Reviews of businesses we’ve worked with, dined at, purchased from, etc. All reviews are written by Jill & Brian personally and are never influenced by advertising. We try to be balanced and write about the good as well as the not so good aspects of what we experience..

Adventure for all at Richardson Farm

Wholesome Family Fall Fun

Richardson Farm, amazing corn.As the rich colors start to take hold of the leaves and the air begins to take on that comfortable chill of Autumn, what could be a more idyllic setting than heading out to the country in search of pumpkins for Halloween. Memories of childhood trips to the pumpkin patch in search of the Great Pumpkin abound.

Okay, to be honest, I don’t recall ever visiting a pumpkin patch as a child, and am pretty sure that is because we never made such a journey. However, that’s not to say that I can’t appreciate the joy and wonder that such a journey and memory can be. And after all, part of a parent’s job is to give our children the memories that we never had.

Richardson Farm

This year we decided to take a nice drive up to Spring Grove to visit Richardson Farm. As is the case, it would seem these days the pumpkin patch is so much more than that. The current versions bring a whole days worth of activities and attractions for all ages, and with that, an admission charge. While not “extreme,” admission can certainly add up quickly at $13 for 13 and up, $10 for ages 4-12, and under 4 is free. Fortunately there’s no fee for parking and there’s lots of activities that are free…however, that’s not to say that everything inside is free by any means.

Once inside the entrance, we were greeted and given the general lay of the land. There’s also a big map posted on a board of the grounds, which we somehow missed initially, as well as the giant corn maze. It’s definitely worth checking this if you’ve never been here before.

Richardson Farm map.

Towering Above

Richardson Farm observation tower.The alternative to this is to head to the observation tower. At 50′, the tower will give you a great view out over the farm and pretty much as far as the eye can see. It is from the tower that you get a much better impression of how large the farm is, even beyond the corn maze. On the ground, the view is very open and uncluttered, to the point that it may seem like there isn’t much here or that it isn’t very large. Don’t be fooled and definitely don’t forget to wear your comfortable shoes.

The tower is also where you can zipline your way across the grounds. However, that will run you another $15.

World’s Largest Corn Maze

The tower is also about the only way you can fully take in and appreciate the expansive corn maze. At 33 acres, they claim it to be the world’s largest corn maze, or should that be mazes. The corn maze is actually 5 mazes combined, featuring a graphic design. Each year a new design is created and I can’t help but say that it truly is amazing. The individual mazes vary in size and difficulty, and if that wasn’t enough, there are various “maze games” that are incorporated as well. If you are into corn mazes and games, this may be reason enough to make the trip.

Richardson Farm corn maze design and map.

More than Pumpkins and Corn

You can take a free wagon ride out to the pumpkin patch, or just to take a ride. The more traditional hayride is actually a group, scheduled event, so you may have to rely on the wagon ride to get your fix, however it is a bit of a rough ride. You can also get a glimpse of the trees being grown for Christmas and perhaps find one to come back for in December.

Every farm needs animals and you can certainly find some here…though perhaps a few different ones than Old MacDonald has. The little ones will enjoy watching the bunnies and chickens, perhaps petting some goats, watching pigs race (they don’t start until noon though), but then it gets taken up a notch at the newly added exotic animal petting zoo (additional fee).

If you prefer the less exotic animals, they’ve also introduced a carousel for 2014. While we thought we saw it operating when we pulled in, unfortunately it wasn’t running while we were there.

Richardson Farm carousel.

There is an assortment of other activities from jumping pillows, which are like inflatable trampolines, slides made from plastic sheeting going down the hills, swings made from barrels, pedal cars, and more. What we appreciated the most was that there were varying levels to the slides and jumping pillows so that all ages can have fun. Kiddie Country is in fact made for the youngsters with a height limit to make sure the smallest ones can safely have fun too.

Richardson Farm pillow jumping.

If you’ve ever wanted to roll around in a giant inflatable ball, then perhaps Zorbing is for you. This will however also set you back a good $20 a ride, $30 for two riders. Or if you’ve ever desired to shoot corn cobs out of a canon, now’s your chance, and fortunately, that comes at no charge.

