Saturday, December 17, 2016

Building an Ice Rink in the Yard

Every October, my husband starts to get antsy about an annual household project that needs to be completed before the first freeze. It's not winterizing our home for optimal heating indoors. It's not preparing our cars for the snow and ice we can expect in Chicagoland, equipping them with snow tires or checking the anti-freeze. It's not hauling winter boots, coats, hats and mittens out of their summertime attic storage. Nope, it's none of those only slightly necessary preparations that he begins to focus on when the leaves begin to turn and fall.

It's something much more vital to the wintertime existence of this homeschooling family. To meet the needs of winter survival and sanity of physically active children and stir crazy adults, my husband begins to turn his attention to the building of an ice rink in our suburban yard. It is not a difficult process but it is a labor of love.

Usually a chilly half day project, every year they hope to begin the process before the ground freezes. My husband and the boys haul the systematically stored boards and stakes out of the garage.

The boards are laid out in the yard in their eventual order of placement, set up with stakes and held in place with brackets and screws.

The boards are draped with a very large piece of plastic (construction grade), obtained from our local Home Depot. One hundred feet long, the cost of the plastic is $80.00. It is cut in half for use over two years, one half per year. Attached with a staple gun to the boards the plastic covers the ground and the inside of the boards.

Once the task of adding the plastic cover is complete, the weather watching begins. They begin looking for the inevitable report of the first freeze. The rink is filled with water (minimum 3" deep at the shallowest point) using the outdoor faucet and the garden hose. The frozen rink requires some maintenance. If it snows, the ice needs to be cleared. If the weather warms, melting can cause rough spots, adding water again before a refreeze can help smooth the surface. From my observations of the skaters in our family, watching the weather, the maintenance of the rink and skating day and night, is all a part of the joy of winter.

After the freeze the skating begins.
Late one night as I was saying goodnight to our youngest, I heard sounds outside...
Looking out the upstairs window, I was delighted to see the source; my husband enjoying the fruits of his labor, enjoying a late night skate on the ice in his own backyard! I captured it on the video below, perhaps not very exciting viewing for all, but the scene and the sound of my husband's skate blades on the ice warms my heart!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Urban and Suburban Gardening - A Little Bit of Fall Harvest

This year for the first time I had a fall harvest of raspberries, a small harvest, but a harvest none the less. I have often wondered about encouraging my raspberry canes to produce in the fall. And it seems there were two contributing factors this year. One I had control over, the other not.

First, I didn't cut back canes as early as I usually do despite the pressure to do so.
My raspberries are between my garage and the alley. A perfect spot for them as it provides natural barriers to the weed like growth tendencies of the canes. The location, however, tends to include the neighbors in my suburban gardening efforts.

The neighbors seem to fall into two groups. The first set includes the concerned and skeptic, they express concern over the possibility of the raspberry canes causing damage to vehicles, specifically scratches on car paint. Even though I want to be a good neighbor, this year I left the cane trimming for later and with the unseasonably warm weather extending into the fall as an added factor, the canes produced again in October. Another group of neighbors doesn't complain. They just harvest freely. This years overly abundant harvest produced enough to share, the heat curtailed any over zealous foragers and they weren't expecting berries in the fall! The small fall raspberry harvest was few but it was all mine!

What ever view the neighbors take, the raspberries love their location.They thrive there and produce in abundance. And maybe I shouldn't admit this but, they really are not labor intensive at all! This year, when on one occasion I made the mistake of picking during the heat of the day, the work was long, tedious and a little sweaty. That task at that time of day forced me to consider those who do agricultural work and pick for a paycheck. They are out picking for hours a day to provide what we can easily find and buy at a grocery store. Remembering them makes me thankful for every bite!

Raspberry care tip for fall: harvest the leaves, cut back the canes (especially by the neighbors garage!), throw on some compost, spruce and pine needles, viola!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Orange Food is Good Food - Squash Soup Recipe

The colors of the autumn season have been gorgeous in Chicagoland this year. As the leaves finally fall from the trees, I am disappointed to see the beauty of it all freeze away. This yummy butternut squash soup recipe is a bit of consolation. It's tasty, healthy and saves some of the lovely fall color for the table.

Fall and winter are great seasons for bowls of hot soup to keep the chill in check. Along with a hearty piece of whole grain bread, fresh baked or not, with a vegetable or cheese spread, soup can contribute to a complete meal and make for cozy time together. Squash soup is an ideal way to prepare those beta-carotene rich squash so abundant in the fall harvest.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 small - medium butternut squash
1 16 oz.can chicken broth
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash lemon pepper or white pepper
1 tablespoon honey
chopped fresh chives for garnish

Halve the squash, remove seeds and bake at 350 in baking pan in shallow water cut side down, turn cut side up after about 20 minutes.
Bake another 15-20 minutes for a total 30-40 minutes total or until tender.
Spoon squash from peel into food processor or blender and puree. (When in a hurry, I have skipped this step, but the resulting texture isn't as nice.)
Combine baked pureed squash and broth in a large saucepan bring to a boil and simmer.
Over medium heat stir in sour cream, butter, cayenne and honey. Add salt and white pepper.
Cook soup until thoroughly heated.
Garnish with chives. And if you like a small extra dollop of sour cream.                                                                

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween Birthday!

