12 Gifts of Christmas from Little Egypt

If you are a fan of Hallmark Christmas movies, you may have watched “The Twelve Dates of Christmas.” Although it was reportedly filmed in Canada this past summer, the movie highlighted real and some fictional locations and experiences in Chicago.

Guess what. Southern Illinois, a.k.a. Little Egypt, also has many wonderful experiences! Originally, I wanted to write about experiences similar to the ones in the movie that could be found here. However, in the midst of a pandemic when we seem to be moving toward tighter restrictions for the upcoming holidays, that might be difficult.

I do think we can still help each other support and highlight many wonderful Southern Illinois products, services, and experiences. Small Business Saturday is right around the corner. That would be a perfect time to grab some local items to gift or perhaps make a basket full of things to enjoy now and gift certificates for things to do when COVID-19 restrictions lift a bit. Purchasing gift certificates from small businesses is one way to also help them get through this difficult period.

Here are some suggestions to get you started…

A Partridge in Pear Tree:

Southern Illinois wine with aroma of pear

Two Turtle Doves:

Chocolate Turtles or baked items

Turtle candy flavored coffee or scented candles

Three French Hens:

Gift certificate to eat chicken at a local restaurant

Poultry from a local farm

Four Calling Birds:

Gift certificate to a pet store

Five Golden Rings:

Gold or goldtone stack rings from a local jeweler or boutique

Local seasonings and ingredients with a recipe for onion rings

Gift certificate to a restaurant with delicious onion rings

Six Geese a Laying:

Gift certificates for food and a gas card or lodging certificate for a trip to see the geese at areas near Rend Lake, Crab Orchard Lake, Carlyle Lake , etc.

Seven Swans Swimming:

Gas card or passes/ tickets to go to areas with migrating Trumpeter Swans, such as West Alton and Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge

A membership or pass to a local indoor swimming pool

Eight Maids Milking:

Products from or a gift certificate to a local dairy, creamery, ice cream, etc.

Nine Ladies Dancing:

Dance class lessons

Tickets to a ballet, ethnic dance event, or other dance performance at a location like Shryock Auditorium or a even a local school production.

Ten Lords Leaping:

Gymnastic or martial arts lessons

Fitness center or gym membership

Bowling Alley gift certificates

Eleven Piping Pipers:

A gift certificate to a local music shop

Tickets to a local performance

A digital download or CD of a local music group or from a local music shop

Twelve Drummers Drumming:

A gift certificate to a local music store or local performance

A digital download or CD of a local music group or from a local music shop

Consider cookies or cupcakes from a local baker to depict each of the twelve days or the ones that stump you. You could also get local artisan made Christmas ornaments or even jewelry to match the twelve days or part of them. Have fun and be creative. Do what fits your budget.

Another possibility is to gift a night or weekend at a Southern Illinois cabin, inn, or lodge with a scavenger hunt list of items to take photos of things corresponding to the twelve days.

The ASOSI app is still free as well as the links on the A Slice of Southern Illinois website to help you find restaurants, artisans, places to see and more from I-70 to the southern state line. The links tend to be categorized by town. It is a continually updating list. Please message or email any that you think if that could be added.

You may also comment with gift suggestions on the Facebook page post of this article. We would love to know about Southern Illinois small businesses that have product available through national sites like Amazon and Etsy. Locally owned services offering gift certificates are another welcome suggestion.

To make it easier to see what is shared, please use the hashtag #12SIGiftsofChristmas and maybe which Days of Christmas/Gifts of Christmas correspond to the suggestion, such as #11PipersPiping

Be safe, have fun, and support local small businesses. Merry Christmas!

Falling into This Vlog Thing…

Im not sure if it is technically called a mini episode, introductory vlog post, or channel trailer, but it is now up on the A Slice of Southern Illinois YouTube channel!

The first vlog post features the crunching sound of fall leaves and a bit of the beautiful autumn scenery in Southern Illinois. Crafting with pine cones and leaves is discussed. There is a glance at the Events, Lodging, Shopping, Sites, and Tastes sections of the ASOSI app. An easy Pizza bread recipe starts the episode.

There are people, including friends and family, who read the blog from all over the world. I really wanted to share with people in climates that do not experience our four seasons a glimpse at what we sometimes take for granted.

