Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

Taking the time

IMG_4649As the clock ticks towards our Thanksgiving Day meal, my thoughts wander from the turkey roasting in the oven, family soon to surround us, and the bustle of activity that comes with this annual November cooking frenzy. The reason for all this November cooking frenzy in the first place?


Taking the time to count one’s blessings and to be thankful.

We have had a rough year, for sure, but, we have also had more blessings than not, experienced grace, and been shown mercy. Our home is warm, our stomachs regularly filled. Loving family and friends are ever-present and we are sheltered from the winds and snow and cold. We are also mindful that not everyone is as a fortunate as we are.

I sit in a quiet moment of this Thanksgiving Day and I think of my ancestors, boat people all, who sailed across the Atlantic; some at the turn of the 20th century, others much earlier in time, and of those already here who opened their doors, fed them, housed them, found them jobs until they could find their own way in this vast land. I think as well of those my family in turn sheltered, tended their children as they worked, fell ill, buried husbands or wives, mothers and fathers. Each in turn, taken in, shown the way, keeping to customs and religious beliefs and slowly assimilating to others.

I sit here in my quiet moment and remember those Thanksgivings of change as loved ones passed away or moved distances afar, when money was tight and when it was plentiful. I think of the Thanksgiving when our world seemed to tilt in its axis when John Kennedy was assassinated.  We have broken bread on Thanksgiving with authors and musicians, students and immigrants; some at our table, some at the tables of family and friends.

One Thanksgiving our little, fledgling family hosted one guest. and I remember him this Thanksgiving. Gabrielle came from Croatia, by way of a Soviet gulag. Arrested and sentenced to years in a prison, his crime was distributing leaflets while a young man studying to be a priest. This kind man entertained our young daughters with stories of the kitten who befriended him during his darkest hours in jail; a kitten he shared his meager meal of bread with, and he shared his faith, which did not waver. It was a Thanksgiving so long ago now, but, still as fresh as the meal now roasting, for its poignant moments and Gabrielle’s joie de vivre.

I chuckle at the recollection of the frozen turkey that almost killed me, propelling toward my head at 35 mph and of the turkey whose giblets I left in the bird, only to find upon carving. There was the pumpkin pie I dropped trying to move it up a rack in the oven, shooting pumpkin custard all over the kitchen, including the ceiling and me and the youthful Thanksgiving when it was just my immediate family – a rarity growing up. My mother decided to roast a capon, whilst I worried how in the world she could cook, and worse yet, we all eat a bird with a cape on.

I sit here in my quiet moment, smelling the aromatic scents of our own roasting “bird” and can recall the flavors of my life along with the many faces across our table and other tables we have dined around. As I remember, I wonder and I hope that this simple gift of Thanksgiving on a Thursday in November will always be a day of Thanksgiving, no matter where our ancestors came from, and will be more  than a prelude to Black Friday, a paragraph in history.

My bird needs basting and some vegetables need to be diced, so, I best end this quiet moment of memories. Before I do, I need to say thank you, one and all, for visiting here on the Cutoff, reading my words, sharing your thoughts, taking the time to be here.


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Old friends and friendly fires

IMG_4381 - Version 3Old friends . . .

My Antler Man and I have been fortunate in this long life together that we have shared. We have had, do have, many friends who have graced us in a miracle of ways. Friends who introduced us many moons ago. Friends just recently made. All those friends in between. They are a part of our crazy quilt of life; stitches and cloth, batting and backing – stained with the tears of happiness, growth, sadness and joy.

On Friday night, we had the pleasure of traveling a familiar trail to the home of Cathy and Bill.  Vickie and Mike joined in a hearty meal of soups and accompaniments before we all wandered out into the spacious yard and back into Cathy and Bill’s secret circle of warmth. The soft glow of torch lights led our way; an entree of sorts to comfortable conversation and those perfect pauses in between that firelight offers.

This fire pit was seasoned by the many warm fires whose embers have glowed over the years. It was recently enlarged and lovingly groomed to honor Bill’s brother Bob, who often enjoyed the glow of bonfires here before his sad passing. I sat for a bit, thinking, what a fitting way to honor a loved one. We mark our time here on earth. Blessed are those whose memories are held in such significant ways.

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IMG_3987Last Sunday, this young lass and I made granola.

We also made a mess. Papa thoughtfully cleaned up for us.

Kezzie is a “cook fantastic”.


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The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all.
Laura Ingalls Wilder *

Today is Foursday. Our Ezra attends preschool on “Tuesdays and Foursdays”.

