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After the misty morning fogs, the recent rains, and the August heat, the weeds have been advancing aggressively  into the flower beds, chasing me around the garden like a snake slinking in search of supper.  My nails are split and my ankles are ringed in mosquito bites. A sense of accomplishment reigns, however, each time I bring order to the jungle of overgrowth here.

I found refuge in the tall  grasses, camouflaged.  Can you find me hiding? I top 5’3″. These tall grasses, divisions from my friend Jan, are twice as tall as me – and they have not as yet showed their plumes!

It has been a most pleasant summer here on the  Cutoff.  We have had more nights than not with the windows opened., breezes wafting in; the tree toads and crickets crooning and strumming in late night chorus along with it.  The daisies have been resplendent, showing off from before the Fourth of DSCN5409July, just now starting to fade. The Echinacea and Rudbeckia have been proudly wearing their seasonal crowns of glory and the finch are finding their seeds; a sign of summer’s long farewell at hand.

Just a few feet away from the grasses, Joe Pye Weed,  divisions from the Wilder herb garden last year, have been prolific, with a host of flitting and buzzing visitors enjoying their sweet, sweet nectar.

I am encouraged by the emergence of more bees this summer, and the return of monarchs. While their numbers are low, there is marked resurgence in our winged friends, and I choose to take hope from their presence, especially since I only saw one Monarch on our property last summer.  I was not quick enough, nor was my camera, at capturing the Monarchs on the Joe Pye Weed, but, did catch in the lens a few other butterflies, just before I posed again for Sports Illustrated. DSCN5484

 

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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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One of the funniest, and saddest, family scenes is from a movie I adore, Avalon, which premiered in 1990.

Avalon opens with Sam Krichinsky, a Polish-Jewish immigrant,  recalling the sights and sounds as he first walked on American soil, on what seems to be the Fourth of July. To Sam it was as if all the lights of the city had turned on for him alone, with sounds of firecrackers exclaiming his presence, the future before him in the promised land.  Can you imagine such a welcome?

I came to America in 1914 – by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat. And then I came to Baltimore. It was the most beautiful place you ever seen in your life. There were lights everywhere! What lights they had! It was a celebration of lights! I thought they were for me, Sam, who was in America. Sam was in America! I didn’t know what holiday it was, but there were lights. And I walked under them. The sky exploded, people cheered, there were fireworks! What a welcome it was, what a welcome!  Sam Krichinsky, Opening of Avalon

We follow the Krichinsky family through their years in Avalon, with Sam and his older brother Gabriel, Sam’s son Jules, the cousins, wives who are not of their family heritage, the younger generation changing their surnames to sound more “American“.

Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar? Sam upon hearing son Jules’ choice of names.

We watch the family change and grow, become educated, pay for and sponsor other family members on their journey to the USA, and as the family prospers, changes come, including members of the family moving from Avalon to the suburbs, where the television replaces conversation around the table and relatives no longer live together.

It is the scene of carving the turkey before Gabriel and his wife arrive that is one of the more poignant ones in the movie. The long chain of tables from one room to the next so that everyone can sit. The children’s table. The chatter and comments – and the one relative who is always late for family meals. I can identify with this. Can you?

In this scene, for the first time, in a new home in the suburbs, the turkey is carved before Gabriel arrives. Gabriel is furious and vows to never come for Thanksgiving again. Of course, it is more than the turkey that has him so angry; it is the changes in his life, his culture, his family – and all that progress can bring, both the good and the bad.

I’m sure many of us have had, or still do have, a Gabriel in their family. Do you? Have you seen this movie?


 

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swLet’s lighten things up a bit here on the Cutoff, and celebrate a birthday. Mickey Mouse made his official screen debut in  Disney’s “Steamboat Willie” on this day in 1928. As a child growing up in the ’50s, I watched Mickey Mouse cartoons and was a dedicated member of the Mickey Mouse Club (MIC, see you real soon, KEY, why? because we like you, MOUSE). Were you?

From today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1928 that Mickey Mouse was born when the first sound-synchronized cartoon to attract widespread public notice, Walt Disney’s “Steamboat Willie,” premiered in New York at the Colony Theater. The black and white cartoon featured Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Pegleg Pete and lasted seven minutes. With Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey, the cartoon met with great success.

