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Archive for the ‘Famous and infamous’ Category

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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His name defines American folk music. His songs and words are as easily recollected as our own family reminisces. “If I Had a Hammer”, “Where Have all the Flowers Gone”, “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” . . .  they roll off the tongue of so many of us. We know the lyrics well, for we sang along with him, and the many artists who recorded his songs, for as long as we can remember. I thought about Pete Seeger, his music and his legacy as I wandered the internet, looking for something to post in honor of him at his passing this week. There are so many songs, but, the one song, a simple tune that Pete Seeger put to music from the book of Ecclesiastes, that I think embodies him and his music in the final season of his life.

Thank you, Pete Seeger, for making the world a little bit of better place through your music. Rest in peace.

(Source of this version for YouTube here. Thank you.)

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There are two momentous occasions that are being commemorated  this month in the United States. Just a few calendar days from each other, they occurred 100 years apart. The first occasion, yesterday, was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s  Gettysburg Address. The second commemoration, November 22, is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I hope to find time to write about President Kennedy’s assassination in a few days. This morning, however, I felt a need to share President Lincoln’s address.

Many of you, growing up in the United States and of a certain age, know of the Battle of Gettysburg. The devastation  that battle wrought. The lives lost on that battlefield. The carnage. Many of you were required to memorize the Gettysburg Address, especially if you lived in Illinois. Less than 300 words in length, it was probably spoken by Abraham Lincoln in less than three minutes. It remains burned in our minds, still, and I hope that students are still learning of it.

It is one of the most memorable speeches by any U.S. President.

The photo, as well as this version of the speech are from the National Portraits Galleries site, Face-to-Face. It is a wonderful website and can be found here.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. November 19, 1863

metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/22.207

Winslow Homer

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DSCN2223Last weekend, we visited several gardens on Chicago’s North Shore during one of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. These days are always a delight and, as many of you know, Tom and I frequent them whenever we can.

Chicago’s North Shore houses magnificent estates with storied, historical pasts and vibrant gardening attributes, including sweeping lawns meticulously groomed by resident gardeners. They hold in their grasp garden rooms more expansive than most of our more humble gardens, with expansive swaths of floral and fauna, as well as amazing sculptures hidden amongst the rose arbors and at the end of plane tree allees.

While I am a bit busy this weekend, I did want to take jus a moment to introduce you to a few faces we met on last weekend’s Open Days adventure, as well as the scenic view of Lake Michigan a short distance from the garden where these photos were taken. Much of this garden was designed by the great garden landscaper, Rosemary Verey. The sculpture of her, below on left, was done by the renowned garden sculptor, Simon Verity. This garden had only one folly, which I hope to show you soon.

Have a great day, wherever you are reading this from, and try to take some time to enjoy the scenery.

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dt-1.common.streams.StreamServer.clsJust as I was getting ready to sit down and write, news came that Roger Ebert had passed away.  I felt a sadness at his passing, and the ending of an era of good writing and civil discourse.

Roger Ebert was a writer, a reporter, and a film critic; the title you may know him most prominently for. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel paired up in the 1970′s reviewing movies on television. Siskel and Ebert were quite a pair; movie critics from rival newspaper. Siskel wrote for the Chicago Tribune, while Ebert wrote for the Chicago Sun Times. The two would sit in a studio balcony and critique movies, often getting into heated discussions about a movie and whether it deserved a thumbs up or thumbs down.

It was great entertainment, in part because of their lively exchanges, mostly because they discussed movies intelligently. Sets and scripts and writers and a movie’s value were all brought into play and, for a generation or two, they taught us to look for quality in films, not just fluff and box office smashes.

Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for movie critics in 1975. It was an unheard of honor then for a movie critic. He was among the first, if not the first, movie critic to draw attention to independent films. This was long before Sundance and others and his thumbs up helped propel the careers of many in the business. He was intelligent, fair, principled, witty, and loved the cinema. He also loved to read – and to write.

Roger Ebert continued the show after Gene Siskel passed away. Their rivalry was also a friendship, much, it would seem, like brothers in fierce competition to be first.

Over the past dozen or so years, Roger Ebert battled cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands. While he endured treatment, enjoyed remissions, and continued to work, cancer eventually led to the removal of his jaw and the collapse of his vocal chords. Instead of hiding, Ebert soldiered on, continuing to write, using technology, and eventually speaking mechanically. His face disfigured, his voice silenced, unable to eat, he penned some of his best work, tweeted and blogged, tackling many subjects, including movies.

