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IMG_5059Over the years, we have seen a number of Animals on Parade series in different places, which I’ve written about a few times. Here’s an example.

https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/animals-on-parade/

The lovely dark blue and white horse mentioned in that article is in a garden not far IMG_5060from us in Urbana, and whenever I walk past I stop to admire it. As the owner explained, it is not part of a series, it’s just a one-off. But, it’s the same kind of fiber-glass animal done in the same sort of style and it’s great that this horse is still around for us to admire.

So, a few weeks ago I was dismayed to see that the horse was on the ground, probably blown over by really ferocious winds we’ve had recently, linked to really abnormal weather here (much colder, wetter, more windy).

The other day I walked that way again and am happy to see that the fallen horse is back on its feet.

Long may you stand horse!

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Roy C in his kilt

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Every year we have a piper (but not in 2018)

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Wally M recites a poem by Robert Burns 

I have a lot of photos, so please scroll down and enjoy!

Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Robert Burns (25 January 1759-21 July 1796

No matter how far away you are from Scotland, you have a good chance of finding a Burns Supper. According to a Scottish friend, anywhere you find Scots people, you’ll find a Burns Supper, from all over the UK and as far away as Zambia. There is a strong tradition of Burns suppers in New Zealand, as Thomas Burns, Robbie Burns’ nephew, was a founding father there. Canada has many Burns Suppers too, for example in Bracebridge, ON. Many places in the USA will host a Burns supper.

Burns Supper in Urbana, Illinois

Here in Urbana, a group we belong to has its very own Burns Supper most years, which we’ve been lucky enough to attend a few times, including this year on the actual birthday, January 25. A lot of fun. The photos in this post are an amalgam of a couple of years.

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The celebration in Urbana

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Rod M recites a Burns poem

heatherWhat is all the fuss about and just what is this? A Burns Supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns, a famous Scottish poet and the national bard. His works are cherished, as his words and sentiments are timeless and cover universal feelings and truths. The dinners are usually held on, or close to, the poet’s birthday on January 25th, although the first one was held on January 29, 1802, as his friends mistakenly thought that was his birthday. His birthday is also often known as Robert Burns Day or Rabbie Burns Day.

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Haggis

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The piper pipes in the haggis

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Ann C prepares to cut the haggis

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Ann C cuts the haggis another year

These dinners may be formal or informal, but will all include  haggis. Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish that was celebrated by Burns in one of his poems, Address to a Haggis. All dinners also involve Scotch whisky and the reciting of some of Burns’ poems.

The more formal dinners are fun as they follow a set format, which gives us a good window into Scottish traditions. Our dinner was pretty formal, and gave us a better understanding of how revered Robbie Burns is to Scots people.

At the beginning guests mingle informally over snacks as a piper pipes them in. Some of the guests, and the hosts, wear different tartans, depending o the clan they, or their ancestors, came from. The hosts welcome everyone and the guests are seated with the reciting of the Selkirk Grace. This thanksgiving wasn’t written by Burns, but gained its name after Burns delivered it at a dinner hosted by the Earl of Selkirk.

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Cock O’Leeky soup

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Cutting the haggis

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Proposing a toast to the haggis and to Burns

Then comes the Soup Course, usually Scotch Broth and/or Cock-a-Leekie, followed by the Haggis. The piper pipes in the haggis, carried in by the cook and after it’s placed on the table, someone recites the Address to a Haggis. At certain lines towards the end of the poem the speaker picks up a knife, sharpens it, and plunges it into the haggis—a highlight of the evening. All rather dramatic.

Someone proposes a Scotch whisky toast to the haggis and then dinner is served: haggis with tatties(mashed potatoes) and neeps(mashed rutabagas). There may also be smoked salmon and various salads. Dessert might becranachenor Tipsy Laird(whisky trifle), and oatcakes with various cheeses. All washed down with copious amounts of Scotch whisky and/or red wine.

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Cheese plate

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Steve L proposes a toast to the Lads

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Proposing a toast to the Lassies

There will be various speeches and toasts—to the Immortal Memory of Burns; To the Lads; To the Lassies—and perhaps singing of some Burns songs, and even dancing sometimes.

