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Back Country Roads to perform at kick-off for OL Relay For Life

The American Cancer Society Oak Lawn Relay will present a concert featuring Back Country Roads at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22 at the Hilton Oak Lawn.

A dmission is $15 and all funds will be donated to Oak Lawn's Relay For Life.

Relay For Life is an overnight event where teams of local businesses, schools, churches, community groups and families build awareness and raise funds that go toward cancer research, patients and awareness. This year's Relay For Life will be held July 20 at the Oak Lawn Community Pavilion. Volunteers are needed to organize and recruit teams, secure community support, coordinate logistics, obtain refreshments and prizes, assist with publicity and plan entertainment activities for this exciting and energizing event.

For more information contact the American Cancer Society at 633-7770 or visit Relayforlife.org/oaklawnil. Teams may register online.

Travel Troubleshooter

By Christopher Elliott

Sleeping alternatives: Bunking with the locals

These days, when I travel to Europe, I usually sleep in hotel rooms or bed-and-breakfasts. But in my early travel days, I routinely found places where I could sleep for free or very cheap. In Austria, I had "dear parents" who were actually the parents of my sister's ski instructor. In London, my hosts were friends of my uncle. Neither relationship was terribly close - until I visited. Now we are friends for life.

I love the idea of creatively finding a free or cheap bed in Europe. One of the best ways to do that is to stay in someone's home, whether you're renting a spare room or apartment, or crashing on your neighbor's cousin's couch. Sleeping where the locals do can provide some of the richest and most memorable travel experiences - often for less than a hotel.

You don't actually need to know someone in Europe to stay at their home. Room-finding services like Airbnb.com can help travelers hook up with locals. Beds range from air-mattress-in-living-room basic to plush-B-and-B-suite posh. Most listings offer you at least a spare room, and many are for entire apartments. Some places offer separate entrances for travelers who want more privacy and limited interaction with their hosts.

If you prefer having the comforts of home without the pressure of feeling like a houseguest, renting an apartment, house or villa can be both convenient and cost-effective. Options run the gamut, from French gites to Tuscan villas to big-city apartments in the heart of town.

A short-term rental is often cheaper than, or comparable to, a hotel, especially if you plan to settle in one location for several nights. Most are equipped with kitchens, laundry, and living rooms, making them especially good for groups and families.

Travelers who are willing to invest time in research can go to sites like HomeAway.com and its sister site VRBO.com, search through a database of listings, then correspond directly with European property owners or managers to negotiate a deal.

Those who want to do less legwork can seek help from a rental agency, which charges a fee but provides pre-screened listings and a staff who will work with you to find an appropriate accommodation. Rental agencies such as Interhome.us and the more upscale Rentavilla.com list places all over Europe, and there are many rental agencies that focus on a specific city or region.

The rental route isn't for everyone. First off, you're generally on your own. While the apartment owner or manager might offer some basic assistance, they don't provide all the services of a hotel reception desk. Unlike hotels, apartments don't include daily towel and sheet changes or regular cleanings.

CouchSurfing.org is a vagabond's alternative to Airbnb. It lists millions of members who host fellow "surfers" in their homes for free. Most do this out of a sincere desire to meet interesting people, and many are in it for the good karma, having couch-surfed themselves. This service is a boon for laidback, budget-minded extroverts who aren't too picky about where they rest their head.

Safety is a concern for any smart couch surfer. My best tip for crashing with strangers: Always arrive with a backup in mind (such as the name of a hostel). If you don't feel comfortable with your host, just leave. Don't worry about hurting their feelings. Never let budget concerns take you outside your comfort zone.

House swapping is another free option. This works best for people with an appealing place to offer, and who can live with the idea of having strangers in their home. Unsurprisingly, those living in swanky Manhattan apartments and beachside villas have the best pick of options in Europe, but you don't need to live in an amazing home to find a workable exchange. Good places to start are HomeLink (www.homelink.org/usa), HomeExchange (www.homeexchange.com) or Intervac Home Exchange (www.intervacus.com).

Of course, there's nothing more culturally intimate (or inexpensive) as staying with a friend, relative, or someone you have a connection with. They don't need to be next-of-kin. If it's the son of your aunt's friend, that's probably close enough. Email your potential hosts, tell them when you'll arrive, and ask if they're free to meet for dinner. It should be obvious from their response (or lack of one) if you're invited to stop by and stay awhile.

If you're afraid of being perceived as a freeloader, remember that both parties benefit. A Greek family is just as curious about me as I am in them. Armed with pictures from home and a bag of goodies for the children, I make a point of giving as much from my culture as I am taking from theirs. In the end, whether you're paying or staying for free, you'll likely be greeted with genuine enthusiasm and a warm welcome.

( Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ ricksteves.com and follow his blog on Facebook.)

History of the World

By Mark Andrews

Feb. 7: ON THIS DATE in 1812, author Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England. In 1964, The Beatles began their first American tour as they arrived at New York's Kennedy International Airport.

Feb. 8: ON THIS DATE in 1904, the Russo-Japanese War began. In 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated.

Feb. 9: ON THIS DATE in 1861, the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America elected Jefferson Davis president and Alexander H. Stephens vice president. In 1943, the World War II battle of Guadalcanal ended with an American victory over Japanese forces in the Pacific.

Feb. 10: ON THIS DATE in 1763, France ceded Canada to England under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War. In 1962, the Soviet Union exchanged captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for Rudolph Abel, a Soviet spy held by the United States.

Feb. 11: ON THIS DATE in 1809, Robert Fulton patented the steamboat. In 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin signed the Yalta Agreement during World War II.

( Mark Andrews can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

Rolling in the dough


Tim Nickos presents the scholarship named after his son to Oak Lawn High School 2012 graduate Angela Roti (left) during the school's annual Spring Sports Award Night last year. The Tim Nickos Memorial Scholarship is named in memory of Timothy L. Nickos, an Oak Lawn High student who died when he suffered a cardiac arrhythmia caused by an enlarged heart that had gone undiagnosed. Nickos was to be the captain of the Oak Lawn High varsity swim team his senior year, and also played in the school's band.

The $2,500 college scholarship was awarded for the first time last year. Funds come from the Tim Nickos Memorial Scholarship Candlelight Bowl, to be held Saturday, March 23 at Fox Bowl, 1101 Butterfield Road in Wheaton. The scholarship honoree will be announced at the School's Spring Sports Award Night on May 8.

Tickets are $30 per adult, $25 per student and include three games of bowling and dinner. Raffle prizes and a cash bar will also be available. Reservations must be made by Friday, Feb. 22.

Church Corner

Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn will offer "ashes to go" on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Oak Lawn Metra station from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. Pilgrim Faith Pastor Peggy McClanahan will impose ashes on the foreheads of any who wish to receive them. She will assisted by Joe Wachowski and Ron Stancik.

Pilgrim Faith will also offer an Ash Wednesday service at 7 p.m. at the church, 9411 S. 51st Ave. Service will include times of reflection, confession and communion around the theme "Relish the Feast." The service does not include imposition of ashes.

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A new group that will aid persons who have experienced the loss of a loved one, job, home or marriage will meet from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays, Feb. 17, and March 3 at Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ, 9411 S. 51st Ave. The group is for anyone who has experienced loss of a loved one, a job, a home or a marriage. Pastor Yvette Eber of Immanuel United Church of Christ in Evergreen Park will co-lead the group along with Pastor Peggy McClanahan of Pilgrim Faith. The public is invited, regardless of faith. For more information contact Mc- Clanahan at 422-4200 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .