Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Folly:pool houseDon’t you just love learning new words? Like folly? Well, of course, I knew that folly was foolishness, but, I didn’t realize that folly could be a thing as well as an action. It is interesting what one can learn while strolling through an Open Days garden.

As we entered the garden whose faces were featured in the previous post, Tom veered to the left, I straight ahead. He was interested in a structure peaking through the hedge, I was lured by the roses and peonies, amazingly still in bloom at the end of June. I’m often amazed at how different the climate can be just off of the lakefront.

Eventually, Tom found me – smelling the roses. Much later, I discovered the folly he found. I’d been wondering what and where it was, this newly constructed folly described in the garden’s description; a replica of a folly built in 1793 in Salem, Massachusetts. A folly is built with no purpose or intention. Some reside on estates of gentry, others on roads or in DSCN2261towns, on farms or wherever man’s folly takes him. There is an interesting article with pictures about follies with some photos and a good explanation here. This lovely folly is actually used, either as a pool house (for it faces an exquisite swimming pool) or an office, depending on who we heard talking. No matter how or if it is employed, it is charming building, with a hidden niche and boy with his pan flute just through the archway. Do you know any follies?


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It was right next to me; the cure for all my ills. At least the license plate was, in bold capitals. PANACEA. I did a double take as I was loading groceries into my trunk, noting the sleek, black, luxury car parked next to my grimy mocha flavored VW with its latte interior. There I was,  in an ordinary neighborhood doing the very ordinary chore of grocery shopping at an ordinary supermarket in ordinary time. PANACEA. An interesting choice for what we call “vanity plates”. I wondered what cure the car was granted that afforded such a notable license plate.

I wondered some more as I unloaded my lettuce and bread and apples and tidied up the kitchen before our dinner guests arrived. Good food with good friends, late into the Saturday night, was most certainly the cure for the January blues that tend to hover after the holidays.

I wondered again as I crawled, tired but contented, into bed, seeking a long winter’s night rest for my weary bones after a flurry of entertaining activity. Surely, a good sleep was panacea for fatigue, was it not?

I stopped wondering mid-morning Sunday after Jennifer and I took a short ride into the City. We were a few minutes late. The Mass Ordinary had already begun. We quietly slipped into a pew. I bowed my head, listening to the chants of the Benedictine monks and immediately felt the sensation of being at home as the familiar smell of incense entered my sphere of worship. Food for the soul; exactly what my inner doctor might have ordered. Gregorian chants, incense, and the peaceful stillness of monastic life was a pure panacea, a universal remedy indeed.

thechurch2The Monastery of the Holy Cross is a contemplative house of worship nestled quietly into the Bridgeport neighborhood in the bustling city of Chicago. Bridgeport is what is often termed a working class neighborhood. It is also known as the neighborhood that bred many of Chicago’s mayors, including the Daleys. The monastery is housed in one of the many Chicago Catholic churches whose doors were closed in the 1980′s. The church eventually became the home of Benedictine monks.

An urban monastery that offers Silence in the City, Holy Cross bestows “Peace to all who visit here” to all who pass through its doors; a contemplative life in a busy and noisy city.

There were no musical instruments played during the mass, only the voices of the monks and parishioners, as sweet and pure as the incense wafting upwards to the stained glass windows and heavenly angels that floated overhead in this gothic structure. I closed my eyes and breathed it all in, as if in a collected breath. The voices of the monks were strongest in their Gregorian chants, but a distinct soprano could be heard of angelic beauty and an alto, clear and precise in his ancient Latin as he held a toddler in his arm. A baby cried and the bells chimed, and I thought again of the word that comes from Greek mythology, panacea. It is interesting, is it not, all the meanings and thoughts a word on a license plate can conjure?

Thank you, dear Jennifer, for my Sunday cure, our visit to the monastery and time of worship there, not to mention the treats in the nearby coffee shop, and an interesting ride through the City as we took the time for a “slowing down” of our hectic lives and found that peace offered in our visit to the Holy Cross Monastery.

