Chicago granny, Boston girl...common ground?
August 8, 2006 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me stay sane and maybe have some fun while living in Chicago with my 81-year-old grandmother and a 10pm curfew.

So the globe-hopping is put on hold for a while. Instead, I'm in Chicago taking care of my frail old granny. I'll be here until December. I need stuff to do.

I'm looking for things that a frail, easily distressed grandmother who can't walk very far or very fast, and a young, hip, single, smart girl can do together that are interesting and maybe even fun.

I'm also looking for things a young, hip, single, smart girl can do on her own that will get her home before 10pm.

Her interests: travel (she did a lot when she was younger), religion (Catholic), crochet, flower-arranging, and "things that are nice". She has depression and anxiety issues, and basically can't handle things that are distressing, be it current events, war, global warming, death, etc. She also can't handle being around people who are drinking at all.

My interests: yoga, dance (ballet, Irish step, English/Scottish country/ceili), whole foods, cooking, writing, technology, athiesm/brights, intellectual-type things (lectures, discussion groups, etc.), farmers' markets, political science, futurism, indie coffeeshops, used bookstores, thrift stores, knitting. I don't drink much, so groups that meet in bars are fine but groups dedicated solely to getting sloshed are not my (ahem) cuppa tea.

So what are some places/exhibits/events/groups that we can go to that might interest us both? And what are some things that I can do (alone) during the day that will have me home by 10? (If I'm out past 10 she starts to get very anxious.)

I've already checked the Chicago meetups and joined several that look interesting, and I'm also checking Craigslist periodically. Are there any other resources I should look into?

I have a car and I'm okay taking the L, although public transit is hard on her because she can't stand or walk for very long. Running to catch a train is out of the question. We're in the 60630 zip code (Jefferson Park).

Are there any senior citizen yoga or tai chi groups that she could join in the area (driving is fine)? I don't even know where to start looking for this.

More generally, I'd also appreciate any tips from Mefites who have taken care of their senior relatives.

I desperately need to get her out of the house (and out of her head). And I need to get out of the house before I go out of mine! I know nothing about Chicago...hope me!
posted by fuzzbean to Society & Culture (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I can only help with a small part of your question. In terms of things that you can do together, you say you're already interested in farmers markets and I do think some of them might be a good bet to visit together. The ones downtown on Tuesday and Thursday, and then the Saturday one on Armitage tend to be the biggest, but there are others scattered throughout the city's neighborhoods and the suburbs. I've also been to sizeable ones in Oak Park and Evanston if you want to hit a close-in suburb.

My favorite market, though, is on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the south end of Lincoln Park: the Green City Market. (I'll be working at the Kinnikinnick Farm stand this Saturday -- say hello if you stop by). If you can park close, it wouldn't require too much walking around to visit the whole market. There are chairs set up, too, so your grandmother can have a seat if she'd like. The earlier you can get there, the better. It's really at its best at 7 or 8 in the morning.

Email's in the profile if I somehow haven't rambled on about farmers markets enough already.
posted by veggieboy at 11:05 AM on August 8, 2006

I would look into yarn-related groups in the area (knitting circles are rarely exclusively for knitters if they're not super formal). Since you both enjoy a yarn-related hobby, you could both benefit from socializing that way. Especially if you could find a group that had a variety of ages participating in it. Ask at yarn shops or community centers. Not being from or in Chi-town (I'm in a big city, though, so some similarities), that seems like an easy option to consider.
posted by monochromaticgirl at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2006

definitely check out stuff at the newberry library and the cultural center. i think you're on the North Central line, which may make coming into other parts of the city easier on Granny.

i'm afraid jefferson park is well out of my stomping grounds, but in general my experience in the city is that there's always a local (whether it's a tavern or a coffee place or a smoking lounge) where a single person who hangs out there often will always end up in conversation. just park yourself in one for a week or so. if nothing pops, try something else.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:06 AM on August 8, 2006

You mentioned she can't be around anyone drinking. Can she be around places where drinking happens at other times? The Map Room is a travel-themed bar with lots of travel books, maps, etc that serves breakfast and coffee every morning. No alcohol served until 11AM. I've only been there in the evenings but it always seems quite nice as I go to work. Since travel appears to be a shared interest perhaps this will give you a nice shared routine or some things to talk about.
posted by true at 11:07 AM on August 8, 2006

Lincoln Park Zoo used to have an amazing series of travelogues that my elder friend and I used to go to. Check to see if they still do.

