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Archive for the ‘Historical’ Category

“Gratitude can transform common days into
thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change
ordinary opportunities into blessings.”

 William Arthur Ward

I rolled over, checked the clock, and wished for a few more moments of sleep and a dozen or so more degrees in temperature.  At an unseasonably cold 17 degrees (F), I was signed up for a guided walk with a friend that I had not seen in quite a while. A nature enthusiast and photographer extraordinaire, I didn’t want to let Peggy down – nor myself – so, a mantra of “up and at ’em”  pushed me forward and into the frigid early November morn. After a cup of tea, an English muffin and then a shower, I layered warm clothes on: a hooded fleece jacket, my blue winter coat, and a red shawl to brace myself against the wind, and headed out to the Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Peggy greeted me as I got out of my car and we headed in to the mansion where other attendees had gathered. We  met our docent, signed in and chatted while waiting for others to arrive before hearing an overview of our morning’s walk with a focus on gratitude.

I can not say enough good things about our docent. She was knowledgable about the mansion, the property, and the history of the area, while having a calming aura about her, encouraging us to observe what was around us while being mindful of the beauty and sense of place. At several locations, taking from the indigenous people who once lived here, we had moments of instruction and then moments quiet solitude.

As we were guided through the grounds, we were encouraged to feel the pull of the land we stood on and to feel the encouragement of those who may have helped us or lifted us up in our lives. While this wasn’t the intent of my participation, I none-the-less felt the overwhelming sadness of this past year as well as the abiding appreciation of those who helped in the caring of my sister, Dottie, as she entered into the final stages of her journey with pancreatic cancer. There were many who lifted us up and in so many ways eased the load of caring for someone at end-stage cancer. Unintentional in my choice to participate in this walk, I was quite mindful of a cathartic elements this walk afforded me.


We spent some time around the chapel, used by the monks who inhabited the estate after Mr. Peabody suddenly passed away and the property was sold to them. A few walkers remembered the youthful legends of Peabody’s Tomb and the monks who lived there; teenaged adventures of the fearless and those who dared to trespass on the property. We walked around, admiring the chapel and the site, some of us writing thoughts down, others taking photos, talking or just being present in the moment.

 

We walked the restored prairie amid native grasses and plants. My shawl helped keep me warm, however, I may never get all of the seeds I brushed against off of it. I wondered if the owl found me to be a foolish human!

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The oak savanna helped shelter us from the wind and the rustle of leaves was a soothing sound. Soon, we arrived at Mayslake, which is manmade. It glistened in the sunlight and sparkled in its iciness.

 

One of the many gifts of this walk was the flocks of Sandhill cranes that gathered overhead. They were close enough for us to watch as they swooped and floated and joined together for their long migration south. I felt such gratitude for this sighting. These cranes are most often heard but are only seen as specks high up in the sky. The photo (below) does not do the migration justice, I am sorry to say. If you zoom in, you might be able to see the groups circling as they join together. It was only when I downloaded my photos that I noticed the hawk landing on the top of the tree.

Our docent encouraged us to keep a gratitude journal of small things and large that we have to be grateful for. She suggested that just writing a few words down each day is all we need to get started to trigger our memories. There is an action between writing something down that helps the brain remember. Hmmm . . . maybe that is why when I write down a grocery list then forget to bring it with, I do remember most things on the list.

Peggy and I warmed up a bit in the mansion, thanked the docent and decided to grab something warm to drink and lunch – and talk some more.

On my way home, I stopped at a newly opened home furnishings store. As I walked in, this journal caught my eye. I bought it and keep it near my bedside table, where I endeavor to write down words or phrases; things I am grateful for, starting with my very first entry.

 

https://www.dupageforest.org/places-to-go/forest-preserves/mayslake

For an interesting article of the history of Peabody and the tomb, here is an interesting article: http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-history-cop/2015/08/the-chicago-legend-of-peabody-s-tomb-and-the-masochistic-monks-turns-93-today/

 

 

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As we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, I am reminded of a book of fiction I read over a year ago and wrote briefly about here.  “A Star for Mrs. Blake” by April Smith, is a fictional account of a real act of Congress in the aftermath of the Great War.

In 1929, the United States government passed legislation that paid for Gold Star Mothers to travel to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in battle in WWI and were buried there. More than 6,000 Gold Star Mothers made this journey over a  three year period following the enactment of this legislation. They traveled, at the expense of the United States government, from all over the country to New York. The women had some time to rest after their journeys, then boarded ships and made the long crossing to France where they again rested and explored Paris before they continued their pilgrimage to their sons’ graves at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Verdun.

