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The Lawsuits Spread

Tue, 2014-06-10 09:11
Just two weeks ago, Orange County was making headlines for filing a lawsuit that blamed major pharmaceutical companies for unethically pushing sales of painkillers and other dangerous prescription drugs. Now, Chicago is filing an almost identical lawsuit against some of the same companies.

The city of Chicago is suing Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. for allegedly attempting trying to drive sales of painkillers despite the many risks associated with them.

Lawyers working for the city of Chicago said that, "since 2007, the city has paid for nearly 400,000 claims for opioid prescription fills, costing nearly $9.5 million, and suffered additional damages for the costs of providing and using opiates long-term to treat chronic non-cancer pain."

Just as with the lawsuit coming out of Orange County, the lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago claims that these major pharmaceutical companies have purposely covered up the many risks associated with painkillers just to push the product.

This is now something that is not just impacting a county in California, but is now impacting the third largest city in the country. Can you imagine where else this might be taking place?

Right now, the finger is being pointed at major pharmaceutical companies for keeping the prescription drug epidemic going. There is some truth to that, but this is not the only thing driving this epidemic, and it's important to understand that.

There are tons of doctors out there who have been influenced by companies such as those listed in the lawsuit, and actually feel as though they are providing a solid product to their patients. There are other doctors who know better, but are looking to turn a buck. And of course, there are plenty of doctors who are aware that these drugs are dangerous and only prescribe them when necessary after taking as many precautions as possible.

On the other hand, there are people out there who are going to look for prescription drugs wherever they can get them, and that is not the fault of a pharmaceutical company. At the same time, some people place all of their trust in their doctors and big pharmaceutical companies and feel that anything they get through them must be safe, which isn't always the case.

Working at a treatment facility (and having attended many in the past), I know one thing -- actions speak louder than words. Opioids like prescription painkillers are taking over and have been for some time -- regardless of how people are getting their hands on them. Obviously, these two major lawsuits show huge instances of possible neglect on behalf of pharmaceutical companies, and its important that the right measures get taken to put a stop to this -- even if it is only one part of the problem. Any way that we can take action or raise awareness is what is most important.

Illinois May Have Just Banned Your Favorite Face Wash

Tue, 2014-06-10 08:23
Illinois has become the first state in the nation to bid good-bye to the bead.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D) on Sunday signed a law that bans the sale and manufacture of products containing microbeads, the tiny synthetic exfoliants found in everyday person hygiene products like face wash, body soap and toothpaste.

“Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Quinn said in a statement Sunday. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them."

With some popular facial cleansers containing as many as 300,000 microbeads in a single container, environmentalists worry the non-biodegradable beads -- which are small enough to bypass sewer and water treatment filters -- will wreak havok on the water supply.

Environmental advocates say microbeads can absorb toxins and harm fish and other wildlife, along with humans who may consume them. Tests have already shown a microbead presence in the Great Lakes, the Los Angeles River and waterways in New York City.

As states like California, Minnesota, New York and Ohio consider microbead bans of their own, critics of Illinois' new law say the ban's long rollout doesn't address the problem quickly enough.

Under the Illinois regulations, companies have until the end of 2017 to stop manufacturing microbead-laden products. Businesses have until 2018 to stop selling products with microbeads, and a ban on the sale of over-the-counter drugs with microbeads will come by 2019.

New York's proposed microbead ban has a comparitively more advanced phase-out deadlineof 2016.

In anticipation of more bans, several major companies behind some of the most popular mass-market personal care products are planning to phase out microbeads on their own. According to the Tribune, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L'Oreal have floated plans to use materials like ground seeds or nuts as natural alternatives to microbeads.

How Heartbreak Made Me More Mindful

Tue, 2014-06-10 07:31
Young love is a funny thing. When you find it, you feel invincible. You think no one can comprehend the depth of the connection you feel to your person, let alone destroy it. But when you lose it, you feel like you've lost yourself. You realize you never really knew yourself without it.

I was convinced I had met my soulmate when I was 19 years old. Our meet-cute was straight from a black-and-white romance film, one that gives me butterflies all over again just thinking about it. We were separated by distance from the start, but that undeniable spark and unexplainable connection made the miles easy to forget most days. Hours of phone conversations made us the best of friends and made our bond only that much stronger. Together we dreamt about the day we would be standing in the same place -- for good.

But that day never came. One step forward and two steps backward became our signature dance as we wished desperately for our paths to truly converge. We swayed along in this hazy ballroom for four years, watching the geographic distance between us shrink and grow, shrink and grow, until one day when our feet grew tired of the slow-motion, stagnant steps we were taking.

At 23 years old, I missed the momentum of life that existed before we met. Peering out into the fog that seemed to perpetually surround me, I saw my future perfectly planned for me. All I had to do wait a little longer and let it happen, but I didn't want to wait to let my life happen any longer.

Exactly seven months ago, the young love of my life came to a hurtful, complicated and devastating end. In a matter of weeks, we managed to lose the hope of ending up in the same place, the plan of living life truly together for the first time, the promise of forever. And I found myself wandering through the harsh winter of New York City completely and utterly alone for the first time in as long as I could remember.

After the obligatory week of endless sobbing, self-pity and self-doubt, the haze that had clouded my vision for so long began to dissipate. I realized that there was another side entirely to this crippling heartbreak, and while I wasn't sure at the time of what the silver lining could possibly be, I decided I wanted to find out. I have spent each day thereafter looking within to find the benefits of my broken heart, and surprisingly, it's incredible how much I gained through one of my biggest losses in life yet.

It gave me time.
All of a sudden, I didn't have to reach for my phone every five minutes to continue a never-ending text conversation that, to be honest, I usually didn't feel like participating in while at my office. I also didn't have to make sure I was home by 10 p.m. each night for a daily Skype chat, which had been reduced to us staring at our screens with resentment over the fact that we wouldn't be in the same room again for months. All of that time -- distracting, frustrating, and unsatisfying -- became mine again. I turned to the stack of meditation books on my nightstand lent to me by my father months before and replaced those nightly calls with personal reflections and lessons in mindfulness. Buddhist nun, teacher and author Pema Chödrön guided me through the first steps of my journey of rediscovering myself with the pages of her books each night. She taught me how to acknowledge my situation and my emotions, accept them for what they were and give myself permission to take all the time necessary to heal.

It gave me friendship.
My newfound time also revealed just how much I had dedicated to that single relationship, compromising opportunities to develop deeper friendships over the previous year I had spent living in New York City. I had even let some of by best friendships sit on the sidelines, and I knew that had to change. I channeled my energy into rekindling my relationship with my best friend who I met more than a decade ago, and I can confidently say that we are now closer than ever. A new job opportunity also connected me with some of the best girls I have yet to meet in the city. I have loved nurturing these new friendships and rediscovering the joy, comfort and love that comes from having some good, old-fashioned "girl time."

It gave me courage.
After four months of learning about mindfulness meditation, working through my hang ups with friends and trying to sweat the bad memories away on long runs, I admitted to myself that I needed some outside help. It took a little coaxing from my best friend to make the phone call, but seeking out assistance from a therapist was one of the best decisions I have made. For 45 minutes each week, I work through the remnants of my former relationship that have left me feeling lost, broken and confused regardless of the other amazing parts of my life. For the first time in my life, I genuinely believe that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

It gave me perspective.
One of the first yet critical messages I internalized in my weekly therapy sessions was the fact that I had yet to experience adulthood alone. The first and formative years following adolescence included another person standing by my side, affecting my thoughts, actions and emotions. It shouldn't have come as such a surprise that I felt like a part of me was missing once he was gone, but I needed the external perspective of my therapist to understand that. So I began again, confused and without a reference point, but excited to figure it out for myself.

It gave me strength.
After spending so much time growing with the same person, I struggled the most with deciphering where he ended and where I began. It has been challenging to get to know myself and understand how that differs from the influence he had on my persona. But this journey has, in time, exposed a confidence, strength and force of will I had forgotten. I began recognizing the young woman I saw in the mirror again, and I liked her for these qualities she had subdued all that time. I have since promised to never let her go again, never let her hide away beneath or demands or dominance of another person. Instead of making exceptions and excuses for others, I decided it was time I set the standard.

