Sunday, July 14, 2013

10 things to see and do in Springfield, IL

1) Lincoln Home National Historic Site - Get a tour inside the home Lincoln and his family lived in before he became president and stroll through the restored neighborhood. Tours are free, but be sure to get there early for a ticket. We made the mistake on our last visit of planning to tour the home later in the afternoon and were disappointed when all the tickets for that day were gone.

2) Union Square Park - Step inside the visitor center, a stunning restored train depot and walk around the big open space that hosts various events. You'll also find one of many Abe statues around the city where you can snap a photo with him.

3) Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum - This is an absolute must see if you visit Springfield. You enter to a round atrium area where you have several options of exhibits, which includes a large fascade resembling the White House, a recreated long cabin and two state-of-the-art theatres that do a great job of taking you back in time and feeling you are really there.

4) Dublin Pub - One of the meals you'll want to enjoy is a regional specialty called "The Horseshoe." You'll find it in a few local eateries. It's basically a meat on top of Texas toast, topped with french fried and cheese and the option of onions and peppers. Dublin Pub makes a great "Shoe" among other delicious offerings.

5) Old State Capitol - If you can fit it into your itinerary, I recommend visiting both the old and new state capitol buildings to see the contrast in construction and function. The Old State Capitol, like many other attractions has free admission, although donations are welcome. It opened in 1877 and was a site where Lincoln's casket was on public display after his assasination.

6) Lincoln's Tomb - This serene memorial in Oak Ridge Cemetery is the second most visited in the country following Arlington National in Washington, D.C. The tomb has a large tower with impressive statues, several more statues inside and outside is a bust of Lincoln that visitors tend to rub for good luck.

7) Knight's Action Park - After visiting all the historic sites, Knight's Action Park is a fun spot to visit with the family where you can enjoy some rides, mini golf, water park and other attractions.

8) Illinois State Museum - Another free attraction in the capital city, learn about those who inhibited the area centuries ago and let the kids have fun with interactive displays.

9) State Capitol - A visit to Springfield is not complete without taking in this gorgeous structure and gazing up at the interior of the dome. Free tours are conducted daily. Sometimes you're lucky enough to get to see some of the state's lawmakers in action. Allow a couple extra minutes for bag searches and the lines for the metal detectors.

10) Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site - This Frank Loyd Wright design was competed in 1904 wtih 35 rooms on three levels and was owned by Susan Lawrence Dana, the daughter of a wealthy area industrialist.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Cypress Cove Family Aquatic Park, Woodridge, IL

My kids really enjoy visiting water parks and this nice park district-run one in suburban Woodridge, Illinois is probably the closest to my home. We've been there at least once each summer for the past few years. It's a well-laid out park with fun for all ages. It's not so huge that you have a long hike from place to place, but it's big enough to offer several attractions in one spot.

My favorite part of most water parks is lounging on a lazy river and Cypress Cove has a 600-foot lazy river that loops around Crocodile Isle.  Bullfrog Bayou is an area for kids under 42' with a spray playground, dumping water and water guns as well as a mini-body slide. A zero-depth pool is also great for the little ones. It also deepens at the other end and there are diving boards.

There's three long body slides as well as a short tube slide that dumps into the lazy river and a six-lane lap pool tucked in the back for swimming. The food in the concession area is reasonable and decent and the locker rooms are clean.

Daily fee for out of town visitors is $14 or $9 after 5 p.m. Children under 1 are free. Visit for more information.


Chicago Fire game at Toyota Park

I'm a big baseball fan. That's the sport I like to watch. I visit Wrigley Field several times a year to see the Cubs play. Other than that I have never really been to other sporting events. I'm a Bears fan. I watch the games on television, but the only time I've been to Soldier Field is to watch a concert. I watch the Bulls on television ocassionally, but I've only been to the United Center to see the circus.

Up until last week, I had never seen a Chicago Fire game on television or in person. I had been to Toyota Park in the past, but it was for concerts and a press conference. My 11-year-old (who plays in a youth soccer league) and I ended up going to a game with a group and had a fun time.

Here's the tailgating fun in the parking lot.

And here are some shots from the game. While I didn't take time to go through and look around, there was a section of the parking lot with sponsor tents and it appeared that there were some games and family activities. One plus if you are taking young kids is that a soccer game is a little shorter than a baseball game, so it's easier to get through with antsy kids.

I'm glad I made it out for the game. It's definitely something I would do again.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Eastern Illinois University Campus, Charleston, IL

I recently decided to take my dad on a road trip to revisit the town he (and my mom) grew up in - Charleston, Ilinois. He was born there and lived there until the mid-1960's when he and my mom relocated to the Chicago area.

