Today Tyler and I took a day off from the store and went on an adventure. We took some new friends to one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. An antique shop situated between the highway and a Dairy Queen in St. Joseph Illinois. Winter Wheat Antiques has been a part of my life for close to twenty years. I would even dare to say the contents of those unassuming buildings have fueled my imagination since the first time I stepped through the doors and probably caused some of my more attractive quirks and eccentricities to surface and be celebrated. Some of my most prized possessions have once hung on the walls or occupied shelves here. It’s easy to get lost in time among precious heirlooms and stacks of books while being stared at by a tiny stuffed elephant with button eyes and his companion a monkey that at first glance appears to have once actually swung from vines in some remote jungle. On closer inspection the painted features and delicate time worn fabric reveal the monkeys true identity, a well loved very realistic children’s toy.
This paradise captures my love of juxtaposition. Today I sat in a chair built around 300 years ago its sturdy arms proudly showing the wear of countless hands that have caressed its gentle curves while surrounded by Christmas ornaments from the 1950’s.
I must admit I am equally in awe of both. Rendered breathless by the thought of the owners that this chair has outlived while mesmerized by the glitter clinging to the snow capped rooftops of miniature houses built to prepare mantles for the arrival of St Nick. It doesn’t stop there, standing in an isle filled with delicate China and precious dishes no doubt handed down through generations and fought over by squabbling sisters before their mother’s death bed has even grown cold, I spy a tall vessel atop a cupboard that has been filled with aboriginal arrows carefully bundled and labeled. The chaos is kept at bay by careful and deliberate organization. I live in a world where random things are treated with great respect as long as the madness is neatly organized. I thrill at opening a drawer and finding it filled to the brim with blown glass ornaments from World War Two each nestled among its kin, each sporting a hand written tag tied on with thread. Pure bliss. Ceramic statues of sleepy looking saints may share the company of chalk ware dogs in hats carried home from depression era carnivals but they must remain on their own shelves. Each object your eye falls on in this kaleidoscope of color and texture is a time machine. I learned as a child accompanying my father to antique auctions that the things we create are destined to out live us. This is very clear at Winter Wheat. The things that crowd around you are not clutter. They are memories. Each whispering for attention. Recognition. Most hold great value more in sentiment than in the worth of the materials that they are constructed from. You will not encounter boxes clad in gold and rare gems. You are more likely to find a box stuffed with twenty sock monkeys. Each one different. Each one reflecting the child it was made for and the person who made it. That’s what these things are to me. Memories. Proof that people are capable of truly extraordinary acts of love, like making a sock monkey or keeping a shoe box filled with letters from a lover who’s words caused you to read and reread them so many times the envelopes are tattered from your touch.
In this place you are not surrounded by things but objects. Belongings.
I have spent hours impossible to calculate bent toward boxes of old photographs here. One of my passions. Tiny time capsules. Fragile but potent. Photographs carry the weight of human history. They summon up the reality that our world has been shaped by many individuals whose names you will not read in the history books passed out in high schools. I rummage through history. Not imagined history but history in vivid truth. Weather studio portraits of siblings in their Sunday best posed for posterity wearing button shoes or candid shots of a picnic where blankets are spread out near a model T. These are windows into a real world. Echoes of real people. The people who truly built the world we live in today. I love looking at these faces and knowing that this group of women fought for their right to vote or that these workers were the ones that paid for the railway they are standing near with sweat and determination. Knowing that the couple standing on their front porch holding a newborn would see the dawning of the civil rights movement. That is real history…. And some of them are just strange as hell. I mean come on, two old ladies from a hundred years ago standing on a porch holding up a chair with a white cat perched in it. What the hell? That one is coming home with me. I only buy the ones that speak to me and I never know what that is going to be.
Today Tyler and I were caught off guard by three autograph albums. We joked before we opened them about the famous signatures we would discover inside. Instead we found beautifully hand written notes of encouragement to friends moving away or pieces of poems penned in 1893 to the host of a New Year’s Eve party. To say I was moved wouldn’t even come close. I was transported. To a time when friends spoke of the love for one another in words that suggested that their friendship would endure any hardship including time itself. One sentiment has stuck with me all day. ” in the river of your memory let one ripple sing for me.”
As I left today the amazing woman who owns and curates this collection met me out in the sun with a gift. She presented me with something I will treasure always. An album covered in soft leather the embossed flowers barely visible. This book contained a handful of remarkable photos and enough blank pages to inspire more collecting. As I looked over the album again this evening I noticed that several of the pictures were of a lazy river. “In the river of your memory let one ripple sing for me.”
Today was an adventure, a red van with a handsome man and a couple of feisty gypsy women. A good burger, an even better beer and of course I can’t forget about the time traveling.
