All posts by Karen Dix

Backyard Beauty—Landscaping Your Outdoor Living Space With Style

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse
Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

One of the best things about the arrival of spring and summer is the opportunity to spend time outside with friends and family. In Naperville, as well as across the country, homeowners are recognizing the benefits of improving their residential landscaping, particularly in the backyard. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors, American homeowners invest $6.2 billion yearly for outdoor improvements.

Backyard Luxury Retreat

From homeowners to real estate agents, landscape architects to homebuyers, everyone agrees that turning your simple backyard into a luxury retreat will make your home infinitely more desirable when it comes time to sell. “A well landscaped house sells itself,” said Jim Rose, owner of JR’s Creative Landscaping. A well-planned landscape can also improve in value. “As the trees and shrubs grow in, their value can double,” said Barry Conlin, owner of C.B. Conlin Landscapes.

Other landscape elements also hold their value well. According to the National Association of Realtors, outdoor lighting can yield a 50 percent return-on-investment . The ROI of building a deck is 77 percent according to a cost vs. value report from Remodeling Magazine. However, professionals say the ultimate ROI for any landscape project varies greatly depending upon the quality of your design and installation, your neighborhood, home value, how long you’re in the home and the specifics of the improvement.

The introduction of popular and unique backyard elements such as outdoor kitchens, fire bowls, TVs and roofed structures remain in high demand. Today’s homeowners come to their favorite landscaper armed with eager inspiration from their sun-soaked vacations at luxury resorts and spas, hoping to incorporate similar opulently landscaped, alfresco dining and lounging spaces into their very own backyard.

Here’s what’s trending on the wish list of Naperville homeowners.

Much More Out the Door

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes
Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

“In the past, people simply built a deck or a cement patio,” said Conlin. “Now, homeowners are looking to create more of an entertainment area that they can enjoy with their family. They want to do something that blurs the line from the inside and the outside.”

A 2013 survey of Top Outdoor Living Trends by the American Society of Landscape Architects reveals that 94.5 percent of respondents agree with the trend. Today’s homeowners want their backyard to be an extension of their indoor living space. No longer is there a desire simply for a deck or patio, but a continued outdoor living space featuring several adjacent wall-less rooms. According to the survey, high on the list of popular amenities are fire pits, fireplaces, grills, seating and dining areas, terraces, patios and decks, and low maintenance landscapes.

The exterior kitchen has replaced the basic outdoor grill and now includes classic indoor features like granite countertops, and stainless steel appliances like sinks and refrigerators. The patio is replaced by the great room concept that may feature any or all of the following:

  • An inviting fire pit or fireplace for gathering.
  • Ample, comfy couches for lounging.
  • Weather-proof flat screen LED televisions for watching the big game with a crowd.
  • Soothing water features like a fountain, waterfall or ornamental pool for quiet meditation.
  • Shelter from an overhead pergola or pavilion for intimacy and protection from the elements.

Give Me Shelter

Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes
Photo courtesy of CB Conlin Landscapes

Building an overhead structure gives an outdoor living space an indoor feel. Pergolas are typically four-columned, large wooden structures that provide shade cover with a partially open, trellised, or beamed roof. The more luxurious option is the pavilion, which offers a completely closed, often shingled roof with partial walls. “While you may spend up to 40 percent more to build a pavilion instead of a pergola, you get complete shelter from the sun and rain and more usable time in the structure,” said Rose.

Conlin explains that he creatively adjoins or separates the living areas using various landscape elements. For example, changing the type of flagstone or flooring between the areas with different materials or colors can clearly define the kitchen from the dining area. He also adds dividing borders of stepping stones, water features, or hedges to form hallways into different patio sections. Similarly, Rose said that when using pavers, he lays them in a different direction to define areas.

Nice and Easy

Photo courtesy of Bruss
Photo courtesy of Bruss

Landscapers agree that a low maintenance landscape is high on the Naperville homeowner’s list of must haves. And thanks to the many options available in landscape materials and accessories, homeowners no longer have to choose between beauty and low-maintenance. According to Rose, low-maintenance, pondless water features are on the rise. These bubbling urns with basins recycle the water used without a pond and include long-lasting, IonGen™ purifiers that keep the water sparkling and algae-free. Plantings can be selected for minimal maintenance and built-in seating areas embellished with strategically placed urns that need only be changed seasonally with available blooms or evergreens at the holiday time.

New and improved construction materials also contribute to the low maintenance landscape. While natural stone is still a beautiful, quality choice, innovative wet cast pavers are now on the market and mimic the characteristics of natural stone at a considerable time and cost savings. “Wet cast products are incredibly durable and can withstand up to 17,000 psi (pounds per square inch) of pressure, several times more than concrete. They are impervious to salt, sun and moisture and don’t require sealing. It’s the new wave of the paver industry,” said Rose.

Decks, long considered one of the more maintenance needy structures in the backyard, have low-maintenance options too. Conlin encourages homeowners looking for low-maintenance, real wood decking to consider ipe (pronounced ee-pay), an extremely dense, hard as nails, splinter-proof tropical wood that stands up well to the elements. It compares in price to the premium composite material decking but has the advantages of wood.


Fire features are more popular than ever and add a rosy, warm glow to any backyard living space. The typical fire pit has evolved into outdoor fireplaces and beautiful fire bowls that range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars and are typically gas powered. Homeowners like to install them onto columns to pierce the night with hypnotic, spiraling gas flames that add interest to any landscape.

Now and Later

Photo courtesy of Hursthouse
Photo courtesy of Hursthouse

It’s typical for a homeowner’s dreams to exceed their budget so landscapers encourage you to implement a design in phases. For example, Conlin suggests designing the $100,000 dream yard now, but only adding the essentials such as the deck and patio right away. “Your biggest investment is your home. It’s OK to do things gradually so you get exactly what you want,” he said.

Rose said he also provides dream plans that are turnkey down the road. “We create the plan, and then install everything needed to hook up water, fire, and electronics features later on when the homeowner is ready,” said Rose.

Creating an outdoor living space can be exhilarating and challenging. It also requires plenty of research, thought and decision-making. A qualified landscape architect can help you create a master plan within your budget that will satisfy your needs for a fabulous backyard improvement, now and in the future.