I hope you enjoy the video. Please feel free to subscribe to the YouTube channel and share the link.

Brown Bag It

When I was a kid, my parents would pop some popcorn in a big pan with a lid (think stockpot) on the stove and pour it into a heavy yellow bowl for nights that we would watch TV as a family. I remember many episodes of “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” viewed from the comfy brown couch with my mom, dad, and brother. Those are fond memories.

Did you know that you don’t have to use the stovetop method, a fancy popcorn popper, or pre-packaged microwave kernels to.make popcorn? You can totally brown bag it. Think how much money you can potentially save by picking up a supply of your favorite locally grown popcorn and a pack of those brown lunch bags to fill them yourself…

A brown lunch bag will work fine. I have even used brown grocery bags… Just add about a third cup of popcorn kernels to a brown bag. Fold the top down three or four times. Then microwave the bag for approximately four minutes.  You may need to adjust the time a bit for your microwave. Listen for when the popping sound slows down to avoid burning your popcorn. Let the bag sit for a a few minutes once the microwave stops.

You can add some seasoning to the bag and shake it, or dump it in the bowl. Be aware that you may need tonadd a bit of melted or olive oil.with your seasoning for it to stick to your popcorn

The possibilities are endless. Cinnamon and sugar. Rosemary, parmesan, and cracked black pepper. Sea salt and sugar. Simply a bit of sazòn….

A Photo Display for All Seasons

I’ve been going through a lot of photos and trying to retrieve what I can from my social media accounts. Many were destroyed this past winter when our old residence was burglarized, ransacked and apparently trampled. This has caused me to really want to see some of my photos more often. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that it might be nice to have some photos, or even art work by the kids, switched out seasonally.  As a kid,  my mom replaced some regular decor and photos with Christmas decorations as she carefully decorated our two story house each year.  I would like to do a bit more of that again myself.

An easy craft project to make for practically free is a photo frame to easily change out and display multiple photos.  They are perfect to keep a photo wall refreshed in a house, easily change out photos in a dorm room or rental, or even serve as a recipe card holder in the kitchen.  Make one or a few for yourself or even to gift.

Most of us already have a photo frame that has broken glass that we can no longer use.  You can also usually find frames of all sizes in thrift stores and second hand stores.  I went with a frame that I purchased for about a dollar in a second hand store.  Initially, it was going to be part of room decor.  Then I managed to break the glass and had to revamp a bit…

I already had chicken coop wire on hand, so that was basically free, and I had mini clothespins that I had picked up earlier in the year on clearance at the big craft store.  I also had some leftover 12 x 12 scrapbook paper from another project.  I originally planned to use fabric, but since the paper was the exact size of my frame and very neutral, I went with that. 

The basic process is:

  1. Clean your frame. You will not need the glass. Save it for another project…
  2. Cut your chicken coop wire (you can even get small amounts of this now at some craft stores) to be just slightly larger than your frame. If you look at the chicken coop wire, you will see that it is made up of single and twisted wire. It is easiest to cut the single wires. I used the craft wire snips. Previously, I used regular scissors, but it was a bit harder that way.
  3. Place the back if the frame down on a flat surface and cover the front side of the frame back (just not the side with the picture hanger on it if it is not on the frame itself…) with the paper or fabric.  I taped my paper to the frame.  If you use fabric, you may want to staple it in inconspicuous spots.
  4. Place the chicken coop wire down on a flat service. 
  5. Place the covered frame back face side down onto the chicken coop wire. 
  6. Very carefully (try not to stab yourself with any of the wire…) bend the ends of the overlapped wire behind the picture frame back using pliers or your wire snips.
  7. Place the picture frame back into the frame with the chicken coop wire. You may need to do some additional wire bending to make it fit.
  8. Clip a few mini or regular clothespins to the wire, and you are all set to add photos, cards, recipes, or whatever you choose.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  It is recommended that you wear gloves (or at least have a current Tetanus shot…) as the wire can be sharp and scratchy.  Please be careful!



Valentine’s Day

Recipe Holder

Shrub Tasting

No, I wasn’t out chomping on landscape. Instead, I tried The Burning Bushes Shrub, one of the drinking vinegars, from Glacier’s End. I purchased some earlier in the season from them at The Marion Farmer’s Market. I had tried earlier in the year to get some at the Winter Farmer’s Market (Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market) in Carbondale, but it was always sold out by the time I made it to the high school to shop. That told me it MUST be good!

