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Archives for December 13, 2015

Cheekwood sparkles with Holiday Lights

This winter, Cheekwood, a 55-acre botanical garden and art museum, is bringing a new holiday tradition to Nashville. The inaugural Holiday Lights, which debuted Nov. 27 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 3, transforms magnificent gardens, manicured grounds and rolling hills into an enchanting holiday retreat. Three quarters of a million twinkling lights extend from Cheekwood’s historic mansion out into the gardens, setting the grounds aglow with elegant exhibits, dazzling views and themed displays.

“Holiday Lights, which will be an annual tradition, will allow visitors of all ages to experience the magic of Cheekwood and the joy of the season in a new way,” said Jane O. MacLeod, Cheekwood’s president and CEO. “We have outlined an outdoor, one-mile walking trail for guests to get up close and take full advantage of every display. We encourage guests to bundle up for what is sure to be the prettiest winter stroll of the season!”

“Holiday Lights at Cheekwood is meant to reinforce the beauty already present at Cheekwood, from the gardens to the majestic vistas to the architecture and even our heritage,” added Patrick S. Larkin, senior vice president of gardens. “Our 750,000 lights will amaze our visitors with elegance and a sense of enchantment. This is the first year that Cheekwood welcomed visitors into the garden in the evening during the holidays, building upon the traditions which have been built over the years for our daytime visitors, including the live reindeer, a 20-foot poinsettia tree, the decorated mansion, and a visit from Santa Claus.”

In addition to the thousands of lights spanning the estate, Holiday Lights features s’mores pits open to all guests from 5-10 p.m. (s’mores may be purchased at the concession stand for $6: yields 2 kits, and sticks are provided at the s’mores pits), holiday carolers and family photo opportunities. Four cash bars stocked with wine, beer, specialty holiday drinks, hot chocolate, Christie Cookie and food vendors are strategically placed along the trail.

The mansion will serve as the evening’s centerpiece with seasonal décor inside and out. Four magnificent lit trees frame the outside of the mansion. Snowfall light tubes adorn Wisteria Arbor, creating the sense of an ice storm with motion and light, and transforming into Snowfall Arbor. The mansion’s northern porte-cochere is also highlighted with an over-scaled mistletoe kissing ball — the perfect location for photographs.

Inside the mansion guests may enjoy seasonal décor including a 20-foot tall poinsettia tree. Norman Rockwell’s “Home for the Holidays,” organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, is on display inside the museum until Jan. 17. During Rockwell’s forty-seven years with “The Saturday Evening Post,” Rockwell was celebrated for his holiday cover illustrations that depicted a broad range of festive imagery.

Rockwell has been quoted as saying, “Children want to believe in Santa Claus just as fervently as we adults want to believe in peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

In contrast to the traditional work featured in Norman Rockwell’s “Home for the Holidays,” an exhibition highlighting selected works of Pop Art from Cheekwood’s permanent collection will be on display until Jan. 31. Artists in this exhibition include big names associated with the Pop Art movement like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Robert Indiana and Claes Oldenburg.

A Western Walk, Frist Learning Center, and an Eastern Walk at Cheekwood are part of the Holiday Lights experience.

Additional special events and programming, including musical performances, will be held throughout the season.

What to know

Cheekwood Botanical Garden

Address: 1200 Forrest Park Drive/Nashville, TN 37205

Phone: (615) 356-8000



Admission prices

Adults: $14

Seniors (65 +): $12

College seniors with ID: $10

Youth (3-17): $7

Age 2 and under: Free

Discount: 50 percent off for military personnel with current military ID

Cheekwood Members (with Membership Card and Photo ID): Free


$3 per car (Members park free)

Holiday hours

(Through Jan. 3)

Daytime: Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Holiday Lights: Monday through Sunday from 5-10 p.m.

* Closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day

Note: This is an outdoor, rain or shine walking experience, so please dress appropriately. Tickets are non-refundable, non-transferable to other dates, and no rain checks.

