Wandering FTW

Long, long ago in what can only be described as another life, I was living in New York City working as a flight attendant. While the travel perks of the job were as glamorous as they sound, my income had me inches above poverty level in the most expensive city in the country. I was traveling a lot but there were still several days a month that I found myself grounded. Quickly I had to discover inexpensive ways to enjoy the incredible place that I lived.

It was during this period of my life that I first took to wandering. I would leave my apartment in Queens, (Queens is MUCH closer to JFK and considerably more affordable. DON'T JUDGE.) jump on the F train and head into Manhattan. Most times I had no destination in mind. I would get off the train whenever I was feeling lucky and wander. Window shopping and people watching were always on the menu. There was plenty to see. Whether it was a new neighborhood to discover, an impressive (or not) street musician to listen to or brand new window displays to gawk at, the city never disappointed. Here’s where I should show you a picture of me happily wandering the streets of NYC. But a diet consisting of Ramen noodles and free airplane bottles of Khalua make for a puffy, puffy Molly. As a result, there will be no pictures shared.

Moving on.

Nowadays, the hubby and I are thankfully nowhere near the poverty level. But, until I find a job and those rent checks start rolling in on the house in Chattanooga we are definitely paying close attention to our budget. (Shoot, after I get a job and the rent checks are rolling in we need to be paying close attention to our budget.) One of the beautiful things about living in Chicago, wandering is back on the weekly itinerary. Wandering has been and will continue to be my primary means of getting to know the city better. Wandering is a brilliant way to uncover the hidden and not so hidden gems tucked away along the streets of Chicago. Not only is it inexpensive, I never know what adventure awaits me.

Wandering is how I ended up seeing this.

BHLDN is like the mother ship calling me home. - Lita Gown

BHLDN Beauty - Windswept Gown

BHLDN Ebullient Bolero

BHLDN Ethereal Monarch Train

Last Friday, while wandering around the Gold Coast I passed a window that grabbed the girly girl inside of me. I actually did a double take. Then I turned my wandering self around and walked right into a dream. BHLDN is an Anthropologie spawned bridal shop. BHLDN (Get it? "Beholden"?) opened the doors of its Chicago location on the brand's one year anniversary, Valentine's Day. It is only BHLDN's second store front and it is a delicious experience. I had read about the store, most recently on a blog I just discovered called Great Dates in the City, but I hadn't set out that day to visit it. That is the beauty of wandering, my friends. Unexpected surprises are out there around every corner.

So if you're looking for an inexpensive and thrilling way to spend the day, I suggest you go for a wander. Keep your plans and your eyes open and prepare to be enchanted.

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Mmm Mmm Monday: Pizza Time

Giordano's Chicago

You had to have seen it coming. I mean, I live in and blog about Chicago. We're trying a bajillion restaurants. Is it such a surprise that today's post is about Giordano's world famous stuffed pizza?

Giordano's Famous Stuffed Pizza

I was raised on "St. Louis Style" pizza. Unless you've lived in St. Louis, there is a good chance that means absolutely nothing to you. Let me bring you up to speed. Pizza in St. Louis is a thin crusted delight that makes my mouth happy. It's cut into small squares and you can eat about 150 pieces in a single sitting.

Mozzarella overload at Giordano's

Having that kind of a background, Chicago style pizza is incredibly intimidating to me. It's so... much. There's so much crust, so much cheese, so much sauce, and so much to digest.

Spatula flare at Giordano's

I was fully prepared to not like Giordano's. Call it hometown loyalty or pizza snobery, but I moved to Chicago with a plan to dislike two things, the Cubs and the pizza. Even though my aunt and a twitter friend or two (I'm looking at you Becky Robinson) kept insisting I give deep dish a try, I thought I had my mind made up.

But it turns out I was wrong. Giordano's was delicious. What I've come to discover is that more just might be okay. In fact, more is pretty delicious. Can you see all that mozzarella? It quite literally oozed out of the pie once it was sliced. My favorite part of the night was watching out waitress serve it up for us. There's a little spatula flair that she did to cut the mozzarella and extract it from the rest of the cheesy mound still waiting to be devoured (or taken home in our case).

