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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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 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

Ceasar Dill Pickle Pasta Salad

I had the freedom to experiment a bit on the 4th of July with some of the recipe trends I’ve seen floating around social media lately. A couple of these ideas that have sounded good to my family are the pasta salad with dill pickles and the one with ceasar salad. Since I didn’t have everything to make either complete recipe, I combined elements and used what I already had. I think the result was pretty tasty.

Ingredients:

1 pound of cooked pasta, such as elbow macaroni or shells

1 bottle of ceasar salad dressing

1 cup of dill pickle juice

1 cup of chopped dill pickles

1 small chopped red onion

1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Add the warm, drained cooked pasta to the pickle juice and allow to soak approximately 10 minutes before stirring in the ceasar dressing. Add salt, pepper, onion, and dill pickle pieces. Blend together carefully and refrigerate before serving.

Optional: add freshly grated parmesan cheese and/or olives.

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

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!