Group tours

Cheekwood offers guided and self-guided group tours. Call Meghan Lamb, tour program manager, at (615) 353-6971 or email her at:


I-40 East from Jackson

Take the Bellevue/Newsom Station exit (196); take right toward Bellevue; take Highway 70S/Harding Road to Page Road (immediately beyond intersection of Highway 100 and 70S); turn right onto Page Road; travel Page Road to Forest Park Drive (approximately 1 mile); turn right onto Forrest Park Drive. Cheekwood is at the top of Forrest Park Drive on the right.

Holiday Lights

The Master Plan for the Holiday Lights was designed and finalized in October 2014. Tree wrapping began in August of this year.

Fun facts:

•More than 750,000 lights

•More than 15,000 strings of energy-efficient LED lights

•Nearly 375,000 feet of lights, or 71 miles. This is roughly the distance from Nashville to Cookeville.

•Number of decorated trees: 107

•Number of weeks of tree-stringing installation: 18

•Number of workers on tree-stringing installation crew: 12

The Pineapple Room Restaurant

The festively decorated Pineapple Room Restaurant, which overlooks Cheekwood’s west lawn, was a favorite of my late mother, and for years has been one of my favorite places to dine. It will be open during the day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and every night from 5-10 p.m. during the Holiday Lights event. Reservations are recommended and may be made by calling (615) 352-4859. There are nightly menu specials and specialty drinks like the Cheekwood Toddy made with 10 ounces of coffee and 1 ounce of Rum Chata Liqueur.

Gift Shop

Visit Cheekwood’s Gift Shop located in the same building as the Pineapple Room Restaurant or shop online: GLOW goodies are sold in the Gift Shop.

Holiday Weekends

In addition to the dazzling Holiday Lights at night, Holiday Weekends feature gingerbread house workshops and drop-in art studios’ Holiday ‘ART’ivities, which offer opportunities to create cool crafts and warm memories with the entire family. Cookie decorating and portraits with Santa in his workshop and a museum concert series at 2 p.m. complete the holiday schedule at Cheekwood. The Nashville Philharmonic Flutes will perform today. Inversion will play on Dec. 19, and on Dec. 20 Craig Duncan will present A Smoky Mountain Christmas.

All activities and events are free with gate admission unless otherwise noted. Visit for full schedule of events.

History of Cheekwood

The history and origin of Cheekwood are intimately interwoven with the growth of Nashville, the Maxwell House coffee brand and the Cheeks, one of the city’s early entrepreneurial families.

Christopher T. Cheek moved to Nashville in the 1880s and founded a wholesale grocery business. His son, Leslie Cheek, joined him as a partner.

In 1896, Leslie Cheek married Mabel Wood of Clarksville. Their son, Leslie Jr., was born in 1908 and their daughter, Huldah, in 1915. By that year, Leslie Cheek was president of the family firm.

Good to the last drop

During these same years, the elder Cheeks’ cousin, Joel Creek, developed a superior blend of coffee that was marketed through the best hotel in Nashville, the Maxwell House. His extended family, including Leslie and Mabel Cheek, were investors. In 1938, Postum (now General Foods) purchased Maxwell House’s parent company, Cheek-Neal Coffee, for more than $40 million.

With their income secured by the proceeds from the sale, the Cheeks bought 100 acres of what was then woodland in West Nashville for a country estate. To design and build the house and grounds, they hired New York residential and landscape architect Bryant Fleming, and gave him control over every detail — from landscaping to interior furnishings. The result was a limestone mansion and extensive formal gardens inspired by the grand English houses of the 18th century. Fleming’s masterpiece, Cheekwood, was completed in 1932.

Beginings and endings

Leslie and Mabel Cheek moved into the mansion in January 1933. Leslie Cheek lived at Cheekwood for just two years before his death at 61.

In 1943, Mabel Cheek deeded the house to her daughter, Huldah Cheek Sharp, and her husband, Walter Sharp. The Sharps lived at Cheekwood until the 1950s when they offered it as a site for a botanical garden and art museum.