Truly deep dish at Giordano's

It had a crispy layer of crust at the bottom that stood up to all the cheese, sausage and mushroom we asked them to stuff into our pie. The sauce was tangy and there wasn't the over abundance of it that I remember on the deep dish pizzas I've eaten in the past. And even though I ate two rather sizable pieces I didn't walk away from the table feeling like my stomach was filled with lead. (Something else I've experienced with deep dish.) I'm also pleased to report that the remaining slices we brought home were quite possibly more tasty when I reheated them the next day!

There are several Giordano's in and around the city. Thanks to a misscommunication between the hubby and I, our little party ended up at two different locations. But, we were all reunited and seated easily at the Giordano's near Millennium Park instead of waiting the promised two hours at the location further north on Rush Street. For once I'm glad we're not expert communicators and got to make a choice between the two locations. Especially because after being seated and ordering one of these pies you wait more than 30 minutes for it to bake. This is definitely not fast food, but our pizza was absolutely worth the wait. Our server was a doll and continued to check in with the countdown until our pizza's arrival. Feeling like we should probably have something green to go with all that cheese, we ordered a house salad and it wasn't all that spectacular. But as I looked at the variety of fried appetizers on the tables all around us, it became clear that Giordano's doesn't specialize in healthy eats. They specialize in food that thrills the taste buds and clogs the arteries. Last night my taste buds, arteries and I enjoyed every bite of what they do best.

How do you feel about stuffed pizza?

A 2012 Academy Award Wrap Up

As I type this, my butt has been planted on my couch for close to seven hours. My eyes are blood shot, my thumbs are a bit tired from texting, tweeting and the computer that's been sitting on my lap since the red carpet coverage started has burned through my cords. But I am happy. I am happy because, as usual the evening did not disappoint. Sure there were broadcast low lights - like almost every time that Billy Crystal was on stage. (Sorry, Billy, I love you. But tonight was not your best work.) There were red carpet low lights - I'm looking at you Oscar Award winner Melissa Leo. But overall, it was a glamorous and impressive spectacle.

This year, I was a very bad Oscar fan and didn't see very many of the films. It's the first time in years that I didn't even see every Best Picture nominee. (Look, we've been a bit busy this awards season.) So, I can't make very many educated comments about the films themselves. I can however compile a best dressed list.

So here goes...
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During a red carpet interview, Jessica Chastain said she made 11 films last year. Wow. She was in two of the Best Picture nominees (The Help and The Tree of Life) and shined in both. Her Alexander McQueen gown snuck up on me tonight. At first glance I was like, "no." But the more I looked at it the deeper I fell in love. Combine her lovely locks and spunky little personality and you've got a winner in my book. She's for sure one to watch with AT LEAST five films scheduled to release in 2012. I'll say it again, WOW.

Another "Wow" goes to Viola Davis in Vera Wang. Her skin was absolutely radiant. She was practically glowing. And the deep green color of her gown has me looking forward to St. Patty's day which is right around the corner. I'll step out on a limb and say that I think she was robbed - even though I haven't seen The Iron Lady. Davis was so astounding in the Help; I'm disappointed she wasn't recognized for her work. 

Oh how I love Tina Fey when she gets all fancy. And there is no question that this Carolina Herrera number was fan-cy. Herrera dressed Miss Fey exclusively this evening and the partnership was a smashing success. I'm a huge fan of the peplum silhouette going on right now. What do you think?

Once again Octavia Spencer wore a Tadashi Shoji gown. Although she's been killing it all season, I can confidently say, this gown was my favorite. It was a perfect choice to win Oscar gold. She looks like a movie star.

Emma Stone and Ben Stiller provided, arguably, one the telecasts' funniest bits. Stone looked stunning in this fuchsia Giambattista Valli, and managed to deliver award show banter that was actually entertaining. Though the scuttle-but on the carpet was how similar this dress is to Nicole Kidman's 2008 Balenciaga, and it is, I still think she is breathtaking.

