Archive for  November 2009

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Cheap Thrills

It’s a week filled with fabulous sights, sounds and yes – even special little lovelies that can only be enjoyed in this, the coziest season of the year. So strap on your skates – or skis… or snowshoes – and head out into the best city in the world for loads and loads of free fun!

Monday, November 30

Start off the work week right… with a little metal on ice! The Chicago Park District’s nine ice skating rinks have opened their doors for a bit of wintery, slippery fun. Skate rental is $6 and admission is free. Most rinks are open from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays.

Tuesday, December 1

For something a little out of the holiday box, expand your mind by attending a public lecture given by Emory Douglas. As the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, Mr. Douglas created the group’s visual style of the Black Power Movement. Called the “Norman Rockwell of the ghetto,” his images portray strength and dignity amidst poverty and oppression. The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. at Columbia College.

Wednesday, December 2

Chicago is a hustling, bustling city, one filled with happy noise all day long. Experience the city’s music in a whole new way at the Third Coast International Audio Festival. More than 20 producers created short audio pieces that portray Chicago through sound, story and imagination. Be sure to attend this event at the Chicago Cultural Center and RSVP in advance to

Thursday, December 3

One of the best parts of the holiday season are the movies and the Chicago Film Archives wants to Tinsel the Town with some fabulous cinematic treats. They’ll be showing eight short, vintage holiday-themed films at the Chicago Cultural Center, each sure to be better than the last! Films start at 7 p.m., but you’d better arrive early to nab a seat.

Friday, December 4

Forget the egg nog and head straight for the espresso. Once you’ve caffeinated yourself into the stratosphere, take your art-loving friends to 410 S. Michigan for A Night at the Fine Arts Building. From 6 p.m. until midnight, there will be open artists studios, galleries, live music, spoken word and theater performances.

Saturday, December 5

Still digesting Thanksgiving dinner? Burn off those holiday pounds with a little cross country skiing and snowshoeing at Northerly Island. It’s free whether you have your own gear or not, a delightful way to celebrate the season, and the scenery! Oh the scenery! There must be three inches of snow on the ground, so start begging ole man winter now.

– Shannon Sankstone

Click here to read more posts from Shannon.

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Richards Farm Restaurant

Just off of Interstate 57 east, in the little town of Casey, about 30 miles west of Effingham, is a barn. It was built in the 1930’s on the Richards Farm and was used, as most barns are, to shelter livestock, store grain and be the centerpiece of the farm. In 1976, it quit being a place to feed livestock and started being a place to feed folks.


Huge Dining Room

Gary and Diane Richards remodeled the old barn and have been running the wonderful, rustic, Richards Farm family restaurant there every since. They tore down old barns in the area to get enough material to add onto the old place, creating an environment like no other. There’s a huge dining room that seats 300 in the back with a most unusual horizontal paddle fan running the length of the ceiling, and complete with wagon wheel chandeliers.


Dining in the top of the barn

The south end is the original barn building, with multiple levels of dining that lead all the way to the peak of the timber-framed roof.  Nooks and crannies abound with a huge assortment of rural memorabilia from milk separators and plow shears to washboards and early American art. There’s an outside garden area on each end of the property, perfect to help walk off a hearty meal.

On Sunday (the day I was there, fortunately enough) they have a HUGE country-style buffet. I believe I counted 10 kinds of meat (including complete fixings for breakfast if that’s what you desire) as well as vegetables galore.



In typical Richards Farm style, the buffet is lit with lights in upside-down galvanized ‘milk buckets’ hanging from the ceiling. Five varieties of homemade pie and ice cream are guaranteed to round out the meal.


Rural Charm

Upon leaving I heard a gentlemen explaining to his young grandson what a milk separator was for and how it was used…history and great food all in one place…can’t beat that!

It’s hard to find restaurants like this one, displaying the charm and warmth of Central Illinois in such a unique setting. When you’re in the area, stop by and see them or better yet, make it a destination. It’s as much a museum as it is a restaurant.

Locate on Google Maps

Additional Images

– Ed Baumgarten

Sunset Farm

As the heart of the Heartland, Illinois offers a unique topography that I love to capture on film.

Co-Op 1

Mountains of a different color

From its lowest point (on the Mississippi River at 279′) to its highest point (Charles Mound at 1,235′), the state covers 956′ of elevation.

Charles Mound, in the far northwestern part of the state, is probably unknown to a lot of Illinois natives. If you’ve ever spent time skiing on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in Jo Daviess County at Chestnut  Mountain, you realize pretty quickly how you can go from the top of the state to the bottom in just a few rather exciting minutes.  If you take a look at the Wikipedia article on Charles Mound you get an important  clue however to what made Illinois a state with such impressively wide vistas:

“Charles Mound is a gentle, 1,235-foot (376 m) high hill in northern Jo Daviess County, Illinois, near the small town of Scales Mound and 11 miles (18 km) northeast of Galena. It is the highest natural point in the state…. It is within the Driftless Area, a region of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, centered around Dubuque, Iowa, that was not covered or ground down by the last continental glaciers.”