Fall is a delightfully colorful season. Traditional autumn activities of harvest include preparations for the upcoming winter months. Gathering provisions for warmth and sustenance dominated fall activities in the past. Despite the official beginning of fall in September, it is Halloween that seems to mark the actual change of seasons for us. Halloween is a festive day of tricks, treats and fun for young ones. In northern Illinois, the day can be a warm weather day of the very last of summer or one in which a full blown winter coat is needed, either way children delight in the day of fun and costumes.

I haven't always been a fan of the holiday, preferring a mellower acknowledgement of harvest and the change of season, but the birth of one of my babies on a chilly Halloween morning changed that. Our son, Asher, has naturally always loved having a Halloween birthday. Turning eighteen this year, (how can that be?) we celebrate our middle child and continue to enjoy the day as one of celebration and good fun. Here's wishing a delightful Halloween for you and yours as well, no matter how you celebrate.

Happy Birthday, Asher!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Meeting Arcy - Art at the Dunes

Living in the intensely urban area of Chicagoland, I am always looking for outdoor nature experiences to renew myself and share with my family.  As an artist, I am also interested in viewing the artistic expressions of fellow artists. One benefit of city living is the many opportunities to view art in galleries and museums. 

On occasion, there is even the chance to enjoy nature and art together. One such opportunity, to view art while surrounded by nature, presented itself at the Indiana Dunes this summer. Looking for a simple, close to home vacation, we headed to "the dunes" and were greeted at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center by the wonderful mural art of  Ryan Christenson. Despite being positioned directly in the sun and the mid-day heat, the mural was in process.

As my children will attest, I talk to everyone and the opportunity to meet a painter so visibly in process was simply irresistible. Fortunately, the painter was welcoming and accessible for questions and conversation.

Ryan Christensen lives in Connecticut and has been painting since 2003. Having done a bit of graffiti art, Ryan signs his work with his tag name of Arcy. His mural work is fabulous.  The application goes somewhat quickly and the image comes to life before ones eyes. 

Watching him work with the spray paint cans was fascinating.

The application goes somewhat quickly and the image comes to life before ones eyes.

Talented graffiti artist with mainstream appeal Arcy has become a for hire mural artist. He's found a calling and fortunately for himself and his young family, is earning a well deserved income doing mural commissions around the country. Visitors to the Indiana dunes were fortunate that at some point the cans came out of the shadows with Arcy.

Thanks, Arcy, for sharing your craft with dune visitors this summer!

We always welcome inspiration to create our own artistic responses.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Discovering A Local Community Garden

We have a garden in our suburban yard, but I am, at best, a lazy gardener. My raspberries do well, despite my neglect. I have hit or miss vegetables in several raised beds every year. (Usually planted late.)

I have always been fascinated by the community garden idea. My first exposure was in Kiel, Germany. Where many, including my host family at the time, benefitted from the availability of garden space near apartment housing. Then again later, I enjoyed visiting community gardens in Boston, where there is a community garden located on the same ground as when it was begun, as a victory garden, during World War II. Still thriving, it is located in the Fredrick Law Olmsted Emerald Necklace green space of the Fenway in Boston. You can learn about that historic community garden from their website Fenway Victory Gardens.  More recently, during my day to day travels of driving my teen-aged children around, I've been stumbling upon local community gardens in my current Chicagoland stomping grounds.

My 17 year old son has a new job. Sometimes (usually), teenager jobs require the commitment of a parent or other adult. Since he doesn't have a car yet, or for that matter, a driver's licence. His job requires a driver. I'm typically that driver. I don't mind, he has taken on a new responsibility, is learning a lot and I have been experiencing the opportunity to travel a new path because of it. As a result, I have been making a few new local discoveries. The Old Schoolhouse Community Garden being one of them. Located just steps away from the parking lot of my son's work place, the well manicured garden called to me and my camera.

Included are some of my photos of the Old Schoolhouse Community Garden in Westchester, IL.

Their welcome sign is a little bit contradictory. I stayed on marked paths and was careful not to disturb anything. Every raised bed had it's own wonderful and delightful beauty. So many wonderful, sweet surprises to photograph.

Located next to an old schoolhouse with property owned by Immanuel Lutheran Church, the garden is a delightfully well maintained community garden of raised beds. Their website is very informative and complete. It includes an application to secure the use of a raised bed, as well as all of the guidelines for participation. Somewhere, there is a great organizer behind the scenes!

Beautiful, healthy and productive melon plants. Someone is going to enjoy the fresh taste of that one!

A bit of creativity is added to the mix with these colorful little beaded plant identification markers.

The garden is complete with hospitality for the butterflies.

Gardening related classes are offered at the old schoolhouse itself. Unfortunately, I missed the recent canning class. Hopefully, I'll be able to benefit from some of their other upcoming classes.
They do have a few more events listed for this fall.

For further general information about the Old Schoolhouse Community Garden in Westchester, IL, their website is at:

Community garden or home garden, this little tool collection plus folding stool is useful. Click on the image to head over to amazon to view and/or purchase. This is an affiliate link. Thanks for visiting!