I wrote about Roger Ebert, linking to a post I found particularly touching, early on in my blogging life, which can be found here. I read Ebert’s post again this evening, then read a few more, glad for he and his words, which could really never be stilled, and all that they taught us.

Photo of Roger Ebert and more information can be found here.

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“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. “Little House in the Big Woods”

That little girl’s name was Laura. She grew up to become one of America’s most beloved children’s authors with her books, commonly known as the Little House Books, still in publication.

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Today is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday.

Those of you who have been visiting with me here on the Cutoff for some time know of my love of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories growing up on the vast prairies of the midwest in the second half of the 19th century. You know how I often read “The Long Winter” during snowstorms and of my visits to several of the Little House sites, most recently the one in Burr Oak, Iowa. If you are new to my site, or don’t know about the Little House books, please feel free to click onto the links to learn a bit more.

It is “Little House in the Big Woods” that has started countless schoolchildren on the long journey with Laura and her family that begins in the North Woods of Wisconsin and is one of the first “chapter” books read aloud to children in schools.

This one little book. written when Laura was in her sixties, is a chronicle of midwestern settlers who formed and farmed the heartland of the United States.

“Little House in the Big Woods” was followed by more books that chronologically tell of the Ingalls’ journey across frozen Lake Pepin to Minnesota and Iowa and the Dakota territory. Laura Ingalls Wilder brought the pioneer spirit alive. She still does as her books take us into their sod house, log cabins and shanties, enduring grasshopper plagues, near starvation, and illness that leaves Laura’s sister Mary blind.  Ma’s cheery disposition and ability to cook anything and Pa’s fiddle strings playing the girls up to their beds at night and all the adventures, both big and small, continue to entertain, educate and inspire children young and young at heart

I was so excited to learn of her birthday today that I just may stop right here and read the first chapter of “Little House in the Big Woods” . . . well, you know what will happen if I do that, don’t you?

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Tasha's Hearth print from the Tasha Tudor and Family website

Tasha’s Hearth print from the Tasha Tudor and Family website

It is snowing here as I write; a crisp, clean sheet of page with a crisp white blanket of snow outside. I’ve been waiting for snow. It has been so long since we’ve had any here on the Cutoff. Downy snowflakes have been falling as I’ve critiqued a bit of writing for a friend, wrote up minutes for recording secretary duties, checked the availability of a few books in our interlibrary loan system, started a pot of chicken soup, and played around in cyberspace.

I found something, whilst playing, that I think you will enjoy. I promise, I will move on to something other than Tasha Tudor soon, but, so many of you had interest in her that I thought I should at least provide the link to the Tasha and Tudor and Family website, which is just a click away here. There is some Tudor history at the site, newsy information in grandson Winslow Tudor’s newsletter, receipts (old term for recipes), an online store with all sorts of wonderful items to buy, and, well, somewhere to go and while away an hour or two.

On my way to the website, I called upon Mr. Google to see if there was a video of Tasha Tudor. I do have two tapes (yes, tapes) that I purchased eons ago. They are now available on  DVD at the website. One is about her garden and home, aptly named Corgi Cottage, the other was filmed at Christmas, including roasting a turkey in a tin kitchen. I was hoping to find a clip of one of these to share.

Instead, I found this beautiful video that kept me entranced, as most things Tasha Tudor do, for a few moments in time. I thought you might enjoy it as well.

Some background information is needed. While Tasha Tudor is known and loved in the States, especially in New England, she is revered by many in Japan, whose citizens would often travel to hear Tasha speak or visit her garden. There are books about Tasha Tudor in Japanese; some are translations and others are written, photographed and published in Japan.

I always find it enlightening to see things as I know them through the eyes of others. This video does just that! It is in Japanese, but one doesn’t need language to enjoy it. I invite you to view it at your leisure, perhaps with a cup of something warm, or cold for my friends down under. You won’t need any music as it is beautifully orchestrated in the video. Whatever subtitles there are in the piece are in Japanese as you will hear Tasha speaking in English. I was elated to find this via the internet and my heartfelt appreciation goes out to its producers. Please, dear reader, enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zU-15to8d4

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Did you know that the names Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street were rumored to be plucked from the iconic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Do you remember Bert and Ernie, the policeman and the taxi driver of fictional Bedford Falls? Do you know the famous Muppets, Bert and Ernie? I adore both sets of buddies; partners in adventures and friendship and it really matters not if one set inspired the other. They make me grin and feel good and are a reminder of friends sticking together, no matter what, like setting up a honeymoon for George and Mary or involving a rubber ducky on Sesame Street.

