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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.

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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.

Carbondale
Cinnamon

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 https://www.instagram.com/p/CDh-dQeJbK-/?igshid=1iu7wfkpmmzjm

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:

http://www.flammorchards.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Flamm-Orchards-140416935995156/

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…

Mystery Solved: Those Pretty Pink Succulents

During my trip to the Marion Farmer’s Market this morning, I looked at all of the pretty succulents at The Potager Garden’s booth. I noticed that some had some pink on them.

Recently, there have been photos circulating on social media of gorgeous pink succulents. Friends and I have been trying to locate some. Searches have not really netted any results.

I decided to ask if there were succulents that just came pink, or if they could turn pink. Since I’ve bought several plants from The Potager Garden, I knew that the Christiansons were very knowledgeable of their plants and would have an answer. They did not let me down. Justin explained that sometimes succulents can get a bit of a sunburn that makes them pink. It doesn’t hurt the plant, but its color changes. The extra sun is necessary to “stress” the plant. I was assured that this type of “stress” is not hurting it though. Succulents with color beyond the basic green require more light to maintain vibrant. Otherwise, their color can revert back to green.

I decided to get a Pencil Cactus. Actually, I’ve wanted to get another since I lost my large one several years ago. I had one that grew to be a couple feet tall from a start my sweet cousin had given me on a trip to see family in Louisiana years ago. I was sad when I lost it.

In addition to the Pencil Cactus, I found some lemongrass and lavender–both for culinary purposes as well as the garden.

Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to make it to every booth. Since we are still under many COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, what should have been a five minute ATM visit at the bank took about half an hour because the cars in line for the other lanes had blocked the ATM lane…

I was able to pick up some Burning Bushes Shrub, one of the specialty flavored drinking vinegars, from Glacier’s End. Although they had just sold their last container of coffee steak rub, I was happy to find Volcan, Costa Rican coffee beans, at Cold Blooded Coffee Co. Their lemonade was delicious too! It was much appreciated after walking around in a hot face mask/bandana. Even on a cooler day, those masks can really warm a person up quite a bit…

Local Home Shopping is Here!

Most of us are familiar with the home shopping channels on TV. I’ll even admit to shopping and using them from time to time. Let’s face it, they do have some good things. Many years ago, after I was in a car wreck, and getting around was painful, they were very helpful to me.

Fortunately, some of our local shops and boutiques in Southern Illinois are offering a shop at home option in response to the current pandemic and its associated restrictions on businesses.

Local favorites Perfectly Posh and Splitting Image Boutique, both in Marion. are doing live shows on Facebook similar to those the national shopping channels but on a much smaller scale. People can comment that they are purchasing an item and specify if they will pick it up or have it shipped to them.

The Rusty Nail in Salem, a craft and gift shop, has a personal shopper option. People set up a Facetime appointment to have someone walk through the store and help them to shop.

Hopefully, many of the local shops we know and love will be able to keep business going with some of these options until we get on the other side of this COVID-19 thing. Please remember that although these may not be the traditional ways of shopping, we still have some options to shop local and support our friends and neighbors.

Please visit the links below to locally owned shops, markets, and more in Southern Illinois. You can also access these via the ASOSI app or the menu of this website. Ones that have recently been known to offer some type of shopping access during this pandemic are notated with an (*)

Please let us know any ones we have missed so that they may be added…

Local Shops https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/local-shops/

Markets https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/markets/

Artisans https://asliceofsouthernillinois.com/local-artisans-crafters/

Horchata, Anyone?

Horchata…

I originally published this post almost a decade ago (2011) on my culinary stewardship blog. No, it isn’t cold here in Southern Illinois as it was when I originally posted, but it is almost Cinco de Mayo.While most of us are familiar with horchata made with rice in The Americas, other parts of the world have made versions using nuts for centuries. This version uses rice. Perhaps some of you celebrating the Battle of Puebla at home tomorrow would like to do so with a nice glass of homemade horchata

Below is the post from the Maracuya87 blog in January 2011. ¡Disfrutan! ¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

It’s really cold here in Southern Illinois right now, and it may be a while before I can get to Costa Rica to visit.  So, I decided to try to make horchata, a Central American rice and milk drink flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. 

