Category Archives: Growing things

Around the Ville: Trains, Bikes and Atom Smashers

I’ve been tooling around the ‘Ville on my bepetalled cruiser, congratulating myself that I had the brains to insist on a bike with no gears to shift, a coaster break, and a saddle and handlebars that allow me to keep my seat on the seat . At last I can check out the landscape instead of the white line on the road, and, anyway,  I’ve never cared for skin-tight spandex on a hot day.

One of my favorite short rides — about five miles round trip — meanders along Batavia Road in the ‘Ville, then onto the Fermilab bike path for a short stretch of its considerable length. Today I remembered my camera, so come with me on my virtual bicycle built for two. I’ll let you squeeze the air horn if you remember to bring a bottle of water.

I want to show you a couple of charming gardens;both of them come right up to the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Old rattan and petunias.

The next three pictures show you the “public garden” created by garden writer (and my colleague at The Village Chronicles) Shawna Coronado. It extends the length of three houses, along the easement between their back fences and the sidewalk. For tired bicyclists and walkers she provides two full-size park benches. This is about half way down the garden path.

A sweet little detail:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view — I love the lone ten foot tall sunflower at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And another:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedaling right along we come to the level crossing for the old EJ&E tracks, now the CN tracks. For thirty years I’ve been hearing trains in the night, and when I’m staying somewhere else I miss that low slow rumble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cross those tracks and you’re breathing the same air and biking the same path as a few hundred of smartest people on earth:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the gates. While the property is still open to runners and bicyclists, it’s been closed to non-authorized cars since 9/11. It’s enormous acreage, most of it pure prairie. It houses its own herd of bison (you can smell it downwind) and provides a sort of federal wilderness preserve and wetlands.

When the superconducting supercollider came to town, the locals redubbed it The Atom Smasher, not as alliterative, but more descriptive. And shorter.

Welcome to the home of the Top Quark.

 

 

 

 

Bring your bait and tackle — this is literally the first time I haven’t seen kids and grandpas fishing here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A path-side sculpture. Or something. Any atomic scientists in the house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breaking the pristine spell of the place, but beautiful and powerful in their own way are the miles and miles of enormous power towers. You need mucho megawatts to smash atoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s where I turned around tonight , a big white clapboard building, “Aspen East.” It’s a community center for employees, backed by tennis courts, volleyball courts, and picnic tables. I wonder if they hold keggers in there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was hot and muggy, and I’d forgotten my water bottle so I headed home. What I’ve shown you is a fraction of the Fermilab bike path — I was hoping to bring on the bison, the wild apple trees and Fermilab itself. Now that the collider in CERN is #1 Atom Smasher, Fermilab has lost some funding. It will be around for basic research, they say. Oh God, I hope so.

I biked back after about half an hour, only to wait as one of the longest freight trains in memory chugged by.

My street is unremarkable: lots of flags, driveway basketball hoops and nice people. I’ve shown you a tiny snapshot of Warrenville, close up, from behind my handlebars. When I get a lock and chain for my bike, I’ll take you to the library! Be still your hearts.

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Filed under Body, Free, Growing things, History, Home, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

It’s Bloomin’ Wet

I think I’ve mentioned that our back yard is the low water place in the neighborhood. Here’s a pic after yesterday’s storm:

But all that rain after all that heat made my roses bloom like crazy! The tall red boy is Othello, from the great English rosarian David Austin. Austin believes in the form and fragrance of old roses, and when you’re at the nursery and see any of his roses for sale — buy them. The modern tea rose is almost fragrance free, and the new breed of tuff shrub roses traded perfume for hardiness. I sniff at them. Bah.

A different view, showing off  the white Sir Henry Hudson, one of the Canadian Explorer series. Mr. Russian Comfrey, the bane of my gardening existence, takes up most of the left hand side of the picture.

If you’re a writer, writing about roses, there are so many ways you can cliche your title! “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” “Rose is a rose is a rose.” “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.” (The days of wine extend longer than the days of roses, for sure.) Even, in a bad year, “Oh rose thou art sick.” For Alcott fans, “Rose in Bloom.” Please tell me all the ones I’ve forgotten in the comments section.

There’s a reason writers have written about roses since people pressed characters into a clay tablet with a stick — they are dazzling, sensual, mystical. The rose is the floral emblem of the Virgin Mary, the crests of the families of Lancaster and York during the bitter Wars of the Roses, and the centerpiece of a prom night wrist corsage. I’ll never forget the rose petals strewn on the hall between the bar and the dining room at Christina Simpson’s wedding; it felt luxurious, almost medieval. Christina is a florist and knows about these things.

