Sunday, December 30, 2007


Those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile might remember this image:


It was taken during a previous winter's snowstorm. Since I've left my job a the newspaper I rarely drive this route but while running errands the other day I turned down Peck Road. Here's the same spot, just about 20 feet to the left of the original image:


It was all I could do to keep from running off the road when I spotted this gargantuan skeletal structures rising from what once was a corn and soybean field. This property had been acquired by the town park district but I have no idea what this is. My knowledge of local current events has suffered since I left the paper. In that environment you could barely keep from being informed.

Perhaps I'm insulating myself from the daily realities of developments push and shove.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

winter crypt


We visited this site before but with a fresh cover of snow it looks quite different. This lies directly across the roadway from an old farmstead. The farmhouse has been torn down in the last couple of years but the outbuilding remain and it's a retail feed supply store that sells vegetables and pumpkins in season.

At one time the very busy state highway was just a country road. The crypt is carved into a low hillside that was once a railbed. Just on the other side of the crypt and hillside are million dollar homes including one so large that the first time I saw it I thought it was a public building - a library maybe. Yes, that large.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

merry christmas


Merry Christmas to everyone.

This photo is an oldie but it's one of my favorites. It was our Christmas card one year. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

local superhighway


My neighbors on the hill assure me that our property is a major superhighway for wildlife. That came as a suprise to me because I rarely, if ever, see animals in our yard. But tracks don't lie and there are plenty of them after a fresh snowfall.

Bunny tracks are easy to spot. These were made by deer and are visible out of our office window. Another main artery of travel is visible from my upstairs studio. I'm up there all day long with large windows uncovered. Why don't I see the deer?

Perhaps they make their commute early in the morning when I'm still groggy.

The interesting thing is that these tracks appeared shortly after the last snowfall and I checked them every day after that and the pattern remained static. There were no further passages in the following days.

Learning how to read animal tracks and trails sounds like a very interesting subject to investigate. Can you read tracks?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

perpetual Christmas


The nearby abandoned property stands in a state of perpetual Christmas. The icicle lights, swags and wreath have been in place for years, back to the time when the house was occupied. Bushes have grown and over time have literally swallowed up the entrance. As I said before, nature has gone about her business of reclamation.

A member of our neighborhood watch committee called the sheriff's office and got some information. It seems there was a burglary in progress the day of the activity. The story starts to emerge as I remember that a year ago, out of curiousity some of the neighbors stopped and looked in the windows. They mentioned major water damage in some areas due to a deteriorating roof. But the most curious thing was that they reported the house is filled, sometimes to the ceiling, with merchandise, most of it still in original packaging.

Last summer a young man drove through the area asking neighbors if they'd seen a green truck driving around. He explained that someone in a green truck had stolen stuff out of his house.....yep, the abandoned property. My son said it seemed odd because he was a very young man. Certainly not someone who could afford 3 acres and a large house.

My best guess is that it's the storehouse and base for a fencing operation. The Brothers Grimm meet the Goodfellas out on the prairie.

Monday, December 17, 2007

the unquiet woods

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We live in a very small community. The most excitement in recent times was when the Pierce's baby Jesus was stolen from the nativity scene in their front yard, and the flag-waving, top-hat wearing hot dog figurine was stolen from the hot dog place about 2 miles from here.

Although I photograph alot of abandoned farms, there are some fairly modern properties that are also abandoned. The most visible one lies 1/4 mile from our home. It was once a beautiful and well kept home of an unusual architectural design. About 10 years ago I was working nights and at any time of the night the television would be burning bright in the family room. A perpetual bluish glow streamed from the windows. Then it became apparent that the house was empty.

There seemed to be a caretaker living in the coach house a short distance from the main house. Cars began to accumulate in the space between the two buildings. Nature went about the business of reclaiming what was rightfully hers. Fences fell into disrepair and the large area in front of the house took on the look of a wild prairie. Christmas decorations hung frozen in time for years and years. Huge trees along the roadway died and stood like ghostly sentinels, threatening to flatten passing cars in the event of a strong wind.

At some point it became apparent that the caretaker was gone. That's when things truly went wild. Sheriff's police started showing up regularly. No one knew the nature of the trouble but a couple months ago they led someone away in handcuffs. Squatter?

Today as I turned out onto the main road four Sheriff's cars flew by lights flashing but without sirens. As I approached the dip in the road which marked the beginning of the property I counted five police cars and more approaching fast from a distance. The woods are deep between the house the the stream to the west. Standing around the house were at least 5 officers with what appeared to me to be guns drawn. Can you see one in the photo above?

No word yet what difficulty would draw such a force but it should be in tomorrow's newspaper. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

sugar forest

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A light snow fell while we were sleeping. It frosted the ice covered trees with a coating the turned the landscape into a sugar forest. The fresh snowfall creates a blank palette for the animals to create new patterns.

