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November 23, 2014

The Frozen Robins are back!

It's the most wonderful time of the year...or something like that. All I know is that I've brushed off my top hat, smoothed my cravat and tails and located my pitch pipe (I'm sure that everybody does that at this time of year). In short, my Christmas caroling group, The Frozen Robins, is ready to spice up the holiday season again with songs, improv, good cheer and more.

Once again we will be appearing at the Morton Arboretum's Illumination event, where the grounds of The Morton Arboretum glow with dazzling LED lights and trees that respond to touch and sound. Look for us between 5 and 8pm on these dates:

November 28
November 29
December !3
December 19
December 20
December 23
December 26
December 27

We'll also be warbling on Saturday morning, November 29, at the Chicago Botanic Garden's Wonderland Express. If you like trains, snow, holiday decorations and more, there's no reason not to like this fabulous display.

Last, and whether or not it is least is still up for debate, the Frozen Robins will be making an appearance (we think) on the Chicago Fire TV show. Don't ask me how but we got roped into being extras on the set for an episode called "Santa Bites" (somebody's going to get some coal in their stocking this year), that airs on December 2. I'm sure we'll be on camera for all of a couple of seconds, if that, but you never know. Look for a couple of top hats and some frilly 19th Century dresses. That will be us.

Aunt V is cooking up some mighty healthy meals

I met Veronica Porter earlier this year at a meeting of Good Greens at the USDA Midwest Food & Nutrition Service, where Director of Public Affairs Alan Shannon had asked me to make a presentation about my new book, Attack of the Killer Asparagus (have I mentioned that it makes a great holiday gift?)

When I discovered what her business model was, I became very intrigued. Veronica Porter is the "V" behind "Ask Aunt V," which includes "Aunt V's Cafe," "What's for Dinner?" and a series of Cooking Classes.

There are several things that make Porter's ventures notable. For one, Aunt V's Cafe features daily specials that are local, organic, seasonal food--and they're made fresh daily. You're not going to have a choice of many dishes like you would at most restaurants. You're basically getting the "dish of the day."

The same is true for What's for Dinner?--with a twist. In this case, the meals are delivered to you, Monday through the Metra train station in Naperville. Oh, did I mention that all of this happens in Naperville? Anyway, you can click on a drop down box that has the afternoon arrival time for your train, and your fresh, made-from-scratch meal will be waiting for your when you disembark. How cool is that?

Porter says that one of the things that makes her business unique is that she and her people are in contact with customers via text up until the time their train arrives. So if you miss the train, you can always let them know. You must pre-pay to have the order waiting for you.

Of course, you also have the option of picking up the meals at Aunt V's Cafe, located at 1836 Freedom Drive in Naperville. As for the Cooking Classes, they are held at 222 South Main Street in Naperville and last about an hour and a half. Classes are $40.00/person. Bring an apron and a container for food.

But that's just part of Veronica Porter's growing empire. She also has a plan to create something called Victory Farms. Here's how she describes it:

The Mission of Victory Farms is to create a network of local, organic, community based farms in northern Illinois. The purpose of the farms is to provide training and employment for recently discharged Veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and young men and women who are high functioning with hidden disabilities. The farms will provide local, fresh produce, grown naturally, in a sustainable manner, to sell to the community...

The purpose of this plan is to purchase a working farm in Naperville, Illinois to begin the first Victory Farm. The land has been farmed by the same family for over 35 years using sustainable farming methods. The current owner wishes to sell the property...

The long term goal is to create a network of growers and producers to provide a consistent, year round availability of fresh, local food which makes it possible to:.

  • Provide produce to the food service industry
  • The opportunity for a year-round Farmers Market
  • Develop a food hub/processing facility for collection and distribution of local foods throughout the region
  • Institute a fellowship program with the University of Illinois Extension to teach and train those interested in pursuing farming related careers.

It also offers the opportunity for a farm to table experience, an educational facility for local school children and classes in cooking and food preservation.

She hopes to be part of the Homegrown By Heroes program, which I discussed earlier in the year, when I interviewed Alicia Moore and Sara Creech from Blue Yonder Organic Farm. I can't think of a more worthy goal. It's a pleasure to have her on the show this morning.

What does a new governor mean for the fate of the Illiniana Tollway?

