Brienna Lee

Brienna Lee

I’m going to go ahead and say that if you told me five years ago that I would be traveling NW Illinois, staying in a rustic cabin and eating chocolate in a whirlpool tub by the fireplace - we’d all laugh. Only in your daydreams right? Well I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what I did during my stay at Hickory Hideaway.


Located in Historic Carroll County, which is host to scenic bluffs and breathtaking views, sits Hickory Hideaway Cabins in Shannon, Illinois. Hickory Hideaway is the perfect rustic escape. The cozy cabins are situated on ten wooded acres and nestled among the trees just minutes from Lake Carroll. It’s truly lives up to its name of being a “hideaway” as you are surrounded by nature and the trees. It also has countless things to do – both relaxing and recreational. Being located only two hours from Chicago, one hour from Dubuque and one hour from Rockford.

A bonfire situated in the center of the property flickered as I pulled into the driveaway. Sherry was eager to greet me and welcome me to the property, making sure I felt at home right away. She walked me to my cabin and showed me around. Each Cabin or Cottage offers the same amenities that a hotel would offer. Along with the secluded location that’s nestled among the towering hickory trees, there are private decks that overlook the expansive countryside, a bonfire pit, hot tub room, wifi, and of course – the oversized whirlpool tub located in each cabin and cottage. The office also has a plethora of DVDS and VHS to choose from. Each cabin has a dual player for DVDs and VHS and locals have donated old VHS movies to the cabins. I spent some time looking through the VHS selection before choosing a few for my room.

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First off, I love baths. And when I mentioned to a friend that I was staying at Hickory Hideaway they asked right away, “Those are the cabins that have the giant whirlpool tubs in them, right?” So when I entered my cabin for the night Sherry showed me around and explained to me what each switch did. I read it on the wood planked wall, all capital letters, “UNLIMITED HOT WATER SYSTEM.” I stopped Sherry (wide eyed, mind you) mid-sentence because that couldn’t possibly mean what I just read. I asked and she confirmed it, yes, UNLIMITED hot water to the whirlpool tubs. No more filling the tub almost to the top and running out of hot water. The tubs also have heaters to keep the tub as warm as possible.

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After settling in and touring the grounds, Sherry and I sat down around the bonfire with a glass of wine so that I could ask her about Hickory Hideaway. George and Sherry are originally from Chicago and the beauty of Lake Carroll drew their family to the opportunity of owning and operating the cabins. “The slower pace and beauty of NW Illinois never gets old” she explains. They have owned a home in Lake Carroll since 1993. When they decided to downsize and simplify their lives they decided to uproot and move to NW Illinois full-time. Having a history of property management in the past, they felt buying the cabins were a good fit for them.

Throughout the years they have updated and added to all 12 cabins. They love hosting gatherings on the property such as retreats, holiday parties and getaways. They also offer in cabin massages and extra special touches to spoil your special someone. 

They have multiple Cabins and Cottages to choose from:

Luxury Cabins

Our luxury cabins that have a heavenly king-size bed nestled beside a two-person bubbling whirlpool tub & fireplace. Waking up to the sounds of nature and enjoying the scenery while waiting for your coffee to brew in the breakfast nook overlooking your own porch. Our knotty pine cabins are also equipped with a wet bar, a TV, a DVD player, and a covered porch with chairs.

Rustic Whirlpool Cottages

Picture this... A fire glowing in the fireplace, easy listening music setting the mood for relaxing in the two-person whirlpool tub and cuddling up with a good book in our queen-size bed. Whether it is for two or more, our knotty pine cabins with sliding glass doors opening to a deck overlooking the countryside may be the perfect escape you have been looking for.

Country Cottages

Imagine your family together at the kitchen table, talking laughing and playing cards while cookies bake in the oven. A separate bedroom with a queen-size bed gives you privacy from the TV room which has a sofa-sleeper to provide an additional sleeping area. Renting the adjoining mirror-image unit gives larger groups the opportunity to rent space for eight.

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“When you hit the heavenly king size bed for the night, no need to set an alarm clock for the morning. You can rise out of bed at your leisure, to sounds of light wind blowing through the trees and birds quietly chirping. Rise slowly and enjoy the bright blue sky and beautiful greenery as you make your morning coffee in your breakfast nook.”

So, whether you need a break from the work week, a break from the kids, or you just want some alone time with your loved one, Hickory Hideaway is here for you. Take the weight off of your shoulders and kick your feet at Hickory Hideaway Cabins.


Hickory Hideaway Cabins

24366 Payne Rd.
Shannon, IL  61078

(815) 864-2099



Wednesday, 11 September 2019 12:48

Small Town, Big Heart | The H.A. Boyd Guest Room

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"Small town, BIG heart."

I read this aloud as I stood in the heart of historic downtown Morrison. The light pole banners display powerful and descriptive words that describe this engaging small town. 

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The Space

The H.A. Boyd Guest Room is located on the upper level of a completely restored 1892 brick building that sits in the heart of Morrison's National Main Street Historic District. The restoration of the building was a labor of love and is filled with history and character. It's a true example of recent and historic craftsmanship. Much of the original cabinetry still exists in the building, but some major updates were installed in the space. The plumbing, electrical, new bathroom floor tile, and re-plastering the walls are all new.

