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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Sunshine and Market Fresh

It was still pretty warm this morning, but the weather was perfect for the Carbondale Farmer’s Market. Despite a late start, I still arrived in time to snap some photos, shop a bit, and get my iced holy basil tea.

Many dogs enjoy walking around the market each week with their humans.

Beautiful fresh flowers from a Carbondale vendor paired with some iced holy basil tea from Mustard Seed Sowers.

Lots of yummy choices from Leepy’s Gourmet Foods.

Southern Que was on site with delicious barbecue.

Mario’s Mama continues to be a favorite among canine shoppers.

One of the talented musicians that entertain shoppers at the market.

Fourth of July Celebrations in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinois is home to many Fourth of July celebrations. This year, some start as early as June 28, and others are not until July 7. Hopefully, there is an event that fits everyone’s schedule.

This is by no means a list of all fireworks and celebrations in Southern Illinois, but there are links to some listed below in alphabetical order. Don’t forget that you can also use the ASOSI app (free for download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store) to find locally-owned restaurants, things to see, and more listed by town.

Alton’s Fireworks Spectacular

7/3/18 https://m.riverbender.com/articles/details.cfm?id=29284

Anna Fourth of July Fireworks

7/4/18 https://m.facebook.com/AnnaFireRescue/photos/rpp.129931467063069/1962201633836034/?type=3&theater

Carbondale Fireworks Display

7/4/18 http://www.carbondalechamber.com/events/details/carbondale-fireworks-display-11266

Carlyle Lake’s Fireworks Spectacular

6/30/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/402437606891296/?ti=as

Carterville Independence Day Fireworks

7/4/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/748820481908623/?ti=as

Cobden, Reds, Whites & Brews at StarView Vineyards

6/30/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/174951883216665/?ti=as

DuQuoin Fireworks Display

7/3/18 http://www.duquointourism.org/index.php?mact=CGCalendar,cntnt01,default,0&cntnt01event_id=60&cntnt01display=event&cntnt01returnid=38

Farina 4th of July

7/4/18 https://www.facebook.com/farina4thofjuly/

Golconda 4th of July Festival and Fireworks

7/6/18 http://www.mainstreetgolconda.org/events/867/

Goreville Freedom Fest 2018

7/4/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/257693818066987/?ti=as

Grand Tower Fireworks & More

6/30/18 https://m.facebook.com/119685634710279/photos/pcb.2062347187110771/2062347043777452/?type=3&theater

Herrin Park July 4th with Cat Daddy O Live, Special Night Swim, and Fireworks

7/4/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/2008279442722723/?ti=as

Johnston City Fireworks Spectacular

6/28/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/2084007911610976/?ti=as

Metropolis 2018 Hometown Celebration

7/7/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/194975364558523/?ti=as

Mt. Carmel’s Fantastic 4th Celebration

6/30/18-7/6/18 https://www.facebook.com/MTCFantastic4th/

Rend Lake Fireworks

6/30/18 https://www.facebook.com/events/553779568300298/?ti=as

Salem Celebrating Independence Day

7/4/18 https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10157457794918154&id=183980713153

Flooding, Concerts, and Costa Rican Coffee?

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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…

Memorial Day Traditions in Southern Illinois

Southern Illinoisans have a rich history of family-based Memorial Day Traditions. Some families gather for reunions and picnics. Others get together to honor the memory of loved ones by placing flowers on graves. Communities gather to remember and honor those who have served our country. Swimming pools open, and annual festivals bring people together to kick off the unofficial beginning of summer.

Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971. Its origins were in Decoration Day, which came from a need to deal with grief during the Civil War. It appears that many locations claim to be the founder of that holiday. With so many people now researching their heritage through DNA testing, it seems likely that even more will be at cemeteries this year to remember and learn about their ancestors.

For many years, East Lawn Cemetery in Salem (Marion County) would accommodate many visitors-both decendants of the Joles and Broadway families buried in East Lawn Cemetery and people driving by to watch them. In 1891, “Gypsy Sam” and Betsy Joles reportedly traveled through Salem during a journey from Ohio to Southern Missouri. While camping in Salem, they could view East Lawn Cemetery and thought it was beautiful. When their daughter died in Missouri, they returned to Salem for her burial. Unfortunately, another daughter passed away while they were in Salem and was also buried in East Lawn. These are the first two known graves that started the annual Memorial Day Weekend gypsy pilgrimages to Salem. For many years, the Broadway and Joles Family graves were adorned with beautiful, elaborate floral arrangements. Some of these depicted the loved ones hobbies or favorite foods. I can remember watching the procession of cars and all of the colorful decorations as a child. It really was a nice way that their family remembered their loved ones. Sadly, in recent years, there has not been as much decoration as in past decades.

Many communities will have ceremonies honoring those who have served our country. There is a Memorial Day Service planned at Mound City National Cemetery. The Carterville Lioness Club will once again have a beautiful display of flags at Cannon Park for their Military Salute.