It gave me hope.
I am now at a point where I can look back and appreciate all of the amazing experiences those four years gave to me, as well as recognize the pieces that meant it was time for us to part. I'm grateful for the opportunity it gave me to learn about love and life at such a young age, and what that means for me as I approach the future. We simply weren't growing in the same direction. But I know my path will naturally converge with another person's someday, and when it does, I will be open the possibilities it presents. And whether or not my former love believes the same thing will happen for him, I can believe it enough for the both of us.

The 21 Most Spectacular Lakes on Earth

Tue, 2014-06-10 06:37
Summertime's almost here and that mean's we'll be strapping on the swim trunks in no time. This year, why not ditch the beach for head for one of these breathtaking lakes instead. We've gone through the tips and photos from the minube travel community to find these 21 drops of pure, unadulterated freshwater goodness. From the islands of the Philippines to the mountains of Canada, the 21 Most Spectacular Lakes on Earth!



1.) Kanyangan Lake, Philippines - Kanyangan Lake is one of those places that travelers dream of finding. First you boat through the Philippines' paradisiacal Calamian Islands before climbing a steep jungle cliff and laying eyes on a gorgeous hidden lake, said to among the cleanest in all of Asia. (Photo by Rafael Soto)

Click here for more photos of Philippines



2.) Jökulsárlón Lake, Iceland - Jökulsárlón is an epic glacial lagoon in southern Iceland and an early morning boat trip navigating the white and blue icebergs while snapping photos of playful seals is simply one of the most unique and magical experiences to be had anywhere. (Photo by Nick Jackson)

Click here for more photos of Iceland



3.) Laguna Verde, Bolivia - High in the Bolivian altiplano, travelers can find one of the most unusual lakes on Earth: Laguna Verde. Not only is this surreal lake surrounded by volcanoes and hot springs, but the chemical composition of Laguna Verde's intensely green and flamingo-filled waters lets it reach temperatures well below zero without freezing. (Photo by Guiseppe Civica)

Click here for more photos of Laguna Verde



4.) Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil - Brazil's stunning Lençóis Maranhenses is not one lake, but dozens of small, refreshing lagoons that dot a sprawling plain of sterling white sand dunes. All you need is a four-wheeler, a cooler, and some buddies to start discovering this amazing natural park that combines the best of the desert and the tropics.(Photo by Pablo Nunes)

Click here for more photos of Lençóis Maranhenses



5.) Lake Louise, Canada - Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada is a stunning glacial lake set amid the thick forests and snowy peaks of Banff National Park. The lake is famous for the iconic Fairmont Chateau hotel, an abundance of wildflowers, and some seriously postcard-perfect views of the Canadian Rockies. (Photo by Manuel Vizoso)

Click here for more photos of Lake Louise



6.) Lake Nakuru, Kenya - When approaching Kenya's Lake Nakuru, many travelers report thinking the lake is pink at first sight. No, it's not some algal phenomenon, but rather the over 1 million pink flamingoes that call the lake home. The rhinos, giraffes, and leopards are the just the icing on this lake cake. (Photo by Samanta Puig)

Click here for more photos of Lake Nakuru



7.) Lake Tekapo, New Zealand - Lake Tekapo is a stunning lake high in the rugged mountains of New Zealand's South Island. The vibrantly blue water needs to be seen to be believed and, for avid hikers, the best vantage point is from the observatory at the peak of nearby Mt. John. (Photo by Escarcanco)

Click here for more photos of Lake Tekapo



8.) Lagunas Altiplánicas, Chile - A route through Chile's stunning Lagunas Altiplánicas is one of the most exhilarating and otherworldly trips you can do through South America. These crystalline highland lakes are nestled between the desert and the mountains and range in colors from green to red to pink. (Photo by Alberto N. Rojas)

Click here for more photos of Lagunas Altiplánicas



9.) Fusine Lakes, Italy - The twin glacial lakes that make up northern Italy's Fusine Lakes are a must for those in search of pristine, untouched nature. The surrounding pine forest are covered in snow for much of the year and the area makes for the perfect escape from Italy's more chaotic big cities. (Photo by Beatrice Achille)

Click here for more photos of Fusine Lakes



10.) Shadow Lake, Canada - Shadow Lake is a remote lake at the foot of the towering Mt. Ball in Banff National Park, Alberta. The best part of Brewster's Shadow is its isolation: the lake is only accessible via a lengthy hike which assures the crowds, noise, and contamination are at a minimum. (Photo by Naxos)

Click here for more photos of Shadow Lake



11.) Bacalar Lagoon, Mexico - Not far from the tourist frenzy of Playa del Carmen, travelers can find a tranquil turquoise lagoon surrounded by reefs, wetlands, and plenty of migratory birds. The Bacalar Lagoon in Quintana Roo is famous for its 7 shades of blue and peaceful small-town atmosphere. This is one to discover before it's too late. (Photo by Rodrimm)

Click here for more photos of Bacalar Lagoon



12.) Obersee, Germany - While less famous than neighboring Königssee, the Obersee Lake in Bavaria's Berchtesgaden National Park is one of the most beautiful lakes in central Europe. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in pure, untouched beauty accented by rugged cliffs, fairytale cottages, and scenic mountain waterfalls. (Photo by Naxos)

Click here for more photos of Obersee



13.) Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand - Lake Wakatipu is a sparkling jewel on New Zealand's South Island. The lake, which reaches over 1,000ft. deep in parts, is a haven for hikers seeking crystal-clear water and a stunning landscape of snowcapped peaks. If you're looking for a real-life Lord of the Rings experience, this is the place! (Photo by Santiago de Vega)

Click for more photos of Lake Wakatipu



14.) Moraine Lake, Canada - Banff's Moraine Lake is perhaps the most famous and beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies, and that's no small feat! Rock particles in the glacial waters cause the lake to take on an amazing powder blue color and the shoreline is filled with bear, deer, and tons of unforgettable trails. (Photo by Francisco Hernandez)

Click here for more photos of Moraine Lake



15.) Lake Iseo, Italy - While many of these lakes are famous for their untouched beauty, Lake Iseo in Lombardy, Italy is best known for its history and culture (which isn't to say that it's not gorgeous!). Between pine forest and hidden fishing holes, travelers can find dozens of medieval villages whose scenic steeples make the perfect addition to this stunning lake. (Photo by Claudio Rivellini)

Click here for more photos of Lake Iseo



16.) Lake Matheson, New Zealand - As one traveler put it, "Lake Matheson looks like a work of art." It's true, this mirror-like lake on New Zealand's South Island is the perfect canvas for reflecting the surrounding pines and the stunning peak of Mt. Tasman in the background.(Photo by Terry Bamforth)

Click here for more photos of Lake Matheson



17.) Lake Bled, Slovenia - Slovenia's stunning Lake Bled has become a top destination for travelers looking to get off the typical European tourist trail, and we can't blame them! Surrounded by the snowy Julian Alps and topped off with the picture-perfect church on Bled Island, Lake Bled seems like something plucked straight from the pages of a fairy-tale. (Photo by Luis Manuel)

Click here for more photos of Lake Bled



18.) Yamdrock Lake, China - Yamdrock Lake is one of Tibet's three sacred lakes and a place of pilgrimage among Tibetan Buddhists and adventurous travelers. As hundreds of travelers can attest, the feeling of being amidst so much lake, mountain, and sky is as inspirational and moving as it gets. (Photo by Alfonso N. Tappero)

Click here for more photos of China



19.) Laguna Cejar, Chile - Laguna Cejar is an amazing salt lake in the high Atacama salt flats. It has long been a popular stopping point for desert trekkers for two simple facts: it's warm throughout the year and its high salt content means you can float! Oh, and the jaw-dropping landscapes don't hurt either!(Photo by Jordi Vendrell)

Click here for more photos of Laguna Cejar



20.) Bachalpsee, Switzerland - This small lake in the high Swiss Alps is the definition of idyllic: green meadows, wildflowers, a clear blue sky and the occasional grazing cow. The fact that it's located at the end of a stunning hike along valleys and glaciers only makes it that much more rewarding. (Photo by Alberto de Diego)

Click here for more photos of Bachalpsee



21.) Crater Lake, USA - Few views quite as breathtaking as that when you reach the pine-covered ridge of the Crater Lake caldera and lay eyes on the stunning lake for the first time. There's nothing but you, the lake, and the clear Oregon sky. (Monia Pawlec)

Click here for more photos of Crater Lake

Here's How Many Hours Of Your Life You've Lost To Traffic

Tue, 2014-06-10 06:22
Morning and evening commutes can be a frustrating experience, but we've got something that will make you cringe even more than the sight of brake lights ahead. We've tallied up the total number of hours you spend on your way to and from work, depending on where you live.

