week 13: Easter Egg Hunt @ the Peoria Zoo

I think I’ve only done an Easter Egg Hunt once, maybe twice, in my life.

Well, last week in Peoria, there were several Easter Egg Hunts. And since I wanted to feel festive and the weather was turning so beautiful, I decided that I wanted to attend one as my activity for the week.

But I don’t have a kid…

So my friends L and A invited me to tag along with them as they took their 2.5 year old, E, to the Peoria Zoo for the Easter Egg Hunt there! I had never been to the Peoria Zoo, so I thought it’d be nice to watch the Hunt and then also walk around the zoo.

This is the story of how I failed at almost every part of the activity last week.

Failure #1

We got to the Zoo at 10:30 AM. We for real pulled up to the curb in front of the Zoo ticket line at 10:30 AM. I checked my phone after I got my ticket and it said 10:31 AM, which I figured was fine. The 0-2 year-olds’ Easter Egg Hunt was supposed to start at 10:30, and we were only a minute late. I thought we should be fine.

Yeah, no. We walked up to the grassy area where the Easter Egg Hunt was supposed to commence, only to find that IT WAS OVER. It had taken about 2 minutes for the whole hunt  to begin and end!

In my naivete about Easter Egg Hunts, I assumed that this would, in fact, be a hunt. Like, the eggs would be hidden around the zoo or, at the very least, hidden around a certain part of the zoo. Nope. Apparently, all the eggs were just strewn around the grass patch, and then the MC just says “ready, set, go” and the kids just run and grab as many eggs as they can, as fast as they can.

Luckily, E had no idea what to expect and no idea what was going on. But my friend and I just looked at each other in confusion and amazement. Her husband walked up to us after having parked the car, and  we explained the situation. He was surprised too. So we decided that we would just wait for the next age group and have their daughter participate in that free-for-all hunt.

In the meantime, the MC/volunteers announced that there would be a Easter/spring themed craft for 0-2 year olds in the Monkey pavilion/building. Also, the prizes for the hunt would be in the Monkey building as well. (Apparently, some of the eggs had scraps of paper in them instead of candy, which denoted prizes).

Failure #2

So we thought we’d do a craft and then head back for the next age group Egg Hunt.

We arrived at the Monkey building to find… monkeys. And the prize table. But absolutely no crafts. My friend L and I had sworn the announcement said crafts!

So we got E situated to participate in the next round of the Easter Egg Hunt. We found a spot on the perimeter of the grass that was not as crowded, and I had a chat with E about how she should stay close to us and get the eggs closest to us. I also made sure to point out the bag of cookies that was by the tree… because a bag of cookies can be shared and cookies sounded so good! 🙂

E got a decent number of eggs, and we helped her open up the eggs, dump the candy into her bag, and return the plastic eggs to the return boxes (the eggs are recycled/used every year). Then, we were off to explore the zoo!

I think I had appropriate expectations for the Peoria Zoo. This wasn’t going to be Brookfield, and it wasn’t going to be the St. Louis Zoo (which is, in my opinion, a fabulous free zoo!). Well, I fell in love with the Peoria Zoo. It’s $9 per adult, $6 for children (2-12); L said that some people complain that it’s a lot for admission, but I find it shockingly low! No, it’s not a huge zoo, but there are quite a few areas/exhibits, a great variety of animals (that all look pretty healthy), wonderful set up to the attractions, and it’s in Peoria. It takes less than an hour to get to, there are no crowds to contend with, and parking is free. I think all of that is well worth every cent of the $9 I spent that day!

Failure #3

This isn’t really my failure per se, since I can’t control the weather, but it was COLD that day. It was nice and bright and sunny out, but temperatures were in the 30’s. Which isn’t really that bad, except that meant a lot of the animals weren’t in their usual habitat spaces/exhibits.

So I didn’t get to see all the animals the Peoria Zoo has to offer, but I did get to see a good number! Which means that Failure #3 isn’t really a total failure. It’s like a half failure. 🙂

We started off in the Africa Exhibit. Apparently, there are usually zebras, rhinos, antelopes, and giraffes roaming the open field area, but that day there were none. But we walked up and along the walkway around the Africa area, and I was pleasantly surprised at how nicely the zoo is set up and constructed!

And then I was so excited when we got to the giraffe viewing window! The giraffe was inside because of the cold, but there is a window into the pen, right at the giraffe’s head level. So cool!

Then we walked along and got to see a lioness perched on some rocks, enjoying the sun.

