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Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Smack dab in the center of what was once the “hog butcher for the world” is a repurposed food packaging plant that is being used for raising tilapia that eat the plants that drink the water that The Plant filters.

DSCN4963I tagged along with the Downers Grove Organic Growers on a steamy Saturday morning to tour The Plant in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago. I’m so grateful that they let me join them. This is what garden clubs are like; open and eager to share the knowledge of growing things and learning about how we are expanding growing environments.

The Plant was home to Peer Foods since the 1920’s. It was where bacon and hams and other meats were processed and it provided jobs for many, especially those living in the Chicago neighborhood known as The Back of the Yards. The “yards’ refer to the stockyards. When it moved it’s operations westward, into the suburbs, it left a substantial employment gap in the neighborhood.

While the scene above may appear bucolic, it is not. It is about as urban as a neighborhood can be DSCN4993with rows of small houses on small lots that have stood the test of time and labor;  city streets with small businesses serving the community – and an immense industrial area at its back. Smokestacks and cement cut the blue sky and poverty is but a day away.

The photo on the top is looking out of a second story window onto what was likely a parking lot and upon which now sits an urban farm.

As we departed, volunteers were setting up tables and tents for a small farmers’ market, providing fresh greens and vegetables from the site to the neighborhood. A large cooker was set up in what was once a loading dock to cook lunch for the volunteers and interns working at The Plant.

This is an exciting, emerging environment in an otherwise inhospitable cement jungle with a forward thinking agenda of providing food where food has not grown. Oh, the places one can go when thinking “outside of the box”. DSCN4991This old, dilapidated structure is receiving CPR. Its innards are being rearranged and repurposed. It will take some time to recover, but, recovering it is, with food business “incubators” finding tenant space inside this cavern of possibilities.  A nearby bakery rents space and houses ovens inside its doors. A brewery will be taking up residence, as well as storage space for a cheese company. Mushrooms are farmed in a lower level room. A large portion of the basement houses enormous tanks where tilapia are raised; the water filtered back into the water plant beds, pushing up through holes juxtaposed in recycled cardboard gardens.  Various heat lamps hang, testing different types of lighting as college interns plant seedlings just a few steps away. There are plans for a museum focussing on the surrounding neighborhood, classes, artwork and numerous other ways to replant The Plant.

I get confused, dear reader, over hydroponics and aquaponics and their relatives, but, you can read more about this topic if you choose by going to http://www.plantchicago.com/non-profit/farms/plantaquaponics/ and you can find out more about The Plant at plantchicago.com.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pictures of the growing areas inside The Plant – and outside of it. On the day of our trip, there were several volunteers working on the 3,000 square foot mural being painted on the outside of the building and designed by Joe Miller.

Hope, ideas, agriculture and more grows these days in this city neighborhood. A good thing. A good thing, indeed.

Mushroom growing chamber.

Mushroom growing chamber.

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Roots

Roots

Plants

Plants

Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

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DSCN4783As I disembarked from my infamous mocha VW with latte interior, I grabbed my lime green umbrella. The mid-morning sky was as dark as night; an early summer storm was most definitely brewing. By the time I rushed into the clinic, rode up to the fourth floor, and signed in, the storm had arrived and the rain drop racket on the roof above could be heard in the waiting room. While waiting, patients chatted “sure is loud” and “well, my tomatoes needed the rain“. By the time I was done with my appointment, some 50 minutes or so later, the temperature had dropped from 84°F to 64°!

So it was yesterday, a stormy day and night, full of extremes known in the midwest. The alliums, sans their blooms, seemed content, dripping with moisture, and the weeds, well, the weeds are behaving like teenagers who have just graduated from high school and are out having fun.

Several of us are heading downtown to Millennium Park for a special viewing of a new documentary on legendary landscape architect, Jens Jensen. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that yesterday’s storms remain yesterday’s weather. If you are interested, the documentary will be simulcast tonight on WTTW. Mr. Linky still isn’t cooperating, but, if interested, you can go to this link. schedule.wttw.com/episodes/289622/Jens-Jensen-The-Living-Green/

How about you? How’s the weather where you are?

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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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TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PART OF THE WORLD.   WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR HOME TOWN?

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.

Inside.

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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