Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

When the dog bites,

when the bee stings,

when I’m feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.


Days, even months, sometime become quite filled with the issues at hand leaving scant moments for posting here. This has been the case since my last post here along the Cutoff. So it is, dear friends, that I have not written for a while. I just wanted and needed to take a few moments to thank you all for continuing to stop by – even in my absence – and for being such a steady presence in my life.

Thank you!

That old dog did bite and the bee did sting, but, I do want to share some of my favorite things from the past month or so, including these munchkins, who aren’t so little any more, and who spent some time here at Thanksgiving. We baked, and colored, made silly pictures on Photo Booth and enjoyed so many special moments together.

Ezra asked if he could decorate a wee tree that was sitting in his bedroom. What a clever young boy he is.

At a particularly glum time last week, the super moon appeared and it followed us all the way home.

I’ve read a few books that kept my attention and thought that you might be interested in them as well.













I hope to be back posting more often soon as I pray you are all well and enjoying this season whether you are entering summer or into winter and especially thinking of those of you in harm’s way with the fires burning in California.






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The moment I saw them in the produce department I knew exactly what they were! I rushed over, my grocery cart making an abrupt left. My squeal of delight must have sounded like a siren as other shoppers pulled over and let me pass causing a gapers’ block in between the peaches and plums!


If you live in a Mediterranean climate, you likely see fresh olives in season. If you live in the midwest, you probably have never seen them. Olive trees do not grow in our erratic climate with our harsh, cold winters, long, dry spells, temperature fluctuations, etc. I knew what this box was because once, just once that I can recall, they sat on the small counter of our kitchen.

My cart – and I – came to a screeching halt. I reached into the box and felt the olives, still hard, rolling them around and through my hand like marbles. Memories came flooding back to that small kitchen in Maywood where I felt the love and security of family, where everyone gathered, and where I watched and waited and learned the magic of food in my grandmother’s hands.

The story begins with Romeo, a friend of my father’s who came to our house several times a week. Romeo wore baggy pants and sweaters and shirts that had seen better days. He and Daddy would talk fishing, the news, family and such as they sat at the kitchen table, drank coffee and ate whatever sweets my Yia Yia (my grandmother) or my mother would set before them. Romeo had a kind manner and gentle laugh. If Daddy wasn’t home, Romeo would stay until he returned, helping me with homework, curious as to what I was learning, chatting with Ma or Yia Yia, comfortable at our table.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager that Daddy told me that Romeo was very rich. His family owned real-estate in the city and a chain of stores. He also told me that Romeo had scars all the way down his back from wounds he suffered in WWII. Much later, long after my father passed away, when I had children of my own, that Romeo died. Many in my family went to the wake to pay respects to his wife and children, then sat and quietly talked as people tend to do at wakes. I sat reading the memorial card and was surprised at the name, which was NOT Romeo! Bewildered, we wondered aloud over how the name Romeo came about, certain there was an interesting story  that we would never know, but, I digress. This isn’t so much about Romeo as it is about olives, except that it was Romeo who brought my grandmother the fruit of the gods.

I came home one day to see a crate of  hard, green fruit sitting on the kitchen counter. I remember my grandmother’s happiness and appreciation over the contents that came all the way from California. Romeo had been on vacation there where family members lived. He brought the olives back. Did he have them shipped or did he bring them himself? I am not certain, but, I think he personally carried them on the plane!

What I do remember is the hammering as each olive was split open, revealing but not extracting the pit. What a racket that was! I remember days, or was it weeks, of the olives sitting in salty water on the countertop, then in bowls with seasonings in the refrigerator. I would sneak an olive here and there when no one was looking. I ate enough that my face broke out in hives. All that olive oil!  My thievery was exposed and my olive caper was up! They were on to me. Daddy gently but firmly said “Penny, these aren’t candy and if you eat too many you will be sick.” 

