Pothole maneuvering at 35 mph is the sport du jour for those of us in northern climes come March, aka mud season, and one needs to have the skill of a pinball wizard to navigate the gaping holes and chasms that are the result of winter’s snow and ice, freezes and thaws.

Just the other day, leaving my little kingdom here on the Cutoff, I noticed a new crack in the pavement as I drove down the road. This morning, the crack was crevice widening, as if right before my wizened eyes. In between precipitation and politics, the news, it seems, is all about the sad state of our streets. The City of Chicago even has a website where one can track where the worst holes are, report them, avoid them, monitor their repair. Hub caps litter curbsides and repair shops are busy with car alignments and tire repairs and all manner of ER auto triage.

Then, there is the muck and the mud. More than two feet of snow that has been resting atop sheets of ice for three months have been melting. With the melt comes the mud. Oozing, gooey, slimy mud; a madcap milieu for the likes of someone as vertically challenged as I.

Late Tuesday afternoon, slithering out to the compost pile, where the deer had taken up their winter encampment, I nearly had a mud bath. There I was, a bowl of carrot scrapings, potato peels and onion skins gripped in my hot little hands, when a splotch of muck rose up to greet me. I slipped and slid and skated across the raw terrain, somehow managing to remain erect. Good thing I had my fire engine red boots on, or there I would have been, Penelope Pitstop, splayed in the season’s sand.

The deer, of course, were watching attentively in the underbrush.

Image source here.


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.

A Little Patch of Hope

DSCN4203I am NOT going to fret about the six new inches of snow that fell  early yesterday morning.


No, I will dwell, instead, on its sparkling beauty as it glistened in the March sun,


and I will revel in the little patch of hope I found before the snow and wind and cold came tapping on our windows.



A poet could write volumes about diners, because they’re so beautiful. They’re brightly lit, with chrome and booths and Naugahyde and great waitresses. Now, it might not be so great in the health department, but I think diner food is really worth experiencing periodically.  David Lynch


Denver omelets and grilled cheese sandwiches. Swiss steak with mashed potatoes and gravy. Being recognized by name with “Hi, Hon. Howyadoin’ today?” by the waitress as she pours your coffee into a thick, white mug. The cook, his papered head showing over the half wall of the grill, starts your order as soon as he hears you say it, the stub from the waitress just a reminder of whether to add Swiss or cheddar at the end.

With all our fancy, four starred, gourmet restaurants – gastronomical emporiums that I certainly have enjoyed – I think it is the homespun diner that I love the best, especially during a cold, white winter such as 2014 has been. Our favorite diner is Cafe Calbay, just around the corner from the “main drag”, across the street from the train station, a block from the post office, and on the way to anywhere I need to be.

How about you? Is there a diner, cafe, local restaurant where someone knows you name is Hon, Sweetie, of Dear?

A Cat's Life Dulcy's Story by Dee ReadyWhen I introduced you to my two left feet last month, I had every intention of spending some time showing you some books that fellow bloggers have written. This is still my intention, but, good intentions sometimes go astray. Eventually, I show you some very good and varied reads, or, at least, tell you about them; just as soon as life quits getting in the way.

I do, however, want to talk to you about a cat, named Dulcy, and how she came to train and then love her human, Dee.

Do you know Dee Ready? She writes an insightful blog, filled with personal memoirs about her early life and childhood, her years in the convent and as a nun, her teaching and activism, and her gently peaceful approach to life. Coming Home to Myself is posted every week or so, depending on what is happening in Dee’s life. It is always inspiring and thought-provoking reading.

It is from reading Dee’s blog that I came to know of her published writing, particularly of her book, “A Cat’s Life: Dulcy’s Story”.  Quite some time ago (was it over a year now?), I acquired Dulcy’s Story. As often happens to books and plans, the book proceeded to sit in a pile, waiting, patiently, for me to turn its pages. Finally, I did. These long, hard winters open up opportunities, don’t they; especially for reading books?

This compact book is a tome of wisdom and feline love, its ninety pages filled with vignettes, told through Dulcy’s voice. We learn how Dulcy come to be with Dee, how they learn to live together, and how Dulcy trains her very nice human in the ways of a cat. We wander with Dulcy as she explores the outside world and tremble with her at the vet. We mourn losses with her and understand jealousy when other cat’s enter Dulcy’s world.

What we really learn in “A Cat’s Life . . .” is about unconditional love.

This little gem is filled with nostalgic illustrations by Judy J. King, whose renditions of Dulcy remind me of our first cat, Zoe. Zoe, who was a wedding gift from a friend, was a calico cat, who graced our lives almost as long as the 17 years that Dulcy graced Dee’s. I imagine them together, kinfolk in a heavenly kingdom of cats.

Thank you, Dee, for this peacefully gifted story.

The back cover of your book says it all. “At the end, all that matters is love . . . “


DSCN4155I almost missed it the first time. It was an afternoon not too long after Tom’s eye surgery. I was driving, slowly, as one must when taking in the scenery at the Morton Arboretum. My giant pirate was clicking photos from the passenger window, the snow covered wonderland posing with crested limbs and scarves of white.

I stopped, then backed up, slowly.

“What is that?” 

An apparition, it seemed, materializing,  right then and there, in the snow and shadows, just for us.


Two months later, with several more feet of snow accumulated, we once again crept through this winter wonderland, my pirate without his patch at the helm of our polar arc, me positioned like a passenger pigeon with a camera, when I barely saw it.

Wait, Tom. Stop! Back up, slowly, slower . . . ” and out of the car I bounded like a winter hare.

It is amazing, is it not, where one can find strength just when one needs it?


There, under the strong limbs of a mighty oak tree, my Antler Man and I  found strength, hiding under a very strong and well positioned bench.


Do, please click on the photos to get a better view.

Addition to post: below is a picture of the Strength bench up close, which I hope to sit on one fine WARM day. The letters are metal, the seat I believe is oak. 





I May Go Out Tomorrow

MailAttachmentIn honor of my long suffering black wool winter coat with a crone’s hood, and in deference to the brittle cold still with us, here’s a little fun from the Cutoff. “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear”, which at least one of my children thought I made up. Could it have have been my unique singing voice, or embarrassingly silly antics?

Written by Randy Newman, it has been performed by many, including the Muppets. I give you three versions. Take your pick of renditions, turn up the volume, ignore the commercials, and smile.

Do you have a favorite old coat or sweater or hat? How about a dancing bear?

Women Making Strides

Be a Leader in Your Own Life

Raising Milk and Honey

The Farm at Middlemay

The Cottonwood Tree

Beautiful Things Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder

cakes, tea and dreams

savoring the beauty in the everyday

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old fashioned girls living in a modern world

Romancing the Bee

Beautiful Beekeeping, English Cottage Gardening, and Cooking with Honey

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Letter From Britain

Bringing you voices from this blessed plot


A site for readers and writers

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Analysis and reflection from someone endlessly fascinated with Louisa May Alcott. Member/supporter of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (including the Alcott International Circle) and the Louisa May Alcott Society.


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A thousand thousand stories

Blogging from the Bog

musings from and about our cottage in the West of Ireland


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