The development of the property was spearheaded by the Exchange Club of Nashville, the Horticultural Society of Middle Tennessee and many other civic groups. The Nashville Museum of Art donated its permanent collections and proceeds from the sale of the building to the effort. The new Cheekwood opened to the public in 1960.

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Hot Property: Scott Disick keeping up with NBA star Russell Westbrook

LOS ANGELES – In an off-court pass of sorts, reality television personality Scott Disick has sold a contemporary-style home in the Beverly Crest area of L.A. to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook for $4.65 million outside the Multiple Listing Service.

Disick bought the residence, rebuilt and expanded by the Stewart-Gulrajani Design Team, last year for $3.699 million, public records show.

The two-story house, designed for indoor-outdoor entertaining, features glass doors and windows and a saltwater swimming pool. Views take in the cityscape, canyon and Santa Catalina Island.

Within the 4,095 square feet of open-plan space is a living room with a wall fireplace, a dining area, a den and a sleek kitchen with a wide island. The master bedroom has a walk-in closet, a rain shower and a soaking tub for a total of five bedrooms and six bathrooms.

Glass doors open off the main level to an outdoor lounge, a sun deck and swimming pool with a spa. Walkways, fountains and formal landscaping complete the third-of-an-acre setting.

Disick, 32, is the longtime partner of TV personality Kourtney Kardashian. Their relationship is often the subject of storylines on the series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” in which they both appear.

Westbrook, 27, has deep ties to Los Angeles, having starred at UCLA and before that at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale. The four-time NBA all-star is in his eighth season with the Oklahoma City Thunder.


Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his wife, Amy Wakeland, have put their Midcentury Modern-style home in the Echo Park area of L.A. on the market for $1.65 million.

Designed by Daniel L. Dworsky and since renovated by Scrafano Architects, the 1953 post-and-beam house sits on about half an acre and has views of the city, canyon and surrounding valley.

The open-area floor plan, with polished concrete floors and walls of floor-to-ceiling glass, includes an updated kitchen and breakfast bar, a dining area, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. A two-sided fireplace divides the living room.

Terraced vegetable gardens, an orchard, multiple patios and an outdoor dining area make up the grounds. A two-vehicle carport sits below the house.

Garcetti and Wakeland bought the house in 2000 for $345,000, public records show.

Last year, the couple sold a home in the Silver Lake neighborhood to Anthony Gonzalez of the electronic music band M83 for $1.9 million.

They currently reside in Windsor Square at the Getty House, the official residence for the mayor of L.A.

Garcetti, 44, took office in the summer of 2013, becoming L.A.’s 42nd mayor. He previously served as president of the Los Angeles City Council from 2006 to 2012.


“Scandal” star Kerry Washington and her husband, retired NFL player Nnamdi Asomugha, listed their compound in Hollywood Hills West for sale at $2.695 million and within days they had a buyer on the hook.

A 1926 French Country-inspired main home sits on three-quarters of an acre with chauffeur’s quarters, a guesthouse and a swimming pool.

A living room with a decorative fireplace, an updated kitchen, a gym, five bedrooms, five full bathrooms and a powder room are included in 3,855 square feet of light and bright living space.

An outdoor living room, winding paths and lawn complete the wooded grounds. Views take in the Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory.

They bought the property last year from actress Nicole Sullivan for $1.865 million.

Washington, 38, will play Anita Hill in next year’s TV movie “Confirmation.”

Asomugha, 34, spent 11 seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.


Professional skateboarder and X Games medalist Nyjah Huston has flipped his amped-up home in San Juan Capistrano onto the market for $3.48 million.

Open-plan common areas, a resort-like backyard and a billiards room with a wet bar are among highlights of the entertainment-oriented house. The Pueblo-inspired contemporary, built in 1996, also features a chef’s kitchen with red countertops and a wide center island, a game room and a detached casita currently used as a gym.

Five bedrooms and 5.75 bathrooms include a master suite outfitted with a soaking tub, steam shower and French doors. A balcony set off the master suite takes in hilltop and partial ocean views.