We had all this a few weekends ago, except for the piper, who was unfortunately unable to attend due to bad weather. However, other years that we went the piper was there and added a great vibe to the dinner. Thanks go to our hosts, who seated and entertained about 36 people. The tables were all beautifully decorated, with proper linen and glasses of purple heather, and the walls had pictures of Burns.

For more information about Robert Burns and Burns Night Suppers, check out these

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Another toast to the Lads

good web sites.

http://www.robertburns.org/suppers/itinerary.shtml

http://www.visitscotland.com/about/robert-burns/supper

 

 

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PennAve

racestGood news for book lovers—and I know there are a lot of us out there.

A fairly recent phenomenon, called Little Free Libraries. It’s a wonderful idea in these times, when almost everyone is fixated on a screen of some kind, and some young people don’t even read real paper books any more.

Over the last few years I’ve seen a number of these little libraries pop up in our town and sometimes stop to see what kind of books are in them. They come in all shapes and sizes, limited only by the imagination and resources of the owner I guess. A friend regularly takes books and adds books to one of these little libraries near her home, although I’ve never actually done so.

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The Little Free Library in Sister Bay, Wisconsin

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Inside the Little Free Library in Sister Bay

We were in Sister Bay, Door Country, Wisconsin, a few weekends ago and on the farm we were visiting there was a large (by small library standards) little library. It’s housed in a wooden hut that used to be an old farm hut. We peeked inside—very cozy with bookshelves and a chair. This got me interested in the concept of these libraries so I wanted to find out more.

As Wikipedia tells us, Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire a love of reading, to build community, and to spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world. There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world, in all 50 USA states and 70 countries, although most are in the USA. Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, greatly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds. The Little Free Library nonprofit is based in Hudson, Wisconsin, USA.

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Part of the Idea Garden at the University of Illinois

childrenscloseThe first Little Free Library was built in 2009 by Todd Bol in Hudson, Wisconsin. He placed a wooden container that looked like a one-room schoolhouse on a post on his lawn and filled it with books as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and school teacher. Bol shared his idea with his partner, Rick Brooks, and the idea spread rapidly, soon becoming a “global sensation“. Little Free Library was officially incorporated on May 16, 2012, and the Internal Revenue Service recognized Little Free Library as a nonprofit in the same year.

Long may this continue as a global sensation!

 

 

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Small weeping cherry tree by the car park

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Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.

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Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.

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The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea

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cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky

Vtree

 

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In Bicycle Alley

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In Bicycle Alley

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Bicycle Alley

Urbana Murals: Transforming Urban Spaces

Walking around Urbana recently, I stopped to take pictures of some interesting murals that we’ve seen but never photographed before. They brighten up walls and bring a smile to one’s face.

A little research turned up some snippets of information on many of them. I find this fascinating, as it’s part of the history and culture of our town.

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Part of Bicycle Alley murals

The first series is in Bicycle Alley, a graffiti hallway between the Courier Café and Pizza M and Siam Terrace. It’s a series of large-scale murals by local artists, spearheaded by Langston Allston. Allston is a local artist and an alumnus of the University of Illinois. This was part of the 2013 Downtown Mural Project and much of the funding came from pledges on Kickstarter. It started as a homage to local history and bike culture, but it looks to me as though others have painted and glued various graffiti on top of the originals. The alley is now an outdoor bar/meeting place during the warmer weather. We’ve never tried it, but it looks like a fun place.

 

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Bicycle Alley

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Courier Cafe mural

Nearby is a large mural on the outside wall of the Courier Café (one of our favorite casual eating places in town). The Courier used to be the space of a former local newspaper and the owner of the Café, Allen Strong, has kept many of the old features. The artist is Glen C. Davies, who is illustrating a bit of history of this very location. The Courier is close to the site of the first settlement cabin in Urbana. It was William Tompkin’s cabin, built in 1822 along the Boneyard Creek, right behind the Courier building.

Davies has been in town since 1974 and at one time he delivered newspapers for the old courier2Courier newspaper, which went out of business on March 31, 1979.

