Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

IMHighland Park:benchG_1861

There were two open gardens at the Garden Conservancy Open Days this past Sunday. One was Mettawa Manor, the other was in Highland Park.

The Highland Park home does not have the celebrity of Mettawa Manor, but, it is rich in architecture and lush in texture. The wooden bench, above, is just one of many features in this garden that were both beautiful and inspiring.

This bench also provided these two characters, who were flitting about, a quiet spot to rest their feet after oohing and ahhh-ing as they strolled about and had a delightful time talking with the homeowner.

Tom & Penny:Wood Bench:Highland Park

Since I was one of those characters, the one who talks too much, I’ll be silent now and show you a few highlights from the Highland Park garden,



Highland Park:foxglove

Highland Park:red mandivilla

“I think I hear someone calling your name, Penny” said Tom.

“Look who it is”

How nice it was to run into Jan and Mike.


Meanwhile, back at the Manor . . .


Head #1Head #2

IMG_1987Mettawa pond:close up:plant

Mettawa pond

Speaking of manor houses, look what’s coming to Chicago’s Driehouse Museum.

Downton Abbey (PBS) Season 1, 2010 Shown from left: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern

Downton Abbey (PBS) Season 1, 2010
Shown from left: Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern

image from here.

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°IMG_7518 - Version 3On a recent, misty, Saturday afternoon, I took a trek in a nearby woods. It was a murky walk on muddy paths over fallen trees; a route less traveled except by an army of mosquitoes attacking from all fronts. I had on my “cone of protection“, but, they found my skin just-the-same, especially my ankles and the meaty mounds of my aging forearms.

There was an eclectic collection of participants; citizen scientists of uncertain age, students of nature as well as history buffs and those interested in conservation efforts. A few younger participants, at least younger from my perspective, appeared to be summer interns who came armed with pens and intelligent questions and there were those with sophisticated cameras, sketch pads and notebooks.

We were at McDowell Grove and the subject of the presentation in the stone shelter and the walk was how this forest preserve came to be. It was private property a century or so ago. By the 1930’s, now a forest preserve,  it took on a newer purpose. The stone shelter we met in was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was part of FDR’s New Deal. A corp of men resided in a location not far from the shelter. They built bridges,  as well as stone structures, fire pits, dams, and trails. It was later taken over by the military and the OSS. Today, it is a peaceful forest preserve, still growing and changing in its use and significance.

My mission being equal portions of curiosity and field work, I went to determine if this would be a fitting outing for my garden club, I found the tour fascinating with a lingering sense wonder at how much more I wanted to know.

This walk in the woods and presentation in the stone shelter were interesting and awakened my curiosity about how our forest preserve districts have come about, what other purposes they may have had, and curiosity over who walked the paths before us. It also increased my gratitude for the men and women who deeded their properties for public use and for the citizens who saw the value in preserving valuable tracts of land so that generations of those who love nature or will come to love nature will have a place to walk and wonder.

I live close to many of woods of the Forest Preserve Districts of Cook and Du Page County. They house nature centers and equestrian trails, bike trails for the casual ride through the woods as well as staging areas for mountain biking. Canoeing and kayaking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, groves for picnics and for family reunions, and now, even camping is allowed in some locations.

The State of Illinois, more often known for its crooked politicians, crime, prairies and skyscrapers, actually has more acres of forest preserve than most other states. These public places with acres upon acres of wonder and welcome are also places of both solitude and recreational gatherings. They provide safe harbor to wildlife and healthy living in equal measure for the weekend wanderer or the life-time outdoorsmen and women.

Have you been to a forest preserve or nature center lately?

Have you learned some new,  historical, scientific, environmental?

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DSCN8845 - Version 2

Ever since reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “A Secret Garden” as a child, I have been intrigued by garden doors, imagining myself as Mary Lennox, wondering what is beyond a locked door.

So it was upon entering the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin that my imagination grew like Jack’s beanstalk and I squealed in girlish glee “oh, this is wonderful“. There I was, hopping around, opening and closing garden doors, peering into windows and otherwise embarrassing Tom who, after all these years, is used to my childish ways about these bookish gardening “things”.

There were doors opening on doors as groomsmen in gray – and senior citizens in greige -averted their eyes to the gleeful granny and her indulgent companion.

Isn’t it grand to discover something creative and open your imagination for a bit? Maybe it was because we had just spent several days with our darling grandchildren who love to pretend that images of Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy and Toto following a yellow brick road came to mind.


