The Skeletons of Highwood, IL

Happy Halloween! While we may not be trick-or-treating in the traditional sense this year, we’re still celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with costumes, a walk around the neighborhood, and candy. 2020 has been a year filled with canceled plans and creative solutions so its not a surprise that October 31st is any different. To be honest, it’s not difficult to get into the Halloween spirit this year – there is a chill in the air, the leaves are vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red, and there are hundreds of skeletons around town.

Yes, skeletons.

Even though the Fort Sheridan military housing area has a Highland Park address, it’s the community of Highwood that borders the northern gate. When the now-closed active-duty installation of Fort Sheridan (read more about the history of Fort Sheridan here) opened in 1888, the citizens of Highwood and surrounding communities weren’t crazy about the saloons, gambling dens, and speakeasies that popped up to cater to the off-duty soldiers. The Prohibition-era further catered to the environment due to bootleggers creating a large-scale smuggling operation into Highwood. During World War II, the Highwood community prospered due to Fort Sheridan being a key training center for deploying troops. Today Highwood has a strong immigrant population – past and present – which gives the town a vibrant energy. Murals and sculptures pepper the landscape, a variety of cuisines are found within a few block radius, and this October hundreds of skeletons invaded Highwood.

When the handful of our Army friends who have been stationed here in the past found out we were moving to Fort Sheridan, they excitedly told us about the annual Pumpkinfest in Highwood – a popular three-day event that kicks off with the annual attempt to garner the world record for most lit jack-o-laterns (Keene, New Hampshire is the long-standing current record holder). Due to the pandemic, Pumpkinfest was cancelled this year but instead of getting down, Highwood got creative. And that’s why there are now hundreds of skeletons posed throughout the town.

We spent yesterday afternoon walking around Highwood with friends, participating a scavenger hunt sponsored by the Highwood Chamber of Commerce that took us by almost every skeleton display in town.

The best coffee in town, Tala Coffee Roasters.

The sense of community in Highwood is evident in their commitment to creative solutions during the pandemic. Indoor dining ends again today due to spiking cases and restaurants are ramping up their take-out and delivery endeavors more than ever. I hope that the many local restaurants are able to survive the winter months – if any small town has demonstrated the grit and determination necessary to survive, it’s been Highwood, IL. Skeletons and all.

Captain Daniel Wright Woods – A Little Bit of Hygge in Chicagoland

A few years ago when hygge became the design concept du jour, I jumped on board with enthusiasm and a multi-purpose lighter in my hand. What isn’t there to love about the feeling of cozy contentment while enjoying simple pleasures? Cozy blankets, layered warmth, and happiness – yes, please! The Danish concept of hygge is more than a design philosophy, it is a way of life for a population that consistently is considered one of the ‘happiest’ countries despite the notoriously harsh winters. I recently came across the book There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge) by Linda Keson McGurk. While I didn’t find the book without it’s faults (e.g., I believe some rules are necessary and should be followed), I thoroughly believe in the importance of fresh air and the restorative power of nature – regardless of the weather.

Captain Daniel Woods Forest Preserve

We spent yesterday afternoon hiking in Captain Daniel Wright Woods, which is about a 20 minute drive from Fort Sheridan. This part of Chicagoland is filled with little pockets of preserved nature in between the typical suburban shopping centers and tree-lined neighborhoods. The Lake County Forest Preserves protects nearly 31,000 acres and is the second-largest preserve system in the state. Named after one of Lake County’s first settlers, Captain Daniel Wright Woods has 4 miles of trails within the preserve and also connects to both the Half Day Forest Preserve and the Des Plains River Trail, which opens up miles and miles of opportunity to explore.

Captain Daniel Woods Forest Preserve

We actually spent very little time on the main gravel trails in the preserve, instead choosing to go deeper into the woods using the more rustic trails, which is much more our speed. We managed to hike a little over 5 miles and while it wasn’t challenging by any means (we miss the scrambling we’d do in Virginia!), we thoroughly enjoyed hearing the leaves crunch underfoot and having the cool and crisp air rosy our cheeks.

This year more than ever I find myself reflecting on what I truly want out of life – I know I am not alone with my desire to gather my little family, pack up whatever we can carry on our backs, and escape to a land far, far, away. The military lifestyle slightly scratches that itch because we get the opportunity to start fresh every 1-3 years but at the end of the day, we live a pretty basic life. I am incredibly thankful that I have a partner who values curiosity, adventure, and understanding – the older we get, the less we care about our tangible displays of wealth and success and the more we appreciate the experiences that have taught us, nourished us, and challenged us. Perhaps that is why we enjoy walking in the woods so much – it strips down our existence to simply us and the world that we can and can’t see.

The Lake County Forest Preserve ensures that you never go too far in the Chicagoland region without the opportunity to get (sort of) lost in the woods. Should you find yourself stationed here or simply passing through, it’s worth a visit.

Captain Daniel Wright Woods, 24830 St. Mary’s Road, Mettawa, IL 60045