missing. It becomes a cat-and-mouse game—one woman desperate to find her missing husband and another couple who will do anything to stop that from happening.”
What’s fun about Kubica’s books is that locals can spot familiar landmarks in the pages (no spoilers here). And she’s very appreciative of her fan base in the area. “I’ve been fortunate to chat with local readers and connect with different book clubs over Zoom,” she says. “Our local libraries and Anderson’s Bookshop have always been incredibly supportive.”
It’s all about comfort with these outdoor-living trends
While the pandemic introduced new habits for many—working from home, ordering food in, and socializing in the fresh air—three years later, it’s clear that the latter is here to stay. “COVID kicked everything into high gear,” says Matt Haber, design director at Naperville’s Western DuPage Landscaping. “People realized the value of having these outdoor spaces and spending more time at home.”
The trend toward outdoor living continues strong this spring, boosted by the introduction of new products and materials designed specifically for temperature extremes, sunshine, and rain. Add to that a preference for low-maintenance everything: plants, furniture, and hardscapes. Many homeowners don’t want to spend precious free time staining, painting, sealing, or deadheading, says Kyle Burkhart, principal of Aurora-based Burkhart Outdoors. “People want less time spent maintaining things and more time for fun.”
Today’s outdoor living areas are often divided into spaces, much like a house: places for cooking and eating alfresco, hosting visitors, watching a movie, and getting some exercise. The addition of heaters, fire pits, pavilions, and screen rooms makes these activities accessible for much of the year.
Here are some of the top outdoor trends to watch this season:
Kitchens. Outdoor cabinetry from companies such as Challenger Designs (Burkhart’s go-to for outdoor kitchens) is made of a powder-coated aluminum that resists rust. Outdoor quartz countertops are durable like indoor versions but are made of a plant-based resin that can withstand extreme winter temperatures. Smokers and pizza ovens provide additional options for outdoor cooking.
Fire pits are a must-have for many homeowners creating a cozy outdoor space. While gas versions are the clear favorite because they are easy to use, new designs allow pits to be converted from gas to wood burning should preferences change.
Patios. Enthusiasm for natural materials, such as bluestone pavers, continues strong. Larger-scale pavers are popular, Haber says.
Entertainment. While some like to unplug from technology when they are outdoors, others relax by watching the game or a favorite movie. Outdoor TVs are less expensive than in past years, Burkhart says, and can be left in place throughout the winter.
Plants. Low-maintenance rules when it comes to gardens. Ornamental grasses, boxwoods, evergreens, and naturalistic beds of perennials are all good choices for homeowners who want to minimize time spent tending plants.
Lighting is often the last item on the list, but it’s not to be overlooked, Burkhart adds. Not only does outdoor lighting enhance security, but it can make sitting outdoors after the sun sets more appealing. It’s also useful in drawing attention to interesting trees and plants in a yard.
1. (Above) Landscaper Kyle Burkhart used a composite material called Zuri Premium Decking by Royal to create a privacy screen and decorative wall for an outdoor television at a Naperville home. In addition to watching sports or movies, Burkhart says his clients use their outdoor TVs to host karaoke parties or display photos.
2. Matt Haber, design director of Western DuPage Landscaping, used artificial turf to carve out an area for relaxing around the fire pit in another Naperville backyard. “Real grass wouldn’t work as well in a high-traffic area like this,” he says. A nearby pavilion, constructed by King’s Court Builders, houses a Ping-Pong table, dining area, and built-in grill. The saltwater pool is by Platinum Pools of Wheeling.
3. Burkhart Outdoors constructed this massive, 1,800-square-foot limestone patio with multiple rooms on a sloping Naperville yard. A mix of open and covered spaces provide options for gathering outside in a variety of weather conditions.
4. This natural limestone patio in Naperville includes spaces for cooking, eating, and relaxing—mirroring many of the room functions found inside the home. Outdoor cabinetry by Challenger Designs holds cooking tools and serving items for outdoor dinners and parties. And a gas fire pit and outdoor heaters keep the space toasty well into the fall.
5. Outdoor structures such as this pavilion constructed by Western DuPage Landscaping provide fresh-air gathering spots with protection from sun and rain. The homeowners chose a variety of natural materials to complete the structure, including stone pavers, a fireplace hearth and mantle of Thermal Blue Select bluestone, and a Valders Stone fireplace surround.
