Davie School Inn Illinois Bed and Breakfast

Staying Overnight at School

Davie School Inn Illinois Bed and Breakfast

I was the dork who LOVED school. Other kids at least put up the pretense of being too cool for school, but I was unabashedly eager to go learn. It was my favourite place, at least in the early grades. I would even ask for homework, but the teachers told me they weren’t allowed to assign any until I was older. Though I don’t recall specifically fantasizing about having a sleepover at school, it would have been my idea of paradise then.

My first impulse upon setting foot in The Davie School Inn was the intense desire to move in, permanently. It would be quite doable. The unbelievably spacious suites in this bed and breakfast are comprised of classrooms, several of which are larger than the average one-bedroom apartment in Toronto.

Davie School Inn Green Room kitchenette

Gary and Andrea Dahmer transformed the 1910 Davie School building in Anna, Illinois into a one-of-a-kind boutique inn that has been their labour of love since 2002. The Davie School Inn now has 11 individually Davie School Inn Green Room Chalkboarddecorated suites that each have their own theme and flair. The inn retains the character and atmosphere of the school — every suite has an original slate blackboard and bookcase — but has been carefully renovated to add just the right amount of modern conveniences. Kitchenettes have sprung from where pupils might have hung their coats, while luxurious spa bathrooms blend right into the woodwork (including the gloriously distressed original hardwood floors.) Some of the furnishings are original,  such as teacher’s desks, while others are lovingly collected antiques. Many beds are topped with handmade quilts which create an endearing homeyness.

Davie School inn Green Room drawer detail

I stayed in the Green Room, where I could have invited at least a dozen of my closest friends and still had loads of room in this massive suite — I really should shut up about the size of the place already, but I can’t get over it. It would be ideal for a family stay, or getaway with friends, as it sleeps five. The room gave rise to a number of fun scenarios in my mind, such as a writers’ retreat, hen party, or craft weekend — so much potential there that it seemed wasted on little old me.

Green Room Davie School inn

Nevertheless I was determined to luxuriate in the space and amenities as much as possible in the short time I had there. My favourite feature was the wall of slate chalkboards and, even though we arrived late (hence the poorly lit photos) and hit the road early the next morning, I made sure to set aside some time for doodling.

Davie School Inn Chalkboard fun

Our group was spread across several suites, but we congregated for a convivial breakfast in my room. Gary arrived at precisely the appointed time with a scrumptious frittata straight from the oven, roast potatoes, fresh fruit salad, toast, and juice, which were laid out on the desk which is now a dining table.

Davie School Inn green room breakfast

All that remained to be done before departing Davie School Inn far too soon, was an impromptu doodle party.

Blackboard fun Davie School Inn


Acknowledgements and disclosure: Many thanks to Andrea and Gary Dahmer for their friendly hospitality and providing a complimentary stay for the purposes of this review. This was part of a trip organized by Enjoy Illinois. My doodling buddies were Matt and Caro. All views expressed in this review are my own (I really did love it to bits.)

Finding the Mother Lode of Sweet Treats on Last Chance Gulch

How can you not want to take a stroll down Last Chance Gulch on a warm and breezy summer evening? How can you not want to at any time, really, because is Last Chance Gulch not the best street name ever? It is the beyond-bucolic main drag of Helena, Montana’s historic downtown, and the name derives from the fact Helena’s founders were planning to move on if they didn’t find gold in their last-ditch effort at prospecting. Luckily they hit pay dirt and the rest his history.

Helena Montana Last Chance Gulch

When I arrived in Montana’s capital just before sunset I hastily checked in at the Holiday Inn, jettisoned my bags and set out on foot with one mission in mind. Yes I wanted to soak up the history, and get a feel for the place on this lovely pedestrianized thoroughfare, but foremost in my mind was procuring an ice cream cone.

Helena Montana Big Dipper exterior

I’d read about The Big Dipper in my pre-trip googlings and knew it to be a local institution, selling homemade ice cream since 1995. Luckily I didn’t have far to go and I knew that I getting close when I spotted the queue that wended its way out the door. This gave me time to choose from among the twenty or so luscious flavours.