After reviewing different recipes, some calling for almond extract and vanilla extract and even crushing the cinnamon sticks, I had to take a look at what I had in stock and go from there…

This is how I made our horchata:

Ingredients:

1 cup long grain rice

1 quart warm water

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 vanilla bean pod (after vanilla has been scraped from the inside)

1/2 cup whole milk

1/3 cup vanilla sugar (or regular sugar–I keep a separate container of sugar that I throw the vanilla bean pods into after I’ve scraped out the insides in other recipes.  That way it flavors the sugar.)

1/2 Tblsp. Tupperware Simple Indugence Cinnamon-Vanilla Seasoning Blend

Ice

Directions:

Place rice and warm water in the blender and blend until the rice breaks up but does not turn to powder.  Pour into a pitcher with a lid and add the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod.  Allow to sit in the refrigerator at least 5 hours (ours stayed in the fridge overnight.) 

Strain the rice water into a blender, discarding rice pieces, cinnamon stick, and vanilla bean pod.  Add the milk, sugar, and Cinnamon-Vanilla Blend.  (If you don’t have this, use 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.)  Blend until smooth and serve over ice. 

Chase Helicopters in the Wind. Pick Bananas in the Sun

As kids, my brother and I were fortunate to grow up on a farmette. Seeing the maple seeds fly off the trees and into the wind this week has brought back fond memories of creative play in the country.  Spring and summer outdoor play as a little kid in Southern Illinois was very special.

Those maple seeds, sometimes called whirlybirds or helicopters, were created by God as a brilliant twofer. Not only are they seeds that may grow with nurturing into solid trees, they are natural toys for kids, fur babies, and perhaps some adults. They look like little helicopters invading in a strong wind. There were actually so many landing hard and fast on our dogs’ deck the other day that they wanted to stay inside to play until their makeshift maple seed helipad had cleared…

As a kid, the maple seeds also doubled at playtime as banana bunches. My mom had an old,  long, white potting table in our backyard. We sometimes played mud bakery or restaurant there. We were pretty good at sourcing play food from the yard and large garden area. Salad was pretty easy to create from bread leafy weeds in the grass. Bark might be bread, and the dried, flaking mud in what were puddles became potato chips…

That type of creative play and outdoor activity in nature was healthy for us and our development. We were actually learning problem-solving skills out there debating the best way to make mud cake. I am sad that kids today do not seem to have as many opportunities to play unplugged as we did. I pray that during this time of sheltering at home that kids, and adults, who have not been able to experience the simple joys of nature and creative play will be able to do so. May we all experience the simple joys of chasing helicopters in the wind and picking bananas in the sun.

And the Morel Is…

Yes, I mean the mushroom–not the lesson of a story. Those elusive delicacies have been popping up across the wooded areas of Southern Illinois for a few weeks now. The southern tip of the state has likely hit its peak of the season or is a bit past it at this point as warmer days increase.

I remember going mushroom hunting with my family when I was a little kid. We would carry our plastic Bunny Bread bags and walking sticks into the woods of Marion county to look for morel mushrooms. Sometimes we brought a picnic. I was easily sidetracked by small treasures and flowers… Yes, it is good to know some things have not changed that much over time.

Bits of wisdom imparted to me on those early mushroom hunting adventures were that the morels like to grow near may apples and to be careful with sticks that might actually be snakes. Fallen trees and logs may also be spots worth checking. Anyone who plans to hunt morels does need to consult some sort of resource with experience to be sure they are not hunting the toxic, false morels. Not all mushrooms are safe. A lack of wisdom and caution can be deadly. Also, please make sure you have permission to be on a property before you start searching for morels. Please have good morals even if you find no morels… All woods in this century belong to someone. If it is private land, consult the owner. If it is public, read the signs. In this day and age, failing to do those things can be as deadly as a toxic mushroom.