Two fireplaces are within more than 6,100 square feet of living space.

Outdoors, grounds of more than three acres include a large deck, an infinity-edge swimming pool and spa and a built-in barbecue with a Kegerator. A covered lounge with heaters, flat-screen televisions and a fireplace sits adjacent to the pool.

Huston, 21, is considered among the top competitive street skaters in the world, winning more than a dozen titles in the Street League Skateboarding series. He has won nine X Games medals, including six gold.

He bought the house two years ago for $2.55 million, records show.


Lauren Conrad of “The Hills” fame has put her renovated penthouse in the Beverly Hills area on the market at $3.2 million.

The fashion designer and TV personality bought the property in 2012 for $1.35 million and created a vibrant living space featuring light and airy interiors with bright-punch accents. Reclaimed materials and a mix of vintage and modernist pieces contribute to the chic yet relaxed style.

Among the eye-catching details is a breakfast nook, which plays canary yellow booth seats off light hardwood floors and a crisp white farmhouse-style kitchen. In the living room, a custom spiral staircase and 20-foot wall built from reclaimed brick is in keeping with the classic look.

The master suite has a boutique-inspired closet, a spa-like master bath and a separate sitting room set behind sliding barn-style doors.

Offering a more masculine look, a lounge area has a mirrored cocktail bar set off by a black-lacquered ceiling. An office/library, a formal dining room and another bedroom are also within more than 3,200 square feet of space.

On the upper level, French doors open to a garden terrace lined in black-and-white marble tiles and formal landscaping.

Conrad, 29, gained notoriety on the MTV reality series “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” and later “The Hills.” Her fashion line, LC Lauren Conrad, launched in 2009.

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Gift ideas any gardener will love

Give the gift of gardening to those on this year’s list who may or may not have green thumbs.

If you’ve got an aspiring gardener, expert grower or simply someone who loves flowers and plants, here are some great suggestions for gifts for the holiday season.

Think beyond the obvious and step inside some of our area’s wonderful, local shops to explore holiday gift-giving with a gardening twist.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

A year of garden dreams

For anyone who loves beautiful flowers and spectacular gardens, a gift membership to the Green Bay Botanical Garden is the perfect choice. Garden membership allows free admission to the gardens throughout the four seasons, as well as special discounts on special events, programs and workshops. For more information, visit

Go wild this holiday season

Local chapters of the Wild Ones native plant and native landscaping organization can be found in Green Bay and the Fox Valley, providing education, information, native plant sales, workshops, programs and more. For anyone who loves wildflowers, landscaping, butterflies, hummingbirds and more, as well as hands-on efforts to help our local environment, a membership to Wild Ones will open up a whole new way to garden and grow. Visit for more information.

Orchids and unusual foliage plants

Goin’ to Pot Orchids and Repotting Service, Neenah, offers a wide variety of easy to grow, colorful and flamboyant orchids, along with many unusual and hard to find house plants to keep your indoor garden looking spectacular. Orchids bloom in a wide range of shapes, sizes, colors and light conditions and provide a heavenly fragrance. Owner Mary Stewart also offers her expert orchid repotting services throughout the year to ensure your plants continue to bloom and thrive. For more information, visit

Soils and soil-less gardening

Help your gardening friends and family get off to a good start by giving an assortment of seed starting supplies and growing lights. If they’ve got all that, the incredible new soil-less hydroponic growing systems and setups available at Elizabeth’s Garden Supply ( in Oshkosh and Green Bay’s Garden Supply Guys ( will surprise and delight.

Miniature treasures

For gardeners and creative personalities of all ages, the hobby of creating indoor miniature gardens and terrarium gardens is the perfect door to a lifetime love of plants and growing. You’ll find an amazing selection of miniature garden supplies, containers, accents, plants  and more at Memorial Florists and Greenhouses, Appleton, Silver Mist Garden Center, Waupaca and the Gathered Earth, Appleton.

