10 Things About Illinois That Don’t Suck

Shawnee National Forest

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.

The Forest Preserve

Half Day Forest Preserve June 2016

I stopped to take in the view. White buds dotted the tall grasses and clouds of trees blew in the breeze.

Glorious beauty.

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.)

#6 Transportation.

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.

We’re a hub.

Within one hour, I can be in a national forest in Wisconsin, in Grant Park in Chicago, in a farm field out west.

Shawnee National Forest

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?

Lake Michigan - Ft. Sheridan

How about Starved Rock? The Mississippi Palisades? Lake Michigan, the only Great Lake contained entirely within the U.S.? Shawnee National Forest?

Starved Rock

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.


In all caps. I repeat. THE FOOD. We’re home to the real Vienna Beef hot dog.

Chicago Dog

Italian Beefs.

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.

Sweet Corn.


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.


6 Thoughts on “10 Things About Illinois That Don’t Suck

  1. jan p on June 22, 2016 at 11:45 am said:

    Humidity n ice would be the only two reasons Id contemplate

    Oh yeah, three…da taxes!

    Also we DO have the best sports teams.😊

  2. j baum on June 22, 2016 at 11:46 am said:

    Suzanne: Agree completely with your above-mentioned ten and would add shopping. Yes, you can go crazy on Mich Ave or the outlet malls, but funky neighborhood retailers, independent butcher shops, and tasty food boutiques populate Northern Illinois. Mmm, food. Must be lunchtime!

  3. Thank you for such a positive post, Suzanne! I grew up in Central Illinois and now live in Chicago, and there is so much to love. Certainly there are bad things, but we shouldn’t let them overshadow the good. …My daughter goes to a Chicago public school, and it happens to be one of the top schools in the whole state. (Granted, it’s a selective enrollment school, but still.) Another plus about Chicago weather specifically: I got to enjoy the rumbling thunder last night, while feeling relatively safe from any tornadoes. …Anyway, it’s a beautiful state, top to bottom. Lots of diversity too. Thanks again!!

Summer Colds, War Heroes, and Writing



Sick on the sofa with a moist summer cold (isn’t moist just the grossest word?) and thought I’d recap a crazy week or two.

Participated in my first Author Talk at a Book Store last Wednesday. Met a Special Ops war veteran who also just happens to be a debut novelist and Northwestern MFA grad…and a better-looking version of Brad Pitt. Nothing like that to make you feel inadequate. He also happened to be warm, genuine, funny and humble . . .

There were two other fabulous authors presenting and it was a treat. I was terrified at first and wanted to uninvite my family so they wouldn’t have to watch me fail. Finally took Liz Gilbert’s advice (fear is boring) and made myself breathe and enjoy. Family was supportive and wonderful as always and we had the most thrilling late-night dining adventure – that may be an essay or Live Lit piece in the future.

Emailed two award-winning authors and went out on a limb to see if they would do an interview. Both said yes! So far, I have received zero flat-out “NO’s” and only one “contact my publicist.” All the others have been game and super generous. Ask and ye shall receive!

Still basking in the joy of my 100-page review with my Novel in a Year teacher. She thinks it’s a real book! And it has tension! And darkness! And I’m good at dialogue!  I could just crap my pants I’m so happy. Of course the critique was about two paragraphs of what was fabulous and three pages of what needs to be fixed but it’s only the second draft. And she called it a book!

Going to Ragdale next week and can’t wait!

On the family front: Daughter’s wedding pictures are in and they’re breathtaking. Son set a new goal, decided to kick fear to the curb…said it was partially due to hearing me drone on about that. If we drone on long enough, they just might find something useful in what we say!

Remaining summer goals: Camp, Stick Toes in Ocean, Finish 2nd Draft

Other than the moist cold — have you ever had water squirt out your eye when you blow your nose? Is that a thing?

2 Thoughts on “Summer Colds, War Heroes, and Writing

  1. This posting makes me wonder: what does it take to consider oneself a writer? If it’s getting your book reviewed by another writer, participating in Author Talks, interviewing other writers, and then actually writing about your own life experiences in an intelligent, witty, and engaging way, I’d say this is the life of a real writer!! Can’t wait to read more!

    • Thanks for reading, Brenda. I think it’s one of those boring “fear” things. I remember hearing a story whereby some fancypants best selling writers were all on a panel. They’d achieved the NY Times bestselling status, they’d been multi-published and were all moaning on about how they’d had success, sure…BUT, they hadn’t won the Pulitzer. The feeling comes from doing…all the other stuff is other people and how they see you. I will struggle continuously but the fact that YOU read is enough for me!

What are You Saving?


Writing isn’t only about business. You tweet, you text, you update your status.  Now more than ever, everyone is a writer. But how many of these electronic treasures do you preserve?  You probably still save handmade cards from your kids but what else are you missing?

Who remembers notes passed in school?  You don’t have to reveal your age but I will.

I have a box in my attic filled with meticulously folded sheets of notebook paper.  Some are in little origami-type squares, some with a special fold that “locks” the note in place.


Some are written in pencil. Some with every other word in a different color ink.

Some are written as a page-long acronym – the challenge was to decipher every word from just one letter.

Some are 30 pages long (thank you, Wendy Morris); a fulfilled promise to write the longest school note ever.

And some of my favorites are from a guy named Tim (now my husband) who was in love with a friend of mine and wanted my help getting to know her.

It’s an in-depth history of my adolescence.  OK, I admit, many of us would rather forget those times.  But much of what we know about our collective history is due to the written record preserved in letters.  The brilliant biography of founding father John Adams was based almost entirely on letters he exchanged with his wife. More than 1,100 of them!

Much of what passes as communication these days evaporates as soon as we hit the send button.  Are there treasures we’re missing?

Recently, my favorite uncle was hospitalized in critical condition.  The family rallied spectacularly and in hilarious fashion via private messages on Facebook.  These words and images were a perfect reflection of what makes my family distinct.


As the self-appointed family historian, I printed and saved the entire thread.  I knew it would entertain and delight my uncle.  More importantly, I didn’t want it to just evaporate. It was worth preserving.

I do this every now and then when something catches my eye on Facebook or other sites.  Maybe no one will read it but then again, maybe my kids’ kids will be happy they have something of their family’s history and wit to keep.  Facebook will go the way of MySpace some day.  Who knows what might take the place of Twitter?

You read more than ever – Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest.  You write more than ever before, at least electronically.  What are you saving?



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