From YouTube: (I hope I hold up this well after 85 years.)

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We call it Veteran’s Day, though our elders, who were children during World War I, may still call it Armistice Day. You might call it Remembrance Day. Whatever the name, these are moments, brief moments in time, set aside to remember and honor those who have fallen in war.

Have you seen Masterpiece Theater’s My Boy Jack? It was aired here in the States on public television a few years ago. It is the story of Rudyard Kipling, and his boy, Jack, who went off to war, and never came home. This is the final scene with a poem so haunting. So poignant. So memorable on this day of remembrance.

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Sir Thomas of the Cutoff wandered out in the sweltering heat mid-afternoon to claim our territory on the village green. A fortress of folding chairs and packing cloth covered a coveted spot for the evening’s free concert, the last of the season. St. Penelope of the Prairie met him with a few more chairs, held in abeyance in my world-famous mocha VW with the latte interior.  Satisfied that our musical homestead was secure, we headed home to change, make sandwiches, fill coolers, and motor back over, all-the-while ignoring the darkening skies, threatening clouds, and dire warnings from the weather service.

It might pass over.

Look. Over there. A banquet table set up for 20. To the left, picnic baskets, like lovely maids awaiting. Up front. Children playing in the splash fountain. This is, after all, the midwest, where weather can change faster than a New York minute. Shelter was but a few yards away. We would wait it out. We decided,  just in case, to go ahead and eat our sandwiches,. It’s easier to scurry on a full stomach, is it not?

The oppressive temperatures, hovering perilously close to three digits in the  hour we just passed, dropped about 15 degrees.  The clouds were grey and black and rusty, clinging to the tallest spires. Then, a raindrop. No problem. What is a raindrop when you are poised to hear a band perform all things ABBA? A raindrop is nothing, but, the wind picked up and tossed about Sir Thomas’ sandwich, half of it landing on the carpet of grass (which, no doubt, had been fertilized to the legal extent of the law) and the array of fresh vegetables Saint Penelope had masterfully assembled in bubble gum pink Tupperware blew off the cooler, scattering carrots and snap peas, cherry tomatoes and homemade bread and butter pickles all about. There we were, our Waterloo, securing provisions and scurrying for shelter.

We hobbled between huge raindrops to the lobby of the parking garage, where we walked smack dab into friends who were meeting us. Their first time at this free outdoor concert series was not the best introduction, for sure, but, we greeted one another and were then greeted by three ladies. “Hey. You’re our ‘friends’ from the Neil Diamond concert.” How they remembered us is beyond me, but, remember us they did. We chatted like long lost relatives, still certain the weather would pass,.  Sir Thomas , forever in blue jeans. magnanimously  passed out our bag of cookies to the gaggle of new-found friends.

Tom, Bonnie and Larry climbed up the inert escalator to see if they could claim a spot to weather the storm, while our three newfound friends and I exchanged names we knew no one would remember the next day. Most Midwesterners are friendly. These three women were prime examples.

I decided to climb up the non-moving stairs to find my party. I was about halfway to heaven when an employee of the shopping center said “‘ ‘scuse me, miss, but, my boss says I hafta turn the escalators back on. Can you come back down?” . So, down I stepped while he executed his job, wondering why I couldn’t have merely gone the rest of the way up.  Suddenly, the steps were animated. “Can I step on?”. I could. “Can I wave like Mary Tyler Moore in the Twin Cities at the beginning of her show?”.  I could (though I’m sure he had no idea what I was talking about).  So, I did, feeling that this old gal, with ten sheets of  wadded paper towels from the ladies’ room in hand, armed and ready to wipe down chairs, might actually,make it, after all.  All thirty of so concert goers below waved right back . . . and I wonder why people always seem to remember me?

As I tripped off the moving staircase and rounded the corner, where Sir Thomas and friends were stationed, two acquaintances emerged from the parking garage. Surprised looks of recognition abounded and they joined us in our impromptu gathered. We sat and talked and nibbled and watched the electric display of lightning from our aerie. Security came by, smiling, as did management. Folks came in and out of the doors. As the night wore on, we became the unofficial Abba-dabba-doers, greeting Friday night shoppers and bearing news, in the end, that the concert was cancelled.

Mama mia!