In those mere moments in the grocery store, I remembered the summer of Greek olives; the flavors, that crisp first bite followed by the tasty inner flesh and the lingering sensation that seemed to last long after the olive was consumed. I imagined the hard pit placed on the side of my plate, but only after I’d eaten every bit of olive on it, with family or friends or both gathered in that small kitchen with a large welcoming feel – and I remembered a kind man’s gift and a gifted woman’s talents.

My cart once again rolling, I checked off items on my list and then headed over to the olive bar, making a selection of green olives that would not last long in our own refrigerator.Romeo, oh Romeo . . .



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How fortunate I was to have had these trusty engines stowed safely behind the driver’s seat. They kept me company and pushed me forward as I chug, chug, chugged along on my long ride home past farmland and forests, mists and moisture, sunshine and shadows in the peaks and valleys of landscape. At times it felt as if I had been dropped into a bowl of candy corn, the panorama of fall colors following me with views I never tire of.

While our Up North family has graciously travelled down several times in the past year, I have not had the opportunity to visit them until recently. Packed with pumpkin muffins and assorted granny goodies, I was anxious for a few precious days. I wasn’t disappointed.

One fine day, we spent a delightful afternoon on an island.

Nicolette Island is located on the Mississippi River which flows through Minneapolis. The island houses restored Victorian dwellings, De Lasalle High School, the Nicolette Island Park, an impressive pavilion, the Bell of Two Friends, the Nicolette Island Inn, and winding paths that afford amazing scenery and opportunities for young ones to explore, pretend, and appreciate nature. Our daughter and son-in-law, Katy and Tom, have instilled a healthy appreciation and respect for nature in their children and are to be commended for their efforts and example.


As we approached the Bell of Two Friends, we giggled a bit as the backside looked a bit like, well, like a backside. Once we went under and around the sculpture we were amazed at this stunning monument of peace.

Fall had come to Nicolette Island on what was a crisp, overcast day, displaying colorful splendor on this lovely island.



We walked and wandered, St. Anthony Falls and industry sharing the space, before crossing back into downtown Minneapolis and Penny’s Cafe.


The chef made our crepes on a large, heated wheel, across from the table we chose to sit. We all watched in awe as he balanced the orders, spreading crepe batter on the wheel, filling and folding, making sandwiches and other delectables on another slab to his right.

I chose a crepe fromage, which exceeded expectations! It was outstanding. Ezra, who chose what the woman who took our orders described as special, wholeheartedly agreed, saying it was special, as he energetically tackled his grilled cheese sandwich. Kezzie’s little stuffed fawn, stuffed in his special way, snuggled for warmth next to Katy’s coffee as we all enjoyed the food and the ambiance of Penny’s Cafe.

What a balm for the soul this little adventure was, with an attentive and caring mommy, two darling, inquisitive grandkids, nature and even nourishment in an establishment bearing my name. There were so many other moments of joy during my brief  trip; too many to mention in an already long post. I was grateful for my time with our Up North family and appreciate Ezra’s sharing of his engines as I wended my way home.

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Not only was there moussaka and pastitsio, there was also chicken and sausage, salads galore, pies, cannoli cake, and baklava – there was also the heartwarming realization that the younger generations are now making the recipes of our ancestors and crafting their own delectable dishes as well.

This was my summer’s second familial gathering, this time on my father’s side of the family. When Pam and Spero offered to host a congress of cousins in July, I leapt for joy. Well, of course, I didn’t actually leap. You know the extent of my athletic abilities – I haven’t leapt in years and never voluntarily. I felt like leaping. At any rate, with my two left feet firmly on the ground, I was both grateful and anxious for the opportunity to see cousins I have not seen in quite a while.

