Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

IMG_4525A small but sturdy contingency of garden club women who don’t mind getting “down and dirty” ventured out on a blustery mid-week morn.

We met at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which hugs the Lincoln Park Zoo and the magnificent Chicago lakefront. It was my first time there, and, as I often do, I wondered “why?”, especially as I wandered the enclosed butterfly haven. Butterflies, moths and birds flitted about and I found myself slowing down, changing my own rhythm.

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We continued to explore this innovative museum as classes of youngsters darted in and out, trying hard to stay in their Madeleine lines when tunnels and manipulatives and all sorts of wonders called to them, especially in the exhibit rooms which illustrate where waste goes. Children love this “stuff”. It is fun to see nature from the eyes of children. I think we all enjoyed the Peanuts exhibit, which coupled Charlie Brown and his gang with nature facts. This photo is from the Peggy Notebaert website and information on the Peanuts/Charles Schultz connection with nature here.


After lunch, we donned our rain gear and walked a few blocks, chatting all the way, to the historic Lincoln Park Conservatory. Our engaging docent gave a brief history of the conservatory, which was erected in the 1880’s, we admired the formal outdoor garden, which is framed masterfully by the Chicago skyline.


Once undercover, we inhaled the warmth and peace of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. I’ll stop writing now, and let you see for yourself.





The Conservatory is also getting ready for their Christmas display. The poinsettia are ready and glorious.


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The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all.
Laura Ingalls Wilder *

Today is Foursday. Our Ezra attends preschool on “Tuesdays and Foursdays”.

Since today IS Foursday, and since I’ve been rather absent from these pages lately, I wanted to tell you about a few adventures we have had after the terror of Tula 2. Our little adventure started last Foursday as we headed up North to visit with our northern family and help Katy while our son-in-law, Tom, was away for a few days, but, let me begin in at the beginning.

My Tom, whom I will refer to as I often do as Antler Man, and I decided to take a little extra time driving on up, in part to soak up what we hoped would be a colorful landscape of colors throughout Wisconsin. The further north we went, the more vivid nature’s palette became.


We finally arrived at our destination in time to meet Kezzie’s school bus. For those of you close to grandchildren, this is likely routine, but, for those of us with some distance between our grands and ourselves, it is a treasured treat.


Katy, Tom and crew have been observing what is bound to become a family ritual, and one I highly recommend to all of you, wherever you live and whatever you climate. For them, way up north, they have dubbed their activities Parktober, in which they visit a state park every weekend in October.

On Saturday, last, before Tom left, we all piled into the car, layered with warm clothes and provisions. We drove past sweet little towns along the Minnesota side ledge of the Mighty Mississippi. Some lunch, some ooh’s and ah’s at the famous river town of Red Wing, and we headed to Frontenac State Park for a hike.

This is one of the first views we saw, overlooking Lake Pepin. By-the-way, the photo was taken by our Kezzie.


This is from the Minnesota side and it is Lake Pepin. THE Lake Pepin that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about as she told of the Ingalls family’s westward migration from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, crossing the lake, which is a very wide spot of the Mississippi. They crossed in winter, over ice, as it was the most expeditious way to cross at that time.

For those of you who often read my words here on the Cutoff, you know from my ramblings how fond I am of Laura’s books and her story. It was so thoughtful of Tom and Katy to include us in their weekend’s Parktober, and sweet of them to pick this particular state forest.

The wind was brisk, so off we went, following a trail into the woods.


We started to descend down dirt steps and I realized that what goes down, must come up. Hesitant, with a bum knee, I opted not to take the trail. Katy took pity on me, and we ventured in a different direction – through the prairie. It was warmer than on the bluff, with sun beating down on us, grasses surrounding us, and the colors of Autumn at their peak. Laura and Ma, er, Katy and Mom, walked close to two miles, snapping photos, talking, not talking, the sorts of discussions one has when on the prairie. It was one of those times where life grows sweeter by the moment.

