Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

IMG_5832. . . on yet another bookish adventure in my inter-library loan system, this time at the Indian Prairie Library,  I noticed this poster as I started to walk out. I decided right then and there to sign up for the lecture, which was to begin in about thirty minutes. Sometimes spontaneity becomes an illustrative page in time.

The meeting room was close to being a full house as interested library patrons and others gathered for the lecture. I was actually surprised at the 1 pm turnout. It looked to be at least 60 people – a good number on snowy weekday afternoon.

Isn’t it amazing what public libraries provide?  From the Lannon stone structure in Western Springs that recently gave me solace, to the day I was “mullioned” –  and lived to tell the tale – libraries have also been havens for me. They not only house books; they instill knowledge and awareness through lectures and provide places to meet, to learn, to expand our knowledge. Public libraries are such treasures, but, you already know that.

The Chicago ‘L’ is an integral part of the City and suburban transport system. It grew out of the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire with its early transports taking patrons to the Columbian Exposition. The Windy City and the ‘L” grew in tandem, raising the City of Big Shoulders up from the ashes and expanding it outward to the north, the south, and the west, part and parcel to eventual urban and IMG_6010 suburban sprawl.

I found Greg Borzo to be an interesting, entertaining and engaging speaker.  A noteworthy historian with a passion for the City of Chicago, I know I would enjoy having him for a docent on a Chicago tour. He proceeded to bring the steel and beams of Chicago’s elevated trains to life as he mapped the history of early means of transportation in the late 1800’s with many vintage photos, some of which I am showing here and credit to Greg Borzo’s book, “The Chicago “L” ” .

I am most familiar with the Lake Street “L” and can vividly remember my first time on it, catching the “L” in Oak Park with my mother, heading downtown to the dentist, whose office was in the Field Annex  of Marshall Fields.  So clear is my memory of all the stops along the way and all the stations, up in the air, where people got off and people got on. I remember Ma saying,  “Penny, we are now in the Loop” as the train circled round, making a loop, squeaking as it turned, the upper floor windows of businesses so close I could see in them. I hoped it wouldn’t fall down while in awe, catching the sun as it would  play hide and seek sun, peaking around the skyscrapers.

Greg Borzo spoke of the many train lines that are all a part of the “L” system and how the subway eventually came into being, an underground system of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). He showed photos of workers digging out the mud, underground, to form the tunnels that would accommodate the underground trains.

I was particularly interested in the funeral train cars, recalling childhood stories of how my paternal grandfather’s coffin, family and mourners were taken from the City to Elmwood Cemetery in the suburbs. The train my Papou’s coffin was transported in would not have been on the “L”, but, the funeral car would have looked similar to the one I show here from the book.  I can only imagine the long ordeal of sadness and grief, riding the rail out of the city to suburban areas during the Great Depression.

On a lighter note, we were also reminded of the many movies with scenes filmed on the Chicago “L”.  Can you name any?

Do you have an elevated transport system where you live?  Have you ever ridden on an elevated train?


I can’t wait to see what my next library visit brings.

Photos are from The Chicago “L”  by Greg Borzo


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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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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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Would you like to take a walk with me today?

IMG_1620 - Version 2

It is walk through a private garden graciously opened for the Landscape Design Council of the Garden Clubs of Illinois.

Positioned on an elegant North Shore estate, the garden sits under the watchful eye of a historical Georgian mansion. I am not part of the Landscape Design Council, but, my membership in the GCI affords me, and all our members, these rare opportunities. I am glad a few of us were able to attend.


Fairlawn Estate is a testament to texture and structure in landscape. The several acres of property has few flowers. A potted plant here, a few roses there. It is the estate’s grand garden rooms that provide the pleasure of place where one can observe the purpose and need of good “bones” in a garden.

