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Guess where I’ve been?

Tundra

Need another hint?

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It was heartwarming to spend time with these two youngsters, our grandest of grandchildren, while I was Up North this past week. I was lending a small hand as our son-in-law, Tom, began his recovery from surgery after an already challenging summer from an injury. I wish I could be there, still, but responsibilities on the home front necessitated my homecoming. Hopefully, enough leftovers will make up for my leaving, and some cheerful memories will linger for Kezzie and Ezra.

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The darling dog is Tundra, a Goldendoodle. She is the newest resident of the Up North limb of our family tree. Tundra is very sweet, becoming very big, and learning the rules of the manor – when she isn’t being silly out back, that is.

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The first night I was there, after dinner at Pieology (where I chose and enjoyed a pesto sauced pizza) we stopped at the library to return and check out more books. We left with two bags filled with books (can you imagine how much this warms my heart?) and Keziah showed me around their newly opened library. I was more than impressed by the children’s section, with books at child level, a welcoming atmosphere, and interactive manipulatives that stimulate budding imaginations.

I appreciate and admire communities that value libraries and libraries that have the foresight to evolve with changing times – daring to keeping libraries relevant and friendly places for young people while maintaining the community service of lending out books.

Speaking of books, I would like to recommend one to those of you who enjoying cooking with children. The Forest Feast for Kids is by Erin Gleeson*. Actually, I would like to recommend it to all of you. It is a fun, well illustrated, photographed, and detailed book full of vegetarian recipes for children to prepare. We gave it to Keziah for her birthday and were pleased to learn that 61qJKe+MLDL._SX366_BO1,204,203,200_she has been enjoying it. She pulled it out on the last day I was there. We snuggled and explored the book together, talking about the different recipes, like melon cake (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew), cut and stacked to make a three-layered “cake” with yogurt in the middle. We discussed what we could make for lunch. While we were missing one or two ingredients for most of the recipes, the cookbook inspired and led us to ideas of our own of what else we could make with the ingredients at hand. Kezzie decided to make “cracker sandwiches” – and here she is with her creation.

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Earlier on the same day, Ezra was intently “forking” peanut butter cookie dough. He proved to be a very good sous chef.

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I always find it fun to be in the kitchen with children – and these two sweetie pies make food preparation extra special.

I am home, now, and I miss them already, but, it is what it is, and so goes life here on the Cutoff.

*Erin Gleeson is also the author of The Forest Floor, her earlier cookbook.

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IMG_8144Homeward bound, we decided to take a small detour. I wanted to check out Crawdad Slough, where I have spotted an egret. She is usually hidden along the reedy edges of the shore, stock still or slowly moving toward an unsuspecting target. I saw her, recently, high up in a tree and wondered if she was building a nest. The detour was my wandering hope that Tom could see it on our way home.

There we were, chatting significantly about the insignificant, just moseying along in the late afternoon, when I saw it!  Not the egret, but, instead a sign. No. Not an omen or an octagon, saying STOP. It was a big, bright, yellow sign, just out of the corner of my eye as I drove right past it.

Did you see that, Tom?”.

“What?

That sign?”

I hung a quick left into someone’s driveway and whipped my way back from whence we came.

RAW HONEY — >

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The sign pointed north. As soon as I turned, there it was. Just up a drive. A big yellow box with bold black letters.

 RAW HONEY.

We pulled into the driveway and hopped out of our mocha VW with a latte interior – such a trusty traveller she is – and looked around to see if anyone was outside. I called a cheery “Hello. Anyone here?” IMG_8759With nary a soul in sight, we walked up to the box. It had a few latches but no lock and key, and some bold honeybees painted around it.

There we were, the ever-patient Antler Man and Penelope Pitstop (she who stops at every box) and looked to see if we could open it. We fiddled a bit with the latches, then we slowly opened one door, then the next. One must be very careful when opening a newfound box – especially one with such large bumble bees depicted on it!

Inside was a sign with explanations, and an honor system for any customer wanting a jar of honey. How nice! Honor systems are not unusual down country lanes or in rural areas, but, they are not very common hereabouts, even in our semi-rural neck of the woods.

What a surprisingly delightful discovery this was; while not a white egret, a very sweet cache of local honey.

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I dutifully signed the guest sheet. We slipped our payment for our jar of Hilltop Honey in the appropriated container, closed and latched the bright yellow doors, and set back on the road-less-travelled home, where I promptly made a cup of tea with honey – and very good honey it was.

