While Sipping Latte

I stopped at the Steam Coffee Co. while on my way home from an early morning appointment. I ordered a carry out coffee for Tom and a cinnamon honey (or is it honey cinnamon?) latte for me. A warm treat on a cold morning. Just what we needed, or so we said, on this day – the last of 2020.

I liberally toasted an English muffin with some Lincoln-berry jam. Lincoln-berry was the name for lingonberry jam that our grandson Ezra used when he was just a tot.

Once home again, with the mid-morning sun dancing through the windows, I slid my latte carefully into a bright red mug and settled my muffin onto an accommodating plate. I then gathered a penny-sized pile of books and set them on the hopeful side of the table in the dining room.. There I sat and sipped and pondered what book on the pile I should read next.

You may already know that I have more Christmas/holiday/seasonal books than a woman my age should have. Many of them are children’s literature. Of course, some of you (and I think I know who you are) have equally substantial literary piles and a kindred spirits, but I digress. The pile beside me was just what I carry up a half flight of stairs. They seem to march out of their hiding spots come early December, about the same time the Christmas tree goes up, the baking commences and our home takes on a festive air – even in a pandemic.

So, my friends, I sat and sipped and nibbled, devoured if truth be told, soaking up the sunshine as I read, once again, “One Christmas” by Truman Capote. It is the story of Capote’s touching, insightful childhood reminiscence of a Christmas with his father, who he barely knows. Have you read it? You should. It’s really only as long as an English muffin and a mug of latte.

Not quite ready to give up my pleasurable pause, I picked up “Journey into Christmas and Other Stories” by Bess Streeter Aldrich. This is a gentle volume containing snippets of life in another era. They remind me of simple gifts awaiting us when we are open to receive them, unexpected joy and of what is really important. Some the stories have happy endings, others inspirational even in their sadness.

Both books reminded me of how much I appreciate short stories.

What have you been reading in these last days of December, 2020?

I am still struggling with the new formatting of Word Press. This isn’t as well crafted as I would like and I can only hope that the photo I attempted to attach will appear. Still, I am determined to post one last time as we say BEGONE to 2020. Here’s to better times ahead in 2021 and wishes for good health for all ahead. Penny



I turned down the cutoff, savoring the awe that I feel from what I’ve come to call a “hawking”. This past year, perhaps a bit longer, I have experienced the majestic visitations of hawks soaring overhead as I’ve wandered to and fro. On this particularly brilliant Fall day, a hawk did more than soar overhead. He dipped down, close, past my windshield, so close I could see his eyes, the feathers of his wings. It was as if he was warning me of something ahead. In an instant he was gone.

I turned down my road. It is a winding pathway that houses both commerce and the feel of countryside. It traverses two major expressways, is home to equestrian stables, and houses modern “mcmansions” alongside 100+ year homes.

As I wended my way home, the hawk on my mind, there, in the outgoing lane. was a kingly creature. I could not get my phone out fast enough and something told me to just sit in the moment.

He was amazing, staring my way, me staring back, hoping no other cars were approaching. I slowly opened the window, neither of us looking away, his large, liquid eyes staring into mine. He bent his rack forward and down, quite the gentleman, as if to say “ma’am“and then – it was over. I could hear his hooves on the pavement, he had business to tend to, as did I.

A Readable Snack

If you are a long time visitor to Life On the Cutoff, you know my love of books and food and history. If you are a new visitor to the Cutoff, welcome. Please know that among the many types of books I read, children’s literature is often in the mix. If I can get kiddie lit and food all on the same plate – er page, I am a happy camper. As I write this, I AM a happy camper.

When Ignacio Anaya’s parents died, he went to live with a foster mother. Known as Nacho, it was in his foster mother’s kitchen that he ate, observed and learned to cook. Nacho grew up, worked in restaurants taking any job offered and became known for his amicable ways with customers. Eventually, Nacho started working in a restaurant of some renown. The Victory Club, in Piedras Negras, was across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas.

