Archive for April, 2011

Here on the cutoff, still in my pajamas (the ones of the Easter nest fame), with the television broadcasting quietly so as not to awaken the lord of the manor, I sat, channel surfing, at 4 am. From NBC, CBS, ABC and, of course, the BBC, waiting for the wedding to begin.

I’m mush when it comes to pomp and circumstance, ceremonies, pageants, and I love a parade. A royal wedding would be a highlight of any day, though today wasn’t just any day. We talked about the event a bit at our book discussion group last night, remembering other royal weddings and recalling when Queen Elizabeth II sailed on the royal yacht,  The Britannia, down the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway, and came ashore at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain in 1959. Donna remembered her mom bringing her to the event and seeing the Queen. What a remembrance for a young girl!

Buckingham Fountain was named for a Chicagoan actually. I naively thought that it was to commemorate the Queen’s visit. Either way, Buckingham Fountain was a natural spot to alight for British royalty. The fountain sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. One of the five Great Lakes, it is the only Great Lake that doesn’t share a shore with Canada. It is often referred to as Chicago’s front door, and also the official starting point of Route 66. Buckingham Fountain then Buckingham Palace; my mind wanders so with little sleep.

I made a comfy spot to view the events and put the kettle on to boil, pondering which tea to honor the occasion. Aha! There on the shelf sat a lovely box of PG Tips boasting at being England’s No. 1 Tea! Out came a pyramid tea bag, in went the properly boiled water, and down I improperly plopped.

I’d been saving the tea, for what I wasn’t certain, until this morning.

Jennifer sweetly inquired last Christmas if it was okay that she invited a friend from work to join us for Christmas dinner. Of course it was. There is always room around our table and Lola was an enchanting guest who made our holiday meal all the more enjoyable as we ate and talked and compared customs. Lola, you see, is from England. One of the highlights of the meal was when she and I shared a properly brewed pot of tea together after dinner. Well, actually, it was several pots and a bit of laughter as we traded phrases and such. Don’t you just love those times?

A few days later, Jennifer came by with a lovely gift bag filled with English biscuits and a big box of PG Tips tea, a gift from Lola  in thanks for the Christmas meal. So, today, the tea of choice was from a delightful Brit who shared time with us this past Christmas and whom I hope shares more time with us in the future.

Here’s to you, Lola – and here’s to Britain’s new princess, Catherine,  and her handsome prince.

I need a nap!


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“all they could find was the piano key”

Long before my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Thurston, read Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aloud to us, every day, after lunch, and even longer still before I first saw The Wizard of Oz on film, I feared tornadoes. I have feared them for as long as I can remember.

We all lived in our house on Congress Street, in Chicago, close to where the University of Chicago Medical Center now sits, in a tall, two flat, where Martha and Tom and their sons rented the house upstairs, and we all lived on the first floor. We all included my mother, my father, my sister and I, my aunt and uncle and cousin Ted, my Uncle George, my cousin Mary Jane and, of course, my grandmother. We lived in the house until I was about five, with other relatives spending time with us as well when they needed a place to stay. It was a happy place, full of love and laughter and late night conversations that I remember listening to.

Our two flat on Congress Street was a safe haven where I always felt loved and felt secure, and where I always felt the world would never intrude. Only one night, the world did interfere with my safe little child word. A night that followed a time of activity boxing up unused clothing. I don’t remember much more. I was still very young and I am sure the reason for the activity was discussed in my youth, but what stays branded on my memory was these simple words:

“All they could find was the piano key.” 

My memory tells me it was a relative of my aunt, Bette, and it was someone she knew; family members, friends, someone, and all they could find, after a tornado hit, was a piano key.

I was too young to know what a piano key was. I did know what a house key was. It knew it must be something small and the wind that came must have been very fierce to plow everything down so that all that could be found was a piano key. The image has stayed with me all my life and fills me with a dreadful awe – even more so now as we have seen the devastation in the south and parts of the midwest.

Thoughts and my prayers go out to all those effected by yesterday’s twisters.

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Sprinkles of joy

Isn’t she sweet?

During a break from the rain, I was traipsing around our sodden acreage and spotted a patch of peach. Upon closer investigation, there among the yellow and white daffodils that continue to hold court in this odd spring, was this lovely bloom. The color is poor in the picture and doesn’t bring out the peach color as it should, but I couldn’t help myself and wanted to share it with you anyways.