When my kids were younger, we went up to look for mushrooms in my parents’ woods with my brother. Unfortunately, we did not find many mushrooms, but again, I found flowers… The kids were able to experience a bit of clean air by the muddy creek bed, unplugged, as my brother and I had when we were their ages.

Progression maps are available on various social media forms to let people know where morels have been spotted so far this season. There are multiple groups on Facebook one can request to join to share pictures of their haul and share tips or recipes. I like the graphics and info in this one:

https://www.facebook.com/IllinoisMorelMushrooms/

I know there is some controversy over the best way to prepare the morels, but just don’t consume them raw. My parents used to soak them overnight in salt water. (My mom said it drove out any little critters.) Then they were battered in a cornmeal mixture and fried. I’ve seen posts where morels have been sauteed with garlic, butter, and olive oil. Some of my relatives have made pizza with them. Friends have stuffed them rather decadently with cheese. As with most ingredients, you are only limited by your imagination.

Note: the morel mushroom photos in this post article are free stock photos from Pixaby shot by other talented people. I’m sure I have taken photos of morels through the years, but I sure can’t find them at the moment…

How Strong Are Southern Illinoisans?

Apparently, Southern Illinoisans are so strong that there were briefly two Facebook groups and a new dot com with the same name…

This morning, I heard from a friend who had said she had sent a request to join Southern Illinois STRONG, formerly the name of the Facebook group that is related to what was the “Eat & More to Help” section of this website and the ASOSI app. I went to approve her request and found others, but not hers. Then she said that it had been on the news. That was news to me…

With a little research, I discovered that there is a newer Carbondale area group that has surfaced since the sheltering at home in Illinois response to COVID-19. They use Southern Illinois Strong as the name of their Facebook group and dot com that also sells a t-shirt. This appears to be the one that was on a local news outlet with a mission of ensuring the survival of locally owned food establishments in the Carbondale area.

As a Slice of Southern Illinois also supports that mission, assumes the duplicate name was oversight, and forgives any perceived appearance of intent, we have chosen to change the name of our Facebook Group to match everything else:  A Slice of Southern Illinois.  The section of the app that has and will continue to help people find help and ways to help others in Southern Illinois will remain titled Southern Illinois STRONG. Long after COVID-19 hits the history books, we hope you will still be sharing and participating in each others fundraisers and community needs.

We feel that this is also in the best interest of both groups in terms of transparency. Our definition of Southern Illinois extends from I-70 south to the southern state line. Again we wish the other group well as we also want our local business to thrive and succeed. This is why we continue to add links to locally owned spots in the ASOSI app for shopping, artisans, food, lodging and more. There are links to sites to see and places for family fun. The Southern Illinois STRONG section has been important for helping to get the word out for local fundraisers for schools, families with medical needs, fur babies needing help, and more. Please keep sending these to us! Keeping the blog, business, group, video, and social media name the same seemed best for consistency.

A Slice of Southern Illinois is somewhat of a lifestyle blog, and you will undoubtedly continue to find recipes and travel suggestions for our region and more. It is family-inspired, from the heart, and should be Christ-honoring. I am unapologetic for those elements. Much of the app and other planning was how I kept myself occupied with something meaningful while I was mostly on bedrest during chemo a few years ago. My desire is to continue building upon it with my family.

The A Slice of Southern Illinois app,  also called ASOSI, is free for download on Google Play and in the Apple App Store. Please feel free to like our Facebook page. Requests to join the group, and start helping to spot opportunities to help in Southern Illinois may be sent via Facebook. Thank you for your continued support and participation. Even more importantly, thank you for continuing to support each other and our region. Faith, family, friends, fortitude, and more are abundant in our region. Let our hope be contagious. Southern Illinois truly is STRONG!