Information about the Monastery of the Holy Cross, including the Bed and Breakfast and the guesthouse they have available, and be found at their website: chicagomonk.org/  The image is from the monastery’s website. 

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Last week brought record-breaking 80 ° temperatures. This morning saw the mercury dip to the 30′s. The heat of last week, which prompted early blossoms, then the wind and rain which shook those blossoms down into pools of petals at the feet of trees, made quick work of magnolias and cherry blossoms.

So it goes . . .

. . . and why I stopped on Saturday afternoon to take this photo.

I’m not sure what this tree is, a magnolia perhaps. Its flowers are a perfectly hued buttermilk color that matches the shutters of this elegant painted lady in La Grange.  We first noticed it last May, when it was in its proper bloom. This year is different as everything seems to be bursting into flower out of sync, including this gracious tree.

I wondered how the homeowners managed to match the colors so well. Click on the picture for a clearer look.

This is my part of the world. I live in a suburb of Chicago that is far enough away to afford us two little wooded acres with deer and fox, the occasional horseback rider, and forest preserve across the street. We are zoned rural, but we also live at the convergence of major expressways and from a high point on one of our main streets, a remnant of the old Route 66, we can see the skyline of Chicago.

I like to think it is the center of the universe.

Our town has plenty of places to shop and dine and we are but a few minutes from some of the best birding spots and miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as lakes and sloughs and rivers. We are twenty minutes from one of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Michigan.

In spite of the fact that Illinois has a record number of governors who have served or are serving prison terms, I’m proud of living in what is called  the Land of Lincoln. The City of Big Shoulders stands at our backs here on the Cutoff, and the cities and towns, both big and small, and some of the best farmland on God’s green earth help to sustain us are at our feet in this place we call the Prairie State.

Won’t you tell us about where you live?

Urban legend has it that the Marx Brothers once lived in these parts. Their mother bought a chicken farm a few miles from where we live now. Farmers were exempt from the draft and Mrs. Marx hoped this would keep her boys from serving in WWI. Instead of collecting chicken eggs, the boys would slept late and spent their time at baseball games and betting on the ponies. A day at the races was more fun that chasing chickens around the farm.

So the legend goes.

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One of my favorite area libraries is in a picturesque suburb a few miles outside of the Chicago city limits. The entire town of Riverside has been on the National Historic Landmark for some forty years and is sometimes referred to as the town inside a forest. Stately trees and winding streets take motorists past homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries. Riverside’s library is among dozens of buildings in Riverside deemed an Illinois Historic Structure. After my “protest” yesterday, and an article in Friday’s Chicago Tribune regarding Riverside, I was eager to return to this historic library. The picture above is just outside the library, whose serene reading room has three walls of windows facing this, the Des Plaines River. I love going there in the winter to feel the warmth of the sun while sitting in the prairie style armchairs overlooking the river.

Riverside was designed by the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed New York’s Central Park and the Midway Plaisance  of the Chicago Columbian Exposition (have you read The Devil and the White City?)

We parked the car and crunched through the snow, admiring this little snowman along the walk. He didn’t seem at all intimidated by the gargoyles holding court overhead, and the sticks in his hands seemed to point to the entrance, so, off we went to browse the library’s shelves, and see if a fire was roaring in the cozy reading nook inside. Be sure to click on the picture on the right to get a better look at the gargoyles and the leaded windows.

Limestone and wood and more nooks and crannies than a Thomas’ English Muffin fill this library and we each wandered about, finding our favorite genres, trying to quietly click pictures. It is, after all, a library, and while libraries no longer are the quiet places that many of us remember with Madame Librarian shushing even the turning of pages, we did try to be respectful, so, I’ll do the same here. I’ll be quiet and just let you look around at this wonderful library and the area just outside its doors.