Last Shot

The big bluffs at Matthiessen State Park

So there you go, they got to the keyword: glaciers. As the glaciers retreated they left behind a lot of local variation – and that  is what I love to look at in Illinois. I live about 30 seconds south of the Mackinaw River – and let me tell you – we have some bluffs down here that are scary tall. And state parks like Starved Rock, Matthiessen and Castle Rock will wear you out going up and down hills. And those glaciers – they crafted some of the finest soil on the planet. We can grow everything we need here in Illinois – including mountains.

So are we known as a prairie state? Sure. But if you explore Illinois on a micro level, where we are a big mess of hills, canyons, valleys and adventure, you get to the heart and soul of the state. And if you want mountains – if you REALLY want mountains – we have them too. Just west of Lake Michigan near the confluence of Interstates 80 and 94. The Mountains of Chicago:

Chicago Skies in Color

Now we’re talking. Thanks for stopping by Illinois Big Sky country today.

– David Vernon

Click here to read more posts from David.

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Finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit this year?  Feeling bah-humbug?  Well snap out of it!  After all, as Andy Williams once sang, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”!


Image Copyright Memorial Medical Center Foundation

Why not take a quick jaunt to Springfield to jump-start your holiday joy? One of the largest holiday traditions in the state is hosted right there!  The Memorial Medical Center Festival of Trees is a highlight of the State Capitol’s holiday festivities and this year they are celebrating their 20th anniversary!  The Festival of Trees is a benefit for the healthcare programs of Memorial Medical Center in Springfield.

As the name suggests, the festival presents dozens of trees decorated by local artisans and businesses.  Their designs vary from whimsical to the sublime, with each one inspiring a true work of art.  As you walk through the displays you will also enjoy many different musical events that will most definitely boost your holiday spirit.

Children will have a blast as well, with Santa in attendance and crafts ready to be made for gift-giving.  And you can pick up your own gifts and decor at the Holiday Market.  Don’t forget to stop by the kitchen to satisfy your sweet tooth and make sure you save time for a quick trip on the Candy Cane Express.  There is so much to do and it’s all conveniently in one place!


Copyright Memorial Medical Center Foundation

Located at the Orr Building on the State Fairgrounds, the festival is open to the public from November 21st through the 29th.  Check out the festival calendar for times. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $2.00 for children ages 3 to 12, and children under 2 are free.

Happy holidays!

~ Gina  Jones

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Cheap Thrills

Shopping, yoga, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a parade and lights, lights and more lights characterize this week. Start off the holiday season with handmade gifts and continue on with a daily dose of Chicago traditions. From the annual lighting of the Daley Plaza Christmas tree to Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo, this week will have you cheering winter’s fast approach!

Sunday, November 22

Didn’t find what you were looking for at the Holiday Pottery and Jewelry Show? Lucky for you St. Christopher’s Church in Oak Park is holding its 2nd Artisan Winter Fair. Free to enter and browse, the fair features artisans from the Oak Park area specializing in clothing, accessories, textiles, pottery, ceramics and jewelry. With the impressive variety of goodies, you are sure to find that perfect gift!

Monday, November 23

Al Gore, Nobel Peace Prize winner, champion for the environment and now author of Our Choice, will be signing copies of his book sat the Borders on State St. downtown. Our Choice offers options for saving the environment – and our future. Wristbands will be distributed beginning at 8 a.m., and no photography is allowed. The signing is at noon.

Tuesday, November 24

The holiday season – a time of joy and of stress – officially begins on Wednesday. Get your mind and body ready for this hectic time of year with ancient exercises that promote wellness. From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Yoga Now offers Donation Yoga. A class geared towards all levels of yogi (and yogi-wannabes), this is your opportunity to pay what you can afford and introduce yourself to the relaxing, awakening art, science and exercise of yoga. The Donation Yoga class will be held at the Edgewater location.

Wednesday, November 25

Nothing signals the start of the holiday season like the tree lighting in Daley Plaza. It’s a happy spectacle that shouldn’t be missed! The celebration begins at 4PM with holiday music performed by the CPS All-City Elementary Youth Chorus, and will culminate with Bonnie Hunt, Keith Williams and Mayor Daley lighting the giant Christmas tree at 4:30PM. Make sure to bring canned food to donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository!

Thursday, November 26

It just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without the Thanksgiving Day Parade! 2009 marks the 76th time downtown Chicago has held the parade and this year will be better than ever. There will be more than 100 participating units, including giant balloons, marching bands and performance groups. The parade steps off at 8 a.m. at State and Congress and continues north to State and Randolph.

Friday, November 27

Round out one of the happiest weeks in Chicago with a little more light… Zoolights! Each year, the Lincoln Park Zoo enchants nighttime visitors with over a million colored lights. Grab a hot cocoa, watch the light show on the South Lawn, see live ice carving demonstrations and oogle the polar bears… all for free, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday, November 28

Could your Christmas tree use a little sprucing up? Head over to the Chicago Cultural Center and watch the film, “Between the Folds,” a documentary of professional origami artists. Once your creative juices are flowing, Jean Mishima will teach you to make origami ornaments. The event begins at 2 p.m.

– Shannon Sankstone

Click here to read more posts from Shannon.

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