6. Western DuPage Landscaping used granite boulders and lava rock to create this wood-burning campfire area at a Naperville home. A gravel base and subsurface materials encourage water to drain quickly so the fire pit can be used even shortly after a rain.
7. Gatherings moved outside during the pandemic, sparking many homeowners in the western suburbs to invest in outdoor spaces. This pergola and fireplace area was a collaboration between Ray Whalen Builders, architect Dan Marshall, and Western DuPage Landscaping. The open-air structure connects the indoors to outdoors, with natural stone pavers, an outdoor fireplace, and low-maintenance plantings.
8. The plantings that greet visitors to this home are massed together with little to no open space, much like a natural landscape would grow. The team at Western DuPage Landscaping worked to create a “spontaneous garden,” which is lower maintenance but does require seasonal tending.
Photos courtesy of Kyle Burkhart/Burkhart Outdoors (1, 3, and 4), Matt Ewert/Western DuPage Landscaping (2, 6, and 8), Miguel Ramirez/Next Door Photos (5), Anne Cooper (7)
We climb them. We sit under their leafy canopies at summer picnics. We festoon them with bird feeders in spring and lights in winter. We’d be lost without trees.
“Every year more studies come out about the benefits of trees,” says Julie Janoski, plant clinic manager at the Morton Arboretum, citing links between tree-lined streets and lower mortality rates, reduced cardiac conditions, and lessened depression. Trees, of course, also help the environment—absorbing carbon-dioxide and air pollutants, cooling asphalt-created heat islands, and providing food and shelter for wildlife.
And, contrary to the old adage, money apparently grows on them, too. Trees can increase home values, decrease energy costs, and even help the local economy. “For visitors to Geneva’s Third Street, when sidewalks are shaded, people slow down and are more likely to linger at merchants’ stores,” says architect Jay Womack, chair of the Geneva’s Natural Resource Committee. “There is an economic benefit.”
This month for Arbor Day and Earth Week, support planting trees with organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation, the Canopy Project, and local groups like the NRC—or just start in your own backyard.
Choosing a Tree
Local nurseries, forest preserves, park districts, and places like the Morton Arboretum offer handy guides for selecting trees that thrive in our climate. Other nuggets to keep in mind:
Diversity. Choose different trees from your neighbors and a variety of trees for your own property to reduce the possibility of widespread blight and infection (remember the havoc wreaked by Dutch elm disease and the emerald ash borer?)
Native plants. Pick regional species that naturally aid our ecosystem (one white oak can support more than 500 kinds of wildlife) and won’t become invasive (looking at you, buckthorn).
Location. Consider the right tree for the right conditions (soil, sunlight, and the proximity to power lines and buildings as it grows).
Seasonality. Think about the tree’s visual impact and practicality in each season. (Will lost autumn leaves affect winter screening? Will the tree flower in the spring? Drop messy berries or catkins on walkways? Remain green for year-round color?)
Planting and Care
Successful planting involves several key components:
Correct planting width and depth. Dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the diameter of the tree’s root ball. Don’t plant too shallow or too deep; soil should just meet the trunk where it widens to the root system.
Unwrap the root ball. Remove as much of the protective cage or burlap as possible so roots can expand.
Amend the soil. Mix in native soil with rich soil to acclimate the tree to local conditions.
Mulch appropriately. Apply mulch two to three inches deep around the trunk but not touching the trunk itself (think doughnut not volcano).
Water regularly. For the first two to three years, water with 10 gallons at least once a week and, when mature, during droughts (to reach the root system, which extend two and a half times the canopy).
If you don’t have a shovel or a green thumb, don’t sweat it. “If somebody doesn’t want to plant their own tree, they can pay the city,” says Patti Girard, project manager with Naperville’s Department of Public Works. Many towns have cost-sharing programs for tree planting.
Do you have a kiddo who gravitates toward all things glam and glitter? A trio of local businesses are catering to the suburbs’ youngest clientele with seriously snazzy services, from mini-makeovers to spa-themed soirees.
