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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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“Your mind — your curiosity — will be your comfort.”*

I recently stumbled upon yet another “Lucky Day” pick from the La Grange Library – and lucky it was!

As often happens, I was drawn to a book by its cover. I slid it off of the “Lucky Day” shelf at the library, and wondered, for a brief moment or two, why the cover looked so familiar, then realized it was reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s painting,  Christina’s World. Was it written by Christina? Well, of course not, but the author’s first name compelled me to read the flap of the dust jacket and to peek inside. I walked out of the library with Christina Baker Kline’s fictional novel, “A Piece of the World” and was soon engrossed in Christina’s world on the coastal farm in Cushing, Maine. The farm was settled century’s earlier by ancestors who came to escape their name, Hathorne, and the taint of the Salem Witch Trials.

Christina’s life is confined primarily to the family home in Cushing. From the earliest childhood years of her illness, her debilitating condition molds her life. From her determination to keep moving and living and making the best of her circumstances, to her later years, she stoically strives to keep moving through life. As she eventually can no longer walk, she uses her arms, then her elbows to move above, do chores in a house that is old, rundown, without indoor plumbing or adequate heating.

Christina excels in her small, country school, is encouraged to continue her education and to eventually become the school’s teacher. It is the kindness and encouragement of her teacher that gives her hope of a future, and the stubbornness and viewpoint of her father that end those dreams, taking Christina out of the school and keeping her at home, taking over her mother’s chores and diminishing her contact the outside world.

The book follows Christina’s life, from her loving relationship with her grandmother, her mysterious illness, her staunch refusal for what seems like experimental treatment, and her relationship with her brothers, especially Alvaro, and her friendship with Betsy and Andy. Betsy’s family has a summer-house in Cushing, Andy meets and eventually marries Betsy, who brings him, as a young man, to the Hathorne, now called the Olson house. He is intrigued by the house and the light and the views and spends countless days in one of the upstairs rooms, painting the scenery as well as the two remaining inhabitants of the house; Christina and Al. When Al is introduced to Andy, he is told that he is the son of N.C. Wyeth. Al remembers N. C.’s illustrations and declares that “Treasure Island” is probably the only book he ever read to the end. The house is both a blessing and a curse; a monument to history that often hold Christina and her brothers back, yet, it is a house that fascinates Andy, and it is both the anchor and the chain that confines Christina.

I loved the lyrical prose, the attention to detail, the simplicity and sparseness of words at times along with the weight of those words. I loved Christina’s fondness and instinctive understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. My heart ached at her naiveté and eventual heartbreak of a relationship she was led to believe would end in marriage. I was angered by her father, an immigrant and a sailor, who lacked compassion and understanding of his fragile, strong-willed daughter.

While the book is fictitious about the friendship of Christina and Andy (Andrew Wyeth) as well as Andy’s wife, Betsy, it is based on research and known facts. It imagines the restrictive edges of Christina’s life and how she endures the hardships that surround her. “A Piece of the World”  is a captivating novel that I not only enjoyed, but, a book that led me to further exploration of the life and the illness of Christina Olson, her relationship of the Wyeths, and her family’s ancestry.

As I closed the pages of “A Piece of the World”, I remembered a trip Tom and I took to Philadelphia where we saw a retrospective exhibit of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While Christina’s World was not part of the exhibit, there were other paintings of the Olson farmhouse, and its inhabitants. It was a remarkable trip to Philly, prompted by the exhibit. I then fired up the laptop and was greeted with a discovery that had me heading to the post office as I returned “A Piece of the World”. How opportune that the USPS released these Andrew Wyeth stamps just as I closed Christina Baker Kline’s compelling novel.

 

This quote is the parting words of Christina’s teacher when Christina leaves school for the last time. *

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At the end of a rather busy day. I impulsively pulled into the parking lot in Elmhurst’s Wilder Park. I had not been to the Conservatory in a long while, so, thought I would take a few minutes to see what was flowering and to bask in the calm, rejuvenating presence of place. As I pulled into a parking spot, my breath was caught by the kiss of a breeze on the wave of rows of flags. Memorial Day was but a few days away.