Herrinfesta Italiana, an annual celebration of Herrin’s Italian heritage since 1981 is already in full swing. Carbondale has Memorial Day Sesquesentennial Observation planned. Marion will be holding Memorial Day at Ray Fosse Park. These are just some of the things going on throughout the weekend.

A link to information on some of the Memorial Day events in Southern Illinois will be available in the “Events” section of this website as well as the ASOSI app. The app is available for free download in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

Strawberries and Memories

Strawberry Season is upon us in Southern Illinois, and it brings many sweet memories with it. Believe it or not strawberries were probably one of the few things that we did not grow on our family’s acre and three fourths in the country. (Gooseberries-check, rhubarb-check, asparagus-check, strawberries-uh, no?) So, we piled into the family car, Pacer or Granada, depending on the year, and went to a local u-pick farm. Often, this was a farm in the Farina, Dix, Kell, or Centralia area. The one by Farina was especially fun because we would stop at Frontier Village for a restroom break and to cool off. My brother and I looked forward to getting those those huge, old-fashioned colorful lollipops.

Once home with our berries, my parents and sometimes my grandma would prep and freeze them by the pint. As a special dessert, my mom would make some wonderful strawberry shortcake.

As unique as it may sound, our kitchen walls actually were covered in strawberry wallpaper. To top it off, a local grocery store sold Strawberry Shortcake (remember her and the dessert squad?) glasses that we would collect to use and display.

Seeing melting chocolate for fruits in grocery stores triggers memories of making chocolate covered strawberries in my dorm room at the Baptist Student Center at SIU-Carbondale. We had potable water, microwaves, and mini fridges. Life was good. My co-ed music fraternity often catered events on campus, and from what I recall, there was sometimes a need for chocolate covered strawberries… I continued making these in grad school too, when I lived in Lewis Park and had an actual kitchenette.

If you have an opportunity to get out and pick your own strawberries, especially as a family, try it at least once just to have that experience. It’s also nice for kids to be able to connect in their heads the process of food growing and making its way to the table. More importantly, family memories you create will last much longer than strawberry season.

Here are some places to contact about U-pick strawberries in Southern Illinois:

ALAHAMBRA

Reinhardt’s Berry Patch, 618-633-2888

BELLEVILLE

Eckert’s Country Store & Farm,

https://www.eckerts.com/belleville-farm

BUMCOMBE

Hallsberry Farms

https://www.facebook.com/Hallsberry-Farms-607311662746573/

CARLYLE

McConauchie Manor Farm

http://mcmanor.com/

CENTRALIA

Schwartz Farms

http://www.schwartzfruitfarm.com/m/

COBDEN

Blue Berry Hill Farm

COLLINSVILLE

W.J. Donahue Sunshine Farms

DIX

Schwartz Farms

http://www.schwartzfruitfarm.com/m/

KELL

Sager Farms

https://www.facebook.com/Sager-Farms-1338423922880064/

MILLSTADT

Eckert’s Country Store & Farm

https://www.eckerts.com/

MURPHYSBORO

McLaughlin Strawberry Farm

https://www.facebook.com/MclaughlinStrawberryFarm/

SIMS

Freelands Strawberries and Vegetables

https://www.facebook.com/FreelandsStrawberries/

ST. JACOB

Demange Farm

https://www.facebook.com/demangefamilyfarms/

Strackeljahn Farms

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Strackeljahn-Farms/126200920766900

WATERLOO

Stuckmeyers Plants & Produce

http://www.stuckmeyer-illinois.com/

WILLOW HILL

Rising Sun Family Farm

https://www.facebook.com/Rising-Sun-Family-Farm-663357053748679/

TOSI Challenge: Flat Iron Steak Sandwich & Fries

Individual flat iron steaks from Dierks Farms and fresh sourdough bread baked by Scratch Brewing Company, both of Ava, were among groceries I got this past Saturday at the Carbondale Community Farmer’s Market. This pair of ingredients seemed like a great starting point for a TOSI (Taste Of Southern Illinois) Challenge creation.

For the steaks, I used a quick marinade of Ponzu, grapeseed oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of red wine vinegar. Then I applied some Cactus Pete’s Ultimate Steak House Rub, made in Buckner, that I found at Arnold’s Market in Carbondale.

I grilled thick slices of the sourdough bread in a bit of butter on my George Foreman grill. I also grilled some onions and sweet mini pepper strips with a few shiitake mushrooms from Fly Away Family Farms of Makanda. Each side of bread was smeared with basil pesto. After grilling the steaks and allowing them to rest for the juices to redistribute, they were sliced against the grain. I added a slice of Swiss cheese for flavor.

The oven fries were pretty simple but tasty. I cut scrubbed Russett potatoes into thick fries and coated them with grapeseed oil, salt, pepper, and paprika before baking in a single layer at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, turning once. For the fry dipping sauce, I mixed a bit of mayonnaise with ketchup and added some chopped fresh herbs. I used basil and parsley from my kitchen window with some dill from All Seasons Farm of Cobden. The ivrn fries were the perfect compliment to the flat iron steak sandwich.