568 Posts
5 Cathedral of Clouds

Long, long ago, in another century in fact, I sought inspiration in chapels of pine and spruce. I sometimes went there for solitude, sometimes for friendship, but in each visit, I was able to exchange my carbon dioxide for the oxygen so generously provided by the green things which were my host.

This past weekend, I was privileged to attend the consecration of love shared by a young man and a young lady. One was a grown up lady, who I remember as a child, and the other, a new acquaintance. They chose a larger, leafier setting for their ceremony, on a point jutting out into a manmade lake, but still surrounded by a canopy far older than any of those in attendance.

They were married at Picnic Shelter number 3 at Wayne Fitzgerall State Park, near Sesser.

The shelter and picnic area overlook Rend Lake, a large manmade body of water created and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are a number of features found near the lake, including an artist colony, a golf course, and a resort facility, including modern cabins that look right out over the lake.

If you are interested in a weekend getaway, some good fishing, a little golf, a wedding, or a work related conference, you might check out the website at http://www.rendlakeresort.com You can also call them at 1-800-633-3341.

The park is located along Illinois 154. If you are traveling along Interstate 57, take exit 77 west toward Sesser. The turn for the park is on the right. The golf course is on the left. You can see a humongous golf tee and ball as you approach from any direction.

The drive to Rend Lake is gorgeous when our leaves turn. Our hot, dry summer has caused some of the trees to color already.   I’ll be exploring more of our “leafy” adventures in future blogs. There is plenty of green space to be seen as illustrated by the Artist who created the cathedral of clouds.

Enjoy your travels!

-Bill Byrnes

6 The Great Pumpkinfest

The City of Highwood, IL is ready to make pumpkin carving history, as host of the Great Pumpkin Fest of 2010.  The four-day festival will bring people from all over together as they attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit in one location.  Plans call for 32,000 pumpkins to light up Highwood on Saturday October 23rd to break the current world’s record set in 2006 of 30,128 pumpkins in Boston, MA.

Great Pumpkin Fest 2009

The four-day Great Pumpkin Fest kicks off on Wednesday, October 20th and will culminate on Saturday, October 23rd with the grand lighting.  The family fun festivities leading up to the record breaking pumpkin lighting will offer plenty of opportunities for people to come and bring their own jack-o-lanterns or carve pumpkins and place them in the display, and then take them back home after the Record Breaking attempt.

Each day of the festival will include the Highwood Evening Gourmet Farmers Market at City Hall Park (17 Highwood Ave), vendors galore, live music on multiple stages, hay rides, a haunted house, pumpkin carving stations, massive pumpkin displays, lighting of the towers,  and much more!

•Wednesday October 20th – 5pm pumpkin pie baking and eating contests at City Hall Park, 6pm kicks off the lighting of the first pumpkin wall of the fest.

•Thursday, October 21st, 4-7pm Pumpkin Dinner and BBQ at Scouts Park benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project(www.woundedwarriorproject.org).   Military and wounded warriors eat for free.  There will be a Pumpkin Catapult, live music, and pumpkin carving.

•Friday, October 22nd, 3pm-8pm- Carving Night, get your carve on all night! 3-6pm Trick-or-Treating throughout the business district, specials at designated restaurants, taverns, and businesses throughout Highwood, 6:30pm Thriller Dance at City Hall Park.

•Saturday, October 23, 9am-8pm – 9 am Midtown/Athletico Pumpkin Run, 11 am Pumpkin Regatta featuring giant pumpkin flotillas on Lake Michigan, 2-4pm Dress Your Pet Halloween Costume Contest at School of Rock Park, and from 4-5:30pm The Great Costume Parade starting from the School of Rock Park.  From noon-8 pm a day full of pumpkin carving and counting, food, children’s entertainment, live music,and haunted house hay rides, etc.  The festivities culminate at 6:30pm with the lighting and grand display to break the Guinness Book of World’s Record for the most jack-o-lanterns.  At 8:00 pm we will announce the record totals!

Anyone looking for Halloween fun, click on the link for full details http://www.celebratehighwood.com/

Ciao –


7 The Great Pumpkin Patch Autumn in Amish Country

The town of Arthur and it’s surrounding area is known as Amish Country in Illinois…..but in the fall, it’s known as Pumpkin Patch country. Every autumn for the past 22 years, the Condill family have opened their farm, and their hearts to thousands of children (of all ages). The Great Pumpkin Patch sits on the prairie just a couple miles south of the town of Arthur.
Open from September 15 through October 31 every year, the farm touts over 300 types of pumpkins, squash and gourds to be enjoyed, visually as well as tasted. A myriad of baked goods are available in the onsite bakery and all of the pumpkins and their cousins, are availalbe for sale for recipes or decorating. There’s a huge straw maze, plenty of displays for photo opportunities and some of the best fall color in Central Illinois. Tucked into the center of the complex is an authentic One Room School House, complete with period furniture and decoration.
Row after row of ‘little red wagons’ await visitors to assist in bringing your pumpkins to the checkout area, and just being in the midst of all the happy faces pulling their bright orange treasures around the property will warm anyone’s heart on a chilly fall day!

Locate on Map

-Ed Baumgarten

8 57th Street Beach Hyde Park
Promontory Point, Chicago

Promontory Point, Chicago. Photo by Frederick Phillips.

Chicago simply shines in the late summer and early fall. On a sunny downtown day, every view competes for attention: from polished sky-high towers to live music on the streets. Driving into the city on Lake Shore Drive thrills newcomers and old-timers alike. Where else can a public lakefront relax so easily against a fine couch of urbanity – for miles, and miles, and miles? What better way to spend a balmy Chicago day than at the beach – for free?

57th St. Beach looking SW

57th St. Beach looking SW. Chicago has so many beaches. Which one is best? Oak Street or North Avenue please the crowds. Families flock to Foster, or further north to Evanston (which does charge a fee). My out-of-town friends (former Hyde Park locals) swear by a Chicago retreat hidden in plain view: Hyde Park's 57th Street Beach.

Out-of-towners and south-siders alike agree: the 57th St. Beach is easy to access and enjoy. Located just south of Promontory Point and just east of the Museum of Science and Industry, this beach is a hidden-in-plain-sight treasure. No worries about walking for miles to get back to your car. On our recent visit, we parked at the lot just off 55th ($1/hour), and strolled under Lake Shore Drive. The wide, bright underpass features fresh mosaics and has room for bicyclists, strollers and pedestrians alike.  Lush native plants rise up on the other side. Clean bathrooms provide a place to change, and some food’s available too, in season.  Strollers and wheelchairs can roll down a firm walkway almost to the water.

The backdrop’s just as interesting as the lake. Looking southwest, green rules the view. To the west, the Museum’s giant domes shrink to a demure size behind the trees. In the northeast, the flat textured high-rises say “city,” but to the north, Promontory Point (designed by blow-you-away-brilliant landscape architect Alfred Caldwell – click here for a detailed PDF bio) says “forget your cares.” The excitement of Lake Shore Drive dissolves in the wind, and it’s very easy to forget the highway’s rush.

A castle at 57th Street beach

A castle at 57th Street beach

57th St. Beach provides a convenient gateway for exploring the Hyde Park neighborhood, a somewhat overlooked spot for day-trippers and over-nighters. Had enough beach-time? The Museum’s just a short walk away. Need to eat? Stroll over to Piccolo Mondo, home to tasty eggplant sandwiches, Pollo Limone, and San Pelligrino Aranciata (Italian orange soda), on the corner of 56th and Cornell. A playground’s just across the street. More dining districts are only a short walk or drive away: I’ll vouch for Seoul Corea on 53rd, Kikuya on 55th and Medici on 57th Street.

More Hyde Park attractions include fantastic bookstores (The Seminary Bookstore, 57th Street Books and O’Gara and Wilson, Ltd., just to name a few) and of course, the beautiful University of Chicago campus.

Detail of Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House

Detail of Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House

Apartment building on 54th by Harry Weiss/I.M.Pei

Apartment building on 54th by Harry Weiss/I.M.Pei

While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the Frank Lloyd Wright Robey House. Those in the know may spot other architectural treats, such as these apartment buildings on 54th Street by Harry Weiss and I.M. Pei, and the classic Chicago Cottages across the way.

Here’s a simple overview map of the area. Happy exploring!

– Linda Gardner Phillips

Follow Linda on Twitter/Deerpathfarm

9 Chocolates in Egypt

During one of my  “impromptu jaunts”  I found a little shop I had never seen or heard of before. Its located just across Illinois Highway 146 from Dixon Springs State Park, and its called the Chocolate Factory. First opened in 1977, it’s located halfway between Vienna and Golconda from Interstate 24, take exit 16, east about 12 miles and the shop is on your right.

The scenery is pretty nice through this area, because you are traveling through the Shawnee National Forest. I would caution you about the moving scenery. If you have driven anywhere in the Midwest, you are familiar with the surprises our “Deer” friends sometimes have for us. If not, keep your eyes open along the sides of the road. If you see one deer crossing the highway, there are often more behind her. This happens all through the year. They’re easier to see in the daylight, naturally, and fortunately, this time of day corresponds to the hours of the Chocolate Factory during most of the year. They are open from Monday through Saturday, throughout the year, from 9 AM to 5 PM.

The shop is a comfortable environment to browse, if you want to look over the items for sale on the tables and along the wall. If you need assistance, the staff is friendly and ready to help. If Ice Cream (hand dipped, not soft-serve!) is your quest, there is a counter with lots of different flavors for you to choose from. If you want your chocolate with sugar, they have lots of that. If you prefer white chocolate, they have that. If you are avoiding sugar (I sympathize) they have their different treats available in a sugar free form. These confections are displayed in clear containers along the counter, so you can see the kind of candy you want. If you are looking for a gift for someone, they have pre-selected boxes of candy.

If there’s a special event in your future, they do special orders for weddings, business meetings, birthdays , retirement parties, or any kind of an event your ingenious mind can concoct.

My personal experience there was very pleasant. I spoke to a charming and helpful lady who told me about the part of the shop where they hand paint the chocolates in different colors of chocolate. That was a new one on me, I never knew you could paint in chocolate. In fact, they will give tours to school kids of the facility, and demonstrate the technique of making fine chocolates. It sounds like a great field trip for around Halloween, Christmas or Easter.

I bought a half pound of a chocolate covered caramel and pecan treat that is often generically called after a small animal with a hard shell and a slow pace. I admit I asked for it by its nationally known trade name. At the Chocolate Factory, this candy is called a Terrapin. Its shaped like a terrapin, but its exterior is soft, and there was nothing slow about the time it took me to gobble it down. I have been parceling them out to myself since I got them. It’s excellent.

They have a website, but the lady told me that they don’t have a shopping cart on the webpage. You can always call a 1-877-949-3829. To look over their offerings, check out www.thechocolatefactory.net

So, if you are looking for a gift, would like an ice cream cone after exploring Dixon Springs or nearby Garden of the Gods, or just want to get some sweets for your sweetie, drop in and visit. They’ll make you feel welcome.

Enjoy Illinois –

Bill Byrnes