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Well, dear reader, it is still Foursday and I have a few evening chores to attend to. Before I close, here are two stores we stopped at in Red Wing on our way home. Who can pass up chocolate and books?

I took a photo of Kezzie – and she took a photo of me.

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One last photo, in the prairie. I couldn’t see the camera’s screen for the glare of the sun. Sometimes, you just have to click and hope for the best.

I think I will call it my Foursday tree. Thanks, Ezra, for a brand new word.


*Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/laura_ingalls_wilder.html#mSCuTTI5s8UyO0Cy.99

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Chances are, if you live in the United States, or have visited here, and do any hiking, walking, running, or canoeing in local, state, or national forests, you have probably passed by or sought protection from the elements in structures similar to these.

IMG_3699Built during the Depression years, shelters and bridges were erected from stone and wood, perhaps made of adobe or other locally harvested and hauled materials. The structures pictured here are found in Fullersburg Woods. The stones were hauled in the ’30s from Waterfall Glen. The structures were built during the tenure of one of the most successful programs ever instituted by the government between 1933 and 1941 – the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC.

It is also likely that your outdoor adventures take place under the canopy of trees; trees planted by the men of the CCC. These crews were often referred to as the tree army. For the men who enlisted in the CCC, it was a meaningful, useful way to work in a time where no work was to be found. They learned a marketable skill or trade, regained a sense of pride in putting in a good day’s work – and sent much-needed money home to their families. They were fed, clothed, sheltered and paid $30, 25 dollars of which was sent home to family.


The CCC was also a massive conservation initiative. The nation’s farmland was devastated by over-cropping and unsustainable farming practices. Much of the country was a “dust bowl”, with land ravaged by soil that nature never intended for farming. Farms were devastated, as were the people on them. With no trees to hold soil in place and no trees to buffer the wind, dust storms turned the skies, then homes and lungs dark with dust, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge to put men to work building bridges, roads and shelters – as well as planting trees.

On Tuesday morning a small group of us walked through a popular forest preserve in the area, Fullersburg Woods. While I knew that the CCC had a presence in Fullersburg during the 1930’s, I thought of it in terms of what is now the Nature Center. I did not realize, nor, if truth-be-told, even think of trees, assuming they were always part of the landscape. It was a revelation to discover that this forest had been primarily prairie. The trees were planted by the CCC, as they likely were in most of the preserves in Du Page and in Cook County.

Our guide was Chris Gingrich of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County. He was also the speaker at our garden club meeting last week. He was as engaging and informative a guide as he was a speaker and walked us up hill and down dale through these amazing woods, showing us quite a number of shelters and sites that I had no idea existed here – or just failed to notice.

It is amazing, is it not, what we see in our lives and what we miss?

This is a sitting shelter. Salt Creek wanders behind it. It is open on all sides, with benches on two and a series of logs in between. A sturdy structure, it is well placed and made for resting during a long hike.


IMG_3718We walked up slight inclines, down others, one of which seems vaguely familiar to me. AHA! I think it might have been where I landed in a cup of tomato soup while trying to cross-country ski one winter. We passed a reclaimed prairie where once stood the CCC camp, where men slept and ate, read books, and played Monopoly, a popular board game of the time. Did you ever play Monopoly?


It was a brisk morning; one of the first of true fall-like weather. It warmed a bit as we walked and talked and listened and learned. As we came to the end of the trail, we finished our tour at what it now known as the Nature Center. Chris talked about the stones that were used to build the shelter, originally a boat house. It wasn’t hard to imagine the river frozen in winter with ice skaters gliding across, coming to the boat house to warm up at the massive outdoor fireplace. It is just as easy to admire the building now with windows and doors, for, it still stands and is used, a testament to a corp of civilians who built it – and thousands of other shelters, roads, fought forest fires and helped heal the land.IMG_3388



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IMG_3633The main parking lot was filled. The first overflow lot on the west side was filled as well and a friendly worker was flagging me on to a third lot.

What was I thinking? Noon? On a glorious fall day, when schools were closed for Columbus Day?

