Where’s Ezra?

DSCN5109Where’s Ezra?


Let the parade begin


It starts with low, grumbling, motor rumbles around 11:15 am. The revving of golf carts, motorcycles and ATV’s mumble next. Then, a rush of cars heading down the Cutoff before, well, before they are cut off from the road once the parade begins. By 11:30, a slow caravan of antique tractors, vintage cars and patriotically decorated bikes, trykes, and wagons begin to assemble behind the shiny red fire engine.


Tom and I, maybe two or three other neighbors, haul out our folding lawn chairs holding something cool to drink in midday sun. We are the offiical spectators. With most of the residents in the procession, someone has to cheer them all on.
So it goes, my friend, as the best 4th of July parade ever commences here along a two mile road where we enjoy a semi-pastoral life along the Cutoff.


Let the parade begin! All six minutes of it.



Beep Beep


Stopped at a traffic light, this old building caught my eye. Could it be? After all these years, could it really be? Why, yes. There is the proof above the door.

Am I the only one who takes photos out her car window at stoplights?  I must be, for, other drivers were looking at me quizzically. I couldn’t help myself, for there, carved in stone, was proof that there really is an ACME.

The light changed, a car’s horn tooted impatiently behind me. Beep Beep Off I went as my mind wandered to Wile E Coyote and his boxes of “things” with which to thwart Road Runner – all from the ACME company!

Did you watch cartoons growing up? Did you LOL at the inane coyote whose purpose in life seemed to be only to catch (and eat) the Road Runner? Did you run around the yard with your friends holding your nose and saying Beep Beep?

I had already wasted time looking up cartoons, one of which is posted below, absconded from YouTube (thank you whomever it was that posted it). It’s about seven minutes long if you should decide to channel your sophomoric self, but, I degrees. In my further wanderings, I came across this lawsuit filled on behalf of Mr. Coyote. I hope the Lectric Law group doesn’t mind me linking to them. http://www.lectlaw.com/files/fun13.htm

 Beep Beep




The Plant

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.






Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

Cardboard grid awaiting seedlings.

A Stillmeadow Cook Book

002008There I was, walking around Jackson Square Mall in downtown La Grange with three of my very dear friends;  antique sleuths, each and every one. We were talking and teasing, “Penny, you really need to have this” or “my mother had one of these” in the companionable way of old friends.

As we walked toward my favorite booth crammed with used books, nestled in a nook that was probably a closet in a previous life, I squeezed in and I glanced up at the cookbooks. in the far corner.  What should be staring back?  “The Stillmeadow Cookbook” by Gladys Taber. Well, dear reader, Gladys’ book jumped into my greedy little hands like a puppy who’s been left home alone all afternoon. Squeaking like a mouse, I gingerly opened the pages of this well-preserved, hard bound edition – and promptly declared it was mine, all mine!

You may recall that I adore Gladys Taber and her writings about Stillmeadow Farm. My introduction to her was at the very same Jackson Square Mall where this cookbook emerged, on the same shelf where my first introduction to Gladys Taber’s words was.  When I wrote that first post, I quickly learned through generous comments of others that there were more than 50 books written by Gladys Taber and that there was well-establish organization of Taber fans;  aptly called the Friends of Gladys Taber. I keep meaning to sign up for their newsletter, which I understand is quite wonderful.

Since that first discovery of Gladys Taber and her common sense wisdom and wit and words that are filled with the simpler things in life and country living, I have acquired a baker’s dozen worth of her homespun books, filled with stories and articles that were published in the likes of Good Housekeeping Magazine and other periodicals. How I miss those days of short story installments and serial essays that used to be in women’s magazines. Ah well, dear friend, those days are past, but, we can still find words in books, some of which sit patiently on shelves in used book stores and booths, just waiting to be discovered.




Just a brief post to reload the photo of Cloud Gate (aka the bean) that I posted a few days ago. For some reason, known only to the Happiness Engineers at WordPress, when I tried to link to the Jens Jensen page in the body of the earlier post, the link insinuated itself into the Cloud photo instead. So it goes, here on the Cutoff, where it is yet another misty, moisty morning. I hope you can click onto the photo now and see reflections of the City of Chicago from the Cloud Gate in Millennium Park.

DSCN4926On  a warm summer night, sitting in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, with it’s imposing metal mania of a sound system sluicing the air, I caught sight of what was once the tallest building in Chicago.  The Prudential Building poked out just north of the park and I couldn’t help but remember the day my mother introduced my sister and me to this skyscraper.

Ma never finished grade school. I can’t remember her ever reading a novel, though she read the financial section of the Chicago Tribune every day until she passed away. She wasn’t well-versed, but she routinely watched WTTW television, a fan from its infancy, and she enjoyed the richness of public broadcasting. Ma was a faithful monetary contributor, giving what small amounts she could, though I did not know she donated to the station until just before she died.

It was on a warm summer day when I was about 12 years old that my mother, my sister, and I took two busses to get to the Lake Street El in Oak Park. Once in the Loop, we walked the short distance to the Art Institute of Chicago, my first time there. I was hooked just passing the lions at the entrance. Ma had done some research, asked some questions, made some phone calls that we were not privy to.

What we were privy to was an introduction to fine art. I remember that trip downtown to this day, more than 50 years later.

From the Art Institute, we walked to the Prudential Building. Did we eat lunch there? I don’t remember, but, I do remember the bird’s-eye view of the Lake from the “top of the rock”.

Thursday night I sat in an open-air auditorium in a park that spanned the distance between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Prudential Building.

Chicago is a well-storied city, ranging from its early days as a settlement named for the wild onions that grew there, to the great Chicago Fire and then the Columbian Exposition. A second city was born out of that fire, you see. One new from the first. Bigger, better, stronger. Chicago is known for its gangsters, like Al Capone, the Haymarket Riot, the 1968 Democratic Convention – and its politicians.  It is also known for its hospitality and fortitude, its architecture, world-renowned institutions of higher learning. hospitals, art, music, public spaces and resolve – and I must mention one of the most beautiful and open lake fronts in the world.

So it was, on Thursday, sitting with good friends, after an hour of innovative music, that WTTW’s Geoffrey Baer introduced those instrumental to the evening’s events, including Piet Oudolf, one of the designers of the Lurie Garden, which opened ten years ago in Millennium Park – and then, the wonderful documentary of Jens Jensen’s life and works, The Living Green, began.

The Living Green is a stellar documentary of Jens Jensen’s life, career, innovation of landscape architecture, and his gift of  green space to all. As the film ended, flashes of lightening and rumbles of thunder announced the rainfall that ushered us out of the park. As we left, I thought of the film and I marveled at the fact that such an event, a mere speck in the sand of how many were held along the open shoreline of Lake Michigan, and how a city, whether small or large, should be organic in nature, providing spaces for all of its citizens to breath in air, soak up sunshine and be refreshed and restored in the still green earth we live in.

Have you been in a Jens Jensen designed park, a Piet Oudolf garden, a green space nestled into a city of concrete and steel?

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