Gargoyles . . .

. . . and more gargoyles.


Additions to the original 1930 structure were tastefully and historically executed.

A view of the Des Plaines River from inside the reading room.

Just a few yards from the library, a scenic place for children (of all ages) to sled onto the frozen pond.

One of my library picks (okay, okay, I was really judging this book by its cover.) Has anyone read it?

This is chock full of recipes from restaurants along Route 66, from downtown Chicago to Los Angeles. (even Brantville is mentioned, Country Mouse).

Books under arms, cheeks rosy from watching the sledders, and appreciation for this wonderful library, we crunched back to our car, through the snow, appreciating the sunshine – and the thoughtful planning of those who came before us.

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Philadelphia Free Library

When we travel, I love to step into the local library. Whether the little library, housed in a house, old and charming and lit for Christmas and viewed from our room at the inn in Vermont, or the Concord Free library in Concord, MA where Alcott and Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne all have alcoves of their own. A library holds the spirit of its people to me. I like sitting at its tables, worn with time, or new and exciting and thinking toward the future. So, when we were in Philadelphia, visiting its wonderful art museum and touching our history at Independence Hall, we walked to Logan Square and marveled at the architecture and beauty before us, and we went into the Philadelphia Free Library.

I was thinking about this imposing structure with its pages and pages and pages of words as I read Helene Hanff’s Q’s Legacy.  Hanff found “Q” on the shelves of the main library of Philadelphia, which can only be this one, can it not? It was through “Q”‘s lectures that she continued her college education and by which we eventually read of her friendships at 84 Charing Cross Road. It is, in the end, a remarkable example of a very public collegial education, found through a book in a public library,  and it kept me enchanted and smiling as I read Hanff’s always witty words.

Q’s Legacy is the prequel, of sorts, to 84 Charing Cross Road. It is Helene Hanff’s story of how she came to educate herself in literature, particularly English literature, after losing her college scholarship during the Great Depression. You see, Helene went to the library and asked for the section of textbooks on English Literature and writing. She worked her way down the alphabet with nothing quite being what she was looking for until she came to the letter q. There, alphabetized under q,  were the literature lectures of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, (Q to his students) and there began his legacy  - the writing education of Helene Hanff, which lead her to good works and good literature and good writing, all with good humor, that carried her through the lean years and the good as she pursued a writing career.

Can I say it was a delightful read and have you rushing about to get it? Can I tell you it is a fast read and a great friend in hand on a blustery night?  Can I tell you it is a hopeful read as we see Helene’s jobs writing for television in New York City, from her tiny couch-sitter apartment,  dry up as the industry heads west to California? It is a hopeful read as we watch her struggle to make a living and pay her bills and still enjoy her books and she eventually finds her way, through a small antiquarian bookseller in London and the story that followed, to a success beyond her wildest dreams. It is also a reminder today, as we see the news and magazine industry, floundering and flailing as they strive to grab readers in a publishing world that has moved even further than she, or “Q”, could ever imagine into the realms of the internet; a reminder that although things change, sometimes so quickly we can barely catch our breath, new opportunities will arise.

Q’s Legacy was mentioned to me in a comment left about Hannf’s second book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which followed her long-awaited trip to London. I’m on a book buying diet. Like many of you; I’ve cut back, use the library, beg, borrow and, no, I don’t steal, but I did find this copy on Amazon for $1 and postage. A $4 deal that came in good time and in excellent condition (in fact, it appears to have never been read) and here I sit, after the storms, contentedly chatting about a long forgotten “Q” and the power of books and libraries to inspire and inform and cloak all our lives in knowledge and adventure.

Have you ever been to a library other than you own?

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It went up last Autumn as the leaves were starting to change color and drift downward and it reminded me of the skeleton of a ship.

One of the young boys next door, a first grader at the time and full of childlike curiosity about what new thing Tom was building, would wander over after school and check on Miss Penny’s arbor house. It made me chuckle as I wondered what he was imagining me doing in the little house.