Big Dipper ice cream Helena Montana serving cone

When I reached the counter, I was confident in my choice: Mocha Chip. I took my prize out into the night and enjoyed it during my twilight wander back to the hotel. Lo and behold I found myself back there the following evening, sampling a Huckleberry cone, the region’s quintessential flavour.

Helena Montana Last Chance Gulch ice cream

In my world, sugar enhances almost any experience. So, when I asked Kal Poole, the Managing Director of the Grandstreet Theater, about his favourite establishment on Last Chance Gulch, and he enthusiastically described The Parrot Confectionery (with a hint of reverie giving rise to the suspicion I was dealing with a fellow addict,)  I instantly knew that first-hand “research” was in order.

Parrot Confectionery chocolates Helena Montana

AParrot Confectionery chocolate case Helena Montana substantial display case full of all sorts of confections, obscured by a congregation of eager customers, greets visitors entering The Parrot. Patiently hovering in the background as the customers were served, I spied one tantalizing treat after another from the huge array of candies and chocolates made in-house, and the visually stimulating jars of vibrant penny candy lining the surface of the candy counter. When I reached the front, the crowd had thinned and I confessed to the friendly gal behind the counter that this was my first time and I was overwhelmed by choice. I explained that I might never again have a chance to return and therefore the angst of deciding what to get weighed heavily on me. I broke the ice by introducing myself and requesting permission to take photos.

Candies Parrot Confectionery Helena Montana

This obviously wasn’t Amanda’s first confectionery indecision rodeo, and we chatted about my general preferences, deciding that I would forgo penny candy and focus on the goodies made at The Parrot. Emphasis would be put on Turkish Delight because it’s unusual and a favourite of mine, while mints would have to wait and take a gamble on my returning to Helena someday. Chocolate is mandatory. Because chocolate. After this meeting of the minds I surrendered the sweets selection duties to Amanda while I indulged my shutterbug proclivities.

Helena Montana Parrot Confectionary soda fountain
A Helena haunt since 1922, The Parrot is also a vintage soda fountain and lunch counter, serving the full gamut of sodas, phosphates, shakes, malts, and sundaes, as well as secret-recipe Parrot Chili (though the formula is confidential, rest assured it contains no actual parrots) that is highly sought after.

Parrot Confectionery Amanda turkish delight Helena MontanaHaving presented me with my expertly chosen selection of sweets, Amanda had one more surprise in store. Perhaps because of my obvious and charming (at least I like to think so) enthusiasm, she encouraged me to go take a look in the back room of the shop where the candy is made!

At this point I will wrap up the commentary and let the photos transport you to the sugary wonderland that the Parrot Confectionery’s kitchen. As their tagline states, it “Talks for Itself!”


Acknowledgements and Disclosure: Thanks, obviously, to Amanda at The Parrot for her help and kindness, and to Mike Mergenthaler for treating me to huckleberry ice cream. This trip was hosted by the Helena CVB.

Helena GeoTour geocache 5

Geocaching Tour of Helena

How do I tell the world about something that’s supposed to be a secret? I’m not talking matter-of-national-security secret, more like no-spoilers, keep-the-muggles-River Song Spoilersout secret. (No Mom, I won’t end up like Edward Snowden.)

Geocaching is not exactly a secret and, luckily, the first rule of of Geocaching is not You Do Not Talk About Geocaching. This fun hybrid of treasure hunting and orienteering has been popular for years and is truly a worldwide phenomenon.

In fact, it is so not a secret that I suspect many of you are already familiar with Geocaching, and I will refrain from banging on at length about what it is.  There are loads of resources online, but here’s a brief synopsis for the uninitiated:  Participants use GPS coordinates to locate caches that have been hidden by other geocachers. A cache typically has a log book where you record your find, and might also contain trade goods (you are free to take an item if you replace it with something else) and trackable items such as travel bugs and geocoins that travel from cache to cache. Finds are also logged online on the Geocaching website, which has grown into an enormous global community.