My steps took me toward a direction I had not planned. I bypassed the conservatory and ascended the steep steps of the historic Wilder Mansion. The Mansion was closed, but, I took the advantage that the elevated steps would afford me of a different view of the flags.

The flags are placed in remembrance of those who died while in service to their country. They called Elmhurst home; a home that honors them in this park and in other locations on Memorial Day. I was moved by the flags; by what they represent and the sacrifices made by each life and by their loved ones. I said a silent prayer. A young woman, camera in hand, passed by, looked up at me, and climbed the flight of stairs as well.

As I looked out across the landscape, I could see what looked like a large marker just beyond the flags, and decided to walk the small distance of grass, past the flags, to have a closer look. As I walked, the breeze touched the flags, revealing cards which held the names of those who had died. Two children ran between the rows and I thought it about how the sacrifices of those these flags represent gave us a country where children could frolic free and happy on a warm spring day.

The monument I saw in the background was one that had eluded me for several years. I knew it was in Wilder Park,  I just wasn’t successful in finding it. The flags on the lawn and my perch on the steps revealed it to me.

This monument is to honor those from Elmhurst who lost their lives in Vietnam and commemorating the Moving Wall that stood in this park in 1988.

Visiting the Moving Wall in Wilder Park in 1988 was a humbling experience and, I think, a somewhat healing experience for many. It was there that I found the name of a boy from school days; elementary school and high school. It was there we witnessed a friend, head bowed, tears in his eyes. We had not known that he served in Vietnam, nor that most of his squadron had died. His wife had not known he had come to the Moving Wall – alone. It was there I saw a prominent member of the community bow his head and stand. His fraternity brother was named on that wall. It was there that I brought some work friends during our lunch hour, and there one of the principles of the company we worked for went. A few minutes late getting back from lunch, he heard mention of the Moving Wall. He asked me for directions and left. Returning later, he came up to my desk and quietly thanked me. I had not known until that moment that he had served in Vietnam.

I walked from the monument, past the flags and on to the permanent veterans’ memorial in another section of the park. It is here that the annual Elmhurst Memorial Day parade ends and it is here where a military ceremony is held after the parade. It is here where white crosses have been placed in honor and memory of those who gave their lives.

It is not just in Elmhurst, nor just in the United States where memorials are held for fallen military, but, it was here, in this park, where I was, yet again, humbled by the service and the loss of those for whom we take a this Monday at the end of May to honor.

May we always remember.

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My thoughts, it seems, have been like these wispy clouds afloat in the deep blue sky. My words catch on the tail of the wind and flit around without landing on a sentence. Here it is, more than a week since my last post and I really cannot say why.

I could blame it on the Queen. Not Elizabeth, who just celebrated a historic milestone. No, it is another English queen who ascended the throne of England at the age of 18 and has captured my attention for the past few weeks.

Victoria.

We are just now viewing this delicious historical drama here in the States. My friends from across the pond, or via other televised means, have already seen this lush period piece. For  those among us who await such treasures on PBS’s Masterpiece, we are just now four or five episodes into the first season of Victoria.

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What drama and  maneuvering and courtly demands led to Victoria and Albert’s wedding – replete with a break in tradition. A white wedding gown! Of course, there is much more to this series, but, I do love a wedding.

Have you been watching Victoria?

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I have also been listening to the audio book of Kate Morton’s “The Secret Keeper”,

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and taking my time lost among the leafy pages of “Meetings With Remarkable Trees” by Thomas Pakenham. This volume first came to my attention at L. Marie’s always fascinating blog, El Space.  Her post on trees and this book can be found here.

The arboreal photographs and elegant essays have been welcome companions during the gloomy days and long nights of this winter and they have left me longing for my   wanderings among the forests and preserves around me. I was at last able to satisfy that longing and take a long walk walk around Lake Katherine and . . .

. . . where I found myself under the surveillance of a goosenecked spy!

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Such things happen when one has her head in the clouds.

Thank you, dear friend and readers, for being so patient with me.

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