Archive for March, 2012


Isn’t this a wonderful picture?

I first saw this Normal Rockwell illustration, The Most Beloved American Writer,  on Danielle’s blog, A Work in Progress. I knew I would eventually use it here on the Cutoff.

As I thought about this question, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it. Of course I could just say “yes” and go on to the next question, but . . .

. . .   I’ve had fun answering these questions posed by Sunday Taylor and have enjoyed your comments beyond measure. Even though there are aspects of this that leave me a little uncomfortable, I decided to sally forth and answer it as best I can.

So, with a little help from Mr. Rockwell’s picture, I will begin.

I love to put pen to paper, to play with words, and to tell a story, hoping I do it justice. I like writing almost as much as I like reading and, yes, I have fantasized about writing the next great American novel, but that is really just a fantasy. I know my strengths and I am keenly aware of my weaknesses. Let me say that writing a novel is not a strength I possess.

I would love to try my hand at a short story, and will, perhaps, attempt this in the future.

When I see this illustration, I see Jo March. Professor Bhaer’s words are drumming through her mind as he admonishes Jo to write about what she loves and what she knows about. She is offended, at first, by his advice. Then, as she grieves the loss of her sister Beth, her heart heavy with sorrow, she hears the professor’s words anew.  What she knows is her family, her Laurie, her home. What she knows is her own story, which becomes the story of what Mr. March calls his “little women”.

I also see Louisa May Alcott. I see her at Orchard House in Concord, writing furiously to keep the wolf from the door. She penned Little Women, with a real pen and ink, in record time, using both her right and her left hand in turn, as each became cramped. Louisa May Alcott was a prolific writer who also wrote “pot boilers” of her era. I think she must have had a very active imagination, don’t you? I can just imagine the blog she would be writing if she were alive today.

As I looked at this picture, I thought about where I write and what happens when I do.

When I write, it is the stories of my family that flow from my heart. They bring me the greatest joy.

When I write, it the pleasures of my garden, of flowers and trees, of nature and reflections that come from my very soul. They bring me peace and they keep me centered.

When I write, it is of the books I read that move me, hoping my ramblings will inspire others in their reading selections.

What I would like to write is a memoir of sorts, though I feel a bit naked and exposed saying it here.

How about you?

I know many of you are accomplished writers. You have written stories and edited books. You have poetry and memoirs in print. You all write so thoughtfully here in your comments, on your blogs, or I am sure, in your journals and diaries and letters.

How would you answer this question?

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I have been out for a walk about the gardens, rejoicing in the emergence of plants and trying hard  not to worry about what comes next.

The ferns are starting to emerge. I love to watch their first, tentative peeks at the sky, then their gentle unfurling as they dance in the sunshine.

The Brunnera Langstrees (false forget-me-knot) are starting their show with their airy blue blooms. This is my very favorite brunnera. I love the dotted leaves that seem to smile and say “hey, we all have our own fashion sense, have we not?”.

Above is the Donald Wyman crabapple, blooming early this year. We thought we lost it two years ago when a randy buck did battle with the bark, but here it is, resplendent today, just in time to say Happy Birthday to our darling Keziah, who is two years old today!

Here are a few hearts and flowers for you, Kezzie!

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You’re “it” (question #7)


Those of you who know me well, or have read my blog for some time are probably laughing. Yes you are. I can hear you. It’s okay. I’m laughing too, but I need to answer this question for everyone else.

Walking is the safest form of exercise for me – but not always.

There was the story of me walking backwards home from school.

 I was the last one picked for teams. I was also the one who needed emergency dental treatment because I forgot to stop when running across the gym in a timed test. I ran into the wall, cracking a tooth, fat lip, blood. I was concentrating on the running part.

I am the girl who fell off of the balance beam (and trampoline, and pommel horse) in high school, got her gym suit seat caught while trying to jump over the hurdles, trailing it behind me, and once, I accidentally let go of the badminton racquet, barely missing the teacher’s head.

Advanced folk dance in college; what was I thinking?

There was, of course, the dramatic fall from grace at Janet’s house, where I made a most memorable entrance.

Then, oh dear, the time we were cross-country skiing and I landed in someone’s tomato soup!