We saw some monkeys. (By the way, Mandrills freak me out. The one that was paying attention to us and walking by the window had seriously shifty eyes, and Mandrills in general are supposedly pretty aggressive).

We skipped the Australian Walkabout, but apparently, the Australia exhibit has a path that leads through/between the habitats of black swans, wallabies, and emus. I’m not about emus, so we skipped that one


We saw the Takin.

And then we saw the Tigers! I think my favorites are giraffes and tigers ❤ (Obviously, not together).

I’m seriously planning on coming back to the Peoria Zoo in warmer weather. I’d love to see all the animals out and about, roaming the zoo habitats! Pack a picnic lunch, and then pay $9 to come and hang out with animals (and maybe learn a thing or two)… it’s basically a better deal than going to the movies!

week 12: the Brazilionaires @ the Rhythm Kitchen

As I’ve been compiling the Events page for the blog, I’ve noticed the Brazilionaires show up on the schedule for a few venues. The Contemporary Art Center had them categorized as Samba Pop, and while that sounds fantastically fun I had no idea what that really meant. Is that like Bossa Nova? 

And then their NAME: the Brazilionaires. Come on. Doesn’t it just sound like they’d be fun?!

So I’ve been curious and I’ve been keeping an eye on when they would be playing at certain venues. 

Well, last week they were slated to play at the Rhythm Kitchen, which I had been curious about as well. I brought it up to one of my coworkers, who turned out to be a huuuuuge fan of the Brazilionaires. She also highly recommended the gumbo at the Rhythm Kitchen.

That Saturday, I dragged M off of the couch and we headed off to the riverfront area. The Rhythm Kitchen is in the same building with the Contemporary Art Center and The Hive… and a yarn store!!! Every time I go into that building, I stare into the Yarn Universe’s window and drool over the yarns.. 

Back to the evening though: M and I arrived at about 7:15pm, which we thought was pretty good considering that the music starts at 8:00pm. 

NOPE. It was PACKED. Like, so packed that after standing in the only square foot of space that seemed free, M and I noticed that ALL the tables were already full. The hostess found us staring at the room, probably looking incredibly overwhelmed, and led us back to the very back counter by the kitchen. We sat down on stools and felt thankful that we would at least have a surface to eat off of, and we could sit down for the evening!

But then, we spotted a couple leaving their table and POUNCED on it. It was some serious table poaching happening. But it was a table for two… and my coworker was going to meet us there. Well, by some miracle, a table that seats 4 opened up a few feet away and we POUNCED on that one. Like, before it was even cleared. Really though, I can’t believe people LEFT before the music started. It’s like watching the previews and leaving before the movie. Maybe I wouldn’t say that’s true for all live music/restaurant situations, but after listening to the Brazilionaires, it’s absolutely true. 

Because after the first few notes of their first song, I was in love.  

Samba Pop is actually a great description for the Brazilionaires. They do some Bossa Nova. They do some latin-inspired covers of pop songs: Samba style Bruno Mars, latin-inspired Britney Spears, Boss Nova-esque Radiohead!! And they have some fantastic originals. 

Basically, I spent my Saturday night feasting on a nice cheese plate and some delicious gumbo yaya and soaking in some fantastic music.

Music so fantastic that people stood up in the tiny spaces between tables to dance. Basically any floor space that was free had people dancing and swaying their hips. The waitresses had to find their way between the tables AND the dancers! 

An adorable old couple dancing to the beats. I hope M and I grow up to be like them 🙂

Since the Rhythm Kitchen features live music on the weekends from 8pm to 11pm, the Brazilionaires played in two sets with an intermission in between. When the intermission started, my coworker led me to the front and introduced me to the singers. I was embarrassingly star struck. Sometimes I like to think that I can be put-together and present myself well, but then other times I realize how awkward I really am. This, unfortunately, was one of those yeah-I’m-really-awkward moments. 

But Rico, one half of the singing portion of the Brazilionaires, was gracious and let me ask him a few questions in my awkward, tongue-tied manner. He told me about how he had moved back to the Peoria area after living and working in California. He played in some cover bands.. but then decided he wanted more. And then the Fates aligned and brought him together with Dove – a neurologist by day and a velvet-voiced angel by night. They created the Brazilionaires and have brought together a talented band around them. 

If I hadn’t been so excited to the point that I was on the verge of shutting down (like a child), I would have bought their EP right then and there. I may have even asked if it’s possible to pre-order their full-length album that is in the works to be released sometime late spring/early summer. But instead, I took one photo with Rico and then walked away numb with happy excitement.

I went back to the table and spent the remainder of my fantastic evening sitting in happy reverie. 

Real talk from Ruth for the week: my first 9 months in Peoria was tough. Between some health complications and moving here knowing only M and not having a job that aligned with my desired career path, I wanted to leave Peoria ASAP. Like, I brought it up to M every week, if not every day. But I turned it around in the fall, and this blog is really a part of my goal to fall in love with Peoria. 

Sitting there at the Rhythm Kitchen, eating delicious food (for real, that gumbo was so good, and it even made for great leftovers) and listening to great music from the Brazilionaires, I felt an overwhelming sense of contentment. Like everything was how it should be. You know that feeling?  

There’s basically a ridiculous amount of talent in this one picture…

So between their music being honestly very good and fun, and my moment of conscious and complete happiness, my activity for last week made me into a groupie. And as a newly minted fan, I want to let everyone know that the Brazilionaires will be playing at the Taste of Chicago this summer!! So plan on driving up to Chicago, eating some foods, and hearing some Samba-Bossa Nova-Latin-Jazz-Pop that will make you want to shake your hips. 

week 11: Drop-In Art @ the Art Garage

I love art museums. I am notorious for spending HOURS UPON HOURS in every art museum I ever visit. The Getty is basically my favorite place in LA. 

 But I think art museums make art seem so… inaccessible. 

 My last post about going to the Art Garage for a painting party gave a glimpse into the encouraging atmosphere Jessica (the proprietor) creates for its patrons. She really makes an environment that allows people, no matter what their past experience (or inexperience) with art, to explore their creativity. 

 So in addition to the art parties, the different art classes offered, workshops, and the toddler art times, the Art Garage offers “Drop-In Art“.

Each week, Jessica picks a simple art project for the Drop-In Art sessions, of which there are three per week. The project usually takes about an hour, and you are encouraged to “drop in” and partake in an art activity. The Drop-In sessions usually run between noon and 6pm, but there are no set times for starting the activity. You can stop in at 12:15pm, 2:20pm, 4:11pm… Just come in when you can, and Jessica will get you started! Just $7 gets you a fun, do-able art project that you get to take home! 

 On Thursday, I left work and drove directly to the Art Garage. I got there around 5:20pm. Upon walking in, Jessica looked at me and said that the projects usually take about an hour and the Art Garage closes at 6pm. I was a little disappointed, partly because I had really wanted to do this and partly because it was my activity for the blog for the week. But Jessica looked at me, looked at the clock, and looked at the project.. and then decided that I could probably do this particular project in 40 minutes. So she got me started! 

 The Drop-In projects range in subject matter and mediums. The project for the week was working with watercolors… which I haven’t done in I-don’t-even-know-how-long. The project was also themed around concentric circles.


It sounds super easy. And it sounds almost like there’s nothing much to it. But as I did it, I realized how ZEN it was. After working all day, answering phones, dealing with people, etc, it was nice to get to do something creative, fun, fairly simple, and pretty!

After explaining the theme to me, Jessica then let me choose the colors I wanted to work with. She also gave me a quick tutorial on using the watercolors, and gave me a couple tips as well. Tips like wetting the brush and drawing the circle with water first before going over it with the watercolor to let the paint spread more easily and get a more water-y effect. 

I chose my colors, chose a few brushes, and taped down my paper to the table so the edges wouldn’t curl as I painted. 

And then I got to work/play. 

I loved that the project was simple enough that (1) anyone at any level could do it, (2) it didn’t take too much time, and (3) I could add my personal touches (via color, brush size, etc) without feeling like I had to plan and think too much. I liked that it made art feel like a fun and relaxing activity, without any pressure to make something perfect. 

Jessica also recommended where I could get a frame for my artwork. The particular size of the paper was 12×18, and she gave me tips on where to find the best and cheapest frames for the size I needed. 

Since it was close to closing time, and since I was the only pereson in there, I got to chat with Jessica for a bit. She had started the Art Garage after moving back to Peoria. She wanted to be a part of the growing art scene in the area, and she wanted to create a space that made art accessible to everyone. And I think she has done just that. Beyond the private art parties (that are popular in different forms everywhere), the Art Garage offers art for people across all age groups, art abilities/experiences, and mediums. 

I think creating is good for the soul, and I love the Art Garage because it offers opportunities to create and explore your abilities and imagination in a friendly and accessible and informal environment. I cannot recommend it enough!

week 10: Jonah’s Seafood House

In the first year of M and I living here in Peoria, we probably went out to eat maybe 10 times. In a whole year. It was a huge  bit of a sacrifice because we both like to eat and we love going out to eat. But we have a budget and we’re sticking to it.

