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Spark Museum, a new children’s museum, opening in Urbana

Chambanamoms reports that a new children’s museum is opening  at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana. Spark Museum + Play Café is opening Mid- May, with the aim to encourage innovation and creativity within the children of the community.

The space will be transformed into an 8,000 square-foot play space where both children and adults can interact, relax, eat, and enjoy the atmosphere of the museum. It will also include designated areas for infants, two treehouses, a “pizza factory” station, “Way Things Work Factory,” a “Wiggle Factory,” and a “Create and Build Factory,” and more.

Executive director Sonya Darter and her co-founder, Megan Gillette, have spent nearly two years on the project, and they hope to collaborate with college and university minds to “bring in new ideas and keep the technology fresh,” Gillette said.

The specific age target for this museum is children from newborn to 8-years-old.

The Cafe will feature organic foods and a variety of drinks.

Admission is expected to be $5 for kids and adults. Spark will be open Wednesday-Sunday. Birthday parties, private parties and corporate events are available.

Photo by Kodo Kids.


Honey made by Champaign woman named “Best Tasting Honey in the World”

Who knew that there was a competition for the best tasting honey in the world? Not me, that's for sure. Regardless, it is quite a title to hold for Rachel Coventry, a Champaign-based honey maker.

Each year, the "Best Tasting Honey in the World" award is given away by The Center for Honey Bee Research in Asheville, North Carolina.

For more info, check out this feature by Agrinewsand read five fun facts about Coventry and her honey below:

  • Coventry started learning about beekeeping in 2009 in Paraguay as a crop extensionist for the Peace Corps. Upon her return to the orchard, she worked alongside her grandfather Paul Curtis. She works with 10 to 20 hives a year depending on how prolific the queen bees are, with each hive home to 50,000 to 70,000 bees.
  • Curtis Orchard’s honey harvest varies each year. It takes bees 2 million visits to flowers to collect enough nectar and pollen to make one pound of honey. Honey is seasonal, with the main honey collections occurring in August and September.
  • A favorite way that Coventry enjoys honey is by the spoonful of dripping honeycomb. “It’s delicious. It’s more of the texture that makes it so good,” Coventry said. She also recommends it in hot tea or with a peanut butter sandwich as her husband likes it.
  • What makes the Curtis Orchard honey distinctive are the flowering plants within a three-mile radius of the orchard. Certainly, there are apple blossoms, but there also are strawberries, raspberries, clover, cherries, plums, peaches and wild flowers. Coventry describes her honey’s flavor as “very fruit forward.”
  • Coventry won $2,000, her name on a trophy kept at the center and bragging rights. Another bonus is the opportunity to emphasize the importance of bees and other pollinators to agriculture.

Illinois Public Media's Environmental Almanac turns 13

In a time, such as now, where factual and undeniable environmental concerns are under attack, and in an area like Illinois, where the effects of climate change are so evident, it is perhaps now more important than ever to bring environmental issues to the forefront of our awareness. Luckily, Illinois Public Media keeps a very close eye on these things.

Their long-standing podcast, Environmental Almanac, will soon celebrate it's 13th anniversary this year, spawned by three University of Illinois professors in 2004.

To read more and to listen to episodes, check out the press release below:

Explore your surroundings with Environmental Almanac

In summer 2004, two U of I professors approached Rob Kanter with an idea: would he like to collaborate with them to broaden the public reach of U of I faculty members with interests in environmental topics through a radio show on WILL-AM 580?

The proposition intrigued Kanter, then a part-time lecturer in the English department while also acting as primary caregiver to his two kids. But it was a time of transition, as his youngest just started school, and Kanter was eager to pursue his environmental interests.

They soon had a plan. Kanter would research and write segments about the environmental work of U of I faculty members and voice them himself, creating an efficient process and a consistent product. He also insisted on expanding the topics covered to link the scientific research within a broader suite of environmental concerns. A month later, funding was secured, and thus began Environmental Almanac.

Now on the air for 13 years, Kanter has created approximately 400 original installments of the show for radio and podcast. In spring 2007, segments began running as columns in the Sunday edition of the Champaign News-Gazette, and this is when Kanter began to use his own photography for the segments.

Kanter takes the work seriously, as he provides an important bridge between advanced research by academics to the masses across the state. He’s tagged along with geologists to collect from the Fithian Illite, ridden with students using next-generation, truck-mounted Doppler radar in the field, and called listeners to action to benefit the environment.

But Environmental Almanac’s most important objective is “encouraging people to engage with the natural world, which can sometimes mean just appreciating the plants and animals they might encounter on a daily basis,” said Kanter. His public outreach includes speaking engagements with audiences big and small, kindergarteners and Rotary members. He’s also expanded segments into articles for Illinois Audobon and The Illinois Steward.

“I feel extremely fortunate to have had the support to do this series for so long, and more fortunate still that I have been able to extend the work I do with Environmental Almanac through my teaching in the School of Earth, Society, and Environment.”

You can subscribe to Environmental Almanac at to get the latest episodes.


Columbia St. Coffee Stout named one of the best beers at the Chicago Beer Festival

For those of you who are acquainted with the Downtown Champaign's many breweries and brews, it should be no surprise that the Columbia St. Coffee Stout, a collaboration between Columbia Street Roastery and The Blind Pig, was named one of the best beers of the Chicago Beer Festival by, a fairly prominent beer blog. 

The Chicago Beer Festival is an annual event, hosted at The Field Museum, which features loads of different brews from all around - pitting the Columbia St. Coffee Stout against formidable competition.

For more info, check out what Porch Drinking had to say below, and read their full article here.

