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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.  

From “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

On a marathon mission to get some Christmas gifts, I stopped for a some refreshment and a bit of a sit-down. An elderly woman was enjoying her lunch with what appeared to be her granddaughter. They seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Large shopping bags filled with  purchases nestled atop empty chairs at their table. I couldn’t hear their conversation, but the scene reminded me of a long ago December afternoon with my mother.

Ma wanted to do some Christmas shopping.  I offered to take her. My mother learned to drive later in life. She approached 50 years old when she took to the wheel, after my father passed away. She drove mostly to work and back, which was barely a mile, and she would drive to our house, which was a direct route, with few turns.

On the day of our Christmas shopping, Ma drove to our house and then I drove my car to one of the shopping malls. I dropped her at the door of Carson’s and parked the car. We shopped, ate lunch and shopped a bit more. It was a pleasant time. My mom kept asking me what  I wanted for Christmas.

Ma really tried hard to buy me the perfect gifts. I often regret that I wasn’t more appreciative of her efforts, though, I promise you, some were really hard to appreciate. One day, I will tell you the story of my 21st birthday and my “party dress”, which has grown to legendary status.  Let me just hint that it had to do with gold lame, rhinestone buttons, dozens of pleats – in 1970 while I was in college! 

We walked and talked and shopped and reminisced.  It was a slow go as my mother had rheumatoid arthritis, which affected all her joints, but, especially her feet. As she started to tire, I thought aloud that we should head on home. We worked our way through Carson’s, via the lower level so I could get her to the elevator.  As we walked through the housewares section, I stopped to look at the Pfaltzgraff Christmas plates. Ma looked as well.  I casually commented how I always thought it would be fun to set a Christmas table. 

Four place settings and two more shopping bags later, we lumbered into the elevator. There was a sprightly spring to Ma’s step as she smiled at me. “I think I finally bought you something you like” she said – and she had.  The original Christmas Heritage pattern, I bring them out each December, recalling the day my mother insisted on gifting me with them for Christmas.

I thought about my mom and my Christmas dishes as I observed the women sitting across from me and made a mental note to bring the plates out when I got home. These dishes were one of the last Christmas gifts she ever gave me. She added to them before she passed on, and even spoke of them in delirium once when she was deathly ill with pneumonia, muttering something about giving the doctor a silver dollar to buy me more Christmas plates.

The doctor never got that silver dollar, but, Ma survived pneumonia – and I received a few more plates for Christmas that year.  I’m glad I took the time to eat and rest while shopping, for, in so doing, I recalled my mother and that sweet day more than 2o years ago; a very dear memory, indeed, and a far greater gift of Christmas heritage.

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DSCN6842 - Version 2Tom’s one week post-op eye appointment brought good news; the eye is healing well, better than expected, actually, and especially considering all he and his eye have endured. With a few less eye drops to be administered daily, we remarked on how nice it was to be given 30 minutes back in our days.  We both said “Merry Christmas” for it was a gift, indeed, and felt just a wee bit of weight lifting from our shoulders.

As I backed the car from its parking nest, I mentioned that it was closing in on the noon hour and wondered aloud if Tom would like to have a nice lunch to celebrate the good news at Francesca’s in Forest Park?”.  Cleaning out my wallet a little earlier, I came across a gift card I had been given as a thank you for someone I helped out a few winters ago. The Francesca restaurants are a delicious chain of Italian restaurants across the area and Francesca’s Fiore in Forest Park was on our way home.

As we looked for a parking place along the busy, city avenue, it seemed the only option was a paid city lot.  It’s hard to haggle over such things when lunch has already been paid, so, into the lot I turned, parked the ever faithful mocha VW with latte interior (I’m going to miss this caffeinated car some day). Tom, with those blackened glasses one needs to wear after cataract surgery, and I looked about to pay.  Perplexed, we wandered a bit when Tom of the afore-mentioned glasses and dilated eyes, said “it’s free“.  There was the payment post, all wrapped up like a present, informing whomever that Forest Park was lifting their parking fees during the month of December. As we walked, we saw meters up and down the street with their meter mouths all taped up, on a coin diet for the season,  and our steps were just a bit lighter at this gesture – a gift of free parking. Quite a nice municipal gift, don’t you agree?

We had such a delightful lunch, chatting and chewing and caressing the moments of bliss on a cold but sunny afternoon with good news, good will, and good food the generous gifts of the day, all reminding me that gifts aren’t always those wrapped up in pretty paper with bows.  They are the simple gifts of life. My wish is that you find one of them today.

 

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“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

Emily Dickinson

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Thank you for all your prayers and good thoughts, candles and hope.  Tom’s surgery went well on Wednesday, he is resting and recovering. We remain hopeful and are armed with the many bottles of eye drops that follow cataract surgery,

A thank you to Marilyn for reminding me of Emily Dickinson’s words.

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photo-2I’m sitting here, basking in the post-Thanksgiving glow, which is almost as golden as Thanksgiving itself. Who needs Black Friday?! Most of the remains of the day are put away, though glasses that held wine and Grandma’s Coronation silver-plate still need to be put in their designated drawers and cabinets. That can wait, for I wanted to share this most excellent, someday heirloom, photo of my oldest grandnephew, Scott, who will turn 11 on my 65th birthday, next week. Here he is, cheerfully demonstrating that while he will never quite catch up to me in age, he has already done so in height. Way-to-go, Scott!

Isn’t life grand?

Our turkey was golden, and the fresh cranberry relish that perfect combination of sweet and tart. Niece Heather’s roasted potatoes were simply sublime. Nephew Andrew gave our blessing, then plates were passed and stories flowed, Jennifer and Jason soon joined us, slipping in from another family engagement, and all felt right in this day of gratitude.

Marilyn asked if I would share a recipe, and so, I thought I would.  The cranberry relish is documented here, and has been a mainstay in our menu for three decades.  My turkey, well, my turkey is usually quite delicious, but, no special ingredients or methods, I just season and roast. If a few drops of white wine are around, it usually finds itself in the gravy.

This year, I decided to make Ina Garten’s Green Beans and Shallots for our vegetable and for its color. Ina never disappoints, and she doesn’t with this easy recipe.  As you may know, I’m an Ina Garten groupie with Barefoot Contessa cookbooks lined up like the kitchen guard (though there is just enough room for her latest book, in case anyone is pondering pleasing me for my afore-mentioned birthday).  It was actually our Jennifer who first made this dish, however, and it is now a favorite.  I did use the French string beans, as they rose to my attention at the market, but, I’ve used regular as well and they work just fine. I did the parboiling and set aside earlier in the day, so, just needed to store up with the shallots just before we sat down. I did not salt the water, but, did salt the pan for the shallots – and I parboiled longer that 1 1/2 minutes.

Green Beans and Shallots

1 pound French string beans (haricots verts), ends removed (can use regular string beans)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
3 large shallots, large-diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Blanch the string beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1 1/2 minutes only. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water.

Heat the butter and oil in a very large sauté pan (12-inch diameter) or large pot and sauté the shallots on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Drain the string beans and add to the shallots with 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper, tossing well. Heat only until the beans are hot.

(from the Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

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Yia Yia,

“I think you should take my picture with the sun”.

So, I did!

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Here’s to getting all the hugs you ever want, DSCN6696 DSCN6711 - Version 2

and that you find all the colors you need.
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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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