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2_Abraham_Leon_Kroll_American_artist_1884_1974_The_ConversationIs there anything more satisfying than solving the world’s problems with one’s hands cradling a warm cup of traveling steam – and whatever floats inside it?

I am one of the fortunate ones. I have friends and family who are ready and often waiting for a good sit-down chat, whether it be at the kitchen table, in a coffee shop, lunch in a quiet restaurant, or on the ether pages in this modern world.

I think, these days, with family and friends oftentimes far away, or too busy to catch their breaths, that the internet has become a virtual clothesline. We hang our laundry up to dry and hope that, perhaps, a neighbor or two will wander by for a spell while we clip the clothespins on.

While I am writing, I often have a cup of tea or a mug of coffee at my side, and I think about you, dear reader. Do you read with a favored cuppa nearby? Are you in business attire, your pajamas, a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt? Do you chew on a cookie or a piece of fruit as you turn your virtual pages with a click that comes as sure as your next breath, traveling here and there around the blogosphere?

I am a “people person”. I love to strike up conversations with my best of friends – or the librarian checking out my latest read. You never know what you will learn on these verbal forays. For instance, the cashier at Walgreens, who recognizes me as the lady who sometimes comes in to buy their dollar molasses cookies, shared with me that a local fast food/ice cream stand purchases the very same cookies to make the ice cream sandwiches they sell. The gals and guys at the Jewel always take the time to ask how I am – and care.  Once, my address visible while paying with a check, a cashier asked me if I knew Jim and Connie who live on my street. Indeed, I did. It was their house we bought. I swear, if there had not been other customers in the queue,  we would be talking still about what nice people they are.

Well, the kettle is whistling and I need to ice my old knee, so, I guess it is time to stop.

Thank you, forever and always, for wandering by for a spell. I always enjoy our chats.

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A lollipop was mentioned.

I don’t recall why.

 I started signing the oldies song, Lollipop. One thing led to another, Kezzie dashing into her room then back out again, just as I found the Chordettes on youtube. We had some fun singing the lollipop song, over and over again, and trying to make a “pop” sound with our fingers and cheeks at just the right time.

I thought you might have some fun either remembering this, or having some fun of your own with the younger set.

Anyone recognize the chap making the lolli-popping sound?

Do you have a song that brings on silliness and fun?

 

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MagicofOrdinaryDaysth copyth-2th-3th

MV5BMTg0ODM2NDc5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODM2Mzk5MDE@._V1_SX214_AL_Photo on 2-6-15 at 1.42 PM #3MV5BMjIyMDAxMTExMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTc0ODEzMDE@._V1._CR67,63,1255,1917_SX214_AL_Photo on 2-10-15 at 12.05 PM #2Roman_holidayPhoto on 2-1-15 at 2.17 PM

Happy Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your favorite love stories?

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It is such a joy to have someone who wishes to sit with you on a sofa and listen to a watch tick.  Penelope Fitzgerald

DSCN7323When I first saw this quote on Nan’s blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, I knew I would eventually pirate it to the pages of the Cutoff. Fitzgerald’s quote speaks volumes about the sweet moments of being with children. It is the simple, quiet (or not so) moments that are endearing and that keep us company in the off hours when they are not with us.

As I’m nearing my time to leave for home, the tender moments of being with Kezzie and Ezra are all the sweeter, as is my time with their Daddy and Mommy. I will soon get in my car, packed with my belongings, and a few of theirs; their sweet child smells and their soft padded tread, as well as enough loud and enthusiastic sounds that could fill a sports arena. I will pack their endless questions and propositions. “One more time, Yia Yia.” The whys and whens, and the inevitable poopies, Yia Yia” ). In will go the yogurt smudged sweater and the slightly bent emery board.DSCN7353

Gone is my little notepad, now Kezzie’s Journal. Can you imagine that? A kindred spirit if ever there was one. Her first entry is a picture and a fine one at that.

As I mosey down the long road toward home, I’ll wonder if Ezra will finally call me Yia Yia instead of Jenny – once I close the door – and if Kezzie will still feel our cuddle times when I’m no longer there and I will hold the gentle bliss that comes from listening to a watch click.

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DSCN7328Photo on 2-6-15 at 1.46 PMPhoto on 2-10-15 at 12.05 PM #2

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We like to name our snowstorms here in Chicagoland. We stack them up like snow shovels at the back door, waiting for the next big one to come drifting down and then we recall their names in our collective memories.

The Big Snow.  New Year’s Eve Storm. 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard. The Valentine’s Day Storm. The Blizzard of ’79. This weekend’s snowstorm has been christened The Super Bowl Blizzard.

