Monthly Archives: July 2013

Oak Park Conservatory–Uncorked

Oak Park ConservatoryI am a sucker for local events. The Oak Park Conservatory is hosting Uncorked Summer Nights on the last Fridays of the next few months. The first one was last Friday and I went with Naoto and our neighbor friend Karen to check it out. For $10, you get two drink tickets, a tour of the conservatory, passed appetizers and then a chance to mill around with other plant lovers both inside the conservatory and outside on the patio.

I’ve never been to the conservatory…what a shame because it is such a local treasure! The actual conservatory was built in 1929 and it holds more than 3000 plants. There are three sections in the conservatory–the fern room, the rainforest room and the desert room. Our docent gave us a thorough tour of each room and I took plenty of pictures.

Above is the view as you walk into the fern room. You are overcome with green, in the best way possible. Here are some other views from the fern room. I’m not sure what the first two plants are (I just loved their interesting shapes!), but the last one is a lemon tree.

oak park conservatory oak park conservatoryoak park conservatoryAs we walked into the rainforest room, we could feel the change in humidity. Three birds live in this room (they chatter at you as you walk by!) and there’s a river running though the room with a few large, colorful koi fish and a tiny turtle! (It’s hard to see the little guy in my picture, but he’s right by the koi’s tail.) We also saw a cacao tree (third picture down) and a huge fiddle leaf fig (not pictured), the biggest “thing” in home blogging since chevron.oak park conservatory Naoto on the bridgeoak park conservatory koi and turtleoak park conservatory cocao treeoak park conservatoryThe last room, the desert, was dry and warm (obviously). I was most looking forward to seeing the century plant, an agave from Mexico that only blooms once every thirty years. The picture below is from a few weeks ago when the plant started growing through the roof of the conservatory. The book club ladies and I walked down one evening to take a peek at it poking through the roof of the conservatory. Sadly, before it had a chance to really flourish, it broke off in a bad storm the week before. But we got to see the blooms up close on display since the conservatory staff was able to save those from the broken plant. oak park conservatoryFrom the inside of the conservatory, the base of the century plant looks like an enormous, Dr. Suess-ish plant with a giant asparagus poking out of it. Oak Park Conservatory century plantI’m really not a desert person, but I loved seeing the cacti and succulents up close. There were so many interesting ones! The one below was part of a series of enormous aloe plants. Naoto cut his leg on one. (We were warned not to touch the cacti!) There were also plenty of little mice frolicking about the plants in here. It was alarming at first (they were really out in the open!) but they quickly became fun to watch (as long as they didn’t run out into the walkways!) oak park conservatory aloeoak park conservatory oak park conservatory oak park conservatory oak park conservatory Karen took this picture of Naoto and me in front of the century plant. I decided to wear my new floral dress (as a departure from my usual summer black and grey and cat shirts) for the gardening occasion.Oak Park Conservatory century plant I’m already looking forward to going back and exploring more during August’s Uncorked event!

Tagged , , ,

Japan Bound

DSC_0099Last week, Naoto booked our flight to Japan! We were going to wait until November to go…that way we could avoid planning around Honor Flight and the garden. But when Naoto saw a deal for the first week in September (that would save us more than $400 per ticket!!), we knew we had to book the flight right away. Lucky for us, it doesn’t interfere too much with Honor Flight (on September 12th) and hopefully we will get to enjoy most of our tomatoes throughout August.

I am already plotting out my office supply shopping, washi tape wishlist, my Mister Donut menus…you know, all of the important stuff. We are staying in Tokyo for our whole trip this time. (Last time, we stayed in Tokyo, Niigata and Mie.) Most of Naoto’s family is there now, and Hisae (of the famous care packages) is coming in from Mie to join us in our adventures.

August is going to be full of Japan preparations, so I’m sure I’ll be blathering on about it here on the blog.

Tagged , , ,

Japanese Care Package

Japanese SnacksI came home Tuesday to a care package from Naoto’s sister (my sister-in-law), Hisae. Holy cow, was it a good one! Hisae sent Naoto some stuff (the serious looking packages on the left side) and she sent me a ton of Japanese snacks, sweets, some awesome office supplies, a huge bag of Japanese postage stamps and super-soft socks.DSC_0099So far, I’ve only eaten the little peanut candies (in the bag with orange and yellow stripes) and the cheese curl-like snack (behind the peanut candy)…both are really wonderful. The peanuts have a hard candy shell and tiny crumbles of peanut candy inside. Naoto remembers eating them as a kid. The cheese curls have three strong cheeses pictured on the bag (cheddar, bleu and one other), but they were cheesy and sweet…weirdly delicious.