My neighbor up on the hill swears that a family of deer pass through my property each day. I can't deny her claim because their trail is left in the snow but my timing is not good because I rarely catch a glimpse of them.

One Christmas however they gave a fantastic showing during our family gathering. We were all sitting in the family room in front of the large window. The large blue spruce at the back of our property were artistically draped with fresh snow. The younger children were opening their gifts when 6 deer, including a 10 point buck, strolled into the yard and stopped, perfectly centered in the view. They posed, looking all the world like the regal animals that they are. The buck raised his head and surveyed the landscape. The children gasped and let out a squeal. All at once they screamed, "Santa's reindeer!!! Santa's reindeer are in the yard."

At this point my nephew turned to me and asked, "What did you have to pay the deer to do that?"

NOTE: If you check out the right hand column you'll see a link to my newest blog, "At Home With the Farmer's Wife". I know, I know, there are a couple of other efforts of mine that are languishing, unattended. I promise to make a better effort on "At Home". After almost three years of tramping around the countryside recording the decay of the farms and the advance of civilization I thought it might be fun to also come inside and see what goes on in the farmer's house. Thanks as always for reading and supporting my creative efforts. It's greatly appreciated.

MEME Fact #6 - I have the rarest blood type - AB Negative. My husband has the second rarest - AB positive. He claims that when he was in the army they were constanting waking him up in the middle of the night to donate blood.

Friday, December 14, 2007


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Everything is covered with a layer of ice which reflects the light and transforms the landscape into a magical fairyland. All is not sweetness and light beacause many trees have been damaged by the ice.

When I say that everything is covered, that means everything. Every blade of grass and cattail, every tree, every piece of corn stalk stubble. I'm not knowledgable as to whether the ice causes damage due to what I will call the "magnifying glass" effect. If any knows, please share.

Recently Alicia over at Posie Gets Cozy wrote an entry about her memories of beautiful snowfalls and all things winter wonderful in the Chicago area. This of course is my stomping ground as we are 50 miles due west of Chicago. I was transplanted to Texas for four years and I can relate to her longing for the beautiful Christmas eve snowfall, the special snowfall of crystal diamond snow. The Eskimo's have many, many words for snow and if you live in snow country you can relate.

Anyway, thinking about Alicia's story helped me to realize that when you live "away", you remember only the beautiful, precious and magical memories of winter. Your brain selectively forgets the difficulties, dangers and sometimes dowright ugliness of the season. Think greyish black slush everywhere and roads drifting over with 5 minutes of the snow plow's pass.

It doesn't matter because I'm all about selective memory loss! So here's an image for all those midwesterners living afar and trust me that it's literally impossible to capture the spectacular beauty of the scene with a camera.

MEME Fact #5 - I'm the first person in my father's side of the family to be born outside of Florida. There were among the first white settlers. I'm the first person in my mother's family to be born outside of Tennessee. My great-great-grandfather and his four brothers were given land around Charlotte, Tennessee as partial payment for their service in the Revolutionary War. I'm a hybrid...a northerner by birth but a southerner by tradition.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

matched pair

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It was not uncommon to see long horned steers when I lived in Texas, but they are very unusual in northern Illinois.

Norm, the local farrier, keeps these two on their nearby property. They always bring a smile to my face. Norm's wife Margie always says they're his pets.

MEME Fact #4 - I went to high school with musician John Prine and actor Dennis Franz (Dennis Schlachta back then).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

iced berries

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Yesterday we woke up to a mini-ice storm. It was nothing like the dangerous storms that hit Iowa and Missouri, although some of our trees were heavily weighed down with ice.

The temperature warmed up and it began to rain. This was our Hawthorne tree whose berries were heavily coated with ice.

MEME Fact # 3 - I've visited and climbed most of the major Mayan temples in North America, and some of the smaller ones too. We still haven't visited Copan but I'll rate the Tikal temple complex in the Peten region of Guatemala as the most impressive and magical places I've ever seen.

Monday, December 10, 2007


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Here's yet another abandoned farm in our area. It did find a second life a couple years ago when it was purchased by a religious group (Hindu, I believe) that used it as a gathering site and community center for young people. It was nice to see it revitalized and alive with activity.

I'm not quite sure what happened, perhaps the group found another more suitable site, but this property was once again abandoned and is waiting for either demolition or revitalization.

MEME FACT #2 - Remember, I've been tagged by Betty Western to complete a list of 7 random facts about myself.

I was clunked over the head by one of anthropology's icons - Margaret Mead.
As a young undergraduate studying anthropology I was put in charge of organizing a dinner in Margaret Mead's honor. She was slated to speak at our school on one of her lecture tours and after the lecture the anthropology department would have a chance to meet and greet her at the dinner.

The lecture went off without a hitch and I approached Mead to escort her to the dinner venue. She looked like something out of a Grimm's fairy tale, short and stout in a voluminous cape that trailed behind her in the wind. She carried a large walking staff, think Gandalf the Wizard in the Lord of the Rings. Her countenance should have given me a clue to her general disposition but being young and so enthusiastic about meeting one of the field's icons I blindly charged ahead. I wondered about her crabby nature. Her active career was over and she had been relegated to the task of lecturing and holding up her image without a chance of building upon it, perhaps that made her crabby.

I was interested in how an anthropologist goes about choosing who or what they will ultimately specialize in. Since my great-grandmother was a Seminole my interests were focused on the American Indian culture. And so, in my youthful exhuberance I turned to Mead and asked, "Why did you choose to study the Samoan culture and not work with the American Indians?

"I wouldn't work with the Indians, they always want something in return." To which I replied, "Gee, I wonder where they learned that."

Her reaction came quick and sharp as she turned slightly and hit me over the head with her large walking staff. Ouch! I'd just been assaulted by my icon!

"Impertinent!" she declared. And there I was faced with a crabby legend with feet of clay (at least in my eyes).

Years later I became friends with renowned anthropologist and author Ellen Fitzsimmons Steinberg. When I recounted my long-ago encounter with Margaret Mead, she laughed out loud.

"You're not anyone unless Mead has rapped you over the head!" she said.

It seems that it was Margaret Mead's modus operandi and I learned that she had not chosen to work in Samoa, but had been sent there by Franz Boaz.

Ellen Fitzsimmons Steinberg is a truly giving woman who has created a fascinating life for herself in the field of anthropology - - a truly admirable icon. Be sure to check out her books on

Saturday, December 08, 2007

christmas in the town

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You might think that our community is only about abandoned buildings, barns and livestock, but that's not true. There are some lovely towns nearby and I've always found the original downtown areas to be more to my liking that the manufactured shopping experiences of the mall variety.

Once a year at Christmastime the city of Geneva, Illinois holds its Christmas Walk. All the shops are open late and most have refreshments and special treats. The police block off Third Street, allowing the throngs of people to shop and mingle without traffic.

Chicago Hyatt Regency's pastry chef Alain Roby and his lovely wife Esther organize a Gingerbread House competition that raises money for charity. (More about that later. The farmer's son and I have an entry!)

I really appreciate the wonderful independent restaurants in our area. They're a class unto themselves and so much more interesting than chain restaurants.

As I was walking around shooting photos I came across this scene. It emphasises the fact that our community is truly about people and the lives they are creating.

MEME ENTRY: Remember when I said yesterday that I'd been tagged by Betty Western? Her meme assignment is to list 7 random facts about yourself. It seems wierd to be doing this because my photoblog has never been about me, it's been about th elocal culture, environment and community. So here goes:

It occurred to me when pondering about what facts people might find interesting, to do it from the perspective of my children. Think about it for a moment. Did you ever imagine that your parents were actually interesting people in their own right, that they were once young and vibrant and had adventures? I know I didn't think of my parents in that light. So I've chosen 7 facts that break the farmer's wife out of the boring wheat-bread-baking model.

Fact number one: At one time in my career I held a top secret clearance with the U.S. Government.

I can literally hear my children rolling on the floor in laughter. Remember the movie "True Lies"? Yeah right, mom was a spy???? Not a spy but during the Vietnam war I worked in the publishing field and our company has a contract to produce spec and repair manuals for the U.S. Air Force jets. During a time of war working with information to do with military hardware required a top secret clearance. You can imagine my mother's suprise when F.B.I. agents appeared on her doorstop as part of the clearance process.

If any young people are reading this I challenge them to question their parents about interesting and unknown facts about them. Only after my father died did I learn he was on board his Naval ship in the Sea of Japan when the instrument of surrender was signed with the Japanese.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


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This is a pedestrian bridge over a busy highway. It's a bike/hiking trail that was one a rail bed. It's interesting to see how things can be used after their original purpose has passed.

I'm thankful for folks like the Reeds on Hanson Road, who bought the old two story store on Empire Road that was slated for demolition. They moved it to a space on their property and spent over two years renovating it.

Betty Western has tagged me for a meme. I've been blogging for almost three years and I believe this is the first time I've been tagged. Maybe not....maybe I wasn't paying attention or maybe I slipped through like a greased pig.

Anyway, I need to think about my meme entries. Hopefully I'll start tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

wind break

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Hidden behind the trees stands a more modern home which stands in the middle of a couple hundred acres of farm fields. The people who built this have evidently lived in the country for awhile, because when building the house they understood the necessity of planting a wind break.

The trees hug the house along the west and north sides, providing a break from the prevailing winds. And believe me, in northern Illinois the wind can be quite a problem. Unfortunately about a mile from here is a subdivision of very large homes with stand alone and naked against the approaching winter storms.

Older farmhouses were further insulated with hay bales around the foundations.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


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When man leaves, nature takes over and reclaims her territory. Abandoned properties are soon overgrown in a chaotic tangle of vegetation. Wildlife moves in to the house and buildings that were once man's domain. This is a old building where milk was kept cool until it could be shipped to the dairy.

