Archive for October, 2010

We went to my sister’s haunted house this afternoon where goblins and ghosts and witches dwell.

Would you like to come inside?

Are you sure? It is pretty scary?

You’re really, really sure?

I was so frightened I needed to use the “batroom”.

Distant relatives?

A door opened, and a ghost came rushing toward us.


To help revive us from such frights, we had some snacks as well.

My sister made all of the treats herself.

Pretty creative, that sister of mine.

How was your Halloween?

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News Flash!

Seen lurking along cutoff; wizened woman with pointed hat and long nose sporting a wart.

Known to carry a broom and cackle.


Known to fly broom.

Maneuvering somewhat erratic and failure to use turn signals may cause traffic delay.


Air traffic control at O’Hare reported late night activity around midnight on Hallow’s Eve.


Will alight from broom for treats, especially chocolate.

Tricksters need not apply.


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What a welcome sight our faithful sun was this morning. There it was, sending angel rays streaming through the windows, bringing  in early morning sunshine after a week of bitter wind. I felt as if a rainbow had come and touched down upon me.

Our kitchen and dining room face the east, with walls and doors of glass. They let the sunshine in this time of year in slants and shafts of light that cast shadows and illuminate all that sit in its path.


In spite of the gusty winds and the hard pouring rain that overwhelmed us this week, there remains a substantial show of green here on the Cutoff. Birds are still flitting about; robins and nuthatches waiting in line to use the bird bath just outside the dining room window earlier and a cardinal flitting outside the den window, its happy chit-chitting drawing my attention. As I write, a blue jay is lording over the neighborhood. Our jays are bullies; bigger and louder and selfish, though they are so beautiful to see. It is a welcome sight to see them around these days as their population was in an alarming decline with the West Nile virus that plagued the area a few years ago.


I hope the weather holds out for all the trick-or-treaters this weekend . . .

. . . and for you and me.

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Philadelphia Free Library

When we travel, I love to step into the local library. Whether the little library, housed in a house, old and charming and lit for Christmas and viewed from our room at the inn in Vermont, or the Concord Free library in Concord, MA where Alcott and Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne all have alcoves of their own. A library holds the spirit of its people to me. I like sitting at its tables, worn with time, or new and exciting and thinking toward the future. So, when we were in Philadelphia, visiting its wonderful art museum and touching our history at Independence Hall, we walked to Logan Square and marveled at the architecture and beauty before us, and we went into the Philadelphia Free Library.

I was thinking about this imposing structure with its pages and pages and pages of words as I read Helene Hanff’s Q’s Legacy.  Hanff found “Q” on the shelves of the main library of Philadelphia, which can only be this one, can it not? It was through “Q”‘s lectures that she continued her college education and by which we eventually read of her friendships at 84 Charing Cross Road. It is, in the end, a remarkable example of a very public collegial education, found through a book in a public library,  and it kept me enchanted and smiling as I read Hanff’s always witty words.

Q’s Legacy is the prequel, of sorts, to 84 Charing Cross Road. It is Helene Hanff’s story of how she came to educate herself in literature, particularly English literature, after losing her college scholarship during the Great Depression. You see, Helene went to the library and asked for the section of textbooks on English Literature and writing. She worked her way down the alphabet with nothing quite being what she was looking for until she came to the letter q. There, alphabetized under q,  were the literature lectures of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, (Q to his students) and there began his legacy  - the writing education of Helene Hanff, which lead her to good works and good literature and good writing, all with good humor, that carried her through the lean years and the good as she pursued a writing career.

Can I say it was a delightful read and have you rushing about to get it? Can I tell you it is a fast read and a great friend in hand on a blustery night?  Can I tell you it is a hopeful read as we see Helene’s jobs writing for television in New York City, from her tiny couch-sitter apartment,  dry up as the industry heads west to California? It is a hopeful read as we watch her struggle to make a living and pay her bills and still enjoy her books and she eventually finds her way, through a small antiquarian bookseller in London and the story that followed, to a success beyond her wildest dreams. It is also a reminder today, as we see the news and magazine industry, floundering and flailing as they strive to grab readers in a publishing world that has moved even further than she, or “Q”, could ever imagine into the realms of the internet; a reminder that although things change, sometimes so quickly we can barely catch our breath, new opportunities will arise.

Q’s Legacy was mentioned to me in a comment left about Hannf’s second book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which followed her long-awaited trip to London. I’m on a book buying diet. Like many of you; I’ve cut back, use the library, beg, borrow and, no, I don’t steal, but I did find this copy on Amazon for $1 and postage. A $4 deal that came in good time and in excellent condition (in fact, it appears to have never been read) and here I sit, after the storms, contentedly chatting about a long forgotten “Q” and the power of books and libraries to inspire and inform and cloak all our lives in knowledge and adventure.

Have you ever been to a library other than you own?

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A mean wind doth blow

Oh, a mean wind did blow hard again today, catching up leaves in a whirlwind and tossing a few pots about, forcing the mighty sycamores to bend against their will.

I worked a few hours in the morning, cutting back the hostas and ferns along the front, their leaves all yellowed and sad, the lady ferns withered and spent. In the cutting, the Oakleaf hydrangea was exposed, in a protected spot close to the window, its leaves just starting to burnish.  Surprises amid the confusion. A maidenhair fern that was hiding under the hostas has taken on the air of a grande dame, showing off a bit in the wind. She may find that partying too much today may be more than she is up to, however, and find herself doomed before dawn.

We haven’t had a frost yet. Usually, by October’s end, there has been a frosty night or two, withering annuals and banishing them to the compost heap. I still have impatients and morning glories with blooms, tired but still at the party, begging me to wait a while longer before ending their fun. Predictions of temperatures in the thirties tonight may deem this their last dance.

We’ll see.

I’m always reminded when gardening that I am not in charge.


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The clouds opened up and rained down upon us early this morning and a mighty wind blew in and around the entire area in excess of  80 miles per hour. Drive time radio was consumed in weather and traffic reports as the Chicagoland area, and much of the country, attempted to start this blustery day.

We are thankful to have made it through with our power still on and a roof still overhead, and hope that you did as well.

I was gone most of the day, returning mid afternoon.  Before taking my rain slicker off and kicking off my shoes, I braved the gusts and went back out to get the mail. It is a fairly long walk up the drive to our mailbox, and I was wishing I had stopped and checked it before I drove all the way back. As long as I was out, I took some pictures of the storm clouds that were moving across the sky. They were moving so quickly I could barely focus one scene before a new scene would develop in my camera’s eye.  Nature can be so powerful and frightening and yet beautiful at the same time. In amid the ominous storm clouds, thick and heavy and dark, were patches of blue as fleeting as a memory of summer’s warmth, here, then there, then covered by a storm cloud commanding attention.

I retrieved the mail and walked back to the house, checking for wind damage along the way, thankful there were only branches strewn about and not large limbs or a fallen tree.

Then I saw this,

and walked around to the other side.

The Donald Wyman Crab we planted this past spring has suffered major damage at the whim of a rutting buck bent at marking his territory with his mighty rack, all under the cloak of night as a storm raged along the cutoff.

I won’t repeat what Antler Man said of his revered woodland creatures. Let’s just say his rage was equal to the storm. We can only hope this wound will heal and the bark will mend.

Until then, boundaries have been established and lines drawn in the proverbial sand that shall not be crossed.

I hope we don’t have to cordon off the arbor!

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Toasting your oats

Baking by Tasha Tudor

When the leaves start falling with feeling and the temperatures threaten to frost the pumpkins, the soup kettle begins to simmer and the KitchenAid commences to whir. Gone are the dog days of summer when the barbecue grill is primed for many-a-meal and the urge to bake cookies and breads arises. Ah, the sweet smell of breads and cookies after an afternoon of raking leaves. Bliss. Sweet bliss.

I came upon an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe at Letters from a Hill Farm that had a different twist back in September. I filed it away to try on the perfect day, which arrived for me on Saturday. The late afternoon was nudging me to bake some cookies. Okay, it wasn’t just the afternoon nudging me. Hints had been floating by me as regularly as the falling leaves by a certain antler man, so, out came the mixer and the cookie sheets, on turned the oven, and soon heavenly scents were wafting throughout the house.  We are enjoying them and Jennifer came by on Sunday and nibbled quite a few as well, taking some home for Jason to try. They remind me more of something like a granola bar (see how I can make cookies seem healthy?). The secret is in the oats, which are first toasted in browned butter before adding them to the dough. I thought you might like to try them, so here they are, chewy and sweet and just a bit different in texture.

