Today is National Day on Writing

Today is National Day on Writing, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, and The New York Times Learning Network.

This year, according to the National Day on Writing web page, the theme is to write about our communities in any way we see fit.

In honor of National Day on Writing, I have shared below a column I wrote in December 2013 for The Times newspaper (Ottawa/Streator, Ill.) about the communities in which I leave and work:


(Originally published Dec. 2, 2013, in The Times newspaper)

How do I love this area? Let me count the ways

Carole Ledbetter had a great idea.

On April 25, Ledbetter — an Ottawa resident, author and frequent contributor to The Times — published a Write Team column listing her top 10 favorite aspects of Ottawa.

Wonderful idea. It gets all too easy to fall into a rut and talk about a city’s shortcomings or what it isn’t doing right.

After a year of living in Whiteside County, I found my nostalgia growing about La Salle County.

Now that I am back in the area, I am compelled to take a page out of Ledbetter’s book (ahem — I should say, column) and offer another 10 positive aspects.

But I’m adding a twist. As a former Ottawa resident who now lives in Streator, and in the spirit of being a 20-something columnist, I’m going to offer up 20 favorites — 10 for Ottawa and 10 for Streator.

OTTAWA

  • Downtown. My husband and I are walkers. Give us a stretch of sidewalk and we’ll go for a stroll. I especially love walking both sides of La Salle Street to check out the latest window displays in the storefronts and cutting through Washington Square for a stroll through the park.
  • Ottawa East Side Historic District. During downtown walks, we invariably head east down Main Street and then weave through Congress, Pearl and Chapel streets to view the many spectacular houses in the neighborhood and dream of owning one someday.
  • Thai Cafe. The Thai Cafe, 610 Columbus St., not only offers authentic Thai cuisine but also a great view of city life. I especially love a dinner for two on winter nights — who could resist a table near floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Columbus Street’s bustle during a gentle snowfall?
  • The Cheese Shop. Another restaurant, I know. You’ll see a lot of these in my lists of favorites — I love food. But I also love novelties, which The Cheese Shop sells.
  • The Fox River aqueduct and the Illinois & Michigan Canal towpath. Getting back to the walking theme, treks down the I&M Canal towpath rank among my favorite outdoor activities.
  • Roxy Cinemas. Ottawa’s downtown theater at 827 La Salle St. is full of character. I particularly love the marquee. And the popcorn — even if you don’t have time for a movie, it’s worth stopping by just to sample the concession stand.
  • The Book Mouse. Every town should have a book store. Especially a book store that makes such an effort to carry books by local authors and be a host to community events.
  • Ice Odyssey. I promise I’m not just saying this because it’s winter and fresh on my mind. Ice Odyssey tops my list of must-go-to annual events. It’s free, and it’s like a chilly, outdoor art museum. Scarecrow Fest is a close runnerup.
  • The Times building. I know, I know. I might be a tad bit biased on this one. Back in November 2009 when I started working at The Times (the first time around), the building gave a distinct Daily Planet impression. (The Daily Planet is the newspaper in the Superman comic books.) Just call me Lois Lane. I love this old building.

STREATOR

  • Streator Public Library. Streator’s Carnegie Library is an impressive structure inside and out. From its brick facade to its rotunda, it brims with beauty. Not to mention books — full of books!
  • Mojitos. I warned you: I am a big fan of good food. Mojitos, 116 N. Bloomington St., is my favorite Mexican restaurant, especially for enchiladas. The restaurant serves a blend of Mexican and Italian cuisine.
  • Streator City Park. Covering four city blocks and home to playground equipment, old trees, picnic areas, the Plumb Pavilion and annual carnivals, it’s a great place to either get some exercise or relax on a bench with a book.
  • Streator Polar Pop. I will remain forever convinced Mountain Dew tastes better out of an aluminum can than a plastic bottle. Likewise, I maintain Polar Pops from the Bloomington Street Circle K in Streator are better than those at any other Circle K nationwide.
  • Parks and trails. As soon as temperature warms, my husband rounds up the disc golf gear and off we go to Marilla Park to play its 18-hole course. Other days we visit Spring Lake Nature Park to hike or walk the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, which conveniently is in walking distance from our riverside neighborhood.
  • Decorations. Light Up Streator goes the extra mile to make the downtown festive. Walking down Main Street and through City Park puts me in seasonal and holiday spirits. An added bonus is business owners who decorate their storefronts.
  • Architecture. Streator has four buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: the Majestic; the library; the Ruffin Drew Fletcher House, 609 E. Broadway St.; and the Silas Williams House, 702 E. Broadway St. Those aren’t the only attractive facades in town, though. The city is dotted with architectural gems — my particular favorite is the now-closed St. Anthony Catholic Church.
  • Majestic Theatre. The Majestic has an old-school charm and features the largest indoor screen in La Salle County. Sitting in the balcony and waiting for the curtains to part is my favorite moviegoing experience.
  • Heritage Park. This is perhaps the most underrated spot in Streator — and my favorite. The pocket park at the corner of Monroe and Main streets honors the city’s history and serves to beautify downtown — and offers me a great place to read and write in the heart of Streator.

That’s not the end of the list, though.

Anyone who kept tally will see only nine items on each list. (Be honest; you counted and thought I made an error, didn’t you? Gotcha!)

The 10th — and best — aspect I love about both cities?

They’re home.

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