The Big Monster Door at Big Monster Toys as part of Open House Chicago

The things in Chicago that I never do.

Open House Chicago

Do you have lists of things you want to do and that would be easy to do but you just never do? I do.

I’m not talking about the big, monumental things. I’m not talking about walking the Camino in Spain or riding a motorbike across Vietnam or learning to ride a motorbike so you could drive it across Vietnam.

I’m talking about the little things. The things that would take an hour or two. An afternoon. The things in your own city or even your own house. The things that could be accomplished with minimal effort.

There are always restaurants I want to eat at, museums I want to go to, books I want to read, festivals I want to experience, classes I want to take, things I want to learn. But, for whatever reason, don’t.

I’m always too busy. Or I’m too lazy. Or I forget. Or I can’t afford it right now. Or I don’t feel like doing it right now. Or I say I’ll do it later and just never do.

I have ridiculously simple things on my life list that I have never crossed off. Things like making homemade marshmallows or going to a once trendy restaurant that’s now been open for ten years or getting a margarita at Chipotle when I go to Chipotle all the damn time (granted I go at lunch and I don’t think my work would appreciate my coming back with a take out cup of tequila…)

Things that take minimal effort yet, somehow, I never find that effort.


Every year I say I’m going to go to Open House Chicago, Chicago’s annual architectural festival, and I never do. Since 2011, for a weekend every October, hundreds of buildings in the city have opened their doors for visitors to take a peek inside. Visitors, that is, who aren’t me.

Every year I’d have grand ambitions but wouldn’t make it out the door. I was too tired or busy or lazy or out of town or just plain apathetic. So, this year, determined to finally do one of those things I always say I’m going to do, I made plans to go.

I listed out potential places to see. I recruited a friend to come with so I couldn’t back out. I decided that, no matter what, no matter how busy or tired or lazy or apathetic I felt, I was going to do it…

And I did. I went to eight places over the course of the weekend and saw buildings in Chicago I never would have seen otherwise. Some of which were pretty damn cool, some of which I had no idea even existed, some of which I would have been just as fine only admiring from the outside, and some of which were just plain weird.

I keep telling myself that next year I’m going to do all those little, easy things that have been stuck on my life list for years. I’m going to do all the things in Chicago that I never do. I’m going to go to those restaurants I’ve always wanted to try. I’m going to take that architectural cruise. I’m going to go to Chipotle and get a margarita.

But, then again, I’m pretty sure I said that about this year.

And probably every year before.

Anyways. Here’s what I saw at Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago: Saturday


The Big Monster Door at Big Monster Toys

My friend Shanna and I had plans to go to Open House Chicago on Sunday, but there was one place I was dying to see that was only open for a few hours on Saturday: Big Monster Toys.

Big Monster Toys is a toy idea creation center. They invent and prototype and license toys of all kinds for companies like Mattel, Fisher Price, and Hasbro. It’s hard to miss this place: outside there is a giant yellow door with a big green and purple monster peeking out the window. But this was the only day of the year year that the public would be allowed to come inside to see what lies behind that big yellow door.

The inside didn’t disappoint. If Willy Wonka had a toy factory in Chicago, this would be it. There were toys everywhere, a giant caboose-turned kitchen, a towering stuffed giraffe, and, pièce de résistance… the back of the monster!


Lyric Opera House

OK so I actually work here and therefore have been inside like a million times but since I was downtown anyways I told my coworker I’d stop by and snap some photos for social media. Still, it’s always an impressive place to see…

Lyric Opera House at Open House Chicago.

Lyric Opera House at Open House Chicago.


Open House Chicago: Sunday


Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall

On Sunday, Shanna and I had brunch and then set off to explore the city. We decided to head to the south side, skipping downtown and the north side, in order to check out things in neighborhoods we don’t often visit. Our first stop of the day was Morgan Park Academy Alumni Hall, a neo-Gothic building on campus at Morgan Park Academy that housed a dining hall and dramatic library.


Ridge Historical Society

The Graver-Driscoll House was designed in 1922 for affluent homebuilder Herbert Graver. Since the 1970s it’s served as the home for the Ridge Historical Society, who preserve and interpret the communities of Beverly Hills, Morgan Park, Washington Heights and Mount Greenwood.


The Givins Castle

The only castle in Chicago, the Givins Castle (AKA Irish Castle) was built in 1887 as a home for real estate developer Robert C. Givins and his family. Today it’s home to the Beverly Unitarian Church.


Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery

A Chicago meadery that uses purified Lake Michigan water and honey from its own hive of bees to make sweet fruity meeds in a variety or qualities and flavors. This stop offered free tours to learn more about the mead-making process… and gave out samples!


Héctor Duarte Studio

You might not know local muralist Héctor Duarte by name, but you’ve probably seen some of his work around the city. Outside, his studio is covered in a “Gulliver in Wonderland” mural featuring a Mexican immigrant struggling to break free from barbed wire. Inside, the walls are covered in his paintings that deal with themes of identity, immigration, and freedom and Duarte himself was there to talk about his life and work.



Mickey is a contemporary art gallery and on the day of the open house there was an exhibit that was basically just sand on the floor and it was weird and we didn’t really get it…

Mickey Art Gallery at Open House Chicago.


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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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