When I say cousins, I am referring to the farther reaching limbs of the family tree. We are Greek. The youngest new growth  and the deepest of roots count as cousin! I was well into my teenaged years when I finally realized that I actually had only two aunts by blood – the other forty were cousins; first, second, third – all cousins!. Aunt Helen, Aunt Bea, Aunt Janet, Aunt Stella, Aunt Georgia – these were all my father’s first cousins, and they are just from one limb of the tree – AND I had several Uncle Johns as well.

While many of us reside in the Chicago area, others traveled long distances to attend. Since we last gathered, there has been sadness, illness, challenges and losses, but, there have also been births, accomplishments, milestones and happiness. It was healing, helpful and hopeful to congratulate and console – and be together.

I found it intriguing to listen to or engage in conversations about family occurrences, remembered in as many ways as there are siblings, cousins and in-laws. What we remember, forget, or see from a different perspective contributes to lively conversations, especially when told by some of the best story tellers around!

Here are a few of us who were in attendance. They represent several generations and are a small slice of the wonderful legacy of my generation’s grandfather’s; brave and enterprising souls who crossed the Atlantic as the 19th and 20th century merged.

I did not know my paternal grandfather. He died when my father was a teenager. My father died young as well, when I was in my teens. He loved family. Our house was always a gathering spot, especially on summer weekends. He would have enjoyed Pam and Spero’s home and hospitality. I felt his presence among us and couldn’t help but see so many family traits; the eyes, the sense of humor, the art of conversation.

All in attendance enjoyed good food and warm hospitality, which would not have happened if it were not for the graciousness of Pam and Spero. They opened their door, invited us in, and made this reunion possible. To your health, Pam and Spero, and Ευχαριστώ !

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I was pleasantly surprised when a “save the date” announcement arrived, then quite delighted when the actual invitation came for Linda and Paul’s celebration of their golden wedding anniversary with a party to mark the occasion. It was mind-boggling to realize that 50 years have passed by!

Linda and I are first cousins. Our mothers were sisters. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding.

I was hoping that we would be able to attend. Tom and I had a few challenges which needed to be met before we could commit. At long last, that which needed to be was finished, rendering me pleased as punch to pack up the car and head to Green Bay, Wisconsin in June.

I was surprised and felt special when I was asked to be a bridesmaid. A shy, bookish and awkward teenage girl who had never worn a long gown or attended more than a handful of weddings, I was nervous and excited – and I felt the twinges of an awakening in the woman I would eventually become. I realized, much later in life, what a gift I was given in being asked to “stand up” for Linda’s wedding. Young and naive, I had no idea of what to do, but, with my mother’s guidance and the kindness of all, the wedding remains a very sweet moment in time for me. Indeed, Linda and Paul’s wedding has been a lasting example to me of including younger family members in joyous times. In asking me to attend her wedding, Linda was also honoring my mother, her Aunt Violet.

The limbs and roots of family trees are so much a part of who we are and what we become. On reflection, the wedding also gave me warm remnants of joy to hold on to just two years later when my father passed away.

What a beautiful day the anniversary celebration was, with a splendid gathering of Linda and Paul’s children, grandchildren, brother, cousins – and Linda’s childhood friends. Everyone chatted, caught up, looked back, laughed and shed a sigh or a tear for those no longer with us; what family does when it gathers together after so many years. This golden anniversary celebration was as much fun as it was a balm for my soul. It was an honor to share Linda and Paul’s anniversary and a moment in time in which I realized that the long ago gift of being asked was given to me, once again, in the invitation to join in the celebration, leaving me with a thankful heart.

Here I am, a teenager, at Linda and Paul’s wedding. I have the sweetest memory of their wedding ceremony in a heavenly little church in the countryside and I wish them many more years together.

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We baked. We always do.  Shortbread, granola, a chocolate Bundt cake for Papa’s birthday. Still, there wasn’t enough time for this sweet young lady and me to have one last cup of tea.

This charming lad and I watched Thomas the Train and cuddled in early morning before breakfast before he turned into a thirsty Minion after he and his cousins and sister rode bikes and scooters round and round the front island, laughing and screaming as children do when having fun and expending energy.

