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20 fresh way to beat winter

Snowshoe in the Woods

Even though I’ve taken advantage of the less-than-normal winter so far, soon enough reality will hit me. Hopefully, the “reality” will be less than 20 inches of white stuff over a day and a half!

However, I spotted something that I thought sounded pretty cool. Paddle and Trail of Aurora whipped up an idea that I’m definitely willing to don my long underwear for.

It begins with a shuttle from Aurora’s Paddle and Trail up to North Aurora.  Then you embark on a guided (or unguided) snowshoe along the gorgeous Fox River trail for a little over 3 miles (about an hour). The tour begins at twilight which is the perfect time to spot elements of Fox Valley wildlife like Bald Eagles, fluffy ospreys, foxes and mink. I love snowshoeing because any one can do it and if I remember correctly, you feel like you’re floating on top of the snow.

You’re led back to downtown Aurora where Chef Amaury will be waiting for you at 33 West with a glass of unparallel wine and a platter of mouth-watering artisanal cheeses.  He is known far and wide for his gourmet offerings, interesting pairings and seasonal cooking with locally grown, organic ingredients.

This combo of outdoorsy activity followed by some upscale fare really appeals to my sense of seeking eclectic experiences. For me, this is a perfect way to combat cabin fever.  The dates for this package are Dec. 29 and Jan. 12.

Paddle and Trail also have a location in the Rockford area too.



1 winter bird watching

Bald Eagles in Flight

What better way to start off the new year, then trying to spot Bald Eagles!    I am lucky enough to live near the Cache River Wetlands, and, the Wetlands offer great opportunities for eagle watching, as well as spotting other birds.  The Cache River Wetland Center provides resource and identification materials to help you spot eagles and other birds in the area and along the rivers. They will provide maps and directions to the viewing station for the nest just off Illinois Route 37 off Perks road and south of the visitor’s center.    I enjoyed the mild winter day in Southern Illinois bird watching on my own, but, if you prefer some guidance, bundle up and join us on Sat. Jan 7th or, Feb. 4th from 3 to 6pm at 

Blue Heron

 Bellrose Waterfowl Reserve, an area typically closed to the public, to witness the majestic sight of ducks and geese arriving at  sunset to roost on the icy water. Bellrose Waterfowl Reserve includes 400 acres of wetlands that are managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to provide food and shelter for waterfowl during migration. Staff will provide spotting scopes and binoculars. For more information or to call ahead, contact Cypress Creek NWR at (618) 634-2231.

Share your eagle sightings with us!

Enjoy Southern Illinois!


2 looking for last minute gifts

Are you looking for last minute gifts? Don’t stress!  I will let you in on my secret shopping places.  The lines are usually short, limited crowds and excellent customer service.  You can always find the most exceptional and one of kind items there.  These retailers are located all over Illinois.  I enjoy receiving gifts from these shops too, because they can be very unique and exclusive.  While someone looking in from the outside might think they are expensive, you will soon see the prices vary and the options are endless.  The displays will draw you in with their beauty.  You can usually find something unique, ordinary, one of kind, quirky or just fun.  Are you ready for my big secret? 

Museum Shops, there you have it! 

Since I live in Chicago, I have the luxury of going to the various museums around the city.  If you’re a museum member you get a discount.  You can find some great items for all ages.  The objects are from all over the world and you don’t even need a plane ticket.  If there is a special exhibit one of your recipients like, score! The shops will usually carry unique items relating to the exhibit.  When I am traveling, I always stop in the Museum shops. Here’s a tip for next year, I try to buy holiday gifts when traveling throughout the year, easier on the wallet.  I have a few gifts from the Illinois Artisan shop in Rend Lake from the summer I will be giving away this Christmas.   I store them in a Christmas decorated box until wrapping season arrives.  

Here are the list of places I have visited and my purchases, but don’t limit yourself.  I am sure there is a museum shop near you. A portion of your purchase help support the many fine programs at the museums.

Illinois Artisans
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph Street, Suite 2-200
Chicago, IL 60601
T. 312.814.5321
Monday – Friday 9AM-5PM

Purchase – A hat for my son’s girlfriend.

Southern Illinois Art & Artisans Center
14967 Gun Creek Trail
Whittington, IL
T. 618.629.
Monday – Friday 9AM – 5PM


Purchase – Jewelry for my 4 nieces and pottery décor for my friend’s newly remodeled bathroom.

Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL
Monday–Wednesday, 10:30–5:00
Thursday, 10:30–8:00
Friday–Sunday, 10:30–5:00
Website: http://www.artic.edu/

Purchase – Book of Wisdom for my 23yr. old son, I thought what 23yr old couldn’t use some wisdom.    

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL
T. 312.280.2660
10am–8pm Mon–Sat
10am–6pm Sun
10am–5pm Christmas Eve
10am–5pm New Year’s Eve

Purchase – A puzzle for my 3yr old neighbor. 

The Museum of Science and Industry
57th Street and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
T. 773-684-1414
9:30AM – 4PM

Purchase – Dr. Suess bag, book and plushed toy for my 2yr old niece.  Dr. Suess exhibit is being featured at the museum until Jan. 8th.

These are a hand full of my shopping purchases.  Shhh…mums the word, I hope my family members don’t see this post, it would be like peeking before Christmas.     

If you can’t find the perfect gift, the Museum usually sell gift certificates that can be used at a later date. Make sure you include a brochure and Muesum calendar for future exhibits so they can plan their visit. 

Shop local and Happy Holidays!


3 holidays history and a gingerbread

Dr. Ruben Boyajian is surgeon from Effingham, Illinois, renowned for his medical skill the world over……and also renowned for being an artisan in gingerbread. Every holiday season, Ruben creates a large scale, intricately detailed model of a local attraction and offers it up to the community to enjoy.

Having had his creations recognized in several nationally published magazines and articles, this year Ruben chose to model the Wright Home in nearby Altamont Illinois. The Wright home is one of only two pieces of architecture in Effingham County that reside on the National Register of Historic Places.

The model, which measures almost three feet across, is complete with ‘local villagers’ enjoying a brisk winters eve on the lawn and one can see through the open front door Santa’s elves busy with their holiday celebration.

The real Wright home is elaborately decorated in intricate detail with wrought iron railings, cornices and fascias, and the gingerbread version leaves nothing to be desired. Even the wrought iron is recreated, with icing, of course.

The Gingerbread creation will be on display throughout the holiday season at the Effingham Visitors Center, just south of Interstate 57/70 exit 160 in Effingham. Stop by and enjoy this wonderful piece of holiday artwork!

-Ed Baumgarten


4 a dose of yummy

Got “Dosed” yet?  Chicago’s monthly Dose Market is a true find for tastemakers of both fashion and food.   This blog is my first and I chose to cover my Food Adventure: 001 as I enjoyed myself surrounded by food, chefs, farmers and fashion at the Dose Market.  This list exemplifies what I think Flight Chicago is all about and a taste of what is to come in our blog.  It’s all foodimentary.

The Dose Market happens on a monthly basis on Sundays at the River East Art Center in downtown Chicago.  This space is often used for weddings and formal events, but for Dose Market it turned into a frenzy of visitors, each eager to see the latest fashions.  In my case, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some amazingly tasty items. 

While I enjoyed strolling past all the vintage clothing and jewelry vendors, I found myself naturally veering toward the food.  #1 on the list was The Doughnut Vault, where I chose the “Dreamsicle” flavor, even though they are best known for their “Maple Bacon” doughnuts.  The line here was considerably shorter than the one circling half a city block at their store.  Score!

Next up was Zingerman’s Creamery  where I was able to taste prior to purchasing some of their fresh goat and cow cheeses they drove down from Ann Arbor, MI that morning.  I chose a thyme rolled “city goat” cheese, “sharon hollow” a blended soft cow cheese and a “manchester”.

Turning the corner, I had to say “Howdy” to the guy in the cowboy hat, Dave Rand fromQ7 Ranch. He was freezer stocked, but quickly running out.  I listened as he described his Marengo, IL ranch, the grass fed beef he was touting and the bio, no antibiotic practices he is so proud of.  Sustainable and locally produced is very important for Flight Chicago as well as many of the chefs we work with.  As an added connection, Dave teaches about sustainability at Kendall College, where I work as Director of Dining and Event Services.  His steaks will taste nice in the upcoming days.

Walking over to Rare Tea Cellar, I discovered flavor pearls.  OMG what a great idea.  Christine Le Tennier uses a seaweed extract to create these little pearls of yumminess.  Had to purchase the balsamic vinegar and the rose ones.  Cannot wait to try out as ‘caviar’ for a mozzarella tomato salad and float in my bubbly this coming NYE, respectively.  Then Rodick Markus told me that RTC is the largest provider of truffles in the state of Illinois.  Well, anyone who knows me knows that I STOP for anything and everything TRUFFLE.  You have a friend in me!

If you visit Dose Market, you have to get there early to get some of the good stuff.  For example, Old Town Social ran out of their house made sopressata for sale by the time I got there, but still offered tasting samples as well as summer sausage.  Crumb Chicago sold out of their boules by the time I got there, so I bought some of their savory “Fennel Taralli,” an Italian type of cracker.

my Dose Market finds

I finished our “DoseDay” with a hot cup of  cider to go from Seedling Orchards.  It matched the cool fall weather I exited into, to enjoy the rest of what the weekend had to offer. 

by Monika Lotter