Stories by Patty Wetli

The Nod to Illinois Nature You May Have Missed in Jill Biden’s Inauguration Fashion

First Lady Jill Biden. (Facebook / Dr. Jill Biden)

The first lady’s dress and matching coat, worn during the “Celebrating America” televised special, were embroidered with the official flower from every state and territory in the U.S.

Art Institute Reopening in February, Extending Popular Monet Exhibit

Chicago's museums are gradually reopening following loosening of coronavirus restrictions. (Heidi Zeiger / Office of the Mayor)

The Art Institute of Chicago will reopen Feb. 11, joining the list of museums preparing to welcome back visitors now that coronavirus restrictions are being loosened. 

Basement-to-Tiki Bar Conversion Wins Bungalow Association’s ‘COVID Creativity’ Award

A Portage Park couple transformed their bungalow basement into a tiki bar. (Courtesy of Chicago Bungalow Association)

The Driehaus Bungalow Awards were established in 2005 and honor the best in bungalow restoration and renovation. “COVID Creativity” was added to the association’s annual award categories. Two winners were announced — check out the ingenuity. 

Chicago Park District Brings Back In-Person Winter Programs

Limited in-person winter programs kick off Jan. 25. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)

Registration is now open, with limited in-person programming beginning Monday.

Chicago Claims Dibs on Best Sanders Memes

Even the CTA got in on the Sanders' fun. (Courtesy of Chicago Transit Authority)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ appearance at Wednesday’s inauguration was the gift that kept on giving to social media. Chicagoans had some particularly clever takes.

Bubbly Creek Restoration is Cleared for Takeoff — Once the Funds Are Secured

Headwaters of Bubbly Creek and the Racine Avenue Pump Station. (Courtesy of USGS)

Congress authorized a plan from the Army Corps of Engineers to restore the Chicago River’s South Fork, a 1.25-mile stretch more familiarly known as Bubbly Creek. Now actual dollars need to follow. 

Field Museum Reopening This Week, With Free Days Coming Up for Illinoisans

Safety precautions are in place as the Field Museum reopens. (Michelle Kuo / Field Museum)

The Field Museum is reopening to members on Thursday and the general public on Saturday, with safety precautions in place. Next week, the museum will offer free admission to Illinois residents on select days. 

Shedd Aquarium Announces Reopening Dates, Tickets on Sale This Week

The Shedd Aquarium is preparing to reopen, with safety measures in place. (Shedd Aquarium / Brenna Hernandez)

With COVID-19 restrictions now loosened in Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium has announced its plan to reopen later this month with a number of health and safety measures in place.

This Chicago Family is Getting Through COVID-19 One Theme Week at a Time

"Cruise night" is just one of the weekly themes Heather Payne and her family have come up with to occupy themselves during pandemic restrictions. (Courtesy of Heather Payne)

Back in March, a lot of people faced their first weekend of coronavirus lockdown with no idea of how they would fill the hours. How one local family put a creative spin on stay-at-home entertainment.

Garfield Park Conservatory’s MLK Tribute Fit for a King

The Garfield Park Conservatory’s 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. tribute. (Courtesy of Garfield Park Conservatory)

The Garfield Park Conservatory is celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day virtually, with a look back at past tributes.   

Chicago Skyscrapers To Go Dark During National COVID-19 Memorial Service

(S. Hermann & F. Richter / Pixabay)

As part of a memorial service planned by the incoming Biden-Harris administration, Chicago’s skyscrapers will go dark for 10 minutes Tuesday night in remembrance of those who have died from COVID-19. Here’s how you can participate.

Monty & Rose Have Gone Their Separate Ways, For the Winter at Least, And That’s Totally Normal

Great Lakes piping plovers, like the one pictured, don't tend to spend the winters with their mate. (Vince Cavalieri / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Rose is spending the winter in Florida, while a sighting of Monty was recently confirmed in Texas. Trouble in plover paradise or the secret to the couple’s success?

In Sugar We Trust. Chicago Bakery Has a Sweet Take on Inauguration Day

Vanille Patisserie has a full menu of Inauguration Day baked goods. (Courtesy of Vanille Patisserie)

Vanille Patisserie has a full menu of Inauguration Day cookies, cakes, pies and tarts, because why not? “We’re bringing a little joy and laughter,” said owner Sophie Evanoff. “We’re in the celebration business, so anything we can celebrate, we do.”

MLK Day of Service: Take a Hike Through the Forest Preserves and Pick Up Litter

Show appreciation for nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (photoforyou / Pixabay)

The Cook County Forest Preserves are encouraging people to give back to nature on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Head out on a self-led litter cleanup hike at one of the preserves’ nature centers or Dan Ryan Woods.

