Archive for the ‘Urbana’ Category



IMG_8614Our town, Urbana, has a number of places where we can see swathes of re-created tall-grass prairie. One is at Meadowbrook Park, which I’ve written about before (see here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2004/07/30/meadowbrook-park/ ), another is along part of the railway line, and another is along Florida Ave next to the house of the President of the University of Illinois. They are gorgeous, especially in summer and fall, when the plants are tall and beautiful with swathes of bright mostly purple and yellow flowers.

IMG_8615Why is this important? One of the nicknames for Illinois is the Prairie State (of course, another is Land of Lincoln). Prairie grassland was once the dominant ecosystem in Illinois, but prairie is largely forgotten and almost non-existent in our agricultural and urbanized landscape. About 60% of Illinois (approximately 22 million acres) was once prairie. Now, only about 2,500 acres remain. The rest became corn and soybean fields, pastures and hayfields, mostly in the period between 1820-1840, as more and more settlement of prairie areas in Illinois took place.

Various conservation groups want to continue to pay homage to the prairie and we are IMG_8609very happy that our town is part of that, so that people can still imagine what the state might have once looked like. There are other benefits to re-planting the prairie vegetation, such as increasing habitats for insects and wildlife.

Here are a few photos from the plot close to the president’s house.


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This field is normally not for parking

Our Own Urbana Matsuri

I wrote about our local Matsuri last year (see here https://ourvisitstojapan.wordpress.com/2018/09/12/matsuri-in-our-home-town/). It was such a success that it was repeated this year, on September 8, 2019. I have a lot of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy!


People were fascinated by this entertainer


Get a tattoo, some calligraphy, or your face painted

As I said before, our Japan House is within easy walking distance of our house, which is great as so many cars need to park in the large field usually used for impromptu soccer and frisbee games. Plus, part of the main avenue in front of Japan House is actually blocked to traffic. Most people are quite happy with this, but one of the volunteers directing traffic told me that a few people get mad as they have to backtrack and take a small detour! It had rained in the night and early that morning, but luckily the weather cleared enough—still a bit cloudy but no rain.

A Matsuri is a fall festival, celebrated in slightly different ways in Japan, depending on the town. Our Matsuri seems perfectly adapted to our local community, with many food stalls set up by local eating places, some Asian but many not, but much of the food had a Japanese-sounding name.


I wonder what that tasted like?


I was happy to see that my favorite natural foods store, Common Ground, was there plus a local brewery called Triptych.



Different community or university groups have stalls too, from Yukata (summer cotton kimonos) stalls, to ikebana, to master gardeners, to a tattoo stall.



You approach the Japan House from the parking area and walk along a path lined with cherry trees, now strung with colorful lanterns and huge red origami paper cranes.



Japan House overlooks a small lake, roughly in a figure-of-8, around which a path winds. A bridge also crosses the lake at the narrow central point. Most of the stalls, seating area with tables and chairs, and stage, are set up on the far side of the lake, under the plentiful trees.



Kampai means Cheers! in Japanese

As I walked across the field, with throngs of other people, the throbbing sound of drums got louder as I approached the stage. It was a group called Ho Etsu Taiko,a Chicago-based Japanese drum ensemble, who were doing a great job and the crowd loved them.



A little later another group took the stage, a local Martial Arts Group called Kobudokan Dojo. They were demonstrating Kobudoand Iaido, different moves with swords—fascinating.




Going into Japan House. Many women wore a yukata that day

From the Opening Remarks at 12 noon, until close at 9pm the stage hosted all kinds of different groups, all free. For the food and drink stalls, and for the other outside activities (face-painting, bubbles, try ikebana etc) you need to buy tickets (cash only) from one of the many volunteers walking around.

Items for sale (clothes, wall hangings, bonsai plants etc) were handled by each stall.

Inside the Japan House itself people could attend a tea ceremony (a fee), or just wander around the rooms, browsing for some pretty knick-knack, or wall hanging, or real kimono, or lovely ceramics.


It’s all a lot of fun, noisy, cheerful, and very well-attended. I commend all the volunteers and the organizers: so many details, like the decorating and setting up all the tents, tables and chairs, extra lights etc; manning the stalls; directing traffic; driving golf carts around for those who need a bit of help; not forgetting all the hundreds of posters advertising the Matsuri that were put up a couple of weeks beforehand (which they will now need to go round a take samuraidown!).

We are really lucky to have a great resource like the Japan House, and all the cultural interactions and activities that it brings to our community. It makes us all richer.

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Besides having fun checking out the different languages when we travel overseas, it’s also interesting to find unusual signs—even locally. Sometimes humorous, sometimes provocative, sometimes thought-provoking or just quirky.

Here are a few from different places.

Found in Champaign-Urbana, our home town. At first I thought this was a made-up word, but no. Zymurgy is a new word to me, meaning a branch of applied chemistry dealing with fermentation, as in winemaking, brewing, preparation of yeast etc.


Pigs in California, in Napa area.


Glasgow, Scotland: Door of St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art ( a very interesting museum actually). Great to see how inclusive this is.



A Glasgow café: clever play on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.


In Hohhot, northern China. We wonder what a humane liquor is. Humane for whom?


In the Orkney Islands, Scotland. Many of the roads are narrow and winding and not always well marked— this takes the cake!



Found in Oviedo, FL—we didn’t actually see a tortoise.


At a café in Prague, Czech Republic. Probably true, I’d say.


Near Reims, in France’s champagne region. How apt that a town is called Bouzy (like boozy).


In South Africa: Worsis boerewors (a special farmer sausage, that is hugely popular). A clever play on “may the force be with you”.


Street sign in Seattle. Is it supposed to be Wy or did they forget the ‘a’ to make Way?


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Her happiness was palpable

Taking Time to Stop and Smell the Roses Flowers

We had a lovely walk in our local park’s herb garden with our three-year-old granddaughter over the Memorial Day weekend. She was so excited about all the flowers and herbs, and wanted to stop and smell them all (no roses though!). It was a wonderful experience to watch and be part of, and it made me think about the famous saying “take time to stop and smell the roses”. Her joy in this actual activity was certainly an example of the truth of this.

The saying “to take time to stop and smell the roses” is attributed to Bernard Kelvin Kline in Your Dreams Will Not Die. The actual quote is “Today, just take time to smell the roses, enjoy those little things about your life, your family, spouse, friends, job. Forget about the thorns—the pains and problems they cause you—and enjoy life”.


smellpeonyThese days “Stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché meaning to relax; to take time out of one’s busy schedule to enjoy or appreciate the beauty of life.

But, new research by Rutgers University psychology professor Nancy Fagley, published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, suggests it’s sound advice for finding satisfaction in life. She found that appreciating the meaningful things and people in our lives may play an even larger role in our overall happiness than previously thought.



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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.


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


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


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.


The celebration in Urbana


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.




The piper pipes in the haggis


Ann C prepares to cut the haggis


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.


Cock O’Leeky soup


Cutting the haggis


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.


Cheese plate


Steve L proposes a toast to the Lads


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


Another toast to the Lads

good web sites.





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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.


The Little Free Library in Sister Bay, Wisconsin


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.


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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