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It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-emininently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged: God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst.

Charles Dickens: Last of the Great Men

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DSCN6621Jennifer and I were enjoying the opening festivities of Autumn Splendor at the Elmhurst Art Museum, sipping on wine, nibbling on finger food, chatting with old friends and acquainting new. We wandered into the galleries and the Richard Koppe Exhibit.  As we entered the gallery, a display case caught my eye.  Actually, something in the display case caught my eye. A book.  It’s always a book with me, it seems, even in a renowned art museum.  The book, to be precise, was a cookbook.  I looked down and squealed “I have this book” .

As others were observing the large surrealistic works of Koppe, I was chewing on a cookbook.

Several years ago, I came across the very same cookbook in a second-hand store. “The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places”.  A more charming than practical compilation of recipes from famous restaurants throughout the United States,  it is divided by regions, and illustrated with stylistic paintings of each restaurant, a recipe from the restaurant, and a short description.  The books were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the heyday of US road travel in big cars and fine dining along the way as many veterans returned home from war, bought houses that were springing up all across the country, bought their first car . . .

. . .  I snapped up the book faster than a filling station attendant once rushed out to fill up the tank, clean the windows, and check the oil!

In subsequent years, I came across several other printings of the book, with some new recipes and new restaurants as original ones closed. A small cookbook collection ensued. When in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pull one of the Ford Treasury books out, then all of them, and browse through the regions, admire the illustrations, and reminisce over featured restaurants I have actually eaten in.

As I looked into the display case at the EAM, I recognized one of the printings of “The Ford Treasury . . . ” .  The book was opened to page 159, with a painting depicting the interior of the once famous Well-of-the-Sea restaurant in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Neither the restaurant, nor the hotel, still exists,  but, the mural in the background of the illustration does. When I was though swooning over a cookbook, I looked up to see Koppe’s surrealistic mural generously covering a wall of the gallery.  While not my favorite artistic style, I could not help but be impressed at the “real deal” and the vibrancy of the colors and textures.

Back home, I pulled out my treasury of mid-century finds, and there it was, page 159, in the North Central region. The Well-of the-Sea. I wandered about the pages of several Treasuries, finding restaurants I recognized, even some I have eaten in, across the country,  getting hungry for food – and for hitting the road.

Here are a few I found that I have visited:  The Wayside Inn, MA;  Williamsburg Lodge, VA;  Antoine’s, LA;  New Salem Lodge, IL;  Plentywood Farm, IL;  Don the Beachcomber, HI.

Do you have a dining “treasure” you would like me to look up in these books?  Let me know.  I would love do a future post showing a page of your remembered restaurants.

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 This book jacket opens up to a map “. . . to decorate your kitchen or game room”. I think I’ll just keep this one on the book.

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little-league-world-series

 This week was a week that was;  a toddling sort of week, in a Chicago big shoulders sort of way. A good week for a town often plagued with scandal, murders, and controversy.

It was a good week in Chicago. A week to forget for a bit the troubles that we have as we enjoyed the feel good moments of the National Little League winning team, locally referred to as JRW – Jackie Robinson West. In a town big enough to have two major league teams, the south side White Sox, and the north side Cubs, we finally have a team that has won a national series and became the National Little League champions.

On Tuesday, the “boys of summer”, as they are being called, were honored with a tribute at their home field, Morgan Park, with politicos of every ilk, media of every kind and accolades they rightfully earned. It was followed by a a parade through Chicago, a town that loves its parades, to an enormous rally at the lakefront in Millennium Park.

My dear readers, JRW is a team to be proud of. These young boys were humble in their achievements, and gracious in their loss as World Champions to Korea;  lessons to be learned by professional athletes, who scream, shout, and carry on.

Tom and I sat and watched the festivities, smiles and laughs and a tear or two. This little league team, it seems, has taught us all some big league lessons that have far more to do with life than about baseball.

We finished out this wondrous week that was by attending the last of the free summer concerts at the Burr Ridge Centre. For one reason or another, we only managed to get to one concert this summer; one that was just so-so. It was an ABBA tribute and should have been frolicking good fun, but, well, it just wasn’t.