In this fictional account, Cora Blake, the main character, travels with other mothers from all walks of life. Cora is from a small fishing village in Maine. Other mothers are from the midwest, the Pacific Coast, big cities and farms. They are rich, poor, of color, and immigrants who came to America only to lose sons who left to fight the war. As dissimilar as they are, they are all joined in their loss. The mothers are referred to as “pilgrims” journeying to see their loved ones’ graves. Secrets, prejudices, fear, intrigue, murder and deception are all part and parcel of the story, as well as understanding, closure and both the good and the not-so of the military.

In France, Mrs. Blake (Cora) befriends a disfigured American journalist, Griffin Reed. Griffin was wounded in the trenches. He has a “tin nose” and hides behind a metal mask. An expatriate, Griffin was exposed to gas attacks while covering the war. So many soldiers were wounded by these horrific attacks  during WWI.I found Griffin’s story hard to read as I learned more precisely of the aftereffects of gas attacks. He survived his injuries only to battle the demons of drug addiction for his pain, both physical and emotional, as he is slowly dies of lead poisoning contracted from the metal mask he wears to hide his facial deformities.

“A Star for Mrs. Blake” was, for the most part, an engaging read about an actual program instituted by Herbert Hoover following WWI as the Great Depression consumed the country. It deals with the tragedies of war, prejudices, injustices, death as well as illustrating historical events of the era, travel during the 30’s, social classes and so many other issues. Mostly, it deals with the loss of loved ones. The book had me heading to Google to read about this particular legislation, ocean journeys, gas poisoning, lead poisoning – and more. Have you read this or similar books?

In closing, as this posts on Veterans Day, thank you to all veterans who have served, who have given the greatest of sacrifices, who still do. My hope, especially today, is that we extend the best of medical care to our veterans; for their injuries that are visible and that we can see, and for injuries that we can’t. 

The book cover is from Amazon

 

 

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“Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like one great fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf from lowest limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun! What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once, it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the mythology at last.”

-From “Autumnal Tints” by Henry Thoreau; 1862

 

One of our most memorable moments was on a fine October day, ten or so years ago, at Walden Pond. You can read about it here. On that remarkable day, Tom and I walked and talked and didn’t talk, seeing the original site of Thoreau’s cabin and a reconstruction of it. The air was crisp and clear and the scenery mystical. The photo on top was taken on Walden Pond on that long ago day.

Across the pond, a singular tree accented the landscape and glowed like no other. When Thoreau’s quote popped up in my internet wandering, I immediately thought of the scarlet tree at Walden Pond.

Thoreau’s quote and our Walden Pond walk came to mind once more as Tom and I walked, much closer to home, at one of our favorite spots, Lake Katherine. It was the same sort of cool, crisp October day, with the sun shining, powder puff clouds sprinkled here and there, the soft crunch of fallen leaves at our feet  – and the brilliant mythology of Autumn before us.

Right red

 

Where do you go to find your own myths of nature?

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I have her hands; the small hands of a girl. I can still wear children’s gloves. I tend to fold my hands in my lap as she did.

I have her hands – and I have her name. Penelope.  She never, ever called me Penny. I was always Πηνελόπη . Penelope.

While I have her hands, I do not resemble her, but, her hands, ah, her hands they are always with me. I feel them when I roll dough into balls for Greek powdered sugar cookies (kourambethes) and how I hold a knife when I cut vegetables for briami (vegetable stew). My meatballs are shaped as Yia Yia’s were – she always seems to be with me in my kitchen. I see her hands in my own when I water the flowers in my garden and when I pinch the dried seeds off of spent blooms. How I wish I had her zinnia seeds, which she carefully harvested and placed in different colored tissues, then tied them in little bundles with thread. Yia Yia could neither read nor write, but, she had her own filing system that allowed her to sow her seeds come spring in the colors she chose.

I wish I had the descendants of those seeds.

I am grateful to have this photo. It is one of only a few I have of the two of us. It is the last one taken before she passed away less than wo years later. She held her hands this way because they hurt. Yia Yia never complained from the arthritis she had. She would rub her hands to ease her pain or retreat quietly to her bedroom.

Dottie gave me this picture, about a year ago, before cancer debilitated her. It was among our mother’s things. Dottie thought I might like to have it, which I do, especially since I did not have this particular likeness of the two of us.