One afternoon, alone in the Victory Club and not yet a chef, Nacho is asked to make something to eat by a group of women, regulars, who come in during a slow time of day. Nacho’s ability to rise to the occasion and use what is at hand kick in and the nacho is invented!

This engaging book is for young readers – and young readers at heart. It will tickle one’s tastebuds as the story of how Nacho developed the snack that so many of us enjoy. The amount and quality of research done by author Sandra Nickel is impressive, and Oliver Dominguez’s illustrations are amazing, setting the joyful mood of this book – and there is even a recipe and additional supporting information at the end.

Upon reading L. Marie’s delightful interview with Sandra Nickel, I ordered a copy, which promptly arrived, sat down with some nachos and enjoyed the company of Ignacio Anaya’s story. If you have not had the pleasure of reading any of L. Marie’s blog posts, I encourage you to click on the link below. I think you will enjoy her engaging interview with Sandra Nickel, and her other posts as well. If you are looking for a fun and informative book for a child as the holidays approach, I believe you will find one in Nacho’s story.



Recently, I came across a crate of olives similar to the one in this photo. It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here and I thought I would do a post on my childhood memory of Greek olives only to discover I’d already done one. So, dear friends, I am re-blogging this and hope it awakens a memory or two of your own.

Lifeonthecutoff's Blog

The moment I saw them in the produce department I knew exactly what they were! I rushed over, my grocery cart making an abrupt left. My squeal of delight must have sounded like a siren as other shoppers pulled over and let me pass causing a gapers’ block in between the peaches and plums!


If you live in a Mediterranean climate, you likely see fresh olives in season. If you live in the midwest, you probably have never seen them. Olive trees do not grow in our erratic climate with our harsh, cold winters, long, dry spells, temperature fluctuations, etc. I knew what this box was because once, just once that I can recall, they sat on the small counter of our kitchen.

My cart – and I – came to a screeching halt. I reached into the box and felt the olives, still hard, rolling them around and through…

View original post 627 more words

Reading in the time of Corona

IMG_7523With words to devour, pages to turn, people and places and ideas in literature to fill the chasm of time between the onset of the COVID19 and the end of August,  I confess that I have not read much during these many months of pandemic. Unsustained concentration and lack of focus found me in  literary limbo.

It was “out of the mouth of babes” that I was rescued from my malaise.

I mentioned a movie I had recently viewed, Wonder, in a Skype visit with our granddaughter. Kezzie exclaimed “Yia Yia, I told you to read the book!”. I pulled out my list of her recommendations and there it was, with the author and my notes of Kezzie’s synopsis of the book. A delightful conversation ensued and I promptly ordered a copy of the book online after we ended our virtual visit. I read it, post-haste, when it arrived and would like to recommend it to you.  Being different, bullied, feeling different when you look “normal” and your sibling doesn’t, how children (and adults) react to differences and the burdens of life that they may carry. Read it! The author of Wonder is P.J. Palacio. It is part of a series I hope to continue.



Reading Wonder reminded me that children’s literature has always been a place of refuge for me. In these troubling times it just might be what I needed to read. I perused the piles of accumulated books that threaten our floorboards and two such books from a long past trip to a thrift shop arose and begged to be read.

Thimble Summer, with its beautiful cover and Newberry Medal emblem, was a delightful read. I did judge this book by its cover – and judged it well. I remembered another book by the author that I read as a child, The Saturdays, which I loved and read over and over again. Thimble Summer is about a young girl, Garnet, who finds a silver thimble that she believes is magic as wonderful things begin to happen in a time of drought and uncertainly in her Wisconsin farm that summer. Elizabeth Enright is the author.

Hero Over Here  is a mere 54 pages, plucked from the shelves at the same thrift store as Thimble Summer. On that same pre2020 outing, it was another cover that appealed to me, a book about the home front during World War I, and copyrighted in 1990.  The book is dedicated by the author, Kathleen V. Kudlinski – “To my grandmothers, Lillian Veenis and Helen Bowen, Both of whom remembered the flu for me.”  Suddenly, this summer, this little book called out to me. I read it in one sitting. Theodore’s father and older brother are “over there”, fighting WWI. His mother, then his sister are suddenly stricken with the flu epidemic of 1918. Theodore must care for them, he becomes a hero, and he learns life lessons in that horrific time.