And the numbers may surprise, or even horrify you.

Take a look at the infographic below, which shows the average number of hours you lose in a year while commuting.



If you thought your commute was awful, just be thankful you're not in Los Angeles. And if you are, you should really try to find a way to turn all those road miles into airline miles...

Bailiwick Chicago's <i>Carrie</i> Hits the Heart But Not the Horror

Mon, 2014-06-09 18:32

Callie Johnson is Carrie White in Bailiwick Chicago's 'Carrie: The Musical'

There are essentially two reactions I get when telling people I'm going to see Carrie: The Musical:

- Reaction 1: People who know the musical's sacred lore as one of the biggest flops in musical theatre history and are incredibly pumped to find out how truly bad the show was/is.

- Reaction 2: People who look back as me quizzically and say something along the lines of, "That Carrie? They made a musical out of that? Why?"

Both are valid responses. However, I'm mostly pleased to report that Carrie: The Musical, as presented in the Chicago-area premiere by Bailiwick Chicago, is a fine production of an ok musical. Sure, the show was a "so bad it's good" mess when it opened -- and quickly closed -- on Broadway in 1988. Despite landmark performances from a young Linzi Hateley and a ferocious Betty Buckley, the show drowned in its own excessiveness and obscene misdirection and became a cult classic survived through YouTube clips and audio bootlegs. Then, in 2012, the musical's authors retooled the show to become a more intimate exploration of teenage angst, fears and love, with the telekinetic undertones taking a backseat for emotional truth.

In the true Chicago theatrical tradition of rock-solid ensemble acting, director Michael Driscoll has elevated the material to a level that I'm sure will surprise many who plan to attend this for a campy, bloody good time. Most of this is due to the outstanding cast, which features a heartbreaking performance in Callie Johnson as Carrie White. Johnson has found a calling in portraying introverted and fiercely passionate young women, as seen in her work as the daughter in Next to Normal at Drury Lane and, to a degree, the unassuming reporter in Porchlight's Pal Joey, where she stole the show and won a Jeff Award. As Carrie, Johnson fully embodies a woman on the cusp of a huge change (budding telekentic powers aside), but not being emotionally equipped to sort it all out. While not demonstrating a rock belt that Dean Pitchford and Michael Gore's ballad-heavy (and highly uneven) score seems to require, Johnson radiates truth and emotional honesty that surpasses any vocal limitations.

Where the musical falters most frustratingly is in the narrative. Nobly, book writer Lawrence D. Cohen has worked on making this a very human story, focusing in on the relationship between Carrie and her mother (the powerful and potent Katherine L. Condit) and the angst and turmoil of being a modern teenager. Even resident school bully Chris (the delightfully evil Samantha Dubina) is given moments where we can peek into the cracks of her steely exterior. In doing so, the horror and dread we all expect from this story is packed into the musical's final 10 minutes, which jars the tone and leaves you with an unsatisfying aftertaste. It also doesn't help that Driscoll's otherwise solid staging of this pivotal scene is clunky when it should be chilling.

"Carrie: The Musical" plays through July 12 at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater. More info here >

Going Out To A Restaurant Is About To Look A Lot More Like Buying Concert Tickets

Mon, 2014-06-09 16:49
The experience of going out to a fancy dinner is about to become even more like going to see a rock concert or NBA game -- with benefits a-many for restaurateurs everywhere.

Last week, Nick Kokonas, who co-owns Chicago culinary standouts Alinea and Next with acclaimed chef Grant Achatz, offered what Eater rightfully dubbed a 6,000-word "manifesto" explaining how the unique ticketing system pioneered at his restaurants has made a tremendous impact on his bottom line. Kokonas will be offering the system for other restaurants to use shortly.

According to Kokonas, the ticketing system has helped practically eliminate no-shows and markedly increased bottom-line profits because diners are pre-paying for food and no staffers are needed to oversee reservations by phone. Both Next and Alinea currently boast no-show rates lower than 2 percent -- and those no-show tables are pre-purchased.

There's more to the system than your run-of-the mill event ticketing platform. It allows diners to log in to a website and view available days and times for meals -- usually, in the case of Kokonas' restaurants, weeks or months in advance -- and book and pay for their tickets on the spot. The tickets are not refundable, but can be transferred.

The system has also been used by Elizabeth in Chicago and Trois Mec in Los Angeles as part of a beta test. "Several amazing restaurants" in the U.S., Europe and Asia will also be taking up the system "over the next few months," Kokonas says.

Though Next and Alinea both offer fixed-price tasting menus -- with beverage pairings going for extra -- the ticketing system is adaptable to allow for specific dates and times to be priced differently based on demand. Tickets at Alinea cost up to $265, while a night at Next will set you back up to $185, including tax and tip.

At the Aviary, Kokonas' cocktail lounge, the tickets serve as a deposit toward the final check, and half of the bar's seating remains available for walk-ins. Revenue at the Aviary is up 22 percent and no-shows have plummeted to almost zero since the system was implemented, he said.

While he admits that the Next-style ticketing won't work for every restaurant -- it's most ideal for small chef-driven, high-demand spots -- Kokonas makes a clear case for why it makes a whole lot of sense for restaurants that fit the criteria given the tiny profit margins that are typical of the industry.

Benefits of ticketing systems to some restaurants' bottom lines are clear, but no data has yet made the case for tickets having a positive impact on diners' experiences. The "no refunds" policy may strike some diners as too inflexible, for example, though Kokonas has defended the practice.

“If someone buys tickets to a Springsteen concert or a Chicago Bears game and they can't make it, do they call Ticketmaster and demand a refund because something came up or their friend got sick? No," he told Upstart Business Journal in 2011. "It should be no different for this type of restaurant."

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11 Father's Day Gifts That Are More Original Than A Tie

Mon, 2014-06-09 15:41
Father's Day is coming up on June 15, and if you've fallen into a tie-and-cufflinks rut, we're here to help. Here are 11 fun gift ideas for the father figures in your life:

1. Homemade Gin Kit, $50, Uncommon Goods.



2. Mik Amplifying iPhone Case, $25, Uncommon Goods



3. Let It Be Print, $15, Etsy



4. Classic Survival Tool, $5, Kikkerland



5. Evolution Bookends, $35, Pylones



6. Awesome Dad Mug, $15, Etsy



7. Scratch-Off World Map, $39, Urban Outfitters



8. DIY Hot Sauce Kit, $35, Food52



9. Solar-Powered Radio, $42, Kikkerland



10. Forza Stationary Bike Stand, $93, Amazon



11. "When All Else Fails, Call Dad" Printable, $15, Etsy

Chicago in the Summer

Mon, 2014-06-09 15:38
When you spend a good deal of the year buried under slush at 40 degrees below zero, it's hard NOT to get extremely excited when you finally see the sun again. That's why Chicago's Best Day of the Year is always that first warm Saturday in the spring when the temp tops 50. Some years that happens in March, others in June.

Shorts go on, tops come off, and the entire city emerges from its gloomy, salt-crusted cocoon into the bright warmth of spring. The civic joy is both tempered and amplified by the nagging fact that the good times, like Bo Jackson's playing career, will be spectacularly short.

Chicago loves summer, and doesn't waste a moment of it. Neither should you. If you're planning a trip to America's heartbeat, now is the time. Every weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day there's more to do than almost anyplace else in America -- because Chicagoans have learned they must cram 12 months of existence into 100 days of living.



If you're planning your first trip to the city, the WHERE and WHEN are essential. Stay downtown, near the river. There are great hotels at all price levels clustered in the area, from the hip Wit Hotel, to the picturesque River Hotel, located right on the bend of the River, with spectacular views of the skyline, Lake Michigan and the historic Tribune Tower.

Whether you like baseball or not, take the CTA RED LINE train to see a day game at Wrigley Field. Purchase your tickets from battered ticket agents just as you get off the train, these days at a steep discount, but don't expect many "teaching moments" for your young ballplayers once the game starts. It is the sentimental heart of Chicagoland, but for 100 years has been a cold, desolate graveyard in October.


Mark inside Wrigley's history hand-operated scoreboard...during a Cubs loss.


As for the WHEN, it's impossible to be in Chicago during the summer without a music, food and wine festival raging somewhere nearby. The city stages many, as do neighborhood groups, each a beacon for ethnic food, music and art.

