Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tourism in C-U

I was told by someone today that 35,000 people had come into town this weekend from elsewhere. It was an interesting intersection of various events: the Illini Marathon, the Roger Ebert Film Festival, and the Artists against AIDS exhibition.

East central Illinois is not ordinarily the tourist target represented by places like Paris, Rome, Bali, or New York (not to mention Chicago 150 miles north). It's a wonderful place to live in many ways, but there are no mountains, lakes, oceans, colonial history, mangrove swamps, etc. to be found anywhere around here.

Most of the "tourism" in our particular town is usually seasonal and university-related. So folks come for football weekends, engineering open house, high school state basketball, the occasional concert, circus, or skating extravaganza, etc. At various times of year, a handful of folks are here for conferences on campus, of course, but they aren't numerous enough to tie up traffic or cause long lines at the local restaurants.

So this weekend was unusual. The Illinois Marathon isn't something I know much about except a lot of people were running in the blocked off streets while I was sleeping very late and finally going out to brunch around 2 pm. It wasn't raining for a change, although it was windy, but I don't know if that helped or hurt the runners.

The Roger Ebert Film Festival is a yearly event (for 13 years now, I think). Roger is a well-known movie critic, of course, but you may not know that he was a University of Illinois student long ago. He wrote for the campus paper, The Daily Illini, which used to be an award-winning rag (these days, it's just a rag). A series of movies are shown and various speakers provide discussions and so on. The movies are chosen by Ebert and represent selections on a continuum that goes from excellent films I like and have seen but that some people might consider arty or weird or something ... to films that are just a little bit too weird or arty or something even for me. Hah!

The Artists against AIDS is probably more of a community event than a draw for outside tourists, but it added to the traffic snarl and crowded restaurants, especially in downtown Champaign. Artists exhibit their works and a portion of the proceeds goes to local AIDS help groups. I had some jewelry in the show a number of years ago and have attended sometimes in the more recent past. Desafinado, my favorite Brazilian band, played there today, in fact.

But we kept a pretty low profile, going to the Urbana library for a bit after brunch and then spending the evening at home. We saw an excellent film on DVD called Endgame about the talks in the U.K. that resulted in the negotiations between the African National Congress and the South African government that led to the release of Nelson Mandela and the formal end of apartheid.

Of course, like any place we have "tourist" offerings here year round: the campus, local parks, libraries, a few museums, live jazz from time to time, animals on the University farms, and ... umm ... well, chain restaurants, shopping malls, Christmas tree farms, and frozen custard stands. Okay, it's not Tuscany, but you can come visit anytime!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

On Another Blog Today

My millefiore earrings are featured in the treasury that is shown on the Starry Starry Night Studios blog today. Check it out!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

In a Treasury

People on Etsy make what's called "treasuries" from time to time. They are lovely displays that include photos from various shops that match with some sort of theme. Here's a nice new one that is about starry starry nights and includes a pair of millefiore earrings from Beaded Jewelry by Susan. Check it out!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Is Sprung!

Despite some roller coaster temps and rainy spells, I think we can safely say that spring has finally sprung here in Champaign-Urbana.
The small early spring bulbs have finished for the most part now, but the daffodils are still around. These yellow trumpet kinds are very cheerful and they stand up to the rain pretty well.
This small cup and white perianth (the outer petals) belong to Fragrant Rose, a lovely daffodil that I have planted in a circle around the base of the crabapple tree.

One of my very favorite daffodils is the narcissus called "Thalia." It's pure white and the clustering kind, with "reflexed" perianths (i.e., the petals are turned backward a bit and the cups hang downward). It's a small flower compared to some daffs, but it is so elegant.
Just in time for Easter is the so-called Pasque flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris. The stems are covered with a soft downy white "fur" and the purplish-blue petals are filled with fluffy yellow insides with a black center.
Another Easter favorite is the Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis. These long-lived perennials start blooming quite early and continue through the whole spring. Some are white, others reddish or purple, and there are new expensive hybrid strains that are red and white spotted. They take a while to establish and spread and prefer moist soil in shade.
The earliest of the little spring bulbs, the snowdrops Galanthus nivalis, are finished now, but the taller and later summer snowflakes Leucojum aestivus are blooming their heads off. These charmers return year after year without any special treatment. The white bells have tiny green dots on the end and are really sweet.
Many of the tiny, delicate species tulips (from which the well-known hybrids were all derived) are early bloomers and most are finished already. But the "tardy" little Tulipa tarda is making its show right now and it is spectacular.

