Curves of Chihuly Glass

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Butterfly and Chihuly at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio.

This is a lucky butterfly, settling in the midst of the curves of a work by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.  I spotted her at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus Ohio.

With blooms busting’ out all over, this botanical garden is beautiful from the start.  Then add a butterfly garden with installations of Chihuly Glass.  The curving, colorful forms of glass serve to draw attention to the curves and colors of nature that surround them, heightening  our awareness of nature’s amazing artistry.

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This is the artwork in its entirety.

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The Humor and Home of James Thurber

Cartoons and funny articles in a style that is spare and gentle.IMG_1604

James Thurber was one of the most beloved humorists of the last century and his cartoons were regularly featured in The New Yorker for over 30 years.  I recently visited his boyhood home in Columbus, Ohio, where the stories about Thurber’s childhood explained a lot about his gentle and quirky humor, particularly the tales about his delightfully cooky mother and his love of dogs.

Thurber’s drawings are spare, simple black lines and experts speculate that it may be due in part to an eye injury he received as a child. If your knowledge of Thurber’s work is limited to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and its recent FullSizeRendermovie incarnation, I suggest reading The Thurber Carnival, a collection of his short stories and drawings for a better look at the author/illustrator. For example, one of my favorite of Thurber’s canine characters is Muggs, in “The Dog That Bit People.” Muggs, a really crabby Airedale, was one of the family dogs (Thurber owned 53 during his life). Muggs bit everyone except Mrs. Thurber who always defended him.  Thurber writes, “Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names.”  Like most authors’ homes, Thurber’s house offers a view of life in a slower, though with Muggs around, not necessarily a safer era.

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James Thurber’s home in Columbus, Ohio.

Apart from the stories and drawings, one of Thurber’s most important legacies is the Thurber Prize for American Humor that is now awarded in his name from the non-profit that runs the house and the many Thurber House programs for writers. Winners have included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris,Calvin Trillin and most recently Minnesotan Julie Schumaker for her hilarious book Dear Committee Members.  See my article in the Minnesota Women’s Press on Julie Schumacher.

A Little Swedish Utopia on the Illinois Prairie

The warm yeasty smell of Swedish rye bread fills the bakery where Tom Campbell and his crew are baking bread, Swedish Tea Rings and rhubarb pies. Down the street Lou Hanson is throwing clay to make colorful mugs and dishes at the Hantverk Galleri, and kids are playing ball in the town park. An energetic group of volunteers dressed as Pippi Longstocking, bright orange pigtails and all, greets visiting school children learning about the beloved Astrid Lindgren character and Swedish history. Entering Bishop Hill, Ill. seems like driving back to another, more idyllic, time.

“It’s like Brigadoon,” says Deni Menken, one of the Pippis who recently moved to Bishop Hill, “like the village in the musical that appears one day every 100 years.” Yet, charming Bishop Hill, a National Historic Landmark about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, has been solidly here since Swedish settlers founded this utopian community in 1846.

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Swedish baked goods are on display in the Bishop Hill Bakery.

A Swedish Promised Land
Those intrepid Swedes, like so many immigrants who settled this country, came for religious freedom. After being jailed for his beliefs, the group’s charismatic leader, Eric Janson, predicted a fiery doom for Sweden and fled to America with 1000 of his followers. After sailing the Atlantic, they made their way west through the Erie Canal, crossed the Great Lakes, and walked the final 150 miles from Chicago.

Eventually, Janson and his followers erected twenty communal buildings, amassed 15,000 acres of farmland, and made Bishop Hill an important industrial and farming center for the entire area. Founded on the principles of shared property, hard work, and simple living, the colony thrived and traded heavily with the surrounding communities. Despite Janson’s murder in 1850, they prospered until the Civil War drained away both men and commerce. The community was eventually dissolved, the land divided among its inhabitants and, like Brigadoon, Bishop Hill essentially went to sleep for a hundred years. Its buildings and population gradually declined until the 1960’s when, with help from the State of Illinois, the Swedish royal family and many others, preservationists formed the Bishop Hill Heritage Association to restore and preserve the colony.

Town Tour

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Swedish simplicity in architecture–Bishop Hill.

Bishop Hill architecture is a study in Scandinavian simplicity—solid and serious like its builders—and a refreshing change from the elaborate Victorian construction so prominent in communities of the era. Start your tour with the Steeple Building which houses the Bishop Hill Heritage museum featuring exhibits, archives, furniture and tools from the colony. Visit the Colony Church, the village’s first building, lovingly restored with its original walnut pews and a divider down the middle to separate the sexes.

Stop for treats at the Colony Store, a general store in operation since the colony’s inception, and at Annie’s Primitives which offers a bit of heaven for lovers of primitive antiques and folk art. For an amazing trove of folk art, don’t miss the Bishop Hill Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of paintings by the famed folk artist Olaf Krans that document life in the colony as he saw it growing up there. Even if you’re only a bit Swedish, stop by the VASA National Archives Museum for immigration and genealogy research to discover your own heritage.

Let Your Swede Flag Fly

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An elaborate needlework project.
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Women of the Bishop Hill area gather for a rug-hooking workshop and plenty of camaraderie.