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Well, dear reader, when one door closes another opens, and so it did as something else caught my eye.

Can you see it? Click on the photo for a better look.


Scattered about the gardens were many of these boxes. They reminded me of the Little Free Libraries and were painted in all manner of whimsy and creativity.

DSCN8868 DSCN8865 DSCN8889

A volunteer in the gardens told us that the boxes were made by a group of men. They were sold at a nominal cost to be painted and appointed however the artist saw fit. They will be raffled off (or was it auctioned?) and I, of course, imagine them filled with gardening books and secret doors.

What would you fill them with?


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IMG_0771 - Version 2A toad lives under our house. Not exactly UNDER the house, but in that threshold of habitation between the screen door and the sill. One of those smallest of spaces that tend to inhabit a creaky old house in a cut off woods where deer wander and chew up the scenery like a hungry ham on vaudeville stage and where toads and frogs and walking sticks can find opportune spots to survive.

This is the third year, or is it fourth?,  that we have discovered toads residing under the doorsill, even though I plant toad houses in and about the garden beds. I forget their cohabitation all the time, then squeal in surprise, then delight, when they hop into view – just as I’m carrying in a bag of groceries or a china tea cup full of hot tea as I mosey on out to the arbor.

I sometimes wonder who laughs more , me or my toad, for I do laugh. You know I do. My sense of humor about life’s little things often pops up like a frog on a threshold.

Take last Saturday, for instance.

There I was, heading home, driving through the western suburbs of Chicagoland. It was mid-afternoon on a most magnificent June day, when I spotted two women in a front yard. Both were of “a certain age”, only even older that. They were rather pear shaped, more Bartlett than Bosc. Rather like me. There they were in plain view. One of the women was pushing an old push mower. The other women was pushing the woman pushing the mower.

I laughed out loud. Not a LOL, but a real, hearty, tear-producing laugh out loud. I admired their spunk and their ingenuity at getting the job done, but, I must confess that I laughed, all the way home, then more, much more, as I tried to explain to my family, who know my eccentric ways, exactly what it was that had tickled my funny bone.

I had other things I wanted to tell you, but this old stone is gathering moss, so off I go to pull some weeds, hunt for four-leaf clovers, and wander along this road called life.

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DSCN7562 - Version 4An ominous cloud of thick, black smoke billowed. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from – until I saw the flames.

I had just turned west. Eastbound traffic was bumper to bumper, a typical Friday rush hour, with a half mile of cars and trucks at a standstill, while 6 feet or more of flames were spitting upward – on top of a garbage truck, which was also stuck in traffic!

The garbage was on fire. Not just a smoldering ember;  a fire that was leaping and dancing under the canopy of elms and oaks and maples.

I slowed in my lane, cognizant of approaching cars, which had enough distance to see me decelerate. I rolled down my window, staring at the driver of the truck, my arms flailing out the window, pointing upward, mouthing “YOU ARE ON FIRE!! “.

I needed to move lest my stopping created a jam in the westbound direction and cause even more of a problem and prayed the fire didn’t get out of control. It was still contained in the garbage bin of the truck.

A few blocks down,  at a break in traffic, I turned left, and heard the wail of sirens. A fire truck and ambulance were headed in the direction I just came from to put out the traveling blaze.

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You are a blessing to my day.” IMG_7234

That’s what he said.

You are a blessing to my day”, which I thought to be a very nice thing to say.

I was in the same parking lot, going to same cleaners that was the framework of another post.

It must be the parking lot. Some cosmic energy or force or forget-me-gas must be emanating from the cleaners or out of the pavement. Perhaps, a drone overhead, waiting for me to show up and film another segment of  Penny in the Parking Lot.

As I headed out for usual errands, my cell phone buzzed with an email message from the cleaners. My order was ready. Isn’t that nice? It was on my circuit of things to do, so, I grabbed the claim tickets and off I went. First, the post office, which is not the place to go on April 15, then a few other quick stops, leading me to the cleaners.

I pulled into the lot, parked, gathered the tickets and my purse, closed the door to the car then noticed something amiss with the car next to me. I hadn’t seen anyone get into or out of it, but, there was a pile of clothes on the back seat in their plastic covering with the receipt attached from the cleaners.. The odd thing was that the driver’s door was open. Not ajar, mind you, but open as wide as a mouth in the dentist’s chair.