I visit the Morton Arboretum regularly enough that I did not need to visit it on Monday – but, I did. I was really on a specific errand to pick an item up at the gift shop, but, soon realized I had chosen one of the busiest days possible to come.

I decided to by-pass the parking lot I was being directed to and drive to the lot at the Thorndale Education center; a good move. The lot was all but empty and the Joy Path was at my beck and call.

As I wound my way onto the footpath, a woman suddenly emerged out of the bushes. “Oh! Here it is. I’ve been looking for the Joy Path. Have I found it? “.  I assured her that she had and we walked companionably for a few minutes. Like myself, she had decided to depart from the “maddening crowd”. She asked me a few directional questions and said she was visiting from North Carolina. We chatted as we walked about the torrential weather in the Carolinas, the magnolias that grow in our respective states and I mentioned a favorite author of mine from Charleston,. My brief walking companion had heard of Andra Watkins and said she planned to read her book about the Natchez Trace, “Not Without My Father . . . “.

The proverbial fork in the road approached, she wended right while I stayed the course along the Joy Path, just as the sun poked out from under the clouds and spread a slice of buttery yellow across my path.


Eventually, the path led me to the Visitor Center, the long line to the ladies’ room, and a very busy gift shop. I stopped in my tracks for a moment, overwhelmed by the glorious colors that have begun to emerge.


I treated myself to a yogurt parfait and iced tea, then headed back  on the mile or so path to my car, the afternoon shadows already beginning to draw their shadows along the earth. As I crossed the road to my pathway back, who to my wondering eyes should appear? None other than my early North Carolinian walking companion. We exchanged pleasantries, then she returned to the Visitors Center while walked upon the footbridge; two strangers in the woods, one from down south, the other from up north, on a glorious September day.


It is amazing how quickly the leafs’ colors turn hereabouts. Where there was but a hint of gold yesterday, the first flicker of reds and oranges have entered the landscape today. This is what I was waiting for in dog days of August, and what I try to remember in snowy depths of winter.

It is the slant of the sun, the sparkle of jewels on the water, and chance meetings along the paths of life that warm the small moments and lighten our steps along the way.


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Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Owl. Owl who?

Owl good things come to those who wait.

Well . . .

I waited and waited, for many months, and then, when I least expected it, on a blustery Thursday morning, opportunity came knocking. Early for an engagement, I parked my car and realized I was right across the street from a newer bookstore I’ve been wanting to visit. With forty minutes to spare and opportunity calling, I crossed the street, walked a few more steps and, I opened the door.

This is what I found this inside.


It looks like a kitchen. Well, it really IS a kitchen. It is a kitchen, inside a bookstore, which is inside a furniture store.There are often cooking classes at Prairie Path Books, with food authors come by, and there is a tasty collection of cookbooks and memoirs that are sure to tempt my palate.

Book clubs are invited inside for their discussions. There is even a nicely appointed room where food and drinks are welcome, not to mention a discount on the books they are reading and discussing.


Prairie Path Books is owned and operated  by women who have a vision for books and bookstores that align with what I always feel a bookstore should be. It sits inside Toms-Price, a long-established furniture store in downtown Wheaton. We own a cabinet from the store.


The poetry and humor section and a wall of greeting cards grabbed my attention as soon as I stepped inside. A tasteful array of books the store recommends, with seasonal home decorations take their place on a book table, some books with personal notes attached, or newspaper articles about an author cleverly tucked inside. I was amazed at the attention to detail and applaud the exquisite reading selections in all genres.

Can a bookstore have a sense of self? I think this one does. It knows what readers who answer the knocking of opportunity want to read.BookcoverCROPPED-198x300

The younger set? A cozy little room and an open larger reading area where several children were reading or imagining with parents nearby. The store offers an array of children’s bookish activities as well as a large selection of children’s books.

Prairie Path Books has the perfect chairs for sitting upon with a potential read, but, of course it would, it is housed in a furniture store!

