Archive for May, 2012

In Time

I’ve been on a book buying diet, restricting my appetite for books, books, and more books, trying to use the library as much as possible. Of course, this holds its own temptations. I currently have seven books from three separate libraries lolling about, taking up room on the night stand and the back seat of the car. I always travel with a book. One never knows when a freight train will roll by.

With all the books at my disposal, I was in a bit of a quandary this weekend over what to read next. Does this ever happen to you, where nothing on the pile you so carefully acquired calls out? I kept picking up books and putting them down, frustrated at having some time to read and not finding quite what I wanted. I finally settled on a book I bought last summer for $1 in a book sale bin. April in Paris by Michael Wallner. It is another page turner in spite of its uncomfortable subject matter and after just finishing Sarah’s Key.

One thing led to another today as I pottered about here on the computer, deleting bookmarks no longer relevant, which is how I came across this YouTube video from the television series, The Twilight Zone. Did you ever watch the Twilight Zone? It was often frightening to me as a child and I still remember many of the episodes. There it was, bookmarked for some reason I no longer recall, waiting to be opened, reminding me to savor whatever time I have to read a book.

This one was featured on another blog some time ago. I can’t remember where I saw it, so, if it was yours, I hope you don’t mind me using it here. 

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Today is a federal holiday in the United States. Memorial Day. Dating back to customs following the Civil War of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers, it was originally called Decoration Day and slowly, over time and years and wars, became a national day of remembering.

I remember my childhood, all of us packed into a car, driving to Elmwood Cemetery, putting flowers on my grandfather’s grave, playing as children do around the old headstones, all the little American flags at the section a little further away where the soldiers were buried, and then the sudden round of a twenty-one gun salute.

It is right to remember those who sacrificed their lives for their countrymen.

Those of you in other lands across the oceans and hemispheres have similar days for honoring your fallen men and women. Though each country calls such an occasion a different name under a different flag, it is the act of  honoring those who have fallen that holds a universal meaning.

This song is from the Ken Burns/PBS production of The War. It came to mind today and I  would like to share it with you now.

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The second garden we visited on last Sunday’s Open Days was a mass of color and texture, ponds and walkways. Peonies danced with roses and the poppies were showing off in a profusion of riotous blooms.

In among the flowers, glass artwork caught the sun.

This one brought to mind, for me, Dr. Seuss.

A new use for an old bird cage.

A clambering noise from the pond drew us in, with this fellow making the most racket, as his friends sat or swam nearby.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the clematis now, could I?

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The Garden Conservancy Open Days take place all over the United States throughout the growing season and affords an opportunity to visit private gardens, often of historical interest and always of horticultural interest. From small gardens to acreage in country and city estates, these are living lessons in gardening, horticulture, landscape design, and the flora and fauna of our country’s many regions, topography, climates, and cultures. They are always inspiring and I post about them frequently here on the Cutoff.

To my readers here on the home front, I encourage you to check out the schedule here and to visit when there is an Open Day near you or when you are traveling. The $5 entry fee goes directly to the Garden Conservancy. Trust me, it is well worth the $5.

To my readers in other countries, I encourage you to explore similar programs where you live. I know that Great Britain has similar days and has led in this movement to open up private holdings for the benefit of all to see, and I’m sure most of you have similar opportunities.

I’d also like to encourage you, wherever you are, to participate in local garden walks in your town or a neighboring one has such an event. They are tremendous opportunities to see what is growing in your town or area, be inspired and perhaps become motivated to garden if you don’t already. They usually financially benefit local endeavors, while bringing to all pride of place.

Last Sunday, Tom and I visited two of the four open gardens featured. The pictures above were from a glorious garden in Bartlett. I hope you enjoy some of them and that you take some time out this weekend or next month or whenever to see what grows in your area.

Here I am, being silly . . .

. . .  and here is Tom, always looking at the design elements.

I will post the second garden in the next post and hope you will walk with me a bit longer along this one.

See you soon in the next garden.

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Two women talking in the garden section of Home Depot.

They were perusing the plants when one said to the other,

“I have chlamydia.”

 “I think you mean clematis.”

 “I’ve cut my chlamydia down three times already and it keeps coming back”.

We had a good laugh.


The first time when the conversation was repeated to me.

The second when we sat down in the arbor and there, poking through the lattice, was my clematis, about to bloom.

