Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fox Valley faith communities join for Day of Peace

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald (post) 9/13/2011
A network of Fox Valley faith communities invites you to a communitywide celebration of the International Day of Peace (Peace Day) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. The first “Peace Day” was celebrated in September 1982 after being established by a United Nations resolution to coincide with the opening of the General Assembly. The International Day of Peace provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of peace on a shared date. The local celebration of the International Day of Peace will kick off with a gathering at 10 a.m. for the dedication of the recently installed Peace Pole at Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors, 121 S. Third St., in Geneva, across from the old Kane County courthouse. This Peace Pole is part of the international Peace Pole Project. It bears a phrase, “May peace prevail on earth,” in Hebrew, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Algonquin-Native American language indigenous to the area and Swedish, along with “May peace be in our homes and communities” in English. Activities will continue a block east at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, 110 S. 2nd St., Geneva. At 10:30 a.m., attend an interactive program titled “Have you heard the one about: How to respond to hate language,” presented by nonviolent communications trainer Thom Thomas. Ask questions of religious leaders in a panel on Building Bridges from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. with representatives from the Islam, Unitarian, Jewish and Christian faiths. A panel discussion with young adults will follow at 1 p.m. Children of all ages will be treated to puppet shows about diversity, craft projects, along with the opportunity to meet and greet children from other religions and ethnicities from 1 to 2 p.m. Additionally, the UUSG sanctuary will be open throughout the Day of Peace event for meditation and reflection. Preceding Saturday’s event will be a free public screening of “Divided We Fall” at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, at the UUSG. This award-winning documentary features stories of Sikhs, Muslims and Arabs in America, and interviews with scholars, lawyers and legislators about race, religion and security in post-9/11 America. This local celebration of the International Day of Peace is a secular event, open to everyone of all ages and faiths. For a complete schedule of this event, visit or, or call (630) 232-2350. Information on the International Day of Peace is available at

Folk Fest fun for everyone returns to Fox Valley

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald 8/31/2011
Considering a staycation for Labor Day weekend? Then check out the 35th annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday and Monday, Sept. 4-5, at Island Park in Geneva. Bring a blanket or folding chairs, and pack a picnic basket or purchase food from vendors in the park. Sit on the grass or under the big tent near the beautiful Fox River, and spend either or both days soaking in the sounds of traditional and roots folk music on eight concert and workshop stages, with more than 36 top folk music and storytelling acts from the Midwest and around the country. Traditional and roots folk music “is basically the purest form of the old ballads, from 300 to 500 years ago,” said Juel Ulven, the organizer of this annual event. “They're songs that were preserved by people who couldn't read and write, so they were passed on from neighbor to neighbor, or in families.” Each stage offers something different, from the likes of the captivating Chicago Sacred Harp Singers, to the Dulcimer Society of Illinois, and more. Hands-on teaching will be offered (so bring your instruments), as well as dancing and topical workshops, which explore music and story themes. On Sunday evening, join in a barn dance at 6 p.m., and take the kids along to hear spooky ghost stories, starting at 7:30 p.m. For the first time in its history, the Folk Festival will kick off with a local live 98.7 WFMT radio show from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3. Previous years' festival preview shows have taken place in the radio station's studio in Chicago, while this one will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, located at Second and James streets in Geneva. Eight festival artists, who will also perform onstage during the festival, will perform live at the radio show: Cathy Barton and Dave Para, Andrew Calhoun, Andy Cohen, Tracy Grammer, Anne Hills, David Massengill, and Sanctified Grumblers. This festival preshow is open to the public and tickets are still available in advance: $15 for adults and $10 for seniors, teens and college students, with ticket prices an additional $5 at the door. For advance tickets, call 630-897-3655. “With the city (of Geneva) behind us, they identified three places we could do this,” said Ulven. “It's a unique opportunity. Normally, live shows are only for (WFMT) Arts Circle members, who pay an initial $250 membership and an additional $250 each year.” Local support for this festival has grown by leaps and bounds, over the years. The city of Geneva “does so much for us,” Ulven said. “They're co-sponsoring the radio show to the tune of $500, and they gave us another $500 for advertising. They've really stepped up to the plate. The Geneva Park District (of which Island Park is a part) is always a good friend to us, every year.” Festival goers are charged a reasonable requested donation for each day. “All donations go to pay the performers and directly related artist costs. Performers from all over the world work the festival for a fraction of what they usually command, because of the incredible Chicago area and Midwest exposure. And the extensive CD and media sales nicely supplement the festival pay,” Ulven said. About 120 people, some who come from other states for the weekend, voluntarily work the festival. No one is paid, including Ulven, who works hard all year long to make this event happen. Although one of several annual folk music festivals in Illinois, this one, presented by the Fox Valley Folklore Society and the Geneva Park District, is considered to be the biggest in the state. Admission to the Folk Festival is a suggested donation of $15 per day for adults, and $10 per day for teens and seniors. Children ages 12 and younger get in for free. For more information and a complete schedule, visit or call (630) 897-3655. Island Park is located just south of Route 38 between Route 25 and the Fox River. Plenty of free parking is available behind the Kane County Government Center, 719 S. Batavia Ave., at the south end of Third Street. Another option is to come by train, as the park is only three blocks from Geneva's Metra station.

