Illinois – My Blog Just another WordPress site Tue, 21 Feb 2012 03:42:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Go Back in Time to Galena, Illinois Fri, 17 Feb 2012 16:40:08 +0000

If it weren’t for the modern vehicles lining the streets and contemporary knick-knacks lining the retail shelves, you might think Galena, Illinois was frozen in another time.   Galena began as a lead mining town, but hit its glory days around the Civil War which left behind striking examples of a huge variety of architecture styles.  85% of the buildings in town are listed on the National Historical Registry, making Galena a history and photo buffs paradise.

Grant Mansion in Galena

General Ulysses S. Grant lived in Galena briefly before heading off to lead the Union troops and then returned, victoriously, to a new mansion built by the town.

Belvedere Mansion visited by President Lincoln during the Civil War

President Lincoln also spent some time in Galena, as he visited the Belvedere Mansion to inquire about Grant’s progress during the war.  This presidential history, along with the scores of French Colonial, Italianate, and Greek Revival buildings, prompted Time Life to place Galena on its list of 100 Places to See in Your Lifetime.


Today I am linking up with Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreaming at R We There Yet Mom where you can see some great travel photos.

Also, I am so honored to be featured at Happily Mother After for my photos of the recycled art in a West Texas field.  Head over there where you can see truely terrific photos from around the blogosphere.


Happily Mother After

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An Impromptu Detour to Pontiac, Illinois Thu, 26 Jan 2012 15:11:00 +0000

Road trips are a mixed bag.  On the one hand you have the freedom of the open road and the thrilling possibility that any stop could unearth a hidden gem that becomes your new favorite place. One the other hand there are the emergency bathroom breaks in the middle of nowhere and the moments when you realize that you have been together one mile too many.    When those moments strike, you have no choice but to pull over at the next exit and hope for the best. 

When the bathroom alarm from the backseat sounded somewhere between Chicago and Peoria, we pulled off in Pontiac, Illinois and hoped to find some activities to give us a break from the car for a while.   As an admitted roadside attraction junkie, I first checked Roadside America to see if anything struck our fancy which led us to the Route 66 Museum.

The Route 66 museum has an extensive collection of memorabilia from the Mother Road through Illinois, but the row of senior center field trip vans out front should have been clue that the museum might be a little antiquated.  Admittedly, we did find the exhibits to be somewhat dusty, but we enjoyed the excellent photographs of locations along Route 66.  The kids especially enjoyed picking out the photos of places we have visited in our own travels.   

The other highlight of the museum was seeing the 1972 VW bus and converted Chevrolet school bus that icon Bob Waldmire used to travel up and down Route 66 as he produced art along the way.   Both vehicles were a tribute to his vision and spirit of wandering. 

At the back of the museum visitors can walk on or even drive their car on a strip of the original Route 66.  Photo ops next to the giant mural are a big attraction for the museum. 


As we poked our way around the sleepy town of Pontaic, we noticed signs that pointed towards the Swinging Bridges.  That sounded intriguing enough to stray off the main road and take a chance.  These three iron bridges supported by cables cross over the Vermillion River and provide just the right amount of entertaining shimmy and shake for a group of boys.  The bridges lead to a small playground in the shadow of the city cemetery,  which was the cherry on the sundae for this impromptu stop.  

Hungry tummies were calling for us to head to the center of town in hopes of finding something for lunch.   We cruised around the picture perfect small town square before finally settling on Delong's Casual  Dining.  Inside, we were excited to see that we had picked a typical local hangout with a great personality.  Conveyor belt driven fans and a painted punched tin ceiling added to the historic flavor of the restaurant.   Lunch was delicious, especially the fried pickle spear appetizer that was gobbled up almost as soon as it hit the table.   Before we could leave, the manager offered each of the boys a free mini ice cream cone which was just the right amount of sweetness to complete the meal.