Have you tried any new cookies or breads lately


baked a tried and true favorite?

Toasted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

3/4 cup butter

2 1/2 cups oatmeal (not instant, not large flakes)

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Melt butter until light brown. Do not burn.

Add oats and stir constantly until oats are golden and toasted.

Remove from heat and cool thoroughly.

Combine egg, sugar, and vanilla and beat until light.

Mix dry ingredients and add to egg mixture, along with oatmeal.

Add chocolate chips.

Drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet and bake in preheated 350º oven 8-10 minutes or until golden.


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Picture by Tom

Gathering Leaves

by Robert Frost

Spades take up leaves
No better than spoons,
And bags full of leaves
Are light as balloons.


I make a great noise
Of rustling all day
Like rabbit and deer
Running away.

But the mountains I raise
Elude my embrace,
Flowing over my arms
And into my face.


I may load and unload
Again and again
Till I fill the whole shed,
And what have I then?

Next to nothing for weight,
And since they grew duller
From contact with earth,
Next to nothing for color.

Next to nothing for use.
But a crop is a crop,
And who’s to say where
The harvest shall stop?

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Stump the colors

We didn’t peak. Peakless. An Autumn without peak. Faded glory.

The leaves were changing and starting to fall in a cascade of colors. Then, something happened. They turned brown instead. After some devastating rains this summer, causing flooding for so many, we are now in desperate need of moisture. I wonder if the hot spell we had a few weeks ago, with 80° temperatures during the day and 70° at night, didn’t stump the colors. Cool nights are needed for the best of Autumn colors. The leaves are falling now, dried and brittle, without the color we expect, while there are still a lot of green leaves on the trees and shrubs.

The other day, the weather bureau issued a Red Flag Warning with the possibility of brush fires, a common problem in Southern California, but, not around Chicago. These weather conditions are what fanned the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The asters. Ahhh, the asters have been brilliant. I don’t know when I have seen them perform with such verve as they have this year, nor have I seen them in such abundance.

The grasses are at the height of their beauty, waving in the wind that threatened the area earlier this week. Above is a specimen whose name I do not know. She is dancing with the burning bush in the background. I love the contrast in this pairing of airy white and shocking red, grass vs leaves, tall and stately vs round and seductive – all frolicking in front of the Elmhurst Police Station.

Who is performing in the outdoor theater around you?

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Howards End . . .

I don’t know how many times I have seen the movie “Howards End”. If it is on and I come across it in my cable wanderings, I will watch it. I don’t care if it is midway through or almost done or just beginning, my eye is drawn to the wonderful scenery and trappings of the day, to the story and its characters, the acting and the mood of it all. I want to live at Howards End.

I also want to finish the book, Howards End, by E. M. Forster. I have been wanting to read for ever-so-long and I finally opened its pages. Like most books about the turn-of-the-century, it is a slow read, rich in description and the dialogue of the day. A contrast to the fast-paced novels of this century’s turn. I need to do this every once and again. I need to pick up a book, a classic perhaps, and bite into it and hold on as I chew on the words and I embark on a really rich read.

Howards End is the name of the book and the movie, of course,  but it is also the name of the country house, an inheritance of one of the main characters, Ruth Wilcox. Ruth dies suddenly and scribbles on a piece of paper that the house is to go to her friend, Margaret Schlegel. Her family burns the paper, ignores the request, and the rest is, of course, the rest of the story.

Howard’s End is, in many ways, a study of the class systems in England during the 1900′s; the upper and middle class tiers and the tenuous one at the end of the rung, hovering between lower and middle. It actually reminds me of our life today and the struggles so many are having holding on, but, this is a digression, a habit of mine I must break.

I’ll work on finishing the book this weekend and I will encourage you pick it up sometime to read. You must see the movie as well, especially if you enjoy the time period and lush scenery and houses. The picture below is from a really fun website I think I have mentioned before called hookedonhouses and there is a wonderful post with enticing photos of Howard’s End, its countryside and its rooms.

Now, I’ll warn you of the danger of visiting this site. You will want to and will click onto the link at the end for the Schlegel sisters’ London townhome and then you will want to see other movie and television houses available, which I encourage you to do. Just don’t blame me if you spend too much time there looking at your favorite movie house.


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