Specialty finds

Our area is rich in local, specialized shops providing inspiring garden and outdoor art and furniture. Shop local and find the perfect treasure at locations such as the Vintage Garden, the Gathered Earth and Whimsical Charm, all in Appleton, Gold n’ Country Gifts in Weyauwega and Cedar Ridge Gifts in Neenah.

Feathered friends

Gardening and birdwatching go hand in hand and you’ll find all your winter bird feeding supplies, as well as bird themed art and gifts at Go Wild with Birds in Neenah, Silver Mist Garden Center in Waupaca and Wild Bird Backyard in Appleton.

Rob Zimmer of the Appleton-based Rob Zimmer Outdoors writes on nature each Wednesday and gardening each Sunday. Write to him at or at

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Container Gardening Tips and Techniques

Posted: Friday, November 27, 2015 4:50 pm

Container Gardening Tips and Techniques

Cindy Day


CONTAINER gardening is a great way to grow flowers, succulents, vegetables, shrubs and even small trees all year. Almost any plant that grows in the ground in our area can be grown in a container with the right attention to its specific requirements.


Before selecting your plants or container consider the growing needs of the plants. Ensure that your plan includes the right size container, and that you will be able to place the container in the right lighting and space. How deep the roots will grow and how large the plant will get are important to know before making your selection. Consider combining plants of different heights, textures, and colors in the came container in order to create interest. Select a “thrillers” (tall plants for the center), “spillers” (plants that will spill over the side of the container and “fillers” (plants to put in between in order to fill in the container). The plants that you select for your container should have similar water and light requirements.


Be creative and have fun. You do not have to purchase special pots or invest a lot of money. Anything that can hold soil can be used as a contain to grow plants – look for unique things around your house, attic, or garage and re-purpose them. An old tire painted a bright color, wagon, wheel barrel, basket – the possibilities are limitless. If you use old pots be sure to clean them with a diluted solution of 10% bleach (one part bleach to nine parts of water) before potting. Ensure that your container has a drainage hole in the bottom, and block the hole with a piece of screen or broken crockery so that the soil does not drain out. If you are planting a container that will be on the ground it is a good idea to place it on a caddy so that air can circulate underneath the pot.

Soil and Fertilizer

Use good quality potting soil, not top soil from your yard. Potting soils blended for the type of plants that you have selected are available at local nurseries. Check the label to determine if there is fertilizer in the mix. You may need to add slow release fertilize to the mix when planting, or during the growing season. Be sure to wet the plants and the soil before potting. Gently pack the soil in the bottom of the container, then put in your plants, filing around them with soil. Leave space between the top of the soil and the rim of the container so that you can water without the water spilling out of the container. Use mulch, decorative rocks, or Spanish moss to cover exposed soil. This will help retain moisture and give your container a finished look.


Check the soil for level of dryness before watering by feeling the soil with your finger or by using a water meter. Plants in containers need to be watered more frequently than those in the ground. Water deeply so that the water gets to the roots of the plants but avoid overwatering which will cause the roots to rot.

Benefits to container gardening are you may grow wonderful plants in small spaces, containers can be made so that they are light enough to move around, and weeding is rarely

a problem.

Cindy Day is a Santa Clara County University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener. Visit the website at or call the Hotline (408) 282-3105 for gardening and pest management information.

  • Discuss


Friday, November 27, 2015 4:50 pm.

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Garden Tips: Terrariums make a comeback – Tri

Trends have a way of recycling themselves. Creating terrariums, an old trend from the 1970s, is popping up again.

Terrariums were first created by Dr. Nathanial Ward, an English physician and botany enthusiast, for germinating ferns from spores. He created a closed glass case, named the Wardian case, that was pretty much a miniature greenhouse. The case proved useful to plant collectors wanting to bring plants back to England from far away places and also became popular in home decorating.

The large glass terrarium in my garage is proof that I enthusiastically participated in the terrarium trend of the ’70s. Terrarium purists will tell you that a terrarium is planted in a transparent closed container. Not long ago, I talked about miniature dish and fairy gardens. A terrarium is similar, but the garden is placed inside a clear container, such as a large glass jar, big bottle, fish tank or giant goblet. Clear plastic containers may also be used.

