Wednesday, October 15, 2014

There's High Lines



Truly a park.
And then there’s high lines.  High lines in the utility industry are the lines carrying electricity across the nation.  It’s the big boys of the system.

The “High Line” in New York is an abandoned elevated freight rail line transformed into a free, public park on Manhattan’s West Side.  What’s the big deal for us in small town Illinois?   It’s an example of turning trash into treasures.  It’s taking a negative cityscape and making it the starting point to reinvigorate the town.

All towns, cities and villages have examples of some former building or development now rundown and a blight on the whole neighborhood.  What was different with this abandoned freight rail line is someone had an idea to take it from blight to brilliant.

A non-profit “Friends of the High Line” was formed and partnered with the NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation.  Their mission:  “Through excellence in operations, stewardship, innovative programming, and world-class design, we seek to engage the vibrant and diverse community on and around the High Line, and to raise the essential private funding to help complete the High Line’s construction and create an endowment for its future operations.”

The big words:  Seek to engage.  No non-profit can function in and of itself.  It must have others engaged in wanting a project to succeed. 

What it didn’t do is sit around and blame others while doing nothing.  That’s pretty amazing considering social media is all about blaming, complaining and doing nothing.

The high line railroad trestle has elevated gardens, walkways, seating and beautiful views.  They use species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees hardy, sustainable, textural and with color variation.  Focus is on native species.   Many of the self-seeded plants on the old deserted tracks have been incorporated. 

Views, walkways, seating and air!
And the deal is not just this amazing reclaimed park, it has changed entire neighborhoods.  Because it’s brought locals out to walk and relax, tourists and professionals to photograph, and families enjoying their city, there’s been a need for business.  Restaurants, stores, apartments, and more followed.  As the movie says:  “If you build it, they will come.”

They didn’t wait for businesses to come in first; they created a destination and need brought businesses. They have garden talks and walks, yoga, Tai Chi, nature walks, fairs, concerts, walking tours, neighborhood narratives, stargazing, lunch series, kids specials and dance parties. 

This beautiful garden is the beginning of community revitalization.  It can be an inspiration for big and small revitalizations in your community.  Before destroying that unsightly old structure, could it become a blessing?  Destroy and remove hit a huge wave of popularity in towns and as a result we see many a town with little of its history and beauty left; all the while complaining no new business comes calling. 

School children classes
Sometimes a city and its residents must take a leap of faith and enhance its current spots around town such as Galva’s revitalization of Veterans’ Park a few years ago.  Also, allowing the Country Road festival this summer in our Park District was a leap of faith by the Park Board and that leap was especially smart.  This could not have happened had the Park District not kept that park so beautiful and updated.

Not all old buildings or lots can be used or preserved.  I urge you to not give up on these historic structures or lots without exhausting outside-the-box possibilities first.  One thing for certain, nothing like the High Lines project would be possible without a dedicated group of caring individuals. 

This town and your town have a wonderful history and vibrant futures if it’s citizens care to see what might be.  Stop thinking about what had died as if that’s the future. Don’t just complain about that building that’s an eye sore and can’t be fixed.  Make an effort to not let another building fall so far into disrepair it is a lost project.

As for gardens, Galva is an exceptional example of enhancing our public spaces.  All our parks:  33 cares at the Park District, Washington Park, Wiley Park and Veterans Park.  Included is the small garden venue’s around signposts and various small plots.  The street department waters these plots and volunteers plant and weed. 

Before renovation.
As your town experiences empty buildings, do we complain because no one is knocking at the door to utilize them?  OR do we make the town so attractive eventuality population will demand more businesses to serve their needs. 

And one final suggestion:  Utilize the businesses you have if you want them to continue.  Don’t expect someone else to support them and then complain because one Sunday you couldn’t drive five minutes to get a washer for your project, a banana for your desert, or a gallon of gas for your trip.  We each must carry this responsibility. 

All photos and Mission Statement are from "Friends of the High Lines" web page.  


  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cherry Chocolate Cake

In full bloom
Our little "Monmoreney Stardard Tart" cherry tree produced abundantly this year for the first time.  It's a self pollinating twenty foot tree.  They're known for being the best cherry for pie because they have medium large sour bright red fruit with firm yellow flesh and clear juice.  It's the perfect tree for this area (good to -40.)

Tonight I was hungry for cherry something and didn't want to make a pie - because I would eat it all.  I know. . .

