&5 Inspiration: Four Foot Roadside Peanuts

In the town of Dothan, Alabama, four foot tall roadside peanuts can be found scattered on street corners and in front of businesses. In the hometown of the National Peanut Festival, this nutty community art project has grown since 2001  to nearly 70 peanuts painted as anything from a television news commentator to a cowboy to Elvis.  The project is inspired by its agricultural roots with nearly half of the peanuts grown in the United States farmed within a 100-mile radius of this town.

My family drove through Dothan on a road trip. While I was excited to seek out all of the peanuts, I was outnumbered by the Hubby, the Girl and the Boy, who would only humor me enough to drive by a few. They were more interested in the peanuts in our trail mix than those on the side of the road.

Had they not had an allergic reaction to my fun, we could have headed inside the Dothan Community Center to get a free map of the locations for each of the peanuts, and see the elusive Elvis peanut that has been moved indoors because it was the prime target of peanut thieves over the years. I hope to return to Dothan someday to enjoy the genius peanut art pieces that give true personality to this Alabama town.




&5 Creators: August Hill Winery

In the charming, historic town of Utica, Illinois is the chic yet comfortable August Hill Winery. Just down a winding road from Starved Rock State Park, the winery provides an elegant respite with locally made wine from grapes grown throughout Illinois.

Upon arriving, the Hubby, our friends Michelle and Craig, my sister Carol and I stepped up to the massive, brightly lit tasting bar where the bartender Jeanne greeted us with a wine list. We began with a tasting to determine our favorites. As we tasted each selection, she shared the background of the wine and stories of winery owners Mark and Teri Wenzel.

Mark and Teri and their childhood friend Sean Ginocchio founded August Hill Winery in 2000 with the inspiration of a piece of Mark’s family’s farm.

Mark’s passion for farming was re-ignited as he stood on the land his grandfather August worked. Mark wanted to capture his grandfather’s love for the land and share it with others. The entrepreneurs set out to create a company with a passion for creation, according to their website.

Beginning with the August Hill logo, the “A” comes from the signature of grandpa August. Sean has since stepped back from the operation of the winery, however, his wife Tara still creates art that serves as the inspiration for the wine labels, promotional items, and décor of the lounge.

Following the tasting, we moved to the lounge. The chatter and laughter of friends enjoying locally crafted wine, delicious bites, and music of a guitarist filled the tasting room. Comfortable couches with sleek low lines provide the perfect backdrop to relax, drink wine, and enjoy time with friends.

Mark blends locally-harvested grapes to handcraft each wine. My favorite is Sweet Catawba, a light, sweet, and fruity blush wine. The 2013 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition Gold Medal and “Best of Category” wine paired beautifully with the cheeses, crackers and prosciutto we enjoyed.

I hope to return soon to bring home one of the handcrafted creations, including paintings, sculpture, glass art, and more from featured artists.

&5 Inspiration: Haunted Props

There was so much to share from the TransWorld’s Halloween and Attraction Show in St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s Part 2.

The creativity and ingenuity of haunted house creators is awe inspiring. In our house FaceOff, the SyFy television competition series for make-up artists, is must see TV. I have always been enthralled with the way they can take a design challenge and create fully realized characters in just three days. They conceptualize, fabricate, paint, and execute their creations in such a short amount of time. And the results are stunning.

StephanieMosco2Our Village of Screamfield haunted house crew that attends the haunt convention, is always excited when they get to meet the artists from FaceOff. This year we ran into Stephanie Masco from Season 8. Stephanie also happens to be from Plainfield, the town that the Village of Screamfield lurks beneath. When we introduced ourselves and Nancy, one of our actors and creators, shared that her daughters went to school with Stephanie, the artist literally laid on the ground and kicked her legs in delight. She was excited to make the connection to our hometown, too. Coming face to face with these creators is like meeting rock stars!

The Village of Screamfield crew members also are like kids in a candy shop when they get to see the masks, props, and animatronics on display. The level of realism, the scare factor, and the disgusting gore these artists pack into their designs is inspiring. For the Village of Screamfield, we often purchase masks and props from these incredible artists to include in the haunt. And we draw inspiration from their work to create our own.