The fact that Helena, Montana has a GeoTour is also not a secret, but is something I would like to make much more widely known. The trick is, how do I tell you about it without revealing information that will give away the locations of the caches, and thus spoil your fun?

As is often the case, the answer turns out to be to post more embarrassing pictures of myself on the Internet. After cropping out as much identifying information as possible from my boatload of photos, what you get is a series of semi-undignified shots of me geocaching and having fun exploring Montana’s capital. Enjoy!

Did I mention there’s a prize? The wonderful historic sites, natural spaces, architectural gems, tasty treats, and ample local character that you get to enjoy on the tour are their own reward, but the icing on the cake is the handmade, limited-edition geocoin that you can earn for doing the Helena GeoTour. These handsome trackables are made of clay and depict Helena’s historic fire tower, Guardian of the Gulch.


The organizers of the Helena GeoTour helpfully provide a passport listing all 38 of the geocaches that form the tour. So, all you need to do is record the passwords from the geocaches on it, and if you find at least 25 geocaches you take your passport to the Birds & Beasleys gift shop on South Last Chance Gulch (is that an epic street name or what?) to claim your lovely geocoin. The geocoins were handmade by ceramic artists at the Archie Bray Foundation and are only available while supplies last, but as of this writing there are still some left for Geocachers to earn.

It is also well worth noting that local businesses are enthusiastic about the Helena GeoTour and several area hotels offer special discounts and packages for geocachers visiting Helena, Montana. Current offers are listed on the Helena GeoTour webpage.

So yeah, the GeoTour is great fun. It’s killing me not to be about to tell you more about it, but you’ll just have to go to Montana and experience it for yourself!


Acknowledgements and disclosure: Huge thanks to Heidi O’Brien and Mike Mergenthaler for taking me out geocaching in Helena and helping me capture all of the aforementioned goofy photos. This trip was hosted by the Helena CVB.

Pacific Science Center butterfly wall

That Time I Had a Butterfly Land on My Face

It was a spur-of-the-moment excursion brought on by my stubborn, completist streak. I only had an hour before we had to leave for the airport, but I had used every coupon but one in my Seattle CityPASS. The last remaining coupon was for Pacific Science Center, which was less than a block from our hotel.

Pacific Science Center Seattle exterior

Owing to my status as an insomniac, I was ready to go bright and early, so rather than obnoxiously waiting around for Jane to get ready, I decided to leave her be and flit across to the science centre and see what I could see in the time I had available. Ironically, there was an exhibit on Sleep that I found visually interesting, if not all that informative. I raced through the planetary exhibit that looked cool but was mainly aimed at children. Somewhere along my path I passed a maze full of naked mole rats. What I had in my sights, and was racing around to find, was the Butterfly exhibit, where they have a room full of living butterflies.

Pacific Science Center butterfly wall

Pacific Science Center what do butterflies eatI soon found the Tropical Butterfly House, and after being checked over by the attendant, I was allowed to enter. There were butterflies soaring all over the place. This isn’t my first butterfly rodeo and, as expected, the room had feeding stations where the butterflies landed to enjoy some sugary nectar. They would also land on the branches of the trees and plants. Occasionally they might land on a person’s shoulder or their sleeve. I took a load of really terrible pictures because I was in too much of a hurry.

Pacific Science Center butterfly jacketWhile I was gingerly shooting selfies of the butterfly that had landed on my jacket, it startled me by leaping off my jacket landing on my eyebrow and latching onto it for dear life! Luckily I already had the camera in position to snap a photo, as I doubt I would have had the presence of mind to do so. Why? Because it feels really weird to have a butterfly gripping your eyebrow hairs as though its life depended on it.

An employee noticed my odd demeanor, and clued in to what has transpiring. “Oh my God! I’ve never seen them do that!” She exclaimed. Standing there with the main attraction attached to my face, I realized that I was out of time and had to get back to the hotel urgently. The butterfly lingered a moment or two longer, then released its grip and flew away.

Steph butterfly face Pacific Science Center

I similarly flew back to the hotel. I stopped long enough for the attendant to check that I wasn’t smuggling any butterflies out, or rather than none were stowing away, on my person, and then I sprinted back in a frenzy. I arrived to find Jane waiting in the lobby for our airport shuttle to arrive.

