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Chris Miller always knew he wanted to build houses. He started as a carpenter at age 14.

“I grew up in it. I always knew I wanted to do this,” he said from his Savoy business. “I’m constantly thinking about designing, building and selling homes.”

His company, Chris Miller Construction has 19 homes going up.

“We built 15 last year,” he said.

This coming year, the company estimates they will build at least 30 homes.

       Michael and Karen Brian will never forget that autumn day they went to celebrate his birthday in Champaign. They wanted to get a couple of steaks, so they set-out from their rural Tuscola home to make their way to the Twin-Cities that Sunday in November.

Debbie Mitchell knows that home is about family. She also knows it’s about friends, too.

Joyce Changnon, Mitchell’s best friend for 37 years stands close by.

“We’re just really, really…,” Mitchell said.

“Yes, we’re really close,” Changnon said at almost the same time.

The two friends stood in Mitchell’s kitchen. They were dressed almost alike: sandals, blue denim jeans and white cotton peasant-like blouses. They didn’t plan for that, either.

“We often finish each other’s sentences,” Mitchell said.

When Sharon Shelley talked about the purchase of their 30-year-old Champaign home, she laughed. Her husband, Clarence Shelley, known as ‘Shelley’, was surprised when she suggested that they remodel their ranch home.

Amy Lienhart believes modern decorating calls for softer, more neutral paint colors, non-matching furniture, and fewer items of ornamentation but using those that command attention.


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 Mohammed AL-Heeti knew everyone was sad about Strawberry Fields closing.


“I remember many years ago when I came here from Iraq, we went there. Many were upset. They weren’t making money,” he said. “July 2014 we started visiting then. The concept of us buying Strawberry Fields was an idea.”


The Champaign Farmer’s Market
Come taste the difference

      The word Pekara literally means bakery in the Serbian language.
      Plus, it’s actually pronounced: Peck-uh-rah in Serbian.
      No matter how it’s pronounced Ruzica “Seka” Cuk cares that the products at Pekara are simple, clean, real and delicious.
      Seka is the owner of Pekara Bakery & Bistro, located at 116 North Neil Street in the heart of Champaign for ten years. It is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Sakanaya is a Japanese restaurant in Campustown that offers something different from the many fast-food options.

Owner Jin Park said he had long wanted to open a restaurant in Champaign when he met Tommy Lim, who is now Sakanaya’s chef. The two opened the higher-end sushi and ramen restaurant in November 2013.

“Everything is cafeteria-style (in Campustown),” Park said. “I wanted to give a better dining experience to students.”

The appearance of the restaurant at 403 E. Green St. stands out as well, with a wood-paneled exterior and a modern industrial feel inside.

Authentic Mexican dishes, margaritas a specialty at Fiesta Cafe.


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The yard extraordinaire
 Phil Lovett takes the guesswork out of a perfect lawn

      The Mabery Gelvin Botanical Garden is located in Lake of the Woods Forest Preserve. Located just off Illinois Route 47 in Mahomet, Illinois, the garden boasts some of the most beautiful and diverse flora in East Central Illinois.  Local freelance photographer, Briana Bailey said she loves to take pictures at the gardens.
      “I love it because the scenery is so beautiful,” she said. “Everywhere you turn, you can find something that captures the beauty in East Central Illinois.”

Garden and home
    As much as her customers are the heart of her business, Ms. Becky’s garden can oftentimes be the heart of her home.  It reflects her style, her family and her love of all things growing.
    “She has always been a gardening expert,” said Sharon Buchanan of Mansfield.
Buchanan is a former colleague of Becky Smith.
    “I received many ‘starts’ for my garden from Becky.  She would have instructions for all of us, you know, tips to help get our own plants started.  She’s a real expert,” Buchanan said.

Jim Bier created a garden modeled on those he's admired in Japan.


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Why pay for a knock-off when the real thing is as affordable?

That’s exactly what many do when decorating their home. They go to the local bigbox store and buy a framed print or an unoriginal niknak for a table.

“People think that original paintings and other pieces of original art are outrageously expensive,” Carolyn Baxley said. “They can come here, to the Cinema Gallery and purchase a true original.”

The Pond Dude
Chris’ Water Gardens -escape with waterscapes
      When Chris Sturdyvin does something, he dives right in and he is in deep.
      The day after he completed his high school senior football season, he took a job with IGA.
      “I finished the Friday night game, got up the next Saturday morning and reported for work. I stayed there for 15 years. I was a butcher, and I was doing well at it, too,” he said as he stood on his two-story deck in rural Homer.

    When Brion Kerlin sees an old silver spoon or fork, he sees raw material and endless possibilities.  
    “Just call me the Happy Fork Bender,” Kerlin said from his Urbana home and workshop.
    Kerlin makes jewelry and other pieces of art for his business called Spoonforkcreations. He can be seen every Saturday morning, from May to November at the Urbana Farmer’s Market on The Square, where he sets up shop and sells his products. It makes him really happy when customers enjoy his work.
    “It’s almost as good as money,” he said.

Tile has a rich and varied history in decor, from Roman floor mosaics to majolica to Delft ceramics to Mexican terracotta.
These styles and more continue to inspire artistry. Many of the newest collections of ceramic and porcelain tile were on display last fall at the five-day Cersaie international exhibition in Bologna, Italy.

A fire warms the room on the lower level of Kevin McGill’s  house, the place he calls his man cave/art studio. The fire heats a bowl of peanuts sitting on top of the stove. A pipe sits on a nearby table as McGill works, winding thread around and around and around a metal spring held in a vise.

Brightly colored deer hair is attached to the spring. And after he applies a layer of glue, McGill adds tinsel — similar to what you might put on your Christmas tree — and some small orange feathers.



Linda Case said this is a great area for pet owners.

Brenda Stout Jamieson’s kids just kept getting sick, and she was at her wit’s end.

“That was back in 2000. I have three children, and they had strep throat that just kept coming back that year,” she said.

Like many moms, she looked around at alternative methods to heal her youngsters. The antibiotics would get rid of the strep throat, only to return a short while later, along with other viruses and ailments. Besides being a mom, Stout Jamieson is a busy teacher and likes to take care of things efficiently.

      There’s never been any doubt in Becky Smith’s mind that she should be a shop keeper.  She’s always been a customer service oriented business person.  Ms. Becky’s, located at 120 South Main Street, Homer, features country-primitive gifts and décor. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. The shop is closed Monday and holidays. The shop’s website is located at

When Theresa and Thomas Kohl bought their St. Joseph home in 2004, it was very beige. The walls were beige. The carpet was beige.

Organizers help clients declutter, organize their homes


I started my new job as the writer/editor of the News-Gazette Magazines after years of freelance writing. I made my appearance on Monday, March 23, 2015, after nine years with the Mahomet-Seymour Schools as a special education aide. I was in unfamiliar territory, although I was very excited, to say the least.

One of my co-workers, Angela Brown told me she takes walks on her breaks to get out and get a little exercise during the day.

Uh, yeah! Good idea. I could not just sit and type all day.

Designing a kitchen in five (not so) easy steps.

A love of food and budget-consciousness are competing factors in Amy's kitchen remodel.

Amy has a new appreciation for countertops, as her new concrete counters are installed.

Galvanized tubs make great planters.