Following a rather busy June and early July, I decided to make the most of some much appreciated down time to just be me.

This, of course, translates easily into me wandering off to explore nature.

So it was on an overcast Saturday afternoon that the I opted for a walk at the Dean Nature Sanctuary in Oak Brook.

The sanctuary is a wildlife habitat – hidden in plain view. It was through the generous endowment of one of the early founding residents of Oak Brook, Dorothy Dean. With the assistance of the Conservation Foundation, Dorothy Dean generously donated this expanse of land to the Oak Brook Park District.

The story of this sanctuary is an interesting history lesson as well as a unique example of land preservation and stewardship. It also provides insight into the personality and foresight of Dorothy Dean, who used the advance of the Illinois Tollway system to her – and now our – advantage and resulted in the large pond at the site which is a refuge to waterfowl and wildlife. The story is rendered with more perfection than I can do here on my little blog. I encourage you to click on the link below to learn more.

Under the threat of rain, I parked the car, and scurried to one of the paths to make a quick loop around the pond and to rejoice in midst of a riot of prairie bloom! Cone flowers and bergamot, Culver’s root and brown-eyed Susan were bending in the breeze – or stretching toward sunlight, while a

 pair of mourning doves shared a branch high atop of tree.

As I walked, I noticed plant stems bending ever-so-slowly to the will of pollinators; bees and wasps and butterflies spreading the secrets of summer. From stem-to-stem they worked their way among the blooms of the sanctuary, while a heron stalked the edge of the pond and red-winged blackbirds taunted each other.










While I often walk the paths of the Dean Nature Sanctuary, it seemed particularly special for me on Saturday afternoon. I enjoyed getting some exercise, clearing my mind, and observing the living things surrounding me. A dog was walking its master while a gaggle of pre-teen girls passed by, giggling at something on one of their phones. Something splashed loudly in the pond and a hawk circled overhead, looking for dinner, I supposed. I needed to head home to do the same so headed to my car feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Later, at home, checking out the website for the Dean Nature Sanctuary, a visual caught my eye. Oh! Bee Parks Honey. The Oak Brook Park District was selling honey harvested from the Dean Nature Sanctuary! I prefer to use local honey whenever I can, as you may recall, and dug a little deeper into the site. I sent an email to the Park District, and promptly received a very nice response thanking me for my inquiry and informing me that I could buy the honey at the park district office. All honey money (my term) will be used to support their universal playground project. I wish them well in this endeavor. Parks that are accessible to everyone benefit all of us.

Guess where I went the next afternoon?






Dawn could not have arrived any more brilliantly than it did on the second Sunday in July!

Clear skies, pleasant temperatures, and low humidity greeted the Chair of the Faire (I just like how that rings) and a dedicated group of members. Elmhurst Park District staff were already on site and on task. Red Barn Greenhouse, a long-time participant in the event, were diligently unloading their plants in a display of horticultural splendor that is eagerly anticipated every July.

While there is a great deal of prep work leading up to the opening of the Faire, it is also exciting to watch the vendors unload their wares as tents and tables and a strong sense of purpose transforms Wilder Park into an elegant affair.

Concurrently, a small contingent of counterparts were at another park, Marjorie Davis, were the newly established community gardens would be one of the featured stops on the Garden Walk. How enlightening it was to have one of our members, Chloe, give us her own personal historical reference of Marjorie Davis, a beloved educator at Roosevelt School, and of Roosevelt School, which once stood at this location. Another member, Mary, who grows her vegetables in one of the plots, gave insight and information on the gardens.

. . . on to the five private gardens!

(Honestly, these gardens were so spectacular I’m tempted to just do posts, but, will not and hope these photos do them justice.)

This garden gave visitors a pleasant surprise as they walked down a long driveway and paradise opened up before their eyes.








This is an interesting feature. If you click onto the photo, you can see the bowl of the a birdbath. A vine (clematis?) has been trained around wired and supports to enclose the mechanics of the birdbath, giving birds a safe place to stop while enhancing the garden. It resembles a very lush basket to me. How clever!