The Inspiration

Kelly West and her husband, Josh West, met in Portland, Oregon. Kelly is originally from Alaska while Josh grew up in Morrison. They decided to move back to Morrison to start a family in a smaller town. Shortly after moving, they visited the property and after peeling back a few layers fell in love with the history and potential of what it could become.

“Coming from Portland, it seemed unfathomable that we could afford to buy a Victorian commercial building that was in decent shape. I think we brought fresh eyes to a property that had been on the market for years.”

Kelly’s father-in-law, George West, handcrafted the bathroom mirror, coat rack, basketweave chairs, kitchen island, laptop bar, and countertops. He harvested and milled all the cherry wood for the shelving from his property just north of town. Her husband, along with his father, removed many layers of carpet, linoleum, glue, and paint – much of it with only a hand scrapper. Most of the cabinetry is original along with the beautiful bay window and clawfoot tub.

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The Amenities - a mix of vintage and modern

The Airbnb space includes a full kitchen, washer/dryer, luxurious queen bed, Roku Smart TV, and high-speed wi-fi. The 800 sq foot apartment includes original Douglas Fir flooring, 10 foot high ceilings, pocket doors, claw-foot tub, custom cabinets, and an island made from cherry wood. Perched above an art gallery, this is the perfect clean and quiet retreat for work or leisure.

They began their renovation with the maple floors of the downstairs, then turned their focus to the upstairs apartment. They were originally going to make small improvements and rent the space out monthly, but during the renovations, they started a long list of other improvements. They worried a full-time renter would not respect the history of the space and wanted to open up an option for travelers to experience the space instead. Turning it into a Guest Room/Airbnb made the most sense to Kelly who has a background in the hospitality industry. They are now able to provide a unique guest experience while adding to the viability of historic downtown Morrison.

The attention to detail and care for aesthetics is incredible. Kelly made the brass light fixtures that glow above the island and kitchen sink and was in charge of the design of the space. She wanted to keep the original character of the building while still providing modern conveniences. She made every effort to achieve a “modern Victorian” look. At the turn of the century, the space was a gentlemen’s clothing store and was Kelly’s main inspiration when designing the space. Clean and tailored sensibility with soft touches gives the space a vintage and luxurious feel. The green dresser is an original piece from the building. You can still see the partition in the drawers that separated the men’s shirts and pants. The guest closet hangers were also once used in the men's clothing store.

It is the perfect collection of vintage and modern furnishings. The majority of the furniture is a mix of old finds and pieces handed down from their family.

COST: The H.A. Boyd Guest Room is rented through Airbnb (see link below) for $75 a night plus taxes and fees.


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A love for Art

Morrison has a large group of artists and a surrounding community that pride themselves on their art programs. In the spring of 2017, the Morrison Area Development Corporation organized a meeting with local artists, art educators, and art lovers to explore establishing a gallery and art education center in downtown Morrison. Kelly and Josh bought the building and created the home of Loft 112.

Loft 112 (link below) features work by 57 local artists. It has a formal partnership with Woodland Arts Academy of Sterling to provide art classes and private music lessons in Morrison. The storefront, located in the downstairs space, has large glass windows and wood shelving that display the artisan's work.

Contact information

The H.A. Boyd Guest Room
112 E Main St.
Morrison, IL 61270
(815) 499-4885

Website (Airbnb)

Loft 112 (Art Gallery)
112 E Main St, Morrison, IL 61270
(815) 772-4005


A modern general store and so much more

The Savanna Marketplace opened its doors in October 2013. It's located in a historic building in the heart of historic downtown Savanna. It previously boasted an original 1930's soda fountain and pharmacy. The space still holds the original soda fountain counter where visitors can enjoy hot and cold drinks, loose-leaf teas, and 50 varieties of vintage and craft sodas.

The remaining space is now filled with art, locally made jewelry, apparel designed by the owner, USA based products, and all-natural products such as handmade soaps and branded seasonings.

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Note: Chris is proud of his iced caramel macchiato barista skills. Order one – you won’t regret it!

How the Savanna Marketplace started

Chris Lain and his partner, Jube Manderico, were looking for a vacation away from their fast-paced Chicago life when they decided to check out Savanna. They fell in love with the natural beauty of this small city on the Mississippi River and its simpler lifestyle. Chris and Jube put an offer on a weekend house, which was accepted only hours later. Not long after, they quit their big-city jobs and moved to Savanna fulltime. Their goal was to bring new business to Savanna's quaint downtown that would boost the local economy and offer products that promote a relaxed way of life on the Mississippi River.

Savanna Marketplace and the Ecology Inn (more information below) were born.

Fun fact: One of the owners, Chris, is the Mayor of Savanna!

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A place for both locals and travelers

The Marketplace's "Shop & Gather" theme makes it a favorite spot for locals and travelers. A comfy leather couch and chairs sit near the back of the store surrounding a fireplace and TV. Free Wifi encourages guests to grab a coffee or tea and stay awhile. They also serve chicken and egg salad sandwiches, soup of the day, and homemade energy drinks. Paintings by local artists are displayed on the wall as well as home décor and t-shirts designed by Jube.