What would you do if you learned the date and code name of a massive invasion during World War II?  Emma, is the daughter of a Dutch diplomat, Oscar.  Emma and her husband Carl are at a chance meeting for lunch with Oscar in Geneva. When Carl, a German who works at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, steps away from the table for a few minutes, Emma whispers the coded information in her father’s ear. Carl has confided to Emma that there will be an invasion of Russia by German forces. It is called Operation Barbarossa and will commence on June 22.  Oscar knows there are gestapo in the restaurant. He knows he is being watched. He knows that if he reveals this information, Emma and Carl will be arrested. Oscar’s wife, Kate, works as a nurse in London, aiding injured military. Oscar and Kate are married, live in separate apartments and rarely see each other. Oscar unexpectedly arrives in Kate’s apartment and reveals Emma’s secret. They have differing views of whether or not Oscar should share the information, knowing Emma’s complicity, but knowing they may save thousands of lives. They question if anyone will even believe Oscar.  News from Berlin is by Otto De Kat, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke.

HatsSome Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler is the captivating memoir of Trudi Kanter, a well respected milliner in pre-WWII Vienna. As the Nazis march into Austria, Trudi realized that she must find a way to get her husband Walter and her parents out of Austria. Walter stubbornly sees no reason for leaving. After all, they are respectable, prosperous and he is not worried about what might happen. Trudi, however, sees the warning signs and knows that they will soon be in dire danger as Jews. Her guile, ingenuity, and determination, as well as her well earned reputation as a talented creator of woman’s hats, are implemented as she sets a plan in motion to save her family and others from the pending horror. A buying trip to Paris, business connections, her line of credit, and her charm are brought into play in this sometimes charming, often harrowing book  that is hard to put down.   This memoir was a self-published in the 1980’s, rediscovered by a graduate student in Cambridge, England. It was eventually reprinted in 2012. It was recommended to me by Centuries and Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park. I was inspired by Trudi’s story, her tenacity and courage and I am appreciative of this recommendation from the unique and amazing independent bookstore  Centuries and Sleuths is.

What have you read lately? Have you had trouble concentrating on books during this time, or read more than you regularly do?






The Eighth Candle


“From truth I light the candle of friendship”.

I found this faded index card while looking for something else in my nightstand drawer. I do not remember why I put this card in the drawer. It should be with a box of high school memories of more than 50 years ago.  I do remember first reading it at a Candle Lighting Ceremony for the Quill and Scroll Society.

Quill and Scroll is an honorary society for high school students, nominated, if memory serves me, by a teacher/advisor to school newspapers, yearbooks, or other publications. The ceremony was an induction into the society. Each candle symbolized a journalistic ideal to aspire to and was read by a student. The candle lit before mine would have been for truth. There were ten candles. Mine was the 8th candle.  Friendship. Someone typed the words and wrote my name on the card. 

Finding this card brought back memories and the idealism of my youth, which seem more poignant in the midst of these times we are in. I wonder and worry over the younger generation. How are they coping – really coping – with the uncertain time we are currently in, the new norms in higher education, in learning, and in becoming the citizens we hope they will be?

I know I tend to be a of a Pollyanna. I won’t apologize for that. I do have faith in our youth and I have hope for them and for the future – and I have hope for you, too. 

The reverse side of the card.


I’ve rambled without a clear end to this post, which was tricky to compose as WordPress is doing their happy engineering “stuff” these days.  I hope you are all well and wonder if you, too have found a piece of your past recently. 

Tea:front porchI was having a cup of tea, late afternoon in that in between time after lunch and before starting our supper. With a few grapes to tide me over, I settled on the front porch, a worksheet and my journal in hand with the best of intentions to to wisely use my time.

