Fansworth House
Photo by Victor Grigas

Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1945 and built in 1951, the Farnsworth House has both interior and exterior glass walls. Built on stilts, it sits on a flood plain along the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. In an article entitled “Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth House Is At Risk” at https://fastcodesign.com, the author describes it as “one of the most famous residential examples of mid-century modernist architecture in the country.”

This glass box house was constructed for Dr. Edith Farnsworth as a country retreat. Despite questions about its practicality and livability, the significance of the Farnsworth House was immediately recognized. A model of the Farnsworth House was exhibited in 1947 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The house continued to be a private residence for over fifty years. In 2003, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois purchased it. Today it is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open as a public museum. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Despite being built on stilts, the house has been flooded by the Fox River three times during the past eighteen years. The Chicago Tribune reported that “The worst flood, in 1996, smashed one of the home’s huge plate-glass windows, sending more than five feet of water inside and causing thousands of dollars in damage.” During the 1996 flood, Aurora, which is on the Fox River upstream from the Farnsworth House, received the greatest 24-hour rainfall (16.94 inches) in Illinois history. The storm was considered a 1-in-1000-year event.

Several plans for saving the structure are being discussed. One idea is to move the house further back from the river and up to higher ground. Another more daring plan described by the Chicago Tribune is to “temporarily move the house from its site, build a pit beneath it, and insert hydraulic jacks that would lift the house out of harm’s way the next time the Fox attacks it.”

Undoubtedly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is committed to saving the house. National Trust has the influence, money, and expertise to accomplish this feat. Stay tuned for further developments.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about the Farnsworth House, go to Illinois Adventure # 1607 “Historic Farnsworth House” – You Tube at https://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwzWOfG14ww.



At 6:30 p.m. on June 30, 2017, twenty oil tanker cars belonging to Canadian National Railway derailed near to the downtown in Plainfield, Illinois, forty miles southwest of Chicago. The cars piled up against each other, accordion style. Four of the tanker cars leaked, and 45,000 gallons of crude oil spilled. Much of the crude oil flowed into trenches along the railroad. Fortunately, none of the oil reached the DuPage River. None of the oil caught fire.

Moving crude oil by rail has been controversial. Shipments from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota peaked at 498,271 in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads. At that time, many oil tanker cars being used to transport the oil from North Dakota to refineries on the East Coast were older with fewer safety features. In 2015, twenty-one tanker cars on a Burlington-Northern Santa Fe train derailed just south of Galena, Illinois. Several of them ruptured, split open, and blew up. The 105-car train was headed to Chicago at the time of the accident.

According to the March 6, 2015 ABC -7 Chicago news report at http://abc-7chicago.com, “New information from federal authorities is that that 25 million Americans live within the 1-mile evacuation zone that straddles tracks used by crude oil lines. Dozens of the tanker trains crisscross metro Chicago each week.”

In December of 2015, President Obama signed a transportation law called the FAST Act. The law requires that the new cars must have thicker steel shells, insulating materials, full-size metal shields at each end, and improved outlet valves underneath the car.

The new rules create a new standard, “high-hazard, flammable trains.” These are defined as “a continuous block of twenty or more tank cars loaded with flammable liquid or 35 or more tank cars loaded with a flammable liquid dispersed through-out a train.” Tanker cars carrying petroleum crude oil are marked with a DOT placard with a hazmat symbol and the number 1267.

According to http://www.chicagotribune.com, “Seventy percent of the oil being fracked out of those booming fields in North Dakota’s Bakken region is shipped via what the oil industry calls a ‘rolling pipeline’ of railroad trains.” Despite the obvious problems of transporting oil by rail, the Association of American Railroads has pointed out that railroads have an excellent safety record with crude oil, even surpassing pipelines in recent years.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about the oil tanker train, go to Freight Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails in Suburban Plainfield You Tube.


mini skirt

If you went to Catholic school in the 1950’s, you might remember a nun asking you to kneel down on the floor of the classroom. Your skirt or dress had to touch the floor as you were kneeling. If not, your skirt or dress was deemed “too short.” You could not wear such an outfit to school.

Things have really changed. In 2016. a student in a local high school was told to hold her arm down at her side while she was standing. Her skirt or dress had to be at least as long as her arm with fingers extended. That means the hemline of the garment could be mid-thigh!