While we were on the main square, we decided to explore a little bit more.  The city made it easy to find our way with colored footprints along the sidewalk to lead to the famous murals and mini antique car photo op and art conglomerations. 

It seems that every city in Illinois is proud to share their connection to Abraham Lincoln, and Pontiac is no different.  As a young man Lincoln regularly traveled to Pontiac to argue trials as a lawyer.  After a nod to Honest Abe, we  headed out of town completely satisfied with our impromptu detour. For a small town, Pontiac packed quite a punch, proving that with a road trip the next exit could be the best one.


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Wildly Unique Lodging at Wildlife Prairie State Park Wed, 09 Nov 2011 05:20:32 +0000

One of my favorite pastimes as a child was to gather up all the spare sheets and blankets to create a tented sleeping and dreaming space in my room.  I even carried this obsession outside, wrapping my swing set or hammock in a cocoon of fabric where I could crawl inside and commence the world of my imagination.   After all, who wants to sleep in a plain old bed when you can drift off to dreamland in a safari tent swathed in royal purple robes?  And who would want to simply swing on a swing set when instead you could fancy yourself a princess being ferried through the streets in sedan chair?  (Do you think there is some deep psychological reason that many of my childhood fantasies involved royalty?)

The creators of Wildlife Prairie State Park in Peoria, Illinois must have had these same musings as children, and so created an entire park filled with unique and whimsical places to spend a night's lodging and touch off your imagination.   All of the lodging choices are extremely affordable and can fit larger families up to six and more.  Lodging includes two days admission to Wildlife Prairie State Park, which includes extended hours in the park and use of the recreation room.   

Cottages by the Lake

These are by far the most normal of the lodging choices available at WPSP, but are still a great choice if you love fishing, bird watching, or want to travel with a group.    As the name suggests, the cottages are located on the lake where you can enjoy extended fishing hours, golden sunsets, or just sit and watch the birds and frogs enjoy their paradise.   If you want to travel with family or friends, these are ideal accommodations, as you can have space of your own, but socialize freely on the nearby lawn or recreation room.  

Cabin on the Hill

With the cozy one room accommodations and lazy front porch swing you will feel like you have suddenly been transported into a Little House on the Prairie storybook.   The cabin sleeps four comfortably in the queen bed and two twin beds, but larger families can even be accommodated by the fold out bed options.   Best of all, you will love watching the kids enjoy the playscape in the front yard as you soak up the secluded and breathtaking view.

Prairie Stables

This humble horse stable exterior opens up into great modern family accommodations inside.  Located along the lake with a private patio, each stable can hold six or more with a two bedroom layout that gives both parents and kids a little space of their own.   The stables are the most rustic of the accommodations at WPSP, simply because they do not include a kitchenette or refrigerator.  If you enjoy a camping experience, with the benefit of not sleeping on the ground, this would be a perfect place to stay.

Train Cabooses

I've saved my favorite for last.  My kids are huge fans of the Boxcar Children series of novels and so were over the moon at the idea of sleeping inside a train car.  The four train cars are situated along a stretch of track and border the elk and bison fields of WPSP, providing viewing of the animals from the deck of the train and the intrigue of spending a night on the rails.   I was unsure how our family of six would fit inside the caboose, but I was very pleased with the space of the accommodations.  A futon and bunk bed in the front of the car and a bunk bed in the back of the car were the perfect space for everyone.  There was even room for a pack and play for the baby, but we opted to use the fold out chair as a bed for our littlest family member.  To my surprise, there was even a good sized bathroom inside that was stocked with soap and shampoo and plenty of towels.  All bed linens were provided, as well.  The kitchenette included a mini refrigerator and microwave, but no utensils or cooking equipment are provided.

The only problem we had with the accommodations was the fights that ensued over who would get to sleep in the top bunk that looked out over the cupola of the train.  The fights quickly ended though when we discovered that the train had been cleverly fitted with a jiggling contraption that could be set on a timer to rock the car and simulate the motion of a moving train.  It was the perfect touch for a perfectly unique night's lodging.