IMG_1631 IMG_1600 IMG_1606 IMG_1625

I was amazed by the owner, who led the tour, and her honest respect for trees while she was still being rooted in the harsh nature of the midwest and the cruel reality of the predominance of the hard, unyielding clay underneath its soil. I was struck by her words of reality that tree roots do not have far to travel to reach clay, which eventually becomes impossible to penetrate. It is why we do not have trees that survive and thrive hundreds of years here. In spite of this reality, great care has been taken to judiciously prune and stake where need be on this elegant estate, which is brimming with structure, both living and modeled.

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It was not just the predominance of statues in this garden, but in how they were positioned and how they lent to the landscape design. I am not a landscape designer, nor a landscape architect. I am a simple gardener who has dirt under her nails and grass stains on her knees, but, a gardener no less and one who is most sincerely appreciative of the beauty of this magnificent estate,


as well as the sense of playfulness the owner.


I learned a great deal on this tour; about trees and structures and statues – and yet another way to garden.

I also learned quite a few things about myself. Our garden structures here on the Cutoff, aka garden art, will never be as grand or significant as the ones on this estate. Although I do ponder and place and move my “things” about to find just the right angle of the sun or the view from the arbor, the perspectives of our living room window, or the view from the road, I can be more purposeful in my placements.


and more aware of texture and the subtleties of tone and color.




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DSCN6621Jennifer and I were enjoying the opening festivities of Autumn Splendor at the Elmhurst Art Museum, sipping on wine, nibbling on finger food, chatting with old friends and acquainting new. We wandered into the galleries and the Richard Koppe Exhibit.  As we entered the gallery, a display case caught my eye.  Actually, something in the display case caught my eye. A book.  It’s always a book with me, it seems, even in a renowned art museum.  The book, to be precise, was a cookbook.  I looked down and squealed “I have this book” .

As others were observing the large surrealistic works of Koppe, I was chewing on a cookbook.

Several years ago, I came across the very same cookbook in a second-hand store. “The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places”.  A more charming than practical compilation of recipes from famous restaurants throughout the United States,  it is divided by regions, and illustrated with stylistic paintings of each restaurant, a recipe from the restaurant, and a short description.  The books were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the heyday of US road travel in big cars and fine dining along the way as many veterans returned home from war, bought houses that were springing up all across the country, bought their first car . . .

. . .  I snapped up the book faster than a filling station attendant once rushed out to fill up the tank, clean the windows, and check the oil!

In subsequent years, I came across several other printings of the book, with some new recipes and new restaurants as original ones closed. A small cookbook collection ensued. When in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pull one of the Ford Treasury books out, then all of them, and browse through the regions, admire the illustrations, and reminisce over featured restaurants I have actually eaten in. As I looked into the display case at the EAM, I recognized one of the printings of “The Ford Treasury . . . ” .  The book was opened to page 159, with a painting depicting the interior of the once famous Well-of-the-Sea restaurant in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Neither the restaurant, nor the hotel, still exists,  but, the mural in the background of the illustration does. When I was though swooning over a cookbook, I looked up to see Koppe’s surrealistic mural generously covering a wall of the gallery.  While not my favorite artistic style, I could not help but be impressed at the “real deal” and the vibrancy of the colors and textures. Back home, I pulled out my treasury of mid-century finds, and there it was, page 159, in the North Central region. The Well-of the-Sea. I wandered about the pages of several Treasuries, finding restaurants I recognized, even some I have eaten in, across the country,  getting hungry for food – and for hitting the road. Here are a few I found that I have visited:  The Wayside Inn, MA;  Williamsburg Lodge, VA;  Antoine’s, LA;  New Salem Lodge, IL;  Plentywood Farm, IL;  Don the Beachcomber, HI. Do you have a dining “treasure” you would like me to look up in these books?  Let me know.  I would love do a future post showing a page of your remembered restaurants. DSCN6620

 This book jacket opens up to a map “. . . to decorate your kitchen or game room”. I think I’ll just keep this one on the book.


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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.

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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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Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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