It reminds me of a Grimm's fairy tale.

Friday, November 23, 2007

tin roof

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Not rusted, but definitely dangerous.

Many of the abandoned properties in this area eventually become downright dangerous. It's not a good idea to go poking around by yourself. There are hidden dangers, such as old well or cisterns hidden under thick overgrowth. The buildings can actually collapse at any given moment.

The tin roof on this old machine shed has been pulled loose by the force of the infamous Illinois wind. It was flapping in the breeze when I arrived and one good windstorm will rip it completely off. It will go flying and become an airborne danger. Many of these properties are knocked over when they become too much of a hazard, or the local volunteer fire department burns them down for practice.

In another space and time this farm was someone's home and provided them with a living.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

a time for giving thanks

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This is a day to reflect on our lives and give thanks.

I am very thankful for family, friends and the wonderful people who come into my life through the portals of this blog. The internet has given the world an opportunity to connect and I marvel at that the similiarties and common themes in our lives, whether we're in rural Illinois or far flung lands.

I'm thankful for having been poor at times in my life, as it has given me a reference point.
I'm thankful for having been raised by people who saw the importance of sharing what we have with others, no matter how little we have.
I'm thankful for having the opportunity to support a child in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and I ask your prayers (or good thoughts) as the family seeking to adopt him from Haiti face many difficulties in the process.
I'm thankful for the difficult challenges that I've been presented with as they have given my life depth and meaning.
I'm thankful for having been able to travel widely and recognize the awesome power of opportunity and how people, given opportunity, can transform their lives and the lives of their families.

And thanks to all who take the time out of their day to visit my little part of the world. Have a great day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

what's left

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This is all that's left of a large and impressive barn.

Many of the decaying properties decline at a slow rate and then things simply fall apart. This is a small portion of the original barn. This space contained stalls for the livestock, the large attached barn simply collapsed during a wind storm.

I can't imagine the sound involved in such a collapse. The pile of debris seems to insignificant in relation to the large volume of the barn itself. The gigantic 16-sided Teeple Barn in Elgin left an equally small pile of debris when it collapsed in a windstorm. It's gone forever, the debris pile removed and fresh grass is growing as if it never existed. But it did time and space.

Monday, November 19, 2007

rear window

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I was fascinated by this broken window at a nearby abandoned farmhouse. It brings to mind the subject of "point of view".

Recently I met local high school student Shannon and her family for lunch. Shannon is taking the advanced photography class at school, her dad Dave is the publisher of a new local blog entitled, Mill Creek Times. We got together to discuss photography, blogging, culture and community. It was an enjoyable discussion.

Shannon's class is doing a project on abandoned and decaying properties. I shared the location of a few prime spots to photograph and her and some of her classmates visited the various properties. Shannon remarked that she was surprised how each photographer came away with very different photographs of the same subject.

I have experienced the same phenomenon after a photoshoot with fellow members of Chicago Photobloggers. I guess we all see with a different eye and perspective. In my case I try to "see" what might otherwise go unnoticed. This broken window is a good example. Looking around the place I noticed the trees reflected in the remaining shard of glass and thought it might make an interesting photo. The next step in the puzzle comes in the way in which the photographer crops the photo. There was a bit of annoying tree branches on the upper right and I cropped them away.

Good luck to the Geneva High School photography class on their very interesting project.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

the haunted farmer

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This display on Empire Road in Lily Lake gets my vote for the seasons best. You gotta love a haunted farmer. There's alot more in the front yard and this family has put alot of time and effort into Halloween.

Happy Halloween everyone. Stay safe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

work continues

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Fall farm work continues at a field in Elburn.

Has anyone seen the PBS "House" series? The one entitled Pioneer House (or was it Prairie House) was quite interesting. The men really loved the physical outdoor work of farming. One woman claimed that her husband had literally become a one-man firewood chopping machine.

The women were all in agreement that their lives as pioneer farm women were lonely and the daily work was drudgery. They longed to be in the outdoors with the men and children.

I remember my aunt's tasks on the family farm in the Florida panhandle. My uncle milked the cow and she churned butter in a large glass jar with wooden paddles. After they butchered a hog she cured the meat and each morning sliced some bacon off a large slab. She also cooked an ENORMOUS midday meals for the farmhands. The table was covered with home cooked snap beans, meat, potatoes, squash and homemade biscuits.

Friday, October 26, 2007

up a lazy river

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....or in this case the very lazy Mill Creek.

This a very peaceful spot along a gravel road. A small bridge crosses Mill Creek at this point. This place represents a quiet beauty that is fast disappearing in the Fox Valley. The site of a busy "lifestyle mall" is only a couple miles from here and already the residents of one of the Mill Creek subdivisions have discovered the road can be used as a shortcut between Route 38 and Keslinger Road.