Last week, however, we went out to eat not just once, but TWICE. The second time was with my sister while she was visiting for a conference at OSF. We went to One World, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Peoria. But I’m sure we’ll go there again so I’ll wait to do a post on One World on it’s own later.

On Wednesday of last week, M had a dinner planned with some of his coworkers. He said wives/significant others were invited, so I agreed because (a) it meant eating out and (b) I had only met two of his coworkers so far and I thought it would be nice to meet the people M spends so much of his time with.

Due to some dietary restrictions on the part of some of the coworkers, they settled on getting seafood for dinner. So we made our way over to Jonah’s Seafood House in East Peoria. We drove up to the building that looks like most seafood restaurants: wood-sided with nautical ropes around the walkways. I was nervous/excited to meet M’s supervisor and coworkers, and I was also pretty hungry.

I have no pictures of this dinner because I didn’t want to embarrass M by taking pictures of everyone’s my food, especially when I was just meeting all of them for the first time.

Since I don’t really have pictures, I’ll keep it simple:

  • You could dress up (we were all in our business-casual work clothes), but I also saw people wearing jeans there. So yes, you can take a date there for a nice seafood dinner, but don’t feel any pressure to wear a suit.
  • The wait staff is pretty informal. We were at a table tucked away in a corner, and the waiter we had just leaned against the wall while he talked to us. So this is probably goes with #1 above: could be fancy since it’s seafood with tableclothes on the tables, but nothing too formal.
  • Ask questions. One of the coworkers at the dinner was actually a colleague from China. Since it was her first time in the US/outside of China, she really had no experience with western style food. So we thought an appetizer sampler would be nice. However, we didn’t see one on the menu. So we asked. And lo and behold, they had a sampler of fried fish, calamari, crab rangoons, and fried shrimp. (The calamari was a tiny bit bland. But everything else was good.)
  • If you’re going to get a soup, don’t get the clam chowder. I LOVE clam chowder. Really, I just really love soups and I really really love creamy soups. Clam chowder is up there on the list for me. The clam chowder at Jonah’s is heavy on the cream, is super thick, and tastes mostly of bland potatoes. The coworker from China left the soup but loved the oyster crackers. But they had some kind of gumbo soup, and that was apparently pretty good. So skip the clam chowder, opt for the gumbo.
  • Remember where you are. Jonah’s is a restaurant in CENTRAL ILLINOIS. Why do I point out this obvious fact? Well, M got the mussels. We both LOVE mussels. (I should probably go ahead and remind you that we just love food in general.. but there are foods that we like more than others.) But Jonah’s is located in central Illinois, so hopelessly landlocked. Yes, its next to a river. But we’re talking about big juicy mussels from the ocean. So I wasn’t surprised that they were overcooked. Disappointed, yes, but not entirely surprised. Also, he ordered the basic mussels dish, broiled, and they were bland. If you insist on getting the mussels, get the other version, the one with some sort of sauce.
  • Basically, order dishes in which the fish/seafood is encrusted in seasonings/flavor/sauce. I got the Grilled Chai-Thai Tuna. I ordered it rare, because it’s Ahi Tuna, duh. And it really was rare. It was basically JUST seared, and it had a tasty and spicy crust of seasoning. Now, I really like almost all of my food to be spicy. Sometimes, I’m skeptical when restaurants in the midwest say that something is spicy because more often than not, I don’t really find it spicy at all. But this one really did have a nice heat, and the dipping sauces that they gave to go with the dish complimented it well. M agreed that I had ordered the better dish.

I really have no remembrance of what the other people ate. They seemed to like their dinners, but they also mostly ordered pretty safely.

So if you’re ever headed over to Jonah’s, remember my points above. But especially the last two! 🙂

week 9: Visiting Writer event @ Bradley University

Peoria has a university in town, but Peoria isn’t really a college town. If you didn’t previously know that Bradley University was here in Peoria, it would be easy to miss. It’s SMALL and barely takes up more than a handful of blocks in a tucked away part of the city, and it seems pretty self-contained.

Maybe my perception is a tiny bit skewed though because I moved here from Champaign-Urbana, home of the University of Illinois and a TOTAL college town. You can’t go anywhere without seeing TONS of orange-and-blue Illini paraphernalia everywhere. You also can’t go very long without hearing about this or that event that is somehow connected with the University, or this or that start-up/business in town that has connections to the University.