Since today IS Foursday, and since I’ve been rather absent from these pages lately, I wanted to tell you about a few adventures we have had after the terror of Tula 2. Our little adventure started last Foursday as we headed up North to visit with our northern family and help Katy while our son-in-law, Tom, was away for a few days, but, let me begin in at the beginning.

My Tom, whom I will refer to as I often do as Antler Man, and I decided to take a little extra time driving on up, in part to soak up what we hoped would be a colorful landscape of colors throughout Wisconsin. The further north we went, the more vivid nature’s palette became.


We finally arrived at our destination in time to meet Kezzie’s school bus. For those of you close to grandchildren, this is likely routine, but, for those of us with some distance between our grands and ourselves, it is a treasured treat.


Katy, Tom and crew have been observing what is bound to become a family ritual, and one I highly recommend to all of you, wherever you live and whatever you climate. For them, way up north, they have dubbed their activities Parktober, in which they visit a state park every weekend in October.

On Saturday, last, before Tom left, we all piled into the car, layered with warm clothes and provisions. We drove past sweet little towns along the Minnesota side ledge of the Mighty Mississippi. Some lunch, some ooh’s and ah’s at the famous river town of Red Wing, and we headed to Frontenac State Park for a hike.

This is one of the first views we saw, overlooking Lake Pepin. By-the-way, the photo was taken by our Kezzie.


This is from the Minnesota side and it is Lake Pepin. THE Lake Pepin that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about as she told of the Ingalls family’s westward migration from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, crossing the lake, which is a very wide spot of the Mississippi. They crossed in winter, over ice, as it was the most expeditious way to cross at that time.

For those of you who often read my words here on the Cutoff, you know from my ramblings how fond I am of Laura’s books and her story. It was so thoughtful of Tom and Katy to include us in their weekend’s Parktober, and sweet of them to pick this particular state forest.

The wind was brisk, so off we went, following a trail into the woods.


We started to descend down dirt steps and I realized that what goes down, must come up. Hesitant, with a bum knee, I opted not to take the trail. Katy took pity on me, and we ventured in a different direction – through the prairie. It was warmer than on the bluff, with sun beating down on us, grasses surrounding us, and the colors of Autumn at their peak. Laura and Ma, er, Katy and Mom, walked close to two miles, snapping photos, talking, not talking, the sorts of discussions one has when on the prairie. It was one of those times where life grows sweeter by the moment.

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Well, dear reader, it is still Foursday and I have a few evening chores to attend to. Before I close, here are two stores we stopped at in Red Wing on our way home. Who can pass up chocolate and books?

I took a photo of Kezzie – and she took a photo of me.

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One last photo, in the prairie. I couldn’t see the camera’s screen for the glare of the sun. Sometimes, you just have to click and hope for the best.

I think I will call it my Foursday tree. Thanks, Ezra, for a brand new word.


*Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/laura_ingalls_wilder.html#mSCuTTI5s8UyO0Cy.99

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It sounds like a brand of toilet paper – or maybe an additive to motor oil?

TTP isn’t toilet paper, nor is it an additive.  It is rare, complicated and life threatening blood disease.  Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Below is the amazing machine that helped saved my sister’s life when she was diagnosed with TTP. I christened it Tula 2. It seemed fitting to name the machine; a lighter note in a heavy song. Tula is a nickname. My grandmother often called Dottie Tula when we were very young.

Tula 2 was wheeled into Dottie’s hospital room  – every day for seven days. A nurse, trained in the intricacies of plasma and platelets and plasmapheresis, accompanied Tula 2. 11 bags, approximately one liter each, arrived shortly after;  frozen, matching Dottie’s blood type.

Nurses verified information to insure that Tula 2’s plasma and Dottie’s matched. The specialty nurse checked and double-checked and hooked up the bags of plasma, the warming cylinder, the tubes and leads and ports of entry and other life-renewing details that escaped my small sphere of knowledge.

Other nurses rotated in and out to check Dottie’s IV; full of saline and antibiotics and steroids and other things they attended to.

Tula 2 is a finely tuned machine, as are all of us. Dottie’s fine tuning suddenly and painfully went awry. Her blood platelets dropped dangerously low. Even before a definitive diagnosis, Tula 2 was called upon to exchange Dottie’s plasma and give her blood platelets a chance to multiply and thrive – and they have. There was no choice in this treatment. No chance to think it over, get a second or third opinion, weigh treatment choices. While not quite “out of the woods”, my sister can now see the forest through the trees. Brighter days have dawned. She is at home after a very long hospital stay, slowly regaining her strength.