I think it's important to have a sense of the land which you inhabit. I'm not sure if residents of the massive subdivision complexes that blanket the area even realize there IS an actual creek named Mill Creek. This spot is just a dusty, unpaved shorcut in their busy lives.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


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.....objects are closer than they appear. That must include low hanging clouds, which seem to be quite prevalent this fall.

My son claims that I know every back road within 50 miles. That's true and it allows me to travel on the edges of civilization with beautiful sights like this instead of pavement and strip malls.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


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There's a curious trend in this area. The traditional barns are disintegrating, falling down or being burned for firefighter practice and then local governments and businesses are building new structures designed to look like a barn.

Our own little village of Lily Lake decided to forego the renovation of the historic Anderson barn, having it dismantled and selling off the old barnwood. Instead of using the old barn they build a new structure that resembles a barn.

The photo above is deceptive. The scale is not readily apparent unless you take into account the size of the construction trucks at it's base. This is Geneva's new water treatment facility. I don't remember their being an actual barn on this piece of property but there is a wonderful barn very close to this spot whose future is in question.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

off roading

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Can you imagine off-roading in an 18-wheeler? Harvest time is perhaps the only time you'll see a big rig driving in open fields. It's quite a site to see as the grain haulers pull out into the fields for off-loading the corn and soybeans.

It looks like fun but driving the combines looks like even more fun!

Monday, October 08, 2007

gold rush

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The rush is on to get the crops harvested. It's not as frantic as it would be if they were harvesting later - say in early November or later.

It's a beautiful site to see the corn flowing into the grain haulers. The bushels-per-acre numbers are pretty high this year which is good news for the farmers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

more corn

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I'm sure that some readers will sigh and say to themselves, "Oh no, more corn!", but this is a view that holds some kind of magic for me. Being raised in a concrete carpeted suburb of the big city by the lake (Chicago) made me claustrophobic. On Sunday drives in the country with our family (remember those?) I was mesmerized by the open fields of corn and soybeans.

Although this isn't the real big sky country, it's close enough for me.

A friend of mine was visiting from Oklahoma one summer. Weather conditions had created a Godzilla corn crop that year - some stands upwards of 10-12 feet tall. On our way to town I drove her down a narrow back road running through a gauntlet of this huge corn. It was a literal tunnel of corn, green and squeaking. She seemed uneasy and turned to me and said, "I'm going home tomorrow. This corn is scaring me and it's way too green here."

Well, that's a novel way to get rid of a houseguest - drive them through some scary corn!

Sunday, September 30, 2007


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These concrete structures are all that's left of a railroad line that ran through this area. The passage of time has dimmed the realization of how important the railroads were to the development of this country. Towns were made or broken on the decision of where the rails would be laid.

A little further east of here the rail bed is now a jogging and bike path.

Monday, September 24, 2007


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Many people have reported hearing the corn squeak. I have yet to hear that from the cornfield, but you know it's fall when the corn begins to rustle.

It's always windy here in northern Illinois and nothing is more reassuring that the heat of summer will soon be gone that a field full of drying corn.

One of the farmers has started harvesting but it seems awfully early to me, and his corn is somewhat still green. There's a science to harvest and it involves the moisture content.

NOTE: Thanks to all who continue to visit and comment. The posts have been infrequent due to the continuing demolition/remodeling project after the basement flood.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

sisterhood of the traveling potato chip can

Do you remember the story of the homesick potato chips?

I had posted a photo of preparations for Garfield Farm Museum's first annual barn sale.

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Loyal reader and Florida resident Susan view the photo and zeroed in on the Jay's Potato Chip can, which was a nostalgic reminder of her original home in northern Illinois. It's amazing what little things can trigger memories and emotions. Susan e-mailed me, asking if there was a possibility that I could purchase the can in her behalf. I was more than willing and Donna Neiler and Denise Morgan (pictured below)helped me with my task.

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Soon the homesick potato chip can was on it's way to sunny Florida and it's new home with Susan, who would greatly appreciate it's value as an icon of Illinois culture. Yum.....the can was filled with a fresh bag of Jay's chips before it left on it's journey.

Susan was a good sport and agreed to give the can a complete tourist-worthy tour of Naples, Florida. AND she snapped this great photo of the can visiting Naples City Hall.

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If you've ever spent time away from the place you consider "home", you'll identify with Susan and her quest for the homesick potato chips!

Monday, September 17, 2007


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This is a storefront that represents small town America. It's in Plano, Illinois but it could be in an one of a thousand communities across this land. It's in stark contrast to the slick storefronts at the "lifestyle" mall about 10 miles from here. I never seem dressed up enough to enter some of those places. Adrienne Vittadini has shuttered her shop at the mall. It seems that the demographics of our community haven't yet shifted fully in her favor. Farm & Fleet is doing quite well just 10 miles east.

Yet looking at the photo I realize that this image exists in large urban areas, just not in the swanky shopping venues. All the little neighborhoods surrounding downtown Chicago have thousands of small independent businesses, many with their own ethnic identities.