The left hand side of the mural starts with the Big Grove (settlement area), moving across to the influence of agriculture and the railroads. We see Lincoln and his influence, and the portraits of four journalists whose careers started here — George Will, Gene Shalit, Bob Novak and Roger Ebert. Then it moves into current times with downtown Main Street, the university, and a bicyclist through town. It ends with an antique car, which symbolizes Allen Strong.

Glen C. Davies is also the artist of a smaller, but striking, mural near the Urbana Free Library.

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urbana Free Library mural

I couldn’t find any information on the dog mural, on a house on the corner of Race and Illinois Streets in Urbana—it’s eye-catching and cute, though.

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Fall on our street

fallThe glorious fall colors around our house in Urbana always get us “oohing and aahing”, especially on a sunny day when the light makes the leaves seem luminous. Cameras come out as we try for that elusive perfect photo on our tree-lined avenue that becomes an autumn-hued tunnel.

As we took these photos I realized that we’ve done the same for the other seasons, and I thought it would be fun to put up a kind of collage, with a comparison of our avenue at different times of year. And the back of our house through the four seasons too. What a difference a few months make!

This also makes us realize that we’ve actually come to love the four seasons and their changing, even though we are originally from southern Africa where the change of seasons isn’t at all well marked.

Please scroll through and enjoy!

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The cycle begins

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Beautiful greening begins after the bare winter

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Late spring

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A green tunnel in summer

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Doesn’t look the same in winter!

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A blizzard hits our street

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Our neighbor’s magnolia is gorgeous in spring

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In summer everything gets very lush

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Our back yard in fall

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Back of our house in winter

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Icicles above our front step

 

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July 2016: MEADOWBROOK PARK in Urbana

The Landscape as it used to be in Illinois. Remember, Illinois’ nick-name (one of them) is the Prairie State, as hundreds of years ago much of the state was covered in tall-grass prairie.

We are lucky, as in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, there are many wonderful parks, but in our opinion this is Number #1.

Meadowbrook Park is a 130-acre park with a difference, beloved by the locals, including us! It has the usual facilities, like picnic areas and a large field for ball play. But, the kids’ play structures are different to usual playgrounds—super-sized, and made of wood.

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PA291402.JPGMore unusual are the large area of Restored Prairie, and the Wandell Sculpture Garden, a series of large-scale outdoor sculptures that line the three miles of walking trails and fit beautifully into their outdoor setting. The trails wander through and around a broad swathe of re-created tallgrass prairie, and organic and wildflower gardens, plus a large herb garden, and community garden plots. Each sculpture has a plaque with its name and the name of the sculptor, and it’s a lot of fun to wander along the paths and stop to admire the sculptures—some colorful, some whimsical, all interesting. The Celia and Willet Wandell Sculpture Garden opened in 1998, made possible by the Wandell family and donations from area businesses and local supporters. Some of the sculptures are owned by Urbana Park District as part of the permanent collection, and some are on a two-year loan from the artists.

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See the butterfly on the coneflower

Meadowbrook Park is lovely at any time of the year, but is really gorgeous now, at the height of summer. Tall, bright green grasses cover the fields across to the trees ringing the area. But the dominant color is not just green. Colorful wild flowers, massed, swaying slightly in the breeze, attract bees and birds. We watched a redwing blackbird perch atop a tall stalk with huge yellow flowers, nearby a small sparrow chirped on a bush with some other yellow flowers, a hummingbird hovered, and butterflies fluttered. White Queen Anne’s Lace, aptly named, polka-dots the green, along with pinkish Echinacea, bright blue cornflowers, and masses of purple and yellow, daisy-like wild flowers.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

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See the tiny hummingbird 

Sometimes you can hear a Chinese pheasant calling and watch for the deer, which are usually here, munching calmly, unworried by humans. A small brook runs through parts of the park and at times there have been beavers who’ve made a dam there.

If this kind of vegetation covered these prairies in days gone by, before the settlers came in and cleared it for farmland, the sight must have been truly awesome.

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P7210043.JPGPeople come to walk, to run, to roller-blade or ride bicylces. They walk dogs and push strollers and near the pavilions people can picnic.

Whenever we walk, other runners, walkers, cyclists and dog-walkers pass us. Everyone smiles and greets us, the spirit seems relaxed and friendly. We are soothed by the beauty and perfection of this piece of Nature we are privileged to share.

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