Here's the recipe I came up with and it turned out perfect (if I do say so myself.)  Grandma Disney used to say about her food:  "I can say it's good because it's good - now eat it."  Amen Grandma D.







Cherry Chocolate Cake

Grease bottom only of a 9 x 13 cake pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 box - Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix
8 oz. - Cream cheese - softened
3 - Large eggs
3/4 C - Cherry juice (drained from cherries*)
2 C - Pitted sour cherries
1 C - Dark chocolate chips

Drain cherries for about half an hour - reserve juice.  Whip cream cheese until fluffy.  Scrape sides of bowl after each addition to make sure all ingredients are blended.  Add eggs and mix well.  Add juice and mix well.  Add cake mix and beat 30 seconds on low.  Beat 2 minutes on medium.  Fold in the cherries and chips.  Pour into pan.  Bake 30 minutes.

*  I put 1/4 C. of sugar on the cherries and let them stand in the refrigerator for several hours to make the juice.  Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves.  Add water if it doesn't make enough juice.  Fresh cherries should make enough - if you're using canned or frozen commercial cherries, they might not be a juicy.  Don't use canned cherry pie mix.

Glaze:

1 C - Confectioners sugar
1/4 C - Milk
1 tsp. - Vanilla  (You may want to use almond flavoring but I seriously don't like the taste.)

Mix to make sure there are no lumps.  Add more milk if it doesn't pour.  Drizzle over the top of the warm cake.  Use the back of a spoon to cover all the top.

Great served warm with ice cream.  Or as breakfast.  Or standing at the sink and eating it out of your hand.  Since the cherries are more perishable than plain cake, either keep in the frig. or eat it within a couple of days.  Once no longer warm, cover.

Yes, there's a piece missing - thank you very much.
And that's it for tonight.  My little cherry tree has done us well. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

When the Light Goes Out




Help me, Oh Lord, not to sit under an umbrella and think the sun will never shine.  Let me look out of my cloud of depression and see your beautiful glories.  Glories meant for me.  Help me to understand that setbacks, defeats, sadness and failures are not the core to life.  They are only a part of life.  They are there for reasons as such as being in the wrong place, to making a poor decision, to an opportunity to learn and be taught, a result of trauma, or a chemical imbalance.  Help me open the envelope, reach inside and find a message of mercy and promise.  I pray this prayer for everyone suffering depression. 

Depression is not the world; it is a part of a world that keeps pulling us under its gray spell.  It is the meaning of negativity.  It’s the end of optimism, self-esteem and often the desire to live.  When we allow depression to engulf our mind, it effectively eliminates all our positive qualities because our mind no longer has room to think of them as qualities.  Each slip lower into depression eliminates our knowledge of a quality that makes us a valuable person.  

As those qualities are eliminated in our mind, they are replaced with real and imagined negative thoughts of our self and the world.   The pull is extremely hard and powerful. 

If the depressed have never been taught how those steps towards negativity mushroom and spiral into deeper and deeper depression.  If they’ve never been taught how to recognize and work at stopping that spiral, as the depression becomes more powerful, they will end up with no tools to combat the progress into darkness. 

No matter what methods are used to treat depression, methods to personally recognize and combat the spiral downward must be taught.  If a person is over drugged, they will not be able to use those methods effectively while in a stupor.  If a person is over analyzed, they will not be able to recognize the spiral while spending time blaming.  If families are not taught the steps needed and only rely on one form of treatment, they will be eliminating the powerful tool of self-awareness.


I know some people have been born with a physical propensity to depression.  My mother suffered from depression most of her life and it was difficult for not only her but also all who cared about her.  Back then no one talked about depression because it was considered an ugly little secret.  It was the preverbal elephant in the room.  Her treatment was mainly to over medicate.  At times she was admitted to the hospital for treatments that were very nearly an example out of the middle ages torture chambers.  She was doctored by the method to blame everything and everyone but never taught to manage her illness.  She never developed the skills needed to recognize the waves of depression nor how to manage those times.

Because it was not a topic discussed, her family didn’t have the knowledge and skills to recognize and help.  Here are a few things I learned as I got older and more informed:

When a person becomes depressed it’s a gradual process.  I like to term it a process of shutting doors in the mind to the outside world.  Slowly, the mind begins to focus inwardly instead of the world around them.  As that process progresses, as each thought turns inward, the ability to partake in life itself is closed.

I can often recognize this closing of doors by looking at the eyes of a person.  It’s where there’s a smile on their lips but the eye are expressionless.  It’s laughing but having no humor in the responses.  It’s hearing people talk only after someone makes the effort to gain their attention.  It’s subtle but real.


