March 10, 2013

My Home State of Illinois with Fiona McGier

What is there to say about my home state of Illinois?  How about, "We have more politicians in jail than any other state?" or, "We have hills and nice scenery on the very outskirts of the state, but the middle is mostly boring and flat only with less tacky billboards than some other states?" Grin.
It's common to point to Chicago, as if the entire state is great because of this world-class city.  But lately we're giving Detroit a run for their money as the murder capital of the U.S.  So why visit?  Chicago has wonderful museums on the campus built for the 1933 World's Fair, including the Art Institute, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium.  All are worth the cost of admission and will expand one's scientific understanding. There are also smaller museums that celebrate individual cultures, and others that showcase the beauty of nature, as do our two world-class zoos, the free Lincoln Park Zoo in the city, and the suburban Brookfield Zoo.  For those who live to shop, there are the uber-expensive stores along Michigan Avenue just a few blocks north of the Art Institute, and the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg that vies with the Minneapolis Mall of America for being the biggest.  And since Chicago's made up of neighborhoods, there are areas where you'll feel like you're not in the U.S.A. anymore.  Chicago is home to the largest concentration of Polish people outside of Warsaw, with shops and restaurants where if you can't speak Polish, you'll need a translator.  There are also areas with huge concentrations of other nationalities including Spanish-speaking people from all over the Hispanic Diaspora, as well as Chinese neighborhoods, Indian areas and Greektown. And for water-lovers, you can't beat Chicago's lakefront trails, park system and the Lake Michigan beaches.
None of these things brought my father from Glasgow in 1948.  He came to Chicago because he wanted to be able to hear some of his jazz and blues music idols play live.  He said he bought B.B. King beers one night in a Chicago bar, to keep "Lucille" singing.  He'd sit in bars on the city's south side and listen for hours.  Dad is gone now, but I still love old jazz, and we go every year to Chicago's Blues-fest, a multiple-day free extravaganza of outdoor music.  This year the opening act will be Shemekia Copeland, and if you've never heard her sing, you have a real treat coming! .  There are also lots of bars and other venues for live music, including Buddy Guy's Legends, The House of Blues, The Kingston Mines, The Vic, The Congress, and Rosa's Lounge, to name a few, along with the cavernous arenas in the suburbs.

Lest you think that Chicago is the only place for music, I live in a western suburb.  When our four kids were young, we went to all of the local free town fests we could find, to let them go on rides while we listened to local, up-and-coming bands, as well as the formerly-famous who endlessly tour, playing their music from back-in-the-day.  There is also a blues-fest in Aurora, one of the "collar communities" around Chicago, (Aurora, Joliet, Kankakee, Elgin, and Rockford all have downtown areas similar to Chicago's, only on a much smaller scale.)  Aurora's blues-fest is one week after Chicago's, so the same musicians can hit both.  And Naperville's Rib-fest (where the tee-shirts say that PETA means "People for the Eating of Tasty Animals") has a big stage that last year featured Z.Z. Top as their headliner.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that all of Illinois is like Chicago.  The suburbs are urban, where many of the people who work in Chicago live.  But just an hour west, north or south of Chicago you'll find smaller towns with friendly people who almost never head into the city.  Each smaller town has its own charm, and while some have world-class universities, all have people who are proud to be from Illinois.
Because I'm so familiar with the Chicago area, I set my series of books about the Reyes Family Romances in the western suburbs.  And two of my stand-alone romances,
The Reluctant Bride, and Two For Tuesday, are set in the Chicagoland area...which by the way, is a colloquialism unique to this area, since when we travel and are asked where we are from, it's easier to say, the Chicagoland area, than to name our suburb and have to explain how far and in what direction it is from Chicago.

To find out more about my books please visit my website at:  
(pictures provided by Author/


  1. Thanks for your travelogue of Illinois and Chicago. And I'm still laughing of the PETA T-shirt. That's a phrase I can get behind! LOL

    My father and 2 of his younger brothers moved from Iron Mountain, MI to Chicago in the 1920's. I can still remember some of the stories he told about living there during that time period. After the rest of the family moved to Flint, MI, my father moved there to work at GM. My uncles stayed in Chicago living in Harwood Heights and Evanston. They're all gone now but I did visit Chicago on a number of occasions, I've never really traveled throughout the state. I know, my bad! I enjoyed shopping downtown and visiting all of the museums and other places you mentioned. I'd like to go back and spend more time visiting the rest of the state.