~Wildlife Prairie Park provided our family with a  complementary night of lodging in the park, but did not require that I express any particular viewpoint.  My opinions are, as always, my own.~

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The Pursuit of the Perfect Picture Fri, 04 Nov 2011 13:59:31 +0000

A great picture~~of a mirror.

When you are roadtripping, it is amazing how quickly the scenery can change.   On a recent trip, we had the towering skyscrapers of Chicago in our rearview mirror and were still in a fast paced urban mood as we headed north towards Wisconsin.  In almost an instant, the scenery transformed into rolling, bucolic hills of green and gold that were dotted with picture perfect red barns paired with proud silos.

This one is perfect, just imagine it without the fence.

I grabbed my camera, as the top of each hill revealed another green roofed, red clapboard barn, and I wanted to capture the postcard ready image.  Snagging the perfect shot while barreling along the highway proved to be somewhat of an elusive pursuit, however.  With regularity, we would top the hill and see a gorgeous sprawling scene of farm and field that I would furiously try to capture on film while hanging sideways out of the car window.  Then I would spend the next part of the trip lamenting the loss of a perfect shot with seemingly perfect lighting.  Like the ebbs and flows of the hills we traveled, this photographic cycle of elation and dejection continued for a good part of our trip.  


My dear husband quickly discovered that the only way to stop the madness  , and my incessant mumbling, was to stop the car.  And so he did. Right in the middle of the road.  Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth (and not keen to become road kill), I jumped out of the car and clicked as fast as my shutter could handle.   In the end, it may not have been the perfect picture with the rolling hills and checkerboard fields, but I got a picture.  Not just a picture of a barn though, but a picture that reminds me that love is expressed in all kinds of ways, and sometimes love comes in the form of a husband stopping the car in the middle of the road for his perfect photo crazed wife.

~This photo is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreamin at R We There Yet Mom?

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Celebrating a Route 66 Icon Fri, 28 Oct 2011 01:55:47 +0000

Standing on an original strip of Route 66

One by one, the great icons of "the most famous road in America" are falling into disrepair and fading from memory.  Were it not for the artistic talent and rugged spirit of Bob Waldmire, these locations might be forgotten completely.

!972 VW Minibus

Meandering along Route 66 with no specific destination in mind, Waldmire made his living drawing American spirit infused artwork of the restaurants and hotels that lined the Mother Road.   When Waldmire's road finally came to an end in 2009, his iconic VW minibus came to rest at the Route 66 museum in Pontiac, Illinois where we were able to see it firsthand.

See the Resemblance?

Even the kids, who had been mostly dragged kicking and screaming into the museum, were impressed by the 1972 VW minibus.  After all, it was the inspiration for the VW character Fillmore, voiced by George Carlin in the movie Cars.  That one tidbit turned the pea yellow Junker from a stodgy museum relic to a relative superstar in the mind of a small boy. 

Thanks for the inspiration Mr Waldmire

Standing next to the old jalopy you couldn't help but catch a whiff of Waldmire's wandering spirit along with the musty well worn smell of the van.  Along with that smell, was a feeling of contemplation and bemusement, and just a little bit of inspiration.  Here is a reminder of a fellow human who lived life to the fullest, with no regrets and no regard for the artificial boundaries of society.  May we all be a little bit like Bob Waldmire, with our own proverbial VW bus that leads to roads we pave ourselves and end in a life with no regret.

~Photo of Fillimore Courtesy of Pixar, Photo of Bob Waldmire Courtesy of

~This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby

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Wildlife Prairie State Park Tue, 18 Oct 2011 04:43:30 +0000

I am a huge fan of the state park system, both because of their conservation efforts and their protection of great places to explore in the outdoors.   I also have another less lofty reason to enjoy state parks: they are just so darn reliable.  Campers cn expect to find accommodations that are reasonably clean and safe, while families can always count on state parks to provide relatively inexpensive outdoor entertainment. Happily, there are some state parks that offer all this reliability, and even go a step further to provide visitors with a unique experience that makes them want to return again and again.  Wildlife Prairie State Park in Peoria, Illinois is just such a place.