Progress was steady until more urgent projects and work took precedent; then a foot injury and winter settled in.

The arbor house provided a stopping point for our eyes and our dreams last winter; a winter filled with cold and snow and worries and the joyful anticipation of a grandchild. For me, it held the promise of possibilities and of things to come.

Possibilities became realities come spring and early summer as clematis and roses started to climb up through the arbor, eager to reach for the sun and grow and not in the least bit frazzled that this man-made structure, constructed and designed by Tom, was not yet finished. The vines started to twist and turn and reach out with a natural acceptance, as if to say “Hey guys, what’s the big deal? Come on out and play.”

The arbor is just about finished now. Some stain and maybe a trumpet vine next year. It has all the artistic and engineering touches of Tom, who climbed and hammered and invented as he built this great arbor house, and worked around injuries and my impatience and the heat and storms of this summer. When my cousin Lou saw it at our family gathering he said “it has all the markings of Tom on it”. A compliment indeed.

The arbor house will continue to grow as it slowly takes its place in the landscape here on the cutoff. It will sport more vines and flowers and become both a stopping point and starting point as the plans continue to travel out into the horizon and see what comes our way.

It was hot on Sunday. Hot and humid. A dog day afternoon. There was a breeze whispering through the arbor as I watered the plants around it. It looked like it needed some company to help it settle in and get comfortable, so, I turned the hose off, grabbed some iced tea and my latest read and went into my arbor house, not really a house but it has already been named and so it is, Penny’s Arbor House, and so it will be. A pleasant spot to sit and read and dream awhile and to enjoy what nature has provided all around us. A stopping point and a starting point and a very fine point in between.

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Liberty Gardens

Hey, all you gardeners and would-be gardeners, green mamas and papas, composters, cooks, and general lovers of all things natural, I have a really exciting website for you to visit!

Liberty Gardens

You may recall an October post I wrote, called A Golden Harvest, where I talked about a class I attended where I was the sole student of Vicki Nowicki and the wonderfully informative time I had with her learning all about composting and touring the wonderful garden she and her husband Ron have developed in their Downers Grove Home, which is nestled in among maturing trees and garden plots with nary a blade of grass in sight. At the time, Vicki told me she was in the process of setting up a website. Well, yesterday I got the birth announcement.  Liberty Gardens was born!

The Liberty Gardens website,  www.libertygardens.com , is chock full of information, from the 30 year history of Ron and Vicki’s year-round sustainable Circle Garden Farm, their salt box house, replete with an ice house roof for summer cooling, to an impressive schedule of classes and events. There is a blog that looks like it will be a weekly installment and information on how to use their services for such things as garden design, installation, or consultation, and a bevy of other services provided by the Nowicki’s several businesses. When you visit the site, be sure to click on wonderful resource page where you will find some of the best and most practical resources; garden websites, cookbooks, gardening books and lifestyle books. Even if you do not live in the Chicagoland area, this section is filled with useful resources.

Click on to What I Do, where there is a bounty of information on many of Vicki’s pursuits. Let’s Grow intrigued me. This business venture will plant and maintain a garden for you at your home. All that you do is go out and pick what you need.

Like the emergence of spring, news of the Liberty Gardens website was a breath of fresh air to a winter weary person such as myself. It reminded me that there are  lot of good folks out there, enthusiastic and energetic, knowledgeable, yet eager to continue to learn. People like the Nowicki’s. People like you!

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I found myself thinking about my life’s paths the other day.  While I am comfortable that most of my choices have been the right ones, I have pondered when I steered wrongly and wonder about those paths that lie ahead and those things that are out of my control like whether or not the economy will improve? Will we be able to continue to afford health insurance? Will social security and medicare be there for us in a few years? What about our children and their children?  Will I live longer than my parents did? Will our senior years be comfortable? Have I been a good person, a good parent, a good steward of God’s good earth? All those types of questions that wake me up in the middle of the night and bring out the fret and angst and even some anger and that sometimes keeps me in the blue mist of worry until the sky starts to lighten again.

