A Dispatch from the Forest Park Community Garden

Sorry for the radio silence this week. For the past couple of weeks we’ve been preparing the Forest Park Community Garden for the Forest Park Historical Society’s Home & Garden Walk. It’s the first year we’ve been featured on the walk and well, we had a lot of work to do! The garden usually looks fine, but we wanted to get some plantings done and clean some stuff up before we had official garden walk visitors. Some people in Forest Park don’t even know we have a community garden, so we wanted to be on the walk to raise awareness, increase our visibility, and hopefully get some new gardeners and people who want to be involved with the garden. The garden is officially ten years old in 2019 so there’s definitely some areas to refresh and improve, but money and man hours are always our challenge. We’ve been slowly rebuilding older plots and trying to repair things as needed. But July is really a great time to feature the garden because things are growing like crazy and most of our 55 plots are looking good! It was fun to show visitors what people are growing and how each gardener organizes his plot. These pictures were taken on Tuesday while I was doing some chores at the garden, but on Sunday it was sunny and hot. A few of us spent the day at the garden to host the tours and, even though we spent most of the day under a tent, I got a little sunburn. It’s been so hot here, and it’s supposed to be near 100 the rest of the week…thankfully it rained a ton today because the plants were starting to get dry and sad. This little future swallowtail is living in my dill right now. He’s a welcome visitor. So far this summer, we have harvested a ton of basil (pictured at the top) and some dill and parsley. (As always, I’m kicking us for not growing more spring vegetables but it was such a weird spring!) Our tomatoes are battling white flies again, but we have a few on the vine, so hopefully we’ll have a harvest soon. Naoto’s edamame is growing like crazy and our chamomile and carrots are doing just fine. It’s always an adventure in Plot 6 and around the garden!

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Hasegawa Tanabata 2019

Hasegawa Tanabata was a low-key affair this year. We didn’t invite any guests and I didn’t decorate (gasp!) but it was such an amazing summer night for enjoying a light meal on the lanai. And of course Naoto is my favorite “guest” anyway! We had a busy day at the community garden so it all kind of fell together at the last minute, thanks to some Tensuke Market sushi and some easy Japanese recipes. I thought Naoto was going to get a sushi tray, but he really held back at the sushi counter, only bringing home two rolls and six pieces of sushi. (For the record, this is barely enough sushi for HIM!) Thankfully we had other things on the menu…Japanese potato salad and ham & egg salad sandwiches. We were going to make somen, but we ended up feeling full with what we had and some Japanese snacks.I made yuzu cocktails and they were so good, I think we need to share the recipe. We bought this yuzu liqueur at Mitsuwa a few weeks ago and we really like it! It’s good on its own and with soda water and it worked really nicely in the yuzu cocktail, too. The rest of the night, we shared some sparkling wine.It was so unseasonably chilly, we both ended up in jackets but no regrets at all…it was perfect…maybe not blog post perfect, but perfect for us. 🙂

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

June Books

 

I squeezed in a short story on June 30th, but I’ll talk about that next month. I had to take my book stack picture early because No Surrender was due and I wanted to be a responsible library patron.

I was pretty pleased with my reading in June. Each book was really different, but let’s not get too crazy! They’re all old!

No Surrender by Constance Maud

This one came highly recommended by Persephone Book fans but I thought it read like a made-for-TV movie about the suffrage movement in England. It was good…but not great. I definitely felt like a learned a ton about what those women went through and what sacrifices were made for the right to vote, but I never really connected with the characters and it sort of slogged midway through. Still, I’m glad I read it, especially since I just happened to be reading it during the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passing here in the US.

Letters of Arthur George Heath

This one was for book club and is really different than the books we usually read, but it was universally loved by the group. It’s a non-fiction book of one soldier’s letters to home. Arthur George Heath’s family published his letters after he was killed early in World War I. The letters were both ordinary and moving. In some, he asks for mundane details about his family’s new home and he requests a new pipe, books, and pajamas. In others, he’s telling his mother that if he dies, she should still enjoy places that he loved at home and not let them cause her pain because he is gone. He’s also very funny, suggesting that his fellow soldiers shouldn’t start War & Peace because “if one makes ambitious plans like that, one certainly gets killed in the middle.” It was a pretty easy read, and of course I loved that it was letters. A book club member shared this article after our discussion and it was really great for filling in some of the historical gaps about war letter writing.

Time Will Darken It by William Maxwell

This is my third Maxwell book of the year and I absolutely loved this book. It’s a story about a couple, Austin and Martha King, who have visitors staying with them for an extended period of time during a summer. They are Austin’s relatives and his foster cousin, Nora, is in love with him and the other relatives take advantage of Austin’s community connections and make some bad business deals. These two things create the slow downfall of Austin’s relationships, both with his wife and with his small community. (Oh did I mention the story, like most of Maxwell’s books, happens in a small Illinois town?) While there is not a ton of action in most of the book, I just love the way Maxwell is able to explain the human experience. I loved every minute of it.