For Naperville resident and hair stylist Jennifer Bearden, getting into the business of spa services for kids was a happy accident. “I’m a single mom and I’ve been doing hair for 28 years,” she says. “When COVID hit, I was working in a downtown Naperville salon, and everyone got laid off.” Looking for a way to support herself and keep busy in the meantime, she posted in the Brookdale Area Moms group on Facebook that she would offer alfresco haircuts on her front lawn. By the time salons were reopening and hiring again, she had met so many new clients that she decided to open her own business, Salon Suites by JB (2760 Aurora Ave., Suite 100, Naperville).
Formerly an office, the space had a huge conference room that Bearden didn’t know what to do with—until she had the idea to use it as a spa party room for kids. That’s how Victoria’s Spa, named for her 9-year-old daughter, came to be. “I thought: There’s nothing like this in Naperville.”
A two-hour party for eight guests starts at $399. “The thing that the moms like the most is we do absolutely everything,” Bearden says. “The kids get pink robes, a mini-facial, a pedicure, and then they go to the arts-and-crafts table and do a paint project they get to take home with them.” Partygoers enjoy cupcakes, freshly spun cotton candy, and a lemonade toast before wrapping up with photos and a dance contest with prizes.
Over in downtown Downers Grove, prepare to be pampered at Dazzling Divas Glam Mansion (5225 Main St.), a spa for children and tweens. Here, you can book a private spa session ($39.99 and up) or birthday party package ($175) for a petite guest of honor. Spa sessions start with a manicure and pedicure, which includes a relaxing soak and polish. “It’s just for fun—we don’t buff, file, or clip nails,” says owner Kimberly Marie. “What the kids really love is our sparkles. We do hair sparkles, eye shadow, cheek sparkles. We do fairy, mermaid, and unicorn makeovers.” Every private spa appointment or party ends with a runway walk and dance session on the spa’s stage, plus a round of Fairy Fizz mocktails (lemon-lime soda and cotton candy in a plastic Champagne glass).
Most days, makeup training school Make Up First (232 S. Washington St., Naperville) caters to professionals and aspiring makeup artists. However, it recently started offering monthly events for kids and tweens. “We do mini-makeovers with hair tinsel, glitter ponies, and braids,” says co-owner Jade Labriola. “We have an in-school photo studio downstairs so the kids can come and take pictures, and we set up some props—we just have fun with it.” April’s theme is Easter Sparkles ($10 to $30).
Photos courtesy of Victoria’s Spa, Make Up First, and Cody Scott Photography (Dazzling Divas)
Aurora’s surging music spot is resonating with locals
In June 2019, the Fox Valley Music Foundation added yet another feather to downtown Aurora’s cultural cap when it opened the Venue at 21 South Broadway. Housed in a former Woolworth’s, the meticulously designed 200-seat “listening room” is becoming a favorite performance space for local and national artists. It’s also connecting in a wider way with the surrounding community.
But getting to this point hasn’t been easy. Just nine months after the Venue opened, the pandemic shut it down—and kept it closed until concerts resumed on an outdoor stage in fall 2021. Indoor performances followed several months later, though with strict public health protocols in place. (Masks are still recommended but optional.)
“At the beginning of 2020, it felt like all of our 2019 work was starting to gain momentum,” says Scott Tipping, the Venue’s events producer and talent buyer. “Thankfully and beautifully, everyone stayed the course. It’s been very arduous, but it’s actually a beautiful thing as far as the power of music and the power of people wanting to keep music happening. Our team didn’t give up, and the artists that came in and played were super grateful for their assistance.”
As a new normal settles in, things are finally beginning to gel.
“Here we are in 2023, and it’s starting to feel like we’re finding our footing again,” Tipping says. “It’s taken a long time to rebuild, and it’s been a heck of a process.”
Because the Venue is a not-for-profit venture, Tipping’s team is largely volunteers. Aside from four full-time staffers and a rotating roster of paid sound designers, nearly everyone donates their services. While tickets bring in very modest revenues (they generally cost between $15 and $25), and a limited variety of booze and food is sold, it’s all about affordability and accessibility over profitability. Some events, like a monthly Friday showcase for local singer-songwriter duos, cost nothing or next to nothing. Dig out a fiver for the suggested donation, or don’t—your choice, no presh.
