Archive for March, 2012


Isn’t this a wonderful picture?

I first saw this Normal Rockwell illustration, The Most Beloved American Writer,  on Danielle’s blog, A Work in Progress. I knew I would eventually use it here on the Cutoff.

As I thought about this question, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer it. Of course I could just say “yes” and go on to the next question, but . . .

. . .   I’ve had fun answering these questions posed by Sunday Taylor and have enjoyed your comments beyond measure. Even though there are aspects of this that leave me a little uncomfortable, I decided to sally forth and answer it as best I can.

So, with a little help from Mr. Rockwell’s picture, I will begin.

I love to put pen to paper, to play with words, and to tell a story, hoping I do it justice. I like writing almost as much as I like reading and, yes, I have fantasized about writing the next great American novel, but that is really just a fantasy. I know my strengths and I am keenly aware of my weaknesses. Let me say that writing a novel is not a strength I possess.

I would love to try my hand at a short story, and will, perhaps, attempt this in the future.

When I see this illustration, I see Jo March. Professor Bhaer’s words are drumming through her mind as he admonishes Jo to write about what she loves and what she knows about. She is offended, at first, by his advice. Then, as she grieves the loss of her sister Beth, her heart heavy with sorrow, she hears the professor’s words anew.  What she knows is her family, her Laurie, her home. What she knows is her own story, which becomes the story of what Mr. March calls his “little women”.

I also see Louisa May Alcott. I see her at Orchard House in Concord, writing furiously to keep the wolf from the door. She penned Little Women, with a real pen and ink, in record time, using both her right and her left hand in turn, as each became cramped. Louisa May Alcott was a prolific writer who also wrote “pot boilers” of her era. I think she must have had a very active imagination, don’t you? I can just imagine the blog she would be writing if she were alive today.

As I looked at this picture, I thought about where I write and what happens when I do.

When I write, it is the stories of my family that flow from my heart. They bring me the greatest joy.

When I write, it the pleasures of my garden, of flowers and trees, of nature and reflections that come from my very soul. They bring me peace and they keep me centered.

When I write, it is of the books I read that move me, hoping my ramblings will inspire others in their reading selections.

What I would like to write is a memoir of sorts, though I feel a bit naked and exposed saying it here.

How about you?

I know many of you are accomplished writers. You have written stories and edited books. You have poetry and memoirs in print. You all write so thoughtfully here in your comments, on your blogs, or I am sure, in your journals and diaries and letters.

How would you answer this question?


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I have been out for a walk about the gardens, rejoicing in the emergence of plants and trying hard  not to worry about what comes next.

The ferns are starting to emerge. I love to watch their first, tentative peeks at the sky, then their gentle unfurling as they dance in the sunshine.

The Brunnera Langstrees (false forget-me-knot) are starting their show with their airy blue blooms. This is my very favorite brunnera. I love the dotted leaves that seem to smile and say “hey, we all have our own fashion sense, have we not?”.

Above is the Donald Wyman crabapple, blooming early this year. We thought we lost it two years ago when a randy buck did battle with the bark, but here it is, resplendent today, just in time to say Happy Birthday to our darling Keziah, who is two years old today!

Here are a few hearts and flowers for you, Kezzie!

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You’re “it” (question #7)


Those of you who know me well, or have read my blog for some time are probably laughing. Yes you are. I can hear you. It’s okay. I’m laughing too, but I need to answer this question for everyone else.

Walking is the safest form of exercise for me – but not always.

There was the story of me walking backwards home from school.

 I was the last one picked for teams. I was also the one who needed emergency dental treatment because I forgot to stop when running across the gym in a timed test. I ran into the wall, cracking a tooth, fat lip, blood. I was concentrating on the running part.

I am the girl who fell off of the balance beam (and trampoline, and pommel horse) in high school, got her gym suit seat caught while trying to jump over the hurdles, trailing it behind me, and once, I accidentally let go of the badminton racquet, barely missing the teacher’s head.

Advanced folk dance in college; what was I thinking?

There was, of course, the dramatic fall from grace at Janet’s house, where I made a most memorable entrance.

Then, oh dear, the time we were cross-country skiing and I landed in someone’s tomato soup!

I know I told you about my right foot getting stuck in the heating duct . It always makes me think of the Tom Hank’s movie, The Money Pit.

I’ll tell you soon about how I left my imprint at the Art Institute of Chicago’s store.

So, what’s your favorite form of exercise?

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Last week brought record-breaking 80 ° temperatures. This morning saw the mercury dip to the 30’s. The heat of last week, which prompted early blossoms, then the wind and rain which shook those blossoms down into pools of petals at the feet of trees, made quick work of magnolias and cherry blossoms.

So it goes . . .

. . . and why I stopped on Saturday afternoon to take this photo.

I’m not sure what this tree is, a magnolia perhaps. Its flowers are a perfectly hued buttermilk color that matches the shutters of this elegant painted lady in La Grange.  We first noticed it last May, when it was in its proper bloom. This year is different as everything seems to be bursting into flower out of sync, including this gracious tree.

I wondered how the homeowners managed to match the colors so well. Click on the picture for a clearer look.

