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UnknownThere I was, driving along the byway, “The Rosie Project” on audio, mentally clicking off the things I needed to do, didn’t get done, or would rather be doing, when I saw the pair of black slacks and equally monochromatic shell sitting primly on the passenger seat. I meant to take these items to the cleaners on Monday, and here it was, Wednesday. A quick right. A quick left and a parking space. I whipped out my wallet, grabbed my monochromatic clutch of garments, waddled across the parking lot – and right into Payless Shoes.

Huh? Shoes?

It was just one of those days when my mind stayed home while the rest of me was out to lunch.

Around I turned, to the quizzical stares of the shoe clerk restocking shoeboxes, and continued my Aunt Jemima Puddle Duck waddle into the cleaners, where there was, of course, a long line.

There is always a long line at high noon.

Taking my place in the queue, I tapped my toes to the bouncy, iron pressing music, counting it as my day’s exercise, and inhaled the cleaning fumes, which surely made my brain foggy for when my turn at the checker came up, and she sweetly asked for my phone number, I went blank. BLANK!  The fog of steam eroding my cranium.  I could not remember my phone number. The sweet but clueless girl looked slightly bemused. Honestly, who am I to call her clueless? We stared at each other. “Now, wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait;  I seem to be having one of THOSE days” as I gave her my name, which was surely in the computer. Aha. Just then a phone number popped into my newly fumed brain. “Er, try . . . ” which she did while I inwardly cringed, for I’ve been known to give out my sister’s phone number instead of my own, which my sister finally realized after several months of odd messages from hair stylists and the doctors’ offices looking for Penny or Penelope. That is a story for another day, friend, for this day has a page of its own.

My pants and shell were whisked off to be cleaned, my receipt was firmly in hand, I muttered an “Ach, Columbus” – and off I went to wherever was I going next, which was really not where I was supposed to be.

So it goes on these monochromatic days, here along the Cutoff.

 

 

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IMG_7091It was such a pleasant afternoon that we decided to take a little stroll around the Dean Nature Conservancy.

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Hello?  Anybody home?

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.

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At the tip of the second of the four main branches on the top photo, there is something round hanging. You should be able to see it if you click on the photo. Tom was able to close in on it with the camera. Using my “Peterson Field Guides’ Eastern Birds’ Nests” and the internet, it appears to be the nest of the red eyed vireo. From the ground, it looked like a ball of twine hanging from a branch.

I love these sweet discoveries in life. Having four seasons often affords us the opportunity to see such wonders that are bared to the naked eye when trees and bushes are stripped of leaves. The first discovery was the nest. The second was the swollen buds.

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It was warm enough to walk with fleece jackets instead of winter coats. Here we are playing with our shadows.

IMG_7070The gravel paths were without ice or snow, though it was soft stepping, and the pond was still covered in ice. We could see deer prints and dog prints, as well as rollerblade prints. All sorts of creatures walk these paths in such pleasant weather, while the tips of thistle finish their long winter’s rest and the milkweed pods are as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboards.

Let the new season commence!

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DSCN6961 - Version 2One of my errands, on one fine day, was a trip to one of the libraries in my inter-library loan system. I was on a mission to find “Peace is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh, intrigued by an essay he wrote that Marilyn commented on in my previous post.

After a little late night wandering around the online catalogue, I found a copy at the La Grange Park Library and mapped my day’s route so that I could conveniently stop there.

I am pleased to say that once in the library, I was able to climb the stairs to the second level, hoping the old knee continued to hold up and not hurt. I found “Peace is Every Step”, as well as another book, then another, rounded the aisle and perched upon a comfortable easy chair under this wonderful rounded ceiling, next to a two story window.

As I perused the books, I noticed two males of indeterminate age out in the snow covered field below. Each had a large pallet, wider than themselves, and were pushing them through the snow. They would shove off, pushing, then one would get stuck. It’s driver would step backward, then forward with a little more push, rather like rocking a car out of a ditch, until he could move a bit further. Soon,  the snow was banked on the sides.

I went back to another book; Judith Dench’s memoir. What a beautiful woman she was; and still is. I thought about checking the book out, but, I’m knee-deep in reads, have a few big projects I’m juggling, and a very special houseguest coming next week.  I put Dame Judi’s book down and looked out the window once more, noticing two cages on either end of where the pallet pushers had been. Wondering where they went, I scanned the ground two floors down. There they were, sitting on the ground, in the snow, doing something I couldn’t see.

I found Thich Nhat Hanh’s short commentary, It is a Great Joy to Hold Your Grandchild, read it and knew I would be taking “Peace is Every Step” home. As I arose, there were the pallet pushers, now on ice skates with hockey sticks cutting through the air,  dancing around and around a black puck.  I realized that, by their size and time of day, they were probably middle school lads, emulating the Chicago Black Hawks, and having some good, if cold, fun.

Back in  my car, I drove past the rink the boys had determinedly cleared, and noticed a few other lads lacing up their skates and gliding onto the ice, shouting to each other as young boys will do, and I thought to myself that it was, after all’s said and done, one fine day.

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dowager-countess-downton-abbey-s4Lady Violet makes it look so easy, walking and talking, exchanging wisdom and wit with whomever is at her side, all while walking with a cane in hand, which she uses like a pen, scripting exclamation points with a flourish here and there. She leans on that cane as she graciously rises from a chair and knows right where to put it when waltzing with Branson; after all, he knows how to steer a car.

I’m no Lady Violet. I might have a bon mot or two, but, I usually remember them an hour after the conversation has ended.

As for brandishing a cane, well, let’s just say that I gave the technician in the ER something to talk about during his break. He wrapped me up with a compression bandage, then velcroed me into a stabilizer, and handed me my weapon, er walking aid, as he released the brakes to the chair. He looked at me in shocked surprise as I tried to walk two feet to the wall. Tom was trying not to laugh as he watched, but, in the end, we all had a good chuckle. Remember, dear one, I’m the gal who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Okay, Penelope, let’s try this again. Put the cane in your left hand. Use it to take the weight off of your right knee as you stand. “ .

I’m fine, just having a bit of a bother with my knee and some pain medication that has me more than a little drowsy.I slept all afternoon.

My Antler Man and I were at the Morton Arboretum, enjoying the view of the lake, while sipping on coffee and munching on muffins. We had stopped there after church, something we like to do on a Sunday morning. As we walked back to the car, my knee suddenly gave out, with a hearty helping of pain. I nursed it back home, while Tom nursed me; you know the routine, Advil, a bag of frozen vegetables, and elevation. As time went on, it became apparent that I needed more than a frozen bag of peas, so, off we set to the ER. After a few x-rays and a lot of questions, I was released to go home to rest, with some pain medications, an elastic wrap, a bulky stabilizer, and a cane.

With a bit of arthritis in the knee and some fluid, I should be fine after a spell, but, have a plan of action of I’m not; a bridge to cross with cane in hand if need be. The realities of the aging process, and a car accident some years ago where my knee and dashboard met are the culprits. I don’t even have a Perils of Penelope story to tell,  just a reality of life.

In-the-meantime, I’m really quite fine, just having a bit of bother and a crash course in caning. My own reality check after photographing this couple walking around the lake at the Morton from the view of the cafe.  They were walking, arm-in-arm, ever-so-slowly in the cold, bundled up and determined, one of them brandishing a cane.

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Anderson Hotel:Grumpy Old Men

The Hotel Anderson

Katy and I were on a road trip scoping out colleges. We drove north, through Wisconsin to LaCrosse, then west, over the river and through the woods to our first college visit, a night’s rest, then onward and upward to the Twin Cities. It was October 12, 1998. There was already snow on the ground along the river road route we were taking, winding around the hills that follow the Mighty Mississippi. While Katy had a driver’s license, she couldn’t drive with her leg in a cast, so I plugged along, steering us to our next collegial destination.  There were light snow flurries; nothing dangerous, just bothersome in that always dirty windshield with the intermittent wipers sort of way. It was a gray afternoon.

I could sure use a cup of coffee“.  “Doesn’t pie sound good right now?” So, the conversation flowed for several mid-afternoon miles, then we passed a huge billboard.

Whoa, Nellie, slow down!

Did you see that?” “Yes, I did.”  “Wanna go check it out?” . . .

. . . and so we did. We turned the car around, seeing the sign once again as we backtracked. The sign touted Wabasha, Home of Grumpy Old Men.