A renovated two-flat, the homeowners repurposed salvage, especially bricks, and used other reclaimed items in their charming garden.

This garden was a big attraction, with an expansive lawn, custom crafted deck, and the historical interest of the home, which is a Sears Roebuck kit house.







What a charmer this garden was. With a sedate and welcoming front garden, it is the tranquil, surprisingly large garden beyond the garden gate that entranced visitors.

From a large vegetable garden that replaced a swimming pool, to every manner of repurposed artifacts along with plants, trees, and bushes, this was certainly a garden that illustrated for all in attendance that garden walks are for both men and women!









What a wonderful day it was and how gratifying for all to know that we will be able to grant scholarships again this year. I hope you enjoyed some of the photos.

Bye, bye!

On the first Sunday in July, Elmhurst Garden Club members begin to monitor the weather forecast. The Garden Guide has gone to print, posters and yard signs have blossomed like daisies in the summer heat, and a “buzz” is in the air. Up and down the streets of Elmhurst, inside businesses, on fences  and road signs, visuals remind locals and visitors alike that this annual gardening event is about to bloom. Phone calls, emails and texts inquire “where can I get a ticket” as boutique vendors replenish their inventory of plants, jewelry, yard art, and all things garden related for the elegant Faire in Wilder Park.

Proceeds from Walk benefit worthy students of horticulture and science related studies, as well as many local endeavors. To date, the Elmhurst Garden Club has raised more than $150,000.

Streams and ponds, a Sears Roebuck kit house and a “scrabbled” vegetable garden are features amid landscape, hardscape, plantscape and more to provide a feast for the senses. There is something for everyone on Sunday, July 8th at the Elmhurst Garden Walk and Faire.

If you are in the Chicagoland area on the second Sunday in July, July 8, please join us for An Afternoon in the Garden.

Information: Elmhurst Garden Club

Is there a garden walk where you live? 


There we were, two pilgrims, on the southbound side of a narrow road, looking to catch the sunset. We were stopped at a cross road at a red light. There was a cemetery and Long John Slough to the right. Cook County Forest Preserves and Crawdad Slough hung to the road on the left. All but the cemetery are a part of the vast acreage of the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

I was first in line when the light changed, with several cars lined up behind me. I accelerated at a good clip as I crossed the road, only to see something in the middle of it. We both let out a verbal volley of “what’s that” as I swerved into the northbound lane, grateful no cars were coming from that direction, and slowed to just shy of a stop.

“Is that a turtle” and “Yes, I think it is” was exchanged while backed-up motorists were wondering what was going on.

Slowly, ever-so-slowly, I crept past, propelled by a stanza of “ohnoohnoohno“. Turning the car around, I parked close to the embankment. We each tumbled out of the car, waving our hands in a universal gesture of “stop”.

As if on cue from Central Casting, a marked vehicle pulled up. “It’s a turtle” said I while my other half, a patch on one eye from a medical procedure, assessed the slow moving situation. “I think I can pick it up from behind.

Is it a snapping turtle?” came from the marked vehicle, which I thought was a police car.  “Ummmm” and then “Yeah. It’s a snapper” as we watched the now angry turtle snapping and turning, round and around, in super slo-mo. Mr. Turtle was smack dab in the middle of here to there, with cars come from everywhere, an anxious granny and her antler man and some sort of officer, armed with a shovel and didn’t seem to know what to do anymore than we did.

Should we contact a forest ranger?” said the granny.  “I AM a ranger” piped the shovel brandishing, rather indignant one.

(Well, really, how was I to know? We seemed to know more about rounding up turtles than HE did.”  This tale at this point is one almost worthy of Aesop.)

I emptied a box from the trunk of the car and put it gently atop the turtle, who thrashed and pushed and did what turtles do, relieved himself just missing my foot.

Just then, a motorcycle zoomed past – and then came to a stop. In one snappy motion, the young man was off of his bike, handing his helmet to his riding companion, and crossing the road. “What’s the problem?” said he, staring calmly at a box toting granny, a man with an eye patch, and a ranger with a shovel standing at attention.  It was almost, not quite, American Gothic.