But in Peoria, I’ve lived here a year and I’ve hardly seen anyone walk around proudly with any Bradley wear. I also haven’t heard anything about any events associated with Bradley.

Last week, though, I was wracking my brain for what to do as my Peoria52 activity during the week, because I was planning on going out of town during the weekend to see my sister. So I checked the Bradley website on a whim, because surely a university would have a ton of events happening all days of the week.. right?

Ok so there weren’t a TON, but there were a few and the one that caught my eye was a Visiting Writer event that featured (drumroll please…) a visiting author who would do a reading of a short fiction piece.

So I went.

The event was in the Wyckoff Room of the Cullom-Davis Library (which is the only library on campus). It was hosted by the English Department, of course. The Bradley website listed the event at open and free to the public, so I braved the cold and trekked over to the university.

I parked on the street and walked around to the entrance of the building, which faces onto campus, away from the street. I followed a group of students into the library, but was the only one without a student ID to swipe into the library. Fortunately, one of the librarians at the front desk noticed me and buzzed me in. He checked my ID, signed me in, and then showed me how to get to the Wyckoff room for the reading.

Bradley University has a small but beautiful library.
Bradley University has a small but beautiful library.

The event started at 7pm, and I got there around 6:55pm. The room was mostly packed, and it was mostly packed with Bradley students and some Bradley faculty (presumably from the English department). Who knew that college students would be so punctual?!

The Wycoff room in which the event was held. I thought it was small when I first approached the door, but the room fit quite a good-sized audience when including the balcony.
The Wycoff room in which the event was held. I thought it was small when I first approached the door, but the room fit quite a good-sized audience when including the balcony.

I tried to pretend like I was a student. And I tried to find a seat in the middle or back of the room, but the room was already pretty full and the only few seats I could see that were empty were in the front. So I got a seat right next to the podium. I was about five feet away from the speaker! I decided to consider this a good thing. 🙂

The Head of the English Department, introducing the speaker for the evening.
The Head of the English Department, introducing the speaker for the evening.

The Visiting Writer for the evening was Steven Schwartz, a celebrated author of short story fiction who also currently teaches in Colorado and is the fiction editor of the Colorado Review. I didn’t know any of this when I went. I just knew the name, and knew that he would be reading a short fiction piece. I had little to no expectations, really, about the event since I had never been to a reading before.

That evening, Steven Schwartz read aloud a short story called “Opposite Ends of the World” from his book Little Raw Souls: Stories.

Steven Schwartz reading "Opposite Ends of the World".
Steven Schwartz reading “Opposite Ends of the World”.

It was an interesting experience because I was sitting only five feet away and had an unobstructed view/connection with the author as he read his own piece, which he presumably put a lot of emotion and work into.

The story was wonderful. I won’t really talk about it, because I highly recommend reading it. Schwartz wonderfully crafted (and I really do mean crafted) a glimpse into characters and their world that drew me in so that at the end, I wanted to sit there and think and soak it in a little more.

After the wonderful reading, Schwartz opened it up to the audience for some Q&A. Here are some of the notes (about writing fiction) that I quickly took on my phone:

  • You’re going to do about ten times the research that you’re actually going to use. Then you have to just let go of the rest.
  • “Write from personal experiences, whether I’ve had them or not.”
    “Personal” can really just mean to invest self emotionally into the characters and situations. Have enough connection and empathy into the character and situation.
  • Some experiences may leave a mark on you and plant a seed of an idea. But it will sit and germinate in your head until something comes up to make it a story and not just a situation.
  • So much of bent a writer is waiting. Waiting with intense alertness for something to happen and things to start falling into place.
  • Revision process: sometimes you have to be willfully blind to what you’re writing’ (so that you’re not forcing metaphors).
  • Rhythm, being fluid or being choppy; narrative, exposition, etc. So much of writing is scene selection. What will you emphasize? Your voice is made up of different styles, so think more about what points need what. Revision/editing will be more rational than when you’re writing.
  • Every literary story has to have its own form. Fit form to the story.
  • You don’t know where all the roots are to your story, but they’re there and you just have to trust them.

Honestly, I had a wonderful time. Maybe because of my proximity to the speaker, maybe because the general size of the audience to begin with, maybe because of the nature of the short story, or maybe because I love university settings, the whole evening felt intimate and inviting.

I think I have a new author to read, and I look forward to seeing if the Visiting Writer series continues. Whether or not it makes it onto the blog, I’ll be keeping my eye on the series, at least for my own benefit.