Back to my garden in the ‘Ville. I’ve forgotten the name of this voracious red climber, so vigorous that its stalks need to be whacked off by a machete because the thorns have been known to stab the thighs of the UPS guy. I cut it back hard last fall, and it blew it off. Lou walked through the front door yesterday and said “Say, do you think you have enough roses?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of David Austin’s “Memorial.” I wish you could smell the deep musky old rose scent.

The heat and the rain have made Hosta Corner very, very happy. They’re at least a yard tall.

All this hot liquid display is, after the initial  fifteen-years-ago financial outlay, free. That’s cheap, friends, and it makes me cheerful.

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Filed under Growing things, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Keeping Cool

Chicagoans complain about the cold seven months a year, then they complain about the heat and humidity for three. And yes, you dwellers of the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Arizona can just please hold your tongues, please. You may have your weather challenges, but residents of the Midwest get it all: giant hail, tornadoes, blizzards, days colder than a witches teat and days which remind me what agricultural workers in Florida live through. Our foundations shift, our basements flood, our engines freeze in winter and our car bodies rust. I suppose it builds character. At this point in my life I guess I’m a character.

It was 97 yesterday,  it was 97 today, and it will be 97 tomorrow. I have expensive plants I bought yesterday that need to be planted, and weeds are ecstatic. At about four I girded my loins and dug a nice big hole to plant one of three nicotiana sylvestris. (An expensive, divine smelling annual.) Willow the Wonder Cat is interested in everything we do — pounce on the pencil when we’re doing the crossword, dare the up and down of the sewing machine needle with her paw, and leap from nowhere to tackle the weed in my hand. She loves gardening.

So, sweaty and lightheaded, I walked across the patio to pick out my  plant. I turned, and saw my Under Gardener pee carefully in my hole, then carefully fill the hole up with the dug up dirt circling it. I gave up.

Glory be to God for air conditioning. I just kinda fooled around on the internet, and Facebook Friends posted some clever links. Want to publish your monograph in Llama font? Ici: http://llamafont.com/

Or perhaps you’d like saucy sculptures of ladies made entirely from Chinese  cabbage? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1393169/Ju-Duoqi-The-Fantasies-Chinese-Cabbage-Glamour-girls-entirely-cabbage.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

So, I wasted some time on the internet, averted heatstroke and then did something conterintuitive: I got down with flour. Thanks to the divine A/C  I baked bread and made handmade fettucine. Come to think of it, that’s what I do when it’s twenty below outside — if the weather’s keeping me inside it’s time to do some real cooking. I bought the ice cream machine out  and did a strawberry frozen yoghurt.

It was a frustrating day, but just as our ancestors threw a log on the fire in wintertime and played euchre, I survived the heat by taking advantage of being held hostage by it.

It’ll be in the 60s by Thursday, say the local network weather guys. I’ll pull on a cardigan and weed.

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Filed under A Couple of Bucks, Food, Growing things, Machines, Needlework

In the Weeds

For the first time today I recognized, deep down,  what restaurant cooks mean when they say they’re “in the weeds” or “weeded.” I mean, I’ve known for years that it means being so behind on your orders that it feels as if you’ll never get through service alive, let alone getting the right orders to the right customers.

But today, as my back ached and sweat bedewed my bosom, I realized that I’m in the weeds for the rest of my life, or as long as I live in this house. The garden’s too big, laid out in my optimistic thirties, and my tolerance for slaving in the heat has become too small. My weeds are thugs, maybe because of all those years of solemn soil amendment — Man, are they happy!

Many gardeners go on about the meditative aspects of weeding and it’s health-giving properties — all that “light” exercise. Har. I should be as enlightened as St. Teresa of Avila and as supple as Selma Hyack. I’m not.

But today I admitted: I’m going to be in the weeds forever, even if I spend two solid hours a day pulling and whacking from March until November.  The weeds will always win.

But…. the garden’s looking better. Here are a few photos (heavily cropped to hide some of the weeds.)

The lovely spicy- scented rosa Therese Bugnet:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Henry Hudson rose from the Canadian Explorer series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blooming chives:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my spanking new leather-palmed and fingered gardening gloves, on a bed of geranium sanguineum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s allowed me to forgive myself, this realization that I’m never going to win, no matter how hard I work. I mean, I’m not going to slough off; I’ll be sweating and groaning tomorrow on a muggy Midwestern day in the 90s. But now I’ll forgive myself for knowing my weeds and flowers will never get a six page spread in Martha Stewart Living.

 

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Filed under Free, Growing things, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

Spring in the ‘Ville. Again.

Spring in northern Illinois is a warmer version of spring in Quebec — three weeks earlier but just as maddening. We hit 84 one day, and a terrifying nighttime prairie thunderstorm later be were back in the thirties. T.S.  knew what he was talking about when he wrote that :

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain

 

Well, April is also National Poetry Month.