Chicago's ElderHostel program might not work for you unless you can get yourself hooked up with a wheelchair for Granny, but a good friend of mine used to work with them and apparently it's a grea program. It does look like that have boat tours and motorcoach deals too. Not sure if you can hook into it being a local, but check out the page and you might get some ideas.

The City of Chicago maintains a Senior page with information on a variety of subjects inluding Extracurriculars.

I know there used to be and I am sure there still is a senior group that practiced Tai Chi at the lake, but I don't have an information on them. Sorry.

Looks like there's a new resource coming available this month. Senior Citizen's Guide to Chicago
posted by FlamingBore at 11:11 AM on August 8, 2006

I just visited a friend in Chicago and we went to the Ravinia Festival. It's the summer home of the Chicago Symphony, plus other concerts are hosted there. You can get pavilion seats, or come a couple of hours early and sit on the lawn. Pack a picnic lunch/dinner. People go all out for this: chairs, tables, flower arrangements, etc. We just sat on a blanket and ate some chicken, salad & had some wine and listened to Mozart. People are very good about being quiet during the performances (they also have staff people walking around with Quiet signs). The Sunday one that we went to started at 5, so she could be in bed well before 10:00pm.

It's in a northern suburb of Chicago, I think about a half hour away. I highly recommend it; it was one of my favorite things that I did there.

I also enjoyed seeing the city on a boat cruise that goes out onto the lake and then into the city on the river.
posted by witchstone at 11:12 AM on August 8, 2006

The one thing that immediately came to mind is the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Maybe you could borrow a wheel chair and go on a tour periodically. Joining is not terribly expensive, and their tours never disappoint. Might appeal to her travel/exploration side, and you get to learn about Chicago at the same time. They have tours nearly daily if I recall, so plan one a week or every other or something.

If I were you I'd plan out your weeks as if you had appointments. Monday, 9 am breakfast, 11 am tai chi at the YMCA, 2 pm nap and Wheel of Fortune, 4 pm walk to corner store for a Slurpee, 6 pm dinner, 8 pm grandma watches a rented movie, possibly foreign, and fuzzbean goes on an adventure to explore a different part of the city. Tuesday, 9 am breakfast at Toast, etc. Maybe I've been watching too much Supernanny, but I loved schedules before that, too. Might help you feel like you accomplish something, and would take up time with grandma.

Check out the Barnes and Nobles or Borders bookstores and see what authors they're having in, maybe. And find yourself a YMCA or something like that for the yoga, maybe even a dance company. Sorry I can't help you with those, but Google probably can.

Go see a museum together-- each museum has a free day, I'm pretty sure. Visit a different section of the Art Institute each Tuesday for a month. Split it up so it's not overwhelming for either of you. Maybe paint pottery occasionally. Find cooking classes for yourself.

Totally take time to explore neighborhoods-- Andersonville, Armitage Avenue shops, Lincoln Park, etc. I wish I had spent free time doing that when I lived in Evanston.

And don't be afraid to venture to the suburbs. Make the trek to Libertyville to Culver's-- ever had fried cheese curds? (Might be one closer to Chicago now-- not sure). Best frozen custard ever. Try a different pizza every Thursday or whatever day-- Malnati's, Uno's, Due's, Giordano's, Gino's, you name it. Also check out the various breakfast restaurants. And also try eating in various hotel lobbies-- tea at the Four Seasons, etc.

Maybe brainstorm together-- what has she always wanted to do in Chicago? See the Oprah show? Go to a Bulls game? (Seriously, get a wheel chair for occasions like these, and a doctor's note maybe. Everyone wins-- she's comfortable, and despite the extra work of pushing her around, you're free from nagging and complaining. Plus you get VIP treatment sometimes.)