In fact, the 7th best Antiques show (according to USA Today) in all of America happens the last weekend of every month in the Zagat-Zone of trendy foodie spots known as the West Loop. The Randolph Street Market Festival boasts an eclectic collection of art, fashion, antiques, decorator inspiration and ridiculously great local music.



For only $8 you can shop a large outdoor bazaar -- which draws an invigorating mix of hipsters, treasure seekers and hard-core foodies. According to collectables author and expert Harry Rinker, it's a secret trove of designer-quality art, furniture and doo-dads at wholesale prices. The live music was spectacular, featuring local festival faves Nicholas Barron and the Wayne Baker Brooks Band -- both appeared on our live remote broadcast of our iTunes show, A Fork on the Road.

Of all the fantastically interesting wares on display, the best of the best are the Chicagoans themselves. Friendly, open, quick with a laugh and eager to show off their tasty city. Best of all, everyone we met was just so freakin' happy to be out of their houses, their joy was infectious. The market runs indoors 12 months a year, on the last weekend of every month, but it really shines during the summer when the party moves into the parking lot, May through September.



As you'd expect, there were wives draggin husbands up and down the seemingly endless aisles of cool stuff. Luckily, the music, food -- and beer stands -- kept the guys happy enough to oblige. But surprisingly, the crowd was predominantly comprised of young, sexy singles looking for all sorts of stylish booty. If you're in the market for a breathtaking addition to your nest, Randolph is a trendy tide pool worth a dip.

If you've still got some gas in your tank after picking through artifacts all day long, stop into the City Winery for dinner and more live music. This comfortable, breezy winery/concert venue boasts national touring acts and delicious food. Patio dining takes advantage of the idyllic West Loop neighborhood, and the indoor music stage is state of the art.

Whether you're looking for great food, music or simply a few new friends to bitch about the Cubs to, put summertime in Chicago on your bucket-list. Just make sure you check your weather app before you pack.

Follow Mark on Instagram @ MarkDeCarloTV for hilarious photos from the road, to win prizes and get great insider discount deals on hotels, travel and events.

Windy City Happening: Dillo Day 2014 at Northwestern (PHOTOS)

Mon, 2014-06-09 15:20
Northwestern University's Mayfest organization hosted its 42nd annual Dillo Day along the shores of Lake Michigan last week to an estimated crowd of over 9,000 attendees.

OK Go, Chance the Rapper, and 2 Chainz headlined the music festival which also included local and student bands on the IndieU stage (a new addition for 2014), art installations, a playground, and a food truck compound featuring Giordano's Pizza, Cheesie's, and Chicago Cupcake.

Construction surrounding the Northwestern lakefill changed the layout of this year's Dillo Day prompting limited admittance to registered guests of Northwestern students and Evanston residents. A more stringent entrance policy allowed festival goers to enjoy the expanse of the festival grounds with more breathing room and less rowdy crowds typical of past Dillo Days.

Check out the gallery below for a glimpse into the annual Dillo Day music festival!





For more photos on Chicago culture and events visit: www.ChicagoHooked.com and www.JustinBarbin.com.

Chicago Filmmakers Choose Substance Over Stereotypes

Mon, 2014-06-09 14:22


When it comes to documenting the lives and stories of people of color, Hollywood is notorious for being more interested in the perpetuation of stereotypes than meaningful portrayals of marginalized communities with value and humanity. And often when those films are made and manage to find a spot in the mainstream, there exists another problem, this time on the audience's end: studies show that Caucasians have what is called a racial empathy gap--they struggle to relate to the experiences (specifically pain) of people of color--and that extends into the way they respond to films featuring people of color. One example is last year's Best Man Holiday, a film featuring an almost entirely black cast and exploring topics such as friendship, cancer, love, and faith. Despite the fact that its plot was based upon these universal themes, the film was referred to as "race-themed" by major media outlets such as USA Today, causing moviegoers of all colors to question whether mainstream media can only view non-white experiences as defined by their race, rather than by their humanity and the universal experiences that make us human.

Filmmakers who choose to focus on the stories of marginalized communities face unique challenges in finding funding and mainstream attention for their projects. Chicago filmmakers Cy Weisman and Josh MacNeal have certainly faced their share of those challenges. While discussing mainstream audiences' reluctance to connect with plotlines that deviate from white, hetero-male perspectives, the brother and sister duo agree that the problem has multiple layers, including 1) mainstream audiences are unfamiliar with stories about black, brown or gay characters because they feel those narratives are specific to those communities; the only real exceptions are stories that have a white, male, or heterosexual character present in the lead i.e. The Kids Are Alright and Freedom Writers. And 2) films featuring black, brown, or gay characters that get mainstream attention pigeonhole those lives and experiences in a way that makes black, brown, and LGBT experience "niche," as opposed to one part of a broad spectrum of humanity.

"Living in the inner city is only one aspect of the black experience," says MacNeal. "And unfortunately audiences, especially youth, have become conditioned to the idea that these experiences shown on BET, for example, define black lives. The experiences being shown, however, are limited."

MacNeal, who grew up in a suburb outside of Chicago, didn't become conscious of racism and the way he was perceived as a black man until he was older, he says, and as a filmmaker has focused heavily on illustrating other aspects of black experience and identity than just the narrow version mainstream media chooses to portray. "It's troubling," says MacNeal, "that films that happen to feature black characters are automatically described as 'black movies,'" rather than universal tales of friendship, adversity, love, etc.

"Movies about white people are never called 'white stories,'" he says, and laments the fact that when "black stories" are told, they focus on drugs, violence, or thug life, usually without exploring the systems behind those realities.

On his part, his goal is to create work that reaches beyond the pigeonholed perspective and digs into the experiences that are universal, experienced by a variety of characters: black and white, straight and gay.

Weisman, on the other hand, who does the writing for the duo's films, grew up on the South Side of Chicago and says her consciousness of racism--and also sexism--emerged at an early age, and recalls music as being one of the first mediums in which she really noticed negative messages by and about black and brown communities being perpetuated--usually by black and brown artists.

"White kids bought into 'ratchet' culture before it was ever called ratchet culture," she says, "and the business of art and film has been built on those tropes ever since." Interesting, she notes, that trends within black music have largely been dictated by the appropriative tastes of white suburban youth, and expresses disappointment in rap artists who no longer rap about lived experiences and life narratives, instead choosing to create music about wealth, possessions, and name brands--experiences that not even white suburban youth can relate to. "Most people aren't rich," she adds.

"It's so rarely about art anymore," she continues, "or being an artist. So many songs these rappers and singers perform are written by somebody else, and many movies being produced are remakes or drawn out sequels. The process of creating has been watered down."

Not so with Weisman and MacNeal, who write and direct all of their films, and are currently seeking funding for their next major project, Urbs in Horto, a crime thriller set in Chicago. Urbs in Horto is focused around exactly the sort of exploration of identity that MacNeal and Weisman agree need fixing in filmmaking: three different stories about diverse characters of different backgrounds, and juxtaposing those characters' lives--moving beyond the drug violence and white collar crime--in order to reveal the universal experiences.

Weisman criticizes the superficiality she sees in music and film today, which she insists are inextricably connected. That is why she uses them almost interchangeably in her critique of both mediums, and which is why their plans for Urbs in Horto involve working extensively with indie musicians and artists to create the soundtrack that they imagine for the film.

"Music is an integral part of any movie," Weisman says, and expresses her excitement about the prospect of working with indie artists.

"That's the great thing about film," MacNeal says, echoing his sister's excitement. "We're tapping into Chicago's creative community for actors and artists, but we're also creating jobs in the city we grew up in for legal, real estate, food services, etc."

"Anything we can do for Chicago is awesome," Weisman adds.

And Chicago needs this discourse, they both agree: segregation, violence, and poverty are just a few of the challenges faced by Chicagoans, and that's why the brother and sister team declare that audiences need stories that speak deeply to the community now more than ever.

The purpose of Urbs in Horto, MacNeal says, is to spark that conversation while still offering the action and exhilaration that comes from crime thrillers.

"Film is an art form, but primarily a form of entertainment," says Weisman. "We need to encourage people to seek and expect more substance in what they consume."

She insists that a film can be a thriller with action and excitement--and even violence--while still offering a depth of human experience. The task is changing audience's standards for the films (and music) they consume. But how?

"Give other options," MacNeal says simply.