I think I’m going to try to read the other two Maxwell novels that I haven’t read yet. I just finished my first book for July and haven’t decided what’s next, but I think my plan to read back-to-back E.M. Forster may be a mistake…

Tagged , , , ,

Vintage Postage Mail

Happy Monday! It is gorgeous out today and I’m looking forward to some lanai time this afternoon. We’ve been enjoying cooler temperatures and no humidity all weekend and it just feels so good to open the windows and take a break from the air conditioner. Today I’m sharing some of the mail I’ve been sending out lately. I’ve been using a lot of vintage postage on my letters instead of washi tape and other decorations. It’s been fun piecing together random stamps or theme stamps. I’ve been able to take some time to sift through my collection since I reorganized everything after last month’s stamp show. I don’t think my system is perfect by any means, but it has helped me use up more of my stash, so I guess it’s working for me. Maybe I should share here? It’s also helped that I’m pretty caught up on my mail, so writing a few letters and finding stamps for them isn’t overwhelming me like it might when I have a huge stack of letters to return. And Naoto has been taking my letters to the River Forest Post Office for hand cancellation. He’s made friends with Paul and Vicky who are both amazing and friendly and efficient dreamboats. You don’t have to have your vintage postage hand cancelled, but if you don’t, your stamps are at risk of getting a big black sharpie mark swiped across them…it’s very sad. (I was trying to find an example in my mail but I can’t so I’ll send you here if you’d like to see what I mean.)Sharpie mail makes me so sad, but I get it…time is of the essence at the USPS and they have to cancel the stamps so that people won’t re-use them. To me, it’s worth saving up a few letters to get them hand-cancelled. I have broken into a number of complete sheets and it feels so good! I use a tape runner to attach the stamps. I am a bit of a germphobe so I try not to lick things that have been handled by many people. (Some of the vintage postage comes in plastic protector sleeves, but some comes naked.) Also, I’ve had stamps fall off on the way to their destination so a permanent adhesive ensures all postage survives the trip.  These were some of my favorites–thank you notes to book club friends who I know would appreciate the literary stamps! Fun fact: out of all of those stamps, we have read everything except Emily Dickinson (because we don’t read poetry. Oh, and I guess we didn’t technically read Little House on the Prairie but we read Farmer Boy and The Long Winter so it counts in my book!)

So that’s my mail for the past few weeks. I’ve sent some letters with the new Sesame Street stamps too…they are so cute and I’m just really excited to see Guy Smiley get his due.

Tagged , , ,

Happy Fourth of July!

It’s Independence Day in the US and I’m off work, but Naoto isn’t. So, I’m celebrating by watching as much of Stranger Things Season 3 as possible while he’s gone. (Naoto doesn’t watch any television with me…it’s really his only flaw.) The weather is all up in the air in Chicagoland today, so we’re deciding between fireworks and live music later tonight.

Either way, Happy 4th to my fellow Americans, and happy Thursday to everyone else!

P.S. Here is some patriotic mail I sent out this week. I love a good postage stamp theme lately!

Tagged , , ,

Summer Tea at Peggy’s

Last week, Peggy hosted a few of us for a summer tea. It’s been so rainy in Chicagoland that we couldn’t sit in the garden, but we sat on her back porch and enjoyed the flowers and the sunshine and the rain from there. I didn’t take many pictures of the food, but we had rhubarb scones, ham and egg salad sandwiches, avocado salad, and strawberry eaton mess (pictured above.) Though, unlike Bon Appetite, Susan made her own meringues which were so delicious!Oh, and Susan brought us each a vintage pin. Mine is a groovy 1970s flower pin. Can you believe in all of my brooch collection, I don’t have a metal flower? It’s so much fun! It was a relaxing afternoon. I haven’t been doing many small group social things lately and this was a nice reminder about how relaxing it can be to sit among just a few people and catch up about what we’re reading, politics, local happenings, and just daily life.

Tagged ,

Cocktail Perfected: Tanabata Cocktail

Naoto and I have been working on our menu for our 4th annual Hasegawa Tanabata. We are going all out this year again with a sushi tray and lots of homemade recipes we’ve been perfecting all year. It really is my favorite night of the summer…well, next to fireworks…but the food is better. (Sorry, grilled American food.) Last year I made a batch of spumonis and we’ve also had yuzu liqueur and sake, but this year, I wanted a fancy cocktail and I found this one on Reddit. It tastes like something you’d drink at a suburban sushi restaurant, though it’s not Japanese. Still, I think the purple is fitting with the spirit of Tanabata and it’s very delicious.