 I had cut down – once.

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First of May

The Bee Gees are more readily known for their disco days; Jive Talking, Staying Alive, upbeat tunes and dancing. Some of us remember them first as pop singers with more folksy lyrics and, to be honest, it took a bit of time to get used to their new sound in the seventies. One of the first songs I remember hearing from the Bee Gees was First of May. I was dating a tall, handsome, art major at the time and he thought I might like to hear it.

 I dated that tall, handsome art major for a long time. We married in May. May 20, to be exact. The day Robin Gibb died.

I thought some of you might remember  First of May, and others might appreciate another musical side of the Brothers Gibb.

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Shortly before our wedding, a shower was had by a friend and bridesmaid, Marlene. Beautifully wrapped boxes were opened and gifts were accepted with gratitude as we anticipated our life together. In the midst of it all at Marlene’s house, a kitten appeared. A darling Calico full of energy and life, rubbing the ankles of those in attendance and otherwise stealing the show. I remembered the kitten as I read Dee’s blog, complete with an excerpt from her newly published book, The Twelve Habits of Highly Successful Cats and Their Humans. The kitten, you see, turned out to be one of our wedding gifts from the hostess, Marlene.

It was 39 years ago that we were gifted that kitten. We named her Zoe, the Greek word for life, as we began our life together.

Zoe was a character of a cat. She didn’t purr, but she loved Greek Kalamata olives and, strangely, Ben Gay. Sore back muscles got a second kneading by Zoe whenever the Ben Gay ointment came out. Imagine, a Calico cat on a very sore back in purr-less ecstasy over someone’s aching muscles?

Zoe really loved us as much we loved her, but she was, shall I say particular with her attentions to others. Our niece Heather, just learning to speak at the time of Zoe’s appearance, would respond when asked after the litany of questions we ask toddlers about animal sounds, “What does Zoe say, Heather?”. Heather would smile  sweetly and say “hisssss”.

Thanks, Dee, for the reminder of such a thoughtful and wonderful gift and joy of life our Zoe brought, and for the announcement of your new book, a companion to your first, all of which you, dear reader,  can find out about here.

The serendipity of Dee’s post and the reminder of Zoe is that Tom and I just celebrated our 39th anniversary this past Sunday. I don’t know where the last 39 years have gone, but I’m so grateful and blessed to have shared them with Tom for so long.

We spent the day in our typically nature kind of way, touring Garden Conservancy Open Day estates, visiting an organic farm, and eating at one of our favorite Francesca restaurants, La Sorella de Francesca in Naperville. We were seated at a window spot we especially like and each of our meals was delicious after a long, busy, inspiring – and very hot day.

The flowers on the ledge outside our window were so lovely, I decided to take a picture, and found my Tom in the reflection as well. I love these moments in life, don’t you?


To life!

(click onto the picture to find Tom)

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The weather has been beautiful here on the Cutoff and life on it a tad hectic. I thought you might like to see a few pictures until I have a have a chance to compose my thoughts.

Click on the pictures for better views.

We’ve seen quite a few equestrians trotting up and down our little road from the stable around the bend. When we first moved here, they would ride past, then seem to disappear. It took months for us to realize there was a narrow path into the forest preserves that they slipped into. I suspect that once into the deep, dark woods, they turn into unicorns.

Upon at late afternoon at the end of the week, I sat in the arbor, sipping on an iced tea, and finishing a my book. Sarah’s Key was a troubling read, though I couldn’t seem to put it down. When I finished, I sighed, looked up, and, as if to catch my mood, shadows crept upon the lawn. I needed to go for a walk.

It felt good to stretch my legs and shake the cobwebs out of my mind. Camera in hand, I walked to the front yard to see what nature had in store for me.

There are always surprises in a garden, don’t you agree? Tight buds in the morning can burst into flower by mid afternoon. Where blossoms once held court with their sweet bouquet on a gnarled branch, apples appear. In the blink of an afternoon, chives wear purple hats and start spreading their seeds and baby robins are suddenly fledglings while a swallowtail butterfly flutters by.

I walked about, taking pictures, oohing and exclaiming “aha”, pulling weeds, there are always weeds, and enjoying the warmth of the sun and the blooms of the peonies, starting to open . . .

. . . and anticipating what will soon “pop” open on this nodding stem.