My Tom and I have often taken those roads in life less traveled and they have not always been easy and without consequences – most of them good, but many challenging with bumps in the road and all sorts of detours and even the path that led us, quite unexpectedly, here to the cutoff.

I was thinking about our varied paths the other day as Tom and I plodded up hills and through snow, me slipping and sliding, he sure-footed but still in his special boot, his foot still healing – and he still lending me a supportive hand. We decided to spend an hour or so in the sun and warming temperatures at St. James at Sag Bridge on Archer Ave. in Lemont.

St. James is the oldest Catholic country parish in the county with a cornerstone of 1833.  It sits on a picturesque bluff overlooking an area settled by mostly Irish immigrants who helped to build the I & M Canal. From this bluff you can see much of the surrounding valley, making it a preferred vantage point for the French fort that stood nearby, long before the area was settled, and where Father Jacques Marquette, traveling with explorer Louis Joliet, was said to have conducted a mass.

The cemetery is a restful place, high upon a hill, where it surrounds the church with its towering steeple. We have visited it before when the season was more conducive to exploring, but it held a special lure on the still, cold day in early March. I marveled at how the church was built with stones being hauled up the steep incline in the early half of the 1800′s and I wondered aloud and in amazement at the steep ravines pall bearers and mourners have had to traverse to bring parishioners to their final rest.

The folks who settled here were survivors who came across the Atlantic on the coffin boats from a life of abject poverty in an Ireland ravished with the Great Hunger,  only to be shunned by those already here. To have traveled even further from the east coast to the wilds of an unsettled Chicagoland was a difficult path to say the least and I can only imagine the conditions under which these immigrants lived and worked.  These were people who made the choice to leave a land where they surely would die from hunger to go into the unknowns of America, where they might still die from hunger and far away from those they left behind. They then chose the path to cross the continent and they relied on their church and faith to see them through.

Some of the gravestones at St. James are so old they are cracked and in disrepair and the words engraved upon them are so worn they are impossible to read. Some make me want to weep at the ages upon them of children, babies, young men and women. Then, there are others of lives long-lived. We stood reading a very modern 20th century stone only to turn around and read of the life of a woman who came to America and to this area in the late 19th century and who lived to be 102!

As was the Irish custom in the 19th century, many of the stones are etched with the biography of those interred; dates, of course, but also the year and county and parish from whence in Ireland they came, and other information, like occupations and trades and honors and achievements. The graveyard is a history lesson of the great migration of Irish – and the paths they chose to take for the future of their children and the honor of their parents and the faith they held so dear.

This picture is of an icy path we chose not to take that day. I stood and looked and there at the path’s end was a lone gravestone. It is rather large and I imagine a family is buried there. I wondered about the paths they took and the selection of this burial plot so far from others and I noticed the way the sun was casting shadows along the path and, like all of life’s obstacles and choices, they lined up, row by row, and then the one long shadow, almost straight and not quite centered, and it spoke to me of a lifetime path I hope upon which I have honored no matter which way it veered.

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Graue Mill

There is a change in the air.  Something different.  Something you almost miss, but when you chance a look, there it is, and it makes you hopeful. Monday was like that. It snowed again and the cutoff awoke to a freshly laundered blanket of heavy snow. The whir of snowblowers filled the morning air and the scraping of shovels against pavement left no doubt of another winter’s storm.

The day was grey. Often, after a snow, there is a certain brightness that permeates, even when there is no sun, but, today – today was one of the greyest days I can remember. The snow hung heavy on the limbs of trees and the air was cumbersome.  Throughout our yard and along the road, fallen branches, victims to the snow’s force,  lay mute. I kept hearing the thunk, thunk, thunk of clumps of snow pelting me in staccato beats like bullies on the playground as they slid from the trees along the streets to my destinations.