I encourage you and your family and friends to include professional instruction when you or someone is suffering depression.  Medication and hospitalization may be a part of treatment but learning the skills to combat the closing of mental doors is essential for surviving.  Once those doors completely close and they only look inward, it’s very difficult to help them prevent hopelessness.  The darkness of looking only inward prevents hope from gaining a foothold.

No matter if the one you care for is going through depression because they are a teenager, or have suffered a loss or if they have a predisposition for depression, it’s necessary for them to know how to stop the doors of the mind from closing out hope.


Loved ones cannot stop depression by loving more, by caring more or by talking them out of depression.  Loved ones can suggest, even insist, their treatment includes instruction on recognizing when depression is starting and methods to help turn it aside.

As family and friends, we can’t cure another of depression.  It’s a difficult and often thankless caregiver position.  We can be involved in the treatment by knowing exactly what treatment they are receiving and insisting on more than masking depression. 

Not exactly a garden article but was something that I felt strongly enough about to share today.  Before Robin Williams death, I saw several photos of him where I knew he was closing the doors of his mind to the positive outside influences.  His eyes no longer smiled.  When a well known celebrity closes all the doors of his mind and only looks inward, we see all too well how his loving family, the adoring public and his treatments no longer were able to pull him out.   I do not wish that loss on others.

  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Copious Amounts of Winter Panic

Following is an article (notice I didn't say "news article") from Empire News.   It's making the rounds of social media sites and as expected it's causing everything from comment to panic.  Folks:  The Empire News is a satirical publication with the primary focus of making fun and humor.  I have no idea if there's really a Dr. Boris Scvediok but the survivalists must be quoting him.

He suggests getting ready for the "snow of a lifetime" and pack in all the powdered milk and bread you can find.  Perhaps Dr. S has a powdered milk and bread factory...?  There's nothing wrong with preparing for bad weather - it's prudent.  Panic talk frightens the poor because they haven't the means to prepare for most daily life let alone "50 times the amount of snow in the past."  The gullible tend to latch on to these news stories and end up spending resources they can't afford to waste.

Local and regional meteorologists are commenting on the article and I think it's wise to temper the panic with their comments - unless you just like a freezer full of frozen bread and drinking powdered milk all winter.  Seriously, a freezer full of bread?  My family would enjoy a freezer full of meat, vegetables and fruit and be better fed.  It never hurts to have a box of powdered milk for emergencies (or canned) but my family would have to be pretty darn hard up before they'll drink it.

I enjoy a good laugh but I like humor that doesn't instill fear and panic in the vulnerable.  Prepare prudently for winter and then sit back and watch it snow.


The Empire News article:


"Chances are you will hear a lot about El Niño in the next month or two. Meteorologists and weather science experts at the National Weather Service (NWS) say that there is a 99% chance that the we will start to see a massive cold-front sooner in the year than has ever happened, which will produce not just record-breaking snowfall, but according to Dr. Boris Scvediok, a doctor of global weather sciences, record shattering snow storms across the board, affecting the entire United States.
“For the sake of comparison to the past winter, lets say that your area received a total of twenty inches of accumulative snow for the season. Because this year the snowfall is predicted to start by the end of September or the beginning of October, you can expect to multiply that number by up to five, ten, maybe even twenty times in some areas. In the worst zones, you could see 50 times the amount of snow you’ve had in the past. This is the type of winter the American public needs to prepare for. Several meteorologists are saying not to buy into what the models are showing. I can tell you from forty years of scientific weather research, they are doing you a disservice,” Dr. Scvediok told the Associated Press on Friday. “The Northeast, Ohio Valley, and Midwestern states will definitely get hit the hardest.”
Edward F. Blankenbaker, Senior Administrator of Meteorologists, also told the media that this will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of snowy winter.
“Pretty much everyone will see snow like they never have in their lives. Most younger people don’t even know what an actual blizzard looks like, but by the end of March, they will be seasoned survivalists,” Blankenbaker said. “Everyone needs to make sure they have their weather emergency kits prepared and ready to go. There will undoubtably be mass power outages, which along with freezing temperatures and enough snowfall to immobilize entire cities, will most likely, and unfortunately, be a very dangerous recipe. Safety always comes first and the time to prepare is right now.”
Along with the mention of severe winter weather, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) predicts supply and demand could cause shortages, causing the prices of bread and milk to increase substantially. FDA spokesperson Rebecca Miller suggests alternatives in preparation of the coming months.
“We are encouraging that you go out and purchase bulk amounts of dry, powdered milk which can be stored in your cupboards. This will prevent frantic trips to grocery stores and super markets as the onslaught of storms begin to fall upon your respected region.” Miller said. “As far as bread, we suggest you buy as much as you can efficiently store in your freezer. Bread can be frozen and thawed without compromising the integrity of its quality. Preparations such as these are crucial and the fact that technology has brought us to a time and place in which such events can be predicted is quite remarkable. So stock up on your powdered milk and fill your freezer with loaves of bread, because once the blankets of snow begin to fall, brave souls will confront the elements to raid stores of these products like some sort of scavenger hunt. Don’t be a part of the Snowpocolypse, it’s a dangerous battlefield of crazed shopping winter bitten weather zombies.”
milkbread
Stock up! Prices could more than triple in some locations
Public safety organizations also encourage the masses to prepare themselves by obtaining proper necessities. James Satterfield from the National Fire and Safety Advisory Board says preparation can save lives. “Don’t wait until temperatures plummet into a freeze; obtain cold weather clothing and footwear, including wool thermal socks. It is also crucial to have plenty of batteries, candles, weather radios, you name it. Get prepared, it’s coming.” Satterfield stated. “First and foremost, make sure you have an effective plan in place to make sure you have plenty of bread and milk.”
Dr. Scvediok says to be prepared for a storm that could come as early as the end of September, and plan for the entire winter season, which this year, he says, will more than likely spread into next June."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Copious Amount of Snow?