First we visited the house Dad was born in. Next we had lunch with two cousins who still live there. Then we hit the EIU campus. At the time my dad lived there, EIU had a grammar school and high school on campus and it was a teaching college. He attended grades 1 - 8 in what is now Blair Hall. High School classes were on the second floor of "Old Main" the big building close to the road on Lincoln St. that resembles a castle. Then he went to college on the campus, too, to earn his accounting degree.

We had fun checking out Old Main, which is mostly offices now. There were a few classrooms at one end of the second floor where my dad once attended classes. I'm not sure what the rooms are used for now, but one peek and you felt like you were back in 1955. Not a hint of technology in the room. No computers. There were desks, a clock, blackboards and a pencil sharpener that was probably 60 years old. However, the place was SPOTLESS!! It didn't look like a classroom that was over 110 years old.

I love the woodwork in Old Main. Isn't it beautiful. And look at the door on the right...see "Grammar" etched in the glass.

Old Main from the outside.

Call me crazy, but I had to take a pic in the bathroom. One of the cleanest public bathrooms I have ever seen. Looks at that tile -- probably original to the building.

Napoleon, a stray dog that became a school mascot is buried on the campus grounds. He was around when my dad was a student there and dad remembered him.

The campus is beautiful and if you happen to be near the area, take a little time for a walk around campus (be sure to visit Campus Police at 7th and Grant for a visitor pass to avoid a ticket.)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Strawberry Picking at Johnson's Farm Produce in Hobart, IN

For the past few years, our family has gone on an outing to pick strawberries at Johnson's Farm Produce in Hobart, IN. Picking your own is significantly cheaper than buying pre-picked. You also can pick the ones you like, as many as you like and it is a nice activity to do as a family. The U-Pick fields opened on June 15, so there aren't too many days left as strawberry season is short. Get out there and hit the field before they're gone!  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Paxton, Illinois

On a trip down to Charleston recently with my dad, we made a stop in Paxton, Illinois. I'd remembered making a stop there on a previous trip and that there was a cute downtown business area with historic buildings.

The first thing of interest I stopped at was an old train depot with some train cars along side it. Everything was locked up, but if you like trains and are going to be on I-57, you might want to call ahead to find out hours for the Illinois Central Railroad Historical Society.

I love to check out old courthouses. This is smaller than most that I've seen. It's the Ford County Courthouse in Paxton.

It has a beautiful entryway and dome.

Being the foodie I am (in case you didn't know I also blog at Chicago Foodie Sisters), I would have loved to have checked out this place that sold locally raised meats, but it was the first stop on our journey and I knew it would sit and bake in the care for the next 12 hours.

The downtown was quaint and charming and nostalgic and had lots of cute shops. Visit for more info.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lincoln's Tomb

If you find yourself in Springfield, you'll likely find time to stop at a number of Lincoln attractions and Lincoln's Tomb is one that should definitely make it into your itinerary. Oak Ridge Cemetery is the largest cemetary in Illinois and the second most visited (after Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C.)

The tomb was completed nine years after Lincoln's death and contains several statues inside as well as the bust outdoors that has been worn at the nose, where it is tradition for visitors to rub the nose for good luck. Lincoln, his wife and three of his four sons are buried there. (Robert is buried at Arlington) The architecture is stunning and makes for beautiful photographs. Tours are available.

Lincoln's Tomb
Oak Ridge Cemetery
1500 Monument Avenue
Springfield, Illinois

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

I'm a big history buff, so whenever we travel, I like to take in a historic site or tour a historic mansion or stop in a local historical society. Springfield, Illinois is paradise for history buffs like me with many of the attractions related to our nation's beloved 16th president. However, don't think that everything Lincoln related is old.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum is a state-of-the-art facility that brings Lincoln's time to today's generation through not only artifacts, but through technology. Not every aspect of the museum utilizes technology, like the replica of Lincoln's boyhood home - a modest log cabin or Mrs. Lincoln's Attic, a playroom full of toys of the area and activities that give children a taste of what life was like during Lincoln's time.

A circular lobby offers entrance into several exhibits or presentations, one of them being a facade of the 1861 White House.

In the 250-seat Union Theatre, a 17-minute show called "Lincoln's Eyes" portrays Lincoln's life with special effects of the feel of rumbling cannons, the sight of smoke and the scent of gunpowder. A second theatre shows "Ghosts of the Library"  with a live actor and holographic ghosts. Another high-tech exhibit is a powerful media presentation that shows the loss of life during the civil war.