First, I mixed up a quick marinade for boneless pork chops and added about a tablespoon of the Shrub to it before I dried them off and breaded them…

Then I added a aplash to a vinaigrette for watermelon and arugula salad.

I threw it all together, drizzled on some marinade made by shaking it in a jar with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then I tossed it  together with pieces of seeded watermelon, arugula, and queso blanco.  (Goat cheese, cotija, or feta would also have been good…) I would like to have added a bit of mint chiffonade for another layer of flavor, but I didn’t want to go out and pick it at the time…

I also mixed a healthy splash with some chilled club soda.

It was pretty refreshing. I decided I might like to add a bit of simple syrup for a bit of sweetness, but it was still good without it.  Adding a bit of white wine would probably work well too.

The Burning Bushes Shrub is a combination of elderberry, honeysuckle, strawberry, cayenne, and galangal.  I want to try Pearapple Rain next.  They actually make a variety of shrubs with unique combinations.



You may wish to check the Glacier’s End Facebook page for updates and info on where to find the products.

Please note that at this time, a new location for the winter market has not yet been announced. They cannot meet at the high school due to COVID-19 restrictions, but per their website, they still plan to return in December.

Surviving 2020 in Southern Illinois

It’s the year 2035, and you have been asked to write a chapter on the pandemic of 2020 in a history text book to discuss its impact on Southern Illinois. (By 2035, Southern Illinois is NOT referred to as “flyover country. ” It becomes a highly sought after cultural, culinary, and natural destination… ) What would you title it? The COVID-19 Pandemic? The Global Bio-socioeconomical Experiment of 2020? Something else?

Like the rest of the world, Southern Illinois has been affected by that “novel coronavirus” referred to as COVID-19. It’s been a destructive pandemic in more ways than just medically. Trial on error policies have been created nationally and locally to try to adapt and keep people safe from contagion. Some seem logical, while others have appeared more experimental. Even medical recommendations at the international level have kept changing. Hopefully, hindsight will at least help all of us to better prepare for any future pandemics.

Businesses have had to adapt to new safety requirements and ways of operating. (Some probably had to hire a whole new person to add all those “Walk This Way” floor decals and six foot tape lines…) On that note, shopping has now become a bit like trying to navigate a town made up of one way streets. It sometimes takes twice as long to do. Getting inside a store, due to COVID-19 limited capacity requirements, can be a bit reminiscent of camping out by the SIU Arena for concert tickets before the days of line tickets… (Was anyone else there in the late 90’s trying to get tickets to Def Leppard? Metallica? There used to be so many great bands that came here…)

Walk This Way…

HerrinFesta Italiana has been an unofficial start to summer for this region. Festa, as some affectionately refer to it, has paired with The DuQuoin State Fair for decades to bookend a season filled with wonderful outdoor activity and events.


The DuQuoin State Fair
Fort de Chartres Rendevous, Prairie du Rocher
A car show in Downtown Carterville
Concert Time at HerrinFesta Italiana

Many events had to postpone or cancel. Others were able to adapt to social distancing ordinances or utilize technology. The Centralia Balloon Fest modified to a drive through format in four locations for the popular Balloon Glows this year. Many spring and a summer sports were cancelled. Fall football and marching band season has also been affected. The Missouri Valley Conference, to which our beloved SIU Salukis belong, recently announced possible plans for a spring season. Even playground equipment was closed off to help prevent spreading germs.

Centralia Balloon Fest
The Makanda Boardwalk

Fairs and festivals aren’t just for fun. Many area food and entertainment venues rely on annual income from these events. Others, such as those who raise dairy and other livestock animals or craft and and exhibit other items prepare all year for county fairs, 4-H fairs, and The DuQuoin State Fair. They are also part of our region’s identity and opportunity to be part of a community.

Marion County Antique Power Days, Salem
The Iconic Double Ferris Wheel at The DuQuoin State Fair

All of the sudden closures and reduced business hours delivered a huge blow to our economy. The scarcity of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks as well as meat, milk, and pantry staples may have sent sales soaring for some businesses to record highs. Sadly, others had to close.