You probably just read that beer and brewery and probably have no idea who they are. Don’t worry you’re not alone. This small brewery in Champaign, Ill. made my favorite coffee beer of the entire event.

This isn’t a big barrel-aged stout. In fact it’s only 5.4% ABV, what made this beer phenomenal is the strong coffee flavor balanced with the characteristics of a classic stout. On UnTappd they said there’s about 1/4 cup of coffee per pint and I believe it.

There’s so much coffee flavor in this beer, in a blind taste test you might think it’s just coffee and not beer. Bling Pig is Champaign’s first all-grain brewery since the prohibition era.

(Photo by Eric Dirksen)


Days after Groce’s firing, Illini women’s hoops coach Bollant canned

AD Josh Whitman is cleaning house this week. Next victim: Illinois Women's basketball coach Matt Bollant

This isn't surprising, considering Bollant's record was just 61-94 overall in five seasons.

Who will be the next hires to join Lovie Smith? Time will tell, but Whitman is clearing things out for his own crew, which comes to no surprise.

Top photo from Fighting Illini Athletics.


Need help filling out your NCAA bracket? U of I CS’s BracketOdds might help

The good thing about living in a University city like Champaign-Urbana, is that there are minds working up god-knows-what at all times to try to innovate and create things that help others. 

The NCAA tournament starts today — and if you're still looking for some help filling out your bracket, last minute, perhaps the U of I Computer Science department can help you out.

Per this article in the U of I News BureauBracketOdds might help:

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament – commonly known as March Madness – begins March 14. Millions of college basketball enthusiasts will be filling out their brackets, hoping to predict the outcome of all the games. In an interview with News Bureau physical sciences editor Liz Touchstone, computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson discusses patterns he’s observed in the tournament and how data analytics can provide guidance for fans filling out brackets. Working with U. of I. students, he also oversees the BracketOdds website, a STEM learning lab for his students, to provide fans with useful tips in filling out their brackets.

There's plenty more in the article linked above, which is a fun read.


John Groce fired as Illinois men’s basketball coach

It is done: The Champaign Room is reporting that Illini Men's head basketball coach John Groce has been fired. This comes after a handful of seasons as the coach, mostly resulting in mediocrity with splashes of goodness within. 

Here are some words from AD Josh Whitman:

Photo by Chris Davies.


Krannert Art Museum hosting Petals & Paintings fundraiser over Mom’s Weekend

Tickets are now on sale for the 25th edition of Petals & Paintings, Krannert Art Museum's annual Mom's Weekend fundraiser, which features a two-day-long exhibition, as well as two different auctions.

For more information on how to get tickets, check out KAM's website here, and read what they have to say below:

Petals & Paintings

Petals & Paintings is Krannert Art Museum Council's annual fundraising event in support of Krannert Art Museum held during University of Illinois Moms’ Weekend. The event includes a sealed-bid art auction of a donated work by an established artist, an evening gala with silent auction, and a two-day floral design exhibition. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this beloved event.

Exhibition Curator
Champaign florist and University of Illinois alumnus, Rick Orr, AIFD

Request Gala Tickets  |  Sealed Bid Art Auction  |  Silent Auction  |  Sponsors


Winter is Coming: The Trump Regime & the American Press taking place March 8th

From the U of I English Department's website:

Winter is Coming: The Trump Regime & the American Press - Jay Rosen (New York U)

03/08/2017 - 5:00PM


A lecture in our ongoing series, Theory in Critical Times

For a free press as a check on power now is the darkest time in American history since World War I. But this is complex development that goes well beyond Donald Trump's reckless attacks on the news media. It involves failures in journalism, and shifts in the underlying media system, as well as an organized movement to discredit the mainstream press that predates Trump's political career. It is now clear that the man in power intends to lead this movement, intensify it, and make it part of his governing style. Journalists think the right response to that is simply to do their jobs and report the news, but the atmosphere into which those reports emerge is weighted against them. This talk will explain why "just do the job" is not nearly enough. The press is up against something it doesn't understand.


GOP candidate in Urbana’s Mayoral Election voted Democrat, potentially DQing himself

We saw that the Democratic ticket for Urbana Mayor was decided earlier this week as Diane Marlin pulled off the victory against incumbent Mayoral Laurel Prussing and Evelyn Underwood. 

While highly unlikely a Republican would win against any Democratic nominee, there is still a general election on April 4th — and Rex Bradfield is (well, potentially now, was) a candidate for the Republican opposition.

Appearently, Bradfield voted in the Democratic primary, which is a big no-no, potentially qualifying as perjury. Per the News-Gazette's report:

In signing what is called an "application and affidavit to vote" in the Democratic primary, Bradfield acknowledged that "I am affiliated with the political party indicated by my ballot choice."

As per the report, Bradfield was given a ballot by an election judge at the polling place, and the person knew he was a Republican candidate. However, none of that matters, as Gordy Hulten points out:

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said that Bradfield shouldn't rely on an election judge to know the fine points of Illinois election law.

"Even if they know that he's the Republican candidate for mayor, they don't know the legal ramifications of his doing what he is doing," Hulten said.

So, yeah — Bradfield might've just disqualified himself as a candidate in the upcoming election.

When asked who he voted for?

"I'd rather not," he said.

Bradfield, who has lost two previous races for Urbana mayor, a state representative race and a Republican primary for county recorder, was matter of fact about the possibility that he could be disqualified.

"If they take me off the ballot, well, that's life in the fast lane. But I'd sure be pissed," Bradfield said.

We all make mistakes, guys.

Top photo from Jeff Bossert/WILL.