Boy, did I ever have a story to tell her…


Disclosure and acknowledgements: Many thanks to CityPASS for providing me with my Seattle coupon book. Thanks also to Jane for putting up with my nonsense.

Blackbeard pirate festival hatmaker

Foto Friday: The Loyal Hatmaker

Like most festivals, vendors display their wares at the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, Virginia.  As a bonafide hat person I was immediately drawn to this hatmaker’s display. While her impressive creations were out of my reach, I came away with a heartwarming tale.

Blackbeard hatmaker

There used to be some debate about whether to exhibit her hats at the Blackbeard festival. There are only so many weekends in the festival season and lots of different events for exhibitors to choose from. But now you can rely on seeing this magnificent millinery in Hampton every year, thanks to a natural disaster.

An unwelcome guest crashed the party at the 2012 Blackbeard Pirate Festival. A sizeable tornado ripped through the Hampton waterfront at the height of the festival. Thankfully no one was hurt, but in an instant thousands of dollars worth of hats and other inventory were scattered across the entire waterfront.

What on earth would make a vendor unfailingly loyal to an event hit by disaster? Well, Hampton rose to the occasion. Nearly all of the merchandise was found and retrieved.  Locals and festivalgoers alike pitched in to hunt for goods the vendors had lost and much of the inventory was recovered. Boaters at the marina later turned in items found on their vessels and took steps to return them to their rightful owners.

So, that is why you will always have the chance to buy a historically inspired handmade leather hat at the Blackbeard Pirate Festival.

Blackbeard Pirate Festival hats


Disclosure and Acknowledgements: On this trip I was hosted by the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many thanks Ryan Downey for being our indispensable go-to guy during our stay.

Robert Wadlow Worlds Tallest Man

Foto Friday: The World’s Tallest Man

Alton, Illinois boasts an interesting claim to fame. Not only is it the Most Haunted Town in America and birthplace of Miles Davis, it was also home to the World’s Tallest Man.

Robert Wadlow Worlds Tallest Man

Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton and is the tallest man ever known to have lived. One of the town’s most popular landmarks is a life-sized statue in his honour that stands in a park opposite the Alton History & Art Museum (which sports the intriguingly ominous tagline “History outlives those who would destroy it.”)

Having an abnormality of the pituitary gland, Robert Wadlow never stopped growing. By the age of four he was already taller than I am! Just before his death from an infected blister at age 22, Robert was measured at a hair taller than 8 feet, 11 inches.

His world record as the tallest man still stands today, in part because medical science has since developed treatments for such conditions.

A Nerd at Large Robert Wadlow giant chair

Also at the site is a replica of Robert’s chair that a furniture company made specially for him. Every giant knows it’s important to have a comfortable chair to curl up in, amirite?

Disclosure and acknowledgements: On this trip I was a guest of the Illinois Office of Tourism. Many thanks to Steven Glynias for snapping the photos.

Bullwhacker Helena

Foto Friday: The Bullwhacker

He stands in the middle of Last Chance Gulch, the main drag in Helena, Montana. The Bullwhacker wields his whip, the tip undulating skyward, caught mid-flick.

Bullwhacker Helena

The Bullwhacker earned pride of place in Helena by the pivotal role his namesakes played in settling the area. Helena was founded in the gold rush when four men struck gold during their last-ditch attempt to make it as prospectors and miners. A town soon grew around the mining activities and Helena later became Montana’s capital.

The train is what made Helena’s growth possible and kept the town going. Who kept the trains going? The bullwhacker.

The badass, whip-sporting bullwhacker wasn’t for show. We’re not talking railways here. Wagon trains pulled by oxen were the lifeblood of western communities. These trains carried supplies, people, and communications, without which these mountainous settlements would be cut off from the outside world. They simply had to get through, and it was the bullwhacker’s job to keep the train moving.

So now a statue of a bullwhacker stands in the lovely, historic Helena town centre, reminding everyone how we got here.

bullwhacker helena montana