Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations

Martin Luther King Jr memorial in Washington DC. (J Jacobs photo)
Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington
DC. (J Jacobs photo)

Cities from LA to Memphis and Chicago and New York to Washington DC and Atlanta are celebrating MLK Day today, the third Monday of January. The day has been officially observed to honor the civil rights leader in all 50 states since 2000.  It is an American federal holiday so schools, banks, post office and some business are closed.

Celebrations to honor Martin Luther King Jr range from service projects and parades to concerts and free museum visits.

If in DC go to the Marin Luther King Jr Memorial and watch the Peace Parade from 11 a.m to noon ET on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Milwaukee Place. The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Parade features musical performances, dancers, and members of civil rights organizations fighting for equal rights.

If in Chicago, you can spend quality time at one of the following events:

Continue reading “Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrations”

Three fun Valentine ideas


Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo's justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)
Instead of a heart-shaped box of candy, be original and think Portillo’s justly famous chocolate cake. (Wagstaff Chicago photo)

Ask a friend, ask a lover or ask a few people to join you to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine Feb. 14. It’s just nice to have a fun day in the middle of winter. Since Feb/ 14 comes on a Friday in 2020, celebrate the end of the week or the beginning of a fun weekend.

The ideas listed here are for Chicago but they could be adapted anywhere by substituting  a local cooking class for No. 1, a decadent chocolate dessert for No. 2 and a different activity for No. 3. They range from pricey but yummy to free.

Peninsula Chicago Couples Cooking Classes

The Peninsula Chicago’s Shanghai Terrace is doing a Dim Sum for Lovebirds cooking class and dinner from Feb. 10 through Feb. 16. It includes a Chinese tea degustation, a class led by Chef de Cuisine Elmo Han and ends with a three-course dinner.  The cost per couple is $888 but there is a less expensive option Feb. 15 only. It’s the two-hour Valentine’s Day Cooking Experience. At $480 a couple it includes tortellini making and a three-course lunch of oysters, pasta and dessert in The Lobby. (Gratuity and tax not included).

Peninsula Chicago is on Superior Street at Michigan Avenue. To make reservations or for more information call (312) 573 6620, toll-free at 1 866 288 8889, visit  Peninsula Chicago or email reservations

Portillo’s Chocolate Cakes 

The restaurant is not just among Chicagoan’s fave when it comes to hot dogs or Italian beef. It’s chocolate cake ranks among the town’s top dessert choices. So Portillo’s is shaping it famous cake into a heart for Valentine’s Day. A the single-layer chocolate iced cake, the treat will be available at Chicago area locations Feb. 7-16, but can be pre-ordered beginning  Jan. 14, 2020 by visiting or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

In addition, 100% of the purchase price of each Portillo’s Heart-Shaped Chocolate Cake sold between January 14 and February 16 (capped at $25,000) will be donated to the American Red Cross. Portillo’s is supporting the American Red Cross Biomedical Services to ensure a safe and reliable blood supply is available for patients in need.

Heart-Shaped cakes will be available for purchase in-store February 7-16. Guests are encouraged to pre-order the cakes beginning on January 14 by visiting or calling 1-866-YUM-BEEF.

Ice skating in Millennium Park

Skate against the Chicago skyline or skate under the stars. Ice skating at Chicago’s Millennium Park below Cloud Gate (The Bean) is a popular winter activity encouraged by background music and a concession stand of hot chocolate. The skating is free. Visitors can bring their skates or rent, or use the rental free of charge if staying at a Hilton.

The historic Palmer House at Wabash and Monroe Streets, just west of the Art institute  and Millenium Park is a Hilton. So is The Wit, a popular millennial hotel by Doubletree at State and Lake, a couple of blocks west.

Up the experience by doing lunch at Terao Piano which is a short walk up the bridge from the park to the third floor of the Art Institute of Chicago or an elevator ride up from the museum’s Monroe Street entrance. Those entrances to the restaurant don’t have a museum charge. Or do dinner in the Park Grill right there at the skating rink.



Quadrantid meteor shower here then gone

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

If you are north in the northern hemisphere and don’t have a cloudy or rainy night, look up after midnight after the waxing gibbous moon sets to catch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.

The Quadrantids typically send out 25 meteorites an hour during its peak time which in 2020 is very early in the a.m. Jan. 4 and go on for a very short duration. For Central Time watchers best viewing after the moon sets would be about 2 a.m.