This video – which is not for the faint of heart – highlights some awesome designs that we found at the haunt convention. Take a look and be inspired for your Halloween decor.

Music used with permission from Midnight Syndicate.

&5 Creators: Haunted House

Below the police station in Plainfield, Illinois lies a hidden village where Mayor Scream welcomes visitors into his underground city for scares each October.

The haunted house is the brainchild of my Hubby who transforms into the scary clown Mayor Scream in the picture.

Funny thing, he used to be afraid of clowns. When we were dating many years ago, we went to a haunted house on a double date with his mom and her boyfriend. I was not a fan of haunted houses, but I was young and in love so I agreed to tag along. They made me lead our group of four – my eyes were shut through most of it so I don’t remember a lot. Except for the last room of the haunt. I clearly remember that we entered a dark room, me in front, then my Hubby, his mom and her boyfriend all in a row each with their hands on the waist of the person in front of them. All four walls of the room were lined with creepy clowns. I couldn’t tell what was a real person and what was a prop.

Upon seeing the masked jesters, my Hubby screamed, “I hate clowns.” Immediately, the clown leader yelled, “Get the big guy!” and they swarmed us. They had an easy target and I was directly in front of it. My Hubby picked me up by the waist and my feet didn’t touch the ground until we were out of that clown room. I was terrified…and so was he!

Fast forward several years, and his childhood dream of scaring people has come to life through the haunted house. One year he decided to try out a new character – Mayor Scream the creepy clown. I thought he had lost his mind. But now, I see that he’s at his free-est when dressed as Mayor Scream ready to scare visitors to the Village of Screamfield. His entire persona changes when he puts on the mask and costume.

This video created by Matt Bridlik gives a behind the scenes look at the Village of Screamfield.

The haunted house raises funds to support the Plainfield Schools Foundation for Excellence that extends, enriches and expands educational experiences for the 28,000 students enrolled in Plainfield School District 202. It’s in collaboration with the police’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program.

The planning for this year’s haunted house officially began in March with the annual pilgrimage by Mayor Scream and members of the cast and crew to TransWorld’s Halloween and Attraction Show in St. Louis, Missouri. (With true motherly love, his mom attends with us and has taken a lead role in making and operating props.)

At the haunt convention, industry leaders gather to network, seek new ideas for their scary houses, and purchase props, costumes and more. There also are workshops that teach creative techniques for make-up, acting, set construction, marketing and more.

To my Hubby, arriving on the convention floor with more than 300 exhibitors showcasing their wares is like a kid seeing Santa’s gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. (I’m still far more into Santa than I am Halloween.)

It is here where the planning of the Village of Screamfield begins. Their ideas will come to life…so to say …when the 60-plus volunteers gather in the summer to build the sets and hold Camp Scream to teach improv acting and scare techniques. And the true show will be on opening night in October when visitors are welcomed to the village below the police department.

Be sure to check back next week to see some of the inspiration we saw on the haunt convention floor. And visit the Village of Screamfield – or check back on &5 – in October to see how it all comes together.

&5 Creators: Hollywood Cupcake Wars

Sandburg High School Culinary Arts students recently took on the school’s own version of the Food Network show Cupcakes Wars with Hollywood themed cupcakes.

The students first took a field trip to the Wilton Cake Decorating School in Darien, Illinois.

“They checked out cupcake creations for inspiration and learned techniques from the Wilton staff,” said teacher Lisa Greenhill.

Once they returned back to school, the students spent a week developing their themes and creating cupcakes. Some chose iconic characters like Sully from Monsters Inc, the Minions, and Cookie Monster, while others picked thematic elements like walking the red carpet and popcorn.

I was particularly fond of the Monsters Inc. sign that was made by frosting graham crackers and placing them on top of the cupcakes. The lettering was very well executed. The sculpting of Sully and Boo was very well done on this piece, too.