Top 10 popular items to consider in designing an outdoor living space

  1. Outdoor kitchens
  2.  Grills
  3. Counter space
  4. Sinks
  5. Refrigerators
  6. Entertainment Areas
  7. Pergolas/Pavilions/Gazebos
  8. Gardens/Landscaped Spaces
  9. Fire Pits, Fireplaces or Features
  10. Seating/Dining Areas (traditional and bistro), Installed Seating (benches, seat walls, ledges, steps, boulders)

Spa-cations—The Best Spas in Naperville

iStock_000011579867LargeImagine taking a truly relaxing vacation without packing, making transport reservations, or leaving the city. It’s called a spa-cation and it’s become quite a trend in Naperville.

When the economy dipped a few years ago, many spa owners expected a decline in their business. Surprisingly, many reported an increase. “Instead of spending thousands of dollars on a vacation, people are choosing to treat themselves to spa services,” said Anne Marie Kollias, Coldwater Creek Spa director.

Vacating your cares and worries with a decadent spa treatment for even a few hours can help you re-enter the world feeling healthier, energized and perhaps even feeling younger. Fortunately, Naperville offers some of the most unique products, treatments and services in the country. So if travel is out of the budget this year, get away to one of these four Naperville spa-cation destinations for a brief, yet satisfying, adventure.

Timeless-spa-and-Salt-cave-Chairs-20_CMYKTIMELESS SPA AND SALT CAVE

Timeless offers many unusual, holistic and alternative treatments, but their biggest draw is the salt cave.

Timeless operates one of only a handful of available spa therapy salt caves in the country. The beautifully simulated indoor cave is actually a 400 square foot room, awash in 11,000 pounds of Himalayan pink salts that were transported and installed over a three-month period in 2009. Visitors pay $25 for 45 minutes to breathe the salt air in the comfortable, 78-degree cave. As the lights dim, clients settle back in zero gravity beach chairs and enjoy the twinkling fiber optics above that simulate a peaceful, starry sky. So why breathe salt air?

“It contains 84 different minerals our body needs,” said Jodi Buckle, owner of Timeless Spa and Salt Cave. The salt charges the air with negative ions that trap free radicals in the body to promote healing from the inside out. Although results are individual, the cave air is supposed to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. Buckle has clients who credit the cave with helping them reduce their medication, lessen their chronic pain, and stay healthy during office flu epidemics.

The Zen Bed at Timeless is a relaxation therapy offered at only five other spas in the country. The Zen bed claim to produce the equivalent of a full night’s sleep in twenty minutes. With lights dim in a solitary room, this author laid “mummy style”, wrapped in a waterproof heavy plastic sheet, before being submerged six inches and embraced by cozy water. As vigorous jets kneaded my tired back muscles, I relaxed to a state of near sleep for the entire session. It indeed energized me for the rest of the day.


In Greek, Arista means “the best” and owner Mae Calamos had the definition in mind as she carefully appointed the visually stunning, Mediterranean-inspired Arista Spa and Salon. “We want the spa to supply the backdrop for life’s special moments,” said Laura Lambert, Arista Spa & Salon director.

Arista’s adjacent, full-service salon specializes in hair care, Deborah Lippman nail services, and makeup applications for that special day. The spa features individualized treatments, based on the client’s preferences. For example, each heavenly massage session offers six different techniques at the client’s discretion. The Aromatika massage lets clients create their own personalized aromatherapy blend oil which they are allowed to take home any extra.

Arista’s unique beauty treatments include the Ageless Facial, which claims visible and lasting results thanks to the unusual collaboration of Natura Bisse products and a vibrating tuning fork. The aesthetician places the vibrating tuning fork on the facial trouble spot and the vibrations combine with the lotion to stimulate the collagen and create a smoother, younger appearance for the client.

Couples can reserve the private room that features side-by-side massage tables and dual stone soaking tubs. While indulging, couples can sample exotic tastes of Mediterranean delights paired with a delightful vintage.

Even without their ladies, Lambert says men feel comfortable at Arista. The spa tailors treatments to men and has a locker room with a sauna, steam room, and an optional 65-degree Poseidon’s shower to cool down quickly after a good sweat.


Karma Medspa and Wellness Center offers a vast array of services designed to help clients restore, rejuvenate and revitalize.

Karma was opened this fall by Dr. Mathai Karingada, a licensed internist and Dr. Sajjad Murtaza, a specialist in interventional pain and physical medicine and rehabilitation. They envisioned a Medspa model that would offer comprehensive wellness services, conveniently located under one roof, and supervised by an on-site, collaborative staff of medical professionals in their specialty areas. “Our team’s goal is to help the client take their next step towards looking and feeling their best, whether they need to restore function with physical rehabilitation, rejuvenate with a cosmetic procedure or revitalize their health with fitness classes or nutrition counseling,” said Dr. Karingada. “We can address all their needs at Karma.”

Karma’s staff also includes a plastic surgeon, OB/GYN, licensed aestheticians and fitness experts. The facility hosts a 1,000 square foot gym for Zumba, strength training and yoga classes, a physical rehabilitation area and multiple patient treatment rooms for cosmetic procedures that reduce signs of aging and erase imperfections with the state-of the-art Sciton laser and medical grade products.

Karma also offers some hard-to-find procedures in the area of women’s health and cosmetic gynecology. “Cosmetic gynecology is more common on the West coast, but more women nationwide are realizing its benefits,” said Dr. Sameena Rahman, Karma’s staff OB/GYN who performs the latest vaginal rejuvenation procedures, cosmetic labioplasty and g-spot augmentation. “For many women the procedures are not about appearance or vanity, but about increasing intimacy with their partner and improving their sexual health and function.”


Located in the Naperville Promenade, Coldwater Creek The Spa is one of seven in the country. “The owner of the apparel store wanted to offer something new to his customers and he thought carrying the brand to a spa would help them feel comfortable here,” said Anne Marie Kollias, Coldwater Creek Spa director. The Spa resembles the store, but is a respite from hustle and bustle. “We are strictly a spa, with no salon services. The energies are different and we believe it is hard to combine them,” she said.