I looked into the window on the passenger side. A cup of coffee, some paperwork, a brown paper bag; the sort of stuff many of us have in the front seat of the car, especially running lunchtime errands.

I eased around the trunk of the car. “Hello. Anyone there?

Miss Marple I’m not. There I was, looking for a clue as to why the door was open and hoping, no praying, there wasn’t a body on the other side. Did someone fall out? have a heart attack? slip on the cleaner bags? “Hello?”  No answer. No body. Nobody.

People were walking around the lot, to and from their cars, going about their business. I asked, but, no one belonged to the car, a dark gray Toyota.

I sleuthed about a bit more, making sure no one was prone on the pavement.  I’ve come upon bodies in parking lots; a man who tripped and needed a hand up. A woman showing symptoms of a stroke. I’m amazed at how many people pass by, especially when an elderly person is in distress.

Inside the cleaners, I asked a patron if it was his car. No, not him.

Back at my mocha VW with the latte interior, I hung my clothes and went around to see if the neighbor’s car door was still open. It was. Now what should I do? What if someone was abducted returning to their car? What if he or she were wandering around the lot, looking for whatever they needed to remember? It happens.

By now, sure that surveillance cameras had clear pictures of me, a Medicare Maniac, staring at an open car door, shaking her head and calling to no one.  I thought to shut the door, but, what if it locked when it shut and the owner didn’t have another set of keys and was late on the rent and had amnesia? Really. What should I do?

I could walk away, but, if it were my car with the door wide open (and we all know that’s a possibility) I’d want someone watching over it/me.

I decided to check the stores closest to the parking lot, muttering “please, please don’t let it be Payless Shoes“.

First stop was a hair salon. I walked in and was greeted “Can we help you ma’am?“. I explained the open door and no driver. The stylist said “Maybe it’s Mildred’s.  Hey, Mildred, did you leave your car door open?” .  Mildred looked rather indignant, her hair changing colors. “Why would I leave my car door open?“, but, the stylist took her keys and we both checked, for, Mildred had a Toyota. Nope. Not Mildred’s.

As I walked back to my car, trying to decide if I should just drive away, which is not my style, when I noticed a man, dressed to the nines, coming out of Payless Shoes. More than middle-aged, but not quite an octogenarian, he strolled across the lot. Lo and behold, he was headed toward the open doored Toyota. I watched, as did a couple who I’d already queried who were returning from the cleaners with bags draped over their arms, waiting to see what would happen.

Well, my friend, Mr. Dapper Dan walked to his car, threw the bag of shoes on the backseat,  looked at me, then the couple.

Is there some problem with my car?”

Well, sir, do you realize you left you car door wide open?

I did?

Did he not see it open when passed by the door to put his clothes on the back seer?

You did, mister“, said the he of the couple as the she nodded in concurrence. Good. Character witnesses in case I needed them. I was starting to channel Mrs. Pollifax.

” I really must be more careful. Thank you, miss.”

I said “I’m just glad you’re okay and all is well” as I walked away, and then he proclaimed “Thank you, ma’am, you are a blessing to my day.”

A very nice thing to say.

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DSCN7790Hey, Lady, come back here . . .”

On to my next project/event, I made a trip out to Glen Ellyn to meet my friend Joyce who was generously lending me props for an upcoming garden club event.

Joyce and I made a quick exchange, she headed on to her day’s work, and I toddled along my own route, which led me right past the Morton. Well, what is a gal to do on spring morn? I turned in, the entrance wide open with employees methodically planting rows upon rows of yellow pansies, which elicited a smile as I pulled up to one of the welcoming gatehouses. I whipped out my membership card to be scanned, was encouraged to “have a nice day”, and moved forward. As my window rolled up, a loud command was barked from behind me.

HeyLady, come back here!  Come back!”

Seeing no one behind me, I slowly reversed course and backed up to the window.

You can’t bring a dog . . .”

and then her hand went to her heart as she said

oh, I’m so sorry, I thought I saw a sheepdog in your car. Dogs aren’t allowed on the grounds“.

We had a good laugh, the gatekeeper, the sheepdog, and me, then I motored on down the paths to find the day’s emerging joys; crocus and daffodils and the slow, steady greening of our little corner of the world.

“Arf! “said the boas –

and I’ll just bet you are wondering what they will be used for, aren’t you?


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