The young cycling chap approached Mr. Turtle, escaped from under the box and snapping away. “Well now, I’ll just pick him up from behind and walk him over there to the shore” – and he did! He grabbed the turtle and held him out far enough to escape the turtle’s aim. Slowly, but surely, the easy rider and the turtle crossed the road, went down the slope of Long John’s slough, and snip, snap, snout – this tale is told out!




When I noticed a few “dots” on the leaves, I guarded myself against excitement. I had been fooled many times before. Still-in-all, most mornings and afternoons, in between raindrops and temperature variations, dawn or dusk, I tiptoed around the milkweed. I was hoping no one could see me amid the giant ferns and parked car, in my pajamas and yellow rain slicker, or my Sunday best. The neighbors are accustomed to my quirky behavior. If they noticed me, on the very first morn, hopping about and squealing with glee, they have not mentioned it – at least not to me.

On that first, dewy morn, huddled inside the yet un-opened leaves, were two, very small, Monarch caterpillars! They were slowly, methodically munching away, feasting on milkweed, an early June surprise.












As you might imagine, I followed their journey, my camera in hand. From leaf to leaf., often together, they munched. They also ventured, separately, to other milkweed plants. Like Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, they ate and ate and grew, doubling and tripling their size. From June 2 until June 12, they ate, in what is the larval stage. On July 12, at dusk, I found them both at rest on separate leaves and on different milkweed plants.


Early in the morning,  on July 13, I could not find them. They might have been frightened by my newly acquired mosquito repellent.

I went inside, made a cup of tea, sweetened it liberally, just because, then went out again, in search of the caterpillars – and I found them!  Can you?


Here is one, closer up, on the floor of the garden.

They were not far from each other, but much harder to see as they traveled, inch by inch, looking for the perfect spot to enter the next stage. Chrysalis.


Last night, June 13, and again this morning, the two caterpillars are nowhere to be found. I have carefully, but unsuccessfully, looked for a chrysalis. All I can do is hope that they have both found a place to hang out for a bit, to grow, change, and emerge.

Here’s hoping to see a Monarch, or two, flitting about in a few weeks. I promise to let you know.

In-the-meantime, I am carefully watching what I DID find on the meadow rue – a swallowtail caterpillar!

The Two Penelopes

I have her hands; the small hands of a girl. I can still wear children’s gloves. I tend to fold my hands in my lap as she did.

I have her hands – and I have her name. Penelope.  She never, ever called me Penny. I was always Πηνελόπη . Penelope.

While I have her hands, I do not resemble her, but, her hands, ah, her hands they are always with me. I feel them when I roll dough into balls for Greek powdered sugar cookies (kourambethes) and how I hold a knife when I cut vegetables for briami (vegetable stew). My meatballs are shaped as Yia Yia’s were – she always seems to be with me in my kitchen. I see her hands in my own when I water the flowers in my garden and when I pinch the dried seeds off of spent blooms. How I wish I had her zinnia seeds, which she carefully harvested and placed in different colored tissues, then tied them in little bundles with thread. Yia Yia could neither read nor write, but, she had her own filing system that allowed her to sow her seeds come spring in the colors she chose.

I wish I had the descendants of those seeds.

I am grateful to have this photo. It is one of only a few I have of the two of us. It is the last one taken before she passed away less than wo years later. She held her hands this way because they hurt. Yia Yia never complained from the arthritis she had. She would rub her hands to ease her pain or retreat quietly to her bedroom.

Dottie gave me this picture, about a year ago, before cancer debilitated her. It was among our mother’s things. Dottie thought I might like to have it, which I do, especially since I did not have this particular likeness of the two of us.

This photo was taken in the kitchen, on the day in June, 1968 that I graduated from Proviso East High School. The sleeves of my gown are too long. 50 years later, my sleeves are still almost always way too long. I keep hoping I will grow into them. I did, however, manage the near perfect “flip” under my cap.