A good day indeed.
The guys and I have fallen in love.
We have a family owned bakery just a few short minutes from our house and we can’t stop eating their pumpkin cookies. They are not of this world. I am pretty sure that angels deliver the baked goods to this bakery each night while we are all safely tucked into our beds. The first time Ty and I tasted one of these pumpkin cookies we found ourselves whispering to each other. We whispered things like, I can’t believe this is real, my mouth is full of happiness and sunshine. We laughed at each other while trying to describe what we were eating. We found it was impossible to detail the experience without using words and phrases often heard being used by Care Bears. The creamy icing was so thick. So rich. The cookie , I use the word cookie for lack of a better word. The cookie was a little plump pillow of perfection. Subtle flavors all joining together to make me want to throw on some leg warmers and dance the entire audition scene from Flash Dance including the break dancing sequence. Yeah. They are that good. If unicorns exist they eat pumpkin cookies for every meal.
The Homestead Bakery is just a few minutes from Arthur Illinois. It is located on the family farm best known for it’s yearly transformation into The Great Pumpkin Patch. The Bakery is tucked into beautifully tended gardens and has breathtaking views from its front porch of the surrounding farm. You can look south and see fields stretching out all the way to the horizon. It’s easy to breathe here. It’s easy to shift gears and relax. Walking up to the front door of The Bakery you are greeted with their sense of humor. The gardens that surround and shelter the front porch are filled with beautiful plants. Some decorative and some beautiful and edible.
As you approach the door the smell of fresh baked goods greets you like an old friend. As people come and go the door opens releasing the scents of cinnamon rolls and warm bread. I found myself drawn inside nose first. The memories of my childhood rising up around me. I could see myself on a step stool covered in flour rolling out cookies. It’s impossible to visit here without also visiting those memories.
Stepping inside the store you are gently coaxed in by shelves neatly arranged with loaves of bread. Cinnamon rolls lovingly covered in homemade frosting. Banana bread that will make you want to smack your mama. You will become very aware after stepping the first foot into the store that this is the real deal. If you would even hold onto a tiny shred of doubt that this place is legit all you have to do is take another few steps and you can peer into the kitchen through glass windows and watch the Amish Bakers at work. Watching the Bakers work fresh dough into cinnamon swirled confections is amazing to say the least. They make it all look so easy. Effortless. It’s like watching your favorite cooking show… But it’s real, and happening right in front of your face. The best difference between the two is that when you are done watching these artisans work, you can taste their masterpieces. You can take home their work and share it with your family. An experience like that is rare and only one of the things that make this place a must visit.
In the store you will also find the most incredible selection of Angel Food cakes. These cakes are made from scratch and the Bakers pride themselves in being able to get their cakes to stand taller than any others. Anyone who has ever attempted to make an Angel Food cake knows. It’s not a simple process. It takes skill and patience. The Angel Food Cakes alone require hundreds, Hundreds of egg whites. I learned during my last visit that each egg white is separated from the yolk by hand to insure that not even the slightest bit of the yolk enters into the cake batter. Hours and hours of work go into just preparing the egg whites alone! I also found out that the yolks from the eggs are then used to create the bakery’s pumpkin noodles. Their pumpkin noodles can be used for a million different things, our favorite is to use them as a substitute for traditional noodles any time we roast a chicken or turkey and are craving a comfort food side dish and beef and noodles… Forget about it!! Your life will never be the same.
As the guys and I sit here and talk about The Bakery we get all giddy. The baked goods are out of this world, but we can’t help but also love the fact that they are homemade. The family that owns this little slice of culinary heaven are real people. Down to earth and lovely and real. The sort of people that you wish were your neighbors. We feel good about supporting them. Good people selling a quality product. What could be better than that? Not to mention the prices are very reasonable. You can pick up a jar of homemade apple butter for around $3.50!!!! That’s right locally made for under four bucks. Don’t get me started on their pumpkin butter. Soooo good.
With pumpkin season growing close make plans to visit The Homestead Bakery while you visit The Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur Illinois. If you visit in October you will most likely walk right by The Bakery as it is between the parking area and the entrance to The Great Pumpkin Patch. You can sit out on the porch of The Bakery and sample some home baked goodness and sip one of their very own ice cold glass bottles of root beer. It’s the perfect place to start your visit and a great place to unwind and enjoy a little extra time out on the farm before you head home.
Plan your visit today!! Maybe we will see you there!