Almost an entire wing of the University Mall in Carbondale appears to have closed. For those of us who remember shopping there as kids in the days when J.C. Penney was the west end with Sears as the east end, this is particularly sad. We remember a thriving mall where it was somewhat entertaining to ride up and down the Sears escalator… Many of us remember when the “new” addition came that extended the mall from J.C. Penney to Famous Barr (it later became Macy’s.) In fact, I still marvel at how the  sidewalk into the “new” entrance glitters like it did when it was created. (Keep that in mind if you are doing construction–whatever that material is, it holds up well…) My mom and I loved going to the little Pier One Imports store in the mall before it moved into a larger building off the Giant City Road intersection. That nice “new” store closed this spring without benefit of a long going out of business sale due to the pandemic. S & B Burger Joint, where they served wonderful burgers and spicy fried cheese curds, also closed this spring.

Relationships and mental health have suffered some big hits. Some relationships have suffered from distance, while others have become stressed from sheltering together. As we weren’t created to do life alone, in isolation, loneliness has been an issue for many. Research tells us that it can worsen and actually lead to mental health issues. Neuroscience shows that trauma also has a huge impact on emotional and behavioral health.

Obviously, severe illness and loss of life are often traumatic. Many, such as graduating seniors, have suffered a series of sudden losses this past spring. Proms, parties, college visits and more disappeared. Just the fear generated by having to stay home and fear of no longer seeing little friends, family, and favorite teachers can deeply impact children. Birthday parties, graduations, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and more have been cancelled, postponed, moved, and downsized. Some foreign exchange students and international college students either found that they had to return to their countries to avoid indefinite travel restrictions. These were all significant losses. People in long-term care facilities, treatment programs, and hospitals were isolated from family and friends.

Humans are designed to have connection to others. For those who self-identify as “huggers,” not being able to hug friends, relatives, and church family when they do finally see each other is brutal. Not shaking someone’s hand during an introduction or in a professional setting can also seem awkward.

My take on all this is that nasty devil threw COVID-19 at us to create confusion, grief, anger, chaos, and strain relationships. Since he is the author of confusion, that is not a far stretch. However, as a Christian, I know God can take what was meant to hurt us and use it for our good. It’s times like this that make me especially thankful that He does still have control.

The Original Bald Knob Cross at Alto Pass

People were placed on lockdown and quarantined. One side effect was that some families have been able to spend more time together. The fast-paced, stressful life of many has slowed down to a more manageable, healthy speed.

We have been fortunate to see many different people step up to help others out in difficult positions. Children and adults have shown gratitude and appreciation for those who have been on the front lines. Positions and jobs often taken for granted have been highlighted for their efforts to keep people safe. School employees delivered meals to students at home. Various churches and community groups such as the Southern Illinois Collaborative Kitchen provided meals to those on the front lines or in need. Individuals made countless face masks for front line workers. Hospital workers in various towns were greeted with sidewalk chalk messages of hope, thanks, and encouragement. Cities like Murphysboro encouraged residents to participate in The Great Bear Hunt (Around the country, toy stuffed bears were placed in house and business windows for families to drive around and spot.) Others posted hearts in windows or lights in their yards as symbols of hope and care. People in towns including Carbondale worked together to create and maintain community gardens.

Some people were able to spend more time with their families while others may have finally gotten a bit of rest and relaxation. Some of the new recreational activities have been gatherings via video conference, digital Corona Bingo, and Guess Who Is Behind That Face Mask… Fur babies rejoiced to be spending more time with their humans. Humans became more appreciative of their furry family members’ unconditional love for them. Some of my favorite hashtags this year have been #hopeismorecontagious and #SouthernIllinoisSTRONG.


Others were able to get out and enjoy nature and experience the natural wonders of Southern Illinois. I know the teens in my house have enjoyed hiking at The Arboretum and Giant City State Park among other spots. Stephen Mather, who pushed and worked to establish our National Parks over 100 years ago, recognized the importance of nature in physical and emotional health. He reportedly used nature as an effective means to help cope with his own bipolar disorder.

Scenic View of The Bald Knob Cross at Alto Pass during reconstruction

Fortunately, some churches have been able to increase their use of social media to keep members connected and continue at least broadcasting services. Medical and mental help professionals have been able to provide some services by phone and video conference. Curbside pick-up and delivery services flourished, and the price of gas actually went down for a while. Farmer’s markets adapted with drive thru formats and eventually, social distancing with face masks and ample supplies of hand sanitizer. Some VBS (Vacation Bible School) programs and summer camps were able to adopt a video conference format to accommodate sheltering in place requirements.