Yia Yia looks sad. It is her aching hands that give her that look. I know she was pleased that afternoon. She was pleased that her namesake finished high school, and she was pleased that Πηνελόπη could read and write and would vote when she turned 21. Though she never indicated it to me, I am sure she was also a bit sad that summer’s end would find me traveling away to college. She never told me to stay, nor did she tell me to go.

Our television sat on the counter top , behind me, in the kitchen. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, my world turned round and round in our kitchen. It was from the chairs around the kitchen table that Yia Yia and I watched the many turbulent events of 1968 unfold. It was at that kitchen table that I would sit, after coming home from school, and read her the news of the day. I would stop and pick up a late afternoon newspaper on my way home from school – back-in-the-day when we still had late afternoon newspapers. “Πηνελόπη, sit, Eat. Read me the news” – and so, I did, my fingers dusted with  newsprint, the tragedies, turbulence, troubles of the times passing from my lips to my Yia Yia’s ears. Sometimes, we would discuss an event or she would ask me to re-read a few lines. Mostly –  I would read and she would listen and we would be together, sharing the moments, me at the beginning of my time, she so close to the end of hers.

I treasure this image. My own world, like the world around us, changed dramatically in less that a year that followed my high school graduation. This image of  us, however, the two Penelopes, is forever frozen in time.


Trolling the Arboretum

Situated atop a steep rise, high above all else in the arboreal vicinity, stands a mighty troll with a shingled body and hair made out of twigs. He seems to be shouting “who’s that tripping over my bridge!“, though there is not one Billy goat to be seen. Driving past, at a rapid clip, he is easy to miss, but, one of his kin stands guard as drivers exit the interstate and enter the grounds of the Morton Arboretum.

This one looks as if he is about to toss a boulder, but, I suspect he is just pitching a troll-sized baseball. He is one of six such trolls that are emerging in the woods and meadows of the Arb. They are sure to delight youngsters and oldsters and in-between-ers for many months to come.


I happened upon my very first troll just this past Sunday when I impulsively turned into the Morton Arboretum. My hastily made intentions were to take a short ride around under the canopy of trees before heading home from church, but, well – you know me. There I was, already in line to show my membership card. The parking lot was full, so I started trolling around the paths, looking for a spot to park . . .

. . . and I found one, around a bend, approaching a meadow covered in clover. Cars were parked where cars usually are not, but I found a spot amongst them, sensing a happening! There, across Bobolink Meadow, through a grassy path peppered with daisies, was a troll. A great big wooden troll, lounging in the summer sun.

Several days later, here is my own gentle giant and woodcrafter extraordinaire, also named Thomas, spending some time talking shop with the trolls’ creator (dressed in the green shirt). We took a ride out to the Arb yesterday, with much fewer visitors, and were quite fortunate to come upon workers –  and the artist –  well into the installation of the troll I first came upon on Sunday.

These magnificent creations of Danish artist, Thomas Dambo, are currently being installed on the Morton Arboretum’s grounds. The trolls are already drawing inquisitive crowds and are sure to be a summer highlight for many around the Chicagoland area and beyond. It is quite exciting to watch his trolls emerge.

Parts previously constructed were shipped from Denmark, while other elements repurposed from pallets are crafted into shingles to be used on the trolls,  as well as organic material such as fallen limbs from nearby trees. Who knew a trollish hairdo could come from branches and leaves?


Creator, Thomas Dambo,  is the current artist-in-residence at the Morton Arboretum. Tom had the pleasure of spending some time talking shop with him, learning about the process of building trolls. A talented artist with far-reaching vision, Thomas Dambo is also a very nice chap.

Further into the maple woods, we found several other workers perched atop long ladders, armed with drills and screws and various tools of the trade, constructing this lofty giant.

Uh oh, I spy someone hiding under the protection of trees. He’d best be careful and not anger this troll, who looks like he is being positioned to take down a tree!

What fun this exhibit is and how much more so it will be once all the trolls are fully installed. These creatures are up to 15 feet tall and fashioned to hold inquisitive humans –  from toddlers to grandpas to Billy Goats Gruff. Even though this troll seems to be huffing and puffing, he is really a rather tame troll. .





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