These items showcase their collective love of the beauty of small-town Savanna and all it has to offer. A piano sits in the middle of the store is available for anyone who is musically talented--or not! It’s not uncommon to have a mid-day sing along.

An outdoor seating area out front of the shop sits right next to the sidewalk in the middle of this historic downtown. There is also a private, covered courtyard out back where you can read a book or write while enjoying coffee and a peaceful view of the Mississippi River. They also offer mountain bike rentals to ride around Savanna or on the Great River Bike Trail. This 62-mile paved bike path is a premiere trail that starts in Savanna and travels south to the Quad Cities through small river towns. Details: Bike rentals are $12 for two hours or $16 for four hours.

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Ecology Inn is a place to wake up to

In addition to owning the Savanna Marketplace, Chris and Jube also own Ecology Inn, a vacation rental located above the store. It is set up as a modern flat with shared living spaces.

About those gorgeous rooms

This place is perfect for a weekend getaway with friends and/or family. Ecology Inn offers four bedrooms with shared living room, dining room, full working kitchen, and two decks overlooking the Mississippi River. There are three front rooms facing the street. The Radke, Pierce, and Dupuis rooms share a bathroom. The Bowen Room, located at the back, has a private bath and a river view. Each room has its own TV and seating area. The decor throughout is a mix of vintage, antiques, and modern classic. It has all the amenities to make your stay memorable.

Check out the map

Ecology Inn boasts a map that guests mark where they are from. The map shows that they have had visitors from all over the world. The most common reason for all of them visiting Savanna is to see the Mighty Mississippi River. 

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Contact Information

Savanna Marketplace
321 Main St, Savanna, IL 61074 | (815) 273-0336
Website  |  Facebook  |  Instagram

Ecology Inn
321-1/2 Main St, Savanna, IL 61074 | (815) 273-0336
Website  |  Facebook  |  Instagram 

Wednesday, 31 July 2019 11:30

A place to connect | Pine Creek Escape

For those in need of a moment to breathe.

If you’re looking for an escape from the daily hum around you – Pine Creek Escape in Mount Morris is it. Located directly across from White Pines, the Cabins at Pine Creek are tucked away in a forest and sits in a clearing among towering pine trees.

“At Pine Creek, we aim to create spaces where you can connect, discover new things, and achieve balance for your daily life. With our charming wedding venues, relaxing cabins, and mindful events, there’s an experience for everyone in need of a breather.”

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Family cabins 

Three different family cabins sleep from 6-12 people.  I had the opportunity to stay in Whispering Pines, an original cabin that was built on the grounds in the 1940s. Whispering Pines sleeps six, includes a full kitchen, gas fireplace, and private backyard that sits high on the bluff overlooking Pine Creek. Even better--it's pet-friendly!

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Upon checking in, Rebecca Jones, the owner, left me a bottle of wine and voucher for yoga in the canyon the next morning. I settled in, put my wine in the fridge (for later, of course), and set off to tour the canyon and re-visit White Pines State Park. I walked around the properties, admired the canyon from the bluff, and explored the other two cabins, Knotty Pine and Porcupine Cabin. They both have similar layouts with large entertaining spaces, fully stocked kitchens, and charcoal grills. 

Passing the baton to new ownership

The cabins sit directly across the street from White Pines Forest State Park which offers smaller lodging cabins. Elizabeth George is the original owner of the White Pines Cabins and Cabins of Pines Creek. She is also the creator of the Wedding Canyon - now known as Pine Creek Canyon – a venue with hundreds of weddings on its roster over the past 18 years.

Rebecca Jones, the owner of Pine Creek Escape, has a close relationship with George who saw an opportunity for a younger person to take the torch and carry on the legacy that she built. Rebecca grew up in Oregon. She spent eight years in Phoenix in the hospitality and event industry. Rebecca moved back to Illinois in August 2017 to do a consulting project with White Pines Resort. During this project, she found a peace that she missed while living in Phoenix. This cemented her decision to stay in the area. The original White Pines Resort has been a staple of the local area and is part of the National Register of Historic Places, making the Cabins of Pine Creek and Pine Creek Canyon essential parts of the legacy.


After exploring the cabins, I made my way over to the State Park for some hiking. After some well-needed fresh air, I stopped at White Pines Lodge for dinner. It was my second time eating dinner at the Lodge and it never disappoints. After dinner, I headed back to my cabin, started the gas fireplace, and set my early-bird alarm for 6 a.m. yoga in the canyon. 

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Yoga in the Canyon

The morning was peaceful as I took in the views from the bluff before making my way to the Canyon for yoga. It was a rainy morning so I was thankful that we were set up under the tent in the middle of the canyon. We all set out our mats, stretched, and listened to the rain come down on the tent. Reconnect with your inner self while doing your havansna in The Canyon. The tranquility of yoga among the forest is unmatched. You’ll find yourself relaxing before you know it. 

When: Tuesday and Thursday (June 4th-August 1st)
Where: Pine Creek Canyon
Time: 6-7 a.m.

When: Every Saturday (June 4th-August 1st)
Where: Pine Creek Canyon
Time: 8-9 a.m.