Across the street is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, with a wide range of books and newspaper microfilm.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
212 N. Sixth Street
Springfield, IL

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Get an eagle eyeful in Quad Cities

Sharing this One Tank Trip Story I wrote for the Northwest Indiana Times about eagle spotting in the Quad Cities. It printed 1/2/10.

Enjoy an eyeful of migrating eagles in the Quad Cities

January 02, 2010 12:00 am  •  
Watch eagles perch, preen and soar in their winter roosts in the Quad Cities.
As we move into 2010, it's prime eagle-watching season in the Mid-Mississippi Valley. The area includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. From mid-December through February, area trees and bluffs are home to up to 2,500 bald eagles making their way south from Canada.
 The breathtaking sight of our national bird in flight can be viewed in many spots in the Quad Cities, marking 41 years of bald eagle education. The birds, with their huge wingspans of white feathers, have been a symbol of freedom since 1782 when the eagle became the emblem of the United States.
As humans fished eagles' waters and invaded their habitats, the eagle population diminished. The Interior Department removed the American bald eagle from the Endangered Species Act's "threatened" list in 2007. But criminal penalties still exist for those who take or disturb the birds under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940.
About 70,000 bald eagles exist. Nearly half live in Alaska and a large concentration also resides in British Columbia. So the Quad Cities offers a rare opportunity to watch the species in the wild. Adults have white-feathered ("bald") heads, youngsters, dark heads.
Migrating eagles hunting for fish and unfrozen water can often be spotted cold winter mornings along the banks of the Mississippi River. Many, winging from Northern areas, reach speeds of about 30 miles an hour. The sharp-eyed scavengers have wingspans of six to eight feet, boast 7,000 feathers, and weigh 8 to 11 pounds.
Bald Eagle Days is a three-day event next weekend at the QCCA Expo Center, 2621 Fourth Avenue in Rock Island.  The largest eagle-viewing event of its kind in the Midwest runs 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for kids. Live eagle programs and bird of prey demonstrations are included along with fine arts exhibits, a wildlife art show and sale. Other attractions are Richard English's Wild Cat Show and The Toonies recycling enviro-show.
Spotting scopes will be set up and manned by the Quad City Audubon Society at Sunset Marina with a free shuttle bus running from the Expo Center. For more information, visitQCCAEXPOCENTER.COM.
The Mississippi River Visitors Center on Arsenal Island, between Davenport and Rock Island, offers free eagle watches and Clock Tower tours every weekend on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 16 through Feb. 14 at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 3 p.m.. Reservations are required, (309) 794-5338. For more information, visit MISSRIVER.ORG.
 Later this month, the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire, Iowa, hosts a Bald Eagle Watch on January 30 and 31. U. S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers will give slide programs, set up telescopes at Lock & Dam 14 and assist with eagle-spotting. Trolley tours are available on Saturday and Sunday.
Admission to the Eagle Watch is free. Trolley tours are $25 per adult, $15 per child and include refreshments. For more information, visit IOWAWELCOMECENTER.COM.
Other eagle-spotting spots: Pleasant Valley, Iowa; Hampton, Ill.; Sunset Park in Rock Island; Credit Island in Davenport; and riverfronts in Davenport and Rock Island from Lock and Dam 15).
For a more intense experience, join naturalist Bob Motz for a Bald Eagle Safari. He provides car window-mounted spotting scopes (they magnify images 15 to 45 times) for prime viewing of eagles in trees. It's a chance to see the yellow of their eyes and the black talons on their claws.
The cost is $20 per hour for one to four people. Two- to three-hours safaris are recommended. For more information, call (309) 788-8389 or email
If you like winter sports, plan to stay for a day or two to enjoy cross-country skiing, ice-skating, ice fishing, snowmobiling and winter hiking.

The Quad Cities includes Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois.
For more information, contact the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 747-7800.
Take Interstate 80 West to Interstate 74 West, which will take you into Moline and Davenport. Once in the area, there are five welcome centers in the Quad Cities to gather information.
*Layers of warm clothing. Winter eagle-spotting is a chilly pastime, so dress for the weather.
*Binoculars. While most events include spotting stations with equipment to capture still birds, binoculars will help you identify eagles in flight.
*A camera. If you're lucky enough to have a good zoom lens, bring it along for a rare opportunity to capture a shot of our national bird.
*The trolley tour to different sites for prime eagle viewing.
*The awe-inspiring sight of eagles in the wild. Enjoying a safari with your own tour guide and super-magnifiers that make the smallest eagle details visible.
* A visit to the big agricultural exhibit at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline. John Deere fans also can stop by the John Deere Historic Site, John Deere store and John Deere Co.'s world headquarters.

