Hi everyone,  just to do a little bit of digital housekeeping, we decided to move my blog directly to our main Wandawega site.
Same focus, same content, same writer, just a new home. Come check it out and let me know what you think. Thanks much!

We are all about local.
Local cheese. Local meats. Local products.
One of the places that we love is Rushing Waters Fisheries. A rainbow trout farm in Palmyra, WI.

This place is not only beautiful, but they produce some of the highest quality farm raised trout around. Best part, they are just a few minutes away from Camp Wandawega on an 80 acre farm.
There smoked trout is just to good for words! Soon, come November, you will be able to try their lovely food in their new restaurant space on the property.

We were lucky enough to get a tour and to do a little fishing ourselves during The Tasty Nugget event earlier this year.

If you want some fun and great fish, think about going  here!

I've long been obsessed with the boutique design travel group MR & MRS SMITH.

They are a company that specializes in special destination accomodations.... Conde Nast Traveler named them winner of 'favorite travel websites'- and they have a great series of coffeetable books.

So when they called asking if I would be willing to be a hotel review-
which means stay in luxury boutique design hotels
(on their dime)
I did little cartwheels in my head.
I could not say yes fast enough.

Pick a destination anywhere in north or south america or the Carribbean.
Bring a guest. Stay for 2 nights on the house. Take it all in.
They buy your dinner, give you a per diem  and all I have to do is write an 800-word review?
Done and done. I picked to stay local for my first trip, the Hotel Lincoln.


One Monday evening, gathering everything I would ever need for a long-haul holiday, I loaded up the car (ignoring the soft cry of our leaf springs) eager to get on the road at 6.15. I set off into the waning sunlight and arrived at my destination. 15 minutes later.

I’m not usually one to stay local. When it comes to taking time off of work, it had better be for something irrational, inconvenient and impractical. I want to trek across Morocco on an unruly camel. Or venture to a remote fishing village off the coast of Ireland, and live in a stone cottage with no running water or neighbors who’ve never even heard of Breaking Bad. My ideal escape starts out in Portugal on Sunday, and ends a week later in Poland. Or Peru.

But, when the opportunity to bunk at the Hotel Lincoln, a buzzed-about hometown newcomer in Chicago’s leafy Lincoln Park neighborhood, came knocking, who was I to say no? It’s true, Mr Smith and I had steered clear since the hotel’s opening last year. Wiser (OK, maybe just older) we were waiting for the press to quiet down, along with the queues of twentysomethings comparing tattoos as they waited for their spot at the happening rooftop bar. 

Bracing ourselves for ironically bearded lounge-dwellers and a too-cool attitude, we were pleasantly surprised to find an interior that felt more living room than lobby and no overstyled facial hair in site. We were greeted at reception by friendly staff and a massive wall soaring with vintage, thrift-store paintings straight out of a Victorian brothel or the glossy pages of The World of Interiors. I was smitten.

After maxing out my iPhone photo library with every last delicious design detail in the lobby, Mr Smith nudged me towards the elevator. Even that – wall-to-wall plaid carpeting and navy shagreen wall coverings – had me all aflutter.

Our 10th-floor room, a light-filled Lake View Junior Suite, was more subdued in style than the common areas (what, no rawhide walls?), but it certainly didn’t lack character. Or square footage – it was the size of my college apartment. A full-length Warhol-esque mirror greeted us and Chicago-inspired art filled the walls. The several windows were generous with the panoramic views of Lincoln Park, the Lincoln Park Zoo and rolling Lake Michigan waves. But, it was the piles of plush pillows stacked to the ceiling that invited me to call this room home. Well, for the next few days, anyway.

Unpacked (or, rather, moved in) we headed up to the top-floor J Parker bar, named after President Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard. Reminiscent of a glass slipper atop a skyscraper, it boasts views of the city in every dizzying direction from the see-through balconies hovering above the verdant park below. However, at these heights, I wouldn’t recommend drinking as much as I did… so, swill your deftly built Lazenby (Beefeater gin, Lillet Blanc and Death’s Door Vodka) cocktails responsibly. 

Back in our room, we revived with still-bubbling fruit cobblers quickly delivered by room service, and watched Leo DiCaprio throw lavish parties on a television the size of a VW. And, just 15 minutes spent on the ginormous bed was enough to knock us out cold. Damn you, sleep-seductive thread count.

Maintaining the fantasy of our new pied-à-terre, we made our way downstairs to Elaine’s Coffee Call for breakfast the next morning. Hello, tartan cushions tossed on the large black sofa… hi there, adorable barista and master of the perfect latté leaf… how utterly charming you all are. We settled in with lattes and newspapers from the stack perched on the 1970s record player. All that was missing was a shaggy dog chewing my shoes.

Anxious to explore the neighborhood, Mr Smith put an end to our lounging. Most hotels, it seems, are set in a prime location designed to assault you at every turn with the tourist experience. However, nestled comfortably in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, casually overlooking a sprawling park and a world-famous lakefront, the Hotel Lincoln lives like the locals do.

Once a residential hotel (playwright David Mamet lodged here), you get the impression that nothing on the surrounding blocks has changed in the last century. A florist squeezes in against a coffee shop, next to the most adorable stationery boutique. It was enough to make me want to relocate permanently.

The best was yet to come though – we had a reservation that night at adjoining Perennial restaurant, a farm-to-table favorite in town. We cozied up in the glow of the golden room decorated with Mason jars of mysterious pickled things that demanded to be Instagrammed. Award-winning chef Paul Virant is a dedicated canner and the many pickled items – from summer beans to ramp relish – are his specialties. 

Focused expertise is a hallmark of the restaurant, as demonstrated by our waiter’s impressive knowledge of Midwestern cheeses that could have landed him on Top Chef. Bellies blissfully full, we returned to our suite in the sky.

Waking up to the sparkling sunrise over the lake the next morning though, reality set in. We didn’t actually live at the Lincoln. We had to pack up sans darling barista, acclaimed in-house chef, cloud-like down pillows or shagreen walls.

So, for the moment, let’s just forget all that exile-to-a-remote-island-with-no-plumbing business. Who would have thought that a hike across town could be just as eye opening an escape as a trek across a distant desert? Our little adventure led to another fascinating development: we were now staycation evangelists. Turns out there’s no place like your home away from home… 

A few destinations from the Mr & Mrs Smith Collection:

Thanks to everyone who attended the Kinfolk dinner- it was a lovely, drizzly, early fall day in Wisconsin filled with friends, food and beer.

Here's a recap:
photos: Julia Stotz
film: David Burkhart
story: Kyle McCarthy

Thanks to the collaborators:  Estera Style, Fleur, Solemn Oath, Illinois Sparkling, Fountainhead, Cleetus Friedman.

The Culture of Camp

The typical camping weekend evokes images of blue-bird days filled with forays along wooded trails, leisurely dips in crisp lake water and the Thoreauvian rush of self-reliance that comes with successfully pitching a tent on the first attempt.
Unless the destination of choice is Camp Wandawega – where the camping is anything but typical. The camp sits nestled alongside picturesque Wandawega Lake in Walworth County, Wisconsin. Since its construction in the early 1920’s, it has seen many incarnations – vacation resort, speakeasy, cathouse, Catholic-Latvian retreat, and recently, back to resort once again.
Wandawega consists a cluster of rustic cabins and lodging houses huddled together in the middle of 25 wooded acres. A vintage fire truck is parked quietly next to the tree line. An antique canned ham sits at the far end of an archery range, inviting visitors to enjoy a few moments under the shade of its extended awning. Hand made signage points campers to the beach, the lodge, the tennis courts, or the teepee.
Traces of modernity can be found, but must be hunted – the initial impression one gets when walking up the crushed gravel driveway to the main lodge is that the place is equal parts resort and time machine. On this day though, the perceived ripple in the time-space continuum is quickly replaced with the more elemental sensations of cold wind and steady rain. Fantasies of arboreal excursions are quickly replaced with more practical visions of shelter and warmth.
But at Wandawega, camp abides.
Decades of adventures in every conceivable meteorological condition mean that the art of camping inside has been perfected and fun will be had. A step out of the rain and into the great room of the main lodge means leaving the present behind altogether. Antique wood, leather, flannel and taxidermy instantly rush to welcome campers and invite them to gather by the roaring fire.
Camping is by definition a return to nature and oftentimes a solitary pursuit. But the inclement day combined with the warmth of the room has the opposite effect as campers band together to mix camp cocktails, exchange stories, play board games, and explore the lodge. Soon, the sounds of conversation and clinking glassware mixes with rain against the windows to create a cheerful hum. The topic of discussion has no compass; it meanders pleasantly from professional football, to jewelry, to bicycles, to the renewal of marriage vows and on to musical injuries.
The afternoon wanes. The rain eases but doesn’t relent. The campers seize the opportunity and leave the lodge to meet the late afternoon drizzle. A short walk up the stone path leads to a hilltop clearing, where it is proved once again when it comes to camping, preparation trumps conditions. A phalanx of pole tents has been erected, providing a canopy for three weathered picnic tables.
It’s happy hour at Wandawega.
But in lieu of a few plastic coolers stuffed with ice and cans of domestic beer, a temporary tap system has been placed in the middle of the picnic tables. The three draughts immediately spark an informal tasting session as dozens of outstretched glasses compete for tap pulls. Once each glass has been filled, the campers subdivide into groups of three and four. This time, the discourse is still varied, but remains squarely focused on beer. The merits of the three brews are discussed along with lively debates about what makes the perfect beer name and why it’s a good thing to never make the same recipe twice.
But happy hour is prelude and shortly, the campers reluctantly put down their glasses and head to dinner. Another massive pole tent rises above the tennis court on the far side of the property. Sheltered beneath is a wooden table that stretches almost the length of the playing surface. Camping is hungry work, and dinner must be served.
Instead of the usual fare of burgers and cased meats, the diners are treated to an alternative take on camp cuisine. Smoked hummus and seasonal crudité precede a kale, chard and heirloom tomato first course. Campfire grilled elote is served alongside conchinitas pebil nestled in warm corn tortillas. In that moment when a large group of people is struck mute by the quality of their supper, the camp cook calmly explains how a meal of so many distinct flavors can be executed with just three pieces of iron cookware.
The evening concludes, in traditional camp style, with a raging bonfire accompanied by the strumming of a guitar and the occasional scent of a perfectly toasted s’more. The weather has passed, and Wisconsin apologizes for the rainy day with a lingering sunset full of every warm color there is.
But at this moment, the last thing anyone is thinking about is a bit of rain.

No joke, the Midwest has some pretty $*&% impressive filmmakers.

I was asked to speak on a panel for the Midwest Ad Shorts last week (blush & eeek!) and was blown away by the lineup this year. check out the line up here.

This particular night, it was a sold-out theater:
  “the place to be and be seen by veteran pros and up-and-comers" -Chicago Magazine

meet the jury (Leaders of Chicago's film and production community)
meet the panelists (We talked about 'creative inspiration' in the commercial world)

My picks from the evening & this year's entries:

John Malkovich in a Friday the 13th meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas drug rage.  Directed by Chicago commercial director Sandro.


 Three immigrant window cleaners risk their lives every day rappelling down some of Chicago's tallest sky-scrapers. Paraíso reveals the beauty and danger of their job and what they see on the way down.  Directed by Nadav Kurtz.  Official Selection, 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

last year's winner was SAM MACON- the director behind 'sign painters' - which we screened at Camp Wandawega a few weekends ago as part of GBHxBSS. Sam also directed one of last year's winner's: MOONBEAMS.