“There’s a more communal aspect about what we do because our volunteers are music lovers who just want to help facilitate a show as best as possible,” Tipping says. “And it’s fun for them, because they get to see some cool things. We also have little private parties and events for them. It’s a very friendly atmosphere. You get to meet some people and have a good time.”
The same goes for patrons, most of them locals, who stop in to kick back and catch a set.
“A little gem in downtown Aurora,” one online reviewer wrote.
“A beautiful new space, great acoustics, a classy yet comfortable music club vibe,” gushed another. “We can’t wait to return.”
SCARCE provides local solutions to global problems
Back in 2006, as part of a School District 204 summer class tour revolving around local water and trash conditions, Granger Middle School science teacher Amy Scott first encountered SCARCE, a DuPage County environmental education organization. She and her colleagues at the Aurora school came away inspired, and with their enthusiastic students, took on SCARCE’s sustainability earth flag certification challenge. “Earning that flag was not an easy task,” Scott admits. “We flew it proudly.”
Scott, now at Aurora’s Still Middle School, continues to bring SCARCE’s hands-on learning into her classroom. Each year she witnesses her eight-grade student’s “aha” moments as they interact with groundwater watershed models affected by contaminated runoff, run energy-efficiency tests, and explore creative recycling and sustainability ideas.
SCARCE’s full name—School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education—is almost as big as its vision. Whether it’s hosting earth flag ceremonies, lunchroom-waste audits, pumpkin smashes (for composting), workshops, programs, classes, swap meets, or recycling and repair events, the nonprofit’s environmental education mission is steadfast: helping people take action to take care of the environment. Since its founding in 1990 by executive director Kay McKeen, the organization’s impact has become global. SCARCE’s message and programs have been covered by National Geographic, PBS, and the Weather Channel. In addition to eco-education, the group is also a model in community collecting and upcycling, resulting in keeping millions of pounds of discarded items out of landfills and instead repurposing them for people who need them.
Recycling textbooks, teaching materials, and classroom supplies has been a particular focus. “Since 1991 we’ve rescued over 10 million books,” McKeen says. “We send them to 105 countries and every state.” Donating to teachers and nonprofits (as well as helping replace resources lost in natural disasters), SCARCE upcycles through its Reuse Center. But the public is welcome to donate and shop, too, at its SCARCE-ly Used Books & Records store. “Some say it’s the best they’ve ever been in,” says McKeen, citing its eclectic collection of records, CDs, and refurbished instruments. Other items for recycling—such as electronics, paint, and cooking oil—are accepted at offsite locations listed on the organization’s website, scarce.org. Additional focuses include advocating for eco-friendly legislation, solar energy, and storm-drain medallions and running the programs PickUp5 Litter Clean-up and Literacy at the Laundromat.
As SCARCE’s message about recycling and sustainability has grown, so has its space. Its new 18,900-square-foot facility in Addison provides dedicated areas for exhibits, classes—and 100,000 books. “We love it,” McKeen says. “We are so grateful for the old location, but now we’re 100 percent accessible and have 90 feet of windows for natural light.”
Ultimately, McKeen credits a shared passion for the past 30-plus years of SCARCE’s impact. “We can’t do what we do without our incredibly talented volunteers,” she says. “We have retired teachers and principals–people who care about kids, literacy, education, and the planet. We are incredibly fortunate.”
Declutter for the Better
Committed to keeping usable items out of landfills, SCARCE is a model for community upcycling. Here’s a sampling of what the Addison-based nonprofit collects:
• Books • Eyeglasses • Hearing aids • Keys • School and art supplies • Office supplies • Records and CDs • Holiday lights • Cords and wires • Ink jet cartridges • Crayons • Paper • Bikes and bike parts • Games and puzzles • Musical instruments • Terracycle packaging • Metal jewelry • Plastic bread tags
“We really pamper our guests at the shampoo bowl,” says owner Cathleen Stoelting, who fell in love with the blow-dry bar experience on a trip to California and wanted to put her own spin on the concept back home. “We do two shampoos, and they get a warm towel and a head and neck massage, and it’s just so relaxing,” she says. Blowouts are $55 each or $265 for a five-blowout bundle; frequent visitors can buy into the Smarty Pants membership, which is $99 per month for two blowouts a month, a free birthday blowout, and a 10 percent discount on products. “We exclusively use a product line called Davines, by a small, family-owned company out of Parma, Italy,” Stoelting says. “It’s very aromatic, and we are just obsessed with the quality and the results it creates.” 2720 Showplace Dr., Naperville; 11 E. First St., Hinsdale; ten-friends.com
Good to know: The shop also offers makeup and hair services for weddings and other special occasions. “We’ve done things like where somebody’s going to a costume party and they want glam Hollywood curls,” Stoelting says.