Shopping in Shipshewana

I recently took a trip with my family to Shipshewana, Indiana. It was my third time in the area, but it was the first time I’d done any shopping. One previous trip was in the summer where we had a fun visit to Amish Acres in Nappanee then stayed overnight and moved on early the next day to Michigan. The other trip was in the winter time where we got in to town, visited the Hostetler Hudson Museum and then spent the night at Splash Universe where we splashed in the water the next day and then left for home.

This time we spent a little time checking out the town. As we arrived in mid-afternoon, we noticed an ice sculpture being carved outside Yoder’s Hardware. I didn’t realize when we started planning our trip that there was an Ice Festival going on a it was a nice bonus. We ended up browsing a little and my husband picked up a nice pair of moccasins to keep his feet warm around the house this winter.
After checking into our hotel, we decided to go have dinner at the Blue Gate Restaurant where we enjoyed some Amish cooking. We strolled outside after we ate and the lights and holiday decorations were lovely – especially a giant tree right outside the restaurant. A few stores were open late for the Ice Festival. We walked through the Davis Mercantile, with four floors of unique shoppes and a carousel.
The next day after we were all done swimming at Splash Universe, we decided to do a little more shopping before heading home. At Yoder’s Red Barn Shoppes, we picked up some tea at the Red Bud Coffee and Tea CafĂ©, some mulled cider, peanut brickle and fudge at the Victorian Candy Company and a I got a lazy Susan for my dining room at a furniture store there. We also stopped by Yoder’s Meat and Cheese Company where we got a variety of smoked meats, cheeses and other treats. They have a huge variety, with lots of natural-fed hormone-free meats.
We, of course, hit just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more shoppes to visit. There are also additional eateries and I was a little bummed when heading to eat dinner on our way out of town that Frontier Steakhouse had shut down for a while for the holidays.  And I’m looking forward to visiting again sometime in warmer weather when fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful and can be bought at roadside stands run by Amish youngsters.
For more information on the area and attractions, visit

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Shipshewana Ice Festival

While the kids were out of school, I wanted to work in a little getaway. I thought back on a trip we'd taken a couple years ago to Shipshewana to visit the Splash Universe Water Park and figured it would be a perfect trip for right after Christmas. It's not too far away and it would give the kids a chance to play in the water park and maybe I could get a little shopping in and find some edible goodies to write about on my food blog.

I didn't realize what a perfect time of year it would be. We happened to be visiting when the annual Ice Festival was happening. I had no clue until just before we left when I logged onto a Shipshewana Facebook Page to see a post about the Ice Festival.

As we pulled into to town, we noticed a big block of ice being carved with a chainsaw outside Yoder's General Store and Hardware Store. It was pretty cool to see one of the ice sculptures being made.

Next door was the Visitors Center, where I picked up a brochure showing each of the spots where the sculptures would appear. There were a couple of snowmen sculpted of ice outside.

There was a big, red structure right next door on the main road that was open on three sides. We went in to check out the sculptures there, which consisted of a full barnyard of ice made animals. There was a big inviting patch of untouched freshly fall snow along side the building and since we've hit a record in Chicagoland for the longest string of days without snow (close to 300 days!), the kids couldn't wait to get their hands on that while stuff. And it was heavy white stuff - perfect for making snowballs.


It was such a lovely scene - the sun starting to set while the kids threw snow around as horse buggies clopped by behind them. It was so peaceful! At least until one of the kids took a big snowball in the face and his nose started bleeding!

Anyway, the ice festival was pretty awesome. Later that day we drove around town a little more to check them out and walked around a little on our way to the Blue Gate Restaurant for dinner. The following day, the commissioned carvings were are lined up in a row near the silos.

The area was still all decorated for the holidays as the festival took place December 27 through 29. The huge tree outside the Blue Gate Restaurant is amazing! Next year if you're looking for a way to wind down after all the holiday excitement, keep the Ice Festival in mind. I've been to the area in both summer and winter and while summer is prime travel time and there's a different variety of outdoor activities, the week following Christmas is a beautiful time to visit!

Prairie Guest House, Fishers Indiana

On a recent media trip in Indianapolis, I spent a little time in Hamilton County, staying at the Prairie Guest House Bed & Breakfast in ...