Small family farm transforms into 5 bountiful acres

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald 5/14/2011
Ten years ago, Tim Fuller and Beth Propst bewildered their neighbors by transforming the yard of their home into a mini farm. What began as a small effort to grow their own food flourished into Erehwon Farm, which provides healthy produce to hundreds of people. After getting things growing in their yard near St. Charles in 2001, “the neighbors were starting to comment,” said Tim Fuller. “Then (in 2005) we got in with Garfield Farm Museum (at Mongerson Farm). Last year, we got an opportunity to start over at our new location, which we are leasing and helping the owners develop.” Erehwon Farm is now at 40W248 Hughes Road in Elburn, just west of the Mill Creek subdivision. Two brothers, Hazis and Rakip Azemi, both stonemasons whose father immigrated here from Albania, own this acreage. “We have about 5 acres, here,” Fuller said. “We have a lot of trees and we're designing an edible forest garden with apple trees, peach trees, berry bushes, and lots more. We have maple trees (which were tapped this spring, yielding 5 gallons of maple syrup). “On the ground we're growing asparagus and all sorts of things. We also have an herb culinary garden. And part of our farm is designated for picking by CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members.” From the ground up, everything is unique about this farm, starting with its name. “Erehwon,” which is “nowhere” backward, was inspired by a mythical place described in a novel with the same name, by author Samuel Butler. “What I feel is our mission is to provide affordable food to local folks around here,” Fuller stated. “I believe in small and simple and in (using) a low amount of equipment. For example, one of the things we've done is develop a low-cost portable hoop house. Part of our mission is also to educate. People can grow their own food anywhere.” Traditional growing is key on this farm, with an emphasis on “natural.” No chemicals of any kind are used. Nonetheless, this is not a certified organic farm. “We don't see the need (to become organic),” Fuller said. “We mulch our own compost which we heat in an oven per organic requirements. And we don't use any chemicals. We probably exceed organic guidelines.” The farm also accepts yard and kitchen waste for composting from its customers as a way to help the environment, as well as old newspapers and cardboard for mulching. Fuller and Propst are learning how to interplant crops and keep the beds full. They transplant into beds, and also grow starts (new plants from seeds) of their own. Erehwon offers a three-season CSA program, with this being the first year of their spring offering. About 30 subscribers (or households) are participating in the spring CSA, 100 subscribers are expected for the summer CSA, and 40 subscribers for the fall. This CSA draws subscribers from all around the western suburbs, who purchase shares of what is grown at the farm and receive the freshest possible produce, May through December. This farm's produce is also sold at two local farmers markets: Geneva Green Market (June 2 to Aug. 8), and Batavia Farmers Market (June 25 to Oct. 15). Current customers and CSA subscribers have already been able to enjoy Fuller's “spicy health mix” salad greens mix, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips, broccoli raab, scallions, garlic scapes and more. Subscribers pay in advance, thus helping with the costs of farming, and deal directly with the farmer who is growing the food. They can even volunteer to pitch in and help around the farm. Farming is not without its challenges, one of which is making a living. Some of the farming costs are offset by CSA subscriptions, which are paid at the beginning of each season. Fuller also said, “Wind has been our biggest challenge, with the hoop houses. We build it so that if it fails, it falls gently and doesn't hurt the plants. We learn by doing; we look at the last one that failed and we learn.” Erehwon continues its plans to grow, while drawing ever more customers and remaining dedicated to providing quality locally grown produce. You can find abundant recipes on the farm's website (, such as arugula and pear salad, turkey and greens quiche, kale chips, radish tart, baked squash with apples, and more, all of which incorporate fresh locally grown produce. Plenty of opportunities exist for checking out this local farm. Coming up this week is the first open house at the new location. This free event, from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21, is open to all, and will include an edible farm tour, cooking demonstrations, a scavenger hunt for kids, and a chance to feed and pet goats. For more information about the farm or the CSA program, call Fuller at (630) 485-9963, or visit