Cost: $10 per class

All levels welcome, sign up on our facebook page or just show up!

Weddings have reigned supreme here for decades

Pine Creek Canyon hosts an average of 50 weddings a year and has multiple ceremony/scenery options for intimate, charming, and romantic nuptials.


  • Cobblestone Canyon: Rustic and romantic. This location is surrounded by ivy-draped limestone walls. You’ll walk down a cobblestone aisle to an altar of wrought iron arches and lighted lanterns.
  • The Enchanted Forest: Sweet seclusion. The Enchanted Forest includes moss-covered stone staircases and ferns & fauna that cover the nearby hillside. With multiple ceremony setups, this spot includes a walk down an aisle lined with maple trees.
  • Emerald Aisle: Classic elegance. This location features a shade cloth supported by white columns and offers a carpeted aisle. White flowing curtains and a wrought iron trellis at the altar complete the splendor at this site.
  • Juniper Falls: Natural beauty. Set in front of a limestone bluff, this location features an ivy-covered waterfall for a soothing soundscape and open seating space.
  • Grand Pavilion: A moment of grandeur. This stunning pavilion tent has easy guest access, chandeliers, and views overlooking the pond and manicured lawns for the perfect blend of a covered outdoor ceremony.
  • The Gazebo: An idyllic setting. Wedding guests are treated to a pristine view against a backdrop of the Gazebo and a pond complete with bronze fountains.


Unique Ceremony Extras
One of a kind touches includes fairy tale arrival by horse and carriage, departure in a Rolls Royce, an extra touch of elegance with white wood chairs, a whimsical bubble maker for that perfect photograph, a bubbly bar where guests will raise a glass and offer cheers to your first day as Mr and Mrs.

In addition to weddings, the Canyon is hosting other events in 2019 with many on the books including a couple's retreat this fall. From yoga to music festivals and the chance to host private parties, the events at Pine Creek offer calming and centering activities. Whether you’re staying on the grounds or just find yourself in the neighborhood, there’s something at Pine Creek for everyone. Here is the upcoming event schedule:

Sip and Stretch

Do you love yoga? Do you love cocktails? Do you love both? Grab your friend, your husband, your wife, boyfriend, girlfriend or come by yourself and have a relaxing and fun evening in the Canyon. Folks will do a little havasana and then afterward cool down with a cocktail, good music, and some socializing.

When: Thursday, August 8th
Where: Pine Creek Canyon
Time: 7-9 p.m.

Cost: $15 per person OR $25 per couple. Includes one free drink at the cash bar. If you attend the yoga session the morning of the event at 6 a.m., you will receive $5 off your ticket for Sip + Stretch

Live Music in the Canyon

A warm summer breeze, cold drinks, and live music. They are hosting a variety of different bands this summer at The Canyon at Pine Creek. They have their lineup on FB and Instagram. Links at the bottom of the article.

When: Friday, August 23rd, Friday, September 20th
Where: Pine Creek Canyon
Time: 5:30pm – 9:00pm

Cost: Open event, no tickets necessary! $5 cover

LEARN MORE about the events at Pine Creek Escape. Questions?  Contact information is at the bottom of this article.


Pine Creek Escape

6797 W Pines Rd. Oregon, IL 61061
(815) 881-1180 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Bringing the extreme to the mainstream

Since 1968, Chicagoland Skydiving Center has been in the business of jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. They have since introduced more than 400,000 people to the sport of skydiving – bringing the extreme to the mainstream.

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Take a roadtrip to Rochelle

Their award-winning, purpose-built, 20,000 square foot campus is located at the Rochelle Municipal Airport, a 200-acre airport in Rochelle, Illinois (halfway between Chicago + Quad Cities), giving it easy access from just about anywhere in the Midwest.

“With a perfect student safety record, world-class training program, ultra modern facilities, and on-site bar and restaurant, there truly is no where else like it in the US.”

The old stories you may have heard about military-style training and equipment are a thing of the past. You will not be jumping alone on your first skydive. Your certified instructor is with you every step of the way. Tandem skydiving is the safest training method for first-time jumpers and has made the sport accessible to millions of people worldwide. Whether your goal is to become a United States Parachute Association (USPA) certified skydiver or you just want to give it a try, this is where you begin.


Sometimes it's fun just to watch from the ground

The campus allows opportunities to take to the sky for skydiving or just watching those who choose to jump and land at the drop-zone. All this can be done from the comfort of the outside seating at the Flight Deck Bar & Grill located next to the skydiving center. This award-winning restaurant is located on-site and provides top-notch service, a broad food and drink menu, and perfect views of the skydivers. There are plenty of special events and live entertainment nights. The open-air design and Flight Deck Beer Garden allows you to be in the action without actually jumping out of the plane.