Have you seen the Grumpy Old Men movies?  Grumpy and Grumpier? Their capers and escapades, ice fishing and love interests are endearing, in a slapstick, sophomoric sort of way. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon had us giggling and guffawing time after time and, well, it was the perfect time on our road trip of serious educational exploration to take a time out.

We followed the signs to the Hotel Anderson. A magnificent relic of times gone by, and a bit of a cat house to boot.

Yes, I took my daughter to a cat house.

I ordered a coffee. If memory serves me, Kate had a hot chocolate. We both ordered pie. Mine was all-American apple. Heavenly, warmed, delicious pie, à la mode, no less, in an old, still operating, historic hotel that was filled with antiques and attitude. On the historic register, the Hotel Anderson was established pre-Civil War, and it is still in operation. Katy and I inhaled our pie and soaked in the charming atmosphere in the hotel’s dining room, glad for a bit of a respite, and a story to tell once we got back home.

My pie devoured, I walked down a narrow, squeaky hallway to the ladies’ room. As I walked back to our table, I perused framed photos, newspaper and magazine clippings on the hall’s wall. Some were signed by movie stars and dignitaries, with more than a few mentioning cats!

I asked our waitress, who proceeded to tell us that, are you ready for this?, guests of the hotel could choose certain appointed rooms and pick out a cat to join them for the night. She invited us to go up the stairs, look into the room where the cats resided and were on view for one’s choosing, so, we did.  The felines were on view from the half-door; all groomed and well-fed, purring and preening and napping – and not the least bit grumpy. We checked out the rooms that were unoccupied, the doors being opened to look in. They were charming and old; good for a simple night’s rest.  All-in-all, it was a most side trip, and one that Tom and I took some years later when the fall colors were abundant.

Several years then passed before I discovered the Ford Treasury cookbooks, which depict famous restaurants I have begun chronicling here on the Cutoff, I was pleasantly surprised to find The Hotel Anderson depicted.

Grumpy Old Men, and the Grumpier sequel, are always a hoot to watch, especially in winter. There are some hilarious ice fishing scenes, love scenes, and an inordinate amount of “potty talk”, all in the Minnesota town of Wabasha.

Across the river from Wabasha is the town of Pepin.  Pepin is where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born and where she and her family crossed Lake Pepin, in winter, to begin their journeys across the prairies. One of these days, I need to visit Pepin.

Have you seen either of the Grumpy Old Men movies?  Do you have a favorite scene? Do you have a favorite pie?

 

 

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THE O'NEILL BOYS :2O’Neill Oil Company, Williamsburg, Iowa

It wasn’t an oil company in the ways we have come to know them.

It was a gas station in all the ways you and I have recently discussed; a service station, a filling station, a place to have your oil checked, and it was a fuel resource for area farms near the small, midwestern town of Williamsburg, Iowa.

The O’Neill Oil Company was operated by the four surviving sons of Tom and Kate O’Neill.  Earl, known by everyone as Irish, was the oldest, followed by Chuck, Jim, and Joe.  Joe was Tom’s father.

Tom was the only son born to the O’Neill boys. Irish, Jim, and Chuck all remained in Williamsburg, working at the station, raising families in the small town. Joe moved away as a young man and eventually settled in Midlothian, Illinois with his wife, Carolyn, daughter, Maura, and Tom. Tom’s family would often travel to Iowa for holidays and visits. For Tom, the summers he spent in that little burg are fondly recalled. There, everyone knew him as Joe’s boy as he rode a bike from the gas station around the town, stopped at the soda fountain, and played with his cousins. They evoke a simpler era of being a young boy in summer.

The uncles all favored Tom, but, it was Irish who held a special bond with his only nephew. Irish married later in life and had no children of his own. When Tom was a youngster, before Irish married, he would stay with Irish and Grandma O’Neill; Kate. The Kate our own Katy is named after. I can’t imagine a more idyllic summer vacation for a young boy from the outskirts of Chicago.

When Tom grew old enough, he would help at the O’Neill Oil Station on his summer visita. More than a gas station, yet not a big oil company. Stations such as the O’Neill’s pumped gas, fixed tires, and wiped windshields like other stations of the 50’s and 60’s. They also provided heating fuel  and gasoline for running farm equipment.