Working Up an Appetite

With this much fun to be had, you’ll quickly work up an appetite. Fortunately, there is the onsite Cornfield Concessions to address your needs. The menu may be fairly simple as one would expect, but the selection provided enough variety to cover most tastes. The selection was actually greater than I would have expected and the prices were fairly reasonable, all things considered. Unfortunately however, the dining experience itself ended up being one of the few truly negative experiences.

Richardson Farm Cornfield Concessions.

Apparently on the day we were there, they were short a cashier. While there were less than 20 people ahead of us, what should have been a modest wait turned into a considerably longer wait. We didn’t actually time it, but I don’t think we’d be too far off by saying it was 30-45 minutes at least, perhaps even longer. While I appreciate that the owner stepped up to man the order counter, that really was not enough. Food prep can’t be handled by just anyone and trying to work a cash register without any prior experience would be quite challenging, but certainly one or two other staff members could be brought in to simply take the orders. This may have been a rare incident and hopefully plans like this have been implemented to address and prevent this in the future.

Richardson Farm the wait for food.

As for the food itself, fortunately this was a better experience than the ordering process. Apparently we were so hungry that we realized afterward that we didn’t take any pictures to share, so you’ll have to use your imagination. The chili, cheese hot dogs were just what we needed. Given the wait, we probably should have doubled our order, but at least it helped to ease the hunger. They were very good. I wouldn’t say great or exceptional, but I would say they were at least on par with what I would have expected and perhaps a little better. Definitely go for the combo though as the fries were exceptional, again, at least to expectations. Personally, I’m not into the “overly potatoey” fries. I have never cared for the big fat wavy/crinkle cut fries with the mushy potatoe insides. These fries were more like a beer-batter fry with a thicker, crunchier though not quite crunchy outside, with just enough fry “insides” to qualify as a french fry. Definitely a better fry than I would expect from a concession stand.

Richardson Farm concessions.

Of course, no trip to the pumpkin farm would be complete without an order of apple cider donuts. By order of course I mean at least 1/2 dozen, more if you actually intend to leave with any. While it may be said that there is no such thing as a bad donut, some donuts are definitely better than others. The apple cider donuts at Richardson Farm are definitely a treat to be had and will leave a smile on your face.

Far From Perfect

Our trip to Richardson Farm was, like the gravel road we came in, not without its bumps. The excessive wait for food and the carousel wasn’t running, detracted from an otherwise delightful experience. Perhaps everything was running smoother after we left and one could certainly spend an entire day there if desired. With an 18 month old however, that isn’t feasible and we often have to work within the windows of time we have.

However, if you are looking for fun, family time filled with wholesome, low-tech activities, then you can’t go wrong. While some of the “add-on” activity pricing, in my opinion, is a bit much, there is a wide array of other activities that are included in the admission charge. They’ve done a great job making sure that there is fun to be had for all ages and the staff that we experienced were all welcoming. They’ve done a nice job on the Richardson Farm website calling out the various activities they have, including which carry additional fees, so you can make up your own mind.

Be sure to share your own Richardson Farm experience.

Keeping It Clean with CD One Price Cleaners

Clothing is something very near and dear to my heart. My very first job was working in the menswear department of a department store, and one of my favorite jobs of all times was working in a small menswear store selling suits, shirts, and ties. Less exciting was the laundromat/dry cleaning stint I had for awhile. What this left me with though is a good understanding of the care and treatment of clothing.

Regardless of your fashion style or budget, the great equalizer is that sooner or later, most if not all of us will need to take something to the cleaners. Let me share my simple criteria for cleaners as well as my personal experiences with CD One Price Cleaners here in Crystal Lake.

Convenience…Important But Maybe Not Critical

CD One Price Cleaners keeping it onsite.Convenience in this case is a somewhat “relative” term that spans the extremes. For instance, the location in general, being on North West Hwy (Hwy 14), is very good, but the specific building location is far from great. It can be somewhat challenging to get to if you are crossing traffic, and you pretty much have to cross traffic almost any way you take. It is located in a small, tightly confined parking lot, and unfortunately, they don’t offer drive-thru service, which is even more awesome than it sounds if you’ve ever frequented a dry cleaner that offered that.

