The One That Got Away


A short doctor’s visit (the visit, not the doctor), the visit routine, and a quick walk around the Center for Health (great way to get extra steps in, for I AM counting my steps these days). I had a few stops on my way back home and a text message  from my Tom asking if I’d like to meet for lunch at Cafe Calbay. Of course I would. Cafe Calbay is one of our favorite little diners with a 1950s feel; a wrap-around counter and vinyl seat charm.

I was about 20 minutes early, so, parked my aging mocha VW with a latte interior, and wandered over to the little consignment shop around the block. It is a very sweet little shop with vintage furniture, classic books, dishes and dolls and seasonal “stuff”.

As I opened the door, I caught a glimpse of red and white plaid (or was it checks?), but, couldn’t maneuver my way around two shop volunteers who were busy in conversation about grandchildren, what to wear to a tropical wedding and whether or not the table the two of them were dusting was shiny enough.

At long last, an opening, behind the chair, which was whispering “Penny, come check the price tag“. I did, and nearly swooned into a faint.


I sucked myself in and squeezed in a less-than-ladylike maneuver around the chair, ever-so-careful of the Christmas ornaments displayed on the attractive breakfront.  A wee little tear in the chair’s upholstery was the only flaw. Look left. Look right. Stand up. Sit down. Perfect!  This wing-back was beyond comfortable and the ottoman was just the right height.

I pulled out my cell phone and took a photo, for the chair was posed quite contentedly with the noonday sun warming its seat, then, I scurried out the door, for Tom was surely waiting in the cafe. I’d show him the photo and we would come back.

While visions of sugarplums danced in my head (for this was THE perfect chair to flank the fireplace) we ate our lunch.

Sated and satisfied, Mutt and Jeff walked back to the little shop, and I gasped, for their was one of the conversant volunteers, putting something on the back of MY chair, and there stood a man, not MY man but another’s, who had just purchased my checked sit-upon.

She who hesitates . . .


Taking the time

IMG_4649As the clock ticks towards our Thanksgiving Day meal, my thoughts wander from the turkey roasting in the oven, family soon to surround us, and the bustle of activity that comes with this annual November cooking frenzy. The reason for all this November cooking frenzy in the first place?


Taking the time to count one’s blessings and to be thankful.

We have had a rough year, for sure, but, we have also had more blessings than not, experienced grace, and been shown mercy. Our home is warm, our stomachs regularly filled. Loving family and friends are ever-present and we are sheltered from the winds and snow and cold. We are also mindful that not everyone is as a fortunate as we are.

I sit in a quiet moment of this Thanksgiving Day and I think of my ancestors, boat people all, who sailed across the Atlantic; some at the turn of the 20th century, others much earlier in time, and of those already here who opened their doors, fed them, housed them, found them jobs until they could find their own way in this vast land. I think as well of those my family in turn sheltered, tended their children as they worked, fell ill, buried husbands or wives, mothers and fathers. Each in turn, taken in, shown the way, keeping to customs and religious beliefs and slowly assimilating to others.

I sit here in my quiet moment and remember those Thanksgivings of change as loved ones passed away or moved distances afar, when money was tight and when it was plentiful. I think of the Thanksgiving when our world seemed to tilt in its axis when John Kennedy was assassinated.  We have broken bread on Thanksgiving with authors and musicians, students and immigrants; some at our table, some at the tables of family and friends.

One Thanksgiving our little, fledgling family hosted one guest. and I remember him this Thanksgiving. Gabrielle came from Croatia, by way of a Soviet gulag. Arrested and sentenced to years in a prison, his crime was distributing leaflets while a young man studying to be a priest. This kind man entertained our young daughters with stories of the kitten who befriended him during his darkest hours in jail; a kitten he shared his meager meal of bread with, and he shared his faith, which did not waver. It was a Thanksgiving so long ago now, but, still as fresh as the meal now roasting, for its poignant moments and Gabrielle’s joie de vivre.

I chuckle at the recollection of the frozen turkey that almost killed me, propelling toward my head at 35 mph and of the turkey whose giblets I left in the bird, only to find upon carving. There was the pumpkin pie I dropped trying to move it up a rack in the oven, shooting pumpkin custard all over the kitchen, including the ceiling and me and the youthful Thanksgiving when it was just my immediate family – a rarity growing up. My mother decided to roast a capon, whilst I worried how in the world she could cook, and worse yet, we all eat a bird with a cape on.

I sit here in my quiet moment, smelling the aromatic scents of our own roasting “bird” and can recall the flavors of my life along with the many faces across our table and other tables we have dined around. As I remember, I wonder and I hope that this simple gift of Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November will always be a day of Thanksgiving, no matter where our ancestors came from, and will be more  than a prelude to Black Friday, a paragraph in history.

My bird needs basting and some vegetables need to be diced, so, I best end this quiet moment of memories. Before I do, I need to say thank you, one and all, for visiting here on the Cutoff, reading my words, sharing your thoughts, taking the time to be here.


Going Undercover

IMG_4525A small but sturdy contingency of garden club women who don’t mind getting “down and dirty” ventured out on a blustery mid-week morn.

We met at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, which hugs the Lincoln Park Zoo and the magnificent Chicago lakefront. It was my first time there, and, as I often do, I wondered “why?”, especially as I wandered the enclosed butterfly haven. Butterflies, moths and birds flitted about and I found myself slowing down, changing my own rhythm.

IMG_4491 IMG_4478 IMG_4487


We continued to explore this innovative museum as classes of youngsters darted in and out, trying hard to stay in their Madeleine lines when tunnels and manipulatives and all sorts of wonders called to them, especially in the exhibit rooms which illustrate where waste goes. Children love this “stuff”. It is fun to see nature from the eyes of children. I think we all enjoyed the Peanuts exhibit, which coupled Charlie Brown and his gang with nature facts. This photo is from the Peggy Notebaert website and information on the Peanuts/Charles Schultz connection with nature here.