Friday’s band was what we call a tribute band called the Chicago Experience – and oh, what an experience it was. A tribute band for a well known group of years bygone, Chicago. This band played, non-stop, for more than 90 minutes and would, I believe have gone on longer if the threat of thunderstorms had not been pressing.  They played Chicago songs without missing a note and took many of us back several decades; as far back as 1969.

Like their namesake, Chicago, the Chicago Experience consisted of more than most groups of the era. This was a 10 piece group of musicians, at least that was how many I could see and count, replete with a phenomenal horn section.

Yes, dear reader, it was a very good Chicago sort of week – and a grand way to officially end our summer.

This music video is Chicago, the original group, courtesy of YouTube, not the Chicago Experience, though it could easily have been. We had fun at the concert, even more so since our friend Rick, a trumpeter himself, was with us. His appreciation and reactions were priceless.

Does your town or region have a rock group that carries its name? Did you see a live summertime music performance this year?

 

Photo source http://www.sportsworldnews.com/articles/17076/20140823/jackie-robinson-west-stars-chicago-play-little-league-world-seris.htm.

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DSCN5211“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

Oddly enough, or maybe just so, as I was mating Margaret Atwood’s words to my photo, the news came to me that Elaine Stritch had passed way. I gasped. It was as if the water, the words, and the woman were one.

I took this photo at day’s end, about a week ago, while walking the path at the pond in the Dean Nature Sanctuary. I was at the water’s edge, in those ethereal moments of light so bright that they make even color evaporate.

What a remarkable talent Elaine Stritch was – and how brilliantly she flowed through life.

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Arbor house stained through snowball bushI worked alongside Esther. She worked for the father, I for the son. Almost 20 years older than me, she was my mentor and confidante. I was a fledgling in commercial insurance with two young daughters and the tug of pulling my load as Tom started up a business. We worked hard, laughed often, cried occasionally and danced the rhythms of life and work for almost six years.

We shared a love of family and of books. She delighted in hearing of the escapades of our daughters, especially Katy, who loved playing softball and disliked wearing dresses. In all the time I worked with Esther, I never saw her in a skirt or dress – and this was the era of padded shoulders and the hit television series,  Dallas!

I had the first lunch hour, sometimes eating in the small break room or downstairs in the cafeteria, more often than not running errands or tending to motherly pursuits. Several summers had me driving home, dropping the girls off at the community swimming pool, then eating in the car as I returned to work, checking in with Tom before I got back to my duties (this was before cell phones).

Esther had the second lunch hour, usually eating a sandwich she brought from home and the purchase of a bowl of soup from the cafeteria. Esther ate soup for lunch almost every day. When she returned to her desk, the first thing she did was call her elderly mother to see how her day was going.

Esther, as the story was told to me, once had a prestigious job downtown, in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Her father developed a life-threatening illness needing surgery, a long recovery, treatments – and had no health insurance. Esther resigned from her position, cashed her pension, and used it to pay for her father’s health care, then she started her work life all over again. She never complained, never felt sorry for herself, and carried on.

She gave me comfort and encouragement in those six years; when my mother died of cancer only two weeks after being hospitalized, when my uncle Joe died a few months later, Jennifer becoming ill for a spell, then Katy losing part of finger, and Tom’s long battle with his first bout with diabetic retinopathy and his mother passing away. I gave her big hugs, books, home baked goodies and as many doses of encouragement  I could while she battled shingles, then cancer and a long series of chemotherapy treatments.

I thought of Esther today, and of the afternoon, not unlike this afternoon, shortly after the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton, when she came back from lunch, called her mother, then looked at me and said, “Penny, I want you to read this book I just finished. It is by Maya Angelou. I know you appreciated her inauguration poem and now you must read  this book she wrote a long time ago,.”Why the Caged Bird Sings” . . .  and so, I did.

I thought of Esther today, as the news broke of the death of Maya Angelou, and felt a wave of gratitude that they both entered my life, each in their own unique way.

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DSCN4343It wasn’t until I was immersed in the task of writing a short informational piece several years ago for our garden club’s garden walk guidebook that I learned what a trace was. I had heard the word, knew it had something to do with the outdoors, which was mostly a contextual guess. This is my own photo, taken several years ago, of Wild Meadows Trace in Elmhurst, Illinois.

A few taps on the keyboard led me to descriptions and examples and so forth, and I came to know that a trace is a path or trail, worn through time by the passage of animals and/or people. These trails tend to connect places along the way;  settlements, waysides, towns, parks, etc. They are like ink on parchment, tracing places where footfall has landed, connecting the dots of time-worn travel.

