Essays & Articles 2017-08-30T20:14:01+00:00

Words, war, worry

ON THIS VETERANS DAY, thousands of mothers are aching with worry about their sons and daughters in uniform in foreign lands. Newspapers display photos of trained and tough young men and women, but the mothers know it was just yesterday that they held these warriors as children, cooked them a favorite meal, nurtured them through illness, advised them through troubles and kissed away their sorrows.

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Fatal Firetruck Accident

Fifty years before Sandra Bland was arrested after a minor traffic violation in Waller County, Texas, a fatal traffic accident involving a firetruck on Chicago’s West Side lit a powder keg of resentment that exploded into a riot. But the Garfield Park violence, which injured dozens and led to widespread arrests, didn’t even lead the Chicago Tribune’s final editions as black smoke billowed over the city.

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Pillar of West Garfield Park to Retire

After decades of working to improve a troubled West Side neighborhood through an organization she founded, Mary Nelson will step down in July.

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Going Home

It’s a straight shot from my northwest Evanston home to one of Chicago’s most notorious neighborhoods – West Garfield Park. I’m driving 12 miles south down Crawford Avenue, the street name changing to Pulaski Road at the Chicago border. Not just a sojourn of miles, this journey takes me to distance recesses of childhood memories, across generations to my father’s youth, and after nearly 40 years, to Bethel Lutheran Church, once the center of my world and the social core of my dad’s life since his birth in 1914.

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Austin High School, but not memories, fades away

Chicago’s Austin High School, which closes its doors this June, holds a mythical, magical place in my memory. Its closing is bittersweet for me, not because I attended Austin, but because it’s another icon of the West Side’s past that has faded away, another piece of my family’s past and another era going extinct.

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Light, Fluffy Memories

I remember watching my mother tear the fluffiest pancake I had ever seen into chunks, crumbling it into the pan, sprinkling it with sugar, and serving it up with a side of family history as she talked about her own mother making Kaiserschmarren. According to Mom, the Austrian dish’s name meant Emperor’s Dessert, although in German a schmarr is also a cut or slash.

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The Bergmann Touch

In 1993, our back yard was an oozing mud pit. My husband Bill and I had just finished gutting and renovating our 75-year-old red brick Georgian. Low on funds, we settled for a landscape designer who was a consummate salesman but turned out to be a sad excuse for a gardener. As his ill-chosen plants and shrubs bit the dust, I counter-acted this steady attrition piecemeal with what Bill teasingly called my “obsessive compulsion.”

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Naturally Festive

Glittery ornaments adorning a tinsel-draped tree. Overstuffed Santas. Legions of brightly lacquered nutcrackers. Bright red and green here, there, and everywhere. It’s the holidays, all right – but maybe you’re yearning for a little less glitz and a lot more of what makes you feel so good in your garden: flowers, grasses, textured birds’ nests, and the pleasure of living plants. It’s possible to satisfy your inner gardener – even in December – if you just turn to nature as the inspiration for your seasonal decorating.

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Wallflower or Belle of the Ball?

Is there a perfect houseplant? Ellen Zachos thinks it’s the hoya, sometimes called the wax plant. “I love the variety and succulence of the foliage that makes them drought tolerant and low maintenance. They have beautiful flowers, many are extremely fragrant, and I’m fond of vines – so I can hang them in my windows. It all adds up to the perfect plant.”

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Spread the Cheer

Winter containers can provide several months of enjoyment with a solid evergreen base and the addition of new accessories each month.

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Autumn Harvest

Mother Nature is known to wield a colorful autumn palette across the continent, and Wisconsin benefits wonderfully from this gorgeous kaleidoscope – but fall isn’t the only art show on display this October in the Badger State. As you’ll discover, man may not be nature’s equal – but how we love to try!

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Birding Immersion: Costa Rica

When I left for Costa Rica to join my birding enthusiast friend, Katy, I did­n’t know the difference between a fly catcher and a thrush. The names tanager, manakin, and trogon might just as well have been Swahili, and “rufous” was a word for which I had no reference. I was an innocent – a virgin birder. But because Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise where a stunning 28 percent of the land is protected, I learned in a spectacular environment.

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The Constant Gardener

When it comes to battling childhood obesity and increasing nutritional awareness, Lynn Hyndman has proven she’s more than willing to get her hands dirty. Five years ago, the retired science teacher from Dawes School in Evanston launched a project called the Garden of Eatin’, a student-cultivated garden designed to change “attitudes about what constitutes good food.”

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Syd Lieberman, History Maker

If you’re a history buff, you’ve undoubtedly fantasized about indulging in a little time travel. If so, may we introduce you to Syd Lieberman, your tour guide par excellence? An internationally acclaimed storyteller based in Evanston, Lieberman has transported rapt listeners into the cockpits of dogfighting World War I planes, the chaos that was the Johnstown Flood and NASA rocket ships headed to Mars.

Note: Sadly, Syd died in May 2015. We sure miss him, but his stories endure.

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