I believe I'm dressed just fine to enter this office supply store.

Friday, September 14, 2007


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It's been a number of years since I drove through Plano (Illinois, not Texas). A month or so ago I was made aware of a photography contest sponsored by a number of groups; Citizens Against the Sprawlway, Friends of the Fox River, Kendall Citizens for Farmland Protection, Valley of the Fox Chapter of the Sierra Club and Aux Sable Creek Watershed Coalition. The contest is entitled, "What We'll Lose" and the images are to emphasize what will be lost if the billion dollar Prairie Parkway highway project is constructed.

As loyal readers know, this is a subject close to my heart. It is, in fact, one of the premises of my blog - recording a rural way of life that is being paved under by rampant development.

Unfortunately, due to recent weather related issues here at home I've been unable to schedule the drive down to Plano. But the deadline for the contest loomed large and so with great anticipation I drove down Route 47, planning to spend a morning getting shots and an afternoon and evening editing and cropping. (No other adjustments allowed in this contest).

There are three categories in the contest - Agriculture, Rural (small town life), and Environment. Basically I came back with a few images but in reality, empty handed.

The very sad truth of the matter, and the only "story" I could find to tell was that it's already too late. It appears the genie is out of the bottle and has been for years. Huge swaths of farmland are blanketed with tract homes in subdivisions with names concocted by clever marketing departments. "Churchill Farms" employs a large barn to stake it's claim to the once green soybean field, now covered with a new crop of homes. Strip mall after strip mall line both sides of Route 34 and a large center with a Kohl's and Target have sucked business out of the downtown area.

Driving up and down searching for a viable working farm was an exercise in futility. Corn cribs rusted in the bright sunshine and other farmhouses had obviously been renovated into executive digs. Perhaps I simply didn't drive down the right roads.
The downtown area of Plano had a nice small town feel but my photos seemed uninspired. On to the "Environment" category.

I found a cool spot on the edge of town where there was a one-lane bridge. It crossed the Big Rock Creek and there was an architecturally interesting bridge in the background. Unfortunately the "too late" point was drive home again as this idyllic spot was covered with huge paving equipment, literally belching fire as it puffed it's way across the bridge, black stinky smoke obscuring the lovely view.

I was saddened by the trip and it's implications for those who seek to preserve a culture and a way of life. I'm saddened for the organizers of the photo contest because it appears the fabric of the area has already changed. If the Prairie Parkway is not built how will this narrow swath of land be saved from housing and retail developers?

Friday, September 07, 2007


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A quick search of my photo archives turned up this photo of "water". At this point it's the best I can do without firing up the external hard drive for pictures of the dam in town.

I didn't know what was in store for me the last time I posted saying "see you in a week." I returned without any interesting images from Hot Springs as my camera decided to misbehave.

On the return trip I stopped for the night in the very small town of Litchfield, south of Springfield, Illinois. This Hampton Inn was a big surprise and a jewel worth mentioning. Litchfield is just off the interstate and lies smack in the middle of millions of acres of corn and soybean fields, so it's not exactly the place you'd expect to find a hotel room that rivals some of the best rooms I've ever occupied. It was beautifully decorated, spotlessly clean and even smelled fabulous. They feature a bed that rivals Westin's "Heavenly Bed".

It's a good thing that the folks at Hampton pampered me on that Thursday night because as I snuggled in luxury sheets the farmer and the farmers son were dealing with some of the worst thunderstorms to hit northern Illinois in many years. On Friday morning I pulled into the driveway feeling all refreshed, which was a good thing because I walked in to find the power had been out and the battery back up pump had been overwhelmed by the deluge of water. Unfortunately the farmer slept through it all or he'd have fired up the generator. Water, water, everywhere..... filling the basement up to 3 inches.

The farmer's son is spearheading the demolition and clean up. I'm on his team and therefore posts might be spotty for awhile. Thanks Betty Western for your concern and the assurances that I do actually have a fan base!

I ask for some good thoughts at this point, but NOT for my family. A flooded basement is merely an inconvenience in our lives. I ask for your thoughts to be directed to the people of Honduras and Guatemala, who are victims of the latest hurricane. They are the ones that have been put in harms way by water. The wonderful people we met on our travels in Guatemala now face a more insidious danger - mudslides or lahars. These terrible events bury entire villages.

In the photo above our tour guide in Grand Cayman (last February) points out the areas damaged from the last big hurricane that tore across the island. I'm assured that Cayman was a lush tropical paradise but the hurricane had reduced it to looking like a scrubby little sandbar.

Friday, August 17, 2007

small town America

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Thanks for coming along with me to Hannibal, Missouri. The town is a good ambassador for small town America.

I always love visiting a place for the very first time. I feel an enthusiasm for new experiences.

Tomorrow morning I'll be leaving on another field trip, this time back to Hot Springs, Arkansas. You've visited there with me before, but perhaps this time I'll come back with new images and interesting experiences to share.