He believes that audiences' preference for stereotyped narratives is really just a case of consuming what's available: eating junk food because it's what's in the fridge. His sister agrees, adding:

"If you give audiences other options--show them more multi-layered stories that feature marginalized peoples--then they will respond." She describes what she perceived as a shift from positive to negative representations of minorities in the media--The Cosbys and The Martin Lawrence Show transitioned into countless scripted reality TV shows & uninspired sitcoms. She says emphatically,

"If we transitioned into this cultural low, then we can transition out of it."

Her brother agrees. The key, he notes, is for directors and producers with a foot in the game already to support the next generation and have a dialogue about the importance of these depth-driven stories.

"That's why I applaud the fashion industry, especially the CFDA, for how they mentor and propel their young designers. In film, Spike Lee is a great example of someone who's doing it right," MacNeal says. "He focuses on the issues and helps out who he can. He does a good job uplifting younger filmmakers."

And the pair of them are young indeed. Weisman is 26 and MacNeal is a mere 20, one of the youngest filmmakers in the industry and already earning attention for his latest film, The 4th Meeting. The way they see it, making a difference is a matter of making the right film and making it reach a broad audience. And they might be right.

"There are people that need to hear these stories," Weisman says, "and people who want better content. We're not the only ones who feel this way."

No, Ms. Weisman, you are not.

To contact or see their work, visit here: http://www.joshmacneal.com/urbsinhorto

Image credit: Rudy Lorejo Photography

Michelle Obama's Tribute To Maya Angelou Will Give You Chills

Mon, 2014-06-09 12:59
On Saturday, family and friends gathered at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to honor the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou, who died in May at age 86. The award-winning novelist, poet and activist was celebrated during a private ceremony by a number of notable attendees, including former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama.

The first lady offered an inspiring tribute to Angelou, whom she called "the master." She described how Angelou's writing strengthened her as a human being -- especially the way Angelou celebrated black women despite living in a society that constantly sought to debase them.

The first time I read "Phenomenal Woman" I was struck by how she celebrated black women's beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever and sassy. They were powerful and sexual and boastful. And in that one singular poem, Maya Angelou spoke to the essence of black women, but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty.

And oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie -- that was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple. She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory. She reminded us that we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it to the world with all the pride and joy that is our birthright as members of the human race.

Dr. Angelou's words sustained me on every step of my journey. Through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trail where at times my very womanhood was dissected and questioned. For me, that was the power of Maya Angelou's words. Words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House.

Throughout Obama's eulogy, she praised Angelou for her everlasting impact, acknowledging that -- as Angelou herself once put it -- the world may not remember all of the poet's words, but we will never forget how she made us feel.

Watch the first lady's full speech in the video above.

A Perfect Takedown Of 'She Was Asking For It'

Mon, 2014-06-09 11:35
"Stop asking people's clothing to have sex with you, and start asking people."

That's the message behind Anna Binkovitz's slam poem, "Asking For It." Binkovitz, then a senior at Macalester College, performed the piece at the 2014 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in March 2014.

The powerful piece reaffirms that a woman's clothing has nothing to do with her sexual availability, and that to say someone was "asking for it" is unacceptable.

Binkovitz reasons, with a dash of comedy, that since none of us have special outfits that "ask for" salt at the dinner table or "ask for" the bus to stop, it's pretty ridiculous to claim that women wear outfits that "ask for sexual assault.

As Binkovitz puts it, "One of the chief perks of having sex with an adult is that if they want something, they can ask for it."

[h/t Upworthy]

I Don't Diet, I Just Go Paleo

Mon, 2014-06-09 10:08
This is part one of a series in which I attempt to take on four different lifestyle diets in four weeks. For the past few years, I've dubbed myself a flexitarian -- I don't eliminate anything from my diet and enjoy all types of food in moderation. However, I think it's time for me to assess what foods actually work well with my body -- and what foods don't. As always, talk with a doctor before undergoing any rapid change in diet.

It was one of those 3 a.m. ideas that I had to act on. And that was to go paleo... for a week. Could I handle this almost-absurd change in my diet?

Eh.

To be honest, I tried out a similar quest a few years ago when I embarked on an anti-candida diet for the same amount of time. Various products were forbidden, so I experienced significant withdrawal from potatoes, fruit, etc. Burgers, roasted veggies and hummus became a diet staple while bread and other delicacies were laid to the wayside. It was my first step in trying to understand how different types of food reacted with my body, and with the recent popularity, rants, and raves associated with going paleo, I thought I'd give it a try.

So, what is Paleo?

First off, the amount of conflicting information on the paleo diet is somewhat startling: Potatoes or no potatoes? Dark chocolate or no chocolate? There was one random list that included butter -- only to find several dos and don'ts lists decrying it. It was all rather mystifying, since there is really no set food list to follow.

However, there were some things I could enjoy that everyone seemed to agree on:

  • meat and seafood (organic, grass-fed, or line-caught always preferred)

  • vegetables

  • fruits

  • nuts and seeds

  • eggs

  • spices

  • certain oils for cooking (such as olive oil and avocado)


It didn't seem like such a daunting list -- until I actually realized that I wasn't to eat grains, dairy, potatoes, anything with processed sugar, legumes (including soy) for a solid week... or imbibe alcohol.

The first morning, I had a grapefruit and pecans dusted with cinnamon. After I consumed this "meal," I internalized a sad face and thought: I can't believe I am doing this. And now I'm craving a bagel.

Later that day, I attended a family event that served the exquisite cuisine of my heritage -- Greek food -- which reportedly is one of the healthiest diets in the world. However, there were a few problems. I couldn't eat the pita bread. I couldn't eat the hummus. The spanakopita sat on a plate taunting me, but I managed to tack on a mini rack of lamb and some shrimp to my plate. While riding home that night, I caught a whiff of fried food, and my olfactory sense went into overdrive. I was not prepared for how much my body was actually missing my two loves: grains and cheese -- and also the potential to fry anything. It all seemed to be a visceral temptation: Wow, I can't eat that. Or that... Yup, nix that too.

A strawberry, banana and ginger smoothie with lime

Since the aim of this was to remove as much processed food from my diet, I decided to be as strict as possible, even forgoing my regular fridge essentials like almond milk and sweet potatoes. I even caught myself opening the fridge a few times at night looking for my regular goods to snack on (i.e., cheese for crackers) only to shut it in sorrow.

However, all was not lost. I started to innovate.

Breakfast became a pastime filled with fruits and nuts. Smoothies were my godsend -- hey, I had to keep one modern essential while on this culinary adventure. Almonds and nut butter were my go-to snack, along with pecans. Grapefruit, bananas, strawberries, apple, pears and other assorted goodies filled my produce drawer. I had officially become a frugivore. My meals turned into a sea of colors compared to the two-color-palette pasta dishes I was used to making.

Within a few days, I noticed some interesting changes in my body. My mind felt less "cloudy." Bloating was non-existent. I felt more awake for some reason, even though I had banned coffee and was only consuming water with lemon or lime. I had also lost weight. However, my mind's clarity was the most unprecedented change -- could removing all this unprocessed food from my diet be the key to optimal health?



Chicken and vegetable "fajita" lettuce wraps: organic free-range chicken, romaine hearts, onions, bell peppers, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice and chili powder

Needless to say, having one's palate and one's body do a 180 in a week's time is quite interesting. The ability to savor fruits and vegetables like never before will stick with me as I continue on my quest to find out how my body handles certain foods.

My final thoughts on living the culinary life of a caveman? It might just be the most beautiful hell I've experienced gastronomically.

Stay tuned for my take on what happens when I become a lacto-ovo vegetarian next week.

This Newlywed Gay Couple In Wisconsin Got An Amazing Surprise At Dinner

Mon, 2014-06-09 09:47
Late last week, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin's ban on same-sex marriage, saying that "[gay couples] are entitled to the same treatment as any heterosexual couple." After the news broke, dozens of gay couples made their way to courthouses across Wisconsin to tie the knot and finally become legally recognized by the state.

This was exactly what Christopher Graham and his partner Andrew Cappelle had in mind when they drove down to the courthouse to get their license. But what they never expected was the outpouring of support and solidarity by complete strangers afterwards when they went out for dinner at Milwaukee's Transfer Pizzeria.

Graham explains:
"After we stayed at the courthouse, we went out for dinner to Transfer Pizzeria & Cafe. We talked with our server about what had just happened down at the courthouse -- we got married and witnessed to several other marriages -- and to help us celebrate, the staff at Transfer bought our dinner!"