The air was still. The chirping of birds and the sawing sound of cicadas were background noise as I worked my way through some readings for a woman’s study I was participating in via Zoom. Zoom and Skype and other online tools are being employed by many of us, perhaps you, during these times of social distancing in 2020.

As I attempted to stay on task, I felt a presence. It was in that instant when all alone you suddenly sense you are being watched. I slowly turned my head and there, about 12 feet from my perch on the front porch, a doe and her twin fawns were staring at me. I nodded and she dipped her head as if to acknowledge my existence, then, with the grace of her heritage, she strode down the driveway as if she had better places to be, making sure her children were following her.

I took a few sips from my teacup, then heard a humming sound. I looked up and there, just past the tip of my nose, was a hummingbird, hovering quite close, trying, I suppose, to see what was in my cup. As quickly as she appeared, she zoomed over to sip from the fuschia hanging nearby and, I kid you not, just then a chipmunk ran over my foot!

These sweet, small, seemingly insignificant moments are treasures to me. They soothe my soul and are a like a handrail to grasp when it feels like I’m falling. They center me, especially in this pandemic.

We are well and keep busy, the Antler man and me. We miss our Up North family, but are thankful for texting and Skyping and staying in touch. We are thankful as well for summer which affords us the ability to be able to have our Jennifer and Jason here for occasional  “socially distanced” meals and chats. While we miss Sunday services and activities at our church, we can and do live-stream and keep connected, and there are so many other ways and the means to carry on through these days.

So it was this afternoon, once again on the aging front porch, that I watched a pair of Monarchs waltzing around the milkweed to music only they could hear and I made myself a promise that I would try my hardest to return to blogging – and to ask how you all have been.



What I Learned From My Mother


I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
Julia Kasdorf

Dust Motes




On an early, April day, sitting in the den, I watched the sun dancing with the dust motes, brushing the desk, the door and the wall as it made its way to sunset. I was hunkered down amid the shelves that groan under the weight of books that comfort, inspire, frighten, motivate and entertain me, recalling the months Tom took designing then making them for my biblio-obsession.

As I sat, nestled in the well-worn easy chair – does anyone else use that term anymore? – I watched the journey of the sunlight until it landed on the small, shelved mirror on the wall. The mirror has a small drawer-like shelf that seemed to be crafted just for me to put things, which I have done over the course time.

One of the items slipped into mirror’s shelf is the remains of a chrysalis, found a few years ago when I happened upon a cocoon hidden in the long grasses of our little prairie. After monitoring the little miracle (my neighbors must think me a tad “off”) I missed the emergence. I took the long stem and remains indoors and settled it into the small shelf drawer . You can find that story here.

So it was that the sun kissed the remnants of what was and what would be.  I sighed, grateful for the reminder that out of uncertainty and chaos we can find hope.

There will be no palms this Sunday. No gatherings in churches, temples and other houses of worship. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu – our collective tents have their doors shuttered for the time being. They will open again, someday in the future. Until then, we must take care to not shutter our hearts.  It may be a long wait, but, it will happen. Until then, let us open up our hearts to love, to hope, to peace.

Last Prayer on the Page


Small Wonder

Something new is upon us,
and yet nothing is ever new.

We are alive in a fearsome time,
and we have been given new things to fear.

We’ve been delivered huge blows but also
huge opportunities to reinforce or reinvent our will,
depending on where we look for honor
and how we name our enemies.

The easiest thing is to think of returning the blows.
But there are other things we must think about as well,
other dangers we face.

A careless way of sauntering across the earth
and breaking open its treasures,
a terrible dependency on sucking out the world’s
best juices for ourselves—these may also be our enemies.

Barbara Kingsolver

I read Barbara Kingsolver’s poem late last night, just as March turned to April. It touched me then and I hope it touches you in some way now. This was the last entry for March in a little book I often turn at day’s end. Prayers for Hard Times by Becca Anderson.

Rabbit! Rabbit! – and blessings to you all.


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