I am most curious to try the actual Cheetos–one is salmon roe & mayonnaise flavor and the other is barbeque sauce flavor. I love when American snacks are made with foreign flavors…I usually find them far more interesting than the American ones. (It could be the novelty though…) Green tea Kit Kats are my favorite (and Hisae sent those along with mango Kit Kats!)

The office supplies deserve their own post next week once I’ve gotten a chance to try them. In the meantime, I think I’m going to try the mango Kit Kat while I clean house this afternoon!

Thanks again, Hisae!

Tagged ,

Garden Update: Let the Harvesting Begin!

IMG_2831Well, at least a small harvest can being…

Above is our first summertime harvest from the garden on Saturday. Small, I know…but things are just getting started. We picked our red Juliet tomato on Saturday afternoon before heading to the progressive dinner. We sliced it in two and toasted our first home-grown tomato. IMG_2832The peas were a little bit of a surprise, since they were planted in the Wild West portion of the garden and it’s hard to see what’s going on with them (a rookie mistake!) There are quite a few smaller peas still out there, but these three were ready to be picked and they were sweet and fresh and perfect.

In the “garden challenges” department…yesterday I received a tweet from Mr. Brownthumb about a fallen tomato plant. Sure enough, when I went to the garden later in the afternoon, I found this:
IMG_2865So, lesson learned…get larger, sturdier, more expensive tomato cages… At this point, it’s too late, but you can bet that Naoto and I will be doing some research over the winter to learn better ways to support our tomatoes next year! We just need to support them long enough to produce their little fruits and keep them out of the pathways. I re-staked the fallen Brandywine plant and tied up more wayward branches. The garden isn’t pretty at this point, but more tomatoes are turning and that’s really all we asked for in our rookie year!

Tagged , , , , ,

Postcards from Cath

DSC_0098One of my penpals, Cath, is from the Netherlands. We “met” through the Letter Writers Alliance website when they posted about my volunteer role with Honor Flight Chicago. Cath sent some gorgeous postcards with beautiful notes for the World War II veterans. I was touched by her lovely words and I sent her an email to thank her for writing. We’ve been corresponding with each other ever since, and Cath has continued to write postcards for veterans this year.

DSC_0101Along with regular cards and letters, Cath has been sending a series of postcards about her community of ‘s-Hertogenbosch and specifically an old cathedral–St. John’s Cathedral–in the town square. I’ve loved receiving these little tidbits and a peek into Cath’s hometown. (I’ve never been to Europe so it is fascinating to me that cathedrals and communities have been around for several hundred years. Everything in the US seems so young, comparatively!) On the back of each card, Cath writes a description and a little history for each card. DSC_0103In the picture above, the man with the peas and the angel on the cell phone are both part of the cathedral. The man with the peas is from the 14th century (he has been restored since then). According to Cath, “the story goes his wife had cooked him peas and put them on the stone floor to cool. As he saw them, he got angry and said this was a meal very much beneath his status as a building master.” The cell phone angel was added two years ago, and according to Cath, “you can call [a number] and she gives you information about the cathedral…And her phone only has one push button, for a direct line to heaven.”

I have really enjoyed this postal series from Cath! I love this concept as a way to share communities and favorite places with pen pals.

Thank you, Cath, for the glimpse at your hometown! I placed the whole postcard series in the timecard holder on my desk so I can enjoy the lovely cathedral just a little bit longer.

Tagged ,

Community Garden Progressive Dinner

IMG_2841On Saturday night, the community garden board hosted a progressive dinner for all of the gardeners in the Forest Park Community Garden. Naoto and I had a really fun time getting to know all of our fellow gardeners. We’ve decided that gardeners might just be the nicest group of people around (gardeners and letter writers, for sure!)

We all met at Amelia’s for a drink and then we walked to Bambi’s house for tapas and mojitos. We could have ended the night here…there was so much food! At Gina’s house, we enjoyed grilled pizzas and sangria. Naoto and I brought basil from the community garden planters and from our balcony and Gina made a magical tomato, basil & mozzarella pizza with it. At Michelle’s house, we enjoyed dessert–a homemade plum clafouti and an ice cream pie (generously donated by Brown Cow!) Every step of the evening was just perfect, and even an unexpected rain shower didn’t spoil our festivities!