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Going Outside My Comfort Zone

Let me start by saying this, I have acrophobia. I am terrified of heights and flying. I arrived at CSC with the intentions of watching the jumpers in the comfort of a patio chair. I walked into the skydiving center and was eagerly greeted by the desk clerk ready to check me in and sign ME up to jump out of the perfectly good airplane. I nervously laughed and politely declined his (only minor) peer pressure. I mean, that’s why most people walk into the skydiving center – to sign up to jump out of the plane. Instead, I signed up for an Observation Ride, which they said is ALMOST as fun as jumping. My fear of flying, especially in small planes, was still very much in the back of my head, but hey – do it for the Travel Blog! I was briefed on the basics of skydiving, what to expect, signed the waivers, and out the door, I went. I was escorted to the aircraft with a handful of fearless jumpers, given a headset so I could listen to traffic control and talk with the pilot, and nervously anticipated this 14,000 feet climb into the sky.

While still on the ground, I had the chance to meet Bart Pillen, the man of many jobs who has been with CSC longer than most. He happily showed me around the facility, told me a little history on the center, and even let me try on the skydiving gear. I admitted my nervous fear of flying to him so after the plane doors closed, I heard him through my headset, “We have a skeptical flyer with you today. Be easy on her.” Thanks Bart! We reached 15,000 feet and I could feel my ears pop. The instructors start strapping the jumpers onto them -- ensuring everything is attached and hooked properly. As I sit there I'm nervous for the jumpers until I see the giant smiles on the instructors' faces who do this all day – every day. In fact, almost every single instructor who works seasonally at CSC isn’t from the area or even the country, but we will get to that later.

We drop to 14,000 feet. As one of the instructors opens the door and gets ready to jump out – I feel my heart drop. Out goes the first jumpers, then the second, and one by one they all go flying out the door and I feel the plane getting lighter each time. The last jumper flies out and I spin around to face the front of the plane and pilot. That’s when the plane drops and we start heading straight for the skydiving center. The pilot is smiling and I’m gripping the seat with my eyes wide open. They weren't kidding when they said it’s ALMOST as fun as jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. What a rush! The pilot lands the plane and I let out a sigh of relief. We did it.


Fun Fact: If you want a more extreme experience, CSC offers jumps from 18,000 ft, the highest you can go in the Midwest United States.

Video and photo multimedia packages are available for jumpers who want to relive the experience over and over again. Professional aerial photographers go up in the plane and jump out just to record your adventure with HD video and still photos. I eavesdropped on one of the instructors, Klash, interviewing a couple with a GoPro attached to his wrist. Whether you’re a professional or a first-timer, they made the experience professional and, of course, super fun. CSC is known for having a fun and friendly team. Most of the instructors actually live in campers and RV on-site and work as the facility seasonally. They are all from different countries such as Australia, Columbia, etc. They work at CSC during the warm Midwest summer months and travel to different countries as skydive instructors during our cold season.

Chicagoland Skydiving Center was exhilarating, scary, and wonderful. If you’re looking for a place to skydive, have lunch while watching skydivers, or ride in the cockpit as I did – make the trip!


Chicagoland Skydiving Center

1207 West Gurler Road 
Rochelle, IL 61068

Instagram: h

Flight Deck Bar & Grill:

Friday, 14 June 2019 15:46

Rustic Oasis | White Pines Resort

There are times you need to clear your head.

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Nestled in a clearing deep in the forest of White Pines State Park -- less than 2 hours west of Chicago -- discover White Pines Resort.

The showpiece of the resort is a massive log lodge built in the 1930s which is home to a restaurant known far and wide for its delicious home-style cuisine, generous portions, and friendly staff. The restaurant is also host to the Pines Playhouse, a live theater experience which has been providing musical and comedic entertainment for over thirty years. Adjacent to the landmark restaurant is a charming and rustic gift shop filled with nostalgic flavors and precious mementos. Authentic, cozy log cabins provide overnight lodging just a stone’s throw from the lodge.

Cabin living 

White Pines Resort is an undiscovered and unexpected getaway. Twenty-five authentic log cabins resembling a pioneer village sit in a clearing among the towering pines and allow you to experience nature without having to “rough it." The cabins are modern with gas fireplaces, Wi-Fi, comfy beds and TVs. I had the opportunity to stay in one of the new Deluxe Romantic Suite Cabins that boasts a two-person soaking tub, a beautiful king-size canopy bed, and a large gas fireplace at the foot of the bed. Between the flicker of the fireplace and warmth of the soaking tub – I was in pure heaven.

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White Pines is tucked away from life’s everyday hustle and bustle. It feels like one of northwest Illinois' best-kept secrets – offering a rustic and intimate feel of friendly faces, cozy dining, comfy lodging, and serene nature. Natural beauty abounds with miles of hiking trails that crisscross over bubbling streams and along moss covered limestone bluffs. This hidden gem is ideal for romantic escapes, family outings, corporate retreats, weddings, and weekend getaways. Enjoy an amazing experience guaranteed to create good old-fashioned times with family, friends, and loved ones which harkens back to a time of simple pleasures and treasured memories.

Bring sensible shoes and hit the trails

I put on my hiking shoes and set off on a few trails near my cabin. The trails were clear, easy to navigate, and not flooded with people. I only had to hike a mile or so to discover some breathtaking views. There are seven designated hiking trails ranging from easy to difficult (there is even a wheelchair trail) and the walking bridges remain a favorite for folks as they crisscross over bubbling streams. Along with the wonderful hiking, there is picnicking, camping, and bank fishing. The "Pines," as it is affectionately called, is one of Illinois' most top parks and was once named by Midwest Living Magazine as - "One of the Top 15 Best Wilderness Getaways."