See you in a week!


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When we left the hotel to attend the Mark Twain performance, the employees were putting the finishing touches on preparations for a wedding reception. When we returned later in the evening the party was in full swing.

In addition to the large ballroom the lobby was being pressed into service as overflow space and wedding cake was being laid out on tables for guests to help themselves.

I was tempted....but instead I grabbed a quick shot of the lovely bride. Dark conditions and no flash creates a dreamy effect that's interesting.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mark Twain Himself

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"I like a good story well told. That is the reason I am sometimes forced to tell them myself." - Mark Twain

On our recent trip we spent a pleasant Saturday evening in the Planter's Barn Theater in downtown Hannibal.

Veteran stage actor Richard Garey has put together a compilation of Twain material and presents it in a one-man show entitled, "Mark Twain Himself." The barn is charming and the set is beautifully crafted. There's coffee, tea and cookies to enjoy during the show.

Garey worked for over 4 years to close the deal on the property, once a livery stable behind the hotel which is no longer standing. I admire the entrepreneurial spirit which drives this type of venture.

Garey deftly portrays Twain's humor and wit and nothing compares with live theater.

Apart from his books, Twain made a good living on the lecture circuit and this show reflects that part of his career.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


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No trip to Hannibal, Missouri would be complete without a ride on a Mississippi riverboat. Included in our "Passport" ticket was an leisure afternoon aboard the Mark Twain. The weather was perfect and the river was beautiful. There isn't really much to see besides some islands and the grain barges headed to New Orleans.

We sat in a small forward area on one of the upper decks. The space was just large enough for 4 chairs and after a short while this couple came and sat down. This is Vicki and Joseph Miller from St. Louis. We had some good conversation and I discovered that they come to Hannibal a couple times a year, just for a weekend getaway. They join a large number of people who travel with their pets. Their cat was along for the trip.

It didn't take long to discover that Vicki and Joseph are two of those people who exude a generous spirit. We much enjoyed our time shared on the deck of the Mark Twain, the men drinking beers and the ladies concurring that THE drink is Tanqueray and tonic. Cheers to the Millers!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

apothecary shop

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Visits to historical spots such as the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois or Mark Twain's boyhood home bring a realization that in those days many children did not survive their childhoods.

Mary Todd Lincoln lived in mortal fear for her children after one of her sons died. She pretty much kept them prisoners in their own home.

Samuel Clemens mother attempted to keep the children inside during a virulent outbreak of the measles in Hannibal, Missouri. Samuel Clemens, a young boy at the time decided that enough was enough, and that he was tired of the drama and suspense. He marched up to the house of his friend, who was bedridden with measles, effectively exposing himself to the disease. He did catch the measles and was very sick.

Pictured above is the restored apothecary shop with sold the patent medicines his mother poured down his throat. It was mostly alcohol I'm told.

Monday, August 13, 2007

the weaver

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While in Hannibal we walked into a storefront and found Nancy Lee Kaufman hard at work on her loom. Her shop was filled with beautiful items including jackets and ruanas.

The tags on her items read "Santa Fe & San Diego", so I asked her if she also had shops there. She's been out west for 30 years or so and has just recently returned to the midwest, relocating her base of operations.

We chatted for awhile and Nancy told me that it was time to leave the vast expanses of the west and envelope herself as she put it, "in the nurturing qualities of the midwest."

We were lucky to find her at work that day, because her shop hours are by chance or by appointment.

Friday, August 10, 2007

cave art

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Many years ago visitors into the cave did so by torchlight or lanterns. These forms of light created sooty residue on the upper surfaces and this residue in turn provided a "scratch board" for artists to render their work.

This is a pretty good representation of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. Our cave tour guide Sean told us that there were over 500,000 signatures in the cave. And one mans graffiti is another archaeologists historical record. Caves must be a natural spot for graffiti because man has been created art in caves for a very long time. A cave in Lascaux, France is a very good example. Talent abounded way back when.

When I think about it, more recent signatures have a graffiti tone to them, but something happens when a signature is dated seems more legitimate. Why is that do you think?

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The Lascaux painting is awesome but the scratch image of Clemens is pretty good too especially considering it was about 10 foot up the rock face. And no, Sean didn't let us out of his sight long enough to "sign" the cave, and that's definitely frowned upon so there won't be many entries from 2007.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


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The farmer and I are of two minds when it comes to travel. We love eco-travel and adventure travel. One of our trips involved leap-frogging around Central America in a Cessna Caravan. Over a number of years we've been able to visit most of the major Mayan ruins in North America. With some connections we visited a small site that is not accessible to the public.

But we also love the good old fashioned touristy travel of our childhoods - think roadside attractions and alligator wrestlers. The trip to Hannibal, Missouri contained a few of those elements including a tour of Mark Twain Cave, alternately known in the brochures as Tom Sawyers Cave.