Coldwater Creek is known for its famous pedicures. Like all treatments, it begins with a peppermint foot soak designed to help clients transition from the outside world and relax them for the coming experience. Customers recline in a zero gravity chair and enjoy a warm neck wrap, eye pillow, and comfy blanket for the duration of their treatment, which can also include a lower leg massage.

The spa is also sensitive to creating comfort for an often overlooked spa patron—plus size women. “We have ample robes designed to fully cover everyone,” Kollias said. “We’ve even had women moved to tears at feeling so comfortable in a spa environment.”

Coldwater’s healthy, loyal following and distinction as a Best of Naperville Spa in 2009, 2010, and 2013 keeps them well booked. Pedicure appointments, even on weekdays, require reservations several days in advance.

Timeless Spa and Salt Cave
1324 E. Ogden Ave. Suite 100

 Arista Spa & Salon
2155 CityGate Lane, Suite 201

 Karm Medspa and Wellness Center
710 E. Ogden Ave., Suite 200

Coldwater Creek the Spa
55 S. Main Street, Suite 200

No place like home for the Holidays—Planning the Perfect House Party

N2013_11_01_039LARGEIt’s that time of the year again when our thoughts turn to holiday planning and entertaining. The end of the year has always been a favorite time to gather family and friends to hearth and home. But a few years ago, with the downturn in the economy, caterers noticed a drop-off in holiday entertaining. Now with the future looking brighter, the holiday party is back and stronger than ever.

“Our corporate bookings are getting stronger,” said Karen Garlough of My Chef Catering. “And more small companies are holding their holiday parties in the home of the manager or president.”

Whether you’re planning a holiday event for your co-workers or your family, you’ll want to have all the bases covered. Here is a guide to hosting the event of the season right in the comfort of your own home.

Pick a Date

The holidays are busy for everyone, so it makes sense to choose a date as soon as possible, especially if a caterer is involved. Garlough encourages clients to hold their holiday party in January, as she herself does. “My husband and I call it the ‘Last Christmas Party of the Year.’ People are more relaxed, able to attend and stay longer,” said Garlough.

N2013_11_01_040LARGEChoose a Party Format and Time

Remember the people you invite may potentially have multiple party invitations for the same day. So, while a formal dinner party is always an option, an open house format is a good choice because people can come and go as they please. “95 percent of our holiday parties are buffet,” said Tim Belgio of Belgio’s Catering. “Guests can graze, take the portion size they want, and come back for seconds.” Also, decide on the time of the party. “Typically, 4 to 5 hours is a standard length,” said Belgio.

Build the Guest list

Create the guest list and try not to let it balloon. When you contact the caterer, know the approximate number of guests you are anticipating.

Pick a Caterer—or Not

The choice to cater or do it yourself is a personal one, depending on the size of the party and the host’s own time management and party planning skills. Hiring a caterer is an investment, but according to Belgio, hosts that do it themselves often overlook some of the details that may end up costing them money. “It’s a challenge to have an ample supply of everything, but not too much,” said Belgio. “Caterers supply what is needed and you don’t pay for or store those extra cases of beer at the end of the night.” They also provide those overlooked, last minute details that can add up, like plenty of ice and fresh fruit for drink garnishes.

Caterers also allow the host to be a guest by handling the set-up, serving guests, replenishing food supplies, bartending, and offering other special touches like receiving coats, parking cars, and providing ice sculptures. “We have a martini luge ice sculpture. You pour your drink down the track and into the glass,” said Garlough.

The best part is at the end of the night the host can relax while the staff cleans up. “After we leave, it’s like you never even had a party,” she said.

two red and gold christmas ball ornaments isolated on whiteSet the Budget

Catering costs vary greatly depending on the menu, rentals, and services requested. However, a good estimate is anywhere from $10 to $22 a person for food and additional cost for drinks. Alcoholic bar service can add another $10 to $16 per person depending upon the type of brands served. However, there are many ways to cut the budget even when you are throwing an elegant party. (See sidebar)

Choose the Menu

“I tell clients to plan the hors d’oeuvres menu like a balanced meal, with a selection of protein, vegetables and starches,” said Garlough. Popular holiday favorites include beef tenderloin, shrimp and seafood, imported seasonal cheese trays and slider bars, which are little hamburgers, tilapia or mushroom sandwiches that guests can top with special fixings like BBQ onions and different types of cheeses.

Many caterers are experiencing an increase in special requests for vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free selections. “The trend in eating these days is healthier food in smaller portions,” said Belgio. “For buffets, choose ‘walkable food’ to minimize spills. Skewered food like chicken and fruit kabobs work well,” he said. Belgio also suggests offering smaller portions in greater varieties, like a sweets table featuring smaller-sized brownie bites, cheesecakes, and cannoli.

Plan the Flow

Caterers usually know the best place to set up the buffet so it will not impede the traffic flow of the party. Or, set up food stations as an option to the buffet. “Pasta, salad, or carving stations where guests can make a sandwich work well,” said Belgio.

Sit-down dinners call for ingenuity. Caterers require a private staging area for assembling food and serving dishes, like the garage or laundry room. During the meal, Belgio suggests butler passing—where the serving staff walks the dishes around the table so guests can serve themselves.

inviting doorway with snow on porch stairs and railingDeck the Halls

Having a party is the perfect excuse to go all out on your holiday decorations. Judy Kreidler is a freelance florist who regularly decorates homes for the holidays, including stops on the Naperville Garden Club’s annual Cup of Cheer house walk. “I tell homeowners their accessories are jewelry for the home,” she explained. This year, glitz and elaborate decorating is in, with the use of sparkle, rhinestones, and feathers. Kreidler also offered these suggestions for homeowners:

• Check your cupboards for unique containers like vases, crystal ice buckets, footed cake plates, etc. to decorate.
• Use fresh or silk flowers in unique places like wine glasses and empty cookie jars.
• Scour the backyard for seasonal, natural decorative items like fresh greens and pinecones.
• Try asymmetry on the mantle-—something high on one side and low on the other.
• Don’t overdo the tree. “When I take half the ornaments off the tree, my clients remark that now they can see them,” said Kreidler.
• Don’t buy an accessory without a plan. Chances are when you get it home, it will be too big or too small.
• Decorate functionally, so the family can live with the arrangement.
• Try decorating off the beaten path places like the bathroom.
• Always look for balance and scale when arranging accessories and florals.