This photo was taken in the kitchen, on the day in June, 1968 that I graduated from Proviso East High School. The sleeves of my gown are too long. 50 years later, my sleeves are still almost always way too long. I keep hoping I will grow into them. I did, however, manage the near perfect “flip” under my cap.

Yia Yia looks sad. It is her aching hands that give her that look. I know she was pleased that afternoon. She was pleased that her namesake finished high school, and she was pleased that Πηνελόπη could read and write and would vote when she turned 21. Though she never indicated it to me, I am sure she was also a bit sad that summer’s end would find me traveling away to college. She never told me to stay, nor did she tell me to go.

Our television sat on the counter top , behind me, in the kitchen. Throughout my childhood and into adulthood, my world turned round and round in our kitchen. It was from the chairs around the kitchen table that Yia Yia and I watched the many turbulent events of 1968 unfold. It was at that kitchen table that I would sit, after coming home from school, and read her the news of the day. I would stop and pick up a late afternoon newspaper on my way home from school – back-in-the-day when we still had late afternoon newspapers. “Πηνελόπη, sit, Eat. Read me the news” – and so, I did, my fingers dusted with  newsprint, the tragedies, turbulence, troubles of the times passing from my lips to my Yia Yia’s ears. Sometimes, we would discuss an event or she would ask me to re-read a few lines. Mostly –  I would read and she would listen and we would be together, sharing the moments, me at the beginning of my time, she so close to the end of hers.

I treasure this image. My own world, like the world around us, changed dramatically in less that a year that followed my high school graduation. This image of  us, however, the two Penelopes, is forever frozen in time.

 

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I laughed, not at Dee, but, at myself as I recognized my own unique abilities to trip, to stumble, to drop things. My own mea culpas emerged as I read of her many public ones in her time as a postulate, a novice, a nun, a scholastic.

I cringed, not at Dee, but at myself as I recognized in her words my own younger self; unsure, exacting, looking toward a sainthood neither of us could achieve.

I learned, from Dee, as I became transfixed at the strict order in the life of a Benedictine nun, especially in the 1950’s and ’60, and at the beauty, the solitude, the silence and the strictures of living in community.

I cried. In the end, I cried, not in sadness but in humbled appreciation for the well-wrought words and graciously shared memories of Dee Ready. Her journey in belief, her years in the convent, and her profound honesty expressing her life-long search for self makes this a compelling book to read.

As I closed “Prayer Wasn’t Enough; A Convent Memoir”, tears streamed down my cheeks as a surge of gratitude grabbed my heart in the gift of the blessing of Dee Ready’s book.

I first met Dee through her blog, coming home to myself, about eight years or so ago. I hovered around her posts for a time before finally commenting, appreciating her writing, her stories, her honesty and her kindness. Over a period of time, Dee posted memories of her life in the convent, as well as many other stories of her remarkable life. What shined in all her posts is her humility, her kindness, and her advocacy for those less fortunate. Over the years since I first discovered Dee’s blog she has become a friend and an inspiration.

I was, as all of her readers were, excited to hear that her memoir was about to be published and anxious to read it once the book arrived at my door.

“Prayer Wasn’t Enough . . . ” opens with a transcendent moment in Dee’s life that leads her to become a Benedictine nun. Her story takes us to the convent adjacent to the college she attended and through her many years at the convent and in the schools she taught at as a scholastic nun.

There is so much packed into this precious book, from the more intimate details of a nun’s habit to the intricacies involved in daily service when living in community, I found myself fascinated by Dee’s descriptions of the well-ordered daily life in the Benedictine nuns, the Hours, the way the sisters were sent out to teach in the Catholic schools in a wide area through many states. I was amazed by the support Dee received in going forward with pursuing higher education during summer months and I laughed out loud at some of the small acts of defiance the younger nuns in her order acted out.

This book is as much about Dee’s acceptance of self as it is about her life as a nun. It is a fascinating read that I hope you will soon discover.

For an insightful interview of Dee Ready, please check out Debra’s blog at https://breathelighter.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/dee-ready-an-interesting-read/#comment-30900

Prayer Wasn’t Enough by Dee Ready

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It was in the Roosevelt grade school library that I found Lois Lenski and her series of regional books.  “Strawberry Girl”, “Cotton in My Sack”, “Houseboat Girl” and other books managed to follow me home from school. These books took me to places I had never been to and introduced me to children in other parts of the United States, their schools, their homes, their regional dialect, their family life and in the places where they lived in. Some of the children were itinerant workers along with their families, some lived in poverty and a few were put in harm’s way. These books were adventuresome and, in spite of troubles that came, they were uplifting. They were also illustrated by Lois Lenski. The artwork often told as much of these stories of the 1940’s and ’50s as her words did.

