Dana-Thomas House

The Dana-Thomas House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1904 prairie style masterpiece in Springfield, Illinois, is a carefully preserved, architecturally complex treasure.  In addition to its complete restoration in the 1980’s, it has been fortunate over the years  to reaquire more original furnishings than any existing Wright prairie house.   Getting inside to see the wonderment can carry with it so much anticipation that the visitor might miss some of the extraordinary architectural and design details of the outside.

If you haven’t visited the house, I recommend that you do.  And when you do, I suggest that you take some extra time and enjoy the outdoor forms and details.  They are almost as exquisite as the inside decorative details and furniture.

Here are a few pictures:

                                                                                                                                       Main entrance   


                                                                                                                                             Side entrance (outward)



Side entrance  (upward)


Gallery stair windows


                                                                                                                  Copper eave detail


 Plaster frieze


 Columnar window detail


    Southeast porch (main entrance left)


                                                                              Backyard panoramic sweep  (partial)



  Backyard panoramic sweep (partial)


                                                                    Backyard panoramic sweep (full)


                                                                                                             Walkway (backyard view)





East facade (upward and close)


Northeast porch


Iridescent window glass (east facade)





 Oh, yeah!  This is what it’s all about. 


In late April and early May, one of the most beautiful and tasty mushrooms anywhere in the world rears its head in the Heartland.  Like gold nuggets, morel mushrooms are hard to find in the wild.  And, don’t expect anyone to give you a hint about where to find them – even if you fall on your knees pleading. Even close friends disappear, don’t take calls, or seem to be unavailable around that critical three-week time frame.  I doubt that even bribes work.  I think that the morel man reverts to his primordial state when he suspects that a mess of mushrooms might be growing near his cave.

Did I say mess?  Well, yes.  Mushrooms are always found and eaten in a mess.  You might hear, “I found a huge mess the other day.  Don’t know how many, but the wife and I had four or five smaller messes out of the whole thing.  Mmmm . . . sure was a good mess.” 

It’s particularly disheartening to strike up casual conversations after mushroom season is over and discover that everyone seemed to have their fair share of several messes but you.  Sometimes you hear, “Oh yeah, my neighbor found maybe 5 pounds.  He had so many that he gave me half of them.  And boy, were they something else.  They were the big yellow ones, too”  It’s always hurts to hear that the best meal in the world was a historical event that, somehow, you missed.  But’s that’s life in morel country.

 For some odd reason, I forgot all about the morel hunt this year.  I think I happened to be preoccupied  with other things in my life – like my daughter’s wedding, my new blogging habits, etc.  But I heard that the morel crop wasn’t too good this year . . heh-heh-heh.  About 2 weeks ago, my wife reminded me that we missed the mushroom thing, but that  Maldaner’s Restaurant still had a limited amount of their infamous “morel mushroom pie” on their menu.  Not missing a beat, I made reservations for early that night, and we were lucky enough that they still had some available.  At $ 14.00 a sliver, Chef Michael Higgins makes the most incredible morel pie in the world.  I don’t know how he does it, but it’s wonderful – and worth every cent. 

Things were a little different last year for me.  I had gone for several years on a morel draught.  My frustration level was at a peak and I needed a morel fix.  I found it in a Morel Mushroom Festival in Wyoming, Illinois.  This was a different kind of mushroom festival.  You didn’t have to hunt your own mushrooms in the woods.  What you got to do instead was to bring your mushrooms to sell if you chose – or your money to buy! 

I was definitely a buyer.

After a 2  hour ride to a bit north of Peoria, we arrived.  There were all sorts of morel memorabilia including carved walking sticks, jewelry, T-shirts, and cookbooks.  We were there for the auction, but it dawned on us after we got there that they wouldn’t be taking credit cards – or checks.  This was going to be a cash-only auction where the seller would walk onto the stage with no more than 6 carefully weighed 1/2 lb. clear baggies of mushrooms for all to see.  He would then tell a short story about when they were picked and other flowery phrases about why his or hers were so very, very good.  After the price per 1/2 lb. bag was determined by highest bid, the buyer could take one or many until all were sold.  But as soon as they were sold, cash was to be paid directly to the seller, not to an auctioneer. 

My wife and I scrambled to come up with $ 90 between us, but we didn’t expect that to go very far when high-end Chicago restauranteurs were some of the competing bidders.  Luckily, my wife and I are long-time antique dealers, who are used to haggling.  We were able to get a couple of bags during the regular auction and then did a side deal near the end with a worried seller.  We came out just fine.  We were able to bring home a mother-lode of 4 lbs. 