Have you ever done a progressive dinner? This was our first one and it was loads of fun, especially for a group who was just getting to know each other. Walking from house to house gave us an opportunity to mingle with more people, either on the walk or in a different seating arrangement at each house. I think it just might be the most ideal way to break the ice with a group of new people.

Thanks for a great evening, fellow gardeners! IMG_2839

Tagged , , , , ,

Garden Update: We Have a Red Tomato!

IMG_2800Randomly, it’s the only one…all the others are green as green can be.

But this little red tomato gives me hope that maybe, just maybe we will have a tomato crop yet! IMG_2808It’s hard to see up there, but our tiny pepper plant, dwarfed by the tomato giants, has four tiny peppers on it. And, I’ve spotted a few peas and a few limas…we still need to finish conquering the wild west portion of the garden before I can really see what’s going on though. It has been hot, hot, HOT here all week, so gardening has consisted of weeding and watering as the sun goes down.

Tomorrow night, we are going to a progressive dinner hosted by the board of our community garden. Naoto and I have met some super-nice people in the garden and we are looking forward to hanging out with everyone outside of the garden (and of course talking about gardening!)

Yay for the weekend!

Tagged , , , , ,

Farmers Market Thursday

DSC_0097This morning, I headed over to the Hines VA Hospital for their weekly farmers market. Since the Forest Park market isn’t happening this year, the Hines market is going to be the next best thing. Well, it might be anyway…it’s pretty small.

IMG_2796That’s it up there…thankfully there is a lot of signage at the Hines campus, because, really, if you blink, you might miss it. There were a few farmers and a few people selling bottled products (vinegars, honey, salsa) and there was a bakery. One farm was selling berries and plums and green beans and they were serving freshly grilled corn. Yum! Another farmer, Jessica of Purple Leaf Farms, who I know from our Forest Park Community Garden, was selling greens and turnips and flowers. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves over the summer.  As more fruits and vegetables mature on the farms, I’m sure there will be more offerings, but for now, I’m happy with my tiny purchase of gorgeous blackberries and pretty blooms.

Tagged , , , , ,

Boxes of Brooches


Last week, I came home to a surprise package from Mary (of Tiny Plastic Pig fame). Mary and I have been writing letters for awhile now, and in one of her letters she asked if I wore accessories. I admitted that I rarely wear anything but my wedding ring and, when I do feel like being fancy, I have a collection of vintage brooches that I like to wear. She encouraged me to blog about my brooch collection. (And I will!)

So, what I shock to see a sweet note from Mary saying she was cleaning out her grandmother’s things and thought I would enjoy some of her brooches. Isn’t that the sweetest? And aren’t they beautiful? I especially love the black flower and the big pink iridescent flower. Even though Mary has never seen my collection, it was as if she knew what would complement it perfectly!

Thank you again, Mary! (And, of course, a proper thank you is in the mail!)


Just My Type

IMG_2693Last week, I went to a typewriter workshop hosted by Donovan & Kathy of the Letter Writers Alliance. The workshop covered the basics of typewriter cleaning and care, including trouble-shooting and changing a ribbon. I have two typewriters, a Royal that is in pristine condition and a Smith-Corona that is a mess. I was interested in learning how to change the ribbons in both and how to clean up the mess in the depths of the Smith-Corona.

DSC_0105My Royal Safari was my first typewriter purchase. I found it a few years ago at a flea market with my parents and I think I paid $15 for it. When I saw that it types in script, I knew it had to be mine! I took the Royal Safari to the workshop because I wanted to learn how to change its ribbon. (I was scared to death of ruining the machine by messing up the ribbon!) The best take-away from the workshop was this sage advice: Take a picture of your old typewriter ribbon in your machine before you remove it. Then, when you go to install your new ribbon, you can look at your picture for guidance on how to thread the new ribbon properly. The picture at the top is my old ribbon close-up. Even though I took out the old ribbon and replaced it with a new ribbon within about five minutes, I still needed to use the picture to get it right. (Who knew my memory was so bad?) Now the Safari is typing like a dream with its new bold, black & red ribbon!

DSC_0109A couple of months ago, I found this Smith-Corona Galaxie at a thrift shop for $5. It works really nicely (I tested it at the shop), but it’s really dirty–the ribbon is stinky & rotting and there are eraser crumbs all over the insides. I spent a good part of Saturday wiping it down and vacuuming it out. It’s looking much better, and once I replace the ribbon, it will smell much better, too (…hopefully)!

Thanks to Donovan & Kathy for sharing your typewriter skills! I’m excited to have both of my machines back in business!