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DSCN6723 - Version 2It’s amazing what I sometimes forget to pack when traveling.

I arrived up north to discover that had forgotten my hair shampoo. I knew I could borrow a dollop from Katy, so, that was not a big problem.

What I could not borrow was makeup; specifically foundation. Now how did I forget that?

I don’t use much make-up;  just foundation and lipstick. I keep lipstick in my purse as my lips are dry, especially in winter, so, no problem there, but, I need foundation, particularly in these brittle days of cold and wind. The bottle remained on my bathroom vanity. Sigh I have rosacea, a skin condition, which flares up when the north wind of winter blows, making my face all red and splotchy. A dab of foundation covers it up. Katy offered to drive out for some, which I appreciated, but, the bottle at home was relatively new and full, so, I did without, feeling just a tad self-conscious.

Kezzie and I were cuddling in that comfortable way that grannies and grandkids tend to do, all snuggly undercover, talking about pumpkin muffins, how to erect bridges, Simon the Cat, which I had just introduced her to – and doll clothes. I’ve told you, dear reader, that Kez and I have the best conversations. She suddenly looked into my eyes, which she says sparkle (cataract lenses), then stroked my cheek ever-so-gently. “Yia Yia, you are so pretty”  WellI forgot all that I forgot,  and I felt so very loved by this little lass. who tenderly reminded that looks really don’t matter when a child gives an aging grandmother such a wonderful gift.

DSCN6726Ezra seemed pleased to see me, especially since I brought him a train book and pajamas with trucks on them. I was gifted back tenfold with several days of tackle hugs, some effervescent sneezles, and very special cuddle time on the couch with Thomas the Train on our new laptop. Really, laptops, lads, and laps are very compatible, indeed. Only one thing we need to work on. Dear Ezra kept calling me Papa. Hmmm? Here he is looking pretty cute with yogurt all over his face. He was patiently waiting for more waffles. His daddy, Tom, is renowned for his Saturday waffles and pancakes.

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Hmmmm, don’t know whether it was too many waffles or not enough make-up, but, I think I may need that foundation after all.

Photo on 11-16-14 at 11.29 PM

 

 

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THE O'NEILL BOYS :2O’Neill Oil Company, Williamsburg, Iowa

It wasn’t an oil company in the ways we have come to know them.

It was a gas station in all the ways you and I have recently discussed; a service station, a filling station, a place to have your oil checked, and it was a fuel resource for area farms near the small, midwestern town of Williamsburg, Iowa.

The O’Neill Oil Company was operated by the four surviving sons of Tom and Kate O’Neill.  Earl, known by everyone as Irish, was the oldest, followed by Chuck, Jim, and Joe.  Joe was Tom’s father.

Tom was the only son born to the O’Neill boys. Irish, Jim, and Chuck all remained in Williamsburg, working at the station, raising families in the small town. Joe moved away as a young man and eventually settled in Midlothian, Illinois with his wife, Carolyn, daughter, Maura, and Tom. Tom’s family would often travel to Iowa for holidays and visits. For Tom, the summers he spent in that little burg are fondly recalled. There, everyone knew him as Joe’s boy as he rode a bike from the gas station around the town, stopped at the soda fountain, and played with his cousins. They evoke a simpler era of being a young boy in summer.

The uncles all favored Tom, but, it was Irish who held a special bond with his only nephew. Irish married later in life and had no children of his own. When Tom was a youngster, before Irish married, he would stay with Irish and Grandma O’Neill; Kate. The Kate our own Katy is named after. I can’t imagine a more idyllic summer vacation for a young boy from the outskirts of Chicago.

When Tom grew old enough, he would help at the O’Neill Oil Station on his summer visita. More than a gas station, yet not a big oil company. Stations such as the O’Neill’s pumped gas, fixed tires, and wiped windshields like other stations of the 50′s and 60′s. They also provided heating fuel  and gasoline for running farm equipment.

As a “working” lad of 10 or so years of age, Tommy, as he was called by his uncles, aunts and cousins, would get up early and head to the station with  his Uncle Chuck. They would open up. Tom would pump gas, clean windshields, and patch tires. He would also ride along on deliveries to the surrounding farms with tanks of fuel and gasoline; a heady adventure for a young city boy and times he remembers with great fondness.

Tom would stay at the station with Irish to close up at day’s end, after having supper at Grandma’s or at Chuck and Betty’s house. After closing, Irish and Tommy would walk the short distance to the diner on the Square and have ice cream or milk shakes.

Irish would tell the waitress when he ordered a milkshake “and make it the drinkin’ kind!” .

Tom and I were sitting and chatting about his summers in Williamsburg as I was composing posts about Route 66 and filling stations; an easy conversation to slide into at any time, but, especially when talking about the ’50s and ’60s and the adventure one could still have on the road. One as likely to transition from patching tires and riding out to the farms to deliver fuel to summery Saturday nights on the Square, to one particular Saturday night in July when all the stores stayed open late and everyone came into town for a concert in the bandstand in the town square – but, first they stopped to “filler ‘er up” at the O’Neill Oil Company.

This photo sits in two places in our house; the library/den when I usually works and the office in the barn where Tom conducts business.

Do you have a memory of summer and music on the town square or park?

I wrote about Irish O’Neill and the time the Williamsburg home team played against the Harlem Globetrotters here.

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DSCN6601Signs.