Budget Party Planning Tips

• Prepare some food yourself. “Some hosts have their two or three special dishes that they have to make for the party,” Garlough said. “Then they have us fill in the rest.”
• Work with the caterer to provide your own liquor.
• If you are serving alcohol, consider a rider on your homeowner’s insurance just for that day.
• Discuss using your own glassware, plates, and silverware to cut rental costs.
• Serve at highboy (bar height) tables to eliminate the expectation for sit-down fare.
• Hold your party after the dinner hour so hors‘d oeuvres will suffice.
• Ask family and friends to help staff the party.


The Naperville Garden Club Cup of Cheer House Walk will showcase four, professionally decorated homes along with a Holiday Market and Tea on December 5 and 6. For more information visit

Row of gold Christmas ornaments

Autumn Escape—Romantic Getaways Close to Home

Whitefish Dunes State Park road in Door County, Wisconsin.
Whitefish Dunes State Park road in Door County, Wisconsin.

After a summer whirlwind of family vacations and obligations, did you ever wonder how the season could have passed without a special outing just for the two of you? It’s not too late. Autumn is a perfect time for

a romantic retreat and these five venues are guaranteed to have you cuddling together in the crisp fall air.

DOOR COUNTY | Wisconsin

Cave Point County Park in Door County, Wisconsin.
Cave Point County Park in Door County, Wisconsin.

That funny little peninsula with the string of islands pointing northeast from Wisconsin is known as Door County. It’s an easy 250-mile drive to this treasure trove of charming little towns and intriguing islands that you can explore as a couple.

With five state parks, autumn color is plentiful in the “Door”, and can be enjoyed from the water on a boat tour, in the air with a scenic airplane ride, or from one of the area’s lighthouses or observation towers, such as the one in Peninsula State Park near the town of Fish Creek. Peninsula offers plenty for outdoorsy couples to enjoy, like picturesque hiking and bike trails, as well as an 18-hole golf course, a lighthouse to explore, and a beach.

To properly discover the “Door”, hop in your car and take the scenic Circle Tour. This drive covers both sides of the peninsula. Stop to enjoy one of the many local towns and the harvest festivals along the way. The tour route will take you to the northernmost end of the mainland where you can catch a ferry to explore Washington Island or the remote and rustic Rock Island.

The area hosts an impressive array of full service resorts, bed and breakfasts, and everything in between. After dark, couples can fend off the night chill at a traditional Door County fish boil, where a fresh catch is prepared for dinner over a blazing campfire.

GALENA | Illinois

Countryside Vineyard in Galena, Illinois.
Countryside Vineyard in Galena, Illinois.

Sitting on the shores of the Mississippi River, Galena is a mere three-hour drive across the state, and was recently hailed as one of the “friendliest towns in the world” by Condé Nast Traveler. “Many of our unique bed and breakfasts have been designed with couples in mind,” said Celestino Ruffini of the Galena Convention and Visitors Bureau. Two properties in particular have been recognized for their romantic charm: The Inn at Irish Hollow, a country estate on a 500-acre working farm; and the stately Goldmoor Inn, which offers stunning vistas of the Mississippi River. Both offer bed and breakfast rooms and private, intimate, cottages and cabins with fireplaces.

View the color-splashed, rolling hills of Galena from a romantic hot air balloon ride, or take one of the popular scene road trips. A leisurely drive down the historic and curvaceous Great River Road, Blackjack Road, Stagecoach Trail, or Derinda Road will give you and your partner plenty of time to muse about the future and share an occasional adventure at the small towns along the way. In town, explore galleries from various artists, fine or casual dining, or join a tasting tour of each of the area’s four wineries.

SAUGATUCK | Michigan

Sunset at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Sunset at Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan.

Drive south and east from Naperville and hug the Lake Michigan Shore for about 150 miles – you’ll end up in Saugatuck, Michigan, a boater’s paradise on the Western shores of Michigan. The beautiful Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area is one of the 11 most endangered ecosystems in the world and sunset is the perfect time for couples to explore its beauty and majestic views. You can also view the allure of the shoreline aboard the Star of Saugatuck cruise boat, or pull out all the stops and charter a private yacht or sailboat for a truly intimate and romantic experience.

“Fall is all about the arts,” says Felicia Fairchild of the Saugatuck Convention and Visitors Bureau, and that includes the performing and culinary arts as well as the galleries and shops that made this small town famous. You and can join the gallery walk celebration in mid-October to meet some of the area’s most influential artists. Explore the town’s culinary scene with a romantic dinner, or spend a morning on a walking or driving culinary tour, featuring visits with local merchants and plenty of sips and samples of Saugatuck’s seasonal delicacies.

LAKE GENEVA | Wisconsin

Grand Belle fall cruise on Lake Geneva.
Grand Belle fall cruise on Lake Geneva.

Only a couple hours northwest of Chicago, Lake Geneva has always upheld high standards for its local amenities, earning titles like the “Newport of the West” and “Chicago’s playground”. Here couples will find a smorgasbord of world class resorts, luxurious spas, shops and galleries, and restaurants ranging from classic, upscale steak houses to modern, trendy bistros.

Every autumn, the lakeshore bursts forth with a foliage display that’s dazzle by design, according to Grace Eckland, director of public relations for Lake Geneva. Throughout the town’s history, the prominent Chicago citizens who built their mansions along the lakeshore specifically chose their trees for their autumn palette. The lake is completely ringed by a 21-mile long wooded footpath that is perfect for strolling hand-in-hand with your loved one and enjoying views of both the water and the historic mansions. Boat cruises are also popular, and for romance, nothing beats a sunset dinner cruise. Top the night off with an intimate, horse drawn carriage ride through the downtown, lakefront and historic Maple Park District.

ST. CHARLES | Illinois

Shopping in neighboring Douglas, Michigan.
Shopping in neighboring Douglas, Michigan.