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I try to buy local honey, not only to support local businesses and beekeepers, but, also because it is said that ingesting local honey helps counteract seasonal allergies. I do not know if this is scientifically true, but, I do not that my own seasonal allergies have abated since I have been using local honey. Most of the honey I buy is from this general area, usually a farm stand, appropriately called The Farm, but, none of it is from hives only four miles from our home.

So it goes; a sweetened tale of life here on the Cutoff, where small detours sometimes lead to large, snowy white birds – or honey pots and the honor system.

(I did feel, just a wee bit, that I had just discovered the Bee Tree in the Hundred Acre Woods.)

 

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IMG_8656I was sitting with my laptop, on my lap, my eyes on the computer screen. my ears on the strains of music.

I always look forward to PBS’s airing of A Capitol Fourth and enjoy the program; the music, the people, the tributes, and the memories.

I was relishing it all, from military bands to pop stars, my eyes wandering from computer screen to television screen, watching performers and attendees enjoy our national birthday party.

Kenny Loggins came on, first playing Convictions of the Heart, then rolling into Footloose. Not really a song one would expect on Independence Day, but, then, again, why not? We ARE free to dance where we want. Flash Mobs pop up and invade social media, those being “flashed” seem to enjoy them, but, I digress.

My feet always start to move when Loggins’ Footloose comes on, and I did right then;  I felt footloose and started dancing around, hoping I didn’t bump into the furniture, knock a lamp over, or bungle my back. Sometimes it is fun to just cut loose.

We saw Kenny Loggins in concert a few years ago. It was a wonderful outdoor concert at the Morton Arboretum. By the time the stars and fireflies came out, even  the trees were swaying to Danger Zone.

Kenny’s songs played often and loudly in our house. The House at Pooh Corner was a strong contenders for Katy’s father/daughter wedding dance. James (you know who) won out.

Kenny was singing, my toes were tapping, the Capitol rocked – and my memory wheel started turning back several decades to the year we spent the 4th of July, Independence Day, in Washington D.C. The girls were old enough to appreciate the trip, young enough to go along with all the historical venues (well, most of them).

We spent the entire day, July 4, touring D.C. sites, starting with the reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the National Archives, and ending with the fireworks display on the Mall. We rode the trolley to Arlington National Cemetery, quietly taking in the rows upon rows of burial markers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also paid respects at the Kennedy graves, then onward to the Lincoln Memorial, which was full of people, the reflecting pond suddenly coming to life for me where it had been before only in historical photos, Forrest Gump, etc. We spent time at the Smithsonian’s museums and more changing of the guard at the National Archives. We spent time on the Mall, witnessed the Viet Nam Memorial, and listened to a bit of a character expound on why he was running for president . . . let’s just say there have always been characters running for president. This candidate wore a safari outfit, complete with a whip, like Indiana Jones, and he shared his arrest record.

Unplanned and unprepared, we found a spot on the lawn of Mall to wait for the fireworks – after we dined on the worst hot dogs imaginable and lived to tell about it! We sat on our sweatshirts, as we did not have blankets to place on the grass. Religious groups, aging hippies and folks from all walks of life and countries made what appeared like a human blanket on the nation’s lawn. It was really one big block party. I think the four of us will always remember it, though in different ways, with different but valid convictions in our hearts.

 

 

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IMG_6517A sea of pink flowers,  artfully arranged by the ladies of the garden club. A simple set of instructions: clear vase, pink, white, green and black flowers and adornments.

A historical presentation of The Little Black Dress, modeled in vintage dresses covering the nine decades our garden club has been celebrating this year, in the grandeur of the magnificent Medinah Country Club.

More than 130 women, elegantly attired in black and pink, green and white, tailored and flowing, long and short, sipping drinks and chatting with friends as they perused more than twenty artistically adorned raffle baskets.

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A delectably plated luncheon of tomato bisque soup, salad topped with warm chicken, and this pièce de résistance.

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It was a remarkably memorable afternoon. Two wonderful women, my friends,  were honored as Women of the Year. Our garden club members and their guests forgot their worries and troubles for a few hours, or, at least felt those burdens lift.  They were, hopefully, feeling as special as they are in this all-too- brief  but very special moment in time

A few glimpses into the Elmhurst Garden Club’s annual luncheon – A Little Black Dress.

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IMG_5896When I think of orchids, I think of my mother-in-law, who always wore an orchid on Mother’s Day. She requested a cymbidium orchid for our wedding. I had heard of orchids, but never cymbidiums before. I mentioned it to our florist, who was also a cousin. Irene jotted it down as if it were no big thing. Little did I know then that cymbidiums are commonly used for corsages.