After lunch, we donned our rain gear and walked a few blocks, chatting all the way, to the historic Lincoln Park Conservatory. Our engaging docent gave a brief history of the conservatory, which was erected in the 1880’s, we admired the formal outdoor garden, which is framed masterfully by the Chicago skyline.


Once undercover, we inhaled the warmth and peace of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. I’ll stop writing now, and let you see for yourself.





The Conservatory is also getting ready for their Christmas display. The poinsettia are ready and glorious.




Those pesky tunes and lyrics that get stuck in our heads once we hear them – especially first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

A local Saturday radio talk show recently had a segment on earworms. It was fun, and funny, to listen to, and dangerous. I had a headful of earworms by the time the segment was over and folks called in with their favorite (favorite?) jingle or tune that, when heard, lingered in their heads all day long.

Hey, that’s one. All Night Long.

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

With Christmas songs starting to emerge, I’m sure I’ll be parumpapumping soon.

Live in the Chicago area? Do you remember Hudson 3- 2700.

Gotta go. I need a cup of N-E-S-T-L-E-S, chocolate!

Have you had any earworms lately?

Do you have a cure?


All songs from youtube, with thanks.

A Fearsome Force

IMG_4404 - Version 2There was a fearsome force hereabouts last week. It made the windows rattle and branches snapped. It tossed most of the last of the leaves – and everything else – about. Our leaves, our neighbor’s, their neighbor’s – and on and on and on, baring the trees and bending our heads, the mighty wind did blow.

So it goes in November; a month of letting go, as we here in the northern hemisphere turn a sharp corner into winter.

I was thinking about this Novembersish “letting go” on Friday; the leaves falling, the wind blowing, the subtle shifts of angel rays dappling the woodwork, walls, and what-knots of my life. I caught the sun awakening on this stone rabbit who resides in a corner of the living room. A bit of luck as the morning light usually fades as fast as the time it takes to grab a camera . . .

IMG_4389 - Version 2

. . .  as fast as a life can be snuffed out by those who choose to reign in terror.

I started this post early on Friday. I planned to write about the changing weather; the fallen leaves, the harsh winds. I went about my day, attended a lovely luncheon, did a few errands, made a few phone calls and texts to loved ones; my everyday life here on the Cutoff. I had an audio book to keep me company in the car, so did not hear the horrific news coming out of Paris until a phone call with Jennifer, who is often the barometer in my life, gently giving me readings of where the winds of life are blowing.

My heart and prayers go out to all whose lives were forever changed. My heart and prayers go out for Paris.

In the checkout lane

61ne+bmPiAL._SX522_Life in the checkout lane. . . one of those spots in the aisle of life where interesting conversations are held.

There I was, picking up a few items we needed – the milk and bread and butter of life – perusing the sales, looking for staples to stock up on. Do you “stock up”? Canned goods, cereal, baking supplies? Here in the midwest, we are always waiting for the next big snowfall, the power to go out, the creek to overflow and will we have enough toilet paper to see us through?

Back to the checkout lane.

With my purchases on the belt and Gloria, the checker, scanning my items and myself rooting in my purse for my wallet. Suddenly,  Gloria held up a small round bottle of Homade Chili Sauce and proclaimed “are you making sloppy joes?”  .  “I am,” said I. “How did you know?”.

I almost always use this little bottle of sauce, not for chili, but, for sloppy joes. It is what I remember my mother using – this little round jar of sauce. I use it in my barbecue sauce, as well, and I stock up on it because it is sometimes hard to find.

It was a day for stocking up. Ooops. Back to the check out lane.

I asked Gloria, my favorite checker, how she surmised what I would be making. She replied that her husband was a fireman and this was what they  used at his station whenever they made sloppy joe’s. It is what she uses as well. She asked me how I came to use Homade Chili Sauce.  I told her about my mom and how I remembered the jar and always keep at least one on hand. Through this lively conversation, another shopper, her own cart full, was listening. She asked us for the recipe. Gloria and I just looked at each other. “What recipe? ” It ends up that Gloria and Penny make their joes in just about the same way; this and that and then the other – and Homade Chili Sauce. Taste and stir and just know when its right. Moms and firefighters. The best cooks around.

Shopper #2 left her cart and rushed over to the sauce aisle as I completed my purchase. It seems we had convinced her to give this a try. So it goes in this simple life here on the Cutoff (and in the checkout aisle).

Do you have a secret sauce in a jar?

Old friends and friendly fires

IMG_4381 - Version 3Old friends . . .

My Antler Man and I have been fortunate in this long life together that we have shared. We have had, do have, many friends who have graced us in a miracle of ways. Friends who introduced us many moons ago. Friends just recently made. All those friends in between. They are a part of our crazy quilt of life; stitches and cloth, batting and backing – stained with the tears of happiness, growth, sadness and joy.

On Friday night, we had the pleasure of traveling a familiar trail to the home of Cathy and Bill.  Vickie and Mike joined in a hearty meal of soups and accompaniments before we all wandered out into the spacious yard and back into Cathy and Bill’s secret circle of warmth. The soft glow of torch lights led our way; an entree of sorts to comfortable conversation and those perfect pauses in between that firelight offers.

This fire pit was seasoned by the many warm fires whose embers have glowed over the years. It was recently enlarged and lovingly groomed to honor Bill’s brother Bob, who often enjoyed the glow of bonfires here before his sad passing. I sat for a bit, thinking, what a fitting way to honor a loved one. We mark our time here on earth. Blessed are those whose memories are held in such significant ways.

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