Impromptu Picnics

Some of my earliest family memories of road trips and adventures involve picnics. My parents were great at them.

When my brother and I were really little, our parents had a Pacer.(For those who dont know the car, it’s what Garth and Wayne drove in “Wayne’s World.”) This was before the days of expensive booster seats. The back car seat would fold down, and we could look up at the stars as we traveled through the state or country. It was handy for picnics if it rained or other conditions were unfavorable.

I still remember one hot, muggy summer, that we went to Horseshoe Lake in the Shawnee National Forest. Unfortunately, millions of mosquitos also were vacationing there that day. We had our picnic in the Pacer. Although it may not have been ideal outside the vehicle, but it made for a great memory.

Recently, my brother and I were discussing mushroom hunting, something else we did with our parents at a very young age. We seem to remember a picnic on a field in the woods on one of our earliest family morel hunting adventures. Priceless family time together that means even more to us as we get older.

I can also remember picnics in Giant City State Park as a kid when my dad was doing some post-graduate work at SIU-Carbondale one summer. We would all get up early for the drive down to campus. Then my mom would drop my dad off for his class. She would take my brother and I on some type of adventure in Carbondale before we picked my dad up for lunch. That might be shopping at the mall or searching for frogurt on the north end of town. Sometimes she would bring a picnic. Dad was usually able to join us on lunch break to eat.

When my children were pretty young, I started having picnics with them. This was a way to have a family meal together once I picked them up from daycare and headed on to their soccer practice or VBS (Vacation Bible School.) Sometimes I was able to plan these ahead, and sometimes life intervened. That’s when we went with the impromptu picnic option.

An impromptu picnic can be pulled together from treats at a roadside stand, carry-out from your favorite restaurant, or fresh food from a farmer’s market or roadside stand. We are blessed to have these options in Southern Illinois. For the VBS version of the impromptu picnic, it often meant grabbing something on my lunch hour that I could refrigerate and then assemble after work, if needed, in time to grab the kids before practice or church. Sometimes it was a trip through a drive thru. We also also have some wonderful local delis and markets that can either make sandwiches or help you pick out some easy picnic treats. Oh, and don’t forget the wineries and breweries (if you are of age, of course.) Some of those may also have picnic goodies.

If you opt to pick up an adult beverage for your impromptu picnic, please be conscious of where alcohol is allowed and be safe. Not all picnic areas allow alcohol, and some only permit specific containers. You may need to hop online and do a bit of quick research to make sure you stay legal.

Another option is to fix something at the picnic site. In the picnic pictured, we had decided to grab some groceries to fix and head to the Natural Bridge at Pomona. There is a little picnic spot by the parking area. After hiking to see the bridge, Mijo fixed some tuna salad for our sandwiches. It made a nice family outing without a lot of planning and prepping involved.

Be creative this summer and enjoy time with your family and friends. Head to a favorite spot, or explore a part of Southern Illinois (or anywhere) you haven’t seen before. You might even grab some muffins, donuts, or fruit with juice or coffee and have an impromptu breakfast picnic. Watch the sunrise someplace beautiful. Now go, make some delicious memories!

Flooding, Concerts, and Costa Rican Coffee?


All of the recent flooding has brought a couple of concerts to mind. The second time (out of five?) that I saw Bon Jovi was during The Great Flood of ’93.

They were playing at the Riverport Amphitheater (forgive me, but I’ve quit keeping track of the frequent name changes of that place. ) There was so much flooding in the southwest part of Illinois. For some reason, I thought the only way to get to St. Louis from Carbondale at that point in life was to head through Murphysboro and over to Route 3. One of the roads was closed due to flooding, and I was completely distraught. Seeing Bon Jovi was pretty much the one thing I had been looking forward to for several weeks.

So, the three of us, a girl from Costa Rica, a guy from Pakistan, and a somewhat directionally-challenged Southern Illinois girl, finally made our way via the interstate. The concert was of course, great. (How could Jon Bon Jovi not be great, right?) We made it home to Carbondale very early the next morning via Festus, Missouri. (I don’t know why we went through Festus –I was trying to sleep.)

Fast forward to sometime in the summer of 1998 when my cousins, my BFF, and I headed to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds to see Leann Rhines and Bryan White. Bryan put on a great show, but the storm had started moving in quickly. LeAnn had to postpone for safety reasons.

We made a mad dash for my cousin’s car in the pouring rain. As we struggled to see our way out of the congested fairgrounds parking lot in the downpour, we kept smelling coffee. That was odd considering that none of us had any, nor was there any stowed in the car. We finally figured out that the combination of summer heat and rain had actually started steaming my necklace of Costa Rican coffee beans from a recent trip… That was a first for me. Scented fashion accessories. Not all age-inappropriate…

However, the evening’s adventure did not end in DuQuoin. We headed east then south down Route 148 and took some side roads in Herrin where we thought there might be better visibility without so many headlights glaring and that type of thing. Uh, bad choice. Apparently, Herrin had a flash flooding issue.

We seemed to be cruising down the street just fine, and then, suddenly, we were floating like a boat. Water started coming into the car by our feet. I remember calling a cellular rescue service that I’d apparently just thrown money at for several months because it was no help. The lady who answered kept putting me on hold. I remember saying “Ma’am, we can’t hold. We are in a car with water rising up to our knees…”

Fortunately, the other girls managed to get the window to where we could climb out of the car, still filling with water. It just happened that we were near a crisis shelter. The folks at the shelter were kind enough to let us get out of the storm and find a tow truck. Eventually, four very tired girls climbed into the tow truck with one poor tow truck driver to end the night. I had been to all those “dangerous” rock and concerts with no mishaps, but I went to one country music concert and nearly drowned. Nothing like this ever happened when I drove myself over to see Ozzy’ s “Retirement Sucks” concert…

Although we made it out of the flash flood ok, the car did not fare as well and was determined to be a total loss. When we went back to the area the next day, and the water had disappeared, we could see that it wasn’t even a very big dip in the road. At night, it wasn’t noticeable, and in a downpour, it became dangerous.

So, if you get nothing else out of my little trip down memory lane, please take flash flooding warnings seriously. What may not look like much water can total a car in a matter of minutes. Stay safe-and dry. Remember that actual coffee beans will steam if the conditions are right…