From late Saturday night to early Monday morning, snow swirled and twirled and sleeted  – and it edged out a previous March snow record, my father’s blizzard, knocking it down by an inch in its ranking, making The Super Bowl Blizzard the 5th highest accumulation of snow in Chicago’s history, measuring in at officially 19.3 inches.

My father and his sister, Christina, aged 12 and 10 at the time, had their tonsils removed on March 25, 1930 at the Presbyterian Hospital. It was just two blocks from their house. They walked to the hospital and would have walked back home the next day if nature had not made a call with what was, at the time, the greatest recorded snowfall in the history of the City of Chicago; a record that held until 1967.  *

The Presbyterian Hospital was one of the first of its kind in Chicago. It was affiliated with Rush University, and today is part of the Rush Medical Center, one of the finest in the world. Renamed Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital, it also claimed the tonsils of my sister and me in 1962. I call it the “two for one sale”; siblings who have tonsillectomies at the same time. My father and aunt. Tom and his sister, Maura. Dottie and Penny. You?

I remember both snowstorms well, even though I was not yet born in 1930. I was not even a “twinkle in my father’s eye” in 1930. My memories are family folklore, for that storm and it’s events were retold, each and every winter, after big snowfalls, and every March of my childhood.

On March 25 and 26, 1930, snow fell as Daddy and Aunt Christina were having their tonsils snipped. By the time they were sufficiently recovered,  Chicago was blanketed in deep snow. No streetcars were moving. No cabs. Nothing was moving. It was too cold and dangerous for Pete and Christina to walk home and they were too big to be safely carried.  Biting winds swept in off the Lake. Not many drove cars back then; well, no one but Bill, a cousin.

Bill and his machine were dispatched. The children were bundled beyond recognition. They were settled into a 192o’s automobile which moved, inch by inch, home. My grandfather sat in the passenger seat. Pete and Christina were nestled in the back seat under an array of blankets.  It took them almost an hour to drive two blocks. Bill and my grandfather got them home safe and sound.

My family never forgot Bill’s kindness in bringing the children home that day. I was born in that very same hospital; my mother and father walking the two blocks to my birth. Bill would become my godfather.

The 1930 March blizzard would come out of the deep well of family lore each winter; a reminder of a big snowstorm that my father and aunt endured after their tonsillectomies and were driven home in a car. While I enjoyed hearing about the storm, as I did about all family stories, I was secretly, childishly, elated for The Big Snow of ’67.  That historical blizzard gave me and my generation of Chicago area kids a big snow of our own.

The Big Snow of 1967 holds a record which has never been broken. 23 inches of snow fell in that snowstorm. It brought the City of Chicago and the suburbs to a halt and is etched in the memories of my generation as much as the many other memories of that era.

That snowstorm of 1967 was the “perfect storm”, of Biblical proportions it seemed. It is still talked about around kitchen tables and by meteorologists, who pull it out of the archives of storms whenever another big snow falls. So it now, as we shovel out of the Super Bowl Blizzard of 2015, which just nudged my father’s 1930’s storm to 6th place . .

. . . and we still recall The Big Snow of 1967, a storm like no other.

It’s all in a name – or one tenth of an inch.

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* There have been years with more snowfall in a season. These records are sustained snowfalls without stopping.

1. 23.0 inches January 26-27, 1967 The Big Snow

2. 21.6 inches January 1-3, 1999 The New Year’s Storm

3. 21.2 inches January 31-February 2, 2011 Groundhog Day Blizzard

4. 20.3 inches January 12-14, 1979 Blizzard of 79

5. 19.3 inches January 31-February 2, 2015 The Super Bowl Blizzard

6. 19.2 inches March 25-26, 1930

7. 16.2 inches March 7-8, 1931

8. 14.9 inches January 30, 1939

9. 14.9 inches January 6-7, 1918

10. 14.8 inches December 17-19, 1929

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shoppingMy earliest childhood memories are muted in black and white with my cousin Ted nearby. He was a constant playmate in the large brick two-flat in which our family lived. The house on Congress Street was filled with family; aunts and uncles and cousins, my parents and sister, and my Yia Yia.  The photos are many of Teddy and Penny with Christmas presents, sitting on Santa’s lap at Marshall Field’s, and some with a Christmas tree in the background.

There are stories, too, of Christmases past, especially the one where my dad conjured up Santa Clause talking to Teddy and me through the heating ducts.  “Penny. Teddy.” the voice boomed.  “Have you been good?“, our toddler heads pumping yes up and down like bobble headed dolls. The masterful storytellers that wove the stories year after year are now long gone, but the tales, they linger on.