While the entrance can get packed fairly quickly, especially if you are trying to get in for the same-day drop off by 10am and pick up after 5pm deadline, it is probably above average in size as most cleaners go. I have to admit that I was initially excited on my first visit when they provided a laundry bag. My first thought was that this was to enable faster drop-offs, as in you walk in, drop the bag and go, which can be (or used to be) found at some cleaners. However, this isn’t the case. Instead, the bag is just marketing and the convenience of having a bag to haul your dirty clothes to the cleaner. Still, not a bad thing.

And if they are busy, you can help yourself to a complementary cup of coffee while you wait, assuming it isn’t out of coffee…my experience has been mixed.

One thing to be aware of is that CD One Price Cleaners is a pre-pay service when you drop off your clothes. This may be a bit unexpected if you are used to cleaners where you pay upon pickup. Fortunately, they do accept credit cards now, which is a nice improvement at least. They also feature an ATM in the entrance.

The other key thing to be aware of is that they aren’t your cleaner for everything. In fact, CD One Price Cleaners refers to themselves as “garment specialists,” so you’ll need to look elsewhere for cleaning your drapes, comforters, and other household items. Also, you may find that if you have any special needs garments, those might need to go elsewhere as well, but you can always take them in and let them make that determination.

Another nice convenience feature they added awhile back is the ability to be emailed when your cleaning is ready to be picked up. This is especially nice when your order is ready ahead of the regular 5pm time and you can get in before the rush. Unless they’ve changed it though, you need to request this in store, rather than from their website, and the only option at least at the time was email, not SMS text, which would be even more convenient.

When you drop off or pick up, they ask for your phone number, and confirm the name. For the most part, this is a pretty quick system that avoids having to run through similar sounding names or confirming addresses for the same name.

Personally for me, there are a number of other cleaners that are closer, but of course that isn’t always the most important factor.

Price O’Mighty

CD One Price Cleaners keeping it efficient.Hopefully price isn’t the most important criteria either, but it’s certainly toward the top for most. Fortunately, regardless of where price falls on your list, you probably won’t have much to complain about here. The name “One Price” is a bit of a misnomer, in that there are actually 2 prices: one, $1.49, for laundered items, like men’s dress shirts, and two, $2.79, for dry cleaning. Note that these are “piece prices,” so a men’s two-piece suit would be $5.58 ($2.79 X 2). That aside, that’s still pretty nice, both in the simplicity and in the amounts. I think the laundered price is perhaps a bit higher than average, but the dry cleaning price is much lower than average.

I must confess though that in the past, at least with regard to shirt laundering, “any price” was a little too high to me. I don’t really enjoy it, but cleaning and ironing my own shirts is something I’m quite capable of doing, not to mention that commercial cleaning is typically harsher and shortens the life of shirts compared to home cleaning and ironing. Of course, the reality is that when you take shirts into the cleaners, you aren’t necessarily buying cleaning and pressing services, what you are buying is time.

A few years ago when I was traveling more frequently and cycling through my shirts regularly, that become the deciding factor. I decided that I could spend a few hours every week doing this myself, a chore that I didn’t necessarily hate but wasn’t exactly excited about doing, or I could take a fraction of that time and spend a little money to let someone else do that for me and use the remaining time for the things that I really wanted to do.

I haven’t looked back, nor have I ironed a shirt in a couple years at least.

Quality is King

Ultimately, the most important criteria when it comes to dry cleaners, again for most people, is probably quality. No amount of “cheap” is cheap enough for a “mostly clean” garment, or to get back a “partially damaged” garment. Even if a cleaner replaces a damaged item, it’s rarely a painless process, and of course there isn’t ever a guarantee that an exact replacement can be made.

Unfortunately, this is a game of time. Sooner or later, if you take items into the cleaners with any kind of frequency, something will come back, let’s say, not exactly right. This is true for every cleaner, no matter how careful and cautious they are, if for no other reason that natural degradation of your own clothes or just bad luck.