Future Peace Corps worker helps villages obtain clean water, improve health

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald 2/22/2011
In spring, students throughout the country are pondering what college to go to, and on what path their choices will take them. St. Charles East High School graduate Elizabeth Chadwick, who attends University of Wisconsin-Madison, probably never imagined her choices would take her across the world to Africa. Chadwick, a 2007 graduate of St. Charles East, recently spent three weeks in the country of Uganda. Uganda is in the East African plateau, just south of Sudan, and just west of Kenya. While there, she was able to share her experiences with the Daily Herald, via e-mail. Q. Where exactly are you, and what are you doing in Uganda? A. “Oli Otya” (“hello” in Luganda language) from a bustling Internet cafe overlooking the chaotic streets of Kampala, Uganda! “Agande” means hello in Rukiga, a language spoken in the west, which is where I was when I e-mailed you last. I just got back to the capital city of this east African country after spending 11 days in the rural southwest part of the country. (Seventeen) undergraduate students, including myself, have come here to study international health and nutrition for three weeks, as part of a study abroad program with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Last semester we had seminars about Uganda’s health care system and general issues of public health and social issues that Uganda is currently facing. After learning about all these things “textbook” style, we finally arrived here and got to see the reality of these issues. Q. What are you doing on this trip? A. We spent the time touring public hospitals, health clinics, malnutrition clinics, and meeting traditional healers (including a bone-setter). After touring Mulago (Hospital, in Kampala), the national referral hospital, we traveled west through the highlands along the Rwandan and Congolese borders to study rural health care. Along the journey we hiked through a tropical rain forest, swam in Uganda’s deepest lake, visited the source of the Nile River, walked along the equator, helped construct a rainwater collection tank, played many games of football (soccer) with the locals, saw many wild animals (including a hippo grazing in front of my door after arriving home after a New Year’s celebration in a national park), endured frequent power outages, and slept peacefully every night under a mosquito net. Q. Why did you pick Uganda, and with whom did you go? A. At UW-Madison I have been involved with a student organization/nonprofit called the Village Health Project, which raises money for clean water and health projects in rural Uganda. Many of the projects we work on are in collaboration with this study abroad program. I knew that I needed to come here and see Uganda for myself. All of the students are from UW-Madison and a few of us have been involved with VHP. Some of the information I learned here will be used to write a grant for a new VHP project to help provide healthy food for students at a primary school. Q. What were your biggest challenges, personally, in Uganda? A. One of the biggest challenges for me was seeing malnourished children in the rural villages; it just breaks your heart. Many of these children were orphans whose grandmothers were now taking care of them, but didn’t have the means to feed them, or weren’t feeding them nutritious foods. Most of them couldn’t afford to take their children to the hospital (everything within the hospital itself is free, but transport there is too expensive for people). When you see those situations you want to empty your wallet to help, but that’s not a solution, especially when these situations are the result of much bigger, systemic problems. Why was that child orphaned in the first place? Was it AIDS? Why wasn’t the grandmother buying or growing nutritious foods? How come the hospital isn’t easily accessible? Q. What were your greatest moments? A. One of the greatest moments for me was visiting the home of a community health worker who had a rainwater collection tank in her back yard. The tank was built using funds from the Village Health Project and it was an incredible feeling to see how our fundraising work in Madison had been transformed into a life changing water system for a family in Uganda. Most people must walk great distances to get their drinking water, which is usually from very contaminated, stagnant ponds. However, the rainwater collection tank gathers water from a gutter system on the roof of the house when it rains and can last through the dry season. I was elated to hear how thankful the family was for the tank and how much it has benefited them and their neighbors. Q. How does a typical village in Uganda compare to St. Charles? And how does the city of Kampala compare to Chicago? A. It’s nearly impossible to compare any village in Uganda to a town in the U.S. If St. Charles were made up of red, dirt roads without stoplights, little electricity, thousands of bicycles, banana trees instead of oak trees, goats instead of squirrels, and outdoor fruit markets instead of restaurants, it just might look like a town in western Uganda. Kampala and Chicago are similar only in that they both have terrible traffic jams. Most of the roads in Kampala are single lanes with few functional stoplights. There aren’t many tall buildings in the city and despite its urban setting it is very green and lush. The streets are lined with markets and people. People selling newspapers and fresh fruits weave in and out of traffic looking to sell their goods to commuters. Huge Marabou storks are perched on top of every building and circle in the skies above when not busy munching on garbage. Aside from cars, there are also matatus (public mini-buses), boda-bodas (motorbikes), and bicycles. Q. Was this your first trip to Africa? A. This is my second trip to Africa. In spring 2010 I studied abroad for a semester at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. However this is my first time to Uganda. Q. What are you studying at UW-Madison? A. I’m majoring in biology and getting a certificate in global cultures. I love biology because the complexity and beauty of living organisms is fascinating to me. I chose global cultures because I think learning about other people, places, languages and cultures is important for having a balanced perspective of people and the world. Q. When will you graduate, and what are your plans? A. I’m graduating this May. I’ve already accepted a job with the Peace Corps as a secondary (high school) science teacher in French-speaking West Africa (country to be determined). After that … who knows. At this point I see myself going to medical school or getting a master’s (degree) in public health, but I expect that my Peace Corps experience will have a lot of influence on the direction I head, afterward.

