Archive for January, 2012

Ode to Bubble Wrap (with thanks to Dee)

We were finishing up dinner when our local evening news came on, teasing us with the lead stories of the day; weather, politics, human interest, crime. Then, there was the lovely anchor talking about Bubble Wrap as she sat in her chair popping a sheet of it. She even shared bubbled sheets of plastic with her co-anchor, weatherman, and sports reporter. There they sat in their newsy chairs, looking not up at the cameras but down at the Bubble Wrap, twisting and popping it.

Isn’t that what we all do when Bubble Wrap is around?

The anchor announced in her very best anchor voice that today, January 30, 2012, is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day!

One year, I actually wrapped our nephew’s present with Bubble Wrap. He loved it! I don’t think he even knew what his present was. He sat and he popped each little pillow of wrap. We’ve been known to parcel it out, much like the news anchor: a piece for you, a piece for me, a piece for the kids . . .

. . . it’s hard to resist Bubble Wrap, isn’t it? You take the wrap off of the package that just arrived via post and you set it aside, admiring whatever was inside. Then, you fold the wrap up, push it aside, toss it to the floor. Wherever it goes, eventually it lands in your hands where you must pop just one pop, then two, then a whole strings of pops, hoping no one else hears and you have to share.

As I understand it, this packing material, first used by IBM and now by just about everyone wishing to send something somewhere, was developed in that most hallowed of places – the garage! Whether inventing technology, rocking up a band, or making packing material, it seems that a lot of today’s inventions come out of the garage!

So, today is Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day and you can find out more about it here.

Makes me want to go buy a roll!

image from Google


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I was eating a Hershey’s chocolate kiss at a baby shower and felt it in my mouth, swirling around in the chocolate. Part of a molar. My friend Sharon came through with a tissue in which to contain the tooth. I then finished the chocolate, of course. After all, it was just one kiss. I was half a molar short of a full overbite and  knew some dental work was in order.

Doc prodded and poked, numbed my mouth and drilled as we talked of my coronation. It seems I would need a crown soon and he sent me on my way, with orders to contact him asap if I had any pain. Off I went, a few stops on my way home and then to our book discussion that night, where we had a lively discussion on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. As the night wore on and the Novocaine wore off, I started feeling some discomfort which even a slice Donna’s cranberry cobbler didn’t ease. I proceeded to have a sleepless and painful night.

I’ve been on antibiotics and a nice little pain pill ever since, which has rendered me rather loopy and drowsy. To be honest, I’m mostly sleeping in front of the television and have yet to see the end of any movie that has been on as I wrap myself up in a blanketed ball and act goofy. This writing has taken quite a few attempts to complete, but, complete it I will.

I mentioned to my dear friend Janet that I had a toothache and she remembered her Dad taking her for milkshakes after dentist visits when she was a child . That brought about memories of my own.

Our dentist was in Chicago, downtown, in the Loop. The Loop is the center of business and shopping and is where the elevated train wends around, in a loop, high on its trestles. What fun it was as a child to come in from the suburbs, riding the “el”.  I can remember those first times around as the train leaned a bit into the curve and the wheels screeched as the windows of  buildings flew by. Sometimes secretaries and businessmen could be seen working inside a skyscraper and it was one big adventure for little Penny.

Sometimes, we would take the subway, which was just as much fun, for we would be underground part of the way, the best part being while we were in the Loop. We would climb up the stairs and then into the Field Annex, where all sorts of shops were. The Field Annex was part of the legendary Marshall Field’s and Company and holds many a story for many a day.

Up the elevator we would go, back in the days when they were “driven” by an elevator operator. “Step all the in way, miss”, he would say, and then close the gates and the door as folks said the floor number they needed. “Twelve”. “Fourteen”. Never a thirteenth floor. The gate would open, then the door and out would pile each group of riders.

After the dentist cleaned our teeth, filled a cavity if needed, and handed out a toy from a box he kept in his desk, my mom would take us to the Woolworth’s on State Street. Inside was the best luncheon counter a child could imagine. It seemed to snake around forever and ever with stools that swirled and people sat eating their hotdogs and fries. Dottie and I would always have the same thing. The only thing I ever remember having at the counter.

A chocolate milk shake! A big, delicious, cold, creamy, smooth chocolate milkshake with a big straw to sip with, a long, handled spoon, and a metal container at the side which held the rest of the shake. It felt so good and it tasted so chocolatey and rich, though Ma would have to occasionally wipe our chins as we tried to drink with our mouths half numb.


Well, dear reader, the pain pill is starting to kick in and my eyes are drooping, so I best end this chapter of chocolate milkshakes and riding the “el”, but, not before telling you what my Antler Man did after he made me some soup on Friday night. Yes, indeed, he went out and returned with a big chocolate shake and I smiled and sipped it all up!

Thanks, Tom, for the shake and Janet for setting the memories in motion.

Do you have any childhood memories of going to the dentist that are fun?

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I never thought I could be as engrossed in a book about cell research and science as I have been in reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This was a book that made me cry and made me giggle and it made me cringe as it filled me with wonder – and then gratitude.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of a woman whose cells are harvested, without her knowledge or consent,  and of what happens to those cells.

It is the story of how those cells go on to become immortal, multiplying like no other cells had ever done before. Scientifically named the HeLa cells, they are known and used by researchers, scientists, and doctors the world over, even making the trek into outer space and being detonated in an atomic bomb.

It is the story of a poor young mother, a tobacco farmer, who dies of cervical cancer and leaves a husband to raise five children, who live in poverty and fear of doctors and who learn of Henrietta’s cells decades later.