No time for a big road trip? Just 15 miles from Naperville you’ll find yourself a world away at the Pheasant Run Resort, where couples can experience upscale dining, entertainment and luxurious spa services without leaving the property. The resort caters to couples with packages that bundle accommodations such as a romance couples massage featuring complimentary mimosas, champagne, chocolates, dining and entertainment. Depending on your mood, you and your sweetie can take in a play or musical at the Pheasant Run Mainstage Theater or laugh the night away at Zanies Comedy Club. If the great outdoors is more your idea of bonding, hit the links. The resort’s 18-hole golf course awaits you with manicured greens and tree-lined fairways.

Click links for more information:

Door County



Lake Geneva

St. Charles

Photography for Door County:  Jon Jarosh/Door County Visitor Bureau; Photography for Galena: Galena / Jo Daviess County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Saugatuck: Felicia Fairchild; Photography for Lake Geneva: Lake Geneva Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Sound of Music, the Taste of Success—How Naperville Music programs prepare Students for the Future

N2013_05_01_001COMMUIf you’re looking for an incredible musical performance, look no further than a high school concert in Naperville School District 203 or 204. Naperville is home to several award-winning choral and instrumental music programs that take turns collecting honors and attention from the media and national organizations like the GRAMMY Foundation and the National Music Merchant’s Association. At the same time, music students consistently achieve the highest ratings in district and state level solo and ensemble contests and festivals.

“Our true mission is to help students reach their fullest potential as producers and consumers of music,” said Randy Kulik, Naperville District 203 music coordinator. However, a newly formed grass roots organization called ArtSpeaks 204, believes the music programs are also developing important 21st Century skills to serve Naperville students long after graduation.

The Four C’s

Charles Staley, art department chairman at Neuqua Valley High School, says his district is successful for many reasons, including a K-12 curriculum that develops individual skills, as well as group skills and productive collaboration between levels of instruction. “Naperville is a community that values the essential role the arts play in teaching 21st Century skills and nurturing the human spirit,”  said Staley. This well-rounded approach helps develop the National Education Association’s 4 C’s for 21st Century success: Communication; Collaboration; Critical thinking; and creativity.

ArtSpeaks attempts to educate and raise awareness about the importance of art education in the development of these 21st Century skills by hosting events that feature distinguished community and business leaders who testify to the importance of arts education in their lives.

Margaret Byrnes, is a clinical psychologist, ArtSpeaks Committee member, and District 204 mother with children in the music programs. She has witnessed firsthand in her patients how music education impacts the cognitive development of children, and offers therapeutic benefits to all ages.

“People agree arts education is important, but when budgets are discussed, they don’t acknowledge how essential it is for gaining a competitive advantage in the 21st Century,” she said.

The Developing Musician

Studies cited on the ArtSpeaks 204 Facebook page show how early musical education positively affects cognitive development in childhood. One study found that taking childhood music lessons develops connections between motor and sensory regions of the brain, which helps the body plan and execute physical movements.

In both Districts 203 and 204, students start music classes at the preschool level. In elementary school, they can participate in chorus or begin instruction on a band or orchestra instrument. In middle and high school, band, orchestra, and chorus are offered as a class, with a “technique” lesson given each week for instrumentalists.

Many curricular and extracurricular opportunities are competitive, meaning students must audition to earn a spot. Here, the 4 C’s really come into play. Either for an ensemble or a solo, musicians preparing a piece of music for performance must apply critical thinking to evaluate progress on the piece; Communication to explain the problem to be solved; Creativity to determine how to execute the solution; Collaboration between ensemble members or instructors to implement the solution.

“We hear a lot about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) lately, but the real success comes from STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics),” said Byrnes. “If we retain exemplary arts education in the early grades, our students will reap the benefits later on.”

While some music students may not be fully aware of all the benefits they are receiving from their music education, for others, their music lessons are hitting a positive note. “The primary reason students take music classes is because they love it,” said Staley.

For more information, visit the ArtSpeaks 204 Facebook page or

Brides Go Green – Planning an Environmentally Friendly Wedding


After the euphoria of the engagement announcement dies down and an engaged couple dives into the ocean of decisions surrounding the planning of their big day, they are usually guided by their individual tastes, family expectations, and tradition. Some, however, take into account the needs of another key player in their future lives together—the environment.

“Having a green wedding can kill two birds with one stone,” says Carol Sawka of O’cei Floral. “You can help the environment and keep the costs down.”

The reports that the 2.5 million weddings in the U.S. this year will produce an average of 62 tons of carbon dioxide and 400 to 600 tons of garbage between transportation, food waste and disposable decorative items like flowers, runners, paper, food, etc. In fact, if you place all of those disposable aisle runners end to end they would circle the globe twice.

Many brides are planning a new kind of wedding, known as the “eco-chic” wedding, which is environmentally conscious without sacrificing style or elegance. The trick is to apply the old adage “reduce, reuse and recycle” to the wedding day. Here’s how:

Reduce: Distance and Paper

N2013_04_01_020LARGESome brides are saving carbon emissions and hassle for their guests by having their receptions near or at the same place as the ceremony. For example, holding the wedding on the grounds of the reception banquet hall means guests will not have to travel to a second location.

The amount of paper involved in the typical wedding is considerable, from the save the date mailing, to the place cards at the reception. Choosing recycled papers and soy inks is environmentally responsible, but some couples take it to the next level by forgoing paper altogether and instead sending a cute, creative video for their engagement announcement, save the date, or actual wedding invitation. even identifies personal recycling services that will take reception paper waste, such as invitations, place cards, menus, etc., and recycle them into thank you cards for the bride’s use. Voila! A zero waste wedding.

Reuse: favorite things

N2013_04_01_019LARGECarol Sawka remembers how one of her favorite eco-chic weddings developed from the mother-of-the-bride’s desire to reuse some old, antique wooden cheese boxes. “The reception was already being held at a historic location so we went with the theme,” said Sawka. Soon, the whole event had a romantically elegant, rustic feel to it, including floral arrangements which featured the cheese boxes, bouquets with wild flowers and herbs, and the use of old metal milk containers as the centerpieces.  Sawka reminds brides that using family heirlooms like table linens, doilies, broaches and collectibles will add a memorable, personal touch to the big day, and can also be considered a green effort.