The big cousins of the species tulips are displaying their bold colors and huge flowers all over town now as well as in our yard.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a woodland wild flower that blooms for just a short while in the spring. Native Americans used the root of this plant as a dye. There is a rare double form as well and a pink one, but I love the simple native variety shown here with a yellow anemone at its side.
Our bed under the ash tree has quite a lovely display right now that includes lots of the yellow anemones Anemone ranunculoides, some blue Anemone blanda, both white and the purple-checkered Fritillaria meleagris, and a yellow "pagoda" Erythronium.
 One of the joys of driving around town running various errands in the spring is the opportunity to see blooms in people's front yards. This place displayed not only tulips and daffodils but a nice line of cute little blue grape hyacinths.
 If you look in the blog archives, you'll see a post last spring about our discovery of a number of amazing weeping Japanese cherry trees. They are out in force once again this year, blooming like mad. Now we're seeing more and more of them in residential areas all over Urbana and Champaign. The above is a sweet close-up of the charming flowers.
 Here are a couple of examples (with a lovely PJM rhodendron at the left in the first photo) of weeping cherries in Urbana.
 The flowering quince are colorful and full this year too. I don't like their thorns and they aren't much to look at the rest of the year, but they are glorious for now.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Odds and Ends

We're getting into that in-between time now when it's spring one day and late winter the next and then back again. It's an odd time of year, but one that promises some future excitement. We've had the folks who work on our yard get things rolling now and I'm eagerly waiting for the stores to set out their annuals.

We have daffodils, both full-sized and miniatures, blooming now, along with squill in the lawn and anemone blanda and ranunculoides in the ash bed, pink corydalis and white bloodroot and hellebores, a pale pink-flowered pulmonaria, vinca, turkestanica, kaufmaniana, and praestans fusilier species tulips, a few hyacinths, and rue anemone.

I finally got my new camera set up with a charged battery and a memory card and hope to add some spring garden pics to the next blog post.

It's also the time for birds to start migrating. We took a trip with our friend Bob over to Heron Park in Danville last week. It turned out to be colder and much windier than we'd expected, but we enjoyed getting out and we saw quite a few birds on the water from the boardwalk: Canada geese courting and nesting and being very vocal; Northern Shovelers, the pretty colored ducks with the big bills for sieving food out of the water sideways; Blue Winged Teal, small, quick ducks with a pretty white crescent on the males' heads; a couple of coots with their funny way of moving forward and their pale silver bills; white egrets floating seemingly without effort from tree top to tree top; and a couple of shorebirds (maybe Greater Yellowlegs?).

We stopped for ribs on the way back at the Possum Trot, not health food by any means, of course, but plenty tasty.

Not a good week for backs, however. I'm still struggling to get my pulled back muscle to stop torturing me and now David's old disc problem reemerged. I called his chiropractor, whom he hadn't visited in many years, to discover that he had just retired three months ago. That's a problem for people our age -- not only do your friends retire, which is nice because you can get together more easily -- but so do your doctors, dentists, etc. Fortunately, we got David set up with another chiropractor and he's feeling somewhat better already.

Last weekend we had a great time once again with the monthy Sandunga gig at the Iron Post. The place was packed and the dancing started almost from the first number and kept on the whole time. What fun! This time Eduardo was with them on electric bass, Will's father dropped by to visit, it was Matt Turrino's birthday, and Cody Jensen sat in with bongos. The music was terrific and a good time was had by all. Next month is their CD release party, which promises to be another great evening.

Warmer days and chances for rain seem to be in the offing for all of next week. It'll be a busy week for us too, with various doctor and dentist appointments and the Dance for PD class at the end of the week.