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The front of the lovely old mansion—that’s not the entrance to the cafe

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Entrance this side 

Incredibly Delicious was indeed delicious!

When we went to Springfield recently with a friend to see a bit of Abraham Lincoln history, we thought we would try to have lunch at somewhere a bit out of the ordinary. Our friend had researched and came up with this place, called Incredibly Delicious. It certainly fit the bill and we were happy to try it.

It’s housed in a beautiful historic mansion, so the cafe is a number of smallish connected rooms, most with four or so small to medium tables, all with bright tablecloths in a lemons pattern. There is nice artwork on the walls, much by local artists apparently, and several stained glass windows that add to the lovely ambience. The vintage bathroom fixtures and hardwood floors also add to that.

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VfoodThe main entrance is on the west side (not the front of the house—that door is locked), through a pretty garden. You order your food and/or bakery items at a counter towards the back of the building. There’s only one register, so you may need to wait a little, but the line moves pretty quickly. Get a number and find a table and someone brings the food out. Service was reasonably quick, I think because we’d missed the lunchtime rush. Apparently it’s very popular with both locals and tourists.

The menu changes regularly. That day we had three-cheese quiche with a bowl of tomato soup, and mushroom quiche with tomato soup. The food was very good and filling, so we didn’t need any dessert which meant we didn’t try the pastries—people told us they are wonderful. Coffee was also good.

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The bathroom was decorated for Christmas

People were buying pastries and bread to take home too, and there was a sign up at the counter that one could order special items for Christmas, including Buches de Noel (a French Christmas cake in the shape of a log). I wish we’d known beforehand, as we’d love to have a Buche de Noel again. Oh well!

This will definitely be on our list whenever we return to Springfield—which we will do at some stage, to bring visitors to see Abraham Lincoln sights.

Address: 925 S 7th St, Springfield

Hours: 7:30am-10:30 am for breakfast daily

Lunch 11am-2:30pm Mon-Fri, 11am-2pm Sat

Bakery 7:30am-3pm

 

 

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IMG_8614Our town, Urbana, has a number of places where we can see swathes of re-created tall-grass prairie. One is at Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about before (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2004/07/30/meadowbrook-park/ ), another is along part of the railway line, and another is along Florida Ave next to the house of the President of the University of Illinois. They are gorgeous, especially in summer and fall, when the plants are tall and beautiful with swathes of bright mostly purple and yellow flowers.

IMG_8615Why is this important? One of the nicknames for Illinois is the Prairie State (of course, another is Land of Lincoln). Prairie grassland was once the dominant ecosystem in Illinois, but prairie is largely forgotten and almost non-existent in our agricultural and urbanized landscape. About 60% of Illinois (approximately 22 million acres) was once prairie. Now, only about 2,500 acres remain. The rest became corn and soybean fields, pastures and hayfields, mostly in the period between 1820-1840, as more and more settlement of prairie areas in Illinois took place.

Various conservation groups want to continue to pay homage to the prairie and we are IMG_8609very happy that our town is part of that, so that people can still imagine what the state might have once looked like. There are other benefits to re-planting the prairie vegetation, such as increasing habitats for insects and wildlife.

Here are a few photos from the plot close to the president’s house.

 

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byTJoes

IMG_3006Around the slightly more south part of Michigan Avenue

Last time we were in Chicago (September) we stayed at the Best Western Grant Park Hotel, 1100 S. Michigan Ave. We’d not stayed that far south on Michigan before, so it was fun to explore the area around there at bit. It was perfect for walking in Grant Park, with its pretty gardens and outdoor sculptures, and to walk to the Museum Campus.

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A moose and an abstract mural

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Moose closer—what’s with the pink bubble?

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The abstract looks almost like some other form of writing

peacockWhat we also discovered were a number of murals in the vicinity. As most of you know by now, we love outdoor art/public art and murals are a big part of that. Some of the murals are bright, some quirky, some symbolic, some have an obvious theme, some do not (not that we could discern anyway!). All are bold and interesting, and certainly help to give the walls a lot more character.

I don’t know who the artists are, sorry. Here is a selection.  They are in no particular order—we just took photos as we ambled around the area. Enjoy.

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Entrance to Pere Marquette Lodge

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The Lodge’s restaurant has lovely stained-glass window panels, including this one of an eagle

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Part of the park, with view down to the Illinois River

We began our eagle-watching weekend on Friday night at the Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park, an ideal place to use as a base. Open all year. Reservations: call 618-786-2331, or www.PMLodge.net .Their slogan is “Come and stay, the natural way”. Pere Marquette Lodge and Conference Center, a few miles north of Grafton on Highway 100—the Great River Road—is on the edge of the state park by the same name. The 8000-acre park is set in the rolling bluffs and woods overlooking the scenic Illinois River.

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A picture of Pere Marquette in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

Pere Marquette State Park was founded in 1932 under the name “Piasa Bluffs State Park’ (named for the legendary Piasa Bird, see later). The original purchase of 2,605 acres was made for $25,000, through a combination of local donations and state matching funds. By popular appeal, the name was changed to Pere Marquette State Park, reflecting Father Marquette’s connection with the early history of the area. Today the park encompasses 8,050 acres.

Father Jacques Marquette (the French Jesuit missionary-priest who came to North America to share his faith with the native people), with explorer-cartographer Louis Joliet, was the first European to enter what is now Illinois in 1673, where they met members of the Illini tribe. They were paddling down the Mississippi River on an expedition commissioned by the Governor of New France, trying to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean. When the local people told them that this river emptied in the Gulf of Mexico, they turned back and went along the Illinois River, stopping at a point near what is now the state park. A large dolomite stone cross commemorates this landing close to the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.

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Painting of Marquette and Joliet’s trip along the river

Marquette’s journal gives the first written description of the land that is now Illinois. Excerpt found at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center: “We have seen nothing like this river [the Illinois]…for the fertility of the land, its prairies, woods, wild cattle, elk, deer, wildcats, bustards, swans, ducks, parrots, and even beaver: its many small lakes and rivers. That on which we sail is wide, deep and still.”

But, the history of the park is much older than this. Throughout the hills, ravines, woods, and prairies of the fertile area along the Illinois River, Native American people hunted game, gathered food, and later made houses. Archeologists describe 6 Native American cultures from this region and have found fragments of pottery, spear points and planting tools. About 150 burial mounds are distributed throughout the park, most still unexcavated.

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piasa2A fascinating legend still survives from these early days. Early people painted 2 huge pictures on one of the bluffs of a creature called Piasa—part bird, with the face of a man, scales like a fish, horns like a deer and a long black tail. Marquette and Joliet saw these and were initially afraid. What was this creature and what was its significance? Supposedly it preyed on local Indian tribes, until it was killed by Illini Chieftain Owatoga, whose village was near Elsah. The original Bluff Picture was painted so Indians, passing on the river, could shoot poisoned arrows at the “Bird”, in memory of their deliverance. A modern painted Piasa Bird is maintained to this day on the bluffs about 20 miles south of the park close to Alton.

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The Lodge is a huge, sprawling structure

PMsignThe Lodge was originally built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) from 1933-1939, supposedly over a Native American village site. It opened for business in 1940 and was dedicated in 1941. The cost of construction was $352,912.00. Timbers of Douglas fir and western cedar from Oregon were used, along with limestone from the Grafton Quarry.

Recent expansions and renovations blend in with the native stone and rustic timbers of the original. The massive lodge building has 50 guest rooms, an indoor pool, game room, a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Mary Michelle Winery/bar, and gift shop.

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The Great Hall

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Kids love this game too

The focal point is a an enormous hall with vaulted ceiling called the Great Room Lobby, decorated with 4 very attractive hanging fabric collages/tapestries of a woods pattern—leaves, branches, creatures—and a mammoth stone fireplace (50 feet high and said to weigh 700 tons) with cheerful dancing flames (very welcome in the frigid cold). Couches, tables and chairs in original 1930s style are grouped around for visitors’ use and a large wooden floor chess board and chess set is well used, especially by kids. Many tables have other games on them too. Picture windows all along one side open to the Brussels Terrace, which gives a great view onto the Illinois River,

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Breakfast in the restaurant 

especially at sunrise and sunset. This is also a favored venue for weddings—and we watched one the Saturday evening we were there. The lodge also offers 22 stone guest cabin rooms, in 7 cabins, a short walk from the main building.

The Lodge overlooks the Illinois River and is just a short walk from the Pere Marquette Visitor Center, which has a lot of useful information about the park’s fauna and flora, the history of the area, and bald eagles.

A wonderful weekend.

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“See that eagle high in that tree?”

Much of this information is set out at the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

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FUN FACTS ABOUT BALD EAGLES

—The term “bald” refers to the old English word “balde” meaning ‘white’, rather than ‘without feathers’. Adult birds (4-5 years old) have a distinctive white head and tail, and dark brown bodies.

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—Young birds vary in color from solid dark brown to mottled brown and white plumage.

—Adult beaks and eyes are bright yellow. The hooked beaks are used for tearing flesh.

—Eyesight is very keen, up to 5 times better than human vision. They can see a rabbit about two miles away, for example. They have both monocular and binocular vision.

—eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world; they are 3 to 3.5 feet tall, with a 6.5 to 8-foot wingspan.

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—Eagles mate for life and usually go back to the same nest, which they keep adding to. Some nests end up around 10ft wide, weighing hundreds of pounds.

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Part of a nest in the Pere Marquette Visitor Center

—Females weigh up to 15lbs, males 8.5-9lbs.

—They eat fish mainly, but sometimes also eat ducks and geese. They can also be scavengers on dead or injured wildlife, such as ducks or deer, especially in winter. They also pirate food from other eagles or other birds.

—Their powerful 2-inch talons are used to take prey.

—They lay 1-3 eggs, which take 35 days to hatch. In 75 days the eaglet is almost full grown and ready to fly.

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—The main predator is the raccoon, which takes eagle eggs.

—Eagles fly 20-40 mph in normal flight, but can reach speeds of 100 mph while diving. They can fly up to 300 miles per day when migrating!!

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—The average age is about 15 years, but they can live up to 30 years in the wild, and to 50 years in captivity.

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During the Bald Eagle Days festival in Alton, Illinois, you can even pat a costumed eagle!

 

 

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Liberty, a rescue bald eagle, on show at Alton Visitor Center

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The Illinois River was mostly frozen over in early January 2018

WINTERING BALD EAGLES ON THE MISSISSIPPI and ILLINOIS RIVERS

A privilege and a thrill to watch the US national bird

Don’t forget your binoculars!

Eager to see an eagle? Well, you can watch our national bird, the Bald Eagle, soaring on six-foot wings, diving down at 100 mph to snatch a fish from the water’s surface, or perching on a tree branch. And Midwest residents don’t have to travel to Alaska (or Florida) to do that. Bald eagle sightings have increased along the Mississippi River this winter, on locks and dams in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Just one hour north of St Louis is a great spot to see large numbers of these magnificent birds in winter, which we recently did in spite of the extreme cold.

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P2040054.JPGAround Alton and Grafton, Illinois, is an area bounded by two rivers, the Illinois River and the Mississippi, with a third, the Missouri River, a few miles south. (In the native language of the then-local Illini tribe, ‘grafton’ means “gathering of waters’). State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, Federal lands, and Nature Conservancy areas along these rivers recognize the importance of this area. Cliffs, bluffs, woods, wetlands, bottomlands and prairies provide a paradise for a wide variety of flora and fauna. This area is on the N-S bird migratory flyway, so it’s frequented by many migrating birds at different times of the year.

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P2050074.JPGFor most people, the most famous visitor is the bald eagle, which is attracted here by large bodies of water with adequate food supplies and large land areas with minimal human disturbance. This is the second largest wintering ground for eagles flying from their nesting places in the Great Lakes States and Canada (the largest is in N. California and S. Oregon) and the chances of seeing eagles improve as the number of bald eagles continues to increase as a result of improving numbers. As our guide joked, “This is the eagles’ Florida”.

The bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List: Their numbers were down to as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s, because of loss of habitat and widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT. Banning DDT and increased habitat protection under federal law have led to a significant increase in the number of nesting bald eagles, so in 1995 the eagle’s status was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

It is thought that this area supports an estimated winter population of 2500-3000 eagles, and the birds are spotted daily. The wintering eagles use large trees on the river banks for daytime perches, as food is readily available in the open water, especially near dams (they enjoy the fish that are confused/thrown up by the locks and ferries), but they prefer large trees in the nearby sheltered valleys and ravines for night roosts.

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Woodlands in Pere Marquette State Park

mapThe 15-mile scenic Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park is very accessible to eagle-watching enthusiasts. Here the road runs along the base of limestone bluffs that rise almost 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Early French explorers (such as Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet) called these ramparts “broken castles” and the scenery alone makes the drive worthwhile.

In winter, many Eagle Events are planned (such as Bald Eagle Days from Pere Marquette State Park Visitors Center: reservations required) or you can plan eagle-viewing yourself with the aid of a pamphlet, “The Eagle Watchers Guide”, which you can pick up at the Alton Visitors Center, Pere Marquette Visitor Center, or the National Great Rivers Museum. Or more information at www.visitalton.com 

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Like wolves and lions, eagles have captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Native American Indians revered the eagle as a messenger of the gods and, as your eye is drawn ever upward to admire its graceful soaring, you can understand why, and realize that actually legend is not a match for the reality (eagles have been tracked flying as high as 30,000 feet and because they fly so high is why the Indians thought they were delivering messages to the gods). Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird, but the eagle was chosen in 1782 because it’s a true American species (the only other endemic eagle in North America is the golden eagle) As we watch this magnificent bird, we’re very glad the turkey wasn’t chosen!

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Pere Marquette Visitor Center

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Liberty, a rescue eagle is 26 years old and very comfortable with crowds of people

Start at the Visitors’ Center in Pere Marquette State Park, a few miles beyond Grafton on Highway 100, the Great River Road (You can also begin at the Alton Visitor Center, which doesn’t have as many displays but did have a live rescue eagle on display this January). They have good displays on the flora and fauna and natural history of this area and lots of information on eagles, including an informative movie. (See Fun Facts about Bald Eagles in the next article). The Center offers its own Bald Eagle Days program on some days in the season, which you need to sign up for when there, or call 618-786-3323. We took part in this one Sunday, and it was excellent. A State Park interpreter leads the program, driving some people around in a van while others follow in their own vehicles.

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We also saw trumpeter swans

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Our guide, Scott, sets up a ‘scope and points out eagles and their nests

frozenriver3But, to do a viewing trip yourself, drive north from Pere Marquette about 8 miles on 100 to Fuller Lake Wildlife Management Area. Stop and look around at the trees along both sides of the river, and you may see eagles resting on the branches. Turn and retrace your steps past the park, keeping your eagle eyes open! You may see other cars stopped, which probably means they’ve spotted something, and if there’s a place to pull off the road, you can do the same. Just before Grafton is the free Brussels ferry over the Illinois River. It’s fun to drive your car onto the ferry and cross over to the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see bald eagles, pelicans, white geese or trumpeter swans. Cross back (the ferry runs 24/7, every 10-15 minutes so long as the river is not ice-bound) and drive along the Mississippi, watching out for the birds, past Alton to the National Great Rivers Museum at the site of Melvin Price Locks and Dam. You can often see eagles in flight and feeding around this massive structure, or resting in the trees along the river. This January, for the first time in our experience, we saw that the Illinois River was mostly frozen over. Quite amazing to see that!

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So much ice!

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Casey, a red-shouldered hawk

On the opposite side of the river (drive over the big bridge at Alton and turn left) is the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka the Audubon Center), one of the best locations for eagle viewing. They (in conjunction with the Alton Visitor Center) were hosting the Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival the day were were there, with fun activities for kids and a live red-shouldered hawk on display. It was also fascinating to see an artist carving an ice sculpture of an eagle from a huge block of ice at the Alton Visitor Center and to see some other finished ice sculptures there and at the Audubon Center. The weather was so cold that the sculptures didn’t melt even a little bit out in the weak sunshine!

 

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SStrmmarketPere Marquette Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park has rooms in the Lodge or cabins in the grounds. For reservations call 618-786-2331or visit www.PMLodge.net . I’ll write more about Pere Marquette, the PM State Park and PM Lodge in a later post.

Other lodging options are listed at www.VisitAlton.com . Many restaurants in Grafton and Alton provide tasty lunch breaks. We really liked State Street Market in Alton.

NOTE: An alternative site in Illinois for eagle viewing is Starved Rock State Park on the upper Illinois River, much closer to Chicago.

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PennAve

racestGood news for book lovers—and I know there are a lot of us out there.

A fairly recent phenomenon, called Little Free Libraries. It’s a wonderful idea in these times, when almost everyone is fixated on a screen of some kind, and some young people don’t even read real paper books any more.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a number of these little libraries pop up in our town and sometimes stop to see what kind of books are in them. They come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by the imagination and resources of the owner I guess. A friend regularly takes books and adds books to one of these little libraries near her home, although I’ve never actually done so.

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The Little Free Library in Sister Bay, Wisconsin

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Inside the Little Free Library in Sister Bay

We were in Sister Bay, Door Country, Wisconsin, a few weekends ago and on the farm we were visiting there was a large (by small library standards) little library. It’s housed in a wooden hut that used to be an old farm hut. We peeked inside—very cozy with bookshelves and a chair. This got me interested in the concept of these libraries so I wanted to find out more.

As Wikipedia tells us, Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a love of reading, to build community, and to spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world, in all 50 USA states and 70 countries, although most are in the USA. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, greatly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The Little Free Library nonprofit is based in Hudson, Wisconsin, USA.

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Part of the Idea Garden at the University of Illinois

childrenscloseThe first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. He placed a wooden container that looked like a one-room schoolhouse on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. Bol shared his idea with his partner, Rick Brooks, and the idea spread rapidly, soon becoming a “global sensation“. Little Free Library was officially incorporated on May 16, 2012, and the Internal Revenue Service recognized Little Free Library as a nonprofit in the same year.

Long may this continue as a global sensation!

 

 

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