I recommend a container that is large enough to accommodate the plants and one that has a large enough opening to facilitate planting the terrarium. If the opening or neck of a container is narrow, planting within them is like trying to build a ship in a bottle, possible but difficult.

Start by cleaning the inside of the container and when dry, add soil to the container. Use an artificial potting mix, preferably one containing peat moss, perlite and sand. There is no need to add gravel or other coarse material for drainage, like what was recommended in the ’70s, because these materials actually hinder drainage.

Moisten the mix first because it is difficult to moisten once it is in the container. How much mix is needed? There should be enough mix to accommodate plant roots, but generally it does not need to be any deeper than 3 inches even in large containers.

Finding and selecting suitable plants may be a challenge. Seek dwarf and miniature plants that will stay small or slow-growing ones that will not outgrow the container. Choose ones that are similar in their growing requirements, such as humidity, light and soil moisture. Plants of with heights, texture and leaf color will provide the most interest in your design.

When ready, remove the plants from their pots and loosen the roots. Plant the largest and tallest plants first, and then arrange the smaller plants around them to provide a pleasing landscape design. The plants will grow, so take care not to use too many or place them too closely together. Moss or prostrate trailing plants can make attractive ground covers. If desired, add some decorative accents such as small rocks or figurines.

After finishing your planting, rinse any potting mix off the container sides and plant leaves using a spray bottle, taking care not to add too much water. Place the lid on the container or use clear plastic wrap to close it. Situate the terrarium where it will get lots of light but not direct sunlight.

Your terrarium may exhibit condensation. However, if the condensation is excessive or continues past a week or two, vent the container a little each day until it stops. After that, water occasionally and prune plants when they start to grow too large, but you should be able to enjoy your terrarium without constant attention.

My favorite plants for a terrarium? They are miniature African violets and their relatives, miniature Gernerias.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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Sandra Mason: Unique garden additions – Champaign/Urbana News


How can a plant be both common and rare?

In their native range, pitcher plants (Sarracenia spp) are found in nearly all states east of the Mississippi River and in most provinces of Canada. With such an extensive native range, why aren’t we tripping headfirst into pitchers?

Land fit for pitchers is unfit for stores, cows and corn. Pitcher plants must have wetlands. The past trend of taking the wet out of wetlands has left pitchers high and dry for a natural place to live.

Pitchers are known for their hollow, tubular leaves that can digest insects for nutrients. The leaf morphology confused early botanists. In the “Natural History of Carolina, Florida and Bahamas,” published in 1754, botanist Mark Catesby remarked, “(the) hollows of these leaves always retain some water and seem to serve as an asylum or secure retreat for numerous insects.”

Obviously, Catesby was confused by the insect’s rapture. The leaves are more morgue than refuge. It wasn’t until the 19th century when James McBride, Charles Darwin and others conducted experiments in fly fatalities from foliage. One can imagine the scientists exclaiming to their dinner guests, “Hey, watch this!,” as one more fly perishes.

Pitchers are the pacifists in the diverse group known as carnivorous plants. However, they leave little to chance as they lure insects to their death using colors and sweet scents. By land and by air, insects are attracted to the nectar, especially abundant at the back of the amphitheater lid. As the insects do their best acrobatics to stay on top and get the nectar, many fall to the bottom of the leaf. The leaf’s waxy interior and downward facing hairs keep the insects trapped where they eventually drown. Digestive juices reap the benefits of the carnage.

Out of all the species of pitcher plants, Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is the easiest for the gardener to grow with its extensive hardiness range of zones 2-9 and its forgiving nature in soil pH. The plant includes five to 20 leaves in short broad rosettes. Young plants are more creamers than pitchers for the plants take a couple years to mature to full size. The green leaves are marked with a crackled glaze of purple veins. Several subspecies are recognized, including ones with leaf color variations of all green or all purple.

