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There I was, on the top of my tippy toes, a would-be heroine of the supermarket, brandishing the largest roll of Reynolds Wrap – surely the only thing in the store older than me. With my signature scarlet red overcoat (of Toots fame) and my ballerina flats, I hoisted my box of foil in an attempt to slay a box of Saran Wrap on the very top shelf.

There was a younger man – a fit-as-a-fiddle power shopper reading the label of something or other, a last-minute purchaser on Christmas Eve day. The store with aisles crammed with eleventh hour shoppers for that one ingredient needed. He seemed oblivious to my to-and-fro lunges as I leapt across the aisle with my weapon of choice in pursuit of the one item I needed.

On the very top shelf (isn’t it always so?), in the very back of said shelf were two rolls of the plastic wrap I needed. One on top of the other, as far back as possible and quite impossible for me to reach. I made room on the very bottom shelf to step upon, but, really? me? I don’t do well on any steps, let alone the very bottom shelf of everything and anything used in food storage.

I reconnoitered, looked helpless and hopeless, but, no one seemed to notice me, especially the fit-as-a-fiddle shopper, who seemed oblivious to my plight. He was at least six feet tall. What WAS he reading?

I uttered an “oh bother“, then proclaimed “en garde” as I leapt upward in a determined maneuver to pry the sticky wrap down, only to be bombarded with parchment paper and snack sized plastic bags. A squeaky wheeled cart snuck past and then a kiddie-cart whose diminutive driver actually looked up at me.

“One more try” said I to self. I lunged once more – then heard a sweet voice say “let me help you“. I looked down to the see the softest beige coat with hair to match gazing up at me. Not more than an inch taller, she said “We short people have to help each other out. Let me get that for you. ” – and she did. She reached WAY up and she nailed it. Really. She had these perfectly polished long nails and nailed it! She handed me the plastic wrap, I thanked her, wished her a Merry Christmas – and she drove out of sight.

Am I the only one who has such adventures at the grocery store?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Prc8zLJO83I

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So it is . . .

So it is that a new year has arrived, with the midnight madness of fireworks, toasts and resolutions, the anticipation or anxiety toward the year ahead. I’m not much of a New Year’s Eve person. I never do resolutions, preferring not to set myself up for disappointment, instead feeling that each new day, with the first one of the year or the last one of any week, holds opportunities, much to be grateful for, sadness to hold in my heart and for joy to ripen like summer fruit into gratitude . . . on and on as each day goes.

Our Christmas was on the quiet side, with Christmas Eve church services and a Christmas Day meal at our daughter and son-in-law’s house with cherished family. Burrata and pesto slathered on crusty bread from Heather and Andrew and an amazing frittata from Suzanne whetted our appetites and was a recipe/tradition of her grandfather’s. Jennifer, always daring in her menus, served us the most succulent of meals: duck comfit with a pickled raisin sauce, lentils, potatoes and smashed Brussels sprouts. It took her days to prepare it – and mere minutes for us to consume.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Vase appeared, as did holiday cookies, pastries and Jason’s crullers – another family recipe.

 

Gatherings with others and quiet time, as well as moments of pure delight and those of poignant memories. Elegant meals as well as simple suppers, my mountains of Christmas books and the cheerful cards that came through the mail – it was a meaningful and lovely Christmastide.

My Antler Man and I dined in for New Year’s Eve – we usually do. A rare treat of steak and potatoes to celebrate year’s end, and some Belgium chocolate gelato for a wee desert. I baked and baked and baked some more this year. I don’t know where the flurry of flour activity arose from, but, it did and I will confess that it is rather nice to end the year, any year, on a “sweet” note. My pièce de résistance was a most delectable pork tenderloin on New Year’s Day. Gently stuffed with spinach and Swiss cheese, I topped it with cinnamon apples, baked in a very hot oven and ate with wild abandon. (Well, not exactly wild abandon, but, we did eat well 🙂 ).

So it is that a new year has arrived – and with it gratitude for each and every one of you that visits here on the Cutoff. I appreciate all of you and am humbled that you take the time to read my ramblings.

Thank you, one and all, and best wishes for a healthy, happy New Year!

Penny

For Dottie

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying . . . Gone from my Sight by Henry Van Dyke

Into the woods (This is a repost that came to mind today, as I though of family members not with us, the story this long ago December night and how it played out. To all who have generously read my posts, I apologize for these gaps in posts. Merry, merry to each and all, happy Christmas and wishes for peace. )

Tom usually awakes before I do. He makes coffee and sets out my teapot and cup and saucer that are waiting for me when I come down the stairs. It is an endearing ritual that starts our days. While the kettle is heating up, I will walk from window to window to see what nature has left during the night. At this time of year, it is looking for deer tracks and damage to trees and shrubs.

It is already a hard winter for the deer herd. Most of December has been snow-covered here and the deer are searching for nourishment, digging in leaves and rearing up on their hind legs to pull tree branches down, and munching on the hydrangea and tree peonies. I doubt that there will be many blooms come spring and tell myself it is what it is on the Cutoff.

We peered outward Wednesday night. In the still of the night, under cloud cover and street lights, Katy and I could see the forms of deer wandering in the vacant land next to us. They moved slowly in the snow, and bent low, digging for plants, munching on leaves.