All that fresh air works up an appetite

I headed back to my cabin to settle in before heading to the historic log lodge for dinner. I was told that guests travel far and wide to enjoy the resort’s signature dishes of biscuits & gravy, chicken pot pie, and raspberry pie - just to name a few. The faces at the lodge were just as friendly as those who checked me in. I settled on a delicious steak dinner with two different kinds of potatoes (they had too many choices to decide on just one). They brought out a cooked-to-perfection steak and a sweet potato covered in melted marshmallows – this time I was in culinary heaven!


That's entertainment | since 1989

The Pines Playhouse has been entertaining audiences since 1989 with singers, actors, and comedians performing plays and tribute shows. These mid-week matinee performances feature talents from Branson and Las Vegas in this intimate 144-seat playhouse as they enjoy a delicious home cooked meal and professional shows. Guests are drawn from all around the country to see the Playhouse's own production of “Scrooge the Comedy.” This holiday favorite has been running for 30 consecutive years and has entertained thousands.

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The perfect wedding venues

White Pines is also one of the top wedding venues in Illinois. The Canyon at Pine Creek is picture perfect with manicured lawns, lush gardens, dramatic limestone walls, lily ponds, and waterfalls. It's the perfect outdoor setting. Between the upper and lower canyon, there are six amazing and unique sites the bridal couple can choose from.

Two reception venues are available -- White Pines Lodge and CedarStone. The White Pines Lodge in White Pines Forest State Park is settled among towering pines and allows for rustic yet elegant photos. CedarStone, the larger of the two venues, is located less than five miles from the Canyon and boasts a dramatic chalet style entrance and foyer. The cedar log walls, vaulted ceilings, and wrought iron chandeliers are elegant yet creates a rustic vibe.

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Changing hands

I had the opportunity to sit down with the previous and current owners of White Pines to talk about the history and what the new owners, Tony and Christie Brinkmeier, plan for the future. Beth George owned White Pines for 30 years before turning it over to Tony and Christie. Tony, a former financial advisor and veteran, grew up in northern Illinois and both he and Christie knew White Pines already had a good thing going. Their goal is to keep building on the current core values but add their own touch.

They especially want to start offering retreats to veterans to help them disconnect from the hustle and bustle of real life. The Brinkmeiers want to ensure that whether you’re visiting for a family outing, business retreat, or a weekend trip --  you have an experience to remember.

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"There were no 25-cents-per-eighth-of-an-hour meters around here, no cell-phone-payable ones, either. In fact, there’s not a meter to be found. Just park where you can and stay awhile."

No one will hurry you along.


Contact White Pines Resort 

6712 W. Pines Rd Mount Morris, IL 61054 | 815-946-2400


Contact Pine Creek Escape

6797 W. Pines Rd Mount Morris, IL 61054 | 815-881-1180


Saturday, 01 June 2019 20:14

cSavanna | Pick your Outdoor Adventure

It's time for an adventure...

cSavanna adventure bus

Savanna, located on the Mississippi River, has always been known as an outdoor paradise offering exploration such as hiking, biking, fishing, hunting, and boating. The town has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere with exciting opportunities for adventure vacations or quiet getaways; antique shops on Main Street, serene hikes in the close-by Mississippi Palisades State Park, water activities, welcoming bars and restaurants, and historical sites. And starting this summer, there are now watercraft rentals.

Amber the Adventure Bus has been unveiled and it's designed specifically for Savanna and its tourism. The custom art on the bus is one-of-a-kind and you can find it traveling the streets of Savanna or parked in front of the Marina on Rt. 64. 

Watercraft reservations start July 4, 2019

Offering transportation for kayak and paddle boat rental is only the start of Amber's Adventures. Northwest Illinois has so much more to offer and  cSavanna Adventures opens for watercraft reservations on July 4, 2019.

cSavanna is a business based out of Savanna and with the Mississippi River & its backwaters right out his back door, the owner saw a need for local watercraft rentals. Rather than waiting for someone else to do it he got down to business and created this unique opportunity so visitors can take the family out with a pontoon boat, seek thrills with a jet ski, find the next best spot with a fishing boat or relax while traveling down river channels with a paddle boat or kayak. In addition, they are offering bicycle rental to explore the downtown or the Great River Bike Trail which travels from Savanna to the Quad Cities and passes through refuges, parks, and river towns.

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Rental Options

Self-Powered Watercraft
Travel without a motor on the Mighty Mississippi River and seek the thrill as you travel at your own pace. Paddle boats and kayaks are available for rent by the hour or full day. Travel across the river with strong elbow grease or request a "drop-in" to the Plum River at Old Mill Park for a 3-hour small river cruise!

Fishing Boats - coming soon!
These boats are flat bottom boats and perfect for fishing in the small channels and marshy areas of the Mississippi River. Equipped with a large, recreational motor along with a standard trolling motor, these boats can get to fishing areas quickly and transition to quiet, slow movement at the fishing hole.

