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19 Thompson Mill Bridge
Thompson Mill Covered Bridge

Thompson Mill Covered Bridge

Three miles east of Cowden in Shelby County, Thompson Mill Covered Bridge crosses the Kaskaskia River. Completed in 1868 at the then- whopping cost of $2,500, this wonderfully restored piece of Illinois history is located on a once important route between Effingham and Springfield. The south entrance to the bridge. It’s named for the owner of a mill that was located near the bridge.

It is the narrowest of all the covered bridges in Illinois, with a width of 10 feet 7 inches. This 105 foot-long Howe truss span is one of only five 19th century covered bridges remaining in Illinois. Covered bridges were constructed with a roof and sidewalls to protect the roadway from weather (not to keep horses from being spooked as many believe). This treasure of rural Illinois transportation history is on the National Register of Historic places and, though closed to automobiles, is open to pedestrian traffic.

– Ed Baumgarten

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. Thompson Mill Covered Bridge from the south

20 home from a box

As you make your way into Carlinville, which sits on Old Route 66 about 35 miles south of Springfield, one thing you’ll notice from a distance above the treeline is the Macoupin County Courthouse. Completed in 1870 at a cost of more than $1.3 million, the massive building that sits just east of the square looks like it could be the statehouse of a small New England state.

Although the courthouse hasn’t been on the town square for almost 150 years, the square is still the center of town, with stores lining the intersection of Route 4 and Main Street.  There’s a nice book shop on the southeast side, and for some good chili, head to Taylor’s tucked away in the northeast corner past the old hotel.

One interesting note about the square itself: about 10 years ago, the bricks had decayed to the point the road was going to have to be rebuilt.  While the city could have opted to pave it over, they decided to rebuild the entire square, from scratch, with brick. Although that brought the cost of the project up significantly, they apparently decided that the pavers gave the square character. I agree.

But one of the more unique stories the town has to tell is almost one hundred years old a little off the beaten path.

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22 Winter sunsets

One of my favorite pastimes in Illinois is to visit one of my favorite photo spots and capture one of the many gorgeous Illinois winter sunsets!  The skies really open up in the winter months and give us an unbelievable canvas for light painting.  And of course, it is more fun if you take someone with you!


In this case I had two friends with me

I encourage you this season to take some peaceful time for yourself and grab your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, or you favorite friend(s), take a blanket, find a nice scenic place in a park, by a field or a lake, and watch the sunset!  You won’t be displeased.  Below is a slideshow with some images from this year and last year in at Lake Springfield.

[slideshow id=2954361355582869236&w=426&h=320]

– Jeremy Wilburn

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23 Staying in Shape in 2010

Ice Skating in Millennium Park

With the New Year right around the corner, it seems natural to reminisce about 2009, look forward to 2010 and, of course, compile the dreaded list of resolutions. When I was 12 years old, my New Year’s resolution was to remember to wear my retainer every night. Another year I resolved to be a better, nicer sister. But now I find myself joining the masses in resolving to, yes, “get in shape.”

I belong to a gym which I use every so often. I eat pretty well and I’m lucky to have a decent metabolism. But when I ended up panting and sweating from climbing four flights of stairs up to my office the day the elevators broke down, I decided it was time to improve my fitness. And why not tack that on to the list of things I’ll improve in 2010?

The major challenge of living in Illinois and staying in shape is obviously the sheer lack of motivation one has to exercise during cold, winter months. Frankly, I’d much rather come home from work, throw on sweats and lay on my couch watching recorded episodes of The Good Wife and Keeping up with the Kardashians. (Please don’t judge me.) But of course, in an attempt to stick to my New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to brainstorm 10 fun and inexpensive ways to work out in winter. I’ll call it…W.O.W. (Also because that’s the reaction I’m hoping to get from people once I actually honor this resolution.)

  • Cross-country skiing – If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend it. It’s fun, it’s outdoors and it also burns about 500 calories per hour. This website offers information on a variety of locations in Illinois to cross-country ski.
  • Downhill skiing – Chestnut Mountain in Galena, IL, offers 19 trails that span 220 acres with a vertical drop of 475 feet. Downhill skiing burns about 400 calories per hour.
  • Ice skating – Don’t worry if you haven’t put on skates in a long time. Falling is part of the fun. Also burns about 400 calories per hour. Through March 14, the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink in Millennium Park offers free skating in a beautiful setting with spectacular views of the city. (Skate rental is $10.) Check out your local park district for rinks in your area – they often offer family skate hours and discounted rates for kids.
  • Ice climbing – I thought it sounded crazy, but it’s similar to rock climbing. This website provides information on places in IL to ice climb, including the beautiful Starved Rock.
  • Power walk up and down the Mag Mile – Take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile while exercising at the same time. Be sure to wear shoes that you don’t mind getting a little wet!
  • Play in the snow – Build a fort, make a snow angel, build a snowman, start a snowball fight, or go sledding. The best way to enjoy winter weather!
  • Chicago Sport and Social – This club offers leagues, classes, and clubs year-round for Chicagoans to get together, play sports, and socialize. From broomball to rock climbing to bowling – they have it all.
  • Wii – One coworker suggested playing Wii as a workout alternative in winter, especially Dance Dance Revolution. I’ve played DDR a few times and it’s a blast. It also works up a serious sweat.
  • Make use of your surroundings – Run up and down the stairs in your apartment, house, office, or local shopping mall.
  • Join a gym – The most obvious way to stay in shape during the months of December through March. Unoriginal I know, but simple, cheap (depending on the gym), and effective. I try and attend some group fitness classes to break up the monotony of the treadmill.

Feel free to drop a comment with your suggestions. How do you stay fit in the winter months? And what are your New Year’s resolutions?

– Claire Prendergast

24 Fishes and Fun

Playing with Penguins at the Shedd Aquarium

Looking for a way to entertain the kids and yourself this winter break? Head over to the Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago for a fun-filled day.

Recently my husband, daughter, parents and I spent the day at the Shedd. It had been years since I had been there and my only memory was the large round tank in the center of the aquarium. I was thrilled to see so much more than I remembered.

There are seven large exhibits to visit along with the central tank and the four water areas to explore. We started with a stop at Amazon Rising. From anacondas and piranhas to rays and very, very large fish, this should be everyone’s first stop. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the monkeys in this area too!

After Amazon Rising, we headed down to Fantasea. It was a great show with the animals coming closer than you expect. We all got a kick out of the penguins as they toddled around the audience.

As we explored exhibit after exhibit and saw all sorts of crazy looking fish and colorful sea life, I laughed realizing that I couldn’t tell who was having more fun out of our group – was it my daughter, my husband, me?

We easily spent four hours roaming the aquarium and I’m sure we could have stayed for another four! It was a great day and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Be sure to stop by the Shedd Aquarium with your family soon. You can visit the Shedd’s website to learn about free days and buy tickets online.