What causes hemlines to vary from short-short to floor length? One theory was proposed in 1926 by Professor George Taylor from the University of Pennsylvania. It is called the hemline index. The theory is that women’s dresses rise and fall with the stock market. The stronger the economy, the shorter the skirts. The weaker the economy, the longer the skirts.

Other factors can influence the length of dresses. For example, during World War II, the government needed fabric for the war effort. According to “Vintage Fashion—The History of Hemlines” at http://glamordaze.com,, “In 1942. Clothing rationing brought about actual regulations on women’s clothing! The UK had their “Utility Clothes” regulations, and the USA introduced Regulation L85 which set skirt lengths to 17 inches above the floor.”

Internationally known clothing designers also play an important role in determining the length of dresses. For example, in 1947 Christian Dior, a French fashion designer, introduced his first collection. It featured designs using large amounts of fabric to create a feminine silhouette.

During the 1950’s, the popular style was a dress with a full, billowy skirt that hit below the knee. A blouse and full, billowy skirt was also the preferred attire for teenage girls. The blouse was often sleeveless or short sleeve.

In 1962, a controversial item of clothing, the miniskirt, came upon the scene. The hemline was eight inches above the knee. A Huffington Post article describes the reaction: “Major designers like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior were initially against the trend. Chanel even deemed them “just awful.” The Netherlands banned the skirts for a limited period of time.” Inspired by the fashions she saw on the streets, British designer Mary Quant raised her hemlines to several inches above the knee in 1964.

In 1968, designer Oscar de la Renta created a maxi-dress for Elizabeth Arden Salon. Other designers soon followed, and the maxi-dress craze began. The dresses were made from soft fabric and flowed down to the floor. The Maxi has had a resurgence and is one of the top styles today.

—By Karen Centowski



A new drug epidemic is threating older Americans. It is not one of the usual suspects: heroin, cocaine, or meth. It is a legal drug which your doctor can prescribe as a painkiller. Maybe you even have some pills in your medicine cabinet now.

According to “The Opioid Menace,” an article in the June 2017 issue of AARP Bulletin, “Almost one-third of all Medicare patients–nearly 12 million people—were prescribed opioid painkillers by their physicians in 2015. That same year, 2.7 million Americans over age 50 abused painkillers, meaning they took them for reasons or in amounts beyond what the doctor prescribed.”

How did this happen? “We overestimated the benefits of opioids and underestimated the risks,” says Deborah Dowell, senior medical adviser at the CDC. “We assumed without adequate evidence that they would work as well long term as they did in the short term.” Pharmaceutical companies marketed aggressively to physicians, and by the late 1990s, doctors innocently wrote prescriptions for OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and other opioid painkillers. Long term use led to higher levels of addiction and an increased number of drug overdoses.

In August of 2016, then Surgeon General Murthy wrote a letter to every doctor in America. The letter read as follows: “Nearly two decades ago, we were encouraged to be more aggressive about treating pain, often without enough training and support to do so safely.”

“This coincided with heavy marketing of opioids to doctors. Many of us were even taught—incorrectly—that opioids are not addictive when used as pain relief. The results have been devastating.”

Last year the CDC issued guidelines recommending that doctors drug-test their patients before and during opioid therapy, to ensure that the medications are taken properly.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family? You have the right to question your doctor about a new drug he is prescribing for you. You even have a right to refuse the drug. Do some research on reputable sites on the internet. For example, did you know that Tramadol, an opioid pain medication for moderate to moderately severe pain, should not be used if a drug addict or alcoholic is living in the home?

Be aware of the connection between legal opioids and the illegal opioid heroin. Over time, opioid users tend to build up a tolerance for their legal drug. In addition, the prescription drug may be harder to obtain. This may lead to use of heroin, a highly addictive illegal drug.



Asian carp, a family of fish native to Asia and parts of Europe, were introduced to the United States in the 1970’s to control weed and parasite growth in aquatic farms in the South. Flooding and human error have allowed the carp to escape the fish farms and to get into the Mississippi River and the Illinois River. Asian carp have become a serious problem here in the Midwest, and many people are concerned that, if Asian carp migrate up the Mississippi River into the Great Lakes, the $7 billion dollar a year fishing industry could be in real trouble.