I know I told you about my right foot getting stuck in the heating duct . It always makes me think of the Tom Hank’s movie, The Money Pit.

I’ll tell you soon about how I left my imprint at the Art Institute of Chicago’s store.

So, what’s your favorite form of exercise?

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Last week brought record-breaking 80 ° temperatures. This morning saw the mercury dip to the 30’s. The heat of last week, which prompted early blossoms, then the wind and rain which shook those blossoms down into pools of petals at the feet of trees, made quick work of magnolias and cherry blossoms.

So it goes . . .

. . . and why I stopped on Saturday afternoon to take this photo.

I’m not sure what this tree is, a magnolia perhaps. Its flowers are a perfectly hued buttermilk color that matches the shutters of this elegant painted lady in La Grange.  We first noticed it last May, when it was in its proper bloom. This year is different as everything seems to be bursting into flower out of sync, including this gracious tree.

I wondered how the homeowners managed to match the colors so well. Click on the picture for a clearer look.

This is my part of the world. I live in a suburb of Chicago that is far enough away to afford us two little wooded acres with deer and fox, the occasional horseback rider, and forest preserve across the street. We are zoned rural, but we also live at the convergence of major expressways and from a high point on one of our main streets, a remnant of the old Route 66, we can see the skyline of Chicago.

I like to think it is the center of the universe.

Our town has plenty of places to shop and dine and we are but a few minutes from some of the best birding spots and miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as lakes and sloughs and rivers. We are twenty minutes from one of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Michigan.

In spite of the fact that Illinois has a record number of governors who have served or are serving prison terms, I’m proud of living in what is called  the Land of Lincoln. The City of Big Shoulders stands at our backs here on the Cutoff, and the cities and towns, both big and small, and some of the best farmland on God’s green earth help to sustain us are at our feet in this place we call the Prairie State.

Won’t you tell us about where you live?

Urban legend has it that the Marx Brothers once lived in these parts. Their mother bought a chicken farm a few miles from where we live now. Farmers were exempt from the draft and Mrs. Marx hoped this would keep her boys from serving in WWI. Instead of collecting chicken eggs, the boys would slept late and spent their time at baseball games and betting on the ponies. A day at the races was more fun that chasing chickens around the farm.

So the legend goes.

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Ah, that changes from season to season, day to day, but my favorite spots for reading and relaxing are

on our red leather coach, a cup of tea and honey nearby, in the livingroom.

It is also the perfect spot for daydreaming. This is the view.

Sometimes, especially on a cold but sunny winter’s day, it is in the library/den, on this chair.

In the heat of summer, this is a cool, comfy spot.

The best reading light in the morning is this corner our bedroom.

How about you? Where do you go in your home to read and daydream?

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I love to cook and eating, in my humble opinion, is a form of entertainment.

Some of the sweetest of life’s moments are when I’ve set a fine table. Family and friends are gathered round. Grace is given. Plates are passed. Then, there is that fleeting moment when I can taste the quiet and all are content in their meal.

 Second helpings? I purr like a kitten.

May I have this recipe? A friend for life.

Yes. I like to cook. I often read cookbooks as a bedtime stories .

When Tom’s great-aunt Ethel needed to move into a senior facility from the house her parents built on their homestead, she wrote  asking me if I would like anything. I wrote back my appreciation of the offer and wondered if I could have one of her cookbooks.

Ethel gave me all of her recipes; many written in her own hand, others cut from local newspapers or magazines, small little cookbooks from advertisers and notebook pages with bold penmanship. There is an original Nestles chocolate wrapper with the recipe for chocolate chip cookies and directions on how to score and cut the chocolate for chips. Dandelion wine. Meatloaf for the threshers.

Among these treasures is a “receipt” book from the local church, dated 1883. Inside, on pages of printed recipes, are other recipes on slips of paper, sewn onto the pages with a few well placed stitches. I imagine Ethel’s mother, at day’s end, sewing them in by the light of a kerosene lantern, securing their place in the time-honored ritual of feeding one’s family. A farmer’s wife of one hundred years past would not have had the money for paper clips. Straight pins were needed for patterns and hems. There would have been just needle and thread and tired hands basting page onto page of “receipts”.

