Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

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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Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 2While most of the schools in our area have already been in session for several weeks, I still think of Labor Day as the last day of summer, signaling the official start of school, not to mention the unofficial start of Autumn. It is a time of new beginnings, at least for school children and their teachers, and for me it is a time of fond remembrances of zinnias.

My grandmother grew zinnias. I’ve written of them before and of how Yia Yia harvested the seeds, saving them in different colored packets made of tissue that differentiated the various colors of her plants. It was a practical and innovative filing system for a woman who did not know how to read or write. I do not know the origin of the seeds, but, I think they followed her home from a trip she took to Arizona, the only trip I ever knew her to take.

Each spring my father, or one of my uncles, would turn over the soil in a large, circular garden. The seeds would be sown, watered and weeded through the summer and seemed to always reach their peak right about the time that school started – the day after Labor Day.

In those days, we did not know who our teacher would be until the first day of school. Teachers’ names and class list would be posted on appointed doors, we would line up according to teacher, and our schooling would begin. A few days would pass in that hot and slow first week of school as we slowly settled in – and a few days would pass until Yia Yia went out to the zinnia circle and cut bouquets for my sister and me to bring to our teachers. Long stems were cut, the stems were moistened, then wrapped in newspaper, nice and tight on the bottom, loose on the top to let the colorful bouquet breathe. I can still remember those bouquets; their fragrance, their colors, the occasional insect who hid among the petals, and the delight of my teachers.

I can still see Yia Yia and her pride in her zinnias. I think of her in these late summer days, when the zinnias are in full bloom and the seasons are starting to flow from summer to fall, and of the scent and textures of those full bouquets, wrapped in newsprint, that came to school with me in the early September days of my youth.

These are a few zinnias that greeted me in several recent garden walkabouts in this summer full of glorious gardens.

Penny’s garden at Country Garden Cuisine

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Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 3 JPG

Downtown Hinsdale

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Nina’s Garden

Nina Koziol's Garden:Zinnia IMG_2692

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That revolutionary rascal, Benjamin Franklin, is the most recognizable “citizen scientist”; someone who volunteers his or her time in the IMG_2400pursuit/study of science, often assisting professional scientists with day-to-day observances. A citizen scientist may gather data, monitor bees or dragonflies, note migration patterns of birds bats, chase tornadoes or measure water depth, reporting to a specific site or merely taking a photo and recording where they saw in a journal. We know a great deal about climate year’s ago from the daily weather journals farmers recorded.

If you have been tagging Monarch butterflies for Monarch Watch or photographing bees for university extensive services, you are a citizen scientist. Even if you are posting a slow moving turtle on Facebook, you are such a scientist.

Last week, while our Minnesota branch of the family tree was visiting, I noticed a caterpillar on the meadow rue during my early morning walk. I believe it to be a Tiger Swallowtail as they have chosen this plant to eat and grow in the past. You might imagine my glee at this discovery, for these little occurrences in life are really rather grand for me.

I hurried inside to announce my discovery, especially to our Keziah, who had already spent a considerable amount of time chasing after Monarchs and moths in our garden. We slipped on sandals and scurried out faster than a Beatrix Potter rabbit. Still in our pajamas, we snaked around the peony bush, tip toed through the ferns, the Echinacea and the brown-eyed Susans.

There it was, a very hungry caterpillar with yellow and black stripes, stripping a leaf in the slow and steady fashion of a caterpillar.

IMG_2330We talked and talked about caterpillars and cocoons and such, then I mentioned that we could watch this one while she was here. She was now a scientist. A citizen scientist, to be exact. We would watch the insect and I would take pictures and we would see what happens. Each morning, she queried “how are the caterpillars, Yia Yia?” and out we would go to check on their progress.

Kezzie was excited to receive such a distinction. Such things are important to children employed in the occupation of learning about life. Papa showed her how to use his magnifying glass and, as the days wore on as August days do, she and I frequented the meadow rue. We found a second, then a third caterpillar, which allowed us to observe how much and how fast a caterpillar grows and eats and to see them in a few different sizes. I made a promise that I would take more photos to share with her, and so I have.

It is such grand fun to experience nature with children and to see such things as caterpillars inch along from a child’s point of view. For your own point of view, remember to click onto the photos to see the caterpillar a little better.

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DSCN9324 - Version 4A delightfully unplanned, but heartedly welcomed family of visitors descended upon the Cutoff last week. They filled our home with laughter and curiosity, playfulness and adventures. It has been a week of blissful family time and all that comes with having small children about, as well as our own daughters and sons-in-law.

 I am so grateful.

While we have taken walks in the woods, had picnics and playtime and plenty of meals that I would love to share with you, it is children and water that flows in my thoughts right now. So, dear friends, I hope you won’t mind if I take you to a few of our recent watering holes.

The Little Red Schoolhouse Woods is a favorite spot of ours, so, we were thrilled when son-in-law Tom suggested we go to the nature center there and take a walk. I think it is a spot that will build some memories for our Kez and Ez, and appreciate Tom’s willingness to go there, especially with his very short turn-around time before returning home.

Kezzie noticed this frog eating Cheerios in a pond in the woods. She also noticed a water snake and some interesting dragonflies, but, those are stories for another time.


Water features are prominent in the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum, and really, what child can resist the lure of dripping water and walking barefoot between stones in a creek?


Then, there was Ezra’s unbridled glee in a splash park near our house.

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I am a wee bit tired right now and have much catching up to do, but, I wanted you to know I wasn’t all washed up. I’ve just been enjoying family time and all the joy that it brings.

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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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IMG_1127I’m out and about today, restocking the pantry, washing clothes after a week away, garden club activities leading up to the  July 12 garden walk, weeding the garden here on the Cutoff, and on and on we go.

I want to show you the masses of bee balm – with bees on them – that opened whilst we were up North and give you a measure of our success with how tall the grasses and compass plant have stretched since we’ve been away. The weeds. Ah, the weeds. They are abundant this year. It is what it is and I’ll be like Scarlett and worry about them tomorrow. For now, I hope you don’t mind my sharing a few photos of the grands, who charmed and challenged us this past week, and are growing even faster than the weeds in our yard.

Joy supreme.

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There is such a sadness floating around me swirling like water ’round a rock.

I fell asleep on Wednesday to the news of the horrid killings in Charleston and awoke on Thursday to the lingering sadness that prevails. Though my day was filled with work and purpose, I felt that proverbial weight of the world on my shoulders.

I sifted though a pile of envelopes; fliers, bills and such. Sitting in abeyance was a “note to self” to call a member of a board I sit on. I had not heard from Barb in some time, knew she was ailing. I had been experiencing a difficult time getting in touch with her. I put my note in a spot where I would see it, planning to call her when I returned home.

The best made plans do often go astray, for I returned home to a message that Barb had passed away. She will be missed.

The the sadness swirled some more as the news came to me in a phone call about one thing that led to an aside about something else; a long-time friend had passed away a week or so ago.

Milt was a unique person; a man who walked the walk he talked. He was an educator and a man with a servant’s heart; someone who truly practiced what he preached.

I first met Milt when he became the principal at the elementary school our daughters attended. When I met him, our Jennifer was in second grade. Katy was a toddler tagging along with Mom on a school related task. Milt, then the in-coming principal at Field School, introduced himself, shook my hand, and then got down on his knees to say hello to Katy. That was Milt; meeting everyone at their own level.

As time went on, we became friends and we started a book discussion group; the very same book group I am still in and sometimes mention here on the Cutoff. Milt and his wife, Rosalie, stopped participating a few years ago. Age related issues and life changes had deemed it time for them to move on. They were the most devoted of couples I have ever known. Most of the members of our book group are either retired teachers who taught with Milt or friends who are parents of children who were under his principalship. More than that, everyone in town seemed to know Milt, who winter-camped, had a prison ministry, was a staunch advocate of the rights of all and a good steward of the environment.

We’ve missed Milt – and Rosalie, who had successes in her own right. Rosalie was a writer and one of the first to publish a book about Alzheimer’s. “Journey with Grandpa” is a memoir of her father-in-law and of living and caring for someone with the disease. It became a loving  “how to” manual for many in a time when Alzheimer’s was just beginning to be recognized and talked about.

Milt’s story wraps around another part of my life which is part of my sorrowful mood right now. In a discussion some years ago, he mentioned the first school he was principal at and of  the young Greek Orthodox priest who tended his fledging flock with services in the school’s gym, with Sunday school in the classrooms. We had a good chat as I said that I was actually one of the children attending Sunday School and Greek language school there.

Not long after that, I attended a anniversary liturgy at the Greek Orthodox church, Holy Apostles, which had eventually moved to its permanent location, building a permanent church, where the very same priest Milt remembered, Father Bill, still tended his flock. I had a few moments to talk to him and mentioned my friend, Milt, the principal of Nixon school, which he seemed to delighted to hear about.  Father Bill passed away a little more than a month ago.

So it goes, this passage of time, senseless acts that have no rhyme or reason and a floating sadness like water ’round a rock.

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