The Sesame Street Bert came to mind yesterday as I headed home from the library, listening to our local public radio station, WBEZ, where a discussion aired on Rick Kogan’s program about a news segment exposing the deportation of some seventy (70) pigeons from a Chicago neighborhood. In short, a Chicago alderman had arranged for an Indiana farmer to net and remove pigeons from his ward, stirring up questions of whether or not this was legal, what would happen to the pigeons, who paid for the pigeon transport, the crossing state lines, etc.

Pigeons can be problematic. If one lives or works or visits Chicago, or any metropolis, he or she is a target for random pigeon poop; a plop on the shoulder or, horrors, one’s hair, is a risk one takes walking in the Big City. A short sit upon a park bench is enough to attract a flash mob of  pigeons, cooing in unison, bobbing about for morsels of bread, popcorn, or whatever crumbs may congregate in a coat pocket or purse corner. There are even monetary fines in some places for feeding pigeons on street corners, by golly by gee, but a posse herding pigeons like a Wild West show seems a bit drastic from my dove cote here on the Cutoff.

The radio segment finished as I tossed my mail into the drive-up box. As I headed home,  I found myself humming “Doin’ the Pigeon”, thinking about Bert and Ernie, and Bert and Ernie, how pigeons stick together, and of how, when our girls were little, Jennifer, Katy and I would bob our heads and pump our knees and dance around the living room, doing the Pigeon.

C’mon, folks. How about clicking on the video above, sit through the pigeon clip, and do the Pigeon with Bert. C’mon. You can do it!

Bert and Ernie, from It's a Wonderful Life. Image courtesy of Wikepedia

Bert and Ernie, from It’s a Wonderful Life. Image courtesy of Wikepedia

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I had not read any of Shirley Jackson’s work since American Literature class in my sophomore year of high school. I loved the class, the students, the teacher. He was hard but fair and introduced us to America’s poets and playwrights and novelists. I never quite forgave him, however, for Shirley Jackson’s famous short story, “The Lottery”.

I finished most of my homework where homework was always done at our house – at the kitchen table. The October night was cold; a good evening for curling up with a good read before bed.. The assigned short story wasn’t long with enough dialogue that I felt comfortable waiting to read it last. I knew I would need to take notes and remember who the main characters were. Our teacher often gave “pop” quizzes that left no stone unturned.

I snuggled in and started the story, which moved along pleasantly enough about ritual on a warm summer day in a contemporary New England village. Have you read “The Lottery”? You can read it here. I won’t tell you ending in case you are interested, but, I will tell you that I could never forget how it stunned me – and kept me awake long into the night. It stayed with me all these decades.

After all these years, I thought it time to give Ms Jackson another try, so I checked out “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” on audio along with “Winter Garden” to keep me company on my recent trip up to Minnesota. The last week of October, I finally put the CD’s of Jackson’s book into my car player. I finally forgave my American Lit teacher for “The Lottery” as this odd tale told by Merricat Blackwood with her suspicious ways played out along with Uncle Julian’s recollection of the arsenic murders of family members and niece Constance’s trial and acquittal. There is, then, Merricat, a pet name for Mary Katherine, and the things she buries or nails on trees with flights of fantasy and references to poisonous mushrooms – and the endless taunting of the townspeople. It was an engaging book with an underlying evil heard as I drove past old Victorian houses in town, approaching All Hallow’s Eve.

Pulling into our long drive after returning the audio to the library, I stopped at our mailbox where the usual bills, political fliers, holiday catalogues and such tumbled out. There, among the mail, was a large white envelope from the UK. Inside was the Persephone Biannually. Their characteristic bookmark popped out, a few other things, with the catalogue announcing that their 100th book is “The Persephone Book of Short Stories”.

I set the catalogue down in a safe spot while I started our supper and did those sorts of things one does come late afternoon. I made myself a cup of tea and settled into the rich pages of the Biannually. Therein, on page 22 of the 28 page treasure, in bright red letters, was ABOUT  ‘THE LOTTERY’ . “The Lottery” is one of the thirty short stories that were chosen for “The Persephone Book of Short Stories”.  ABOUT ‘THE LOTTERY‘  is “Shirley Jackson’s “account of the reactions” to the first printing of her story in June of 1948 in The New Yorker magazine. From her own mother to a colleague on the magazine, the reaction was harsh, especially so by the postmaster of the small Vermont town where she lived, who refused to speak to Ms Jackson!

Funny, isn’t it, how these things pop into our lives, as if waiting for the right month, the right week, just the right moment to appear?

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