Hannibal has their limited number of attractions very well organized and if you visit Mark Twain's boyhood home first you can buy a "passport" that will save you some money and provide you with tickets to several combinations of attractions.

Pictured here is our cave tour guide, Sean. The young people who work these jobs, including the tour guide on the Disney World Jungle ride, have developed a way to combat the boredom of their jobs - they build a repertoire of really bad jokes. The Disney World tour guide almost found himself pitched overboard by the boatload of really cranky tourists who'd endured Disney's famous "hidden line". You probably know what I'm talking about.

We really don't mind the bad jokes but we're always looking for some good information to go along with the attempts at humor and Sean skillfully provided that.

Mark Twain cave is very different from other caves we have visited, most notably Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Twain's cave is a series of twisting passages with no large open spaces. The formations are interesting and the air was nice and cool.

This sign says, No Smoking - No Dogs. What it doesn't say is "No Parents with Tiny Children and Strollers". Yes, as you can imagine a very small child would not be happy with the cave experience. And a stroller in the cave??? What are you thinking?

Mark Twain cave is worth a visit if you're in the area.

Monday, August 06, 2007


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Our recent trip to Hannibal, Missouri unearthed a surprising and unexpected discovery.

As a child I witnessed a cultural phenomenon that was being observed each day in the northeast Tennessee town of Clarksville where my grandfather lived. It's called a "Buzzard's Roost". What it consists of is a fluid group of men, upper middle age and older (those with some time on their hands) who meet every day at a predetermined location. The purpose of the "roost" is to provide a spot to chew the fat, discuss the weather, politics or whatever strikes their fancy.

The buzzard's roost in Clarksville was a low wall that surrounded the county courthouse. The men sat along the wall and did whatever roosting buzzard's do. When I say fluid I mean that men come and go at different times and the mix is changing throughtout the day. Most at that time were tobacco farmers or tradesmen. My grandfather was a carpenter.

Times changed, life got faster and buzzard's roost and the old cultural habits died. I don't think there's been anyone sitting on that courthouse wall in many, many years. I was pretty sure the phemonenon was dead. Perhaps there was a cultural anthropology student that had done a thesis on the subject.

After a morning spent touring Tom Sawyer's cave just outside Hannibal, we returned to town and ducked into a small bar/restaurant for an early lunch. It wasn't quite 11:30 and the place was empty except for a motorcyclist and these three men.

It took me under 30 seconds to recognize the fact that I'd stumbled upon an artifact - an honest-to-goodness buzzard's roost! The conversation followed the roadmap set down by cotton and tobacco farmers. Within 10 minutes another man joined the group, slipping easily into the framework.

I'd witnessed Illinois dairy farmers meeting up for breakfast after morning milking but that wasn't a true buzzard's roost. This was the real thing at a place called "Rumor Has It". How perfect is that?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

time travel

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After two days in Galena, Illinois, I returned home and repacked to head out to Hannibal, Missouri with the farmer. It's a nice drive from our home, probably what's referred to as a "one tank trip". Being located in Northern Illinois there are alot of interesting places to visit that require only one tank (or thereabouts).

When you head west out of Springfield, Illinois you'll have the road to yourself. Hannibal is tucked along the bank of the Mississippi just across from Illinois. It's the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

Time travel books, with their promise of transporting you to another place and time were always fascinating to me. Unfortunately time has also done unkind things to the vivid imagination I once enjoyed as a child when my mind could efficiently transport me to a saddle on a Palomino, riding alongside Gene Autry. No one could convince me that it wasn't so.

But still it's fun to try and imagine you're watching Clemens run in the front door, past this desk with it's quill and ink and Bible.

I'm very glad there are people committed to preserving the past. It allows us adults to attempt to imagination flying once again.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

new technology

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I remember many more antique stores in Galena when we visited 10 years ago. There didn't seem to be as many. But I was taken with the display in this window.

Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember when television was the latest technology and we owned a TV just like this one. You can't see it in this shot but this TV was actually working and tuned into one of the major networks!

Other items in the window bring back memories - Sea Monkeys for example. There's a Moses Action Figure and a Rosie the Riveter figure too.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

historic preservation

When we visited Galena about 10 years ago it was apparent that time had taken it's toll of many of the old and historic structures. Preserving history and restoring properties takes time and money. On this trip to the town it was apparent that good fortune has allowed investors to invest both in projects aimed at saving and upgrading the older buildings.

Galena is not in need of a fancy fitness center because historic preservation can be hot, body building work.

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Of course you realize I do not, as a rule, post photos of partially clothed men, but this was the scene as a building was being restored. My point is that this work is actually healthy for you, so call today and get involved in a preservation project near you.

Another reason why there's no need for a gym in this town lies in the lay of the land. No stair stepper is required when groceries need to be carried up this sidewalk.

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Here is a glimpse of the streets, preserved in time. First is a brick street appeared:

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... this is the cobblestone, which had to provide quite a ride in a horse-drawn wagon.

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