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Friday 7/4 - Thursday 7/10

JULY

By Cara Jepsen

4 FRIDAY A giant hot dog, a gym shoe, and Shamu the whale are among the 30 balloons to be launched at this weekend's Eyes to the Skies Balloon Festival. The balloons will range in size from smaller--think of the craft that was supposed to bring Dorothy home in The Wizard of Oz--to giant, ten-story jobs that require as many as 15 ground crew members at takeoff time. And it just wouldn't be a proper festival without food, carnival rides, bingo, lawn mower racing, and a craft fair as well as performances by Leon Redbone and Otis Rush. Not only that, but people with disabilities can take a ride on Serena's Song, the nation's only wheelchair-accessible craft. Takeoffs are today and tomorrow at 6 AM and 6 PM and at 6 AM on Sunday morning. It's at the Lisle Community Park at Highway 53 and Short in Lisle. Admission is $5; call 800-733-9811 for more information. To reserve a seat on Serena's Song, call 630-960-1144.

While we're on the subject of hot air, long-winded, prolific bill-writing alderman Burton Natarus is the designated orator at this year's Star-Spangled Independence Day at the Chicago Historical Society. The old-fashioned celebration kicks off with a performance by the Chicago Pops Concert Band and includes a children's costume parade, appearances by an actor dressed as Jean Baptiste-Point Du Sable, and a musket-shooting demonstration. It begins at 10:15 on the grounds behind the Chicago Historical Society at North and Clark. It's free. Call 312-642-4600.

5 SATURDAY In the winter, Block 37 is frozen over to create Skate on State. In the summer, the barricades go down, the tents go up, and the space becomes Gallery 37, home of the city-sponsored arts training program for young people. This summer they're also offering free art classes taught by instructors from the School of the Art Institute every Saturday through August 16. Classes, which start at 10 and 1, run two and a half hours, and include papermaking, figure painting, printmaking, and Chinese brush painting. They start today at Gallery 37 at State Street between Washington and Randolph. Materials and instruction are free, but participation is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Call 312-899-5130 for more details.

Why brave the humidity and crowds of Grant Park when you can order in, watch an SNL rerun, and head out to an air-conditioned movie theater at midnight to watch an intoxicated martial artist battle the forces of evil? The brilliant Drunken Master, starring irresistible stuntmeister Jackie Chan, tells the story of the rascally son of a kung fu master who must learn "drunken boxing" to save his father's life. It's the second installment of the Music Box's Midnight Hong Kong action series, which will be followed in upcoming weeks by Swordsman II and The Blade. Like all good films of that genre, Drunken Master combines humor, gravity-defying stunts, and, of course, an underlying message. It's at midnight at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport. Admission is $7.75. Call 773-871-6604.

6 SUNDAY In the movie Chasing Amy, a comics convention was portrayed as a lively traveling carnival peopled with brilliant and eccentric multiculti comic artists making speeches, shooting the breeze, and signing books proffered by drooling boys with questionable hygiene. I'm sure there will at least be plenty of the latter at today's real-life Chicago Comicon, plus appearances by a cast of semicelebs including the actors who played Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and Boba Fett in the Star Wars films; Mr. Sulu, Lieutenant Uhura, and Q from Star Trek; and Frank Miller, creator of Batman: The Dark Night Returns and Sin City. There will also be game tournaments and a charity comic-book-art auction to benefit Literacy Chicago. The last installment of this three-day convention will be held from 10 to 5 today at the Rosemont Convention Center, 5555 N. River Road in Rosemont. Admission is $15 in advance ($20 at the door) or $35 for a three-day pass ($40 at the door). Call 800-690-1669 for tickets, or 630-852-2514 for more information.

7 MONDAY It's a hot summer morning and the ozone level is high, the kids need to be shuttled to soccer and softball, there's a pile of paperwork on your desk, you're hosting a dinner party tonight, and the in-laws are on their way. What do you do? You could have stayed single and childless for as long as possible, like me. If it's too late for that, maybe you should check out this three-week class on healthy ways to take control of summer stress. Registered nurse Susan Sanabria looks at such helpful methods as planning short getaways and determining your kids' personality types in order to meet their summertime needs. It's from 6 to 7:30 today and the next two Mondays at Northwestern University's Passavant Building, 303 E. Superior. It's $30 for all three sessions. Space is limited; call 312-908-8400 to register.

8 TUESDAY For the past two years a small group of south-side kids has been spending free time cleaning up vacant lots, volunteering at nursing homes, and otherwise learning responsibility and compassion in Youth Guidance's Connections program. The mentoring program teaches leadership skills to 10 to 20 kids selected prior to their junior year of high school. If they keep their grades up and graduate, they get to go to Africa. Last year a dozen went to Senegal, and all 12 are now enrolled in college. This year's graduates have been stuffing envelopes and raising funds for a trip to Ghana. Proceeds from tonight's Poetry Slam will help pay for their trip. The evening features actress Doris Craig Norris and wordsmiths Oba William King, Emily Hooper Lansana, and Quraysh Ali Lansana. It starts at 5:30 at the National Pastime Theatre, 4139 N. Broadway. The suggested donation is $10; call 773-506-1951 for more.

9 WEDNESDAY Although I look forward to planning exotic vacations, I don't particularly enjoy planning what to wear. Wanting to both look chic and be comfortable, I tend to overpack, usually bringing a pair of shoes for every possible activity, and end up wearing the same outfit the whole time anyway. Then I have to lug the stuff around and find room for souvenirs too. Would-be adventurers need not resign themselves to constant backaches or virtual travel only--today Ginger Holmquist, packer extraordinaire, will reveal the mysteries of fitting everything into one suitcase, whether you're parading through Paris or snoozing through a business trip in Omaha. It's a free lecture called Pack Well, Travel Easy sponsored by the Savvy Traveller bookstore. Holmquist will talk from 5:30 to 6:45 at the Chicago Cultural Center theater, 78 E. Washington. Call 312-913-9800 for more.

10 THURSDAY When I hear the term "lawn bowling," I see images of fat, perspiring, white-wearing English people on holiday--the type that aren't quite upscale enough for polo but are too highfalutin for the pub. The sport, similar to Italian boccie and French boules, involves rolling a wooden ball down a well-kept lawn toward a smaller white ball at the other end. If this sounds like a skill you yearn to acquire, the Lakeside Lawn Bowling Club is teaching the ins and outs on Tuesdays and Thursdays all summer. Today's free class is from 1 to 3 at the lawn bowling green at 59th Street Harbor at 59th and Lake Shore Drive. Sensible shoes and comfortable clothes are suggested. Call 312-747-6620 to register.

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