It was, with more than mild curiosity, that I embarked on an adventure on the Natchez Trace. It was an adventure filled with bits and bobs of history, a legendary explorer whose courage and skills stretched a young United States from “sea to shining sea“, a precocious little girl fleeing from a pack of thugs to find her beloved father in Nashville, a sinister New Orleans judge with a duplicitous and century bending nature, not to mention a host of characters from the distant past and the book’s 1977 setting,  all along the infamous Natchez Trace.

DSCN4186Andra Watkins has masterfully woven a tale as dense as the forests along the Natchez Trace and as simple as the spirit of a child in her genre bending novel, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”. This is a book that defied me to put it down; which I did, only because I kept veering off the Trace to look up the likes of Hector de Silva, Bear Creek Mound, encampments along the Trace during the War of 1812, governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory, John Wilkinson – oh, I could go on and on with the chance encounters and mysterious travelers who appear in this amazing journey of Andra’s. but, I won’t, because if I did, I would rob you of your own pleasure in the reading of  “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, where you will come to know Merry and Em (Meriwether and Emmaline) as you flee with them from New Orleans to the notorious haunts along the Natchez Trace. (I just left this as a review on Goodreads – you might want to click and see what others are saying about this book at Goodreads and Amazon.)

Andra is currently walking the 444 miles of the Natchez Trace, with her own personal cast of characters cheering her on along the way. You can read about her own personal journey here, read back to the beginning of the walk, listen to Andra answer her question of the day along the Trace, browse photos of her along the walk, and, well, get caught up in following Merry and Em’s footsteps in this afterlife journey.

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DSCN4104Good things really do come in small packages.

Case in point. As I motored down our long drive driveway, which currently looks like a luge, I  thought to check the mailbox before turning onto our road. Skidding to a stop, I bounded out the door, up a mini-mound of packed snow left by municipal street plows, leaned down into the mailbox (for the mound is currently higher than the regulation mailbox height) and burrowed in to see what the postman left. There I was, Queen of the Mountain, balancing on two of the only remaining petite portions of my physique, discovering a box, addressed to me. “Oh, goody” says I. I love, Love, LOVE getting packages in the mail.

Tumbling back into my mochamobile, I noticed the name on the return address, Michael Maher, and wondered what my friend’s husband could possibly be sending me. Showing uncharacteristic self control, I set the box and mail on the car seat, and went on my errand packed way.

Home again, I set about seeing what was in the box, still pondering what Michael sent. As soon as the box opened, I  chuckled with childish glee, realizing that the package was from a different Michael Maher, which I would have known first off had I looked at the Charleston address. The box was from the ever-delightful author, Andra Watkins, and she had used a return address of her talented architect husband, more commonly known to readers of Andra’s blog, The Accidental Coochie Mama, as MTM.

My childish glee, however, was over the contents of the box. Penguin sock #2 copy

Some time ago, Andra did a  post displaying a pair of penguin slippers, which I commented on, mentioning my own pair of Mary Jane slippers which are, sad to say, a mismatched set of two left feet.

Yep. That’s me. Two left feet; fitting for someone who is always taking a tumble, like that ill-fated day we went cross-country skiing and I landed in someone’s cup of Campbell’s tomato soup!

Back to the box. There, snuggled inside the box sat none other than the pair of penguin slippers!

But, wait . . . also in the box was the official announcement of the upcoming release of Andra’s novel, which is about to be released in paperback and e-reader, “To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis”, which I am most anxious to read.

Friends, I have a stone in my slippers, those of the two left feet, that I mean to rectify asap. While I await deliverance of Meriwether Lewis, which I have just ordered from Amazon, I would like to spend time highlighting a few of you who have also written books, some of which I have sitting right at my elbow and have not yet gotten to. I blame my two left feet and I mean to rectify this as soon as I get my toes sorted out.

In-the-meantime, said toes are cold,  so off I go, to put Nick and Nora (the brand on the soles) on my feet, and to think happy feet thoughts of my friend Andra.

Thanks, Andra – and best of luck as your launch your book and as you soon set out on your trek, walking the 444 mile Natchez Trace, following Meriwether’s footsteps.

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