A small gesture perhaps, but it obviously meant a great deal to this newlywed couple and no doubt made their long-awaited day that much more special.

Congrats to Chirstopher and Andrew, and to all the couples who will finally be recognized!

5 Things I Learned About Aging From My Dogs

Mon, 2014-06-09 05:37
I have had dogs in my life ever since I graduated college. In fact, I bought my first house after a landlord banned pets and I couldn't imagine living without my Olde English Sheepdog. Dogs have taught me to love, been my best friends, been the one constant in my life; long before my husband and children, there was always a dog who I rushed home after work to care for. I've walked the last mile with many of my dogs and here is what I've learned about aging from them.

1. Even when body parts hurt, it's always good to let your loved ones know you are happy to see them.
We appreciate how hard this is to do sometimes, yet dogs consistently manage it.

In humans, chronic illness frequently leads to depression. At very least, it leads to more-than-occasional grumpiness. It's estimated that up to one-third of people with a serious medical condition have symptoms of depression, says WebMD. And when we feel crappy both physically and emotionally, we aren't always nice to be around. Yet when my Shaggy suffered from hip dysplasia -- and on some days had to struggle to even get up from the rug -- she never failed to wag her tail at the sight of me coming through the door.

By contrast, caregivers for humans are often met with a litany of "what's wrong" from our charges. We are there trying to help and often, we don't feel appreciated. It makes taking care of them unpleasant. If we could find some joy in the visit, in the doing, it would feel much less a burden.

When I reach this point, I hope I still wag my tail at my caregivers.

2. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
When the vet discovered a small cancerous tumor on our Golden girl Chloe's lip, we were thrown into the throes of despair. We Googled her cancer, we questioned the vet, and we cried mightily knowing that her end undoubtedly would be near. She, on the other hand, just wanted to play ball at the beach. On the day we got the news, my husband and I sat sobbing in our beach chairs, throwing and throwing and throwing that ball to our obviously oblivious dog. Chloe felt good until the day she didn't. She enjoyed every long walk, every extra treat, every car ride where she got to feel the wind in her face.

She was able to do this because she didn't know her days were numbered. While certainly in humans, many conditions have better outcomes if they are treated early and we are in no way suggesting that you ignore routine screenings or treatment options in favor of ignorance, Chloe sure did bring into focus the advice about living each day to the fullest, treating each day as if it was your last. Sometimes, this requires that we make the effort to actually live life between visits to the doctor.

3. We can all learn new ways to do things when the old ones don't work so well anymore.
Aging is a gradual process, not something that comes upon us all at once. You agree to wear reading glasses, you get your hearing tested, you buy a pair of comfort shoes. No, not all on the same day.

Dogs are great about not getting hung up on the stuff they did as puppies and can't do anymore. Rusty, our redhead Retriever, quickly learned to use a step ramp to get into the higher-than-he-could-jump-nowadays SUV. He'd wait patiently by the SUV door until his ramp was in place and then he'd just amble on up it and take his place on the seat behind the driver. We got him a second ramp by our bed when that became too big a jump too. When we'd go hiking and he got tired, he'd head for the shade and just wait for us -- glad to be part of the family outing and never a whimper of longing for the days when he'd charge ahead of us and we'd have to call him back.

We all make adjustments to aging. But dogs just don't complain about it.

4. Forbidden food may taste great, but it isn't good for us.
Buddy, our big blonde Golden, loved cat food. He would sneak it whenever he could, even though the results were always the same: One ticked off cat and one upset stomach. I'm told it's richer than dog kibble, which makes it taste better. The result in Buddy's case was a bout of the runs that gave his doggie door a workout all night.

I have the same relationship with spicy food. I know it no longer agrees with me but every once in a while when the cat isn't looking, Buddy and I would pig out.

Sometimes, even as we age, it's OK to walk on the wild side -- to take a chance, to roll with the punches and see where life takes us. In Buddy's case, it was always through the doggie door. In mine, it's been a few reinventions of my career.

5. It doesn't get much better than long walks with a friend.
Walking is the cheapest, easiest and most convenient form of exercise. And walking with a friend is the best way to visit because there are no interruptions. Dogs have figured this out.


Jessie Mueller Wins Tony For Portrayal Of Carole King

Sun, 2014-06-08 22:15
NEW YORK (AP) — Jessie Mueller has nabbed a beautiful trophy — the best lead actress in a musical Tony Award.

The singer and actress won Sunday for playing the title character in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical," the show about the songwriter behind such hits as "It's Too Late" and "You've Got a Friend." Mueller beat out Mary Bridget Davies from "A Night With Janis Joplin," Sutton Foster in "Violet," Idina Menzel from "If/Then" and Kelli O'Hara in "The Bridges of Madison County."

Mueller, who previously starred in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" with Harry Connick Jr. and replaced O'Hara in "Nice Work If You Can Get It," is the third of four children raised by actors in Chicago. All of her siblings are in the business.

Inner-City Chicago High School Celebrates First College Graduates

Sun, 2014-06-08 12:08
CHICAGO (AP) — Jamil Boldian headed to college four years ago, arriving in small-town Ohio with a one-way Megabus ticket and $17.91 to his name.

He'd been scared to leave Chicago, the only place he'd ever really known. He'd had a rough start in life, bouncing around in seven or eight elementary schools. He wasn't always sure he was college material. Now here he was on a rural campus, where he knew no one. But that had been part of the grand plan ever since Boldian had enrolled in Urban Prep, a new charter high school for young black men. Most were poor, way behind in school and living with their mothers in gang-ravaged neighborhoods. But founder Tim King had made a pledge: If they stayed disciplined and dreamed big, they'd get into college. And sure enough, every member in the Class of 2010, the school's first, was accepted into four-year colleges and universities.

Once they'd climbed that hill, though, the mountain was next. Each student approached college with his own baggage:

There was Krishaun Branch, the former hell-raiser who'd flirted with gang life, left Urban Prep, then returned after a tragedy. Robert Henderson, the survivor of a lifetime's worth of hard knocks. Marlon Marshall, the soft-spoken runner who'd said he'd never had a real childhood. Rayvaughn Hines, the student council vice president and athlete, who grew up hearing the odds were stacked against young black men. Cameron Barnes, the lanky, shy teen still mourning his mother's death, wondering whether he had what it takes to finish college.

Once in school, these students would wrestle with stress and loneliness. Depression and self-doubt.

They'd come to know the stomach-churning anxiety of getting a D on a big test. The strain of balancing classes with two, even three jobs and still ending up in debt. The uneasiness of living in a nearly all-white community for the first time in their lives. The sting of hearing your professor predict you will fail in school.

They'd have to overcome all that, and more, to make it to graduation.

___

On a sunny May day, Tim King sat in a Nashville church, savoring success.

He'd just watched Branch accept his diploma from Fisk University, the first Urban Prep alumnus to earn a bachelor's degree.

"There are times in life when you think you're right," a beaming King declared. "And there are other times when you KNOW you are."

When he opened Urban Prep in 2006, the school had two core principles:

One was discipline. Longer school days. Double doses of English classes. No bling, no baggy pants. Black blazers with the school crest and striped ties (a much-dreaded uniform often shed after school to avoid being targeted on the streets).

The other was the reach-for-the-stars message, celebrated every morning by students gathering in a noisy (think rap songs belching from speakers) gym to recite the school's oath:

"We BELIEVE. ... We are exceptional not because we say it, but because we work hard at it ... We BELIEVE in ourselves."

But nobody knew for certain whether that message would successfully carry over to college. Nobody knew whether the young men would survive and thrive, absent the tough love and constant guidance they experienced at Urban Prep.

Krishaun Branch comes from Englewood, the often dangerous South Side neighborhood that's home to the first Urban Prep. As a kid, he hung out with gangbangers. He quit Urban Prep rather than risk expulsion after getting into a fight. When a friend was beaten to death, he begged to be readmitted. He got serious, becoming president of the Student Government Association.

Four years later, Branch still has the swagger that made him a school leader, the quick smile and "S'' tattoo he says represents both "Shaun," his nickname, and Superman, his favorite comic book hero. He notes both have something in common: Invincibility.

But on graduation day, it was a fiercely proud and deeply grateful Krishaun Curtis Branch who received his degree in psychology from the historically black university. He wanted to wear sunglasses to hide his tears; his mom said no.