Visitors Center

This is where the fun begins and where you can purchase tickets for all the adventures you will want to enjoy while at the park.  From here you can see the animal nursery that houses the animals that are being rehabilitated in the park.  You can also look out over the bison plains and imagine what it was like when the bison roamed freely over the prairie.  Any food or souvenirs you want to purchase can be found near this area and you will want to be sure to check out the bronze statues of the local animals near the sandbox.   The Animal Trails start from this point as well, so fill up your canteens campers and let's see some wildlife.

Animal Trails

The park offers several walking trails that are sort of a hybrid zoo and hiking experience.  Animals are in cages, but surrounded by their natural habitat so that it feels as if you are encountering the animals in the wild.   Don't be discouraged by the signs that post the expected time for each trail.  The trails are relatively short and easy to maneuver and can be easily walked in half the posted time and still be enjoyed thoroughly.  You will want to check out the Pioneer Farmstead where you can pet and feed the barnyard animals.  If your kids are dragging their feet at this point, you can always entice them to continue with the promise of a playground at the end of this trail.


Train Ride

All aboard for a scenic ride that is off the beaten path and a perfect way to have a bit of a rest after a morning of hiking.  The train runs on alternating tracks, allowing passengers to see different parts of the park as they travel.  Tickets can be purchased $2 for both tracks or $1 for the loop of your choice.  If you have purchased tickets for both loops, you can stay on board for the grand tour, or disembark and use the second part of your ticket at another time.   If you are lucky enough to visit Wildlife Prairie in the fall, this is a great way to check out the changing leaves.  Don't miss the train museum right there in the station, especially if you have preschoolers who will love to play with the toy train tables.

Sliding Board

Wildlife Prairie State Park has great playgrounds all through the park that beckon kids to stop and play, but there is nothing that can truly compare to the sliding board.  In fact, I am advocating for a name change for this zippy wonder, as sliding board just doesn't have the zing it needs.  The sliding board is a 53 foot metal slide built into the side of a hill and tucked away in the seclusion of the woods.  Let me tell you: this thing can really move and created the kind of exhilaration from the kids that is usually reserved for Christmas morning.   The sliding board, hereby christened the Hillside Thunderbolt, is just a short walk from the train depot or can be reached by car from a nearby parking lot.  Although there are signs, the slide is somewhat hidden.  Look for the bug themed playground and walk just a little bit farther to find the fun.

Adventure Trek

We were not able to enjoy the Adventure Trek because our visit coincided with buffalo mating season, and that is apparently something where you don't want to be caught in the middle.  If it had been another season, we could have boarded the open air safari bus and taken a tour through the prairie for a close up view of the bison and elk.   From what we saw of these magnificent creatures, we'll definitely want to come back and meet them face to furry face.

~ Wildlife Prairie State Park generously provided park passes for our family.  I was under no obligation to write from any particular point of view and all opinions are my own.~

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Alpine Sliding at Chestnut Mountain Resort Wed, 12 Oct 2011 03:31:26 +0000

I'm not sure when I first learned about the downhill goodness of the alpine slide, but I filed it away as something we had to try as a family.  A great post about Stowe Mountain Lodge from Mara at Mother of All Trips reminded me to be on the lookout for an alpine slide opportunity as we traveled.    There are no alpine slides anywhere near our flatland home in Texas, and I was chagrined to learn that we had just missed our chance while in Colorado.  With resolve, I vowed to jump at the next chance that presented itself.

Chestnut Mountain Lodge with beautiful views of the Mississippi River


That chance came with a trip to Chestnut Mountain Resort in Galena, Illinois.   As a bonus, I had wanted to visit Galena after reading about the historical significance that landed the city on the Time Life 100 Beautiful Places in America.   Little boys don't usually seem to be very interested in looking at old buildings, no matter how historical they might be, so the alpine slide seemed like a perfect way to entice them to Galena and let everyone win.

See, who wouldn't want to see something as grand as this?

An alpine slide is similar to a bobsled, except the ride occurs along track made of concrete or fiberglass, rather than ice.  These are built along the side of a hill, usually at ski resorts, to try to attract summer visitors.   Riders sit on a cart that is controlled by a handbrake that can be pushed forward for maximum speed and jerked back to take the curves safely.

The need for speed

My big boys only wanted know one thing: which way do you have to push the stick to go fast.  Dad dutifully raced down the mountain with the pack of speed demons and I brought up the rear with two year old Morgan in my lap.  Before our trip, I had called the lodge to learn if there were any restrictions on the slides and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were no height or age limitations.  With the age span of our kids, it is rare for us to find an activity that all the boys can enjoy, so this was a real treat. 

Morgan and I really enjoyed the ride, albeit at a much slower pace and easily glided toward the bottom of the mountain.  That is when things went from downhill fun to uphill horror.  I am always telling my boys not to climb up higher than they are willing to climb down, but I had never considered that you might not  want to go down farther than you are willing to go back up.  In my defense, I have never been skiing, so the concept of a ski lift was vague, at best.  I hadn't even considered the reality of riding up the ski lift with a wiggly two year old.

The boys having a great time on their first ski lift (and me in the background having no fun at all)

I spent the entire ride up convinced I was in the seventh layer of hell and assessing the amount of damage that would occur if the wiggler had managed to twist out of my death grip.  About half way up the mountain (did you know that ski lifts are the slowest mode of transportation known to mankind?!?!) Morgan, who was calmly and happily enjoying the ride, began to pant as a signal that I was gripping him perhaps too tightly.  I loosened my grip to only semi-panic strength and somehow we managed to finish the ride without either of us passing out.  Never again!

The moment I started breathing again.

So, the final verdict on our first alpine slide adventure?  All four boys give it a resouding best-thing-ever-when-can-we-do-it again-that- was- awesome two thumbs up! Me?  The alpine slide was a great experience and would love to do it again.  The ski lift?   Next time, I'll hike.

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Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Fri, 23 Sep 2011 01:31:15 +0000


This weekend, we'll be laying our heads in a luxury tent on Kinnikinnick Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, a working farm that welcomes guests to unplug and dig into farm life and leisure. In the morning our only alarm clock will be the sounds of the awakening farm.  The kids will help with the morning farm chores of gathering the eggs and milking the goats and then we will use those gatherings to make our rustic campfire breakfast.  The rest of the day will be spent conquering the hay mountain, fording the farm's stream, and building forts near the farm's giant sandbox.  As the day draws to an end, we will all have a hand in harvesting our dinner ingredients as we learn for sure that food doesn't grow in the supermarket.   We'll all have a part in bringing our slow food dinner to the table, as the farm pace languishes and nighttime settles over our tent.

Lately, the mister and I have been playing way too much tag-you're- it with hauling kids from one end of town to the other in rush hour traffic while eating dinner from a greasy paper bag.  We are finally unraveling ourselves from the rush, rush, rush of laundry and emails and deadlines and packed calendars.   This weekend we are going to unplug in every sense of the word.  Feather Down Farms accommodations are lit with candles and lanterns and water is actually hand pumped.  There is not a clock or a calendar in sight, but there is plenty of roasting marshmallows, reading stories by candlelight, and strolling along country vistas.   Sounds like the perfect cure for the common suburban curse.

Check out Delicious Baby for more great photos from around the world.

~Photo Courtesy of Feather Down Farm Days~

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