I am so very grateful for EMT’s and emergency room doctors and nurses who detected a blood issue and called in a phenomenal team of doctors, nurses, and technicians. I am equally grateful for plasma donors; nameless and faceless heroes who give life to so many – and I am grateful to the Lord for bringing my sister back.





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IMG_3185 - Version 4It was a Goldilocks sort of day; not too hot and not too cold.

It was, in fact,  just about right with a soft breeze and a few wispy clouds, stimulating conversation with kindred gardening spirits and more than a sprinkling of hope for the future following the footsteps of two bright and energetic high school students.

An inquisitive contingency of garden club members began our excursion wandering the grounds of Lake Katherine. I’ve taken you to this nature center and its grounds often, so, I will leave it to your imagination (or a click onto the featured installments you might like), and just tell you that we enjoyed the waterfall and botanical gardens, the nature center and a long walk around the lake. It was a perfect morning for such an outing.

After time for lunch and time to rest our weary feet – for there is always food for the ladies of the garden club, we headed but a few city miles to one of the more innovative high schools in the City of Chicago.

Set on a busy south side corner of Chicago, a high school sits; not unusual in any big city and certainly not unusual in Chicago. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences is relatively new in structure and occupies land, some 72 acres, that was the last farm in Chicago. It is a fully accredited college preparatory high school with core classes and the usual extra-curricular activities, only this school has cows and horses, grows corn and bushels of vegetables, scattered with farm machinery and students who don Wellies.


After an informative briefing by staff, we began our tour of the CHSAS. Our docents were two of the most delightful, enthusiastic and knowledgeable women who have ever led me around a high school – and believe me, I’ve toured many-a-high-school in my life. From computer labs, classrooms and library, to the machine tech labs and a barn, they guided us through a high school as rich in academic studies as it is in animal husbandry and horticulture.

We spent some time in the greenhouse where students were tending to seedlings,


and met some four-legged staff in the barn and pens.


One of our docents is also a student bee-keeper. These hives were in a courtyard which was teeming with apiary activity.

Bee HIves

We walked along a hallway of honors, common in high schools, but this one had honors from the renowned Chicago Flower and Garden Show, 4H, and US News and World Report.


This is a remarkable high school whose teachers, staff and students give me (dare I say all of us on the tour?) hope for the future. An emphasis on agricultural sciences is not uncommon in a state that produces corn, soy beans, and pumpkins. What is remarkable is that it sits in a large urban city that was once the” hog butcher of the world”.

I am sorry there aren’t more close-up photos. I was being mindful of not showing students. Instead, I will show you two of my favorite friends.

A day that was just right.

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Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 2While most of the schools in our area have already been in session for several weeks, I still think of Labor Day as the last day of summer, signaling the official start of school, not to mention the unofficial start of Autumn. It is a time of new beginnings, at least for school children and their teachers, and for me it is a time of fond remembrances of zinnias.

My grandmother grew zinnias. I’ve written of them before and of how Yia Yia harvested the seeds, saving them in different colored packets made of tissue that differentiated the various colors of her plants. It was a practical and innovative filing system for a woman who did not know how to read or write. I do not know the origin of the seeds, but, I think they followed her home from a trip she took to Arizona, the only trip I ever knew her to take.

Each spring my father, or one of my uncles, would turn over the soil in a large, circular garden. The seeds would be sown, watered and weeded through the summer and seemed to always reach their peak right about the time that school started – the day after Labor Day.

In those days, we did not know who our teacher would be until the first day of school. Teachers’ names and class list would be posted on appointed doors, we would line up according to teacher, and our schooling would begin. A few days would pass in that hot and slow first week of school as we slowly settled in – and a few days would pass until Yia Yia went out to the zinnia circle and cut bouquets for my sister and me to bring to our teachers. Long stems were cut, the stems were moistened, then wrapped in newspaper, nice and tight on the bottom, loose on the top to let the colorful bouquet breathe. I can still remember those bouquets; their fragrance, their colors, the occasional insect who hid among the petals, and the delight of my teachers.

I can still see Yia Yia and her pride in her zinnias. I think of her in these late summer days, when the zinnias are in full bloom and the seasons are starting to flow from summer to fall, and of the scent and textures of those full bouquets, wrapped in newsprint, that came to school with me in the early September days of my youth.

These are a few zinnias that greeted me in several recent garden walkabouts in this summer full of glorious gardens.

Penny’s garden at Country Garden Cuisine

Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 1

Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 3 JPG

Downtown Hinsdale

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Nina’s Garden

Nina Koziol's Garden:Zinnia IMG_2692

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