That magical junction where Christmas memories become my own merge in our small house on Harrison Street in Maywood. The lively cast of characters still played their roles, but, in separate houses next to each other, with my Yia Yia living in our house.

The magic of Christmas began in the early morning under the same Congress Street Christmas tree, which followed us to the suburbs. The tree has a story of her own that I will tell one day.

On Christmas morn, at the foot of tree, were two felt stockings, their toes rounded and plump with an orange in each toe; one stocking for my sister and one for me. Inside the stockings were trinkets befitting young girls of the 1950’s; a necklace or bracelet, a candy cane, a toy. My stocking was decorated in pink with a ballerina appliqué on it; proof that Santa has a sense of humor.

It did not really matter to me what my stocking held. What mattered was that the stocking appeared each year – and that it was filled to bulging with a fragrant orange.  We had those stockings every Christmas Day in the morning throughout my childhood. As we grew older, the stockings were filled with other small treasures, evolving as we did, until they held such things as lip gloss and oval, plastic eggs holding Legg’s pantyhose.

What I remember the most, however, are the oranges and it is oranges (or tangerines or Clementines these days that evoke Christmas memories in me.

Ma gave each of us our Christmas stockings to keep when we were on our own. When Tom and I married, I bought us new, matching stockings that we would fill for each other. How fun it would be to come home from work or awake in the morning to find our stockings a little fuller as the days until Christmas neared. What could that little wrapped box mean? or that odd shaped tissue paper lump?

When our children came along, they each had a stocking of their own, which, each in their turn was filled as well. When they became engaged, a Christmas stocking appeared for each of our then future sons-in-law, and those stockings followed each couple into their own marriages.

The constant in my Christmas stocking(s) has always been an orange; with its taste and scent and nostalgia. Besides, how else does that toe in the stocking become full?

Addition to post:  Teddy and Penny on Santa’s lap in Marshall Fields. dscn6409

There is a heartwarming and sensitive movie; which is sometimes sad and harsh,  but always hopeful, called Christmas Oranges.  Have you seen it?

 

 

 

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DSCN6911Pinching and rolling, as the sweet aroma emanated from the oven, I thought of my childhood, my Yia Yia, and the trail of powdered sugar that has followed me all of my days – and well into Monday night as I baked kourambethes.

Kourambethes are the delectable Greek powdered sugar butter cookies.

As I formed the dough, trying to keep the balls uniform in size, my earliest memories drifted in like the sweet powdered sugar of my childhood home. Many-a-morning,  I would slowly awaken to the distant whir of a motor. Opening my eyes, I would find our bedroom door closed and I would know by the sound that the “mixmaster” was spinning and kourambedes would soon be baked.

My grandmother, Yia Yia,  insisted that the “sweet butter” and confectioner’s sugar be beaten for an hour. I’m sure it heralds back to the time before electric mixers were common appliances and the women took turns hand turning the dough. I know it isn’t really necessary these days, with the power of a KithenAid, but, I beat the butter for an hour just the same.

Yia Yia once sent me to the neighborhood corner store, Fred and Ed’s, for sweet butter, which I could not find.  Returning,  empty-handed, she sent DSCN6902me back. I returned, near tears, Fred telling me he had no such butter. Aunt Christina saw me from her kitchen window; going to the store,  leaving the store, crossing the street, and taking the sidewalk that connected our two houses to our back doors. Back and forth she watched me obediently pass. Her house was the corner house with a clear view to Fred and Ed’s opposite her house.  She finally stopped me and asked what I was doing. “Yia Yia wants sweet butter, they don’t have any, but, she keeps sending me back”. My aunt explained that sweet butter was DSCN6903another name for unsalted butter. She  told me the color of the box I needed to find, then waited for me to once again enter the corner store – and finally finding the sweet butter!

So  . . . back to my baking, pinching and rolling my memories. My handed down recipe for kourambethes calls for a saucer of powdered sugar and 5 or 6 cups of “Swandsdown” cake flour, sifted three times. The only way I can tell if the mixture is ready to bake is to taste a pinched piece. Yia Yia always pinched off a small bit of dough for us to taste as children, and that is my true measure, to this day. Once the dough past the taste-test, the baking began. The scents and flavors of my life wafted from my childhood to that of my daughters, one of whom asked me if I would make kourambethes again. . .

. . . and so, I did. With sweet butter.

Were you ever sent on an errand for an illusive ingredient?

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