Keeping in the eco-chic style, Sawka says recyclable, biodegradable burlap bags and mason jars are big this year for holding the flowers, votive candles, party favors or anything else needed on the special day. “I’ve even seen burlap chair ties and aisle runners,” she said.

Recycle: the remains 

While it’s common to rue the fact that the bridal flowers, decorations, etc. were created for one day alone, there are many ways to make the wedding accoutrements live another day.

Sawka rents vases for the wedding florals so they can be used again for another wedding. Some brides deliver their centerpieces and flower arrangements to hospitals and convalescent centers after the event is done. GreenBrideGuide also suggests delivering leftover reception food to shelters and those in need or offering it to guests to take home before they leave the hall. Of course, brides and grooms can easily check with their venue to make sure it offers a proper recycling program for bottles and cans from the reception.

Green Trends in Sweets

N2013_04_01_033LARGEThe wedding cake creates a beautiful focal point at the reception. Today’s brides are grasping at the opportunity to stray from the traditional wedding cake design, while keeping the environment in mind.

For the past five years, Sugar Monkey Cupcakes in Naperville has offered beautiful towers of cupcakes topped with a smaller layer of cake as a unique alternative to the traditional cake. “It’s a fun way to do your wedding because you can really customize each cupcake,” said Neda Darwish, owner of Sugar Monkey Cupcakes. She says the trend toward cupcakes at weddings began several years ago but today’s green brides and grooms appreciate the minimized waste at the end of the night with a cupcake wedding. “The cupcake becomes the party favor and can be easily packaged in a Chinese take-out container to travel home,” said Darwish. Couples also appreciate the no cut element of the cupcakes, the slightly lower cost compared to traditional cakes, and the ability to easily order a variety of flavors for their guests.

N2013_04_01_021LARGEAt The Artful Baker in Naperville, Karina Kappel said her brides are also ordering different flavors for each of their wedding cake layers this year. Sometimes, Kappel even customizes a flavor to match a theme. “Recently a bride had a fall themed wedding and I created a caramel apple cake for her,” said Kappel. This year’s brides are also favoring cake designs inspired by lace and their bridal dress fabric. They are also embracing a bold use of color instead of the all traditional white cake.

Kappel also accommodates requests from eco-conscious brides who request local or organic fruit for their cakes. She also recycles cake boxes and wooden cake bases and ensures that the bride’s count is accurate before baking an order to minimize waste. She doesn’t believe in baking an extra layer to freeze and eat on the first anniversary. “Ultimately it’s wasteful because everyone forgets about it in the freezer and it doesn’t taste as good anyway,” Kappel said. “So, I offer brides a complementary anniversary cake on their first anniversary. That way it’s fresh and tasty, and not thrown away.”

Remember the iconic plastic bridal couple standing on top of the wedding cake? Kappel says most couples are opting instead for fresh or sugar flowers which are greener alternatives to a traditional cake topper.

Green to Go 

The desire to go green has also extended to that last detail of the evening, the wedding party favor. Perhaps the most popular, most personal eco-friendly gift is a donation to a special cause or charity made in honor of the guests at the wedding. However, the useful and creative items listed below are among the most popular eco-friendly favors this year. Package them in a burlap sack, mason jar, or other biodegradable container for an environmentally responsible, no-waste favor.

• Coffee, tea, or mulling spices 

• Homemade doggie biscuits or pet treats 

• Bookmarks 

• A keychain 

• Candied apples 

• Personalized CD with the couple’s favorite songs 

• Homemade granola, hot cocoa, or other edible mix 

• Signature soda pop (


• Personalized flash drive with music, photos, and information from the couple 

• Plants, seeds, or seedlings 

With plenty of ways to “go green” from choosing the venue, to the recycling of disposables at the end of the night, couples can easily plan their wedding with the environment in mind. Surely they agree that minimizing waste and leaving a minimal carbon footprint is a great way to start a new life together.


Mark Milligan

BRIDGE Communities Offers Hope
to Homeless Families

Mark Milligan was helping his church host an overnight shelter for the homeless when he noticed the surprising number of single women with children staying the night. “I had a moment of clarity,” he said. “I had been looking for the solution to the macro problem of homelessness, which of course, was out of my control. While I could not singlehandedly stop homelessness, perhaps I could help one family,” he said.


The philosophy launched Bridge Communities, a successful transitional housing, non-profit organization which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. With the help of more than 40 faith-based and community action partner organizations, Bridge has helped nearly 1,000 homeless and struggling families achieve self-reliance with transitional housing, mentoring, employment counseling, and needed social services on a one-to-one basis.

Bridge Communities estimates that there are 45,000 people living in poverty in DuPage County with the average age being 8 years old. “People often assume homeless are all single men with substance abuse problems,” said Milligan, co-founder and current president of Bridge Communities. “Many are families who had a life trauma like illness or unemployment that threw them into poverty.” When Milligan first got involved in helping the homeless in the 1980s, transitional housing in DuPage County was only available for up to 21 days. Milligan believed families needed longer to change their life situation.

The Apartment Project

In 1988, he planted the seed that would become Bridge Communities by launching a long-term family transitional housing program at the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn. They called it “The Apartment Project.” “Our goal for the family was simple: for them to save enough money to pay for a first month’s rent and a security and utility deposit, to get a place of their own,” said Milligan.

Before long, other faith-based and community action groups were launching similar transitional housing programs. By 1992, the “Apartment Project” had assumed leadership of an existing, but struggling, non-profit named Bridge Communities and built it into the umbrella organization which exists today.

Working in Partnership

Bridge Communities and their partners work together to get needy families back on their feet with financial support and mentoring. Each Bridge partner typically supports one to 10 client families for a two-year period in a safe, affordable apartment, or shared-equity owned condominium owned by Bridge. Bridge Communities provides case managers and support services, conducts volunteer training, and owns and operates more than 100 transitional housing units. Meanwhile, Bridge partners provide hefty volunteer power to fundraise for their family’s rent, utilities, child care and living expenses, and gather donations of household items, furniture, and automobiles. Volunteer mentors meet with the families each week to teach life-skills like budgeting, financial planning, and parenting skills and connect them to tutoring, employment counseling and other Bridge services.

