Why do we live where we live?
Yesterday I hiked through a Forest Preserve near my home enjoying the dappled shade that made the 88 degree day bearable.
My steps were lightened by tunes from Maroon V, David Allen Coe, and even a little Ed Sheeran.
I stopped to take in the view. White buds dotted the tall grasses and clouds of trees blew in the breeze.
And I was reminded that Illinois is not all incarcerated governors, literal highway/tollway robbery, or Chicago street shootings.
All the above does exist (along with horrid city public schools, tax gouging, highest gas prices in the country, etc.) but that’s all we hear about these days.
I’ve spent most of my adult life in this state. In fact, when my 10-year-old son asked me ages ago “Mom, why DO we live in Illinois? There’s no mountains, oceans, good stuff,” my only response was FAMILY.
My family was here. Back in the 1940’s, my mom’s father moved his family from poverty in the south to the Midwest for work. Factory work. Mechanical work. All kinds of work.
We’ve called Northern Illinois home since then (with an 8-year sojourn to Texas which I loved and still miss). My husband grew up here from 6th grade on as well.
Most of my family recently relocated. One brother still lives in the southern suburbs. My oldest sister is in Tennessee where my mom retired. A younger brother is over the border in Wisconsin, and a younger sister moved with her family to North Carolina.
Friends and family who have joined the mass exodus bemoan the state they left behind and question our sanity for remaining.
But our daughter married a man from Illinois and they bought a house here. Our jobs are here, still.
We’re not yet at the stage where we’re contemplating our retirement or our next move. So, we continue to live, love, work and enjoy life in The Prairie State.
And the fact is, a lot of those who left forget anything good about it.
The national media loves to heap on the insults (many deserved).
It’s time to get our State Self Esteem back.
Here are 10 things I love about living in Northern Illinois.
#10 The Weather
That’s right. Don’t laugh. First of all, there are Four Seasons. That’s right. Not just winter and construction as the old joke goes. Four. Actual. Distinct. Seasons.
My favorite is Fall. The autumn in Northern Illinois is crisp and sunny, or chilly and rainy, but always colorful.
Winter blows in with a pure breath of peppermint snow and rosey cheeks and Christmas carols.
Spring is a coming out party (think one of the scenes from Close Encounters, with the multitudes craning their necks to look at the strange orb in the sky . . . Yes, Tommy, the sun has returned).
Summer is a free-for-all-freak-out-party. We live in Lake County after all.
#9 The Schools.
We happen to live in a national award-winning school district which provided a wealth of opportunities for our two children and a bushel-full of great memories.
Higher education is well-represented by private and public institutions.
#8 The Culture.
Want to hear a blues band? Want to go to the Opera? Want to see modern dance, or laugh your butt off at a comedy show?
All of this is within easy reach. Most of it available in one form or another free. Don’t get me started on world class libraries or museums.
#7 The Sports.
Amateur, professional, esoteric and mainstream. Some of the best traditions around. Hey Hey! (Even those who leave the state because it’s “so awful” continue to root for their home teams.)
Hold on. Stop shaking your head. Yes, traffic is a beast if you’re commuting. But the truth is, you can get ANYWHERE from here.
Within one hour, I can be in a national forest in Wisconsin, in Grant Park in Chicago, in a farm field out west.
I can take a train or plane (or river boat or barge) from here to anywhere else in the country at less cost than most other places in the U.S.
#5 Natural Beauty.
What does Illinois have to offer that can compete with some more showy spots?
How about Starved Rock? The Mississippi Palisades? Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake contained entirely within the U.S.? Shawnee National Forest?
In Lake County alone there are dozens of beautiful lakes and beaches and some of the greenest green you will ever see.
Whenever my BFF visits from Texas, it’s one of the first things she comments on.
When her boys were younger they shaded their eyes in wonder . . . “Everything’s so GREEN!!!!”
It’s lush here. Giant towering oaks and maples and waving grasslands. We have water. Something much of the country suffers from too little of.
#4 Non-Horror Movie Bugs
My daughter will chastise me for this one. She’s studying for her master’s in entomology, but I can’t help it. It’s one of my favorite things about living in Northern Illinois.
With the possible exception of the Brown Recluse Spider (who I’m sure hides out near the turn-y nozzle thingy for my gas grill waiting for an opportunity to sink it’s fangs into my hand), we are fairly safe from things like hairy mammalian spiders, giant centipedes, flying cockroaches, etc.
Mosquitos are normal-sized, forest critters don’t come with giant impaling tusks, and snakes are generally of the garden variety.
In other words, our wild animal life is normal.
#3 The Pace.
People here move at the standard (correct) human pace.
We don’t age perceptibly waiting for a clerk to count back our change, nor do we get whiplash from people passing us on sidewalks in a perpetual rush.
We’re middle of the road.
People are efficient without being cold or impersonal. People are friendly without being syrupy.
#2 THE FOOD.
In all caps. I repeat. THE FOOD. We’re home to the real Vienna Beef hot dog.
We have every cuisine you can think of and invent more for new reality TV shows.
We have one of the largest RibFests in the country.
Organic Farmer’s Markets abound.
I could go on.
#1 The Pizza.
Pizza gets the number one spot. The rest of the world thinks Chicago pizza means deep dish.
If you grew up here, you know the BEST pizza is thin crust, cut in squares (never triangles, how trite).
You fight with your siblings over the corners. If you’re lucky, someone is duped into thinking they like the crustless middle pieces, leaving you with all the edges.
So that’s it. My love letter to Illinois. I don’t overlook all the problems. You can’t live here and be blind to them.
But for now, I do live here. I do love here. I’ve raised my family here and am glad I did.
So keep your studies and charts and facts to yourself. A wise man once said, “you find what you expect to find,” or “wherever you go, there you are,” or some other profound sentiment.
For me, for now, this is home.