Morels are best when eaten fresh.  Frozen is not so good.  For the next several days, we ate morel omelets, morel soup, morel Quiche, sautéed morels on hamburgers, and morel pie (good, but Maldaner’s is better).  We fried them in cracker crumbs, flour, plain, you name it.  As you might guess, we soon had our fill of mushrooms , when I looked to see that we still had over a pound left.  I couldn’t throw them away.  That would have been blasphemy.

I called up a client of mine, who was the former owner of a very good restaurant here in Springfield.  He stills loves to cook on a volunteer basis for various non-profit events.  He appreciates good food, especially real good food.  I suspected that I had found my donee.  When I delivered the morels to him, he was stunned.  “Yeah,” I said. “Suellen and I went up near Peoria this year, up near my old stomping rounds, and got us a hell of a mess.  Can’t eat ’em all.  Whaddya, think?” 

I think I sold him on the fact that my wife and I really have a knack out in the woods. 




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Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 9:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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_________WIND FARMS_________ Seemed like such a great idea until they showed up near my house


Actually, they haven’t shown up near my house — but near enough.  And the place where they have shown up has severely strained my sensibilities.

67 of these monster wind towers have shown up on a beautiful stretch of farmland in Logan County, near Lincoln, Illinois, not far from Springfield, and the view to my eye is sickening.

The best that I can describe them is vexatious to the spirit.

You can see the wind turbines littered along either side of Route I-155 on what has always been a stunning, scenic view.  Ordinarily, there is not much aesthetic value in driving along on the roads of central Illinois.  It is usually so flat and monotonous that  driving any distance at all can be quite tedious.  For example, I have always considered the drive on I-72 from Springfield, Illinois to Champaign, Illinois one of the most boring stretches of land in the Midwest.  The 90 mile trip would put a cup of coffee to sleep.  It is a flat corn-and-soybean-scape that can dull the senses in about 30 minutes. 

The drive from Springfield to Lincoln has always been a little different from the typical road trip around here, and a great deal  more interesting.   For example, there is the fairly dramatic landscape feature of the community of Elkhart, Illinois.   The community is built upon a an unusually large hill that has a distinct visual appeal along with a rich history.  It also sits aside old U.S. Route 66, as most of this section of the newer road does.  The most beautiful part of this 30-mile stretch of road from Springfield to Lincoln, however, is the dramatic fall and rise of the land to a vantage point that is just short of spectacular.  As a child, I always dreamed that someday I would be able to buy a piece of land that would be perched atop this vista and it would enable me to see all the storms and tornadoes approaching for miles.  This description is not to mistake this property for the grandiosity of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, or Sequoia National Park, but for central Illinois, the horizons don’t get any better than this.

So where is this giant wind farm placed?  It is scattered across the very land that is the most spectacular.  For my money, the sheer number of these wind towers has aesthetically ruined this area.

Surprisingly though, many of the people who actually live in this area, including many that were born and raised on this land, do not share my opinion.  Quite the opposite, it seems that their testimonials are by and large positive.  As described  in a very good February 6, 2010 article http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x655690726/So-far-so-good-for-people-near-Logan-County-wind-farm by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, most people living on or near these wind turbines find them soothing, almost hypnotizing.  They describe them as more quiet than the wind itself.  Stress reduction, problem-free, good for the community, good for the tax base, and on and on . . .  are their narratives.

These land owners are also quite well compensated with payments for use of their land.  I am not sure to what degree the compensation factor influences their opinions, but if they are happy about their compensation, it would be hard to expect them to be negative about the turbines.  After all, so long as the towers are innocuous or so long as they just eventually became part of their almost invisible world, much as a new barn or silo might, it is probably to hard to argue with them.   It is hard to say when you don’t actually experience it like they might actually experience it on a day-to-day basis.

American people are inventive, innovative, and problem-solving people.  Deep down, I believe that most of us want to manage our energy needs in a smarter way that lessens damage to the planet.  I think American people want to embrace new ideas, new technology, and other measures which will continue to sustain the scarce resources that we have.  It’s unclear for our society about what to do next, however.  Should it be solar, wind power, nuclear again, a judicious combination of what we now have, or some other admixture of current resources along with attempting the novel?  The world is definitely at a crossroads now as to what is the next, best development, and how to pay for it?  Perhaps wind power is part of the solution.  Or, perhaps, it is too early to tell.

I continue to wonder, “Are we really thinking these things through, or are we in a frantic, semi-contrived survival mode where, not only now but in the future, we risk looking like a decrepit Siberia?  After all the cellphone towers, mega-watt transmission towers, and giant wind turbines have gone by the wayside for improved power-creating and transmission technology, will we be left with nothing but a horrific landscape?

I hope not.  Green needs to be more than that.

                          Montmartre: the Quarry and Windmills
                                           Oil on board, 1886
                               Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Even through the eyes and brush of Van Gogh, windmills are ugly.

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