&5 Inspiration: Signs of Disney

This week my family is on Spring Break in Orlando, Florida. As we wandered around Disney Springs, an outdoor shopping, dining, and entertainment venue at the Walt Disney World Resort, I found myself studying the typography of the signage throughout.

One of the most iconic typographic designs is the Disney logo itself. As the company has evolved over the years, it’s logo has gone through many iterations.

I have always been drawn to the shapes and designs of letters, especially the way they can convey a feeling through shape, color and design. Always with camera in hand – especially while on vacation – I snapped a few shots of the signs that most intrigued me.

My hope is these will serve as inspiration for future creative endeavors for &5 and for you. Check out what &5 found in Disney Springs and then tell me what inspires your creativity!


&5 Make It: Beach-inspired Sign

Tybee Island, Georgia is my happy place.

My family vacationed there twice. I immediately fell in love. The sound of waves on the shore of North Beach under the black and white “Oreo” lighthouse bring me peace.

My hope is to one day make that peace permanent and retire there with the Hubby.


In the meantime, I am bringing a bit of the peace to Central Illinois. I am decorating the powder room at our house in a Tybee Island theme. For this &5 Make It, I created a beach-inspired sign. It’s a simple design that evokes the tranquility of my happy place and is inspired by this sign that welcomes you to what is known as Savannah’s beach.



  • Wood for backdrop (I picked a pre-made wooden sign, you could use reclaimed wood or shiplap)
  • Letters spelling a word you love (I chose “tybee” in a whimsical font that reminds me of the lettering on the inspiration sign)
  • Acrylic paint (I went with light blue and white similar to the inspiration)
  • Paint brushes
  • Fishnet (I found at craft store)
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Shells (leftover from another project)


  1. White wash the wooden sign.
  2. Mix blue and white paint and brush onto letters. I whitewashed these, too, to soften the color.
  3. Place fishnet over the sign and secure with glue gun in a few places (that will later be hidden  by your letters).
  4. Hot glue letters and shells to sign. Use enough glue to make sure they hold when hung on the wall.


&5 Creators: Making a high school musical

I stopped by Mahomet Seymour High School to see the crew of the Addams Family Musical in action. On a beautiful Saturday, the auditorium was buzzing with activity as sets were constructed, costumes sewn, props made, and lights and sound tested.

The enthusiasm of the behind-the-scenes crew was evident as they worked collaboratively to create the backdrop for the production. Director Jaise Allen has created a supportive environment for students to share ideas, engage in the creative process, and bond as a theater family.

The students were excited to try something new – even using power tools – as they created.

This reminded me of my high school years where Journalism Teacher and Newspaper Advisor Barb Markelz encouraged me as a writer, editor, and creator. I am forever grateful for the lessons Mrs. M. taught me in class and during nighttime marathon paste-ups where we put the school newspaper together.

I’d love to hear about the teachers or mentors who inspired you to create. Leave a note in the comments section!

Take a look at what the creators of Mahomet Seymour’s production shared with &5.


&5 Make It: Travel Themed Party

Twice a year, High School District 230 hosts a luncheon to thank senior citizens for their support. The day features musical performances by students, a virtual tour of the school, as well as lunch catered by school staff and served by culinary arts students.

The Principal’s Secretary of the hosting school puts her party planner hat on to develop a theme, invitations, decorations, programs, tablescapes, and more. For the luncheon held today, Stagg High School Principal’s Secretary Laurel DeGonia went all out with a travel theme!

It’s cold in March in the Chicago suburbs. That had Laurel thinking of travel destinations and taking the senior citizens on an expedition. Everyone was impressed by her creativity and attention to detail.

She began with an invitation that looks like a boarding pass.


When the senior citizens arrived at their destination – Stagg High School – they were greeted by tablescapes fit for a high-end resort. A muted color pallet complemented the handmade travel case centerpieces that were packed with a multitude of map-themed items.

The travel cases were made from envelope boxes that she spray painted brown, glued handles, corner details and travel stamps on, and lined with fabric.