It is the story of how Henrietta’s cells, excised as she is prepped for radiation treatment of her cervix in an attempt to halt the cancer cells that will ravage her body and ultimately kill her. These cells are distributed around the world and are as vital in stemming the polio epidemic of the ’50s, as they are to DNA research and gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, cancer research and treatment, and the HPV virus. Each and every one of you reading this has most likely benefitted from Henrietta’s cells in some way.

It is also the story of Rebecca Skloot’s determination to learn about the woman whose cells she first learns about at the age of 16 in a biology class. It is her journey in scientific research, discovery and creative nonfiction writing as she slowly gains the trust of the Lacks family, particularly Henrietta’s daughter Deborah.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about medical ethics, cell research, race, gender, social class – and a whole lot more. It is also an exciting read, at times a thriller, it reads like a novel, and is the kind of science lesson you’ll wish you had in high school.

I thought of my mother-in-law, Carolyn, as I read this book. She, too,  had cervical cancer, in the early 1970’s. She had radiation implants then a hysterectomy and went on, cancer free, for two decades, until her heart failed her. I couldn’t help but remember her as I read this book and realize that the research done through Henrietta’s cells benefitted Carolyn in her own treatment.

I have been telling everyone lately about the book, driving my family and friends to distraction, and I really can’t wait to discuss this tonight at our book group – or with you, dear reader, here on the Cutoff.

(Rebecca Skloot has a wonderful site about the book and there are some great pictures aside from the ones in the book. The pictures can be found HERE, and you can click on to the rest of the site for more information, including hearing the author speak.)

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I’ve just been doing a little “nesting” these past few days, catching up on some chores and finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for our book discussion on Thursday. I hope you are all well.

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The morning awoke in a mild-mannered mood. We were sitting together in church, which we get to do most Sundays when it comes sermon time. Tom plays guitar during the service. I save him a spot near the aisle next to me so we can have some time at church together.  Just before it was time for him to leave my side, I jotted a quick note about the arboretum. With a nodding of heads, a plan was quickly in motion to head there right after church.

Mid-morning was changing its mood by the time we left the church parking lot. See what happens when you pass notes to your beau during the sermon? Undaunted, we drove west to the Morton Arboretum.

 After a quick purchase of coffee in the visitor center, we headed outdoors. With more than six inches of snow, it was a good day for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, who were out in good numbers as we wandered about on foot. It looked like fun, but, you will remember my story of cross-country skiing and Campbell’s tomato soup. In case you don’t, or didn’t read it, you can find it here. Enjoy the laugh.

A we walked, a stiff wind kicked up. We really weren’t appropriately dressed for a hike, but round the small lake we went, sipping our coffee and quickening our pace as we enjoyed the stark beauty of the winterscape.

As bleak and cold as midwinter can be here in the midwest, there is such ethereal beauty in it .

Winter is also the best time for seeing the structure of nature. The bones of a garden are laid bare and the strong lines of trees and shrubs are evident, as are the fractures and breaks among the bark and limbs. Winter is a time for nature’s rest and for man’s assessment and appreciation.

It is also a time when the evidence of good four season’s planning shines through. I found this true when we rounded a soft bend and this river birch came into view. So well placed were the grasses surrounding it that they gave the illusion of water. The colors of the peeling bark and the stems of the grasses were in agreement with each other – gave the feeling of another sermon on a Sunday morn.

It also brought to mind Robert Frost’s Birches. As I looked for the poem, I came across this website with a recording of the poem.

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A once-in-awhile day

Isn’t  it wonderful when a once-in-awhile day brings the simplest of pleasures? When  a walk to the mailbox finds a letter from a loved one? A parcel you’ve been waiting for arrives, that book you ordered or a handmade craft from Etsy waits inside. Your favorite magazine, perhaps? I am close to giddy when one of my two favorites arrive. Victoria or English Home, hopefully not on the same day for that would be way too much excitement. I set the magazine aside, on an end table or a chair, and I savor the wait. First a chore, then tea, brewed and steeped with care. Sometimes I wait until later in the evening when the lamps are on and the mood is just right.

Do you ever have a once-in-awhile day where the greatest gift it brings is something unexpected in your mail?

I had a once-in-awhile day on Friday. After safely arriving home as the snow was falling, I brought in my bag of groceries and put on my boots and my long, hooded coat, camera in one pocket and cell phone in the other, and headed down our long driveway to the mailbox. The camera, of course, was for pictures. The long coat with a hood for protection from the elements. The cell phone in case I fell and needed help. It happens.

Our mailbox is at the road. Our drive narrows as it reaches the road. After a significant snowfall, it starts to feel and look like a snow tunnel – one Beatrix Potter would paint. New fallen snow is quiet and pristine and the landscape takes on a new personality. The world seems fresh and new for a time. There is a smell to snowl that is hard to explain, though I’ve heard it compared “oddly enough like apple blossoms”.

There wasn’t much mail on Friday, which was okay. The walk was worth the effort just the same. I could hear a chickadee  making her presence known and a few deer were watching, the snow catching on top of their hides like feathers from a pillow. The few cars on our road made a slow, crunching sound with their tires as the passed and the only signatures on the snow were my own boot prints.

It was a once-in-awhile day.

The walk to the mailbox and back was the only gift that I received.

The simplest of pleasures, indeed.

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Snow flakes

Snow flakes

 by Emily Dickinson

Snow flakes.

I counted till they danced so

Their slippers leaped the town,

And then I took a pencil

To note the rebels down.

And then they grew so jolly

I did resign the prig,

And ten of my once stately toes

Are marshalled for a jig!

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