New CPS School in Belmont Cragin to Have Unexpected Landlord: Chicago Park District

A new CPS school will be connected to the existing field house at Riis Park, 6100 W. Fullerton Ave., in Belmont Cragin. (Riis Park Advisory Council / Facebook)

During Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Chicago Park District Board, commissioners unanimously agreed to lease property within Riis Park to Chicago Public Schools for the construction of a new elementary school.

Chicago Botanic Garden Cancels Orchid Show, Wilts Under COVID-19 Restrictions

The Chicago Botanic Garden has canceled 2021's Orchid Show. (stanbalik / Pixabay)

The annual show was to have opened in February, but the garden’s greenhouses are still closed due to mitigations put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With Lake Off-Limits, Chicago’s Polar Bear Club Says, ‘Plunge Where You Are’ — Icy Bathtubs Included

A scene from the 2020 Chicago Polar Bear Club’s plunge into Lake Michigan. This year’s “plunge where you are” will look different. (Courtesy of Chicago Polar Bear Club)

“We can jump in the lake next year. People are just going to have to plunge where they are,” said the head of the Chicago Polar Bear Club. The 2021 event is going forward, virtually, to raise money for families in need.

Pritzker: Feds Holding Back ‘Enormous Stores’ of COVID-19 Vaccine

Gov. J.B. Pritzker takes questions from the media after delivering an update on COVID-19 in Illinois on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (WTTW News via BlueRoomStream)

With fewer than 350,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine administered to date in Illinois, Gov. J. B. Pritzker urged patience among residents, stating: “We all want this to happen faster.”

This Herd of Goats Recycles Christmas Trees in Chicago by Eating Them

Urban Growers Collective maintains a herd of 17 goats at its South Chicago farm. (Courtesy of Urban Growers Collective)

Where humans see a messy pile of dried needles, goats see a tasty meal. The herd at Urban Growers Collective’s South Chicago farm can dine for weeks on recycled Christmas trees.

The Eagles Have Landed. Here’s Where To See Them Near Chicago

(Andreas Hoja / Pixabay)

Thousands of bald eagles spend their winter in Illinois and there are a number of prime eagle-spotting sites in the Chicago region.

Michigan Comes Through with Cash for Illinois’ Asian Carp Defense System

Charmayne Anderson holds a large Bighead carp caught in a lake in Morris, Illinois, in 2017. (Evan Garcia / WTTW News)

When it comes to keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes, Illinois is the last line of defense, but the state’s not alone in the battle. Michigan will transfer up to $8 million to Illinois via an intergovernmental agreement as part of an effort to keep Asian carp at bay.

South Side Activist Started Cleanups After Last Year’s Looting, And Has No Plans of Stopping

Kierra Wooden (center holding sign) started Southside Cleanup following last summer’s looting, and her mission keeps expanding. (Southside Cleanup / Instagram)

Kierra Wooden founded Southside Cleanup in the aftermath of 2020’s protests, and now the young activist finds herself at the head of a movement that’s about so much more than picking up trash.

The Pileated Woodpecker is 2021’s Bird of the Year

Here’s where to see this raucous beauty near Chicago

A male pileated woodpecker, distinguished from a female by the red stripe on his cheek. (Veronica Andrews / Pixabay)

With its flaming red crest and distinctive cackle, the pileated woodpecker is a favorite of birders, not least because it resembles Woody Woodpecker. Though sightings have been rare in urban areas, they can be found in the Chicago region’s forest preserves.

Can This Building Be Saved? Preservation Chicago Issues Call for ‘Most Endangered’ Nominations

The Thompson Center was named to Preservation Chicago's most endangered list in 2020. (Gabriel X. Michael)

Preservation Chicago has thrown open the nominations for historic buildings that are “too special to lose.” The organization will announce its list of the year’s most endangered buildings on Feb. 24. 

Beach or Habitat? Advocates Want Park District to Add Plovers’ Nesting Site to Neighboring Protected Nature Area

Montrose Beach Dunes Natural Area on the left, and the proposed section of Montrose Beach that would be incorporated into the protected area. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Chicago’s birding community is already preparing for the return of Monty and Rose, the piping plovers that captured national attention two summers ago when they made the surprising choice to nest on Chicago's lakefront. But will their favored habitat be secure in 2021?

Chicago Notches 5th Warmest Year on Record in 2020

Chicago set a number of weather records in 2020. (Adonis Villanueva / Pixabay)

2020 was a wacky weather year. Chicago was warmer and wetter than normal in 2020, according to a National Weather Service climate summary.