According to an article published by GLEAM, Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project, Great Lakes commercial fishing harvests have hovered near fifty million round pounds since 2000. Historically, important Great Lakes commercial fish stocks include American eel, blue pike, carp, chub, lake herring, lake sturgeon, lake trout, lake whitefish, round whitefish, walleye, and yellow perch.

The GLEAM article, “Commercial Fishing,” lists the following important facts about commercial fishing in the Great Lakes:

  • Lake Erie currently supports the largest commercial fishery in the Great Lakes. Walleye and yellow perch are the most harvested species and the bulk of the Lake Erie catch is from Canadian waters.
  • Lake Ontario has the smallest commercial fishery. Harvested species include yellow perch, lake whitefish, bullhead, and American eel.
  • Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior each maintain commercial fisheries for lake whitefish, lake trout, and chub.
  • Other targeted species include the following:
  • Lake Superior: lake herring, smelt
  • Lake Huron: channel catfish, carp, Pacific salmon, yellow perch, and walleye
  • Lake Michigan: smelt, yellow perch.

According to a National Wildlife Federation article entitled “Asian Carp Threat to the Great Lakes,” Asian carp females lay approximately half a million eggs each time they spawn. Asian carp have no natural predators in North America. Once established, they are almost impossible to eradicate.

Asian carp are voracious feeders and consume up to 20% of their bodyweight per day in plankton, an organism vital to native fish. If Asian carp were to become established in the Great Lakes, they would likely strip the food web of this vital resource.

The National Wildlife Federation article warns, “The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers maintains three electric barriers to prevent Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan. However, these barriers are only temporary impediments and have proven to be penetrable.”

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video about Asian carp, go to Battling the Asian Carp Invasion at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJDVg35qPNs.



Why would anyone pay $60 to $250 for a pair of worn out looking blue jeans with holes in the thighs, busted knees, shredded fabric, and frayed hems? Why indeed? What used to go into the rag box or the garbage can is now high fashion.

When Levi Strauss, a peddler who sold his goods during the Gold Rush in California in the 1850’s, was asked by the miners for a sturdy pair of work pants, he never could have imagined that his invention would become a fashion statement.

The original design of Levi Strauss blue jeans, Design 501, was influenced by the loose trousers worn by Genoese sailors. The pants featured a flared bottom to fit over work boots. Strauss chose a heavyweight denim, a twill-woven cotton, for the fabric. Because the pants were dyed with indigo, they were named “blue jeans.”

In the early years, Levi jeans were popular with the working class including farmers, cowboys, factory workers, and laborers. They were considered tough, comfortable, and affordable. By the 1930’s, children’s blue jeans were in demand for play clothes and everyday wear for boys. However, few schools allowed children to wear blue jeans to school. Little girls continued to wear dresses at home and at school.

Since the 1960’s, blue jeans have become a fashion statement. There have been bell-bottom jeans, baggy jeans, skin-tight jeans, and low-rise jeans, to name a few. Manufacturers have used different chemicals and techniques to produce stone-wash or acid-wash denim.

During the 1960’s, hippies and wannabe hippies rejected capitalism and current fashion. Instead, some high school boys favored long, stringy hair, tie dyed shirts, worn jeans, and full-length men’s used overcoats.

Beginning in the 1970’s, designer jeans were the latest “must have” clothing item. Teenage girls paid high prices for jeans by Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Ralph Lauren.

By the mid 1980’s, teenagers favored ripped jeans, destroyed jeans, and busted knee jeans. Manufacturers were deliberately processing the denim to make it appear worn, torn, and faded. Brand new blue jeans had holes in the knees and thighs.

Distressed or shredded jeans continue to capture attention despite their high prices. For example, Nordstrom’s currently offers shredded blue jeans for women for prices ranging from $179 to $250. Carson’s features shredded blue jeans for $59 to $100.

If this price is too steep, you or your teenager can transform an old pair of jeans into the newest fashion craze. All you need is a pen, scissors, tweezers, sandpaper, and some imagination.

—By Karen Centowski

To see a video 3 Methods to get DIY Ripped Jeans (Tutorial)—YouTube, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaJwXmITJpo.