Archive for July, 2012

I have been practicing my dismount.

Actually, I’ve been trying to perfect it since I was in high school. We were forced recquired to participate in a quarter term of gymnastics. Nine or so weeks of agony. My ankles have never quite recovered.

Bear in mind that I tripped on the hem of pants and needed several stitches on my chin during my crawling stage of life. A year afterwards, on my first night in a big-girl bed. which rose a foot or so off of the ground, I tumbled out, and needed a few stitches more, this time on my big-girl noggin. My mother’s parting words as I went out the door were always “Penny, be careful, don’t fall”. This waas usually uttered as I tripped over the stoop. Athletics were never in the cards for me.

As an adult, I’ve watched in awe, every four years, as young men and women pummel and balance and travel high-flying rings with grace and incredible strength. Flips and pikes and pivots and landing on one’s own two feet after flying through space in positions that seem quite impossible simply amaze me. Their athleticism astounds me.

I fell, more than once, off of the balance beam, the pommel horse, and the trampoline,  fortunately never on the same day.  The pommel horse was the worst, with my hands gripping the handles and my feet firmly planted, on the side of the horse. I was suspended in space. It took three classmates to pry me loose.

Each tumble in class, wearing my blue, one piece  gym suit with snaps that I regularly prayed would stay snapped, was an embarrassment. Forgetting to turn before dismounting the parallel bars, well, that was quite painful. I walked around with swollen armpits, each arm in an arch, resembling a sumo wrestler.

I had to stand on a folding chair to get up to the traveling rings. Another student would push me while the class would cheer me on “Let one hand go, Penny, and grab onto the second ring”. “Huh?” just as I my dierrier plumped into a wall. The last day of the quarter I did it. I let go, making it, finally, to the second ring. Swinging like a chimpanzee from two rings, not sure what to do next. I dangled there, like a shirt swinging in the breeze on a laundry line. It was the cheer of my classmate at my unlikely achievement that finally pulled me down. I’d like to say I scored a medal. I didn’t.The teacher, however, took pity on me and passed me with a C, simply because I tried so hard and never gave up.

These are often the bigger lessons in life, aren’t they? The trying hard and showing up. The perseverance and stick-to-itiveness.  Trying to be brave and carrying on, no matter what.

So, I watch with appreciation as the best of the best convene every four years and they make a grab for the gold. I honor them all for showing up and giving it their best, for themselves and for their country.

Now, I need to go practice my dismount.

Image source can be found here.


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Market Square

As you may recall, last weekend we spent a few pleasant hours in Lake Forest’s historic Market Square; enjoying lunch made with local vegetables and peeking into a delightful produce market in an alleyway on the square. I thought you might like to see what this turn-of-the-century shopping center looks like.

One of the first things I noticed were the distinctive pillars of Marshall Fields & Company. Marshall Fields was, until recently, one of the hallmark shopping experiences of Chicago with smaller stores in several of the suburbs. The day Macy’s closed the doors of Fields stores and put up the Macy’s sign was a sad, sad day for generations of Chicagoans. That is the story for another post(s), however, and here is a glimpse of what we saw.

There were two clock towers, both impressive, across from each other. One looked to be a sundial.

There were unexpected objects in windows,

and below windows,

and interesting figures carved into niches,

and this beautiful fountain with a mother and child.

I hope you have all enjoyed your weekend and are enjoying some of the Olympics.

(Forgive the layout of this post. For some reason, I am unable to indent or reformat this.)

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. . . what do you see?

Vines frame my window; an emerald curtain of leaves. The Rose of Sharon are in bloom; a bit sparse this year, but the blossoms are vibrant and full of nectar for the bees and hummingbirds that flit about looking for nourishment.

I sit and hear the chit-chit- chitter of a chipmunk, standing guard on the ledge, berating me for being here.

Through the tangle of vines leaves, I can barely see a stately white horse trot by, headed with its rider to the secret wooded path down the road.


A rat-a-tat-tat has me up out of the chair to slip closer to the window pane. A downey woodpecker is there, telegraphing his intentions.


Ahhh, look through any window, what do you see?


In about six hours from posting this, I’ll be looking along with many of you through another window; the television window, as the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics begin. Here’s to all the athletes who have worked so hard to be in the Olympics, representing countries from all over the world, and here’s to London and her people!


While you are waiting for the games to begin, I thought you might enjoy a few minutes looking through another kind of window. YouTube kind. I know this is a little corny, but, corn goes well in July and this starts with an introduction by a heart-throb from another era. Besides, it  is a bit of a, er, tribute to sports.





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After spending several hours at two of last Sunday’s Garden Conservancy Open Days gardens, we drove into the town of Lake Forest on the north shore of Lake Michigan to find a little something to eat. One of the volunteers suggested a few places in what is considered the oldest shopping center in the country. Market Square. It is a charming block of stores of varying architectural styles that house retail as well as other types of business with living quarters upstairs. The idea of mixed use properties isn’t as novel as we might think these days, as Lake Forest’s Market Square illustrates.

We ate at the Market House. It felt good to sit and relax, sip iced tea, and feel the cooling breeze of overhead fans on the restaurant’s porch. When the waitress said that the salads were made from local produce sold at the small, open air market across the street, we decided to give them a try. My choice was the special of the day, shown above, made with fresh arugula, avocado, heirloom tomato, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts, with warm shrimp and a balsamic vinaigrette on top.

Sated, we took a stroll around the square, which was charming with fountains and towers adorned with clocks and weather vanes, green common space, and all one could imagine in this historic shopping center which made its debut in 1916.

The produce market was closed, but, we were able to see most of what this open air business holds. It is really an alleyway between two building, running through to both sides of  the block.

I couldn’t believe how many plants, produce, and ornamentation was in this rather small space, or how visually appealing it was, not to mention the scents from the herbs and flowers that hinted their presence as we walked by.

Click on some of the pictures to get a better view of all the wonderful things in this small space.

I so love these hidden gems of life that find their way into my own.

Don’t you love these unexpected finds that life sometimes tosses your way?

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As I was driving along the by-ways of the Chicago ‘burbs on Monday, Gertie, our trusted GPS system, was ordering me to hee instead of haw, while my cell phone signaled that a message was pending. I wondered to myself if our internet service was still interrupted at home and what I could warm up in the microwave for supper. As I drove along, our local public radio station began broadcasting NPR’s  All Things Considered. Host Robert Siegel began with this opening line:

“Fifty years ago on this date, space became TV-friendly. It was one small moment for an orbiting satellite called Telstar 1, one big leap for couch potatoes everywhere.”

Fifty years ago . . .

. . . I was a young girl, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, with my head usually buried in a book, dreaming of knights in shining armor defending the castle gates or a chance encounter with George Chakiris, snapping his fingers and dancing westward along the Eisenhower Expressway toward me. My world still felt idyllic then. I felt safe in the bosom of my family. The brutal assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King had not yet occurred, nor the civil unrest that would come as the decade wore on. I was too young to understand Viet Nam, and there were but three national television stations to choose from, ABC, CBS, and NBC – and they went off the air every night to the tune of our national anthem.

As I listened to NPR yesterday, the music of the Tornadoes’ playing Telstar filled my head. I  thought of Walter Cronkite’s broadcast, live, across the United States with Chet Huntley, his competitor, in San Francisco and across the Atlantic Ocean to the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby. There was even a cheer from the crowd at a Cubs baseball game in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. How exciting it felt back then; this idea of instant communication across continents and oceans and outer space. I had little idea of what it truly meant or what phenomenal changes it would mean for all of us these fifty years later, but, looking back, the changes have been nothing short of mind-boggling. I think I am more in awe now when I think of all that small satellite in outer spaced, birthed by Ma Bell and raised by the enterprising minds of those who dared to think outside of that little box that sat in our homes all across this globe.

I could wax on about all that the Telstar broadcast shepherded into our lives. Instead, I think I’ll just let it speak on its own as you ponder how instantaneous communications now is and how we take it for granted. The link above is about 10 minutes in length, narrated by Walter Cronkite. I think you will find it interesting if you are so inclined and have the time to listen to him as he talks about this moment in time and how they were all  “creating an event to serve technology” when many of us were young girls and boys, and many of us were not even born yet.