Well, these things happen, don’t they? What is one to do but to make the most of it.

I was one of the seemingly few not impressed by the movie Mama Mia!  Fun, maybe, but the actors, especially the men, were more off key than I usually am. Maybe that was what it was all about. Bad singing but having fun.  I am one of those movie goers who stays for the credits. However else does one discover the Nate Berkus was a producer of The Help, or that it was Rob Reiner’s mother, Estelle, who uttered the memorable line in When Harry Met Sally “I’ll have what she’s having”.  So, I watched the credits to Mama Mia!, and I had a good smile. These otherwise stellar actors really seemed to be having fun in the end, and that, like our rained out concert, is what makes life sweeter, in spite of the rain that may fall.

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When I was young, I wore eye liner and light pink lipstick; the trend of the times. As I grew older, I added foundation and moisturizer, eye shadow for a special event. These days, I rarely put anything near my eyes and I slather on more moisturizer than I used to. What little I use lasts me for a very long time, so, I don’t buy make-up very often at all. I buy my foundation and moisturizer at the same store, Nordstrom’s.

Lipstick; ah, lipstick. I never buy lipstick at the same store or in the same shade – and I always buy it on a cloudy day.

You see, I have a tainted past. I take great precautions to cover my lips, change my shade. Serpentine shopping is my operative mode, and identify modification. Don’t tell anyone, okay?

It all started about fourteen years ago on a breathtakingly beautiful fall day. A clear, colorful, feel good sort of day. I was adjusting to an empty nest, having just delivered our younger fledgling to college for the first time and our older fledging to her first apartment. I needed to be out-and-about, and I needed a gift, so, off I went to my favorite shopping center, Oakbrook. My first stop was the Museum Store of the Art Institute of Chicago. I wish it was still there, for all its gift buying treasures. I fear I may have driven them out of business that day.

I milled about, made a selection that would be perfect for a perfect friend. I completed my purchase and proceeded jauntily toward the door.

Bam! I felt like I was hit by a brick. I saw, really saw, stars. My eyes watered. Blood gushed from my nose. The clerks and another shopper gaped as I bounced backwards. From within, where I still stood, the sound of the thud still echoed.  From without,  passers-by stared amazed – or tried not to laugh. I understood. I painfully understood how it must have looked from their perspective.

I had walked smack dab into the plate-glass door. They do a good job of window washing at Oakbrook Center.

No one offered to help me. I finally, urgently, asked a clerk if I could please have some paper towels to staunch the blood. Mount St. Penelope was erupting. Reluctantly, she gave me some. I tidied myself up as best I could, shook off my humiliation, and walked, once again, to the door.

As I walked, a little slowly, my head pounding my heart’s beat, I was certain I would have a black eye by the time I arrived home.

Slowly I walked, and my humiliation grew, for on that once pristine glass door was the oily smudge of my forehead. The smear of blood from my nose, and then, spot on, the rest of my portrait , in luscious cherry blossom red – the perfect imprint of my lips.

Was that the worst? Oh no. I’m a veteran tried-and-true shopper. I kept on shopping. It was when I walked back, past the store,  that I saw my face , still on the door. That kiss of lipstick. I knew I was a marked woman with that  one last kiss. . .

. . . I wonder if that was why I was fingerprinted so many years later. Sigh. Our past always follows us, doesn’t it, or looks right at us!

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DSCN1538I actually saw a goose “goose” a goose. In broad daylight!

Ah, well; it’s May. That lusty month of May.

Birds are flitting about, warbling their songs, building their nests. Robins and wrens, sparrows and finch, even the mallards are making way for their ducklings.

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I’ve been busy doing spring cleaning in the garden, raking up leaves left on the flower beds from last Autumn, uncovering shoots that seem to burst forth with all the eagerness of a fourth grader once the weather warms and the sun shines. I also uncovered a frog – and a snake, who very rudely stuck his tongue out at me. Imagine that!

We hear there is a fox den under our neighbor’s shed. She counted five kits the other day. I take extra trips out to the compost pile in hopes of seeing them.

pinecones on the cutoff

There is new growth everywhere, from the emerging ferns to the dripping pine cones. Tiny scilla cast long shadows and crocus pop up from under decaying leaves.

Squill with shadows

It’s May! It’s May! The lusty month of May.

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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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