Working in schools, Laurel is a master of doing great things on a tight budget. She used a damaged atlas to decoupage onto tiles making one-of-a-kind coasters, which each guest took home. She also used the atlas to handcraft flowers that were placed in water bottles engraved with the school logo.

Inside each travel case were postcards that she designed and printed, as well as individually sewn bags filled with travel essentials like kleenex and hand sanitizer.

Travel Adventure

Laurel, who studied art in college, created a welcoming and fun environment for the 180 senior citizens who took the expedition today.

To determine who would take the centerpiece home, the postcards from the box were distributed to each guest. The lucky senior at each table whose postcard included a stamp traveled home with the centerpiece.

It was obvious that the seniors truly appreciated the extra efforts Laurel took to make them feel special. Many made a point of thanking her personally as they departed (that’s Laurel in the middle).


An incredibly busy woman who juggles many responsibilities for the large high school, Laurel said the creative outlet of making the travel themed party decorations was great art therapy for her. After a long day at work, she would go home and create!


&5 Creators: Empathy through Storytelling

I’ve had the privilege of following a group of educators and students through a very unique process to create empathy through storytelling. I’ve been incredibly impressed with how committed they have been to getting this right. It truly shows the heart of the Stagg High School community.

The Stagg High School Empathy Committee was tasked with building an empathetic culture around the school. It’s goal: to celebrate ‘us’ as often as it could and to foster opportunities for people to understand each other by telling their stories.

The Empathy Committee, comprised of 29 volunteer members, includes a cross-section of the community including support staff, teachers, counselors, deans, administrators and the school resource police officer in order to gather as varied points of view as possible. Throughout the process they’ve looped in parents, community leaders and a documentary crew from the University of Illinois College of Media.

You can view the trailer for the documentary here.*

The Empathy Committee decided students and staff needed to write and collect powerful stories to create a perpetual empathetic experience for the Stagg community. It knew if community members better understood each other, it would build a stronger environment for learning.

The committee turned to students to research, write and publish the Voices of Stagg High School. From there, two newly created senior elective classes took ownership of this part of the endeavor and participated in an internationally renowned program known as Voice of Witness (VOW). This gave students the tools and support they need to accomplish this monumental task.

Teachers Lisa Thyer and Chris Wendelin, along with their students, have taken this opportunity to share the untold stories that make Stagg the unique, vibrant, and globally-aware school that it is.

“Stagg has never offered a class like this before,” explained Thyer and Wendelin in a message to their students. “Mainly because it’s not a class where we, the teachers, aim to teach you material that you will later be tested on.  It’s a project.  We don’t have a final exam, but an end goal of publishing a book together.  We don’t have worksheets that lead to a unit test, rather experiences that will hopefully give us the skills and perspective to do our best work.  The answers aren’t defined by us because we are working with the human experience, and the unique perspective you will bring to that process is exactly why we are happy you’re here.  As you can see, it’s difficult to explain the exact parameters to the class because in many ways, they are yet to be defined.  What we do know is that what we are doing is very important, there are a lot of eyes on us, and at the end of it all, we will all be authors of a book about the complex and interesting people that make up our Stagg community.”

This is authentic learning.

The Empathy Committee and class have interviewed current and past students, as well as staff and community members, to find powerful stories that depict the culture of the school and community. Through their research, they’ve unearthed individual accounts of tribulation as well as success to paint a picture of the many different experiences that often go untold in a high school. Students have recently completed editing their writing that will be published in a book for sale to the public, which you can pre-order now for just $5. The book will also serve as a resource for the school to continue to build an empathetic culture.

“Reading the VOW stories these past few days has really shown me that there’s a lot of good in the world and more to come,” said student Nia Pappas.

Through this process, Stagg has begun to show what true empathy is, and what each and every member of the community can do to appreciate and understand the many different experiences that make them who they are — Stagg Chargers; a collective family made up of individuals with powerful stories begging to be told.

Look for future posts on &5 about their creative process these teachers and students have taken to write the book.


*Thank you to University of Illinois Journalism Instructor Ken Erdey (and my hubby) for telling the story of these amazing teachers and students, and for sharing the documentary trailer!