My favorite cookbook authors of today?

Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes never disappoint. I have and use her cookbooks. I had the pleasure of meeting her with my friend Cindy. We both came home with signed books and smiles.

Alton Brown. He’s goofy and silly, I know, but he makes cooking seem like a fun chemistry project. I enjoy watching him and made his recipe for corned beef hash with the leftovers from our St. Patrick’s Day dinner. It was delicious.

I also enjoy watching Lidia’s Italy.  She inspires me to experiment with simple ingredients. Her love of family hits home with me.

I also enjoy reading Dana Treat. You might like to check her blog and her many vegetarian recipes.

My favorite cookbooks are what I fondly refer to as the “church lady cookbooks”. They are the ones compiled from the PTAs, booster clubs, the Junior League or local fire stations. They have the best recipes, even though you may make only one from the book you bought for $10, spiral bound, a local artist’s rendering on the cover. No woman I know would submit a flawed recipe and every woman I know plumps with pride when told you cooked her recipe with great success.

Do you like to cook or entertain? Do you have a favorite cook or cookbook?

Dana Carvey's "church lady".

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I need a little break from the game of tag, and thought you might be needing one as well. Instead, won’t you enjoy a few photos of our early spring here on the Cutoff, at the Morton Arboretum, and on our kitchen counter?

One of the “wild” visitors to our garden. Midnight the Cat.

Violets growing under Kezzie’s tree. A nice sight in March to remind me of my mother, whose name was Violet.

Buds getting ready to blossom on Kezzie’s tree, a crabapple.

The first of the Celandine poppies paid a surprise visit early yesterday morning.

A magnolia blossom near the Visitor’s Center of the Morton Arboretum.

The Daffodil Glade at the Morton Arboretum. Be sure to click on the pictures for a better look, especially the first photo, to appreciate how many daffodils there are blooming .   .   .

. . . and a few daffodils at my own kitchen sink.

Enjoy your day, wherever you are.

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Indeed, I am in a book club and write about it often. We are in our 24th year. Actually, as I write this, I really should be reading this month’s book instead of writing as I have over half of it to read for our discussion this evening. Ooops!

We have a standing rule in our group that we will discuss the book and its ending, even if someone hasn’t finished it. It works well for us. Everyone knows what book we will read far in advance. Besides, we never run out of words for discussion.

Tonight’s book is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. It is a long but interesting read and I’m captivated by it, the characters, Ethiopia.  Have you read it?

My most recent favorite book is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I wrote about it here. I loved it and wished I had read it sooner.

My most favorite book discussion book of all time would have to be Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It has been about ten years since we read it. It was such a wonderfully crafted book and it stays with me still. For my midwestern friends, I understand that the Lyric Opera of Chicago has commissioned an opera to be written of Bel Canto. It is scheduled for 2015/16.

One of my favorite book blogs is Work in Progress, where Danielle shares thoughtful reviews of books that are well known and some that are not. Danielle has a regular feature she calls Lost in the Stacks. I’ve grown to eagerly look forward to these postings, which are about books she finds in the library stacks that have not been read it a long, long time. These books, you see, are in mortal danger of being discarded. By checking them out, the books stay in circulation. Danielle is a heroine of books if ever there was one and her posts have led me to checking out a book or two when I visit the library in hopes of saving a few as well. You can visit here most recent Lost in the Stacks here.

This is what I found in the library last week? I loved the movie but never gave a thought to whether or not The Lilies of the Field was adapted from a book. I’m looking forward to reading it and I am admiring the illustrations. It looks like one reader checked it out for a school assignment as there are several pages with passages underlined in, horror, ink. No matter. It is now still a circulating book.

Do you discuss the books you read? Are you in a book group? How do you select your book and discuss it? Where do you meet?

Do you have a favorite book blog?

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I’m in a silly mood and just had to share that scene from Beetlejuice, which leads me to my first dinner guest, the man who  brought this song to us here in the States, Mr. Harry Belafonte. He will be a charming dinner guest with much insight into civil rights and the issues of today, the movie business as well as the record business. Oh, the stories he will tell with his distinctive voice,  the opinions he will bring to our table and maybe, just maybe, he will sing a tune for his supper.