I love finding surprises in the garden and in nature and shriek with delight more befitting a child when I discover something hidden in plain view; a volunteer plant, a tulip re-appropriated to the middle of a lawn by an accommodating squirrel, or a watchful mother sitting, ever-so-still, as she protects her young? Can you see her in this picture? I didn’t know she was there when I took the picture of the nest. Something caught my eye as I enlarged the image, and there she was, looking right at me.

There is so much to delight, to amaze, to enthrall in life, don’t you agree? In between the storms and turmoil, the trials and tribulations, the human and natural disasters, are those very simple pleasures, waiting to be plucked, like a four leaf clover. They bring us enchantment and a sprinkling of joy.

Have you found anything lately to bring a simple smile to your day?

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Rising for the occasion

I didn’t make our traditional lamb and roasted potatoes this year for our Easter dinner. There was just the two of us and I couldn’t justify so much food. Don’t get me wrong. I made a great dinner. We ate very well here on the Cut Off, but, lamb was rather expensive this year and you can’t really make just a little bit of a leg of lamb. I just couldn’t let the day pass without something Greek. I had picked up some yeast earlier in the week with hopes of rising to the occasion. Since we were planning a low-key day and I had plenty of time, Greek Easter bread was on the menu.

Right after church, out came the bowls and measuring cups, the flour and sugar and eggs and the butter and sesame seeds. Tom came up from the bowels of the basement with my Yia Yia’s big, round bread pan and our quiet afternoon was soon whirring and stirring and kneading about with a cloud of flour dust as proof that bread making was at hand. Before long, the dough rose to perfection to the rim of the buttered and covered bowl. I punched it down and turned it around with the satisfaction that comes with making bread, then I filled the pan and covered the dough for one more rising. When well risen on this our holy day, I painted the dough ever-so-gently with an egg wash and sprinkled it liberally with sesame seeds. How I wished I had dyed the traditional red eggs of Greek Easter to place one in the center.

Once in the oven, this bread reached biblical proportions. It grew and grew, inside and outside and over the sides of the pan. Our afternoon was filled with yeasty scents emanating from the oven and our taste buds groaned in anticipation of freshly made bread with our Easter dinner. We could hardly wait for it to finish baking. I will tell you that this loaf’s resurrection was so full of purpose that it wrapped itself around the rim of the pan and covered it like an Easter bonnet. It was no small accomplishment to free it from the pan, in one piece, where it sat on a rack to cool.

It was still slightly warm and soft when I sliced it for dinner; its heavenly scent arising to greet me as I placed slices gently into the bread basket. I no longer remember what else we ate; only the delectable Greek Easter bread!

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Once upon a time, when we were very young and just getting to know each other, Tom and I would walk and talk and laugh and sigh as we learned about each other’s childhood traditions. The conversations were most often swayed by the holiday at hand. After we married and started a family of our own, it became important to blend our traditions together to give our girls the best in what we had experienced.

Christmas stockings, shoes left out for St. Nicholas and celebrating two Easters became the norm. “Regular” Easter and “Greekster” with ham, or lamb, and pastel hued eggs as well as blood red ones have all accompanied Pascha, with every four years having Easter fall on the same day. Of course, Jennifer’s love of Peeps have taken on a tradition all their own, and I still chuckle at my mom’s decree when asked not to buy the girls’ candy. “But, Penny, Fannie May is good chocolate!”, but, those are stories for other pages, especially with “nests” on my mind today.

Tom would talk in those once-upon-a-time years about being a child and setting up little nests of clothing around the house for the Easter Bunny to hide eggs and treats. It seemed such a charming tradition, whose origin is vague but endearing, and so we adopted the habit of making nests with the girls. On Easter eve, they would hop about like little bunnies, putting as many nests as they could manage in corners, under tables, and wherever else a bunny might look and come Easter morning (along with an Easter basket, full of good Fannie May candy) they would find colored eggs and jelly beans and even a few quarters if the  Easter Bunny was short on time and long on ears. I think the girls liked this little tradition as much as Tom and I did making it happen and think of it fondly still.

I was delightfully surprised this Easter morning to find a nest sitting out made with my own pajamas and there, inside, to find a few of my favorite things.

What are your Easter traditions?

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Is there another flower that evokes Easter, purity, faith, hope more than the lily?

Did you know that the bulbs grown for the Easter lily come from about ten farms in Northern California and Southern Oregon?

These Easter lilies were blooming at the Wilder Park Conservatory in Elmhurst as a stormy Good Friday afternoon raged outside.

Peace to all.

Happy Easter.

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How about a little Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain to chase this misty, moisty weather we’ve been having here in the Midwest and whatever weather is happening your way?


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