Elgin-bound Poundstone chats about cats, comedy and webcams

by Rachel Baruch Yackley Daily Herald 11/30/2010 “My show is largely autobiographical,” said Paula Poundstone, during a recent phone interview about her upcoming performance in Elgin. “Kids, animals, current events, myself and my experiences. I try to keep it informal, and I love talking with people in the audience.” One of the most enjoyable interviews I can remember, this wasn't all jokes, but a lot of conversation with a warm, witty, spontaneous woman, about what makes her so good at what she does. There was an incredibly funny moment when, while talking with Poundstone, I checked out her website ( to check out what she calls her “Diner Cam.” Sure enough, there was a streaming video from a Webcam aimed at her cats' food and water dishes. Yes, that's plural: Poundstone's household boasts 16 cats, as well as a rabbit, a lizard, and a dog. Oh, and three teenagers. I was watching a couple of cats eat while we talked, and in popped Poundstone's smiling face, right by the dining felines. “Here I am,” she said, and waved at me. In essence, I saw her live, but it was like only getting a tiny bite of chocolate; I'd really like more. Her Elgin performance is set for 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, at the Hemmens. Details and tickets are available at Improvisation is a big part of Poundstone's show, although she does make a few notes, especially about current events, which she reviews before going onstage, to help her remember “what's on the forefront of what I want to talk about.” During a weekend of performances in Bozeman, Montana, Poundstone experienced one of the reasons why she loves doing stand-up comedy. “This was three nights away from home; I rarely do that, as it's really, really hard on my family, and on me. Then I got some difficult family news, and I had to go to the theater. I wasn't feeling good, but I was marshaling my forces,” she said. “I went onstage and had such an incredibly good time. The crowd was so good. While onstage, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I am the luckiest person in the world.' I get to go to work and I feel uplifted. I really appreciate how lucky I am.” Performing onstage, in front of a live audience, is truly what inspires and drives this comedian. “There's something really important about being together with people. I talk to the crowd a lot. And I believe it has to do with the people who come to the show,” she said. Growing up in Massachusetts, Poundstone wasn't the class clown, but exhibited the ability to make facetious observations from a young age. She still treasures a report card note made by her kindergarten teacher, who said she enjoyed Paula's “humorous comments about our activities.” “I like the sound of laughter,” said Poundstone, “but it truly is in the eyes of the beholder.” In 1979 Poundstone began working on her comedy at open mic nights, while busing tables. She was 19 and still living in New England. “A lot of what I learned, I learned by watching others who didn't do it well. You kind of watch others' mistakes,” she said. “When I started, it was hard to get work. So I took a Greyhound bus around the country to see what people were doing in other cities. I'd get off the bus someplace like Denver. I'd spend the day there, go to clubs, and talk with comics.” Eventually she settled in California, where she made a home, a family, and continued to pursue her comedic passion. Not everything Poundstone does is for the purpose of making others laugh. A National spokesperson for The Association of Library Trustees Advocates Friends and Foundations, Poundstone said, “I do stuff with Friends of the Library. I help them promote and fundraise. Libraries are often one of the things on the economic chopping block, but they're really one of the best deals in town. Socioeconomically, they are a really important link.” An avid reader herself, she mentioned that books on tape have been a staple, shared with her family especially while driving. “My kids listen to ‘Harry Potter,' read by Jim Dale, over and over again,” she said. “My kids don't watch TV, but I wish I could tell you that made them voracious readers. They're just so busy, with homework, (school) orchestra, and more.” Poundstone is also a writer; her first book, “There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say,” was published by Random House, and she is working on her second book. She also co-authored three math books in the “Math With a Laugh” series with Faye Nisonoff Ruopp, and “A Prairie Home Companion's Pretty Good Jokes,” with Garrison Keillor. Her first comedy CD, “I Heart Jokes: Paula Tells Them in Maine,” is also available. In addition, she is a frequent writer for the Huffington Post. Poundstone can be heard regularly on the NPR weekly news quiz show, “Wait Wait …Don't Tell Me,” as well as on NPR's “Morning Edition.” Although she doesn't watch TV, she has appeared on Letterman, Leno, and Craig Ferguson. A panelist on “Wait Wait” for the past 10 years, Poundstone enjoys the spontaneity of this radio show. “We all know, going in, that it's based on the world's news, but I don't have jokes prepared ahead. I love that feeling, like being a batter in the batter's cage,” she said. The recipient of several honors, Poundstone was the first woman to win an ACE (the cable EMMY) for Best Standup Comedy performance, and was the first woman invited to perform at the White House correspondents' dinner. Earlier this year, she was invited to serve as judge in the humor category of the 2010 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the largest recognition and scholarship program for teenage artists and writers. Adults and kids are welcome to her show, but like many comedians, Poundstone said, “It depends on what offends people. I curse occasionally; I don't limit myself.”