CD One Price Cleaners problem tag.Knock on wood, so far, I’ve not really had to experience this part of CD One Price’s service. But this also says a lot. Obviously the more frequently you take items in, the more chances for an unfortunate event to happen. While I’m not a high frequency customer, as in weekly or even monthly, I do tend to amass a few shirts and sport coats and take 15-20 items in every couple of months or so. Over the course of three or four years, to go almost without incident is pretty significant. I say “almost” as I do have one shirt that came back, which they pointed out upon pickup, with a tag on it saying that “this is the best that can be done without possible injury to the fabric.” However, I have looked the shirt over 2-3 times, and I have yet to find anything wrong with it.

I haven’t even had a shirt come back with a broken or missing button. Anyone who has shirts commercially cleaned regularly knows how unheard of that is. In fact, I’d say that is probably the most frequent and likely damage that you’ll see as the buttons on shirts, or any garments, take the most beating during the cleaning process.

Clean, crisp, bagged, and ready to go home.Clothing can be expensive, especially sport coats, suits, and dresses that require dry cleaning. To help get the longest life out of them, don’t feel that you need to clean them after every wearing. Definitely hang them up to air out a little before tossing them back in the closet, but if they haven’t been stained or exposed directly to heavy perspiration, you should certainly be able to get another wear or two out of them before cleaning.

If you have trouble remembering whether you had a garment cleaned or not since you wore it a couple weeks ago, put a rubber-band around the hanger or hang the hanger backwards after the first wearing so you remember to take it to the cleaners after the next wearing. Or you can simply hang those items up in a separate part of your closet, which also encourages you to wear them sooner so they don’t go too long between cleanings.

However, if you wear them once a year, then it’s probably better to clean them right away than let them sit.

Next time you are looking to head to the cleaners, you might want to give CD One Price Cleaners a chance. As for their odd name, their parent company is called “Cleaners Depot, LLC,” which no doubt is where the “CD” part of the name comes from. I’ve had great success and have been happy with their pricing and service. I’d love to hear about your own experiences with local dry cleaners and be sure to share your own story on the CD One Price Cleaners listing page.

Approved Comfort with a Whole House Humidifier

As Fall will sadly be passing by sooner than it should and what sounds like another harsh winter is getting ready to unleash upon us, I can’t help but smile a little in anticipation. Don’t get me wrong, the thought of snowy, icy roads, trudging through snow and slush, shoveling sidewalks, and clearing the driveway, not to mention bone-chilling temps, is the farthest thing from my list of winter joys. However, after enduring winter upon winter of dry uncomfortable indoor conditions, the dry itchy and cracking skin that comes with that, and the constant, futile attempts to counter that with room humidifiers, last winter changed all that.

You see, last January, we finally said enough and embarked down path to the whole house humidifier. Let me share our story so you too can decide whether enough is enough.

Research & Outreach

Like most, I started researching online, first by educating myself on whole house humidifiers, followed by whether I thought it was something I could install myself. On the research front, of course, the information ran the gamut, from “worthless, don’t bother,” to whether the “bypass humidifiers” or the “steam humidifiers” were best. I’m not sure this will leave you any more certain on a decision than I was, so ultimately it still probably comes down to your own gut instinct.

I can only say that we had reached our limit and were ready to at least try this and hope we made the right choice. The only thing I still ponder is whether a steam humidifier would have been more efficient, environmentally speaking, as the amount of “run through” water on the bypass (water panel) type was more than I ever imagined it would be…it is literally like turning a faucet partially on. I’ve at least rationalized part of this with the idea that, because we are on a well/septic system, that any wasted water is simply being returned from where it came.

The only thing left was to decide whether I should attempt to install it myself. While I, on occasion can be handy, to use the actual phrase “handyman” with reference to myself might be taking liberties. Yes, I did change out our kitchen faucet and have replaced all of the working components of our toilets. And I have replaced all of our electrical outlets, switches, installed some ceiling fans as well as installed a number of lighting fixtures, both inside and out. However, installing a whole house humidifier brings together both elements of plumbing and electrical, not to mention involving primary duct work and one of the more expensive operational components of the house, the furnace. Your mileage may vary, but I had to draw the line on this one.