As a “working” lad of 10 or so years of age, Tommy, as he was called by his uncles, aunts and cousins, would get up early and head to the station with  his Uncle Chuck. They would open up. Tom would pump gas, clean windshields, and patch tires. He would also ride along on deliveries to the surrounding farms with tanks of fuel and gasoline; a heady adventure for a young city boy and times he remembers with great fondness.

Tom would stay at the station with Irish to close up at day’s end, after having supper at Grandma’s or at Chuck and Betty’s house. After closing, Irish and Tommy would walk the short distance to the diner on the Square and have ice cream or milk shakes.

Irish would tell the waitress when he ordered a milkshake “and make it the drinkin’ kind!” .

Tom and I were sitting and chatting about his summers in Williamsburg as I was composing posts about Route 66 and filling stations; an easy conversation to slide into at any time, but, especially when talking about the ’50s and ’60s and the adventure one could still have on the road. One as likely to transition from patching tires and riding out to the farms to deliver fuel to summery Saturday nights on the Square, to one particular Saturday night in July when all the stores stayed open late and everyone came into town for a concert in the bandstand in the town square – but, first they stopped to “filler ‘er up” at the O’Neill Oil Company.

This photo sits in two places in our house; the library/den when I usually works and the office in the barn where Tom conducts business.

Do you have a memory of summer and music on the town square or park?

I wrote about Irish O’Neill and the time the Williamsburg home team played against the Harlem Globetrotters here.

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DSCN6621Jennifer and I were enjoying the opening festivities of Autumn Splendor at the Elmhurst Art Museum, sipping on wine, nibbling on finger food, chatting with old friends and acquainting new. We wandered into the galleries and the Richard Koppe Exhibit.  As we entered the gallery, a display case caught my eye.  Actually, something in the display case caught my eye. A book.  It’s always a book with me, it seems, even in a renowned art museum.  The book, to be precise, was a cookbook.  I looked down and squealed “I have this book” .

As others were observing the large surrealistic works of Koppe, I was chewing on a cookbook.

Several years ago, I came across the very same cookbook in a second-hand store. “The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places”.  A more charming than practical compilation of recipes from famous restaurants throughout the United States,  it is divided by regions, and illustrated with stylistic paintings of each restaurant, a recipe from the restaurant, and a short description.  The books were sold by the Ford Motor Company in the heyday of US road travel in big cars and fine dining along the way as many veterans returned home from war, bought houses that were springing up all across the country, bought their first car . . .

. . .  I snapped up the book faster than a filling station attendant once rushed out to fill up the tank, clean the windows, and check the oil!

In subsequent years, I came across several other printings of the book, with some new recipes and new restaurants as original ones closed. A small cookbook collection ensued. When in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pull one of the Ford Treasury books out, then all of them, and browse through the regions, admire the illustrations, and reminisce over featured restaurants I have actually eaten in. As I looked into the display case at the EAM, I recognized one of the printings of “The Ford Treasury . . . ” .  The book was opened to page 159, with a painting depicting the interior of the once famous Well-of-the-Sea restaurant in the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Neither the restaurant, nor the hotel, still exists,  but, the mural in the background of the illustration does. When I was though swooning over a cookbook, I looked up to see Koppe’s surrealistic mural generously covering a wall of the gallery.  While not my favorite artistic style, I could not help but be impressed at the “real deal” and the vibrancy of the colors and textures. Back home, I pulled out my treasury of mid-century finds, and there it was, page 159, in the North Central region. The Well-of the-Sea. I wandered about the pages of several Treasuries, finding restaurants I recognized, even some I have eaten in, across the country,  getting hungry for food – and for hitting the road. Here are a few I found that I have visited:  The Wayside Inn, MA;  Williamsburg Lodge, VA;  Antoine’s, LA;  New Salem Lodge, IL;  Plentywood Farm, IL;  Don the Beachcomber, HI. Do you have a dining “treasure” you would like me to look up in these books?  Let me know.  I would love do a future post showing a page of your remembered restaurants. DSCN6620

 This book jacket opens up to a map “. . . to decorate your kitchen or game room”. I think I’ll just keep this one on the book.

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