But my very favorite frock of the evening was worn by Michelle Williams. Her tangerine Louis Vuitton gown is the stuff dreams are made of. Williams makes me want to be a better dresser. She inspires, awes and amazes me on a regular basis and tonight was no different. The delicate bow at the hip and understated necklace are just the right simple touches to allow her shocking pick clutch to pop. Though she may not have been the Academy's leading lady of the night, she sits atop my very best dressed list. (I'm certain she'll find that just as rewarding.)

Before I go, can I give a shout to Jennifer Lopez' Sock Bun? Somebody's been reading the fashion blogs...

And here's a rundown of the night's major award winners in case you decided to watch something else. 
(Do people do that?)

2012 Academy Award Winners:
Best Picture: The Artist
Best ActorJean Dujardin in The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer in The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in The Beginners

Your turn! Who made your best dressed list?


Waiting Patiently...

Just a few more hours until the one of my favorite nights of the year. 
Please hurry, Oscar!


The Catcher in the Rye: A Month Late

In the fall of 2010 I joined The Book Club Bloggers for their inaugural link up. I was giddy with excitement. From where I sit, book clubs are pure goodness. Whether it's a group that gets together in person, or a virtual one like the BCB sharing a literary experience is a beautiful way to get to know people and exercise your brain. Every time I've participated in a book club, I've come away appreciating the book so much more deeply. Others' insights and takeaways never cease to surprise me and regularly deepen my understanding of the work. From the start I was a faithful member and consistently posted my reviews. I linked up and visited the other member's blogs commenting and enjoying every moment of the experience. But as time went on and life continued to "happen" my posts got published later and later (horrible form, I agree) and eventually I even skipped a month!

For 2o12, Charlotte, the founder and host of the BCB, changed the format of the club a little bit. She proposed that this year instead of members picking books from month to month, we instead spend the entire year focused on banned or challenged books. (read more about the club HERE) I was again excited. Knowing that I would be moving to a land where my social circle would be small, the BCB would be a perfect chance to read a book in community and connect with my lady friends. I was invigorated and ready to renew my membership.

Enter: Life.

In January, the BCB read J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. I read right along with them. Since I still had my copy from high school, it was easy to play along. I poured through the book and couldn't wait to hear what the other ladies thought. Only problem, I never wrote or posted my review. See the posts go up the last Friday of the month. The last Friday of January was our second full day in Chicago. Do I really need to explain further? Life happened and my beloved BCB took a backseat.

"I mean how do you know what you're going to do til you do it? The answer is, you don't. I think I am, but how do I know?"
The Catcher in the Rye

In February, the BCB read Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I still have yet to get the book. I did try. Really I did. But see I have this aversion to buying books at retail price. There are so many used and free books out there; it hurts to buy one at full price. So, I searched the used book store in Chattanooga before we left and I came up empty. (Look at me planning ahead - or trying to.) I scanned Paperbackswap and even joined Bookmooch, attempting to get a used copy. No dice. I still don't have a library card here because it necessitates me taking a written driver's test which scares the hell out of me. So that option was out. So here I sit, on BCB post day still without a copy of this month's book. Once again, life has happened.

Raise your hand if you love a blog post all about someone NOT doing something.


Ya, me neither. So what if instead of doing nothing I use the remainder of this post to talk about The Catcher in the Rye? Even though the linky is closed, I could still be a pseudo-member, right? Cool then, that's what I'll do.

When I saw that the selection for the month was The Catcher in the Rye, I was admittedly relieved. Knowing that January was going to be a busy month, it was a comfort to read a book that 1. I already own and 2. I have already read. I read Salinger's book for the first time in a freshman lit class. Last month when I opened my copy I was immediately struck by notes taken in my high school handwriting. Suddenly the experience became less about reading the book and more about re-reading the book with my high school self.

"Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone."
(Salinger 122)

As a freshman in high school, I thought Holden Caulfield was a rock god. He saw things, experienced things, communicated things in a way that cut straight through all the crap. Holden was able to articulate the angst and confusion and heartbreak that I was experiencing for the very first time. As a freshman in high school I was in a tail spin and just beginning to understand the imperfection of the world around me. Through the haze of hormone and hubris that I viewed the world, Holden seemed to have it just right. We were victims, Holden and I. We were at the mercy of the broken world around us. The best we could do is spit sarcasm as we wait for it to bury us.

Years later, I read Holden completely differently. Now I ache for him. Instead of lifting him up on a pedestal, I wanted to take him in my arms and hug him. I wanted to explain to him, "Yes, the world is broken but there is hope. Even if the world doesn't change, you can." As a thirty something I'm able to see the immaturity, confusion and hurt that fuels so much of Holden's existence. Holden isn't a rock god with all the answers, Holden is a little boy. 

"You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers (sic) would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. the only thing that would be different would be you."
(Salinger 121)

Before I turn this post into something sounding more like an hour on my analyst's couch (too late?), let me go ahead and wrap it up. It goes without saying that The Catcher in the Rye is a timeless work of art. Salinger's work is genius and its beauty is heartbreaking. I didn't anticipate the emotional response my second encounter would illicit, but I'm incredibly thankful for experience. I wonder if I read it again in 20 years if it will be something completely different. Perhaps I should try it and find out.

Have you ever re-read something and happily discovered an entirely different book? 


A Give10 Update

Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago 
In December I jumped on board the Give10 train and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. If you missed my full explanation here, let me give you the quick and dirty. Each day the handsome hubby and I have agreed to follow the example set by Stephanie over at wanderingzito.com and give $10 to an organization that is working to change the world for the better. Initially it was to be a project that lasted throughout the month of December. But, we've enjoyed it so much we've kept it going into 2o12.

In the midst of all this giving, I've had the pleasure of discovering a whole slew of new organizations doing some pretty phenomenal work. By taking part in, what Stephanie calls, micro giving I'm able to support a plethora of causes and use my small voice to make their work known to others who might not be familiar with each organization. Using my wallet and voice are simple ways to support those who are doing the truly heavy lifting.

I bring this up today because Stephanie, my giving guru, is one week away from completing her year long Give10 project. To celebrate, she's recruiting others to join her for the last week. Sound intriguing? She was also kind enough to publish a little blurb that I wrote about how I got involved in Give10. I encourage you to head over to wanderingzito.com and maybe even jump on board the giving train! Just watch out, this micro giving is addictive stuff.

To keep up with my daily giving and find links to each day's recipient hit the "like" button at A Foreign Land on Facebook or check out my brand new #give10 board on Pinterest.


Mmm Mmm Monday: Chicago Restaurant Week Edition

Chicago is in the midst of stuff for your face week, more formally known as Restaurant Week. Until February 26th, more than 200 local restaurants are strutting their stuff with prix fixe menus to draw crowds and fill tables. With lunches set at $22 per person and dinner menus priced at either $33 or $44, it's an affordable excuse to try out all those restaurants that have been patiently waiting on your "to eat" list. 

This weekend we decided to give Cafe Spiaggia a whirl. Located deep in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, the mood was set for an upscale experience as we approached the restaurant. With mouths watering and excitement overflowing we arrived at the casual dining side of the famed Spiaggia Restaurant and were greeted warmly and shown to our table.

Chicken Liver Mousse
Chicken Liver Mousse, Cranberry Compote, Arugula and Crostini

As I tend to do, I took one look at the menu and quickly chose items that seemed to have the most exotic ingredients. Since I'm still on my mission to eat (and hopefully enjoy) foods that might make others gag, I started my meal with chicken liver mousse.  My previous experience with beef liver was a total disaster, so I'll admit this was a risky choice. But, as it turns out, chicken liver is much milder in flavor than beef liver and simply lovely when paired with cranberries and buttery toast. The dish was creamy and crunchy and savory and sweet. It was a perfect start to my meal.

Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragu
Gnocchi with Wild Boar Ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano

Next up on my crazy protein tour was wild boar. Notice the bite missing in the lower right hand corner? It smelled so good I dug in before I remembered I was trying to document the meal. That's probably a good sign. The boar was tasty, but if I hadn't read the menu I'd have assumed it was pork shoulder or something much more pedestrian. The star of this dish was undoubtedly the gnocchi. I've had gnocchi a million times before and have always enjoyed it. But this time it was different. You know how on cooking shows the judges always describe gnocchi as "pillowy"? I always just assumed they were referring to the shape of the pasta. But they aren't. This gnocchi was the real deal. It was light and fluffy and tasted as though I was biting into the most delicious pillow one could ever imagine. NOW I get it. And I'll tell ya, gnocchi has moved way up my list of favorite, delectable treats.

Tiramisu Spiaggia style
Tiramisu and Illy Coffee

We finished the meal with Tiramisu and coffee. Both were very, very good. Though I wouldn't say either stood out as the best I've ever had, I would not turn down another helping of that Tiramisu if it showed up in front of me right now.

While the food was really incredible, I have to tell you about what was probably the highlight of our visit. As we were leaving the Cafe, we passed by the entrance of Spiaggia restaurant. Who do you think was walking out the door with a plate of food in her hands?

It was cheflebraty Sarah Grueneberg of Top Chef: Austin. Can you even believe it? I mean she is in the top three RIGHT NOW and could be named Top Chef this week! For a reality television junkie like me, this was a big deal. The hubby tried to take credit for our encounter. Since this was our Valentine date, he said the Sarah sighting was part of my present. But I don't believe him and neither should you. As we passed her, I totally played it cool. I simply smiled at her and kept walking. The hubby was surprised I didn't stop and ask for a picture or even say, "Hello." Here's my explanation. If it had been any other cheftestant I might have made a bigger deal. But since Sarah's been such a mean girl this season, I was a little bit uninterested afraid to stop her. What if she bit my head off? Regardless of my personal feelings toward Miss Thang, it was still kind of exciting to see her there, you know? And what if she wins? I can tell everyone that I ate in Cafe Spiaggia on a day when she was working next door there.

Our restaurant week experience turned out to be very exciting indeed. Although I wouldn't put this meal on my list of best ever, the food was definitely top quality. The sweet, helpful host staff more than made up for our less than perfect waitress. At times it seemed like we were a bit of an annoyance to our waitress and keeping her from something much more important. The restaurant space itself was lovely and the location was easy to find and convenient to get to via public transportation. When you throw in a cheflebraty sighting, it's tough to find much to say that isn't positive. 

For a complete list of restaurants participating in this event, menus and reservation (which are suggested) information visit Restaurant Week's official site.

Have you ever had a cheflebraty sighting? Do tell...


On My Own Imaginary Red Carpet(s)

I may or may not have an incredibly over-active imagination. When that imagination crosses paths with the looks presented at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, crazy things start to happen. Perhaps it's all the red carpet coverage that I've been watching lately, but as I looked through the pictures on Style.com a scenario started to come to me. In said scenario I am one of the year's nominees for best actress (I told you, over-active). My performance is so incredible that the people, the Hollywood Foreign Press, the critics and most importantly the Academy of Arts and Sciences all loved it. Since my film has also been nominated for best picture, my attendance is practically required on every red carpet. Although this is an extremely tedious and exhausting requirement that I dread, I am contractually obliged. See, the independent film that I'm promoting had a very small budget and I agreed to make appearances to get the general public interested in it. I simply don't have a choice. It's my JOB. Finding beautiful things to wear to each occasion is the number one thing on my "to do" list. I KNOW. WHAT A CHORE. Thankfully my indie cred makes all the top designers ravenous to get me in their stuff. That makes Rachel's job all the easier. (Ummmm, yes Rachel Zoe is my stylist obviously.) ...and on, and on, and on with the make believe. In this imaginary world, here's what I'd wear.