Of course, I will invite Louisa May Alcott. If she happens to bring some party crashers, like Henry David Thoreau or the Emersons, I will gladly set a few more places and welcome them in. Can you imagine our conversation with Harry Belafonte and America’s famous transcendentalists?

Since it is dinner party,  I think it would be grand if Julia Child would give us the pleasure of her company. I wonder what she will think of all the renewed interest in her life and her continued impact on the culinary scene. She and her husband were known for their lively dinner parties. I’d love to have her dine with us – and hear about her years as a spy.

Last, but not least, I would invite Abigail Adams to join us. From the very beginning of our country’s founding, as citizens declared a state of independence and started our Revolutionary War, Abigail had a say in things that mattered. She wrote to her husband, John Adams  ” . . . and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” I will look forward to her views on how we ladies are “remembered” today, and I will encourage her to write a blog.

Who would you invite to dinner?

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The first day of spring usually has us covered in snow with temperatures below freezing and a mighty March wind blowing. This year – well,  this year has given us the oddest of winters and record-breaking high temperatures. Trees are in leaf with fruit trees in blossom, the daffodils are nearly spent, and the mosquitoes are already on the offensive.

Can a game of tag be brewing?

Yes it can.

Sunday Taylor, who pens the exquisite post Ciao Domenica, recently “tagged” me, along with several other bloggers. I was happily reading her post, learning eleven things about her, enjoying her fabulous photographs and absorbing her well written words, when I came to her list of the eleven bloggers she was tagging. There sat my very own name . Surprised, I did a double take, smiled at the sweetness of recognition, not only of myself but of several other wonderful bloggers I frequent, and was excited to read some new ones.

Sunday then posed eleven new questions for each of us to answer and a challenge to “tag” eleven others.

Taking a cue from Perpetua, who creatively responded to a Kreativ Blogger award recently, I decided to bend the guidelines a bit as we play tag on my little playground here. Instead of answering all eleven questions in one post, I will do it in several, “tagging” a blogging friend each time along the way.

I will also invite you, dear reader, to answer the question as well.

Ready. Set, Go!


This is a hard question for someone who likes to read as much as I do, but, when pushed on the playground of life to answer, I would have to say that my favorite writer is Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. Though it is difficult to say which one  is my favorite, Little House on the Prairie defines the series and the spirit of the Ingalls family, especially Laura.

I admire Laura’s sense of adventure and her appreciation of the wide open prairies which, to me, also signifies the wide open possibilities of life. Being the oldest, I’m more like Laura’s big sister Mary; quiet and well-behaved, studious and proper. I would much rather be like Laura, running through fields of wildflowers with my bonnet off or watching the wolves baying in the safety of Pa’s arms.

I love the sense of place that the Little House books bring; the story of the homesteading spirit that moved families across the prairies and settled much of the United States, with a young girl named Laura being the story’s protagonist.

I often post about the Little House books and have visited several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, most recently this past Autumn. The fact that Laura first started writing the Little House books at the age of 65 gives me encouragemen. Maybe, I, too, can write such a book. How does Little House on the Cutoff sound?

Rachel over at Book Snob was also tagged by Sunday. I encourage you to visit her wonderful blog.. As part of her year-long experience in New York, Rachel set out  “reading America” and included several Wilder books in her quest. Rachel’s well written book reviews, worthy of literary publication, bring a new generation’s perspective to these classic stories. One of her posts on Laura’s books can be found here.

Who is your favorite author?

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Older Posts »

Women Making Strides

Be a Leader in Your Own Life

Raising Milk and Honey

The Farm at Middlemay

The Cottonwood Tree

Beautiful Things Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder

cakes, tea and dreams

savoring the beauty in the everyday

old fashioned girls

old fashioned girls living in a modern world

Romancing the Bee

Beautiful Beekeeping, English Cottage Gardening, and Cooking with Honey

Book Snob


teacups & buttercups

An old fashioned heart

Letter From Britain

Bringing you voices from this blessed plot


A site for readers and writers

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Analysis and reflection from someone endlessly fascinated with Louisa May Alcott. Member/supporter of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (including the Alcott International Circle) and the Louisa May Alcott Society.


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