Good luck, and bless you for taking care of her. You will be rewarded for your kindness, I'm sure.
posted by orangemiles at 11:14 AM on August 8, 2006

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is really a great organization. They organize bus and riverboat tours (the river tour is fantastic), and seem to have lectures and such about Chicago's architectural history. The guides I've met have been really informative and engaged -- it's not just a standard "Here's the Sears Tower, take a picture, OK we're done" touristy tour.

Might be a nice way to learn a bit about the city. And there are enough new buildings going up downtown that even if she's lived there her entire life, there might be new stuff for her to see.
posted by occhiblu at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2006

(Damn! Should have previewed!)
posted by occhiblu at 11:17 AM on August 8, 2006

The Chicago Botanic Garden probably qualifies as a "thing that is nice" right around now. The tours run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation tours are also allegedly lots of fun; I can personally vouch for the river cruise (which a lot of folks consider a must-do for visitors) and the Loop train tour (which I didn't think was quite as good, but it's free!).
posted by jacobm at 11:20 AM on August 8, 2006

Also, the Frank Lloyd Wright studio tour in Oak Park was great, and then you can drive around and see some of the private homes he designed there (they sell maps with the buildings marked). There are stairs on the studio tour, though, if that's an issue.

And if you totally want to re-create my childhood, stop at Peterson's ice cream parlor afterward.
posted by occhiblu at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2006

(Ha! I guess that means I should've previewed twice over ...)
posted by jacobm at 11:21 AM on August 8, 2006

Actually, since we're on a CAF love-fest: You might want to look into becoming a guide, if architecture is something that interests you at all. For some reason I had a bunch of their guides take my tour when I was giving them in Italy, and they were all really great people. It might be a way to meet people outside of a bar scene.
posted by occhiblu at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2006

Stich N Bitch in Wicker Park, either for both of you or you alone.

What kind of writing to do you do? There might be groups that meet fairly often, depending on your genre.
posted by sugarfish at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2006

duh! you said granny's catholic. chicago's parishes are still well and truly communities, with all sorts of activites, groups, social services, and non-Mass events.

you can search for her parish here. i'd suggest you stop by and talk to someone there about things you can do together or that granny can do alone.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:24 AM on August 8, 2006

fuzzbean - as for you? If you can get her hooked on something for a couple of hours mid day on a weekend you should hit as man street festivals as possible. It's a great way to learn about the neighborhoods and have some interesting, though not usually healthy food too.

Like right now? Go check out the Tall Ships - it ends tomorrow! Go!
posted by FlamingBore at 11:26 AM on August 8, 2006

And hit Millenium Park - with Granny if you can get that wheelchair. It's the only thing I've ever known a Boston publication to cede to Chicago. (read a article on why MP would never fly in Boston. Sadly I can't find it now.)
posted by FlamingBore at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2006

I just led a bike ride through Jeff Park the other day. Truth be told there's not a lot for you or your grandmother in the neighborhood. The park is good for picnics and I highly recommend Amitabul on Milwaulkee Ave. for delicious vegan Korean food.

If her knees can take it, or if you can get her around in a wheelchair or something, there are outdoor movie screenings. The big ones are in Grant Park downtown, but there are others sprinkled throughout the city, and if you contact the park district, there may be some in Jefferson Park proper.
posted by elr at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2006

The Irish American Heritage Center isn't very far away from you. That could be for both you and grandma - plenty of activities for both of you.
posted by MeetMegan at 11:39 AM on August 8, 2006

I recently bought an XM Radio with the in-home unit package for my grandparents, thinking they would enjoy the big band and old time radio drama channels, and also that it would offer an alternative to the right wing TV news channels they tend to watch by default.

Unfortunately, the radio proved too small and complicated for them to use comfortably, and I don't live near enough to come over and tune it daily. But you might think about this for your granny. You guys could pick a favorite before bedtime drama to listen to together, which might make the curfew less onerous, and she might find some daytime favorites to pass the time when you are out.
posted by Scram at 11:44 AM on August 8, 2006

In fact, I will soon have a barely used XM Radio if anyone is looking... email in profile.
posted by Scram at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2006

I'd recommend Dollop for your indie coffee shop needs, it's on N. Clarendon & Gordon Street, 4181 N. Clarendon to be exact. Free wifi, happy atmosphere. I was in chicago for an internship over the winter, didn't know anyone, so just hung out there a bunch.
posted by Sreiny at 11:52 AM on August 8, 2006

The first thing that popped to mind for the both of you do to was the North Park Nature Center. It's on the Northwest side of Chicago (Pulaski just south of Foster). It's located on the campus of a senior complex, so it's very senior-friendly. The trails are short loops around the small park (the main loop is 1/2 mile), so it's easy to enjoy it without walking far. When I was there it was also stocked with deer -- I had a great time taking photos.

They even list this event:
Yoga for Adults & Seniors
- occasional Sundays, 10-11 a.m., $5
Get close to nature with some gentle Hatha yoga — feel more flexible and rejuvenated. Classes are led by Connie Stepanek, certified beginning Hatha yoga instructor. Bring a blanket and wear loose clothing. There is a special emphasis for senior participants, but anyone is invited to join.

Maybe they would also know about other senior events in the area.
posted by limeswirltart at 11:58 AM on August 8, 2006


No best answers because they all are. Keep it coming!
posted by fuzzbean at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2006

North Park Nature Center is on Pulaski just south of Peterson Ave., not Foster! Sorry about the bad directions.
posted by limeswirltart at 1:53 PM on August 8, 2006

Have you thought about cooking classes for yourself? The Chopping Block in the Lincoln Square neighborhood (about 5 miles east of Jefferson Park) holds classes -- the evening ones end at 9:30 p.m.

Also in Lincoln Square, The Old Town School of Folk Music might be a great way to get out on your own and socialize, especially if you've ever wanted to take up a new instrument. They even have Celtic singing and dance.
posted by limeswirltart at 2:24 PM on August 8, 2006

Ever want to learn Arabic? Danish? Spanish?

You could take an evening language class at North Park University. (Only $150 for 12 weeks.)

Could come in handy during future travels...
posted by limeswirltart at 2:46 PM on August 8, 2006

Now is the best (last?) time you'll have to write some family history together. Download some free software from the Mormons for making a family tree -- that will help you keep the basic facts straight -- but concentrate on the stories. Make a note of anything she can remember about anybody, even if she's not sure about it. If she has pictures, you can scan them and add them to the database. If you need to get her out of the house, join a genealogy group together and go to the library together to research things.
posted by pracowity at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2006

The White Crane Wellness Center might have some activities that are appropriate.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 4:44 PM on August 8, 2006

While you are doing the genealogy, be sure to get lots of information from her about her childhood, parents, school, neighborhood, foods, politics, kids, grandkids, and anything else. I recommend getting a handheld tape recorder so that you can do some question/answer, and then type into the computer. Best if you can match it up to family photos (scan them in.) Make it into a book for her and you. It should be very pleasent for her to relate these memories and to see them in print, and you probably will find it facinating, especially on the cold winter days when neither of you want to go out.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 7:22 PM on August 8, 2006

I would second all of the following: NP Nature Center, Irish American Heritage Center, Old Town School, NPU. All excellent and close to Jefferson Park. Brunch at Tre Kronor would be enjoyable for both of you (across from North Park University). The Galter Life Center in North Park has a VERY large and fun senior citizen population. Many of their classes you could take together, such as Tai Chi or Group Stretch. Northwestern's Lifelong Learner's programs for seniors are excellent...very engaging and intellectual. And Evanston's pretty close to that area of the city. Chicago's museums often have special events and lecture series which are good (example here). I think you might be somewhat close to Park Ridge, Illinois...also a place to check out with the excellent Pickwick Movie Theater.

The Kelly Girls Knitting Group meets up north and they are a cool crowd. I hang at Open Hearth which is an indie coffee shop in North Park (Kimball north of Foster).

Have a lovely time in Chicago.
posted by jeanmari at 7:28 AM on August 9, 2006

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