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Sparkling Lights, Comforting Food, and Lots of Joy: It’s Christmastime in Southern Illinois

Have you ever wanted to step into one of those made for tv Christmas movies? You know, the ones with perfect snow, charming little towns, and cheerful Christmas decor? Perhaps the hero or heroine has a scene or two driving through a small blizzard with the perfect, handpicked Christmas tree, tied to the top of a vintage truck.

While there is no guarantee that any of the caf├ęs will have a snowglobe with a track record of granting Christmas wishes, many of the things in those tv movies can be found right here in Southern Illinois. Hometown Christmas celebrations, parades, lighted Christmas displays and more are celebrated by many from I-70 by Effingham down to the Kentucky state line. Whether it snows or not (our weather can range from below zero to near 70 degrees in December–sometimes all in one week,) it’s a beautiful season.

One of the earliest kick offs to the season happened this year when “The Great Christmas Light Fight” visited Candy Cane Lane in West Frankfort to tape for airing in 2019. People have visited Candy Cane Lane for decades to see the brightly decorated neighborhood in West Frankfort. I can remember driving through with my family as a child when we were en route home to Salem from Christmas Eve dinner with family in Marion.

Many communities still have Christmas Tree Lighting ceremonies. Murphysboro will have theirs on November 30. Others also have community Christmas celebrations, such as Christmas in Carterville on December 7.

Besides Christmas Light displays, Southern Illinois also hosts beautiful Christmas parades. I was actually fortunate to be in the first Lights Fantastic Parade in Carbondale as part of the SIU Marching Salukis Color Guard. It was very cold, but a lot of fun. There turned out to be a learning curve to lighted parades. Some of the floats caught on fire that year. Meanwhile, we had adorned our flag poles with battery-operated light sets. They looked awesome. However, when we did slams, the lights did not fair so well… I love that the parade is now a community tradition. This year, the parade will be on December 1. There is also a Cookie Walk and Java Fest earlier the same day.

Some of the Christmas celebrations are listed by town with links to additional information under Events on the website and ASOSI app. You can also check out locally-owned food, lodging, and shopping opportunities to make it a Christmas vacation.

https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/events/

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Orange Bourbon Chocolate Brownies

These moist, indulgent brownies are the result of not being able to find my “good vanilla” and having to find suitable substitutions…

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups white sugar

1 cup butter

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 tablespoon bourbon

The juice of 1/2 of a small orange

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

DIRECTIONS:

September in Southern Illinois

featuring photos by 618.Photography

September in Southern Illinois throws a lot of varied temperatures at us. It also boasts some absolutely gorgeous skies and sunsets. It’s one of those times of the year when you just have to acknowledge that God paints the most beautiful artwork. He has certainly blessed us in Southern Illinois with some breathtaking views of nature.

618.Photography has a way of seeing and sharing the beauty around us through the images she captures with her lens. I’m sure you will enjoy these views of September in Southern Illinois in and around the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

One of the dear deer families…

Dusk at Crab Orchard Lake

Sunset over Crab Orchard Lake

Blue Heron Marina and Campground

Sunset in Williamson County

Country Roads and Colorful Skies

The Golden Hour

September Skies

Root Beer, Llamas, and Wine: A Fair September Day

The first Saturday in September was a bit warm and humid, but still a pretty nice day at the Du Quoin State Fair. I spent quite a bit of time in the Exhibit Hall looking at the different entries from all over Southern Illinois–produce, quilts, artwork, photography, cakes, and pies.

I spent even more time checking out all of the yummy things made in Southern Illinois and enjoyed meeting and talking with so many of the people and their products. Did you know that there is a Wabash Valley Wine Trail? Road Trip!

The Southern Illinois Beekeeping Association was on site with local honey and products made with it, such as Big Muddy Root Beer.

Rolling Oak Alpaca Ranch had a demonstration going as well as some of their fleece products. The little pumpkins were adorable…

Devil’s Breath Chile Company had some wonderful samples. They of course make some hot products, but the beef I sampled was a milder option with quite a nice balance of flavor.

Reinneck Ranch Inc. of Mascoutah also had samples and some wonderful products on hand.

There was fresh produce on site, and even the guys from Crown Brew were available to serve decadent coffee concoctions.

The BBQ Popcorn that Uncle Joe’s from Ina has started making was very tasty.

Aunt Jenny’s Fudge had samples. I tried the chocolate praline. O.M.Y! (Oh. My. Yum!)