I’m from a small town. Let me rephrase that. I am from just outside of a small town. I grew up on a farm about a mile out of a town of around 5,000 people. Before you give me the ” that isn’t a small town” speech, save it. John is from a town of about 30 people so I’ve heard it all before. I remember when my town got its first stop light. It was a very big deal. I don’t remember but I’m sure there was some sort of parade or ribbon cutting or something to commemorate the event. At least in my mind that would have been appropriate given the importance of the day. I’ve moved around and one event led to the other bringing me here. For the uninitiated living in a small town can be a total and complete shock to the system. Every morning you can find yourself praying to the gods to drop a Starbucks on the corner. Any corner. Addictions can be a serious thing.
The challenge of living on a remote island isn’t about coping with missing the conveniences available on the main land. It’s about learning to appreciate the things that are available all around you. That same philosophy translates into living in a small community. You have the opportunity to tap into natural hunting and gathering instincts. Explore and discover. That’s how I look at it anyway.
Yesterday I spent some time chatting with another business owner about encouraging visitors to explore what our town has to offer. We are considering putting together a little book that has a map of our favorite things that are available nearby. My conversation with Cathrine made me start thinking of all of the things that I like about where I live. So as an experiment last night I got cozy and poured myself a glass of my favorite wine. My dear friends own an outstanding winery just 20 minutes from my front door. Through the country between cornfields and over the lake you can find a bottle of Harvest Red at Willow Ridge Winery . Just incase you were wondering, it would be the perfect gift for me any time you are feeling like buying me a gift. My birthday is coming up after all.
A glass of wine down the hatch and my list of favorite things grew and grew.
So here are some of the things I love. If you’re visiting and wander into any of these places you will soon find that I’ve picked some of them for what they offer. Some of them because of what they offer and the people that make them happen. The best part of living on a little island in the middle of Illinois can be getting to know the people.
Top of my list and with absolutely no question, the number one reason people visit Sullivan Illinois. The Little Theatre on the Square . The Little Theatre is a not for profit organization that produces killer musicals and offers a ton of classes from dance to acting. The talent that graces the stage or works behind the scenes often finds it’s way to Broadway or has already worked There!
I love to shop at junk shops and thrift stores. Sorting through people’s cast offs can provide a ton of inspiration. Digging for a deal can be exhilarating, finding a good deal can be euphoric. Try satisfying your junking urges or your vintage clothes obsession at Thrifty Boutique, you can see it from the Theatre’s front door. I found a Burberry jacket there for $1.00. Yup that is one whole dollar bill.
I adore to visit My Garden Greenhouses . Being there always calms my nerves. It’s like a little oasis. Chances are you will bump into the owner with her arms, elbow deep digging in the dirt. She loves what she does and it shows.
I crave being at Tabor park. You will find it tucked away on North Worth Street. It’s a jewel. Miles of easy trails through prairie and woods across bridges and over streams. I like to walk there to feel close to nature. The little grove of Hedge Apple trees is like a scene from a movie. I can imagine Snow White herself gathering firewood in the little clearing. Magical.
The food at Los Potros on the west side of the square is always perfect, fast and cheap. The wait staff means business and speeds your order to you always with a friendly smile. If you’re not a total light weight try to conquer the Jumbo Margarita. It’s like a punch in the face with a whole lot of happy.
A few doors down you’ll find China King. The owner fills orders minds the counter and helps her kids with their homework simultaneously. You won’t find fancy here. It’s just honest and real, I can’t help but love that. The Crab Rangoon are beyond bliss. The little pockets of cream cheese and crab filled crispy wonton might as well be crack. I get two meals out of the Chicken Curry with Angel Hair rice noodles. Ok, so I usually eat it all for one meal, but I would like to think if I had will power it would make lovely leftovers.
The guys and I always look dapper after a visit to Split Ends 10 West Harrison. It’s the kind of place where the owner makes you feel at home the minute you step in the door. Her family has rescued the building giving it a remarkable new life, you walk in off the street and go, wait a minute, this isn’t small town.
On the same block you will find Nite Al’s. This pub is owned buy the nicest people. You can often find them tending bar. It has a great vibe. They keep the place incredibly clean and when you belly up to the bar you can always count on the friendliest service. You can kick back with a beer after a long day. Or make it a night out. I recommend trying an apple pie shot. Or three.
If you’re in the mood for a soft serve treat or want to indulge in a kick ass burger that will melt in your mouth…. Head over to Dairy Delites. You will find it on West Jackson. They have a huge mushroom house out front with a giant pig peeking out of the window… Seriously a kick ass burger.
If you make a trip over here Don’t forget to stop in at Cathrine’s at 7 west Jefferson. She is right off of the square and has a great gallery, sip a glass of wine and buy a box of locally made chocolates.
… And if you do find yourself in my part of the cornfield.. Stop in and see us at the shop. We would be glad to see you! All of the most extraordinary people shop here. Come and check it out.