Kez and Ez did what children in the Midwest do in summer; they caught lightning bugs (fireflies) in jelly jars, the lids with small holes punched out. Pure childlike glee at seeing them light up the night.

I am missing them. The house is quiet and the hours still, but, grateful for such a good week together with them, their parents, Aunt Jenny and Uncle Jason, and watching them interact with cousins on both sides of their family.

It is always nice to have photos to share. I hope you won’t mind if I do.

Our citizen scientist was quite knowledgeable about Monarch eggs and caterpillars. As soon as she heard me proclaim “there are two Monarchs floating around the front garden” she took to finding eggs.

Once upon a time, Ezra’s Papa (aka Antler Man) sat in this very same rocking chair with his own great-grandfather.

Whether riding furiously around in circles, measuring ingredients for a cake – or measuring who is the tallest, these two darlings brought smiles to my face and joy in heart. A grateful heart and big thank you to their Mommy and Daddy for sharing them with us this week.






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I would sit at the kitchen table, a clean, unlined sheet of paper in front of me, fountain pen in hand and I would practice writing my letters. M and N, the lower case r with its slanted rooftop and q with is quirky, connective tail. I loved the flow and link of letters on cold, white paper and I felt the challenge my father made; write in straight lines without a liner under the paper.

I would write my Palmer perfect letters, quite content in the action, then I would let the letters flow in the older script my Daddy used. He had such elegant penmanship that spoke of a different era. I would attempt to copy his signature, not for nefarious reasons. I was much too timid to assume I could forge his signature and, if nothing else, I was, and am still an honest girl.

Sometimes, my letters would morph from English to Greek. Penelope looks much more romantic in Greek, with my own flair of course, but Daddy’s flair, in either language, was special and evasive to me.

So it was that while recently sorting through old photos, I came across a little album and some loose photos of my parents during World War II. Daddy was stationed in San Diego during the war. Ma saved money from the several jobs she had along with money Daddy sent home until she had enough to take the long train ride from Union Station in Chicago to sunny California. I love looking at these photos. My parents, a young, married couple, together for a short while in wartime. Their happy faces and love for each shines through in these photos and see so much of myself and my sister, our children and grandchildren in their faces.

On the back of the photos is the other recognizable trait of my father; his handwriting. How fortunate we are that Daddy, in his flowing script, documented such moments with dates, locations, and brief descriptions.

Our own little family has been to La Jolla, California. We were there in 1993, almost 50 years after my mom and dad were there. We were, as they were, at Seal Beach, wading in the same big, blue ocean and walking along the same shore. I recalled the story of my mother’s long train ride to California, but, at the time, I could not find the shopping bag of photos she had given me. Time passed, I found the photos and put them all in a safe spot, where they rested until this past spring.

My sister, Dottie, and I were going through photos we each had, reminiscing as siblings often do when old photos are brought out. It was a pleasant spring day and our piles of photos, as well as our hearts, were full of memories. One photo appeared that I did not remember. It caught my imagination, as images of the past can sometimes do and was a photo of Ma and Daddy, young and in love, he in uniform, she dressed “to the nines” in La Jolla. They are both looking straight into the camera, smiling, playful. I wondered who took the picture. A friend, I supposed; one of the men who exchanged Christmas cards and newsy letters in the post war years. I wondered if it was the friend of Daddy’s that my mother asked me to write a letter to when my father died.

I love this photo. It tells a sweet and simple story in sepia. It is of my parents when I was barely “a twinkle” in their eyes.

While I love the photo, it is the image super-imposed onto the picture that intrigues me. Another photo, or a negative, left a ghost image of my parents. I can barely make them out. Ma is sitting higher upon the rock. Daddy’s hands are on his knees. I can barely make out their faces. It seems a bit more formal and it is as if they have drifted out to sea to some  far-off place, together again – and perfectly scripted.


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