Calling in the Professionals

So back to the web where I submitted a few online forms at a handful of HVAC websites. I sat back, waiting for the responses to pour in. And waited. Apparently it was a good time for HVAC businesses as most seemed too busy to even bother telling me how busy they were and that they didn’t need my business. I did get a couple responses though, so we were around 40-50% here. One of which I went back and forth with and a couple times thought he was going to stop by to assess our needs and provide an estimate. That never happened. The other response was from Approved Comfort. I’m thinking it was rather quickly, possibly the day I submitted the request, but I don’t honestly remember. At this point, the fact they responded was worth points anyway.

I was a little surprised that it simply came down to some basic details of our house over the phone versus an onsite assessment, but with that, I got a firm quote on the pricing and we were scheduled for installation.

Installation

Being, I believe, somewhat peak season, no surprise when I got a call the day of installation to be told that the technician scheduled for our install was running behind on another job. They were happy to reschedule, otherwise, they could still come out that day if it worked for us. But being notified ahead of time that someone is running late and given the option to keep the appointment or reschedule isn’t really something I could get too upset about, given the more common and typical alternative.

Analog controller for whole house humidifier.

Approved Comfort service record.

I received another call, late afternoon, informing me that they were again sorry for the delay. I was told that one guy could be there within 30 minutes or so to start and that the technician was finishing up the other job and would be along within the hour or so, but being a Friday heading into the evening, they wanted to make sure that this didn’t conflict with any plans that we may have had. I was a little surprised that there was no hint of trying or even pressure to reschedule.

While I wasn’t thrilled about dragging anyone’s day out longer on a Friday than necessary, after looking so forward to the proposed benefits of this moisture-injecting masterpiece, I was even less excited about waiting through another weekend without. Let them come.

They showed up, one followed by the other as expected, and began their various duties. At some point, the assistant, for lack of a better term, left and the technician continued with the installation. It went on for sometime and I have to admit, I was feeling a little frustrated and also sorry for choosing to continue with the installation that day as we were hitting the 7:00-7:30 mark. At that point, we had reached a stopping point, and unfortunately the only additional moisture to be found was in the glass of Scotch I had poured.

Surprisingly, the technician was quite happy to arrange to come out first thing Saturday morning…and I should mention again that this was basically a fixed price job, so this wasn’t a “premium rate” Saturday visit. Sure enough, Saturday rolled around and he was back as promised. Turns out, the wrong controller was sent along for the humidifier unit. Unfortunately, this also meant that the fancy digital one wasn’t going to work for us and instead we needed the very basic, manual analog version.

With the right controller installed, we were up and running. I appreciated that the technician then took the time to give me a quick run through on operation, not that it was exactly rocket science, and also told me that it would take a day or so before we would even notice a change, and then a few days after that before it would really reach the proper humidity level.

Sure enough, we noticed a nice improvement, that is, no longer getting shocked every time we turned on a light, after a day or so. Then greatly improving a few days after that, at which point we started seeing water condensing on the windows and knew it was time to dial the controller back a little each day until the condensation stopped.

While there were plenty of things to dislike about winter last year, I can honestly say that from February on, the humidity and overall comfort within our house was not one of them.

Assessment

Overall, we are thrilled. Was it more expensive than DIY? Of course. But when you factor in the time, which is worth something as well, and the risk of DIY damage, we felt it was a fair and reasonable price. Was it without issue? Of course not, but is it ever? Rather, I was impressed at how the issues were addressed…timely and without additional expense. The technician arranged to come back the next morning, rather than sometime next week. They were clean and courteous. We were given a couple discount coupons for any emergency needs we might have.

We get a couple phone calls a year, pre-Summer and pre-Winter for inspection and tune up for air conditioner and furnace, respectively. These aren’t hard-sales pitches or repeated efforts, literally one courtesy call and message for each.