But a couple of things on this April day made me breathe in the cool sunny air. As in every April, my daffodils are furling, along with some tulips and scilla. Heaven bless my bulbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thyme and tarragon are back too, and I suspect the oregano will surge as it gets warmer. Tomorrow I’ll move the tax forms and the sewing machine from the dining room table and center a pitcher bulging with daffodils and tulips.

Here’s another eternal sign of spring, from out my back door. This kid was kicking around a soccer ball with his big brother, his uncle, his Dad four years ago when he was two. He’s bigger now, but the grass verge futbol, which will continue until the snow falls, is a sign of spring as indelible as my crabapple tree leafing out, the cats twitching at the fresh birdsong, and the soft thunder of an EJ&E train rumbling through my open window.

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Filed under Free, Growing things, History, Home, Into the Mystic, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, The Great Outdoors

A Free Planter: The Big Red Can

I’m going to take advantage of my fatigue and eyestrain today to bring Cheap and Cheerful back to its roots —  a shortish post about a cool cheap thing to make or do.  (A short night’s sleep, the new Laurie R. King, an early doctor’s appointment and a shot are all part of my drowsy mix.) I believe I spotted this idea in Martha Stewart Living a couple of years ago, made it last my own  year and should do it again.

I like to plant seeds in containers except for the price of the containers. Even at the tackiest garden center or hardware store they cost way too much money — heck, I could buy a rosebush for the price of three half- gallon plain ole  clay pots.And because I’m lazy,I often leave my clay containers to overwinter, and I’m punished by retrieving cracked pots in the spring.Here’s a picture of the Big Red Can that I produced in less than five minutes last year. The nasturtium plant is on it’s way out, but you’ll get the idea.

The planter can be a paint can, a coffee can or a Crisco can.  Punch a  few holes in the bottom. Find a can of enamel spray paint from your garage — the red paint is the refresher for the front door. If you wanna get crazy with masking tape and stripes, go for it! You can get as artistic as all get out, but in the end, what you have is a cheap, cheerful lightweight  planter.

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Filed under Free, Growing things, Home, The Great Outdoors

Shopping the Warrenville Farmers Market

I dragged myself from the laptop and the sewing machine at about four o’clock, to go to the post office and drive the extra block from the PO to the parking lot of the ‘Ville Community Center. The lot is ample for the need, but please don’t imagine acres of chic chefly produce here –I didn’t count, but  I think there are no more than twenty tables. A depressingly large number of them are devoted to Tupperware, flea market odds and ends and all those mysterious “food” booths, which consist of nothing but glossy brochures and sign-up sheets. Not exactly the Union Square Greenmarket.

But the City Parents have improved it enormously since last year, when there were booth after booth of people selling American Girls doll clothes and exactly one produce seller. That seller, from way downstate, is back this year with an expanded selection. A baker from Geneva is there, and my two new favorites, which I’ll highlight first.

He explained to me that his poultry and the eggs they produce are not only organic and cage free and free-range — they’re pastured. Yep, out all day in fields, in at night so the foxes and coyotes don’t get them. His meat –pork, chicken and beef, are lucky animals too. I picked up another dozen of the best eggs I can buy, and forked out five bucks for them. Not cheap, but I’ll be cheerful every time I crack one.

I also bought a chunk of organic Wisconsin Wine Cheddar, which I intend to hide.

On to my favorite stall, tended by a glowing family from about an hour from the ‘Ville. Every single shopper was toting a six-pack of their corn, still hands down the best I’ve eaten this year in what’s been a great summer for corn. (All that rain and heat, I guess.) I added some baby eggplants, yellow pattypans, golden beets and huge tomatoes, picked that morning in their garden. It seems they hit a Farmers Market a day, but the lady confided: “I love being in Warrenville — it’s like some little tiny town no one knows about in these fancy suburbs.” Perceptive lady.

The moment that Made my Day: before I snapped their pic I introduced myself as the food writer from the local paper. A voice to my left said” “Oh my God, are you Margaret?” Wow. Seemed the impeccably chic lady beside me is on the editorial staff of the Village Chronicles . She said: “We just drool over your recipes when we get your stories.” That made me happy.

Here are a few pictures from the big “industrial” Farmers Market farm from way downstate, the one that was the only produce stand last year.

Aren’t those tiny multicolored marble potatoes pretty? I bough half a pound of the impeccable fingerlings.

For those of you who live in places with wondrous Farmers Markets, what do you think of the prices on these mushrooms?

I might ask about at City Hall this winter about plans for next year’s Farmers Market. I’ve seen a huge improvement over last year, and this heartens me. Hmmm — maybe I could get on a Committee ?

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Filed under Food, Growing things, Incredible Edible Egg, On the Street Where I Live, The 'Ville, Worth it anyway