Full sun to light shade is a must, however, not only for good purple coloration but for healthy plants. Pitchers also require saturated soils and even grow in standing water. No need to fertilize. Plants get plenty of insects on their own. Be sure to tell the kids not to feed them hamburger as is often thought necessary. If your garden doesn’t naturally come with a bog, one can be built with judicious use of pond liners and a low-fertility sand/peat mix. Pitchers are also perfectly content in containers.

The pitcher plant cycle includes a bloom period of two to three weeks in spring. The Scotch bonnet red flowers are held on 6-inch stalks. Toads and turtles get the best view of the downward facing flowers, but we can still enjoy the flower show. Flowers are followed by new pitchers throughout the season. Pitcher plants are for the true dish collector.

Call for Master Gardeners

If you spend your winter reading up on garden design and ordering seeds, consider the Master Gardener program. Training in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts at the end of January in three locations: Champaign, Danville and Onarga. Applications are due before January. Check out for more information and to apply.

Sandra Mason is unit educator, horticulture and environment, for the UI Extension, Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, Champaign, IL 61821, call 217-333-7672, email or fax 217-333-7683.

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CPS funding is a priority

Why is op-ed writer Diana Sroka Rickert concerned that the Chicago Teachers Union advocates for all Chicago Public Schools employees to be paid at least $15 an hour (that’s only $31,200 a year)? Why is she against CTU advocacy for elimination of shady deals that fill banks’ coffers with public money on top of getting interest that amounts to several times the principal?

Rickert doesn’t need to wait for Rahm Emanuel to establish a vision. The research is clear: Students need schools that provide wrap-around services such as nurses and social workers; they need a full curriculum and smaller class sizes. Teachers do not need merit pay; studies have shown that merit pay does not work. What does work is attacking the root problem of educational disparity: poverty and racism. Making sure that parents of CPS students are paid a minimum of $15 an hour is a step in that direction.

Rickert says not to ask the state for money it doesn’t have. Illinois has the fifth largest state economy, but ranks near 47th in equitable school funding. This is because the state’s education funding relies mostly on property taxes. Those who live in wealthier areas spend more on education. A graduated income tax would give Illinois sufficient money to adequately fund education.

Successful school systems make staff stability a priority, and the pension system is a factor in that stability. Teachers do not get social security. The pension pick-up Rickert talks about has been a part of teachers’ salary since 1980. Elimination of that pick-up amounts to a 7 percent pay cut.

Chicago’s students deserve well-funded and well-staffed schools. That costs money, yes, but the city manages to find money for basketball stadiums, new Ferris wheels and landscaping.

At the same time, the city refuses revenue ideas suggested by CTU and others, such as closing corporate loopholes and taxing financial transactions on the stock market, just like other goods and services are taxed. It is possible for CPS to have good public schools for all, but not without major changes that put school children before the rich and powerful.

— Carol Caref, Chicago Teachers Union

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Inaugural Twin Village Christmas attracts more than 300


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CARTHAGE — From carolers to horse-drawn wagon rides, the Twin Villages were brimming with activity and holiday festivities Saturday afternoon.

The inaugural Twin Villages Christmas was deemed a success by its originator Jeanette Turner.

“I was very, very overwhelmed with the attendance,” Mrs. Turner said midway through the five-hour event. “It’s a huge success. I can’t wait to start planning for next year. I couldn’t have asked for it to be more successful.”

She said there was a steady stream of visitors to Mr. and Mrs. Claus’s home — aka Dominic Condino Motors — with people lined up even before the 1 p.m. start time.

Women of St. James Church and its confirmation candidates donated more than 50 dozen homemade cookies to be served along with cocoa at the Claus’s home. While waiting for a visit with Santa, children could write letters to him or enter a coloring contest.

Mrs. Turner said she had 500 gifts to be distributed by Santa to his visitors but feared she would have to shop prior to the continuation of the event on Sunday.