Louie’s Seasonings, as in those used at the historic Louie’s P & R in Herrin, were available as well as Kuntry Kettle apple butters.

Excel Bottling from Breeze, responsible for the regional favorite Ski, provided samples of soft drinks.

Stanley’s Italian Style Beef Seasoning from Harrisburg had samples of Italian beef. Mr. Stanley was kind enough to pose for the camera.

There was so much delicous-smelling fair food to choose from when it was time to eat. I chose a local food truck with a cause that hit close to home. A bit of online research revealed that Fight Like a Girl was created by Du Quoin’s Marcy Robinson and her husband Les in memory of her sister, Kristina Stacey.

The ribbon fries with cheese were awesome!

I walked through the midway, but after recently spending months fighting nausea during chemo, I passed on any rides. While my kids and their friends enjoyed the midway action, I took a LOT of photos. Imagine that…

The ever-popular “Free Bird” was observed in its natural habitat. Ok, perhaps it wasn’t the original band singing the song, but this band was pretty darn good. The guy singing had a great voice.

After many decades, people still gather at this iconic structure to eat and perhaps rest a bit at the tables. As I’m still trying to rebuild my energy from this past year, I rested often. I was thankful for every bench and picnic table at the fairgrounds!

Livestock and dairy shows are still part of the fair’s backbone. I was sad that I missed the dairy goat show (this girl showed dairy goats for 11 years in 4-H. Tonti Broken Arrow Carpris, my family’s farmette as a kid, was a proud member of the Southern Illinois Dairy Goat Association…) but did see some cows. Horses also make up an important part of the fair. Unfortunately, I did not make it to see the stables this year.

Above: The grandstand in the background of the children’s area. I empathized with all parents pushing double strollers and wagons as I remembered the days when Mija and Mijo were energetic toddlers… At least it wasn’t muddy. That always added to the resistance workout.

Below: The midway as photographed from its North end. It seems the kids have now graduated to this side of the food vendor area.

A Community Tradition of Harvesting Memories

The Carterville Lion’s Club Free Fair kicked off this Wednesday in Cannon Park with the Farmer’s Market and runs through Saturday, September 8, 2018. This year’s theme is 105 Years of Our Tradition: Harvest the Memories. The Free Fair is a family-friendly event where many gather each year for some good, clean fun.

Friday evening features a 5K Twilight Glow Run and Poker Walk as part of the event festivities. Jackson Junction will be performing from 8:30 pm – 11:00 pm.

Saturday’s lineup includes a parade at 10:00 am, the Lioness Cake Walk, and Stride Pro Wrestling. Debbie Browning is this year’s Parade Marshall. Some of this year’s free events are a pet fair, children’s eye screenings, Identi-Kid services, Emery Brothers Roller Skating, a Ping Pong Avalanche, and hands on healthy snack and eating demos from the Carbondale Neighborhood Co-op Grocery.

Carnival rides, games, and bingo will be operating Friday evening and Saturday. Arm bands are $24 and single tickets are $3.

Additional info is available on the event’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/FreeFairPageant/

A Taste of the 2018 Centralia Balloon Fest

This past weekend, my daughter, her friend, my brother, and I visited the 29th Annual Centralia Balloon Fest. Although there was still some humidity, the weather was much more comfortable than in some of the previous years.

People seemed to be enjoying the colorful balloons, bands, crafts, and food. Although we were not there early enough for the balloon races or car show, my daughter was able to capture some great video footage of the hot air balloons as they decorated Foundation Park. The glowing balloons at night were absolutely gorgeous–especially when their reflections were graced the water.

Video below by Kiersten Sullens:

Above: One of those Little Egypt pork shop sandwiches…

Above Photo Credit: Kiersten Sullens

Above–a bit of the craft fair.

Above–more of the craft fair.

Above: A hometown favorite, Country Bob’s

Below Photo Credit: Kiersten Sullens

Above Photo credit: Kiersten Sullens

Above: The Greek plate

Video below by Kiersten Sullens:

A Colorful Sky

Centralia Balloon Fest returns to Foundation Park this weekend, August 17-19, 2018. This is the 29th year for the annual event. Friday and Saturday nights will feature a balloon glow. Crafts, concessions, entertainment, and a car show also make up the event. Tethered balloon rides will be available. The event boasts over 35 hot air balloons. Additional information is available on the event’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/448467368916042/?ti=as