Pontoon Boats - coming soon!
Pontoons are a great way to gather up to 8 friends or family to explore the river, relax, and have fun. Pontoon boats may be linked together to form a large caravan of partiers or shored up on one of the many sandy islands for off-boat activities such as swimming, fishing, or sun worshipping. Pontoons are stocked with the necessary life vests and anchors and the additional rental of pull-behind tubes offers even more fun on the river.

Personal Watercraft - coming soon!
Personal watercraft--aka jet skis--are for the thrill seekers. It's for those who want to feel the throttle, control the bow, and push their limit of excitement. Jet skis can perform tricks, reach 50 mph and are the most fun when multiple friends are riding side-by-side down the river.

Reserve your rental and find pricing + packages for all rentals at

"Play and Stay" Packages 

cSavanna owners have been coming up to Savanna’s outdoor paradise for 25 years and always knew that Savanna’s busy summer months were packed with travelers from all over the world.

Their journey started in real estate and vacation rentals. The bookings filled up fast. So fast that they quickly expanded to multiple rental properties. I had the opportunity to tour all of cSavanna’s rental units and stay at Betty’s Bell-House. This is an absolutely beautiful century-old refinished apartment in the heart of downtown. A block off of Main Street, Betty’s Bell-House offers easy exploration of Savanna’s historic downtown. It’s also dog-friendly. The unit allows for 10 guests with multiple bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and even your own washer and dryer. Both bathrooms are large and newly remodeled with large walk-in showers. One of the bathrooms boasted an AMAZING tiled rain shower that made me immediately want to install one in my own home. It also has a firepit out back perfect for summer drinks and making smores around the fire.

Added bonus--a fenced yard for your fur babies.

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In addition to Bettys Bell-House, cSavanna also offers multiple other vacation rentals. BluRiver is a spacious and refinished home located right next door to Bettys Bell-House. It can host up to 4 guests and features a patio, awning, firepit, and seating in the backyard. BluRiver Canopy is the top level of the home which hosts up to 6 guests. All units provide modern bathrooms, comfy beds, access to the backyard firepit, and safe and secure entrances with your own personal code.

Important links

You can find more information and book your stay at one of cSavanna’s properties at the following links.

CSavanna Website:  |  CSavanna Facebook:

Watercraft Rental information:

Betty's Bell-House:

BluRiver Nest:

BluRiver Canopy

Restaurant + Bakery + Inn = Perfection

Molly’s in Mount Carroll, Illinois is known for their fresh ingredients, hand-crafted cocktails, beautiful ambiance, and top-notch customer service.


Husband and wife team, Ben Johnson and Molly McDonough, met in college in New York and married eight years later in Los Angeles. Molly worked as a pastry chef at Mozza Osteria and Pizzeria before leaving Los Angeles and traveling to play music with Ben. They decided to spend a winter in Ben’s home town of Mount Carroll. After exploring the country, they decided to stay and open Molly’s Kitchen and Bar. Open for almost 5 years, Molly’s restaurant has evolved into a staple for so many people in the area.

Molly grew up cooking and has always loved to entertain. She is always trying to push herself to make more complex dishes and utilize ingredients in a different way to achieve the flavors and presentations that make dining at Molly’s so memorable. They focus on a small, evolving menu that allows great care to be taken with every dish.

They think out of the box

The restaurant came together one piece at a time. Ben and Molly knew they wanted to try a different seating system not normally seen in this area. They wanted their customers to have a shared experience and introduced a community aspect of bench seating that allows you to sit close and converse with tables next to you. Repurposed materials were used when designing the space. Old wooden gates are displayed near the kitchen that came from the Field Museum in Chicago. A local woodworker made all of the tables.


Ben and Molly believe that the community is the dynamic of the restaurant. When they first opened it was very low-key and full of local foodies. Slowly it started earning a following and has since become one of Northwest Illinois' best restaurants. A large percentage drive around 45 minutes to get to Molly’s for a weekend dinner. Many die-hard customers don’t miss a weekend meal. They also have a back patio that is open seasonally. 

Molly's Kitchen & Bar is open Wednesday - Saturday 4:30pm - 9:00pm.

The Bakery

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The bakery is located just a few doors down from the restaurant. It originally started as prep-space for the restaurant, but soon turned into a popular lunch and coffee spot. A friend and previous co-worker, Elizabeth, from Los Angles, moved to Mount Carroll for over a year to help open and implement staple recipes at the Bakery. It started with bagels, muffins, and coffee and has since grown to serving lunch and a wide range of amazing baked goods. Kadina is the smiling front-face of Molly’s Bakery. She does an amazing job of ensuring that she and the staff make you feel welcome. The Bakery has its own following of loyal customers who don’t miss their daily coffees and scones.

Molly's Bakery is open Tuesday - Saturday 7:00 am - 3:00 pm

The Inn at Molly's

The Inn at Molly’s was opened two years later. The restored 1865 building features two 600 square-foot suites that combine rural charm with contemporary amenities and style. One of the sun-flooded suites overlooks Mount Carrol’s historic, brick market streets. The second suite features a private deck.

Guests will find fresh fruit, yogurt, home-made granola, coffee, and tea, as well as fruit juice in the kitchen.