Empress Cocktail 

2oz gin

0.75oz fresh lemon juice

0.75oz lychee liqueur

0.5oz creme de violette

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until very chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve on the lanai with some sushi and gyoza on a hot summer night.

Tagged , , , , ,

Washi Weekend: Handsome Man Bartender

We were shopping in the fancy department store, Takashimaya, when I found this hilarious “Handsome Bartender” washi tape. Naoto made me buy it because “it’s so you!” and it made me laugh. There are several other Handsome Man tapes: a teacher, a high school student, a host, a doctor, and a freelancer. (You can see the others below the Handsome Bartender link.) Really, there’s a handsome man for everyone. Right now I’m using him on my cocktail notebook (a gift from April who purchased it at an old school stationery store in Massachusetts.) I also put him in my planner for July because he just fits. I think I need to find a way to use him on some mail this month. I can’t keep him all to myself!

Tagged , , , ,

Japan Does It Better 25: Karaoke

In college, we took over a local bar every Tuesday night and sang bad karaoke songs and had a great time. Of course, I was young, drinking, and among friends, so it didn’t matter that I can’t carry a tune. I didn’t really care what the rest of the bar thought of me because I was a college kid out to have a good time. That’s the last time I enjoyed karaoke until I started going on our visits to Japan. Karaoke in Japan doesn’t happen in a dive bar among strangers; it happens in a tiny booth reserved for just you and your friends. Right upstairs from the train station by our hotel is a Big Echo, a karaoke chain in Japan. A couple years ago, we went karaokeing for the first time, just the two of us, which is kind of hilarious but also totally perfect.  Inside the Big Echo, you check in at the desk and tell them how many people are in your party and how long you’d like to sing. Then, they assign you a room based on your size. We’ve only ever gone with just the two of us, but even the smallest room is big enough for a cozy small crowd. Inside the booth, there’s a big screen, a couch, a table, microphones, menus, a device to run the karaoke, and a device for ordering food and drinks. The picture above it pretty much the room from the doorway…pretty small (as is everything in Japan) but big enough to sit and sing for awhile. Here’s Naoto, demonstrating the extensive sour menu. There’s also beer (obviously…it’s Japan) and non-alcoholic options. The food is mostly fried bar stuff, but there are healthier options too. We usually just go for late-night drinking snacks. Naoto loves singing old Japanese pop songs, so while I’m eating and drinking my sour, he warms up with a few of those. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the screen always has a fun little scene that may or may not go with the lyrics. It’s fun to see him getting all serious and nostalgic about the old music.  Once he warms up with Japanese songs, we perform duets of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Elvis. So, it’s pretty much like singing in our car on a road trip, except with a better sound system. There is a pretty extensive list of American pop music from all eras, so there’s never a shortage of songs. Once the time is almost up, the front desk calls to see if you want to add minutes. We usually add minutes because an hour goes so fast! I think by the time it’s all said and done, we usually end of paying ¥7000 ($65ish) for our food and experience. Not too bad for a late-night date.

As someone who doesn’t have great singing abilities, I love the private room so I can have fun with Naoto (or a bigger group of friends…someday we’d like to go with his sisters or our friends) without feeling self-conscious about picking a weird song or singing badly in front of strangers. So, to me, karaoke rooms are another example where Japan Does It Better! See how fun it is…

P.S. I haven’t done a JDIB post in so long! If you’d like to see more, go here.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Lanai, 2019

Hello from freezing Forest Park! It has been so cold! This weekend it got down to the low 50s and, while it’s great sleeping weather, it’s not great weather for sitting outside. It’s also been rainy, so at least my plants are happy and everything is still alive as of this week. Our lanai furniture set-up is the same as last year, but we have lots of different flowers and I decided not to make any rainbows this year. It didn’t translate well from the sidewalk below, anyway. Oh, and last summer, Naoto painted the floor so it’s a steel grey now instead of that weird pale green. We really like it. We’ve barely been able to have dinner outside because of the cold weather, but we’ve enjoyed plenty of mornings out there reading in the sunshine and cool breeze.

I got this fantastic almost-neon begonia at Empowering Gardens and it’s so bright and full, it even pops from the street below.

Last year, I mentioned that I can never find good yellow and orange flowers. This year, I have plenty of orange and orangey-red flowers, but still no yellow. I’d love to add some yellow in with those bright pink petunias. Hopefully I can find something good while I’m out later today.

We also have some climbers and radish sprouts growing from seed and I transplanted some mint from the community garden, so hopefully we’ll have enough mint for cocktails soon since it tends to spread like wildfire…

That’s all from the 2019 lanai…it’s supposed to warm up eventually so I’m looking forward to spending some days and evenings outside. Naoto and I are already planning our Tanabata celebration in a few weeks and I’m sure it will be blazing hot by then!

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,