It’s September and we are starting the “what if” cycle of winter weather predictions.  At this point most are based on the 2015 “Farmer’s Almanac”. 

The question is “Do we batten down the hatches?” in our homes, businesses and gardens or “let winterizing slide?”

First off let’s acknowledge the fine art of predicting weather is as easy as getting an orchid to survive in the Midwest.  It might be spot on but the law of averages tells us maybe not so much accuracy is possible.  The important thing about weather predictions is it’s the number one topic of conversation if you live in a Midwest farm community.  And if you don’t love the topic, you’re not really Midwest, farm, or community are you?

Back yard and woods during snow storm

 My farmer dad, born in 1908, could talk weather from every side of the coin.  I used to love hanging out when a neighbor would stop by.  They would stand with one leg propped up on the bumper of a pick-up, talk and spit, spit and talk, and predict, ruminate and complain about the weather.

Even though farmer weather talk is an interesting cultural phenomenon not to be missed by any little kid – the fact remains weather can make or break the back of families depending on nature for their very livelihood.  And another fact is the truth to the old saying, “Everyone talks about the weather but no one can do anything about it.”

In the garden, there is more (but not a lot) we can do if we suspect there’s going to be a nasty winter like last year.  

Front yard with no clean up in the fall
Mulching is one important step to take for perennials.  It doesn’t keep the ground from freezing but it keeps the roots from deadly freezing/thawing over and over all winter.  In fact, many perennials do better when they have a good frozen winter.  A thick cover of mulch over the root area (but not touching the stem) will be a welcome protection.

The front of our drive 2011
A thick covering of straw is a great mulch for garden perennials or other short-stemmed plants.  Unless the garden had some kind of disease, I don’t clean up my fall beds.  By leaving until spring, the leaves and snow form thick protection for my perennials.  Up on this hill, we have lots of cold wind and that cold wind is a worse killer of trees, bushes and perennials than snow and low temperatures.

Roses have a whole sophisticated instruction for winter protection.  Do you want to keep your tea roses, then you better know how to implement those steps.  For more hardy roses, the heavy mulching will help.

Howard County IN 1978
Snow damage (and to some extent ice damage) may be lessoned on multi-stemmed evergreen bushes if you take old nylon stockings and loosely tie the several trunks together prior to winter.  If you’ve ever seen a juniper or arborvitae after lots of heavy wet snow weighs down the branches, you’ll be able to picture this damage.  This often splits the trunks and most never really recover completely.

One thing we can be certain about is last winter culled out most of our semi-hardy plants and we won’t have to worry about what’s left as much.

Kokomo IN 1978
Side Note:  And if you didn’t find out where those cold drafts were coming into your home last winter, you might want to consider making a caulk gun your new best friend this fall.  The amount you spend on caulk is so much less than the amount you’ll spend heating a drafty house.  I used to do energy audits at one time during my Illinois Power career and drafty leaks are such an energy waster.  Suck up your pride and cover those leaky windows with plastic – it may save you enough to buy new windows down the road.  Our very own Hathaway’s hardware store has everything you need to winterize your home.    