Over the years, I observed her carefully take her orchid off and put it in a little plastic bag that held a moistened paper towel. She would place it in the refrigerator. When I asked her why she did this, she said it would keep the orchid fresh and she would be able to wear it again, which she did, pinning it on her lapel for work the next day, and sometimes even the Sunday following Mother’s Day.

I thought about my mother-in-law last week as I passed a row of cymbidium orchids during an outing of our garden club to Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park. As soon as I saw the sign naming this orchid, my mother-in-law came to mind. I was busy talking and now sorry I didn’t get a photo of one.

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IMG_5907Hausermann’s, as most folks around here refer to this business, is the oldest and largest orchid producer in the Midwest, with clients around the world. It was started in 1920 and today is run by 4th and 5th generation family. Come February and March, Hausermann’s holds an open house on two weekends, inviting the public in to their growing spaces.  While Hausermann’s is open to the public during business hours, this is a yearly opportunity to see the entire operations, including a peek through the glassed-in room where orchids are propagated.

We were able to walk the many connected greenhouses, taking in exotic scents and colors and features of hundreds of orchid varieties. Staff wheeled out more orchids as bare spots started to appear on tables.  A holding station for selected orchids was available, allowing shoppers to continue to browse before purchasing their plants. There was even a room for refreshments, replete with coffee, tea, strudel, muffins, etc.

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IMG_5876About ten of us managed to work our way to a long table where we rested and chatted and put the world to right on a cold and cloudy winter day. It was a casual gathering as members wandered about, left purchases with one of us while they ran back for another treasure. While my friends walked out with well-wrapped packages, I managed to leave without making a purchase.  I did, however,manage to capture a few photos to share with you.

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Perhaps I’ll venture back one day soon and buy a cymbidium. IMG_5879IMG_5845IMG_5917

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DSCN4952 - Version 2 The thing is, be they chance encounters with passersby, chats with long-time friends or are brief interviews by design, conversations can lead us to new and unexpected horizons.

My recent visit with one centenarian led me to moments of contemplative solitude reading the words of another. Stanley Kunitz’s words and my mention of these encounters in turn led to insightful conversations with friends closer to my own age.

 I am nowhere near my own century mark, nor am I a spring chicken. I have a few outward scars from surgeries, accidents, and gravity – and a few inward ones that we all acquire in life, but, the thing is, I am still here.

I have pondered at how quickly the years have passed and how they now seem to speed faster and faster by. The thing is, I AM still here, in relatively good health, with a loving family, wonderful friends, and a consistent flow of possibilities.

I do not know if I will make it to 100 years, or,  if I do, that I will be as lucid and capable as the two centenarians that are roaming around in my thoughts. I do know that they can be a benchmark. My benchmark. A new benchmark.  My own aging expectations have not been that high. You see, my father passed away at 52 and my mother was just turning 67, but, what if 100 is the new goal post? That would mean I’m actually still in my middle ages, and you, perhaps, aren’t even yet middle-aged, and on and on we go.

. . . And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game . . .   Joni Mitchell

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IMG_5142It had been an exciting, fun, terrifying, heartbreaking school year, and summer had finally arrived. 1968/69 took me away from home for the first time in my life, living in a college dorm, exploring my freedom, making new friends, and then, suddenly, losing my father to a short battle with cancer.

I needed a summer job. An acquaintance of my mom’s worked for an employment agency and found me one, with a small insurance company. By small, I mean very small. It was in an old building, a storefront, across from the El tracks in Oak Park. It was owned and operated by an elderly gentleman, his middle-aged son, and a secretary. I would type, answer phones, file – and I was to tell them I would not be returning to college in the fall.

I am NOT a good liar. I do not lie BUT,  I needed the job. My father had died that spring and if I was to return to school, I needed money. A  “sad sack” story of coed who needs the job to get the education.

They hired me. 9 to 5. I had a few dresses that were way too short, which was pointed out by Madame Secretary. She didn’t like my long hair, either. It was long. Very long, down my back, parted in the middle, straight and full. Did I say it was 1969? Most days, I pulled it back in a long ponytail. A compromise.

Madame Secretary gave me typing and other chores to do; the sort that one would expect for girl #2 in a one girl office. Thankfully, I never had to make the coffee. Mr. Johnson, who was really very nice, was Swedish, with a tiny bit of an accent, and he liked an egg cracked into the coffee grounds. He drank his coffee with a sugar cube (or more ) in his mouth, and I always felt I should bring him a tin of butter cookies, but, this was long before I became a good cook.

His son was looking toward new ventures and buying real-estate and such; the way father/son business relationships can sometimes go. I was tongue-tied and timid around him. I think this was my first realization in life that I related better to the grandparents of the world. Ha. I still do, which is probably just fine as I now am one.

June turned into July, July into August. I rode two busses from our apartment, transferring mid-route. I would go out and walk during my lunch hour, stopping at a drugstore for a treat or to call home on the pay phone, or, more often, call my Aunt Christina. She had a way of making me feel better about my circumstances, and, if that didn’t work, always had some choice comments about the boss (son) or the secretary.

I missed my college friends. Most of them lived several hours away. A few lived in the area, along with high school friends, but, even that was a challenge as I no longer lived in the same towns as they did. It was a lonely summer, but, one often spiced up with letters from friends, phone calls, and a few dates with a really cute guy I met just before classes ended that June.  He lived in the southern suburbs and called me often on the phone. We went on quite a few dates, mostly to the movies, getting to know each other. He played guitar and had performed at his sister’s wedding that summer, which seemed pretty “cool” to me. Did I say he was really cute? and he was really tall.

As the summer wore down, those dog-days of August made the bus rides close to unbearable. I thought of my college chums and getting back to school and started fretting about what I was going to say to Madame Secretary and my bosses. It was mostly Mr. Johnson, the elder, that I felt badly about. He was such a charming gentleman. With only a few weeks left before I needed to pack up my belongings and head back downstate, I needed to come up with something to say; an excuse of why I would be leaving.  They hired me as full-time with the understanding that I would not to be going back to school.

Oh, how I fretted! I don’t remember if it was one of my friends or just my own lame brainstorm, but, on a Monday in mid-August, wearing one of my shockingly short dresses, my hair long, still parted in the middle, and in PIGTAILS, I arrived at work. I sat at my desk, which was on the west side of the room (why do we remember such unnecessary stuff?) I told Madame Secretary, when she came in, that I had something to tell her. “Oh? What?”.

Sigh.

I told her I needed to give notice. I would be leaving in two weeks.

Why couldn’t that just be enough?  She wanted to know why, of course, and that was when I blurted out “I’m getting married.

In two weeks?

Once you start down the road of lies, it doesn’t get shorter, does it? No.  It gets longer, with sharp, snaky turn and unexpected detours.

Yes. I’m getting married.”

In two weeks? Who are you marrying? I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend” “Who is he? What’s his name? Why so fast?”

“His name is Tom”. (I’d had a date with that cute, tall guy that weekend.)

Those two weeks were terrible. Madame Secretary pumped me with more questions than you can imagine, and she was angry, very angry with me for leaving, and the son wasn’t very nice, either.  Mr. Johnson was as pleasant as ever and made a point of talking to me over his cup of coffee with a sugar cube in his mouth, every morning. I think he figured me out. His kindness was charitable and sweet.

As bad as the initial lie was, it grew, like Pinocchio’s nose. Where was the wedding? Would we have a honeymoon? Where? What did TOM do?

Oh, friends, it got worse. I counted the hours of each of those days through those two weeks of deception. I told Madame Secretary that we were having a small wedding in the Greek Orthodox Church (no one has a small wedding in a Greek Orthodox Church) and that we were going someplace in Wisconsin. I couldn’t even come up with a place in Wisconsin. I said that we were moving in with his parents (whom I hadn’t even met).

Madame Secretary wanted to know what the color scheme of our bedroom would be. l said pink, while turning pink!! Really. Could I have said anything else? Pink! Pink? I was evasive in my answers, and can only imagine what they thought of me. Actually, I realized that what they thought of me was probably that I was pregnant and that we would be deposited in his sister’s bedroom. Remember. She had gotten married that summer.

So, on the last day of work in that storefront office, with old wood floors and coffee percolating, Madame Secretary informed me I could leave early (for I was getting married that weekend). Oh, the web we weave . . .

They called me to the back room and we all had coffee and cake, in honor of me and the groom, and engaged in unbearably uncomfortable small talk. Then, they handed me a nicely wrapped wedding gift!

. . . and that, my friends, is how I came to receive a lava lamp!

I did send a thank you card, as Mr. and Mrs., and, to add to my crimes, I spelled the last name wrong.

THE END

(Oh, and yes, four years late I married the cute guy, and four years after that, I had that baby.)

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