During my first red carpet appearance for the film, its premiere, I'd likely wear this Diane von Furstenberg ensemble. Yes, gloves and all.

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My publicist would likely get me a gig as a presenter at the MTV video awards. I think this Alice + Olivia number might have just enough edge while still allowing me to look like the movie star that I am. (For the record, Alice + Olivia might be my favorite collection shown in New York last week.)

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Since I got my start on television, I did several seasons as an assistant district attorney on Law and Order, I always walk the red carpet at the Emmys. It's like a homecoming celebration for me. This Bibhu Mohapatra gown would be the perfect thing to wear to that ceremony, I (and Rachel) think.

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Everyone in the business knows that the appreciation and support of the fans is incredibly important. Being nominated for the People's Choice award is a huge honor. As I work the red carpet and continue the humble brag, I'd wear this stunning Naeem Khan frock.

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Without the critic's approval though, it's tough to maintain a long healthy career. Unless you're Nicholas Cage. For the Critic's Choice awards I'd float down the carpet in this Tadashi Shoji dress.

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There is no question; The Hollywood Foreign Press throws the craziest televised party of any awards season. There's never a dull moment and we never know what to expect. This Monique Lhuillier will do for the evening of craziness that is sure to come.

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Recognition from your peers is never a bad thing, wouldn't you agree? Of course it's an honor to be nominated by the other members of the Screen Actors Guild. To celebrate my recognition, I'd wear this Carolina Herrera.

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Obviously my film has a killer soundtrack. I mentioned it was an indie, right? Its soundtrack would necessitate another presenting gig at the Grammys. This Jenny Packham number might be just what I'd need. The studs that line the plunging neckline give it that "bad girl" vibe that is so necessary on the Grammys' red carpet.

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With the end of red carpet season in sight, I'd gladly don this Reem Acra for the Independent Spirit awards. It's fun, flirty and perfect for this eve of the Oscars awards show.

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Of course the big kahuna, the Academy Awards, brings the season to an end. And by this point I will be so tired of answering the same questions on every red carpet for months. "No, my costar and I are no longer romantically involved. We're just great friends. I have the most respect for him as an actor." But I'll put on my biggest smile and this Badgley Mischka and finish off with a bang. I think it would be the perfect gown to be photographed ad nauseam in and eternally remembered wearing (after I win, obviously).

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So there you have it. I'm totally delusional. But at least I'm incredibly well dressed in my delusions.

Which one is your favorite?
Or did you find something else at NYFW to wear to your next red carpet appearance?


A Luminous Experience in Millennium Park

By now, if you're a Chicagoan, certainly you've heard about the video and sound installation in Millennium Park. If you aren't living in Chicago, I'm so sorry, this town is amazing. But let me introduce you to Luminous Field by Luftwerk.

Luminous Field

Until February 20th, Cloud Gate (I just learned it's official name... who knew it wasn't "The Bean"?) is getting all dressed up. A team of local artists has collaborated to create an exquisite interactive experience for passers-by to enjoy.

Behind the Magic of Luminous Field

Just after sunset enormous projector lighty things (Sorry if my technical jargon is going over your head) kick into gear filling the plaza with multi-color geometric designs. Meanwhile, music composed by Owen Clayton Condon tempts young and old to dance, play and interact with the ever changing colorful images.

Luminous Field Play

Luminous Field Reflection

Last night, on our belated Valentines date, we took a walk to AT&T plaza to see what all the excitement was about. We were not disappointed. The mild weather, dramatic cloud cover and hoard of dancing children wrapped in down all contributed to the memorable experience.

Luminous Field Poser
Look! Here's the obligatory "proof that I was here" shot.

I wore my down also but was too busy staring in awe and taking countless pictures to get my boogie on.

If you're in the Chicago area, you have three more chances to catch a glimpse of the wonderment. Tonight (Saturday the 18th) it will be going on in Millennium Park from 6-10pm, and then again on Sunday and Monday from 6-9pm. Get yourself there with a quickness!