What’s blooming these days near you?

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I had forgotten a little pile of twigs in the grass. They were trimmings from last year’s Jacob’s Ladder, perennial geranium and such. I meant to pick them up on my garden walkabout when I spotted a robin fiddling around them. Robins have a way of picking and choosing in the dirt for whatever it is they want, which is usually a worm for children back home in the nest. This robin held something in her beak, turned around and looked right at me, a grin of satisfaction upon her face, then flew away with one of the twigs, now successfully broken in two, off, no doubt, to build a new home somewhere near.

I was glad I left this little pile of pick up sticks for the robins to find and I found myself wondering how much harder it must be for birds to find nesting material around pristine suburban lawns.

I admire the robin for its house building skills and care for its young, all while cheerfully cheeping. Wherever there is a puddle, from the rain or just left over from watering the hydrangea, there one will be, flapping about, taking a bath as only a robin can do. I can always tell when a robin has been to one of the birdbaths by all the water sprayed hither and yon. They dip their heads in and wiggle about, pushing water all around their body and flapping their wings in absolute glee. A robin taking a bath always reminds me of doing the Hokey Pokey.

The robin is also a fierce protector of its young, flying out and beyond the borders of home if danger is detected, drawing intruders away. Deep in the yard, where the wild things are, I know there is a nest, but I can’t find it. Every time I’m back there, near the compost pile, a robin flits down to the grass, cheeps, and emphatically invites me to leave. She could be protecting the wrens employing squatters rights in the bluebird box, but I suspect she has a nest of her own nearby.

Among all this Robinhood activity here in the Cutoff Rorest, I thought about two passings this past week. Donna Summer, the talented queen of disco, and Maurice Sendak, the prolific children’s book author and illustrator. My mind wanders, as you know, dear reader. Who else would connect the common American robin to two such notables?

I first learned of Maurice Sendak in college in a children’s literature class. Would it surprise you to know that Kiddie Lit classes were my favorites? Sendak’s books are always so imaginative and touch upon issues that often make grownups uncomfortable, but that I always found captivating and entertaining. I guess I’m just not grown up enough. Sendak had and will continue to have an impact on children’s literature and his own personal story is compelling.

As I strolled around the garden, I thought of Donna Summer; her energy, talent, musicality, and fame. There is rarely a wedding we attend, and we attend many, where the last song played, whether by deejay or band, isn’t  Last Dance. It was She Works Hard for the Money that danced through my head as I walked yesterday afternoon, watching Mrs. Robin working hard, singing away to beat the band.

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My dear friend Sharon knows me well. She often gifts me with things she instinctively knows I will love; tea, food, bouquets of flowers in small bottles. Proof was in the pudding when she recently handed me a lovely, adorned gift and out came a book that seemed tailor-made for me.

It was tailor-made for me – as Sharon knew it would be.

Since I first brought Valerie Kack-Brice’s For She is the Tree of Life: Grandmothers Through the Eyes of Women Writers home,  I have found myself buried in this treasure trove of stories and poems about which noted writers talk about their grandmothers. From Maya Angelou to Ethel Barrymore, Isabel Allende to M. F. K. Fisher, I have been like a guest in their lives and I have been filled with a longing for my Yia Yia, who I write about often here on the Cutoff.

For She is the Tree of Life has followed me now, for many-a-week, into the livingroom then to the bedroom, out to the arbor and into the car. I’ve portioned out each chapter like a daily dose of chocolate, one sweet morsel at a time. I think I will place it next to my treasured birthday gift, At Grandmother’s Table, where I know right where to find it for inspiration, and a fond memory of a good friend. I hope she reads it as well, and maybe remembers her own grandmothers.

This is from the poem, Second Language, by Andrena Zawinski, one of many treasures found in For She is the Tree of Life.  It brought to mind my Greek grandmother, Yia Yia, and how she would wind my hair, making rag curls.

In that long moment before sleep sets in,

when the clock ticks above the silence,

I think of her. She was the woman who named

the world for me in patchwork Russian. Baba,

studa baba, rolled her socks down to the ankles, wrapped silver braids beneath babushkas,

thought dressing up was wearing a fresh apron.

Baba trained my fingers to press pirogi dough,

never scolded when I ate the filling first;

tied my hair in rags, shaped long ringlets

round my full moon old world face.

Andrena Zawinski

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