Well, there's a new sheriff, er, governor in town, er, Illinois but it's still unclear if the new sheriff, er, governor, will approve the $1.2 billion boondoggle known as the Illiana Tollway. I wish people would stop calling it an "expressway," because it is literally a tollway, and it's a pretty good bet that it will ultimately cost the state and the people who use it a lot of money if it is built. That doesn't even take into consideration the environmental damage it will do to Illinois, which is considerable.

I stood in the back of the room with a lot of people on October 8 and 9 of this year and basically watched the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) punch itself in the face.The board voted once again, as they had done a year before, to block the road from I-65 in Indiana to more-or-less I-55 in Illinois, stating that it would not . Unfortunately, the very next day, the MPO Policy Committee of CMAP decided (also for a second time) to ignore the recommendation of the CMAP board and approve the Illiana Tollway. POW! OUCH!

Those split decisions seem to throw the regional GO TO 2040 plan under the bus, with environmental groups threatening lawsuits, the ultimate disposition of the tollway left in doubt and the credibility of CMAP itself undermined by the process. Then, of course, Bruce Rauner defeated Pat Quinn in the gubernatorial race and everything changed.

Or did it?

Quinn and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have lobbied hard for what many people are calling the "highway to nowhere." So where does Rauner stand on this issue? He was pretty coy about it during his campaign--which was pretty much his strategy on every issue. In response to that, here's what the Chicago Tribune says in a piece titled Memo to Bruce Rauner: Kill the Illiana Expressway, that came out just last week:

Back in September, when you and Gov. Pat Quinn met with us to talk about the Nov. 4 election, we asked whether the Illiana Expressway would be built if you were elected governor.

The question should have been right in your wheelhouse, given that your campaign was all about fiscal responsibility and the Illiana promises to be a money-sucking fiasco. "Don't know," you said. "Have to see the studies."

Have you had a chance to look at them yet?

In a few short weeks, you'll be governor of Illinois. Deciding whether to go forward with the Illiana should be one of your first and easiest calls. But there's no need for your transition team to spend a lot of time on research. Give us three minutes.

First, the upside: There is no upside.

Yikes. And they're not the only ones against this project. As I wrote on October 5, when you have ententies as disparate the Chicago Tribune, Openlands, Crain's Chicago Business, Progress Illinois and Illinois PIRG all saying that this is a bad idea...well, it might actually be a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Now Will County residents themselves are calling on theIllinois General Assembly to turn down any legislation that would fund or advance the tollway. And that, surprisingly, includes some local officials, including Judy Ogalla, Will County Board member from District 1, and Symerton Mayor Eli Geiss.

Ogalla states,

The Illinois Dept. of Transportation’s (IDOT) own study shows that the tolls would need to be much higher than any of those on existing toll roads today, consequently not attracting the traffic necessary to recoup the costs to build the road. This is a dangerous way to handle limited tax infrastructure dollars and puts the Illinois taxpayer at risk of paying of a toll road that in the end would not eliminate local traffic congestion due to the proposed location of the road being so much farther south of most areas where the traffic is generated.

Geiss concurs, saying,

The Village of Symerton is opposed to the building of the Illiana highway. It will totally disrupt our way of life. Many of the residents of our village have lived here for generations. This project will not provide long term jobs and the state of Illinois doesn’t have the money to fund it.

Leading the charge against this project are groups like Openlands, whose CEO and President Jerry Adelmann says,

Not only would the Illiana Tollway negatively impact or destroy natural areas, farmland, and open space, it runs counter to every conceivable concept of sound regional planning. Absurd projects such as this should be the stuff of Illinois’ past. It’s time to put an end to the Illiana.

Jack Darin, Director of the Sierra Club, Illinois Chapter, chimes in:

The Illiana Expressway would pave over some of the best farmland in the world, pollute the Kankakee River watershed, and threaten the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Leaders from around the region have expressed concern that the Illiana project would siphon dollars from other transportation projects and undermine planning for a strong Chicago region.

Erica Dodt from the Illinois Sierra Club joins me this morning to talk about what happens next regarding this misbegotten project. She is joined by Will County Board Member Judy Ogalla and Symerton Mayor Eli Geiss.









The Frozen Robins at last year's
Illumination at the Morton Arboretum





Veronica Porter, literally chief cook and bottle washer
at Aunt V's Cafe




Will County Board Member Judy Ogalla