You might also enjoy hearing The Tornadoes and their hit song, Telstar.

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Gabrielle blew his horn one year and spread hundreds of seeds around our humble abode here on the Cutoff. From a sky blue pot on the front steps, these seeds have traveled to the most unlikely of places; in the grass, up through the compost pile, and, this year, into a hefty pot where I tried to grow lettuce on the sunny deck just off the kitchen door.

The lettuce, you see, was doing its thing, growing like topsy and promising to toss a salad or two. The chipmunks, however, kept burrowing into the dirt, exposing the roots, leaving tunnels to who-knows-where and creating a regular mess of soil on the wooden boards. In the process, they must have rustled up some seeds. Right before my eyes, when nothing else cared enough to grow in this record heat, there sprouted several Datura. Angel’s Trumpet. Known to be poisonous, I declared the lettuce trying to survive unfit for consumption. The lettuce leaves looked nibbled and the chipmunks have eerily disappeared.

All that grows now in the hefty pot, all that blooms inside it at the dawning of dusk, is the white, flute-like flowers of Angel’s Trumpet. There they are, with their leaves so big, and their flowers so exotic looking, as they slowly open and brighten the deck just as night falls here on the Cutoff.

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” . . . She ran her finger in a loving track across Eric Brighteyes and Jane Eyre, The Last Days of Pompeii and Carry On, Jeeves. Shoulder to shoulder, they had long since made their own family. For every book here, she had heard their voices, father’s and mother’s. And perhaps it didn’t matter to them, not always, what they read aloud; it was the breath of life flowing between them, and the words of the moment riding on it that held them in delight.”

The Optimist’s Daughter

Eudora Welty

I so enjoyed One Writer’s Garden that I was determined to read more of Eudora Welty, especially her Pulitzer Prize winning The Optimist’s Daughter. I carried a copy, post haste, from the library and proceeded to devour this novella, wondering why I had not done so sooner.

Have you ever wondered why a book has escaped you for so long once you sink your teeth into it?

Perhaps the book needed to wait for me to travel the years I have, through other books and gardens and life, in order to appreciate the simplicity and the solace it brings to the soul. It really is, to me, the story of a middle-aged woman finding herself as she grieves all those she has lost. It is letting the grief finally come and of leaving go of those things that bog us down.

Laurel returns to the south, first New Orleans and then Mississippi, to be with her father as he dies. She reads to him as he lies still in his hospital bed following eye surgery, then accompanies his casket home after complications take his life.  Laurel. Such a sweet sounding name from an author whose love of gardening I’ve just come to appreciate from One Writer’s Garden. 

Laurel contends, quietly, with all that surrounds her, especially her father’s second wife, Fay. Judge McElva is well-loved in the small town of Mount Salus, Mississippi; revered by all, as is the memory of his first wife, Miss Becky, who is Laurel’s mother.

Fay. Well, Fay is another story. She is selfish and self-absorbed, attacking the Judge in his hospital bed and carrying on at every moment. When her family suddenly arrives from Texas to attend the Judge’s wake in the McElva parlor, all sorts of lively exchanges take place. So childish and loveless is Fay, that I actually found myself wishing Laurel would bop her flat on her head with her mother’s bread board!

Ah, I digress here; it is just that the bread board becomes a symbol of all that Laurel has been through and how she can finally move on in her life.

As Welty tells of Miss Becky’s childhood and how she has to accompany her father alone on a raft to get him medical attention, I realized that Miss Eudora is telling her own mother’s story, so poignant about such a young child’s journey in life. Both fathers die of ruptured appendix. Both girls accompany their dead fathers home. Both women eventually work through their grief in their gardens.

There, in Mount Salus, Laurel’s friends, the “bridesmaids”, come with their own flowers for the Judge’s wake. There, in the garden, down on her knees, Laurel tends to her mother’s roses, and there I find how two very different books find each other, leaving me with such welcome optimism.

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