Watching the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and its continuing aftermath in Houston, Texas has been sobering, to say the least. The loss of lives and of livelihoods, homes, jobs, infrastructure as well as the peril to all involved – the list is far-reaching and will be never-ending for many. Yes, people are resilient and will persevere. They will rebuild, move, leave the area. Time may heal and it may not. From afar, I can only hope and pray and do what I can, which seems meager, to help in the recovery effort. Each of you grapple with similar concerns and many have had your own “hurricanes” in life.

As I tend to do, I look toward books in times such as these, and, in so doing, I remembered one of Lois Lenski’s books, “Flood Friday”. I read it, several times, as a child and I tried, unsuccessfully, to find it in one of the libraries in my loan system this week. The book is based on a flood in Connecticut in the 1950’s and one I hope to find someday soon.

The flood takes place on a Friday, as the title suggests, and finds the town’s children displaced, first to the grade school, then to a neighbor’s house on higher ground. I remember the book being riveting as the characters experienced everything being safe and secure as they went to bed at night to their rescue from the roof of their house the next day. I also remember the feeling of people working together and of helping each other out. Lenski’s words put me into the school’s gym and I imagined our own gym being used as a shelter with cots lined up across the floor and my friends and neighbors, out of context yet there in a room where we played dodgeball and duck-duck-goose. I tried to imagine having only the clothes on my back and could not quite grasp how my grandmother would have gotten up on the house’s roof, remembering family lore of how the ushers had to carry her down from her seat at the circus. Sigh. My thoughts rambled even as a young girl. The drift of this line of thought is how books transported me to other places in time and allowed for my imagination to grow.

Like Pearl Buck’s “The Big Wave”, which I came across after the tsunami in Japan a few years ago, I find myself pondering the miracle of books and their ability to help us understand and to heal. I know how they can help children work through issues, troubling or frightening times and to understand what others may be going through, how they live, where they live.

I will continue my search for “Flood Friday”, perhaps finding an old, used copy in one of my antique store haunts, and I will continue to pray for the victims of Hurricane Harvey as the storms continue and in the long period of recovery.

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Eclipse Day

 I had a meeting to attend, which was held in a local library.  The library has rooms that can be reserved for groups to gather in. The library was also hosting a live-stream viewing of the eclipse. Libraries do so much more than share books. They bring people together for good causes, information, lectures, workshops – and unique observations of this small planet we live on.

Our meeting commenced with facts and figures, observances and suggestions – and the increased “ping” of cell phones, alerting this one or that of where the moon and sun were in their celestial dance.

Citizen scientists and nature lovers, there are also several retired teachers who were itching to see Mother Nature in full solar force. One-by-one the chairs were vacated, business was concluded, and off we went to check out the live-stream or exit out onto the library’s outdoor grounds to experience this rare and unique phenomenon – a solar eclipse.

 

Here I am, my friends, expressing my own partial eclipse of the sun and the moon and my hair! (No, I did not look up with my bare eyes.)

Garden club members, who had been in attendance at the meeting, mingled with small children, library patrons, curious passers-by and library staff. Our dear friend Marilyn had eclipse glasses and shared them, as did the library’s director and others, passing the special spectacles around, sharing this special moment in time. I think I was as much in awe of those gathered as I was of the eclipse. A gaggle of dissimilar folks of all ages and backgrounds, abilities and interests, gathered on a walkway experiencing an eclipse of the sun.

I tried to imagine how our ancestors experienced an eclipse. They would not have had the big “build-up” we have experienced with scientific information, medical warnings, long lines waiting for free glasses – or the despicable scammers who sold glasses that were not what they claimed. Many of us remember altering boxes with pinholes, set upon our heads, class projects and spending time outdoors trying to catch images of the eclipse.

A few viewers were checking the weather on their cell phones, announcing a drop or two in degrees, which really is not unusual in Chicagoland.

We chatted and continued to share the sun glasses, a small consortium of curious folks following the sun and earnestly engaged in the moment. A chorus of crickets and locusts were strumming their music usually heard at dusk, though it was only midday. Their premature chorus was a call and response as we. in turn,  oohed and ahhhed and wowed and expressed our emotions at the awesome show in the cloudy sky on a hot summer day.

How about you? Did the eclipse’s path cross yours on August 21?

Have you ever experienced a solar eclipse?

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