Rybell’s Blow Dry Bar
After watching her teen daughter develop a side hustle curling hair for special events, Beth Renchin realized there was a need in Downers Grove for a salon focused explicitly on styling. She renovated a former knitting boutique on Main Street and named the blow-dry bar for her two daughters, Reilly and Bella. With the motto “affordable luxury,” keeping her prices accessible is the goal. “So our basic signature blowout is $40, and you come in, you get your hair washed, blow-dried, and styled how you want it, with curling irons or flat irons, whether you want a beach wave or a bouncy blowout,” Renchin says. For a speedier option, you can skip the wash and arrive with clean, dry hair for a $30 express style. 5221 Main St., rybellsblowdrybar.com
Good to know: The bar does swift business for school dances—it booked more than 50 appointments for Downers Grove North High School’s 2022 Homecoming—and recently added clip-in and hand-tied hair extensions to its services.
After 25 years in a tucked-away space off Washington Street, owner Shannon Drexler moved her salon business to the spacious, light-filled former Drybar location on Jefferson Street in 2021. “The bonus that came with it is people knew it was Drybar, so we still get blow-dry business from that, which is fantastic,” says Drexler, whose 33 stylists offer cuts and color in addition to blowouts ($50 and up). “But we always have maintained weekly blow-dry clients—and the whole idea is you don’t need to style your hair at home.” Another advantage of the new location is more space for wedding party prep. “They can bring their photographer and grandma and champagne, and we have the room to accommodate them,” she says. 144 W. Jefferson Ave., amberwavessalon.com
Good to know: Drexler keeps things “old school” by booking appointments by phone only (630-961-1108). “That way we can do a consultation over the phone and find out which stylist would be best suited for you,” she says.
Photos courtesy of Marcello Rodarte (Ten Friends), Rybell’s Blow Dry Bar, and Alex Bauer (Alex Bauer)
A Naperville couple chose Danada House for their wedding day
Emily Oprins, 32, and Tom Cruger, 30, met in 2016 when a mutual friend introduced them. After they started dating, they realized they had unknowingly been in each other’s orbit for years. “We had a number of near misses,” says Cruger, who grew up in Sugar Grove and works as an accountant at Spark Hire in Northbrook. “We even had dinner together once at opposite ends of the table.”
Years later, after deciding to get married, they knew just who to ask to officate the ceremony, held last Septemeber 24 at Danada House in Wheaton: that mutual friend, Kate Even, who agreed to be ordained for the occasion. Cocktail hour was the groom’s favorite part of the day. “Moving around and through Danada House, it was so pretty to go from the outside porch by beautiful trees into a library, and we even went upstairs at one point,” he says. “It was just cool to hop around the whole house.”
Partying with their flower-girl niece was another highlight. “She was just under 2, so we had no idea if she’d even make it to dinner,” says Oprins, who grew up in Glen Ellyn and works in marketing and graphic design at CannonDesign in Chicago. “She danced her little butt off until the last song at midnight and then she fell asleep immediately as soon as she was picked up. She was the life of the party.”
For the honeymoon, the groom planned a weeklong escape to the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona. “We relaxed at the pool, went on a hike, we stargazed and ate a lot of really good food,” he says. They’re currently settling into newlywed life in their Naperville home and enjoying bicycling together on nearby trails. “We live right near Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve where there are beautiful paths to bike,” Oprins says. “We are obsessed.”
Venue Danada House, Wheaton
Catering My Chef Catering, Naperville
Planner Victoria and Dan Schultz of Wedding Whisperer, Naperville
Bride’s attire Stella York gown from the Crystal Bride, Geneva; Kelly & Katie shoes from DSW.com; Keds x Rifle Paper Co. sneakers from keds.com; Nadri earrings from Nordstrom
Bride’s hair and makeup Jojo’s Hair Studio, Naperville; MXA Beauty Bar, Wheaton