When the predictions use words like:  “copious amounts of snow and rain”, “below-normal temperatures”, “frigid arctic air…perhaps 40 below zero”, and the scary “red flagging”, it could describe a Midwest winter. 

My brother and I -1945
What is the “Farmer’s Almanac” predicting for us?  “Stinging, biting cold and normal snowfall.”  West of the Mississippi: “Piercing, bitter, frigid cold and normal snowfall.”  Will they be right? My prediction is it will be winter.  OK, that’s lame but it’s true.  We live in the Midwest and we will be cold and have snow.  My most certain prediction is we will talk about it until spring hits and then we’ll predict if we’ll have a good summer.  It’s what we do in the Midwest farm communities and we do it well.


       
 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Vertical Amazement



Big Bluestem "Vitman"
Even the smallest gardens can use a little vertical amazement.  Vertical in the form of ornamental grass.

Perennial ornamental grass in Zone 5 (where we live in Illinois) hasn’t had too many new varieties because many can’t take our freezing ground temperatures.  Most of the hardy ones are native to this area.

I have several varieties and I love how they look and perform:
 
Blue Festuca "Elijah Blue"
Small clumps:
Blue Festuca “Elijah Blue” – 9x10 inches in a soft blue clump.
Japanese Blood Grass “Red Baron” – 18 inches green with deep red stripes and tips.
Tiger Grass – 18 inches – likes to spread.
Blue Dune Grass


Medium clumps:
Little Bluestem “Blaze” – 3 ft. and turns red in the fall.
Little Bluestem “The Blues” – 3 ft. with blue leaves.
Flame Grass “Purpurascens” – 3 ft. with red/orange fall color.
Maiden Grass “Huron Sunrise” – 4 ft. with red seed heads in fall.



Large clumps:
Big Bluestem “Vitman” – 8 ft or more with large seed heads in the fall.
Zebra Grass “Strietus” – 8 ft. – stripes
Japanese Blood Grass "Red Baron"

Crazy Invasive:
Blue Dune Grass – 3 ft. light blue straps – underground runners.  Beautiful and impossible to keep in bounds.  I don’t recommend planting.
Bamboo – Technically not a grass but some people use as grass.  Do not plant or you will regret it to the point of it growing into your house, into your bedroom and overtaking the mattress and eventually covering your spouse who you won’t be able to find and people will suspect foul play.  I’m telling you this because I care.
Zebra Grass

May or may not survive the winter:
 Japanese forest grass “Aureola” – 2 ft. – lime and green strip leaves
Northern Sea Oats – 3 ft. – some consider invasive.
Corkscrew Rush “Spiralis” – 2 ft.  Green leaves that twist.
Giant Reed Grass – 12 ft. – looks like a corn stalk.  Can be invasive under perfect conditions.

The choices are expanding as annual ornamental grass has been embraced for potting.  The sizes, colors, patterns and fall seed heads are just some of the fun attributes.  There are tiny examples for fairy gardens and tall upright for limited space.   Since some are up to 3 ft. tall and wide, they can be interplanted with your perennials. 

Maiden Grass "Huron Sunrise"
Need a backdrop for a beautiful flowering perennial?  Have a bare spot?  Want to draw the eye along a certain path?  Need privacy?  Annual grasses can fill the order.  They come in a variety of prices starting at about $10.  I’ve had pretty good luck over wintering annual grass in my basement. 

Annual grasses can be divided easily.  Perennial grasses take some pretty serious muscle or a backhoe to divide some of the large clumps.  If you don’t want the perennial grass to spread, make sure you either don’t buy any that even hints at “invasive” or plant in pots and treat as an annual.

Annual dwarf "King Tut" grass


Cut the seed head off in the fall for bouquets or leave for bird feed.  Leaving the grasses stand over winter insures a safe and warmer hiding place for several varieties of birds. 



Perennial or annual grass is a great thing to share because it invigorates the clump to have part of the roots dug out.  And in the “yes, it was an odd winter and I’m still finding crazy things” category:  I had three clumps of native “Big Bluestem Vitman”.  One clump almost totally died, one is only about four foot tall and the third doubled in diameter and is over eighteen foot tall.  Now that’s vertical amazement!   
Big Bluestem rockin' fall.