Sometimes they are just signs. Other times, they lead us to places, to action to awareness, to posts . . .

In a comment on my recent post about the passing of Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk, Debra, over at Breathlighter, wondered about my use of the term “filling station”. The very next day, walking west on Adams toward Union Station in downtown Chicago, I passed this sign. “Whoa, girl, slow down” said my inner self as the notorious Chicago wind whipped around the corner. “Go check out that sign”.   

So there I was, whipping my camera out faster than you can say “windy city“, strains from a street musician echoing down the urban cavern of ell tracks, skyscrapers, and congestion.  No one looked at me as I took the photo. Most were business attired with attaché cases walking with monetary purpose hurrying along the city’s financial district.  I momentarily wondered how many even realized the sign was there. At any rate, tourists are always taking photos in the Loop, though I don’t think many capture this particular sign – or know the connection between this sign and a friend on the terminus end of the Route 66.  Debra, who lives in California, regularly serves up enlightening posts about the history of California, water wars, tar pits, and more. the very same Debra who just asked, the previous day, a question about the term “filling stations.”

I wondered, right then, as I took a picture signifying the approximate location where the legendary Route 66 began, if Debra was motoring past a similar sign on the other end of Route 66.

With a train to catch in Union Station, I put my camera back in my purse and pushed once more against the wind. Once seated in my Metra carriage, homebound, I thought again about filling stations and writing a series of posts about filling stations, family, cookbooks and such, all related to how we used to travel.  I would like to start today with filling stations.

As I mentioned to Debra, a filling station is an older term, probably centered in the midwestern states during the middle of the 20th century. It refers to places where drivers could fill their cars with gasoline. They are now most commonly called gas stations. Since so many of you are not only hugging both coasts of the United States, but, are also across the pond and down under, I’m hoping you will share what you call the place where you buy the fuel for your cars.

Why don’t you talk here amongst yourselves, sharing your gas related thoughts (no, not THAT kind of gas) while I compose another post about Tom’s father and uncles and their oil company, or, maybe a post about the Ford Motor Company and cookbooks and, well, we’ll see where the signs lead.

 

Postscript: See what you started, Debra, with your inquisitive mind?  As I was writing this, ’round about 9 am on this Saturday morn, I realized that the sun was probably just rising along your end of Route 66.  Here’s a tune to start your day. 

 

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DSCN6529 - Version 2No, silly one; not racketeering, a common occurrence around the Windy City.

Rake-eteering; the active participation involving a band of active children, and a few responsible adults, in the yearly “rake up” of the back acreage here on the Cutoff.

Niece and nephew, Heather and Andrew, gathered up our dear grand-nephews and a few of their friends for an active afternoon of raking leaves, riding with Uncle Tom on John Deere, participating in the lively art of being buried in leaves, and maybe a few pieces of shortbread in between.

The Antler Man and I could not adequately express our love and appreciation of Heather, Andrew and the crew they brought over. Our load is a great deal lighter today because of their generosity of time and energy. Life is good on the Cutoff – and I hope the boys had a good, long sleep last night, enjoying that extra hour we all got.

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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit - and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.

 

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The most pleasurable moments in my life are often consumed around a table, eating a good meal, talking, laughing, remembering “when”. Such pleasure was had on Saturday night, dining with family on several familial sides, from two East Coast states, as we met at one of the most venerable restaurants still operating on Route 66.

You might remember when I first wrote about the Mother Road, Route 66, a few years ago, citing its starting point on Chicago’s lakefront, which is but a few dozen miles from our house here on the Cutoff.  Several of you commented about time you spent on the “mother road”. Others of you realized, perhaps, that it was more than a television show or tall tale; it was a road often traveled, traversing the wide open spaces of another era. Route 66 was a route, now decommissioned, that connected small towns and bits of wonders across the wide expanse of USA country. I meant to write again about this iconic route, but, well, life took other turns in my writing road, until this weekend.

Along with brother-in-law Mike, in from the Sunshine State, and nephew Andrew’s brother and sister-in-law, from the Big Apple, eleven of us gathered at White Fence Farm in Romeoville, on old Route 66,  for a sinfully scrumptious meal, served family style, with corn fritters, slaw, pickled beets, cottage cheese, bean salad – and, the restaurant’s signature fried chicken.

It was heartwarming to not only catch-up on what was happening in our lives, but, to have our two grand-nephews participate in the lively art of family conversation as they laughed at grown-up’s stories, all entertaining, others downright hilarious (like grandpa Mike’s articulate rendition of his dog’s encounter with peacock droppings or late night stand offs with a gecko - uh oh).

Good memories were gathered to keep close to the heart along with a few photos of all that was consumed, including a few cute chickens among the antiques and memorabilia in White Fence Farm.

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DSCN5809I seem to be drifting under panels of panes lately; and so it was at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan last weekend.

As we toured this inspiring living gallery of plants and art, in and out of rooms of glass and paved paths of wonder whilst under a stormy sky, I could not help but wonder in awe at how art and horticulture articulate so well with each other.

The sculpture below changes as one walks around; first a man, then a woman, surrounded by shrubs and greenery.

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A queen bee rules from her throne, frogs guard benches, and conservatories house exotic plants that thrive in the upper midwest lakes region.

I’ll stop writing now, dear reader, and just show you a few photos of the delights of the Meijer gardens.

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