I began to fret when we first noticed the Christmas buck in the mulch pile for hours on end. At first, as he seemed to struggle to get up, I thought it was just his age. After all, I struggle some days getting up as well, hobbling about, shaking my bones out, slowly descending the stairs to get to my morning cup of tea. His limp, however, has become more and more pronounced and we can see the drag of his right rear leg in the snow. I am certain the shed Tom found is that of the Christmas buck. I saw him hobbling when he had his rack intact. He hobbles still and he is the only buck who has shed his crown.

Coming home Wednesday afternoon, four well-crowned males were out and about. The Christmas buck was resting in the pile of leaves. There was a stand-off between this old king and another. The king still ruled and sat down once again on his throne of leaves.

It was under the dark cloak of night that the real drama unfolded. Kate, ever watchful over our herd, called out that she thought the big buck was out in the leaves once more. We finally saw him after turning out all of the lights, one-by-one, the dimming of day, the acceptance of darkness. The night took on a surreal quality. She and I watched, then the two Toms joined. As we looked from the windows, two more bucks wandered over, one challenging the Christmas buck, who arose, awkwardly, and walked a few feet away, facing the street, his back to his challenger, his head down, his legs splayed unnaturally. To say it was painful to watch would be an understatement. We couldn’t tell if this was a challenge for domination or a respectful tending of a friend.

Our Christmas buck stood, his back to his nemesis, barely moving. One stag wandered off, eating his late night snack, a ghost on the lawn, while the other stood, a few yards behind the king. Would there be a fight in this stand-off? Who would win? Slowly, painfully, the Christmas buck moved toward the road. Slowly, assuredly, the second buck followed, matching steps, until they crossed to the other side. We watched in amazement and wonder and with some trepidation. I had a sense that the king had lost his battle and a new king was leading him home, across the road and into the woods, another of life’s rituals playing out at the end of the day.

Wonderful

The morning was bright and clear with dashes of sunshine stroking my life. Decorations were scattered about our rambling abode; angels rested on high, books stacked within reach, and there were even a few batches of cookies stored in decorative tins. A rare December day with no meetings on the calendar, a tank full of gas and a list of wonders that I wanted to see, so, off I went with a purpose in mind.

My first stop was to see an exhibit about one of my favorite movies, It’s a Wonderful Life,  at the Elmhurst History Museum. Alas and alack, I arrived to discover it would not open for several more hours, so . . . I promptly reversed my plans and headed, first, to the Wilder Park Conservatory. The Conservatory is an oasis of growth and warmth, history and soulful nourishment nestled into an award-winning park in the western suburbs.

Opening the door, a couple I have known were exiting, two charming grandsons toddling out with them. These two youngsters informed me that there were “fishes” and “elves” inside.

Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but, elves here and there and everywhere in the conservatory, along with this poinsettia tree and a cheerful display of the plants all around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In need of a “cuppa” of something warm and a bit of bite to eat, I headed to the north end of town and Brewpoint Coffee and Roastery where I had a tasty blueberry scone and a hot mocha (called Sacagawea).

As luck would have it, on a day filled with good luck, a perfect parking spot awaited me smack dab in the center of town. Like many suburbs around Chicago, parking is at a premium, so I quickly signaled my intent to park, claiming my curbside cradle. My first stop was The Pink Elephant, a well stocked charity shop. I chatted for quite sometime with a woman I did not know as we good-naturedly tried to talk each other into buying something we did not need. Do you ever do that? As a result, this caroler sang her way into my arms and followed me home.

I stopped at a new store, Bread and Butter, where I had purchased a darling pair of earrings a few weeks earlier. It is such a cute shop and the owner, a enterprising young woman, is as delightful as her products. I left with these cute stocking caps meant for bottles that Rudolf absconded with to keep his antlers warm.

My final stop, which was my first on what became a delightful circuitous route, was a tour of the exhibit at the Elmhurst History MuseumIt’s a Wonderful Life. Posters and “stills” from the movie lined the museum’s wall with informative narratives describing scenes, props, biographical information and other tidbits of knowledge about a beloved movie.

Included in this exhibition are photos and information about Elmhurst’s own Christmas traditions and photos of the city around the time depicted in It’s a Wonderful Life.

I did not take many photos, in part to maintain the integrity of the exhibition, and in part to lure you into the museum if you live in the area or are visiting. It is truly worth the visit and is within a short walking distance of not only the conservatory, but, of the renowned Elmhurst Art Museum.

Here are two characters from the movie, the original Bert and Ernie, and another character you might recall, Toots, with her earrings dangling and her infamous red coat.

Just as the Sun Danced Past

I was coming down the stairs just as the sun was dancing through the window panes. As cold as it was this morning, at 15 degrees (F), my soul was warmed as angel rays touched upon a photo of two sisters, years ago, displayed in an alcove in the hallway. A few tears slipped out, warmed by sunbeams and sisterly love.

I grabbed my camera, for angel rays are fleeting in December. My heart felt heavy with my loss, but a smile touched my lips; sadness and joy mingled together, gathered in a brief moment, golden moment on this cold December morn.

Gratitude on a Common Day

“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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