Archive for the ‘Family and friends’ Category

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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Oddly enough, Tony Orlando and Dawn have been singing away in my head lately.

Knock three times, on the ceiling if you want me,

twice on the pipes, if the answer is no

There I was, water raining down, my hair all wet and lathered up, when the water pressure slowly diminished until it was but a mere dribble. It would have been easier to rinse with an eye dropper. I somehow managed to get the soap out – and then became shower-deprived, followed by  flusher deprived- if you know what I mean.

For awhile, we were able to wash dishes and hands and use water by tapping on a valve, in the basement, two flights down. This meant we both needed to be in the house. It was, shall I say, an interesting “tap” dance in marital harmony.

I hesitated to complain, but DID, quite vociferously, in fact, to my beloved Antler Man, who had been waiting to shower for a very long time as he recovered from a foot wound. Instead of a shower he was employed in fixing the flusher (which I just wrote for alliteration). We did, in the end, need a new pressure valve and then, a few days later, a new tank. Thank heaven for this dear man who meets many such challenges and for our neighbor Rick who lent a helping hand and some expertise.

All’s well that ends well and a few more horticultural posts are perking away.

Besides being in a flush, I’ve been busy with family, gardening, and life in general and apologize for being absent for such a long while. I hope you are all doing well. For now, while I take another shower, here’s a clip from a movie I enjoy viewing every-now-and-again. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. It reminds me of our recent plumbing issues here on the Cutoff.

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The traveling vase has been resurrected!

The vase been sitting on the chifforobe since Christmas, patiently gathering dust. It was last filled with flowers when my daughter, Jennifer, made a festive Christmas floral arrangement.

Last week, my friend Bev shared photos of some clever Easter arrangements using –

wait for it –

jelly Beans and Peeps!

I was up for the challenge.

I already had a bag of jelly beans sitting on a kitchen shelf and Marshmallow Peeps are readily available this time of year. My friend Marilyn suggested placing a jelly jar inside the vase; the jar to hold the flowers and to act as a barrier between the Peeps and Jelly Beans.  A jelly jar to keep Peeps in line and hold jelly beans in place!

I ended up putting a shot glass inside the jelly jar to hold some daffodils. Daffodils are toxic to other flowers in an arrangement, but, I knew I wanted to pick some from the garden to add to the spray roses and Hypericum berries I had purchased. Glass inside of glass allowed to use the flowers I chose.

Daffodils are putting on a sustained performance in our garden, now that Spring has finally arrived.

So it is that the traveling vase has once again traded hands, hopping down the bunny trail to Jennifer’s house. Who knows when it will return or what will hold, but, I know it will be special. Very special, indeed.

The story of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase begins here.

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As we perused the vast holdings of my laptop computer, Ezra pointed to a word on the bookmark bar.

“Yia Yia, what’s that?”.

“What, honey?”.

“That. It says strawberry. What is it?” 

Forgetting what it was that I had bookmarked, I clicked onto that coveted word, strawberry, which propelled this adorable bundle of energy into a froth of strawberry anticipation. As he filled to the brim of excitement, I found myself humming.

Let me take you down, ’cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields …

The bookmark was for a recipe for Strawberry Coffee Cake Muffins; something I hoped to make for Ez when he came to visit. We looked at the recipe (well, I looked at the recipe, Ezra looked at the pictures of the muffin) and I mentally checked off what ingredients I had on hand. Soon enough, we wandered away from the computer and on to other things, the muffins forgotten – or so I thought.

The next morning, Ezra came searching for me to see if I was awake. Finding me with my eyes open and sitting upon my cozy chair, he fastened his baby blues on my face and proclaimed “let’s make strawberry muffins!“. He had me twisted around his fingers and he knew it!

Unlike the Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake bake-a-thon of the previous day, this time I didn’t have the ingredients, but, I did have a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin mix. Jiffy mixes are always easy-peasy and good in a strawberry pinch. While I cracked the eggs, measured the milk, cut up a few strawberries and turned on the oven, Ezra put paper liners in the muffin tins. As I put the mixture into the cups, he and Papa made a crumb topping and then very nicely topped the muffins with it.

These two are the best of buddies – and a great help in the kitchen! Ezra tried to be patient as the muffins baked, checking the oven window to see how they were doing. Before long, the buzzer rang and the muffins were set on a rack to cool.

It is hard work watching strawberry muffins cool.

Finally, the muffins cooled enough to eat. They were still warm enough for the strawberries to tease taste buds and seem akin to strawberry jam. My pint-sized muffin man could finally eat his strawberry muffin.

Do you know the muffin man?
The muffin man, the muffin man.
Do you know the muffin man
He visits Yia Yia’s Lane?

PS – Ezra asked me for the recipe.

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