Pillow cases are needed to create kids' dresses

by Rachel Baruch Yackley; Daily Herald 11/9/2010 Sundresses may be the last thing on your mind as the weather turns colder, but it's just about all Ruthie Ratke thinks of these days. This local resident and lifelong seamstress is spending her time coordinating an effort to make 1,000 dresses by Thanksgiving, which will be donated to young girls in need in Africa and the Philippines. Each of these dresses is made out of a pillowcase, with the help of numerous volunteers. The idea for this project came from, “a friend from my church, Hosanna Lutheran Church in St. Charles,” Ratke said. “She heard of someone making dresses out of pillowcases for children in Haiti. I talked with my pastor and he said let's go for it.” Since then, Ratke and her volunteers have been working steadily to reach their goal. “We're using our own pattern, basically cutting off the top (of the pillowcase). The side seams are already sewn, and the hem is there. Then it's just cutting armholes and binding the armholes and the top, and putting ties on the top. It's a quick and easy sundress and takes about 20 minutes to make,” Ratke said. Volunteer sewers have been adding their own embellishments to the dresses, too, such as colorful ribbons and decorative buttons. Dress sizes will fit girls approximately 3 to 10 years old, as king-size pillowcases can be used for taller girls. Ratke has an immediate and ongoing need for donations of new and gently used pillowcases, double fold bias tape, and half-inch elastic. “As I get supplies, I'm making packets for volunteers. Each packet is one dress. Every Sunday, people pick up packets and bring dresses back to me. We're up to 100, so far,” she said. “I am committed to making sure every pillowcase is made into a dress.” Hoping to set up a sundress “sweatshop,” where the brunt of her goal can be tackled in one day, Ratke said she has to receive more supplies before this can be scheduled. “My church does a ministry every Christmas of shoeboxes filled with toys. We're thinking of adding the dresses into the shoeboxes,” Ratke said. This 1,000 Dresses Project may go on beyond the Thanksgiving deadline, as Ratke would like to see it become an ongoing effort. She also said that extra dresses will be sent to “needy girls in our own country.” This is a ministry project through Hosanna Church, but “it was my idea, and I'm the one doing it,” said Ratke, who added, “It is open to anyone; you don't have to be a member of the church.” Ratke began sewing 56 years ago when she was but a child. Over the years, she worked as the wardrobe mistress at a televised fashion show at Navy Pier, as the costume mistress of a local dance studio, and made most of her children's clothing when they were young, as well as drapes and decorative items for her family's home. She recently realized one of her dreams when she opened her own store, A Thimble Change, 1303 W. Main St., in St. Charles, in March of last year. “God has blessed my business, and this is my way of saying ‘thank you,'” said Ratke. “And the outpouring of people who want to help is awesome.” Among those who are participating in this project are students in the St. Charles East High School Fashion Design class, who are making dresses as part of their Charity Project; St. Charles North High School cheerleaders, who are collecting donations of new and used pillowcases; and local Girl Scout troops. Anyone interested in helping Ratke reach her goal of 1,000 dresses can pick up packets with everything needed from Hosanna Lutheran Church and A Thimble Change. Donations may also be dropped off at these two locations. Ratke's store is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Hosanna! is at 36W925 Red Gate Road, St. Charles. For details, visit