Monday, May 19, 2008

Time to Plant!

Finally, we appear to have passed the point of frost warnings (although it WAS in the 40s last night and may be again tonight), and so I made my first foray into planting my balcony container garden this weekend.

First things first--we went to the Farmers' Market and I picked up a couple of nice, healthy basil plants. I'll probably get one or two more within the next few weeks.

Then I went out to the garden center, where they always have nice (but pricey) plants.

This haul plus the potting soil set me back more than $90!! And this is only enough to plant the balcony boxes and the two window boxes I put outside our west-facing sunroom casements!

You'll notice that there is a singular lack of yellow flowers. I used to buy marigolds to provide some sunny blooms, but they never do well in my boxes. They go nuts on the raised beds on the parkway in front of the building and in the little niches beside our walkway, but they hate my boxes! So I had hoped to find some yellow million bells to vary the color a bit, but no such luck!

Another missing element in this assortment of annuals is the infamous trailing accent plant. A few years ago, I found a bunch of nice creeping jenny plants. Yes, I know. Invasive weeds. Which is probably why they have disappeared from the market. But really, in second-floor balcony boxes they are lovely! Last year I substituted vinca, but I found them to be stringy and annoying. I thought maybe some sweet potato vines, but they were SO expensive at the garden center that I thought I would search them out at Lowes or Home Depot... but again, no such luck. They were all sold out. Sigh. At any rate, the million bells are great trailers and so are the scaevola I placed in the front of the boxes... I just like to have some foliage trailing as well as flowers. Maybe I'll find some in the next few weeks.

I planted them all, with the scaevola, million bells, and lobelia in front, some begonias in the middle, and these weird squiggly leafed coleus bringing up the back (they are supposed to grow to a foot tall). With the next paycheck I'll buy some more plants for all the pots I have tucked away on that balcony, and I'll uncover the lawn chairs so that I can sit and enjoy my little (well, miniscule) urban garden.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

John R.

If you were to look up the word curmudgeon in the dictionary, odds are you'd find his picture illustrating it. No, not the one above, which as far as I can figure is from sometime in the early 40s. No, more the post-50s John R., a guy who loved a good argument almost as much as he loved his Marlboros, his bourbon on the rocks, and his Wurlitzer organ. And, of course, his family. We loved him right back. And cut our teeth arguing politics with the old geezer.

He and my mom met in Vallejo, California, where he was stationed at Mare Island Navy Yard after the war. They knew each other for a few weeks and decided to get married.

People said they were crazy--it couldn't last. But more than 50 years later, they were still man and wife.

He was one of the smartest people I have ever known, but he could be easily persuaded to don one of our play hats for a goofy photo-op.

It's appears that he never really shed that tendency!

He took his leave of this world ten years ago today. The Marlboros and the bourbon and his own stubborn nature took their toll, alas. Time has taken the edge off the grief, but I'll miss him until the end of my own days.

Here's to you, Daddy!


Monday, May 05, 2008

A Cool Antique High Rise

Although about a mile and a half or so south of us the lakefront is festooned with thirty and forty story condo and apartment buildings, once you make your way north of Loyola University into East Rogers Park you are in the land of three or four story buildings--except for this one. It is our sole lakefront high rise, built in 1923 if you are to believe the cornerstone. (An aside here--when one builds on sand, which really does provide the underpinnings of most of the land near the lake in our neck of the woods--one has to expect that the building will settle. Forever, maybe. Our six-flat, built in 1920, is STILL settling. I shudder to think how that settlement plays out in THIS edifice, cool though it is.)

The wonderful thing about this building is not its general Addam's Family ambience, although that is atmospheric indeed. It is its strange stonework that sets it apart--you won't find anything like it in modern architecture, and certainly not in a modern apartment block.

For example... the atlantes that support the faux gothic window pediment:

Atlantes--isn't that a wonderful word? Thank goodness for Jeff's little architectural details field guide!

Here's a closer look:

Thing One and

Thing Two.

Now let's pull back a little, and look at the central facade detail:

Notice the sculpted lozenges set in regular rows all up the front of the building. Perhaps they are simply decorative geometric motifs or a more ambitious array of heraldic shields? Mais non, mes amis.

They are faces.

Here are a couple of examples:

Mr. Get-Out-of-My-Yard-You-Young-Hooligans! and

Mr. He-Found-WHAT-Lurking-in-the-Pantry?

Now, scroll back up to the photo of the whole building and turn your attention to the demi-turret that hugs the corner. Near the base of this turret, at one story above ground level, are three friezes.

Two bratty little girls with sloppy socks (here is one) flank an Old-King-Cole-esque figure:

He's even identified as "the owner."

But my favorite parts of the building are these:

These caricatures put me in mind of similar stone heads that adorn the walls of the Temple Church in London. This is but one phalanx of these caricatures--there are two of them, and not one head is the same on either of them.

Here, take a closer look:

There's this world-weary fellow,

and this big lug, who looks kindly enough (but I wouldn't let him pet any rabbits),

but my favorite is THIS guy, who is clearly belching!

I love this building. I have no idea what it looks like inside, and I'll bet after 85 years of settling there is not a level floor or plumb wall in the entire pile, but the stonemasons who carved the details of this facade were masters of their craft. I'm so glad that such a building still stands, and so close to me.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Around the 'hood

A few weeks ago, I took a little constitutional around the neighborhood carrying the camera. I thought I'd share a few snapshots from the photo foray.

These buildings are one block to our east, right on the lakefront. As you can see, a couple of weeks ago the trees were still winter-bare. Now they are budding like crazy. Spring was late in Chicago this year, but it's catching up!

The building directly across the alley is covered in ivy. In fact, every year the landlords (it's an apartment building) have to cut the ivy back to reveal all the back windows.

Here's something we didn't see much of in Chicago this winter!

And here is a peek (tantalizing, I hope!) of one of the most fascinating buildings in the neighborhood. It's three blocks south of us, and it's the tallest building in our part of the neighborhood. I'm going to devote my next post to the amazing details on the facade of this building. Let's just say that you don't see work like this anymore on anything. Stay tuned!

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