Where to look

Look northeast. Find the Big Dipper then look down to Arcturus, a giant red star at the bottom of the Bootes Constellation. Scientists say it is best to then look just slightly away from it to catch the long tails of the Quadrantids.

What are the Quadrantids

They are considered to come from the asteroid 2003 EHI which may have been a comet or a part of one.

Where to find more meteor shower information

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site that tells what meteor showers are happening now and in the near future and what the moon phase will be for each of them.

Yes, the moon phase matters. The brightness of a full or nearly full moon makes it harder to see tmeteors flying across the sky.

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site, tells when the next meteor shower is coming and what the moon phase will be then. Yes the moon does matter. The brightness of a full and even half moon, make it harder to see meteors flying across the sky.

Other good sky info can be found at Space, Time and Date, NASA and EarthSky.







Tips for traveling to and from Chicago during the holiday season

Terminal 3 at O'Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)
Terminal 3 at O’Hare Airport decorates for the holidays and often has trees done by Chicago cultural institutions. (J Jacobs photo)


If you heard that Thanksgiving was busy at Chicago’s airports so decided to drive to grandma’s house in a 6 or 8 horse-powered sleigh but will fly for the holiday season, OK, but be prepared, patient and smart. And let the decorations and music bring out a few smiles.

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) says that O’Hare and Midway International Airports are expected to be among the busiest airports in the country for Christmas-through-New Year holiday travel with nearly 5 million passengers expected over the travel period from Dec. 19, 2019 through Jan. 6, 2020.

Pointing out that Chicago is a top holiday destination, CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee said, “On behalf of Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago aviation community, we are excited to be a gateway for holiday travel – and holiday cheer – for so many. CDA and its airline partners are well prepared to provide a safe and efficient experience for millions of travelers during this holiday season,”

A couple of significant points were made during a press conference Dec. 20 that bare noting.

First is the forthcoming legalization of cannabis in Chicago Jan. 1, 2020. “To ensure safe travel for all residents and visitors, we’re encouraging all travelers not to bring cannabis through Chicago’s airports as it still remains illegal under federal law.” Said Chicago Police Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck.

That means that travelers cannot expect to pass through the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoints with any amount of cannabis because it remains illegal across state lines, and possession of cannabis may be illegal in the state or country to which you are traveling.

Secondly, even though Chicago’s airports are proud of the smooth passage to airport gates, the CDA and the TSA strongly urge passengers to arrive at the airport two hours before domestic departures and three hours ahead of international departures to allow for ticketing, baggage checks and security screening.

Third, according to the TSA passengers should not bring wrapped gifts through the checkpoints, as they are subject to closer inspection by officers.

Fourth is to know about facilities. Traveler-friendly upgrades have been happening this past year including restrooms in O’Hare and restaurants in Midway.  There are better infant care areas including a new Mother’s Room in Terminal 3 near Gate L6 and a new family assist restroom, also in Terminal 3 on the H Concourse.

Midway has 23 new restaurant and retail locations with more planned. The Midway Central Express Market, features hot food as well as a variety of garb & go items such as fresh sushi, tasty parfaits and more. Visit for a map of all dining and retail choices at both airports.

At O’Hare, Winter Wonder, a new family-friendly entertainment, activity, and retail activation is in Terminal 1 near Gate C11. Fly with Butch O’Hare Family Lounge is in Terminal 2 and also in Terminal 3 (near Gate K2).

Last, but not least, is to take time to see the holiday trees decorated by Chicago’s cultural institutions and enjoy the music provided by the CDA.  Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at Midway this week and at O’Hare on Dec. 23, between noon and 2 p.m,

For more information visit Fly Chicago. . The Website also contains real-time information on flights, regular updates on traffic and weather, real-time taxicab wait times, and other special alerts for the traveling public

The Geminids meteor shower is here

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Stay up and look up for the late, late light show . It’s the Geminid meteor shower happening now. So think about where you can go to watch without interference from stores and street lights.

The annual spectacular night show (120 meteors per hour) peaks about 2 a.m. so that really means staying up very late, tonight, Dec. 12 into very, very early tomorrow morning or very late Friday Dec. 13 into very, very early Saturday a.m.