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Molly's Kitchen & Bar 
110 W Market St
Mt Carroll, IL 61053 
(815) 906-0052

Restaurant website:

Book the Inn:

For any other inquiries, please email:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call, 815-684-5411.


Tuesday, 30 April 2019 10:38

Havencrest Castle | Savanna IL

Havencrest Castle in Savanna welcomes you to their realm of romance and dreams during May. They are offering limited public castle tours on weekends only from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

A combination of fantasy and reality

The newlyweds transformed the former Greenleaf home into what is now called "Havencrest Castle." The St. Georges were a couple deeply in love with each other since their early teens. Their devotion manifested itself in a passionately creative outpouring of work and lifestyle that at times seem to blur fantasy and reality. Over their 31 years together, Alan and Adrianne St. George expanded the original 22 rooms to 63.

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Alan used to say, "When Adrianne entered a room, the lights and music went on, and when she left, the lights and music went off." 

They planned and executed every major and minor detail of the many themed rooms without the aid of an architect or designer.  Havencrest Castle is filled with original art and sculptures, created by Alan and inspired by Adrianne. As rooms were completed, they were used to hold extravagant galas, costume balls, and charity events. Adrianne Blue Wakefield St. George was the original founding director of the Carroll County Humane Society. Not only did many of the charity events benefit her organization, but the castle was also home to six of the couple's own dogs. Adrianne passed away on June 1, 2006. After a five year period of mourning and healing, Alan's creative inspiration returned. He completed the last of the 24 life-sized figures for the ballroom.

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Each room of this 63-room mansion is opulently furnished and decorated with an artist's eye. The self-guided tour of this one-of-a-kind treasure includes original art and sculptures created by the owner, including 24 life-sized figures and 21 bronze and aluminum tabletop sculptures. An optional audio program allows you to listen to the owner narrate the tour on your smartphone (iPhone and Android). 

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To guarantee a spot on the tour, get tickets

You can buy your tickets in the Visitor Center and proceed to the tour and, while it is not necessary to make a reservation, you can go to the link to buy tickets ahead of time. If you have a group of 8 or more it is recommended that you purchase your tickets ahead of time and pick them up on the day of the tour at the Visitors Center. The parking lot is at the bottom of the hill and you can walk up or catch a fun ride on the "CastleMobile."

Adult Admission is $20 with veterans and children under 18 years-old $15. Free crowns for all children.

Please note: The castle is not handicap-accessible. Stairs are involved, but the majority of the tour will be limited to one floor-only. There is an optional upper floor tour available if desired. 


Tours are available between the hours of 10 AM to 5 PM ( the last tour time is at 4:30 pm) October Tour Dates: 5th & 6th, 12th & 13th, 19th & 20th, 26th & 27th.

Havencrest Castle
140 N 5th St
Savanna, Illinois
(815) 273-3900



Monday, 01 April 2019 18:59

Sweetbean Café & Bakery

Sweetbean Café & Bakery in Byron, Illinois is one of those places that makes me appreciate getting to travel in northwestern Illinois. I get to write about places I’ve never been to and meet amazing business owners that are passionate about what they do.

Baked goods a'plenty

The Bakery itself is adorable with tons of room for gathering and an amazing bakery case FILLED with some of the best baked goods you’ve ever seen. There's even a corner full of coffee merchandise and comfy Sweetbean pullovers and t-shirts.

I was immediately greeted when I walked in the door. It was impossible to choose from the baked goods in the glass case. There were so many wonderful goodies available. A chalkboard coffee menu on the wall shows a variety of different coffee and food options and the baristas were happy to help me decide on some popular items.

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More than drinks & buns

Sweetbean Café & Bakery has been open for two years and is known for more than coffee and delicious baked goods. They serve only the freshest food, which is made right in the shop using minimally processed ingredients from the best sources available. They serve breakfast and lunch and have a variety of menu items such as breakfast bowls or wraps, tuna, and chicken salad croissants, and of course – a bakery case full of baked goods that you are never “too full” for.

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It's all in a name...

When asked about the name, the owner, Mindy Hellyer, joked that she named the bakery after her husband who is super sweet and full of beans. However, the name stuck when they combined certain elements of the business. Those elements consist of high-quality coffee beans, baked goods, and the café. They even offer gluten and dairy free options and make their own salad dressings. A lot of home recipes were brought in from her childhood. Everything is made from scratch.

A passion for baking - a family affair

Baking has been a passion of Mindy's her whole life. She has always loved to entertain and bake for people. Before Sweetbean was a brick and mortar location, she was baking cakes and goodies out of her home. This became more popular than she ever expected--baking up to 6 cakes per weekend. So when the building came up for sale, she took the opportunity and turned it into a family business. Both of her daughters manage the front-end of Sweetbean and her mother helps out too.

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When I asked Mindy what her favorite part of owning Sweetbean is – she smiled and said it was the people. When she opened Sweetbean she wanted to provide a nice, warm, comfortable place for people to gather. She thinks that treating people right is one of the most important parts of owning a business. Her customers have become like family and she wants everyone to have the best experience possible.

I know that I already can't wait to go back! 

Sweetbean Bakery and Cafe
404 W Blackhawk Dr.
Byron, Illinois 61010
(815) 234-4989


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