This is my part of the world. I live in a suburb of Chicago that is far enough away to afford us two little wooded acres with deer and fox, the occasional horseback rider, and forest preserve across the street. We are zoned rural, but we also live at the convergence of major expressways and from a high point on one of our main streets, a remnant of the old Route 66, we can see the skyline of Chicago.

I like to think it is the center of the universe.

Our town has plenty of places to shop and dine and we are but a few minutes from some of the best birding spots and miles of trails for hiking and biking, as well as lakes and sloughs and rivers. We are twenty minutes from one of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Michigan.

In spite of the fact that Illinois has a record number of governors who have served or are serving prison terms, I’m proud of living in what is called  the Land of Lincoln. The City of Big Shoulders stands at our backs here on the Cutoff, and the cities and towns, both big and small, and some of the best farmland on God’s green earth help to sustain us are at our feet in this place we call the Prairie State.

Won’t you tell us about where you live?

Urban legend has it that the Marx Brothers once lived in these parts. Their mother bought a chicken farm a few miles from where we live now. Farmers were exempt from the draft and Mrs. Marx hoped this would keep her boys from serving in WWI. Instead of collecting chicken eggs, the boys would slept late and spent their time at baseball games and betting on the ponies. A day at the races was more fun that chasing chickens around the farm.

So the legend goes.

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Ah, that changes from season to season, day to day, but my favorite spots for reading and relaxing are

on our red leather coach, a cup of tea and honey nearby, in the livingroom.

It is also the perfect spot for daydreaming. This is the view.

Sometimes, especially on a cold but sunny winter’s day, it is in the library/den, on this chair.

In the heat of summer, this is a cool, comfy spot.

The best reading light in the morning is this corner our bedroom.

How about you? Where do you go in your home to read and daydream?

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I love to cook and eating, in my humble opinion, is a form of entertainment.

Some of the sweetest of life’s moments are when I’ve set a fine table. Family and friends are gathered round. Grace is given. Plates are passed. Then, there is that fleeting moment when I can taste the quiet and all are content in their meal.

 Second helpings? I purr like a kitten.

May I have this recipe? A friend for life.

Yes. I like to cook. I often read cookbooks as a bedtime stories .

When Tom’s great-aunt Ethel needed to move into a senior facility from the house her parents built on their homestead, she wrote  asking me if I would like anything. I wrote back my appreciation of the offer and wondered if I could have one of her cookbooks.

Ethel gave me all of her recipes; many written in her own hand, others cut from local newspapers or magazines, small little cookbooks from advertisers and notebook pages with bold penmanship. There is an original Nestles chocolate wrapper with the recipe for chocolate chip cookies and directions on how to score and cut the chocolate for chips. Dandelion wine. Meatloaf for the threshers.

Among these treasures is a “receipt” book from the local church, dated 1883. Inside, on pages of printed recipes, are other recipes on slips of paper, sewn onto the pages with a few well placed stitches. I imagine Ethel’s mother, at day’s end, sewing them in by the light of a kerosene lantern, securing their place in the time-honored ritual of feeding one’s family. A farmer’s wife of one hundred years past would not have had the money for paper clips. Straight pins were needed for patterns and hems. There would have been just needle and thread and tired hands basting page onto page of “receipts”.

My favorite cookbook authors of today?

Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes never disappoint. I have and use her cookbooks. I had the pleasure of meeting her with my friend Cindy. We both came home with signed books and smiles.

Alton Brown. He’s goofy and silly, I know, but he makes cooking seem like a fun chemistry project. I enjoy watching him and made his recipe for corned beef hash with the leftovers from our St. Patrick’s Day dinner. It was delicious.

I also enjoy watching Lidia’s Italy.  She inspires me to experiment with simple ingredients. Her love of family hits home with me.

I also enjoy reading Dana Treat. You might like to check her blog and her many vegetarian recipes.

My favorite cookbooks are what I fondly refer to as the “church lady cookbooks”. They are the ones compiled from the PTAs, booster clubs, the Junior League or local fire stations. They have the best recipes, even though you may make only one from the book you bought for $10, spiral bound, a local artist’s rendering on the cover. No woman I know would submit a flawed recipe and every woman I know plumps with pride when told you cooked her recipe with great success.

Do you like to cook or entertain? Do you have a favorite cook or cookbook?

Dana Carvey's "church lady".

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I need a little break from the game of tag, and thought you might be needing one as well. Instead, won’t you enjoy a few photos of our early spring here on the Cutoff, at the Morton Arboretum, and on our kitchen counter?

One of the “wild” visitors to our garden. Midnight the Cat.

Violets growing under Kezzie’s tree. A nice sight in March to remind me of my mother, whose name was Violet.

Buds getting ready to blossom on Kezzie’s tree, a crabapple.

The first of the Celandine poppies paid a surprise visit early yesterday morning.

A magnolia blossom near the Visitor’s Center of the Morton Arboretum.

The Daffodil Glade at the Morton Arboretum. Be sure to click on the pictures for a better look, especially the first photo, to appreciate how many daffodils there are blooming .   .   .

. . . and a few daffodils at my own kitchen sink.

Enjoy your day, wherever you are.

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