Just as Southern Illinoisans worked together to bounce back from that May 8th Derecho in 2009, we will survive this pandemic. We may be a quilt pieced together from different preferences, beliefs, traditions, and cultures, but we are resilient, and we are capable of working together. We do not know the upcoming twists, turns, or outcome of this current pandemic, but we can persevere.

Damage from the May 8th Derecho of 2009

Despite all of our struggles and setbacks, beauty may still emerge from ashes. Pressure can sometimes still produce diamonds. Rainbows do still appear after storms.

Rainbow over Elkville

Stretching Ingredients into a Meal

Did you know that a good way to stretch ingredients is to make them into a topping for something like smashed potatoes, baked potatoes, salad, pizza, or even nachos? If you haven’t noticed, meat has been more scarce and pricey thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. When all the shelter in place directives first came down, it was very hard to find meat in many grocery stores. (If you were smart enough to go to smaller, locally owned shops, you probably faired a bit better than fighting the hording in the large chain stores…) I literally bought frozen hamburger patties for the first time ever to take them apart in order to have ground beef.

So, in order to feed myself and four hungry teens this evening, I stretched out a pound of thinly sliced beef into a smashed potato topping for loaded smashed potatoes. Sautéing it with sliced onion, mushrooms, garlic, and seasonings bulked it up a bit. Although I’m not as fond of processed cheese slices, they do melt well. Putting a processed cheese single on the smashed potato mound before adding the beef topping adds flavor and dimension.

I like to add another layer of flavor when I boil potatoes by either boiling them in some type of stock or broth. I didn’t really have either on hand, so I added some of the powdered cubito de pollo/bullion to the water along with salt, pepper, and a bit of turmeric. Sometimes I throw in a smashed garlic clove.

Did you also know that you don’t really have to have butter, milk, cream, or sour cream to make smashed mashed potatoes? If you have a creamy salad dressing in the fridge, add enough of it to your boiled (or baked) potatoes to get the consistency you like. It adds flavor and does the trick. I’ve used ranch dressing before, but I used a mix of Caesar and bleu cheese this evening. I also like to add some chives. I prefer fresh, but I had to use dried this evening.

Loaded Smashed Potatoes…with a side of fresh garden salsa. #whatsfordinner #smashedpotatoes #mashedpotatoes #potatoes #shavedbeef #stretchingingredients #tastesofsouthernillinois #asliceofsouthernillinois #mushrooms

A “Berry” Tasty Road Trip

Mija and I took a short road trip this afternoon in hope of scoring fresh strawberries. (For the “Last Man Standing” fans, we wanted actual ripe strawberries–not the incandescent light bulbs that Baxter and Larabee bought in the back alley of a hardware store…) So, we headed down Route 51 south of Carbondale to Flamm Orchards.

This year, with all the interference from the COVID-19 monster, you apparently have to arrive at the orchard pretty early in the day to get berries.  Even though the day’s fresh strawberries had already sold out, the trip was not a loss.

Flamm Orchards is well known for their wonderful strawberry icecream and strawberry shortcake. We did have to stand in line for a while, but everyone was pretty friendly. I think their ice cream must have a calming effect on folks…

After getting clarification that their Razzles are a thick, tasty ice cream treat in a cup and not the gum candy from the 80’s, Mija settled on a strawberry Razzle. I had to have the strawberry shortcake with ice cream. Since they also sell their shortcake biscuits and famous strawberry ice cream in quarts to go, we were even able to deliver we some to the porch of friends who have recently joined the ranks of the quarantined.

Mija with her Strawberry Razzle
Flamm Orchards Famous Strawberry Shortcake with Ice Cream

Related Links:

Watch “A Walk Through the Carterville Lioness Club’s 8th Annual Military Salute, Cannon Park, 2016” on YouTube

This video is from 2016. Unfortunately, the Carterville Lioness Club had to cancel this year’s Military Salute due to COVID-19. Hopefully, it will return next year. Walking through those beautiful flags, each in honor or memory of someone who has served, is a sobering experience…