Tag Archives: dixon

Shop Small

In the Sauk Valley area, it’s a movement known as Shop Small.

Across the nation, it might be better known as Small Business Saturday, sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a weekend of shopping extravaganzas.

Last week I was working on stories for Sauk Valley Media’s upcoming gift guide.

I was interviewing the owner of a small gift shop in Sterling about jewelry. Between questions, one employee looked intently at my wrist.

“Where’d you get that bracelet?” she asked. “We carry ones just like it. Blue, black.”Bracelet

“It was a few summers ago,” I said. I told her I didn’t really remember.

But I did.

Kohls. The popular department store, which came to Sterling a few years ago, has more than 1,100 U.S. locations. I don’t feel guilt about where I bought the bracelet from, but that lady’s simple question prodded my brain.

“They say a dollar spent in the community turns seven times,” the co-owner of a jewelry store in Dixon told me at another interview.

Small businesses have to stick together these days. The French Market I blogged about in September was a collaboration between several businesses in Princeton’s Art District, and it successfully generated business and buzz about stores many people drive past but seldom enter.

This post is not meant to scold people for not shopping locally, and it’s not meant to condemn shopping at nationwide chains. Rather, my intent is to raise awareness about local businesses. Shopping locally is going to be a part of my personal push to live where I am. Along with exploring local parks, which I’ve done a lot of this fall, I think it’s worth delving into local shops and eateries. I want to get all that I can from this area before I move on. And when I do, I want to carry a local mentality with me.

I’ve rethought my Christmas shopping strategy for this year. I’m going to make my list earlier than usual and see what Princeton, Dixon and Sterling have to offer before I go elsewhere.

I put this thought into action right after the gift shop interview. Bushel Basket Candle Co. adjoins the Sterling Mall and has an array of wonderful-smelling candles. I knew from the moment I walked in that I’d leave with something.

What inspiration will you find this season from shopping small?


The Pines Are White; The Leaves Shine Gold

White Pines State Park.

Near Dixon, Mt. Morris and Oregon. From Dixon, we take Lowell Park Road from Route 26 and hang a right at a stop sign far out in the country. This eventually leads to the distinct boundaries of the park. Field after field suddenly rams up against a dark wall of pines. It reminds me of the Old Forest in Lord of the Rings. The change is so abrupt, you rather wonder if there’s something mystical about the woods.

After three hours of wandering the paths, though, I can attest that it’s pretty safe.

White Pines is nothing new on my radar. I’ve enjoyed hikes there since I was young. The park’s fall brilliance is something I had yet to experience, however, until a few weeks ago.

White Pines Fall
At the crest of this drop off, the trees are clad in fall’s finest colors.

What a day for a hike. The sun shone brightly and a breeze complemented the brisk morning air. I dressed in layers and repeatedly removed and put on my sweatshirt. My coldness varied wildly depending on level of activity and whether we were in the sun.

White Pines Fall
The sun illuminates color in the forest’s canopy.

From the main entrance, we took a left at the fork and went to the farthest parking lot possible. From there, a neat stone bridge crosses Pine Creek and provides access to our first trail of the day: straight up the side of a timbered ridge that borders the creek for a time before drifting off to the left.

The sun, on its upward arc in the sky, threw light straight through the canopy of gold above us. What a beautiful, beautiful sight. I stopped several times at the top of the uphill climb to gaze at the fall wonder.

Resting On The Hill
My hiking companions pause to rest atop a steep incline. One of the park’s famous pines dominates the foreground.

After the initial steepness, the trail isn’t too difficult. We crossed paths with an older couple, at least in their 70s, several times. The two were very well dressed. They could’ve stepped off a subway in New York and fit right in with the cityscape, but they also looked classy traversing the paths dusted with pine needles.The sight of them was as inspiring as the dappled sunlight that sank through golden boughs and speckled the path ahead of us. Yeah, pretty inspiring. The first time they appeared on the trail and walked past us, I turned my head to watch them negotiate the cement stones spaced across the creek. They did it with ease. How cool is that?

Crossing The Creek
The creek flows over the road several places in the park, so cement barrels in place help hikers cross without getting drenched.

We ran into other small groups, but morning hikes are an almost surefire way to avoid crowds. That’s a good thing if you enjoy experiencing the nature-y side of nature like I do. Woods, as far as I know, don’t usually have indigenous species of cellphone-wielding hipster humans wandering about. If such a thing does in fact exist, then that’s my Discovery Channel moment of the day.

