Archive for August, 2012

We have donated clothes and furniture, toys and time, books and money; all the things you also have donated. It is what we all do to ease the burdens of others or support a charitable cause. Today, we made a donation unlike any other.

It all started last Saturday when we visited Lake Katherine. We were in the nature center. Tom was coming up the stairs as I was going down. There, on the landing, half up and half down, was this wonderful poster identifying the many mushrooms and fungi that sprout  in our area. There, dead center, with a fairy ring dancing round and around, was an illustration of a puffball. We were chatting about it when a voice behind us queried “Did you say you have puffballs in your yard?”. An employee of the center, she was fascinated with our puffy story, saying that if we would like to dig it up she would love to display one.

Most of our gang of puffballs are gone now; deflated, eaten by the woodchuck or dessert for the deer, chunks of puff scattered about.

One, only one, remained. The one measured by the size of my sandal still sat near the arbor, still growing, although with less zeal.

Tom carefully dug the puffball out,

put it into a lined box,

and nestled it securely into the trunk of the car.

I drove away with my precious produce, avoiding bumps in the road and sharp turns; not an easy ride for puffballs, like all things that play with elves and gnomes, emanated the most obnoxious of odors that managed to seep through the car’s ventilation system.

I soon waddled up the walkway from my now noxious car to the nature center, avoiding a gaggle of preschoolers excited over the geese pecking about. I was greeted with as much enthusiasm as Santa Claus by the very same Saturday lady, who gurgled with glee , “Oh, my, you really did bring one!”. 

The soon-to-be famous Cutoff Puff now sits on the stairway display case, half up and half down, measuring just over 18 inches long. It looks like a dinosaur egg sitting in its nest. I wonder how long it will sit there before some curious lad or lass pokes it.

I also wonder if can we claim it as a charitable donation on our income tax?



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We visited a peaceful city park in nearby Palos Heights last weekend, Lake Katherine.

We were in awe of the many ways community groups and volunteers participate in maintaining this public space. From the Heritage Garden brimming with vegetables that is maintained by the University of Illinois Extension Services, to a children’s garden whose entrance is the reclaimed pillars of razed schoolhouse, Lake Katherine is truly a gift from the community to all of its citizens and beyond.

The entrance to the children’s garden.


The sign above caught my eye. The nearer I came to the display, the more I thought that I should try growing dahlias next year.

Do you grow dahlias? Do you have any tips or advice on their care?

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All puffed up

No, this is not a photo from Curiosity’s mission on Mars. It is the surface of a puffball, one of many scattered about our little kingdom here on the Cutoff.

They arrived a little early this year, but amaze me just the same. These puffballs appear out of nowhere and conjure up images of once upon a time as they grow and grow and grow, doubling, even tripling their size in one day’s time. In fact, they even morph into triplets.

These pictures are of the same puffball, over the period of two days. The sandal is mine; a size 6 (the only small thing about me) . . .

. . . and this is Tom’s boot, twice the size of mine, measuring up yet another puffed up ‘shroom.

As these strange orbs of wonder congregate here and there and resemble soccer balls left outdoors after the Olympics, fairy rings appear, joining hands and circling, doing who-knows-what when I’m not looking. This one seems to have had a little too much fun and lost her head.

So, dear reader, I walk about quietly and carefully right now, for I know not what will suddenly appear as summer turns softly into the fall.

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                       .   .   .   morning glory?

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I have had many books on my shelves or on my piles that have spent a good part of their literary career languishing. They are purchased with good intent and then sit, gathering dust, rotating from tops of piles to midsection, then bottom, languishing.

I first heard this phrase about books in one of the first posts I read on Book Snob. It was an engaging review of a book Rachel read; a book she said had been languishing. Rachel’s reviews are always well written and absorbing. She has led me to books I might never have known of. She is about to embark on a career change, going back to studies, and will one day be the kind of literature teacher all children should have. She has already taught this sectarian child a great deal.

This August, it finally came to be that I opened up Dodie Smith’s enchanting novel, “I Capture the Castle”. It begins like this:

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and the tea-cosy. I can’t say that I am really comfortable, and there is a depressing smell of carbolic soap, but this is the only part of the kitchen where there is any daylight left . . . “

These are the words of Cassandra as she writes in her journal, the place where she puts down her thoughts as she sets out to capture the centuries old castle she and her family live in. In doing so, she also captures the reader’s heart.

The Mortmain’s live in poverty. They haven’t paid the rent in years. They read and work by candlelight and bathe on alternating days in front of the kitchen fire. Father, a once famous author, spends his days cloistered in the gatehouse, reading detective novels. Topaz, his second wife, a sometimes portrait model of some fame, does her best to take of the family, which include Cassandra’s sister, Ruth, brother, Thomas, and Stephen, who tends to the garden and chores as the book opens. He has a room in the castle. Stephen’s mother helped care for the Mortmain family after Cassandra’s mother died.

There is the vicar, Miss Marcy who brings books to the castle, and Miss Blossom, the dressmaker’s dummy who tenders advice to Rose and Cassandra. Soon, the Cottons arrive from America, with Simon the new heir of the estate, which includes the castle that Cassandra is trying to capture. Along with Simon comes his brother, Neil, their mother, and a host of other interesting characters. Their arrival marks a turning point for the Mortmains as Cassandra fills  the pages of her journals, in her own coded writing, with all the happenings as well as her feelings, concerns, and wonderment. Will Rose find a husband? Will Stephen, who dotes on Cassandra, become a photographer’s model? Will father finally start writing again locked up in – well, I won’t tell you about that. You will have to read the book to find out, which I truly hope you will do, and I hope as well that I Capture the Castle will not languish too long upon your mind, your list, or your shelf.

Do you have a favorite first sentence to a book or is there a book languishing on your shelf?

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With Maple Lake and its forested splendor just a few miles south, the Wolf Road Prairie is equidistant north of our Cutoff. It sits, quietly hidden, just off two bustling metropolitan thoroughfares. I’ve been wanting to take a walk there for quite some time.

On Sunday afternoon, we took that walk.

Illinois is known as The Prairie State, and for good reason. 70% of Illinois was native prairie two centuries ago. Early explorers wrote of a “sea of grass” as far the eye could see. It was not uncommon for men to become lost on the prairie, whose miles of grass stood twelve feet high. Children of pioneers sometimes disappeared, never to be seen again, as the tall grasses would seem to swallow them up. The prairie was a perilous place to raise children.

Today, there is precious little native prairie left in Illinois; much of it was claimed as farmland during the great migration westward, for here lies the richest soil in the country. Bustling towns, housing developments, shopping malls, interstate highways, and the folly of man captured the rest of Illinois’ prairie. Fortunately, the Wolf Road Prairie, 80 acres of meadowlands, oak savannah, and wetland, was saved from a planned housing development, plotted for 600 homes, in the 1920’s, by the Great Depression. As we entered the prairie, we walked for a short spell on sidewalks originally laid for that development.

We parked our car at one of the two car banks, checked out the map of the terrain, and entered the trail, passing through the coolness of the oak trees.  The

Big Bluestem. Image from museum.state.il.us

sidewalk abruptly ended, opening onto the prairie path. Under the sky blue canopy and the warm glow of the sun, it was easy to imagine the Potawatomi moving slowly through the big bluestem , hunting deer, gathering seeds, and fishing in the nearby creek. One could almost see the ghosts of pioneers, the ruts from their wagons forming all but hidden paths like the one we were walking, wild indigo brushing their long skirts and homespun shirts, the vast sea of grass before them and behind them for days on end.

I feel yet another reading of  “LIttle House on the Prairie” coming on.

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