The Claus’s home will also be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today. Admission is one non-perishable food item or $1 per person. With admission, attendees will receive a raffle ticket for drawings of two large stockings filled with toys and goodies. Each child will receive a gift during their visit with Santa. There will be an opportunity to have a photo taken with Santa for a $2 donation. No personal camera devices will be allowed in Santa’s Study. Funds and food collected during the Twin Villages Christmas will be donated to the Village Ecumenical Ministries Food Pantry.

The Jenkins family from West Carthage were among those visiting Santa’s house.

“This is a wonderful event,” Melissa Jenkins said. “It’s something more to do in the community with the family.”

Her husband, Kenneth, and daughter, Ellana, said they liked the caroling on the wagon ride, which was performed by high school students.

Their daughter, Logan, said she enjoyed the horse-drawn wagon ride provided by Upstate Landscaping and Supply in West Carthage.

It was hard to tell sometimes if the children or parents were having more fun at the gingerbread house decorating contest held in Condino’s showroom.

Leroy Baldwin of Watertown and his 5-year-old daughter Araya decorated a gingerbread house with a red licorice roof, an MM door and a marshmallow tree in the front yard.

“We normally do this once a year,” he said.

“This is a great idea,” his wife Sarah said, noting the decorating activity was the first one they visited but her daughter was looking forward to visiting Santa.

“It’s a good break for the kids. It gives them something to do,” Mariah Dishaw of Croghan said. She brought her 3-year-old nephew, Brayden Clemons, to the event.

Gioranni Di Nola, 10, also tried his hand at gingerbread house decorating.

“I’ve never actually done one on my own,” he said.

Organizers said they had assembled 100 graham-cracker gingerbread houses and ran out midway through the event.

TLC Real Estate offered an ornament decorating activity and there was a bounce house at the YMCA.

“This was fun. I hope they continue it,” Gina Di Nola said.

Mrs. Turner does plan to make the Twin Villages Christmas an annual event with plans to expand activities next year.

“We’d like to make the park into a Dickens’ Christmas and have a live nativity,” she said. “We are thinking of having a professional gingerbread house contest — have the entries on display and maybe auction them off.”

Mrs. Turner said anyone who is interested in joining the planning committee or who have ideas for next year’s event can contact her at

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Goodwill aims to beautify Normal building

NORMAL — After Normal City Council members referred to Goodwill’s building on Veterans Parkway as “unsightly,” officials with the nonprofit decided to do something about it — but the town’s not thrilled with their first attempt.

Normal City Manager Mark Peterson was nonplussed after Goodwill presented a plan to town officials that included a trailer “wrapped with graphics talking about the mission” of Goodwill where excess donations can be stored. It also includes a “five-foot white vinyl fencing around the bottom,” as Land of Lincoln Goodwill CEO and President Sharon Durbin described it.

“I don’t think that really effectively addresses the concern,” said Peterson.(Staff) will get back to (Durbin) and offer other suggestions.”

Peterson added he appreciates “that they’re sensitive to their appearance” at Goodwill and plan to address it even though “we’re not telling them they have to do anything.”

Council members floated the idea of making Goodwill clean up the property as a condition of a $2.3 million bond package the town facilitated that will allow Goodwill to refinance debt.

Peterson shot down the idea of tying beautification to funding, but Durbin said she took the discussion to heart.

“I don’t want people to think we’re an eyesore,” she said. “As soon as I heard the comment … I was talking to Greg (Troemel, Normal’s director of inspections) immediately about suggestions and ideas.”

Some visible clutter at the property, at 302 Landmark Drive, is inevitable because the building’s donation door is on the side facing Veterans Parkway, Durbin said.

“Bloomington-Normal is the most blessed donation site we have (in Central Illinois),” she said. “It can be overwhelming to the staff to get those into the building, processed and on the floor.”

Nonetheless, she hopes to “make it a more attractive site and expand our mission,” including getting permission from the Illinois Department of Transportation to put up landscaping. She hopes to make changes “no later than next spring.”

“We’re going to make something happen out of all of this, and I think those who may have been disgruntled by the excess of donations will be very pleased when it’s all said and done,” she said.

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