"I just feel like God's got my back," he declared, rubbing his eyes, his voice wavering.

Getting through college was no sure thing, especially at first. He had money troubles. He was slow to trust others. He had a short fuse. He was homesick, but he knew he couldn't leave. "I had to calm down," he says. "I knew this was an opportunity I could lose. ... College is a place where you have to want it. If you don't, you'll be spit out quickly."

His Urban Prep family, he says, often came to his rescue. They provided money when he needed it, boosted his confidence when it was sagging, even temporarily moved him out of his neighborhood during one break when trouble was brewing. "I had people who wanted to see me succeed as much as I did," Branch says. "That helped me tremendously."

The school's midwife approach is all-encompassing. An alumni affairs team keeps in touch with the students by phone, text and email.

There's also limited money for tuition, books or everyday expenses. Transportation to college. Arrangements for travel home during holidays. Care packages, winter coats, clothes for internship interviews. Lawyers for legal troubles. Advice on fatherhood. In-person advocacy at school. Visits by staff to take a homesick kid to lunch or dinner.

"You just can't say to a student, 'OK, now here's your chance to go to college. ... See you later,'" King says. "You've got to keep being there to provide support."

Branch hopes to pay back the favor, working as a fellow, mentoring freshmen at Urban Prep, which now has three campuses. He knows where he might have been if not for King and others who believed in him. The day before graduation, a longtime pal had phoned to offer his congratulations. He'd called from Cook County Jail.

Just thinking about it brings tears to Branch's eyes.

"I'm supposed to have been dead — honestly," he says.

___

Just 40 miles separate Robert Henderson's South Side home and Lake Forest College, but the two places are worlds apart.

Henderson left one of the poorest pockets of America, riddled with gangs and drugs, for one of the wealthiest, a peaceful enclave of Social Register families, old money and corporate power.

He hadn't heard of Lake Forest growing up, but when he saw it, he says, it was like a vacation retreat. "This is my Ha-wa-ii," he says, with a huge grin.

School, though, was anything but relaxing. Chemistry was intimidating, but he wasn't too proud to seek help. His scholarship money fell short, so he sometimes juggled three jobs simultaneously: Security dispatcher. Assistant librarian. Campus mail clerk. Cashier at a local pharmacy. All-around helper at a community church.

Henderson's bills still mounted and when pressured to pay up — which he couldn't do — he made it clear he was staying.

"I refused to give up and leave this college," he recalls. "(I said), 'You're all going to have to call the police to get me off this campus. I'm not going down without a fight. I WANT my education.'"

Henderson, 23, earned a degree in history and American studies. But his diploma came at a steep price: A $56,000 debt.

Unlike many classmates, Henderson couldn't rely on parents for financial support. Along with six brothers and sisters, he was raised by his plain-spoken-but-wise grandmother, Ona, now 85. His mother was run over by a car when he was 17 months old. At times — especially at school's end when parents packed up their kids — Henderson says he found himself yearning for a mother and father to tell him they loved him.

But he's not one for regrets.

"Why should I dwell on the past and play the violin and say, 'Somebody feel sorry for me.' Life doesn't work out that way," he says. "Nobody is going to try to help you unless you help yourself."

Henderson tried to squeeze everything he could into college life: He joined Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity, along with black, Latino and Asian clubs. He used his wrestler's strength — he participated in off-campus charity matches — to become a force on the school's rugby club.

Henderson will soon move to South Carolina to join City Year, a national service group that is part of the AmeriCorps program.

"For the people who invested time, money and love to get me here, it did not go to waste," he says. "It's not where you start. It's how you finish. That's what I like to call resilient."

___

It's not clear how many Urban Prep alumni will cross that finish line.

Urban Prep won't say how many members of the Class of 2010 graduated from college in four years until the end of 2014 but King says it will exceed the national 15.6 percent rate for young black men. His benchmark for success is a six-year-graduation rate, a common standard. So far, about 70 percent of the Class of 2010 remains in school, he says.

Some have quit because they couldn't afford it, others because college wasn't for them.

It's sometimes the schools themselves, though, that King has found wanting.

"You're always thinking of colleges as these places that are welcoming kids," he says. "Often with low income or first-generation college students, there are things at play that are really pushing the kid away, pushing the kid out, not to mention the things back home."

While money is often a stumbling block, it's not the only one. There's also the fish-out-of-water feeling, as kids move from black neighborhoods to predominantly white campuses.

"They will oftentimes be the only black person in a class and someone will turn to them and say, 'What do black people think?' ... They may be the only black person on the floor in their dorm and they've got to be able to deal with that," King says. "But nothing can really prepare them for it but living it."

Kids can "get lost if they don't have advocates," he adds. It can lead to incomplete assignments, missed deadlines for financial aid and what King calls the "baby-you-can-come-home" syndrome. That's when a single mother accedes to her son's pleas to quit because college isn't going well.

The school's alumni affairs office tries to head off problems but some students are hesitant to come forward. "A lot of times they feel too embarrassed to ask for help or they feel they can handle things on their own," says Troy Boyd, the office director.

Jamil Boldian was one of those kids.

College, he figured, was all about independence. So when his grades dropped and he lost his academic scholarship at Heidelberg University in Ohio, he tried to turn things around. "I didn't know what people would think or how I would be judged," he says, explaining his reticence.

Boldian was about to give up early in his junior year and go home to reassess when he sent Tim King a Facebook message.

The next day, Urban Prep called. Staff helped Boldian get into summer school and put his academic career back on track.

He also became the business manager of a black student union, the founder of a dance troupe (he performed in campus productions, too) and the first black president of a school fraternity. "I didn't focus on what I didn't have," he says, "but on the opportunities in front of me."

This spring, Boldian, who played football and ran track at school, graduated with a degree in sports management and business.

His pal, Marlon Marshall, had a much steeper fall. He'd chosen Earlham College, thrilled at first to be in quiet, rural Indiana, a dramatic contrast to his old neighborhood where a short walk home could be deadly.

But in his sophomore year, everything unraveled: One friend at home was murdered. Another was killed in a motorcycle accident. His grandmother died. He wasn't getting along with his girlfriend. He had trouble focusing on his studies.

Depression took hold but Marshall didn't want to burden anyone. He'd always concealed his emotions and wasn't even sure how to explain his turmoil.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, even walking into high school," he says. "So many people wanted to see me succeed. I knew that my success wasn't just my success. It was for my siblings. It was for my family. I wasn't doing anything for me. Here I am, the kid, the oldest of 11 brothers and sisters, the kid that has taken care of his mother since he was 15, the kid ... who'd come in with very high expectations. I felt like I was under this magnifying glass that started to burn."

In his sophomore spring, Marshall tried to commit suicide.

He left college and returned to Chicago. He moved in with an Urban Prep principal with whom he'd stayed after his mother moved to Michigan during his senior year.

Back in Chicago, Urban Prep paid for Marshall's mental health treatment. High school buddies rallied to his side.

Marshall now lives in Michigan, near his large family. He's enrolled at Western Michigan University and hopes to be part of that six-year graduation group from Urban Prep's first class.

"I'm definitely healthy — mentally, physically. I really think I'm going to be fine," he says. "I'm going to move on and do great things because I want to."

___

Even though Rayvaughn Hines always had big plans, there were naysayers.

Being young, black and poor, he says, he'd hear others making dire predictions: "I'm going to be dead or in jail by the time I'm 18 or 21."

Last month, at 22, Hines — a Gates Millennium Scholar — earned his psychology degree from the University of Virginia. "Just knowing that I beat those odds is a big deal to me," he says.

Hines begins graduate studies at Virginia this fall. He plans to become a school counselor.

He credits his own determination — "If I have a goal, no one is going to stop me" — and family support. His neighbors, who nicknamed him "college boy," cheered him on, too. Even local drug dealers, who've known Hines since he was a baby, would ask if he needed anything. "They've always known that I want to be a success," he says.

But the road was rocky. His beloved grandmother, who'd raised him much of his childhood, died. His family's money problems were so severe that he sometimes sent home part of his scholarship stipend, leaving him temporarily broke. He attended summer school to keep pace.

Hines remembers, too, the humiliation of being dismissed by an engineering teacher he'd asked for help.

"My professor told me, 'You're not going to do well at this university and you're not going to do well in my class.' That hurt my heart," he says. "I immediately thought of Urban Prep and the creed, 'We BELIEVE. ... We never fail because we never give up.'"

He passed.