The problem this year, 2019, is the full moon. We’re always talking about finding a spot away from city and street lights. But have no suggestion for dimming down moon light.

However, maybe you will get lucky and a cloud will move across the moon. Or turn your back on the moon and watch the sky away from that bright orb. Or try again very late Saturday night, early, early Sunday morning when the moon might still be bright but not quite as full.

Or turn Geminid watching into a party because the more people “star” gazing, the more likely someone will see a meteor.

BTW, the Geminids are not like the other meteor showers in that the meteorites zooming across the sky are not debris from a comet. They are coming from an ancient asteroid called the 3200 Phaethon. Although sometimes it’s called a “rock comet.”

As to the 2 a.m. watching time, the hour is when the constellation Gemini (The Twins), which is the area or radiant point from where the meteors seem to come, has moved high in the sky. It will seem as if the Geminids are coming from Castor, a bright star in the constellation.

There are several good sky watching resources. To learn more about meteors and the Geminids visit NASA, Space, Time and Date and EarthSky. Also see YouTube.

Jodie Jacobs


Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation

Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)
Ice skating the Ribbon in Millennial Park is easy when taking a staycation. (City of Chicago photo)

You’re in The Loop when you stay at theWit.

Well situated at State and Lake Streets, the hotel is close to Macy’s shopping, Walnut Room tree and holiday windows, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” Millennial Park’s Caroling at Cloud Gate and ice skating rinks, the Chriskindle Market, a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s holiday-decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms and a short bus ride to the Auditorium theatre to see Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Continue reading “Consider theWit for a downtown holiday staycation”

Leonid meteor shower peaks this weekend

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA


Look up late at night or before dawn this weekend to “catch” a “falling star.”

The earth crosses the Tempel-Tuttle Comet 55P orbit during November but in 2019 the peak times to see its meteor debris is from Nov. 16 through 18.

No star gazing instruments needed, just a spot away from street and commercial lights.

However, the full moon was just a few days ago on Nov. 13 so the sky will still seem bright with the waning gibbous phase as it moves into its last quarter Nov. 18.

Also needed is patience. Although the Leonids have produced tremendous meteor showers in some years, this year a mere 10 to 15 meteors are predicted per hour.

For more good meteor information visit EarthSky, Space and Time and Date.




Staycation for the holidays

North Michigan Avenues Magnificent Mile twinkles after the Mickey and Minnie Mouse parade flicks the lights switch (City of Chicago photo)
North Michigan Avenues Magnificent Mile twinkles after the Mickey and Minnie Mouse parade flicks the lights switch (City of Chicago photo)

Shopping, shows, sights and lights, Chicago’s festival markets and moments seem to be descending at express-train speed. But instead of shouting “stop the train,” take control of the season with a “staycation” that balances shopping with spa time, festival watching with fitness-center wellness and special exhibits with special cocktails.

Several Chicago hotels are putting together packages that make staying downtown a fun alternative to insanely commuting to catch events. Because holiday gifts and sights stretch from Macy’s on State and the Art Institute of Chicago to Magnificent Mile and the Lincoln Park Zoo, a good plan is to make your holiday headquarters a hotel near Michigan Avenue. Continue reading “Staycation for the holidays”

Look for Orionid meteors

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Look up! If the night sky is clear where you live watch for the Oronids, a major meteor shower produced by the debris from Halley’s comet.

Named for Orion the Hunter because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation, the Orionids have been already shooting across the sky and will do so into November. But they are peaking now through Oct. 22.

They have been known to shoot across the sky at 80 an hour but according to Bill Cooke a NASA they are likely to number from 30 to 40 per hour. They are very fast 148,000 mph so watch carefully.

The question is how much a factor is the moon which has waned to its half-phase. The full Hunters Moon has already passed but moonlight may make a difference. However, go to a spot without streetlights and commercial buildings. You won’t want binoculars because you are watching the whole sky.

Several astronomy sites have good charts and information on meteors. Take a look at Time and Date, Space and EarthySky.

Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)
Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

Sometimes my family stayed on a Disney property. Other times we stayed at a nearby  resort but rented a car. This time, I decided to accompany a small group whose aim was to check out a variety of attractions and travel options in the Kissimmee area.

The result was one surprise after another.

This was to be a no-car rental vacation. Yes, renting a car will likely be an option for some families and couples but we wanted to see what could work without that choice.

Continue reading “Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida”