Shawnee National Forest – Part III: Where to Stay

I wrote about some hiking in the Shawnee National Forest a few months ago.  You can find those blog posts here and here.  Now that Spring has arrived (let’s hope there are no more rogue blizzards like the one we just had last weekend), you should really think about heading down there for a few days to enjoy the beauty of this area.  But, you will need a place to stay.

My SO and I were invited, this past November, to join friends of ours for a weekend get-away in Southern Illinois.  A little hiking, and a winery or two were on the agenda.  Our friends had already been down there once before and she came across this wonderful Inn in Makanda, IL.  Simply named Makanda Inn and Cottages, this bed and breakfast is located right across from Giant City State Park.

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The Makanda Inn opened as a Bed & Breakfast with just the suites in 2009 and the cottages were completed in 2012.  Loraine and Malcolm Leigh have been managing the property (they also live there) since 2015.  You couldn’t meet a nicer, more sociable couple.

The Inn has 4 spacious suite-style rooms in the main cabin.  King size beds are standard in all of their bedrooms.  Each of these rooms is artfully decorated in dark, rich colors.  Stone showers and vanities made from blocks of wood add to the rustic décor.  We slept like rocks.  Then again, we were super tired from hiking each day.  Although “cocktail hour” at the end of the day helped with that as well.  They also offer two small cabins and one larger cabin if you wanted to have some space.  The two smaller cabins have a kitchenette area with a 2-burner, electric stove top and microwave (but not a traditional stove), and the larger cabin has a full kitchen area with a full-size stove/oven and a large microwave.  The larger cabin is ideal for those looking to spend more than a couple of days (or even a week or two).

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The Makanda Inn has a spacious great room on the main floor.  Couches and tables and chairs are available for all of the guests (in the main cabin or the cottages) to settle in at the end of a long day with a cocktail or two (or more if you are in our group).  You are welcome to bring your own cooler of beverages with you.  Or, if you are feeling something different, Malcolm tends bar from 4:00-9:00 pm each night for your drinking pleasure.  Anything from their bar must be purchased and, I speak from experience, he makes a mean Painkiller.

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The one thing that sets them apart, and the main reason I will be going back, is that they serve up an incredible breakfast.  I love food and enjoy eating a really good meal and Loraine and Malcolm do not disappoint.  This meal is included only if you stay in the main cabin.  You can purchase this as an extra if you stay in one of the cottages, but you need to reserve your spot ahead of time.  Additionally, while Malcolm does not tend bar at this time, Mimosas and Bloody Mary’s are available to purchase if you want to start your day off right.

This was not your typical buffet-style scrambled eggs and bacon.  The first morning, we started with a small bowl of moon drop grapes.  I had never heard of these before, but they were delicious.  Then, we were told we were having cinnamon roll waffles with a cream cheese glaze.  The waffle took up the whole plate!  And, the plating was Top Chef worthy.  Photo credit for this one goes to Loraine Leigh.

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Day 2 was a pork sausage and scrambled egg burrito with homemade guacamole and salsa (and a dollop of cream cheese) along with some fried plantains.  This was accompanied by a small plate of pineapple and golden kiwi.

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Day 3 started with a blueberry yogurt parfait followed by a plate of French toast, scrambled eggs, and sausages.

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They are not playing games here.  Extra points for presentation.  Malcolm and Loraine are serious about enjoying your stay with them.  And, if they weather is on the cooler side, you might get to see Malcolm light the fireplace with a blowtorch . . . (this was a highlight for my SO)

Weekends book fast!  Maybe think about making this a part of your summer “staycation” and go down there during the week.   Either way, get down there and enjoy the beautiful weather and even more beautiful scenery.  And tell them Karen sent you!!


Kane County Flea Market

Some people think that a flea market is just a giant garage sale.  Some think it is just full of antiques.  Those were my thoughts as well.  Then I spent the day at one and found so much more to discover.

The Kane County Flea Market has been up and running for 51 years.  It was started by a woman named Helen Robinson and is still run by her sons today.  Held on the Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles, the market hosts hundreds of vendors.  We spent a good 3 hours discovering the various treasures available.  The flea market operates one weekend per month, starting in March and ending in December.  These sellers are set up inside and outside, so check the weather and plan your outfit accordingly.  Parking is free, but the cost to enter is $5.00/person.

Going back to the “garage sale” thought process, there is the old saying “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure”.  Quite a few vendors had, what looked like, estate sale collections.  Plates, glass bowls, etc. Tchotchke heaven for some people.  I can’t tell you how many pieces we saw that reminded us of our parent’s and grandparent’s homes.  This is a great place to shop if you are looking for vintage pieces to mix in with your modern aesthetic.  Or, maybe the vintage look is your whole aesthetic.  Either way, the pickings are not slim here.

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One object that seems to be having a renaissance right now, is the record player.  Twenty-somethings today are asking for turntables for Christmas and birthdays.  We have a few friends who like to host Vinyl Nights as well.  Quite a few vendors had albums mixed in with their treasures.  If you have the time and patience to go through them, you will probably find something to add to your personal collection.


Furniture is a popular item at the market as well.  Some pieces are new, some are refurbished.  Some are untouched antiques.  Maybe you have been looking for that special piece to finish that bedroom or dining room you are remodeling.  Or maybe you have always wanted to try to refinish a dresser yourself.  You will surely find a good deal here.  Some of the furniture sellers were also willing to custom build pieces as well.


The Flea Market is also a good place to go to for collectibles.  Old and new.  For the old, there were a handful of vendors who were selling Hot Wheels cars.  I couldn’t tell if they were actual collector’s items but they were still in the original packaging.  Same with the Barbies.  They looked like older versions, but I am not an expert.  I am sure there were more, but those were the two that caught my eye.

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For the new, there were sports memorabilia vendors, beer steins, rooster statues, and more.  What is with the rooster by the way?  Is this still a part of kitchen décor?  Because I see this creature everywhere.


Vendors selling new, craftier, items were scattered throughout the grounds as well.  If you like jewelry, holy cow is this the place for you.  So many sellers.  So many beautiful pieces.  Clothing, scarves, and purses were available.  As was the largest selection of “bags” for all of your picnic gaming needs.

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I know this adventure is not for everyone, and I was skeptical going into it as well, but, if you have a Saturday or Sunday afternoon free, this was a relaxing way to spend some time with your SO.  Beautiful weather, lots of exercise, lots of treasures to explore.

Big tip:  Bring cash.  Some vendors do not have the ability to process credit cards.  And haggling is a thing.  Not my thing, but if it is your thing, you can definitely hone your skills here.

On The Road: Chicago Cubs – Spring Training (Mesa, Arizona)

See my original article about the Cubs here

I had the opportunity to tag along on a business trip with my SO down to Phoenix, and I jumped at the chance just to get out of Chicago and the winter that won’t end.  He only had to be down there for two days but we extended it for some personal R & R.

One of the biggest draws for getting down there a few days early was that baseball’s Spring Training games were still being played.  These are exhibition games that are played before the start of the regular season. The teams, during this pre-season play, are not divided into the standard American and National league.  Instead, we have the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League.  The Cactus League is based in Arizona.  The Grapefruit League is based in Florida.

While the Chicago Cubs and White Sox both play in the Cactus league, our team of choice is the Cubs.  The North Siders primarily play out of Sloan Park, which is located in Mesa, Arizona.  The stadium is fairly new, built in 2014, and was designed to resemble Wrigley Field.  It was originally named Cubs Park but, in 2015, Sloan Valve Company signed a “naming rights” deal to the ballpark.  Sloan Park is the largest spring-training facility, with a capacity of 15,000.  This does not include the lawn because when we were there, the attendance that day was 16,100.  Tickets need to be purchased pretty far in advance.  We were attending games in late March and, when we tried to purchase seats in mid-February, the only thing available were lawn seats.  Still, a great view.


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Getting there is easy and parking is even easier.  They have one big, gigantic lot and it is only $5.00 to park.  Depending on how late you get there, you might have a decent walk to get into the stadium, but they have cycle rides available if you are not feeling the hike.  Not sure what they charge though.

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Inside the park, everything you need to enjoy a game is available.  Food, drink, team store shopping, etc.  If you are sitting on the lawn, bring a blanket.  We forgot to pack one and had to find something at the last minute.  The only other thing you can bring into the stadium is unopened water bottles.

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We enjoyed this trip more than we expected and cannot wait to go back again next year.  I’m sure the 80+ degree temperatures helped.

Not from Chicago?  Click here to find out where your team plays their Spring Training games.