Whether or not you’re Swedish, Bishop Hill’s appeal lies not as much with the historic buildings as with the people who live there today. Unlike most historic villages where the “residents” are employees who dress in period costume and leave town at day’s end, Bishop Hill folk really live here and many are descendants of the original colonists. They stroll to the geranium-filled post office to collect their mail, work in the shops and on local farms, and gather for rug-hooking workshops. They enthusiastically volunteer for the many projects that keep Bishop Hill’s buildings maintained, its history vital and alive and that foster their own sense of community. For visitors, that translates to a surprisingly light-hearted “valkommen” given the stern faces of their relatives in the museum photos.

They’re an artsy bunch, too, who turn out an amazing array of art, handcrafts, music and musical instruments. Be sure to stop in at Prairie Arts Center where weavers, potters and broom makers demonstrate their crafts.

Bishop Hill especially comes alive from the early spring Valborg Bonfire to “burn away the old and welcome the new” to the sparkling Lucia Nights at Christmas. In between, the colony hosts antiques and quilt shows, a dulcimer and roots music fest, and Agriculture Days in September.

Getting There
Bishop Hill is about 400 miles from the Twin Cities via I-35 and I-80, about an hour southeast of the Quad Cities, and makes a great stop on your way to Chicago.

Checking In
Bishop Hill offers two lodging options. The Gallery Inn is in the old Colony Administration Building overlooking the park.
109 W. Main Street (309) 926-3080 http://www.bishiophillgalleryinn.com
The Twinflower Inn, is the Colony Hospital.
110 Olsen St., 309-696-0833
http://www.twinflowerinn.com

Nearby Kewanee also offers a range of modern motels; or, a little further away, book a room and a gourmet meal at the fantastic Chestnut Street Inn, 301 East Chestnut Street, Sheffield, 800-537-1304, http://www.chestnut-inn.com

Dining Out
Hours vary at Bishop Hill restaurants, but the food is delicious and homemade, no lutefisk

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Read up on utopian communities in the U.S. with books such as Chris Jennings’s “Paradise Now.”

in sight.

The Bishop Hill Bakery & Eatery is open Wednesday through Sunday with a full array of baked goods and treats, soups, sandwiches and daily specials.

The Filling Station Restaurant serves breakfast Saturdays & Sundays, including their special Swedish Pancakes with lingonberries, lunch daily and dinner only on Friday nights with a different special each week.

P.L. Johnson’s Dining Room serves lunch every day and dinner on Saturdays from May to August.

For More Information

Bishop Hill Heritage Association http://www.bishophill.com

309-927-3899

Home Office Habits

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When you work at home, no one knows you’re eating chocolate and butterscotch chips.

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” That’s the caption of the famous New Yorker cartoon in which two dogs are sitting in front of a computer. Similarly, I would say, “If you work at home, no one knows you’re still wearing your pajamas.” You can present whatever image you want to the world and nobody know the difference because there are no witnesses. I work at home, I know.

But now, my husband is going to work from home, too.

I was about 99 percent comfortable with that concept until I read Ben Huberman’s “Witness” challenge today and I’m starting to worry. My spouse usually comes home from his downtown office and asks about my day. I whistle, wipe my brow and say, “Wow, really busy.” I stagger through the kitchen, lean on the counter and say, “You just wouldn’t believe it.” I embellish about what interesting people I talked to, writing projects in the works, and the burden of deadlines, then quickly change the conversation.

In my own defense, I must say, I don’t spend the day in pajamas. I spring out of bed, get dressed and eat breakfast. Then, bidding my husband “Have a great day!” I sprint upstairs to my office, a converted guest room that I call “world headquarters.” My assistant, Mr. Macduff, follows me. That’s my dog, Duffy. Half in jest, I’m creating a facade like the false fronts on the buildings in frontier towns, made to make them look bigger and fancier than they were.

I do my best work in the morning so I really do stick with it until at least noon. But studies have shown that we all have a limited reservoir of self-discipline–seriously, it’s not just me. My reservoir usually runs out after lunch. That’s when I daydream, flip through magazines I’d like to write for or succumb to the siren call of a sale at Macy’s.

But now someone else will be here to see that I’m not working like a dog all day.  He’ll witness all the weird things I do, learn that I listen to strange New Age music, find me rummaging through the pantry cupboard for a few chocolate chips to eat. He’ll see me snoring on the couch, catching the occasional view of “Ellen” and he’ll be standing there when I try to sneak in with the bags from Macy’s. I’m so busted.

Yet, when I think about it, the situation works both ways when two people work at home. What will I witness? This is a man who I think will happily work in his undies. He’s inclined to talk to his computer and gripes at length while searching for affordable airline reservations. (So much swearing, so little time.) Worse yet, he’ll probably beat me to the leftovers I planned to eat for lunch. Clearly, boundaries must be drawn.

So, friends, readers and fellow bloggers, I implore you to send your advice on how to maintain a happy home (office). Write them in the comments box next to this post. Please respond quickly before my cover is completely blown.

Books and Travel in Steamboat Springs Colorado

I’m heading for Steamboat for a little skiing and a lot of talk about books.  If you’re in CO, come join us.!

AN EVENING WITH TERRI PETERSON SMITHBeatenPage_12 4

Off the Beaten Path Bookstore

Thursday, March 24th – 6 pm –  in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

68 9th Street, 970-879-6830, steamboat books.com

Join Off the Beaten Path in welcoming Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. Smith will take us on a tour of America’s most fascinating literary destinations and will provide inspiration and suggestions to plan your own literary getaway.

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.

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