Partners like Naperville-based Families Helping Families stress education as a route to self-sufficiency. They help remove the barriers that keep their clients from reaching their educational goals, by providing scholarships and tutoring.

Milligan is grateful to all the partners who advance the mission of Bridge Communities, including Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville, which has graduated 45 transitional housing families since 2009. Program Manager Jack Flowers said families leave the program with three things: a successful full-time job; reduced debt; and enough funds for a down payment or security deposit on a living space. He said the volunteers benefit too. “It makes us aware of joblessness and the challenges of trying to support a family on a low income,” said Flowers.

For more information on Bridge Communities, visit

Neighborhood Tidbits

Century Walk Audio Tour



Get a free Naperville history lesson on your smartphone while you tour the Century Walk public art. Just scan the new QR codes on each plaque to listen to audio tours or go to During the past year, the Century Walk Corporation has been creating a series of free audio tours to accompany more than 40 pieces of public art on display in downtown Naperville. The goal of the audio tours is to capture the most important and interesting details about each sculpture, mural, mosaic and relief in a recorded audio message. Using new QR code technology, a Century Walk visitor can now scan the black and white code found in the corner of each artwork plaque with a smartphone to instantly listen to the audio tours. The audio tours, which can also be accessed by the “Audio” tab on the Century Walk mobile website, were compiled by Naperville residents John and Carolyn Roscich from Jini Leeds Clare’s coffee table book, Century Walk: Art Imitating History. The Roscich’s read their scripts in a recording studio and the files were posted on the Century Walk website. There are now 40 audio tours available, one for each of the first 40 pieces of Century Walk art. All but three pieces in the collection are clustered along two miles of sidewalk in downtown Naperville. Additionally, a recommended walking route has been created on Google that gets you from one end of the collection to the other using the most efficient path at: The audio tour QR code plates were created and installed by Imprint Enterprises.

The Century Walk Corporation, founded in 1996, is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing public art to Naperville to add beauty to the town, build community and bridge generations through a diverse collection of murals, mosaics, sculptures, and other public arts. For more information about Naperville Century Walk, contact Brand Bobosky, Century Walk founder, 630.355.5553, or visit or the mobile site:


Xilin Eighth Annual Lantern Festival

February 2, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The Eighth Annual Lantern Festival celebrating the Chinese New Year will be held at Pfeiffer Hall on the campus of North Central College, 313 E. Benton Ave. The New Year Variety Show features Chinese modern and traditional ethnic dance, martial arts, and music. The festival is a collaboration of the Xilin Art Center, North Central College, and the Wanma Dance Company of Tibet, directed by Wanma Jiancou, who will be the artistic director of the Xilin Art Center in 2013. Jiancou will partner with the Xilin Art Center to produce innovative, exciting and professional programs. The highlights of the annual Lantern Festival are the brilliant costumes, vibrant music played with traditional Chinese instruments, and exciting dances, presented by the Xilin Art Center. Set against a multimedia backdrop with spectacular lighting effects, the performances will take the audience on a mystical adventure to the East. Celebrate the Chinese New Year with family and friends during this annual event. Tickets are $10, $15, $20 and $25. For tickets, call 630.355.4322 Ext. 104, or visit for more information.


The “Hard-Water Classic” Ice-Fishing Tournament

February 9, Noon to 3:30 p.m.

The “Hard-Water Classic” Ice-Fishing Tournament has been rescheduled to Feb. 9 because of the mild weather. The tournament will take place on Silver Lake at Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville. Registration is $15 a person in advance at Check-in is at Silver Lake from 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and tournament fishing is from Noon to 3 p.m. The event entrance is on Butterfield Road a quarter mile west of Winfield Road. Anglers 16 and older who are not legally disabled must have valid Illinois fishing licenses in their possession, and all must follow all district and state regulations and bring their own gear and bait. For details, call 630.876.5931.


Mardi Gras: Bids for Beads Fundraiser

February 9, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Come enjoy the Cajun-style appetizers from Heaven on Seven, jive to the tunes of Love and Money, sip a hurricane and bid the night away to benefit the Naperville Jaycees. All proceeds from the event at the VFW Hall in Naperville, will be donated back into local non-profit organizations through the Jaycees. Tickets are $45 per person. Must be 21 years of age or older to attend. Bidding online is now underway. For online bidding, to purchase tickets, and for more information visit


The 2013 Chicago Auto Show

February 9 to 17, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

February 18, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The 105th Chicago Auto Show rolls into town in February at Chicago’s McCormick Place on Lake Shore Drive. North America’s largest auto show, the 2013 Chicago Auto Show spans more than one million square feet of contiguous one-floor space displaying multiple world and North American introductions and a complete range of domestic and imported passenger cars, trucks, sport-utility vehicles, minivans and concept cars. Nearly 1,000 different vehicles will be on display, plus hundreds of interactive, aftermarket, accessories and auto-related exhibits, competition vehicles, antique and collector cars. The show also features several indoor test tracks and outdoor ride-and-drive opportunities. Visit


Snowshow and Cross-country Skiing at Morton Arboretum

Now through March 15, weather permitting

Explore 3.5 miles of groomed ski trails on the grounds of The Morton Arboretum via snowshoe or cross-country skis on days with four or more inches of snow on the ground. Equipment is available for rent in the Arbor Court or bring your own. Cross-country ski rentals and snowshoe rentals are available for two hours, or all day, on a first-come, first-served basis. Rental fee doesn’t include Arboretum admission fee.

An Evening with Branford Marsalis

March 1, 8 p.m.

National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, renowned Grammy Award-winning saxophonist and Tony Award-nominee Branford Marsalis is one of the most revered and forward-thinking instrumentalists of his time. Leader of one of the finest jazz quartets today–the Branford Marsalis quartet–and a frequent soloist with classical ensembles, Marsalis recently recorded “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” with his quartet. On this new album, the song takes center stage. The band members bring their considerable musical expertise to bear as they focus on each tune as an important musical entity unto itself and not merely a vehicle for showcasing individual talent. Tickets for the 90-minute performance are $50 and $60, Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave. Visit or call 630.637.SHOW.