  2. Very interesting about your home state, Fiona, makes me really want to visit there one day.

  3. My sister who has travelmania, sent pictures of a place she visited in Chicago from her trip there. Among the other real foliage, were these beautiful blown glass works of art that depicted flowers, foliage or enhanced the real scenery with colorful glass objects such as floating balls in the koi ponds. I was enthralled.
    Illinois is part of tornado alley. I thought about that factoid once when I was traveling through the state during a terrible storm where lightning strikes were vivid, huge and loud. Scary.
    Great blog, Fiona. I wish you every success.

  4. Very good, Fiona! I enjoyed your take on your home state. It made me laugh, for one thing, that you were so honest, but in a loving way.
    The reason your post about your state caught my attention, is because I did Texas...and I said, "We do everything big. When we win, we win big. When we lose, we lose big! Look at the Alamo--we have made shrine out of the biggest loss our state has ever experienced."
    So, here's to you, and your love for your state does shine through.

  5. My first visit to Chicago was in the early 90s and my first chance to see one of the great lakes. I was amazed at it's size and the waves, like going to our beach here in North Carolina. The weather was extreme from high wind and snow flurries to sunny shorts weather in a matter of hours. LOL. I enjoyed the post and information about your book. Continued success!

    Susan Whitfield, NC
    Multi-Genre Author

  6. I've never been to Illinois, but I know people love Chicago. I didn't know it had such a music scene. You did a nice job describing it for people like me...Lots of luck with your books.

  7. Other than one brief stop in Chicago, I haven't visited your state. But Chicago blues and all those other blues-fests make it sound more attractive.

  8. I have only been to Chicago briefly but my husband has been for business several times. He loves the city. I would love to visit more.
    debby236 at gmail dot com

  9. Thanks for reading, everyone! When we have vacation time, or just to get away for a weekend, we head up to Wisconsin, Michigan or Minnesota to camp. We do some things right in Illinois, but camping isn't one of them. The sites are too close together mostly, and no trees around for privacy, which is fine if you have an "urban assault vehicle" that you are going to sit in to watch cable TV, but not so good if you like to do what we do. We cook on the campfire, sit and enjoy it afterwards, and admire the stars without the light from your neighbor's 90-watt Coleman lantern in your eyes, and their bug-zapper making you queasy as it commits genocide on the local bug population. Some city people should stay in the city!

  10. Hey Fiona,
    Great job on singing the praises of Illinois and Chicagoland! One place I would like others to know about would be the Morton Arboretum, in Lisle (yes, a suurb of Chi-town) one of the premier arboretums in the world, and so beautiful!

  11. I took a two day class in Naperville several years ago ... although I'm sorry to say I missed both the ribs and ZZ Top!

    When I drove back and forth to where my wife used to live in southeast Illinois, I'd go from Effingham all the way down to Cairo -- beautiful country, down there.

  12. That was some interesting stuff about Chicago. I visited there once but mostly I'm an Alabama girl. I live in a town so small that you could wrap it in suran wrap and put it away for the holidays. Our biggest landmark is our water tower, the Indian mounds by the river, and our one red light. Chicago sounds very exciting. Good luck with your writing.
    Linda Hays-Gibbs
    Angel in My Heart, Devil in My Soul

  13. Ha ha, what a laugh about those camping sites, I would far prefer yours. My late husband and I always used to go to empty places, as you say some folk should just stay in the city. Lots of luck with your books.

  14. I lived in Central Illinois for many years and visited Chicago fairly often. The rest of the state is just as interesting, for those who like a more laid back kind of adventure. Coming from the Northeast, living in the Midwest was somewhat different, but I loved the people. There is not a nice group of people than midwesterners! Even in Chicago, a huge, busy city, the people were kinder (except for the ones contributing to the murder rate - we'll keep them out of this, LOL). When I was pregnant and pushing a stroller with a toddler, it didn't matter where I went downtown, people held doors open for me and helped me with my children - even businessmen and women in suits on their lunch hours! I wish I could transplant Midwesterners everywhere I live (which is now in the Southeast, which also has very nice people!)

  15. I've passed through Illinois as a child. We never got to Chicago though. I'd love to see it.


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