Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

DSCN7053 - Version 2One of our garden club’s many activities occurs mid-January. Members gather to discuss a book related to horticulture, conservation, the environment, gardening, or other such earthy subjects. While the temperatures usually hover just north of zero, and snow is most often underfoot, it is the perfect time of year to read about earthly matters.

Our book this year is was a fairly new release. Laline Paull’s “The Bees” is an anthropomorphic tale about life in the hive with a lowly sanitation worker, Flora 717, as the protagonist. She is an unlikely heroine; too big, deformed, a lowly Sage, and a secret that could be her demise. While some of us loved the book, others emphatically did not. This, of course, was the perfect mix of perspectives for a chatty discussion, the hum of which must have buzzed about the halls and walls of the Elmhurst Library this week, channeling the very hive were “into” .

Have you noticed that it is the books one does not necessarily like that illicit the best conversations?

In between character development, authenticity, and the lewd behavior of drones, we nibbled on honeyed treats. Pictured above is a plate of apples with honey for dipping, nestled upon a bee’s tablecloth.  We tasted from a honeycomb, drizzling honey onto blue cheese and crackers. There were honey cookies and honey glazed walnuts and pretzels, all anchored with a bee skep – amongst some of the sweetest worker bees I know.

I keep a saying close at hand; a reminder to watch what I say.

Lord, make my words as sweet as honey, for tomorrow I may have to eat them. 

As an added bonus to me, whilst flipping channels once again back in my own comfy hive, Ulee’s Gold was playing. It is a movie I enjoy now and again, along with a Van Morrison song featured in it that I have posted before. This one is from the trailer to the movie.

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The temperatures dipped into the single digits on Monday as the morn arose to a glistening blanket of snow in the tentative, welcoming sunlight. Just outside the kitchen doors, a contingency of the resident herd of deer were tucked in, resting in the shelter of the trees and the barn. Just as I noticed them, their heads poked up noticing me. We went about our morning rituals, aware of each other and our places in time. Peaceful coexistence – at least for now.

Dressed and determined to get to a meeting, I sloshed and slid from pillar to post, holding fast to the car, the curb, the shopping cart, whatever was sturdy as I braced for the weather that we had been mostly spared of thus far this winter. It is hard to complain when so much of the country has been battered and buried in snow for so many weeks already. Still, as the song goes, “baby it’s cold outside”. . .


. . . but not inside these snow-white doors,


where elves hide ( he reminds me of Buddy the Elf)


and Poinsettia still hold court,


their bright colors stunningly paired with winter white blooms.

I’m so glad I took a few moments to step inside the Elmhurst Conservatory to catch my breath and grab some color before the storms blew in – and blow in they did, with several fresh inches of snow and bitter cold this morning of Epiphany. DSCN6992 DSCN6993 DSCN6994

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DSCN6529 - Version 2No, silly one; not racketeering, a common occurrence around the Windy City.

Rake-eteering; the active participation involving a band of active children, and a few responsible adults, in the yearly “rake up” of the back acreage here on the Cutoff.

Niece and nephew, Heather and Andrew, gathered up our dear grand-nephews and a few of their friends for an active afternoon of raking leaves, riding with Uncle Tom on John Deere, participating in the lively art of being buried in leaves, and maybe a few pieces of shortbread in between.

The Antler Man and I could not adequately express our love and appreciation of Heather, Andrew and the crew they brought over. Our load is a great deal lighter today because of their generosity of time and energy. Life is good on the Cutoff – and I hope the boys had a good, long sleep last night, enjoying that extra hour we all got.

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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit – and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.


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DSCN5973Shall I tell you a story of linen and ink, gardens and waterfalls, sunshine and splendor?

It occurs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.

Our garden club’s adventure started with a private tour of the Lenhardt Library; a treasure trove of horticultural books, journals, periodicals, reproduction prints and more. There was an amazing display of noteworthy bookplates, including those of Charles Dickens and Eugene Field.  Several of us were particularly interested in Field’s bookplate as we first met long before joining the garden club, when our children attended Field School, named for the poet. (you know him – Wynken, Blynken and Nod).

After our introduction to the wonders Lenhardt has to offer, we were taken into the June Price Reeder Rare Book Room. It was as if a hush fell on my soul, so enthralled was I in the presence of four centuries of bound and conserved horticultural wisdom, some of which became the template of remedies for modern medicine.  To touch the linen pages that predate the anniversary of Columbus’s discoveries, the day before Columbus Day is commemorated here, is rather awesome, indeed. The library is in the painstaking process of digitizing  these books and journals, some truly tomes, for all to access. You can see some of them by clicking the link to the rare book room above.

No garden club event seems complete without food, so, we stopped for lunch at the Cafe. We commiserated over sandwiches, soups, salads and sunshine, then separated, some taking a tram tour of the grounds, others walking the paths.  I suspect most of us also ended up in the bountiful gift shop before heading home.

The groundskeepers were busy, hauling this and that, flowers and soil, pumpkins and gourds, readying the Botanic for this weekend’s fall festivities. It was a pristine day; the best kind for visiting such an expansive garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens is a destination for grade school field trips as well as an international destination to world travelers.  It pleased me to no end to hear the many languages that were being uttered and the universal joy of horticulture.

Here are a few photos taken in the Rare Book Room.  Our guide was Leora Siegel, the library’s director. It is an understatement to say that she was exemplary as she guided us through the centuries of books. I felt a tinge of regret when the tour concluded as I longed to hear and see more.


Finally, a few photos of the grounds, which include the Japanese garden, the vast vistas, waterfall, and stunning chrysanthemums dripping from the main arbor leading out to the Botanic’s grounds.




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It is that time of year for the gathering of seeds, the raking of leaves, the cutting back of perennials and the discarding of annuals.

It is that time of year for “putting the garden to bed”.

DSCN5944. . . and so, we did at our Garden Club meeting on Monday.

We didn’t actually put any gardens to bed; we had an informative presentation about chores to do in the Autumn garden in preparation for winter.  No matter how long one gardens, there is always something new to learn. New tools. New techniques. Reminders of tried and true ways. Our presenter, a well known and respected owner of a local feed store, Pioneer Feed in Villa Park, showed us examples of diseased plants, explained soil additives, talked about plant treatments, and even explained how a Sawzall can be employed to rejuvenate Miscanthus grass.

This presentation followed refreshments and our business meeting.  Finger sandwiches and gelatins molded with fruits or vegetables was just what we needed on a cool Autumn afternoon, with cookies and brownies for desert.  A fulfilling meal, followed by the informative lecture, all centered around putting our gardens to bed.

These centerpieces were crafted and arranged by club member Nan. A smaller bed (above) was on each table.A larger one (below) brought out the Goldilocks in me. All were given out as door prizes, much to the pleasure of those who won them, and I think we all stepped a little lighter as we left, our gardening chores awaiting us in the weeks ahead – and the comfort of knowing we all had a place to rest our heads at day’s end.


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DSCN5900I should have shown you what was IN the jar first, but, I was too busy playing Goldilocks and ate the whole thing up. 

Only fooling you. Here is what it looked like before I attacked my yogurt and granola with unfettered glee,


while scoping out the Chicago Botanical Gardens for an outing the gardening group is taking later this week. 

Have you had any jarring experiences lately?

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