At first, Hines says, he missed Chicago, sometimes feeling isolated among classmates with more comfortable upbringings. During freshman year, he was the only black student on his dorm hall.

"I'd never been around white people before," he says. "When I got here, it was cultural shock, basically. ... Eventually, I started making friends of different races. I recommend people get out of their comfort zone and stop trying to have negative stereotypes about every race."

Hines, who met his fiancee, Brittany, at school — she's an engineering doctoral student — will spend this summer at Virginia, working as an equipment manager for the university's football team.

"You leave your neighborhood but you never want to forget where you came from," he says. "I have the best of best worlds. I'm street smart and book smart. You put that together in an African-American male and that's dangerous."

___

The same week that Tim King celebrated two graduations, he made two hospital visits — reminders that as much as he would like to think that Urban Prep can protect and advance its students, the world can be treacherous.

One current student was shot in the back while playing basketball with friends. Another was hit in the chest and abdomen while in a crowd outside a skating rink. He had a lower leg amputated. Neither was the target of the attacks.

"We have to do everything we can to stick by these guys," King says. "If we do the right thing by them and they are committed to doing the right thing ... they'll earn that college degree and their lives and their kids' lives and their entire trajectory will change."

That's what Cameron Barnes' mother, Felicia, wanted when she insisted he attend Urban Prep. With no father around, she wanted him to have positive male role models.

Felicia died of liver disease during his junior year; she was just 45. His Urban Prep classmates comforted him.

Back then, Barnes was quiet, cautious, easily cowed. Starting college, he wasn't sure he'd have the wherewithal to finish. Four years later with a journalism degree from the University of Illinois-Champaign, he's changed dramatically.

"I'm not really a timid person anymore," he says. "I take risks. I take challenges. Back then I would always tell myself, 'Cameron, that person is smarter than you. I'll never be as smart.'... I don't say that anymore."

As graduation neared in May, Barnes thought about his mother constantly. "I prayed to her every day," he says. "I hope that I did what she wanted me to do."

On the big day, he felt her presence.

"I knew she was looking down on me," he says. "I knew she was proud."

As he crossed the stage, Cameron Barnes pressed two fingers to his lips, kissed them, then raised an arm triumphantly toward the skies.

___

AP National Writer Martha Irvine contributed to this story. Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer, can be reached at scohen@ap.org.

Workers For These Companies Should Be Paid A Whole Lot More

Sun, 2014-06-08 11:21
From 24/7 Wall St.: With the stock market reaching new heights daily, companies’ profit margins at multi-decade highs, and falling unemployment, many Americans may be wondering when they will start to see the benefits of the U.S. economic recovery. For many workers, wages have remained stagnant even as the economy is making positive strides.

A number of America’s most successful companies employ large numbers of low-wage workers. These workers are hired to staff stores, call centers, and restaurants. These workers are typically paid hourly, and oftentimes earn little above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Oftentimes, these employees serve as the face of their companies and spend most of their workday interacting with consumers.

Click here to see the companies that owe their employees a raise

Not all employees at these companies are paid modest salaries. While customer account executives at Comcast earn $13.26 per hour on average, according to Glassdoor.com figures, stars of the company’s NBC television network shows were paid hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year. And while the average attractions cast member at Disney’s parks and resorts earned just $16.39 per hour, Disney also employs far higher-paid workers at its ABC and ESPN television networks.

Recently, a number of these companies have chosen to use their resources for massive deal making. In February, Comcast announced a deal to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion in stock value. In May, AT&T agreed to acquire DirecTV for $48.5 billion. Regulators have yet to approve the deals. Last year, Verizon signed on to an even bigger deal when it bought out British telecom Vodafone’s 45% stake in Verizon Wireless for $130 billion.

Of course, companies may not necessarily have an obligation to pay their employees a higher wage. If the recent spate of mega deals is any indication, companies can spend huge amounts to help provide better returns to their shareholders.

However, many argue that companies still spend too much in executive compensation. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts earned more than $31 million last year in salary, stock options and awards, and other benefits. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, received more than $100 million in total compensation from 2011 through 2013. Outsized salaries like these appear especially disproportionate when compared to low-wage workers.

Based on data provided by Capital IQ on S&P 500 companies, 24/7 Wall St. identified corporations with high operating income, high operating profit margins, and major one-year growth in operating income. In order to be considered, companies had to be in a customer-facing industry and have a large number of low-wage workers. We excluded financial companies, such as banks and thrifts, because the data we used to measure profitability is inadequate for judging the industry’s performance. Employee totals by company are from Yahoo! Finance. CEO pay is from filings submitted by public companies with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Figures on compensation are from Glassdoor.com and are self-reported by users to the website.

Here are eight companies that owe workers a raise, according to 24/7 Wall St.:

10 Great Getaways Within The World's Busiest Cities

Sat, 2014-06-07 07:00
Cities have everything -- great people, great food, great public transportation -- the list goes on and on. But sometimes they don't have the one thing that everyone wants, which is typically a little slice of nature. So we've located a few places within some of the world's busiest cities, where in just a few steps you feel a whole world away.

1. New York City, New York

Population: Roughly 8.4 million

Escape: Chelsea High Line

While New York City is known as an urban jungle all in itself, this little slice of green is available for those who just want to see a bit more green and a little less people. Even though Central Park is an obvious choice for little getaways, it's okay to prefer a walk along the High Line to a more massive park.

2. Venice, Italy

Population: About 270,000

Escape: Pellestrina

Even though Venice is a fairly small city, it still gets busy come tourist season (which appears to be almost year round). So when the crowds become too much, we suggest heading to Pellestrinia, a fisherman's town just across the way. After a day of swimming at the spacious beach, book a table at Da Celeste, one of Venice's best seafood restaurants.

3. London, England

Population: Roughly 8.2 million

Escape: Secret (and not-so-secret) gardens

Why anyone would want to "get out of London" is baffling to us, there are places where peace and quiet (usually) trump noisy American tourists searching for Big Ben. While strolling through Kensington Gardens can be a hit or miss with tourists, we suggest hiding out in one of these beautiful secret gardens (that you might have to break in to).

4. Mumbai, India

Population: Roughly 13 million

Escape: Sanjay Gandhi National Park

The Sanjay Gandhi National Park is a favorite city escape for Mumbaikars, and a new program at the park provides the perfect weekend escape for those who want to just sit back, stargaze, and interact with nature without leaving the city.

5. Chicago, Illinois

Population: About 2.7 million

Escape: Oak Street Beach

One look at the picture and you're more inclined to think "Miami" than "beaches of Chicago." Indeed, this is the Windy City, and Oak Street Beach is the perfect break for anyone looking to play some beach volleyball while temps skyrocket. Alcohol rules are conservative, but sunscreen should be applied liberally.

6. Barcelona, Spain

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Population: Roughly 1.6 million

Escape: Parc de la Ciutadella

If you think your city escape has everything, then you probably haven't been to Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona. With museums, a zoo, summer music festivals, beautiful fountains and a small lake, you may never venture back out into the city again.

7. Brisbane, Australia

Population: A little over 2 million

Escape: Streets Beach, South Bank Parklands

Even though Australia has plenty of beaches, within the city of Brisbane, residents decided to build their own and call it "Streets Beach." Because Brisbane has weather that most cities only dream of, the beach is open year round and always has lifeguards on duty. Quick swim over lunch? Sounds like the perfect city escape to us.

8. Bangkok, Thailand

Population: About 8 million

Escape: Bangkok Tree House

Bangkok can get pretty busy, but there's one way to ensure that you're looking down on the crowds instead of being caught in them. Instead of staying at a regular hotel, try out a treehouse! The Tree House is an eco-friendly way to stay sane, as the only noise you'll be hearing are the singing cicadas among the mangrove palms.

9. San Francisco, California

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Population: About 837,000

Escape: Golden Gate Park

You'll forget about the tourists crowding Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf just as soon as you step into Golden Gate Park. While it's no secret that the park caters to over 13 million visitors a year, you'll be able to drum up your own sort of peace and quiet standing among the waterfalls, gardens, lakes and trails that make up the park.

10. Hong Kong, China

Population: Roughly 7 million

Escape: Golden Beach

Sure, there might be a some smog overhead, but you'll be able to breathe a little easier once you can relax on Hong Kong's Golden Beach. Built in the Tuen Mun district, it's the only beach in the area with a volleyball court. Just be sure to pack both your sunscreen and your A-game the next time you head down.

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