The only issue otherwise was that I was told that there would be a scheduled follow up visit for someone to come inspect the installation, which never happened. But everything seems to be working fine and I’m sure if I really wanted to, I could call and have that done. Again, not something that stands out as a big negative.

So, if you are dreading the coming winter and the dry, cracking skin that follows, I’d highly recommend looking into a whole house humidifier. Winter is bad enough outside without being able to retreat to the comfort of the indoors. This truly is one of those, “I only regret not doing it sooner” things. You may want to check with friends and neighbors for recommendations, but regardless of those responses, I’d recommend giving Approved Comfort a call as well.

Be sure to check out the Approved Comfort listing page, and if you have your own experiences, please add your review.

Pingree Road, Metra Commuters’ Friend

Pingree Road Metra
pingree road metra station house
sunset at Pingree Road

Crystal Lake’s Metra station catering to commuters, Pingree Road, has limited services onsite, but it gets the job done. On the upside, it has tons of parking, a long platform so that commuters don’t have to crowd around just a few cars, and a friendly little cafe inside the waiting room. On the downside, there’s no ticket agent to purchase tickets from or ask questions of, but if you’re a commuter you likely have those things figured out already anyway.

Pingree Road Metra Station
570 Congress Pkwy.
Crystal Lake, IL

Opened in 2009, Pingree Road is on the Union Pacific / Northwest (UP-NW) line. You can buy Metra tickets a couple of different ways when you use the Pingree Road station:

  • Cash from the conductor on the train, $7.25 if you’re headed to Chicago. Note that you will be charged $3 extra if you purchase a ticket on the train at any stop that has a ticket window, so on your return trip be sure to buy a ticket at the station before you get on the train.
  • Online at Metra’s website. Pricing and schedules here, with a 10-ride pass to Chicago costing $72.50 and a monthly pass costing $206.50.
  • Some companies also offer commuter benefits, where you can put pretax money aside for commuting costs.

Plenty of trains stop at Pingree Road, especially during the morning and evening commute hours. Check the schedule before you hop on, though, because return trips are spaced an hour apart in the middle of the day and in the evenings. Metra doesn’t have a mobile app of its own, but Android users can try third-party app Ride Metra. Apple users, sorry, no recommendations for you. The App Store reviews for Metra apps are pretty dismal.

Parking isn’t a worry at Pingree Road Metra Station like it is at Crystal Lake’s Downtown Station, with hundreds of spots in a couple of connected lots. The price is far better than Chicago parking as well: $1.50 a day. You can pay by:

  • Cash at the kiosks at the station building. Bring exact change because the kiosk doesn’t give change.
  • At the The Morning Grind cafe in the waiting room upstairs on the inbound (to Chicago) platform, they’ll roll your parking cost into whatever food or drink you’d like to purchase (cash or charge). It’s open Monday through Saturday, mornings only.
  • CPS Parking offers a discounted monthly pass at $30, online and at 877-717-0004
  • Mobile payment available with Parkmobile

Speaking of the Daily Grind, definitely give them a visit. They’re super nice, local, and they’ve got all of your coffee and espresso favorites, blended drinks, snacks and pastries. With the added convenience of paying for parking there instead of at the dreaded kiosk, it’s something to check out.

I prefer Pingree Road because it’s closer to my house. It’s not quaint like the Downtown Station, but for the 6 a.m. commute I really don’t care about quaint. Because Pingree is near the end of the line, you get your choice of seats in the morning. That’s nice way to start the day, instead of being crammed in cheek by jowl. There’s not much traffic getting to morning trains, but in the evening I find it easier to wait in my car in my parking space for 10 minutes for the traffic exiting the parking lot to disperse. There are only two exits, both emptying on to little Congress Parkway, so it can be a little hectic with people trying to get home to enjoy their evenings.

Last word of advice: The audio notification for the Pingree Road stop was recorded at a very quiet volume for some reason. Make sure to listen for the stop ahead so you know yours is next or you’ll end up in Woodstock or McHenry! And yes, I know from experience.