Blessing in a Backpack — Nourishing Children Beyond the School Day

NMAG1112_NeighborhoodIn 2010, Ramona Ustian reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro after a five-day climb. The achievement was unforgettable, but so were the people of Africa. Ustian noticed how hard they worked and sacrificed for the basics in life, while so many Americans had much more than they needed.

These same feelings of benevolence spurred Ustian to action when she met Stan Curtis, the founder of the Louisville-based non-profit organization, Blessings in a Backpack ( When she learned that more than 62% of public school students who receive federally funded breakfast and lunch at school have a chance of going hungry on the weekend, Ustian found a mountain to climb right in her backyard. Blessings in a Backpack (BIB) currently feeds nearly 50,000 impoverished elementary school children nationwide by providing backpacks of ready-to-eat, accessible food to bring home every Friday afternoon from school.

“I couldn’t believe how great the need was,” said Ustian. “I thought about how grouchy I get when I’m hungry and knew this could make a big difference in children’s lives.”

Filling Up on Friday

BIB programs are launched on a local level by anyone willing to adopt a school and commit to filling backpacks at the school for a minimum of three years, at $2 a week per child, for the 38-week school year. As owner of Thomas Coffee, a gourmet coffee wholesaler, Ustian stepped up as a corporate sponsor in 2010. She approached the principal at Beaupre Elementary School in Aurora, where the majority of students were receiving free or reduced meals, and pledged $32,000 to sponsor backpacks for 400 children at the school.

Every Friday afternoon, a team of volunteers obtains food from partnering grocers, then fills the backpacks, and distributes them to the children as they leave for the weekend.  The backpack specifically targets students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The children must be able to open and eat the food themselves, even without electricity or water. Backpack items include instant oatmeal, granola bars, cheese and crackers, juice boxes, fruit, canned fruit, pasta, or soup.

BIB reduces truancy on Friday’s, since the children want to be present to receive their food backpack. On Monday, they return to school well fed, and the school notices better behavior, fewer trips to the nurse’s office, and better overall academic performance, said Ustian.

Beyond the Backpack

More than 2,000 students currently benefit from BIB in Illinois, and judging by the hundreds of thank you notes from the children, it’s evident that the backpacks nourish both body and soul. “Most of these kids have parents that aren’t around after school,” said Ustian. “The backpack full of food tells them that someone cares.”  The generosity of the backpack also extends beyond the recipient. “Many students tell us they look forward to sharing the food with their extended families and neighbors who are also in need,” Ustian added.

In January, BIB was chosen as the 2012 Charity of the Year by People Magazine. “The grass roots effort of the program appealed to the magazine,” said Ustian. “BIB is run so much by volunteers, and the impact is so great for very little money per child.”  The charity’s success stories have already helped raise $350,000 for the national organization since January.

Ustian currently serves as chair of the National BIB Organization, but works hard to gain local visibility by obtaining corporate sponsorships and organizing fundraisers. Just like she did with Mount Kilimanjaro, Ustian is heading relentlessly towards her goal, which is to continue support of Beaupre Elementary School, and add more local schools to the BIB program.

Next Door Nuisance — Impact of vacant homes concerns Naperville residents

NMAG1012_CommunityMany Naperville residents are noticing an unwelcome addition to their neighborhoods these days. Vacant homes, once an icon for urban blight, are becoming increasingly common. Thanks to a waning economy, more existing and unfinished homes are standing empty due to financial stress, foreclosure, or an owner’s inability to find renters. When the vacant house sports an unsightly exterior and an overgrown lawn advertising that the home is unoccupied, neighbors become understandably concerned, not only about the aesthetics of their neighborhood, but public safety and property values too.

All property owners, whether privately owned or owned by an institution, are bound to city ordinances regarding maintenance. Grass should not exceed five inches in height in the right-of-way and eight inches on private property. Weeds are only permitted in designated natural landscape areas. If the law is not observed, what happens next is usually a combination of city intervention and neighborly involvement.


The City of Naperville has received an increasing number of calls about code violations at vacant houses, which led to action by City Councilman Chirico this spring. He proposed a fine increase for negligent property owners, who, as of this printing, receive a $100 citation for non-compliance and a modest $35 charge for city mowing, which Chirico believes may actually give landlords an incentive not to mow. “In the case of some foreclosed homes, or those in the foreclosure process, it is sometimes difficult to know who is responsible for the home. Homeowners simply walk away and the bank is in the process of taking the property. When there is no one to enforce the code upon, the city needs to take responsibility to protect the community,” Chirico said. “I am hopeful that increasing fees for city mowing encourages compliances rather than the other way around.”

Jack Persin of Ryan Hill Realty in Naperville, is co-president of the Mainstreet Organization of Realtors, the largest realtor association in Illinois. He said the issue of neglected exteriors has not been of concern to the membership in conducting their business. However, Naperville residents may expect to see fewer vacant homes on their streets in the future. While the median sales price of Naperville homes has dropped 5.5% for attached single family homes and 3.8% for detached single family homes from 2009-2012, the number of real estate contracts is rising.

“We’re seeing a trend towards more short sales than foreclosures,” said Persin. The term ‘short sale’ means the home is worth less than the amount owed on the mortgage. Persin said approving a short sale is a drawn out process that requires the seller to prove financial hardship, but lenders are being pressured by Washington to cut through the red tape more quickly. Banks are also offering cash incentives for owners to do short sales instead of pursuing a costly foreclosure process. “Banks would rather have someone in the house than have it go into foreclosure, where they have to maintain the property,” Persin said.


Sgt. Greg Bell, Naperville police community affairs officer, claims Naperville has not seen a rise in property crime with the increase in vacant houses in the area. However, he said the police are usually not informed by the owner when homes become vacant. “If owners call, we can put the house on a vacation watch,” said Bell. Neighbors can also make the difference by keeping an eye on the property, keeping the premises clear of newspapers or advertisements, and making the home look lived in as much as possible. “If it looks like the community is invested in the neighborhood, that’s a crime deterrent,” added Bell.