It was a beautiful out and we felt pretty invigorated, so it was only natural to keep walking. White Pines is crisscrossed with paths with names such as “Red Squirrel Trail,” “Sunset Trail” and “Whispering Pines Trail.” Many of them intersect and are marked with colored guide posts. We didn’t pay particular attention to where we were going. Unless you’re stressed for time, sometimes it’s fun to just go where your feet take you. However, pay attention to your energy level. When you’re starving and limbs are dragging and you find yourself in a campground on the opposite end of the park from where you parked, it won’t be quite the exhilarating experience in nature on the way back. Bring water and granola bars or pretzels. You’ll be happy to have it if you need it.

White Pines isn’t completely isolated. A roller skating rink is across the road, as well as the White Pines Inn, home to the popular Wedding Canyon. I think you know what happens there. The park is about 30 minutes north of Dixon and 20 minutes west of Oregon.

For the best experience, go wherever there’s a concentration of deciduous trees in the park, and wait until peak color is almost winding down. I would consider it the second stage of fall. Some of the trees were already bare, but then you get a round of brilliant gold contrasting against the pale sky. Maybe you’ll even see the mythical hipster human in residence under the railroad trusses from the Look Out Trail at the far edge of the park.

Either way, you won’t be disappointed.

View From Look Out Trail
Trees part just enough to reveal the railroad bridging the creek. People sometimes try jumping from the high walls into the pool below in the summer. Park rules forbid swimming.

Golden Hour Bike Ride, Golden Delicious Pizza

I bought a basic bike rack from Walmart a few years ago, and I’ve been itching to pull the contraption out of the cave of my trunk for weeks now and use it again. Fortunately, it was not corroded, stolen or bearing teeth marks from the engine monster when I hauled it out of the depths today.

I felt it. Today had to yield adventure. After all, the second day of fall was celebrated accordingly yesterday with a trip out to A Hundred Acres Orchard and Market for raspberry picking. Never mind that I have 700 gallons of berries to use up now.

Todays’ objective: bike the Lowell Park Trail with my friend Megan.

Lowell Park Bike Trail
Right around sunset is a beautiful time to experience the Lowell Park Bike Trail.

I’ve pedaled a section of it before, so it’s safe to say this paved trail is safe for all skill levels of bicyclists. It’s not a heavily traveled trail, but we saw enough bikers and walkers to feel safe throughout our ride. The trail is flat and follows the path of an old railroad bed. Be forewarned that it briefly skims the fence of the Dixon Correctional Center, but the chances of not seeing an escaped convict are highly in your favor.

The path also runs by the gate of the Hazelwood Estate, which was (and maybe still is) owned by the Walgreen family. “Walgreens” sound familiar? The founder, Charles R. Walgreen, grew up in Dixon.

Gate to the Hazelwood Estate
The entrance to the famous Walgreen family’s Hazelwood Estate.

Farther down, an offshoot from the trail leads to an overlook in Lowell Park. Ready for one last bit of trivia? Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was a lifeguard there for several summers.

We pedaled leisurely past all these landmarks and ended up at the overlook while the setting sun illuminated the river valley below in brilliant golden hues. Tree shadows were also extending, so the contrast between the two was incredible. There’s a shelter up there as well with a few picnic tables. Had we come earlier, it would’ve been perfect weather to sit awhile and write.

The park can become mosquito-ridden at the height of summer, so it’s best to visit on the fringe of spring and fall when the little buggers aren’t out yet or have disappeared . Beautiful stone shelters are scattered throughout the premises and make for popular backdrops during photo shoots. Swimming is not allowed. Come in early spring, perhaps around April, and you’ll see the woodland floor carpeted with bluebells. It really does make a good destination during a day trip.

Our bike ride lasted an hour and a half, counting stops, and covered about seven to eight miles.

Lowell Park Outlook
Megan celebrates our trip’s culmination: the magnificent lookout view. In another week the fall colors will be even more brilliant.


We followed our stomachs¬† afterward to Al and Leda’s Pizzeria, a place I heard about from a friend who described it as a combination of two other restaurants I like. It’s a mom and pop type place. The decor doesn’t take itself too seriously, and tables and chairs are exact replicas of the set that sat in our kitchen in the early 90s.

Al and Leda's Pizzeria
The interior of Al and Leda’s Pizzeria is no fuss and no frills.

We ordered a small 12-inch pizza with five toppings, all meat. Pepperoni, sausage, bacon, salami and hamburger made it a meat-lover’s paradise. It might seem excessive, but we were hungry and everything sounded good.

Two other parties were there when we first walked in, and two more couples arrived after the parties left. It looked like a quiet night. The service was on the slow side, but I think the pizza was worth the wait.

It had generous amounts of toppings and wasn’t scalding hot. The roof of my mouth was very thankful for that. Between two very famished girls, only crumbs remained on the pan at the end of the meal.

If you want something fairly inexpensive and aren’t a high maintenance customer, I would recommend a stop here. The food was good and a great way to top off our energy supplies after a long bike ride.