My meeting time was nearing, so, I picked up the small volume that caught my eye when I first walked in, Marilynne Robinson’s  book of essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books”. I made my purchase, and vowed to return to Prairie Path Books when I had a little more time for a closer ‘book look”.

Owl good things DO come to those who wait.


 http://www.jokes4us.com/knockknockjokes/knockknockanimaljokes.html *

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. . .  well, really rather another favorite.  Can there be too many favorite trees? I think not.

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My heart belongs to the magnificent Copper Beech that sits in the shade garden close to the Visitor Center at the Morton Arboretum. I have written about this stately tree often. Thanks to my friend Janet, I found her favorite tree last year, a Cork tree. I’ve recently grown rather fond of the Bald Cypress and how it changes through the seasons. It has taught me more about acceptance as it sheds its needles after putting on a splendid show, uncommon for its ilk.

My newly acquired addition to my favorite trees list greeted me while on a long walkabout with my lifetime favorite person, aka the Antler Man. We were sauntering along the Joy Path, a new Morton Arboretum adventure for us, and there it was, stretching wizened arms out in welcome. Click on the photo below to get a better idea of how magnificent this tree is -as is the young man standing under it.

Tom:Maple:Arb:Sept:2015This is a Maple-State Street Acer Miyaibei Morton . As magnificent as his limbs are, outstretched and welcoming, the roots of this established specimen seem to hold a story of their own


as does the bark, with its carved nooks and crannies.


I look forward to visiting this magnificent maple in the next several weeks as I am sure he will be resplendent his Autumn suit of color; surely as serviceable as any once found in State Street’s Marshall Field’s.

It is good, is it not, to sometimes wander along a new path in life?




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IMG_3185 - Version 4It was a Goldilocks sort of day; not too hot and not too cold.

It was, in fact,  just about right with a soft breeze and a few wispy clouds, stimulating conversation with kindred gardening spirits and more than a sprinkling of hope for the future following the footsteps of two bright and energetic high school students.

An inquisitive contingency of garden club members began our excursion wandering the grounds of Lake Katherine. I’ve taken you to this nature center and its grounds often, so, I will leave it to your imagination (or a click onto the featured installments you might like), and just tell you that we enjoyed the waterfall and botanical gardens, the nature center and a long walk around the lake. It was a perfect morning for such an outing.

After time for lunch and time to rest our weary feet – for there is always food for the ladies of the garden club, we headed but a few city miles to one of the more innovative high schools in the City of Chicago.

Set on a busy south side corner of Chicago, a high school sits; not unusual in any big city and certainly not unusual in Chicago. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences is relatively new in structure and occupies land, some 72 acres, that was the last farm in Chicago. It is a fully accredited college preparatory high school with core classes and the usual extra-curricular activities, only this school has cows and horses, grows corn and bushels of vegetables, scattered with farm machinery and students who don Wellies.


After an informative briefing by staff, we began our tour of the CHSAS. Our docents were two of the most delightful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable women who have ever led me around a high school – and believe me, I’ve toured many-a-high-school in my life. From computer labs, classrooms and library, to the machine tech labs and a barn, they guided us through a high school as rich in academic studies as it is in animal husbandry and horticulture.

We spent some time in the greenhouse where students were tending to seedlings,


and met some four-legged staff in the barn and pens.


One of our docents is also a student bee-keeper. These hives were in a courtyard which was teeming with apiary activity.

Bee HIves

We walked along a hallway of honors, common in high schools, but this one had honors from the renowned Chicago Flower and Garden Show, 4H, and US News and World Report.


This is a remarkable high school whose teachers, staff and students give me (dare I say all of us on the tour?) hope for the future. An emphasis on agricultural sciences is not uncommon in a state that produces corn, soy beans, and pumpkins. What is remarkable is that it sits in a large urban city that was once the” hog butcher of the world”.

I am sorry there aren’t more close-up photos. I was being mindful of not showing students. Instead, I will show you two of my favorite friends.

A day that was just right.

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