One large lump of snow pulled me out of my stupor as it hit the moon roof of my car and I remembered noticing something the day before – that something different,  change in the air type of thing, and so I headed up York Road to the Graue Mill, parked the car, grabbed my camera, and trudged along, the busy street and me, dancers in the snow.

On Sunday, driving past the mill at Fullersburg Woods, a quick glance was all I needed to see that the wooden boards had been removed from the windows. The mill is shuttered come winter, the doors secured, the enormous wheel silenced. A sign is posted to come in for the last of the season’s ground corn meal as boards go up over the windows. On Sunday, the windows were once again exposed and I was filled with hope as yet another sign of winter’s wane appeared. It will be still awhile before the Graue Mill opens, but, the simple sight of the window panes, catching the day’s reflections, is yet another clue that change is in the air.

I ventured across the busy mid-day street and down the partly shoveled path, past a few folks walking their dogs,

camera ready, clumps of snow now thumping an erratic beat upon my head, and tried to put some color into this bleak and heavy Monday.

Fullersburg Woods is a wonderful place for taking a walk with someone, stopping to hear the creek flowing, cross-country skiing, or visiting the mill and museum in warmer weather. Established in 1852, the mill played many rolls in the development of this part of Du Page County, the most notable one being as agent to the Underground Railroad.

I thought a bit, as I walked back to my car, of all the roles this old house and mill played in the settling of the area it presides over like a family matriarch – the provisions and cornmeal and safe haven to the oppressed – and now teacher of history and geography and science – and the day suddenly didn’t feel quite as grey and the snow, still pummeling my head, didn’t fall quite as heavily as I dodged the assault and headed for home, stopping a moment to check these tracks left in the snow and to appreciate the subtle changes taking place all around – even in the snow.

Anyone want to venture a guess at who was with me in the snow?


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It is Friday here on the cutoff. The end of an especially busy week.  Tonight will be the Elmhurst Garden Club’s gallery show of members’ photographs. I look forward to seeing all the gardening pictures club members and their families took throughout the year and sharing conversations about the places where the photos were taken.  The show is open to all from 5:30 to 8:30 and if you’re in Elmhurst with nothing to do, stop by for a spell and think about spring as you walk among the flora and fauna represented in Karen Solem’s gallery.

I knew I would be busy, so I saved my second serendipitous story for now. Grab a cup of steaming cocoa to keep you warm as you explore part 2 of the Bouviers with pictures and words somewhat different than those in the previous Bouvier post about Grey Gardens. Families are like that, aren’t they? Each limb and branch different from the other. Some more twisted, some with firmer grips on their roots. This is such a well-known extension of the Kennedy family, especially to those of us commonly known as the baby boomers.

Did you know that Caroline Kennedy was named after her aunt, Lee Radziwill? Lee’s “given”  name is Caroline Lee Bouvier and she is, of course, Jackie Kennedy’s sister.  I was surprised to see her full name. I shouldn’t have been, as the two sisters were famously close, but I was. I read it and said aloud “I didn’t know that” to no one in particular.  Receiving no reply except my own curious thoughts, I read on as I was drawn in to the pictures and rooms and private spaces of Lee’s life.   There are some spectacular glimpses into Lee’s homes and apartments and little tidbits of information about her life. Even if you don’t have time to read all that is in the post, take time to scroll down and enjoy the views.

Make sure you check out the famous dining room where silk scarves were applied to the walls and then painted over with more flowers. It is far too opulent for my tastes, but an interesting technique and something to absorb. I like that. I like finding new ways to look at things, just as I know I will enjoy seeing the images of familiar plants through the camera lens of my friends and colleagues tonight.

Have fun on your trip  to this post – and don’t forget to write.


Image from cotedetexas.blogspot.com

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