Empty Bowls and Fighting Hunger

img_1410-version-2We trudged upstream against a tide of chattering youngsters who were carrying treats and projects in their hands, rushing toward their parents with a mild and sunny Sunday afternoon awaiting them. Jennifer and I were headed in the opposite direction, indoors, to partake in a local endeavor to raise funds to fight hunger.

We purchased our meal tickets inside Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard and entered a room filled with welcoming warmth and graciousness. Volunteers generously ladled hearty soup into disposable bowls, inviting us to take some bread and directing us to where we could help ourselves to drinks. We balanced our food – along with our chosen ceramic bowls – as we searched for empty seats, taking in the tantalizing aroma of hot soup amid the din of conversation.

My soup choice, minestrone, was flavorful and filling. Jennifer and I chatted, as mothers and daughters do, and we shared casual conversations with good folks around us who were participating in this worthy fundraiser whose mission is to fight hunger in Du Page County.

The ceramic bowls were hand crafted by local artisans and children of the temple. I believe they were made at Congregation Etz Chaim then taken to be fired in a kiln elsewhere. Every bowl was unique and personal to the craftsperson who made it. I imagined experienced potters and young students trying their hand at pottery for the first time. Our ticket purchase allowed each of us to select a bowl from a colorfully unique array of choices.

The green bowl was my choice. Actually, I think I was the bowl’s choice. It seemed to call to me to pick it up, run my hand along the rim, and take it as my own. I know I will cherish it and that it will remain a tactile, visual, useful reminder that there are those among us who suffer with hunger – and those among us who strive to eradicate it. It will remind me of the blessings that are the hearts that conceived this fundraiser, of the hands that prepared the meal, of the hosts and hostesses who welcomed diners to Congregation Etz Chaim and of the supporting local organizations that have a hand in shepherding this project. It will also be a reminder of my own blessings and of the urgent need to feed all God’s children.

The Garry Gardner Memorial Bowls for Hunger Project is an “Empty Bowls Project”. The “Empty Bowls Project” is an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger. The mission is to create positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build. community. *

*From Congregation Etz Chaim’s website which can be found here.


What We Look For

“What we do see depends mainly on what we look for. … In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not all follow that we should see them.”

 John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In

img_1376(This tree reminded me of the Whomping Tree at Hogwarts, taken from the inside of my car. I’ve had enough whomping lately. )

Still hobbled from my recent fall, long walks in nature have abated while my wanderlust has not. I miss my rambles, especially in this season when the trees  paint the sky with the russets and amber and crimsons of Autumn and fallen leaves create tapestries of color at our feet.

Fall colors are peaking late this year, giving us one of the most colorful November I can remember. The trees are putting on a brilliant show, but, this late in the season, the color is likely to be short-lived. I was anxious to take a drive to take in the colorful leaves – so, I did, on a misty, moist midmorning this past week. The silver lining behind the broken footed cloud is that it is my left foot that has the fracture. I can safely drive with my right foot.


I meandered like a lazy river along the leafy lanes of the Arboretum. For the most part, I was alone, able to stop the car, roll down the windows, and take photos to my heart’s content.

Winding lanes and panoramic vistas


greeted me at every turn.

All-in-all, it was a luscious, leafy escape into nature’s grand, golden, glorious goodbye.

Where have you escaped to lately?


The Home Team

safe_image-phpIt was a hot time in our old town last night (and today, and tomorrow . . . )

Thank you, Chicago Cubs!

Shaming and CJ

Words matter.



They shape who we are, what we become, and they stay with us, hovering like nasty gnats, circling around our minds and our souls, like one of those cartoon air clouds. We can stick a pin in it and watch it burst like a balloon. We can put the words behind us, but, they can still linger, dormant. Out of nowhere, they can erupt in the pit of our stomachs, in a corner of our minds, in how we feel about ourselves, and in how we feel about others.

We all make mistakes, saying things we regret; sometimes as soon as the words escape our lips. We are humans, and humans err, especially the human writing these words on this cold, white page, but, we hope that we don’t make the same error again (and again, and again).

As the old adage goes, leopards don’t change their spots.

Either do serial shamers.

As a child, I was body shamed, every six months, by someone whose very oath of his profession, “do no harm”, should have halted his words. He was my pediatrician and his words have had a lasting effect on me. I will call him Dr. CJ. I have been thinking of him a great deal lately, through a campaign season that has been rocky, to say the least; one in which “body shaming” keeps showing its ugly head.

From my infancy until my medical check-up for college, Dr. C.J. was the physician who took care of me. He got me through measles and chicken pox, strep throat and polio vaccines. He made house calls and he referred me to specialists when the need arose.

He also humiliated me, every six months!

My earliest memories (and I remember well) go to back to the age of just shy of six years old and the memory doesn’t change for the next twelve years. EVERY office visit, I would be measured and weighed, then I would hide my tears, for I knew what was coming. C.J. would enter the examining room, sit down, and proceed to comment on my weight. His litany would include tirades to the tune of  “five pounds in six months, ten pounds at the end of the year, twenty pounds next year. He would then proceed to write a list of all the things I should not eat. I remember the P’s, probably because I am Penny. “No pasta, peanuts, pretzels, popcorn . . . ” .

His lists were alphabetical. I still have one, in his own handwriting, on a half sheet of paper. His rambling tone was accusatory and it was belittling. He would go on to say other things, such as

and none of the small powdery cookies your Greek grandmother makes“.

Interesting enough, my Yia Yia would send a tin of them to him every Christmas.

When my sister and I had our tonsils taken out one cold and blustery winter, a “two for one” sale if ever there was one, we were sitting with Ma in the formidable waiting area of what was then the Presbyterian Hospital. We were bundled up in coats and boots and scarfs. My throat was sore, I was drowsy, and we were waiting for my father to bring the car up to the door. Suddenly, there was C.J., looming over me, saying in what was, to me, a very loud voice,

” don’t think this means you can have all the ice cream you want!”. 

As I readied myself for college, I needed a physical. I just wanted to get it over with, then go shopping for some new clothes for college. I was feeling good about myself, having been accepted at several universities, chosen the best one for me, and having slimmed down, grown long hair, and looking toward my future. Just this one appointment to keep.

“So, you’ve lost some weight, Penny. Well, don’t think that will get you boyfriends. You need to lose more.”

My life has been good, dear reader. It is as filled with wonder and joy as it is filled with requisite pain and loss that we all experience, but, these words,  they have stayed with me, no matter how hard I shove them away, especially in this ugly season where shaming seems to be the norm.

Even now, I fret and get a knot in my stomach when a doctor’s appointment looms. It is sad and wrong and not at all adult, but, truth-be-told, what I fret about is what will the scale say about me, and I morph, if only for a few moments, into that belittled young girl.

I have had, by all accounts, led a good life with loving and decent family, friends, teachers, and doctors. I do not want you to feel sorry for me. What I do want is for all of us to be cognizant of words and their power, and how, the adults in the room – whether it be an office, a stage, a computer, a viewing screen – are mindful of how powerful and significant words can be, especially when those words are repeated, over and over and over again.

We do need to care about and monitor what our children eat – and what we eat as well – but we need to remember that words count as much, if not more, than calories, and we need to honor and respect each other, just the way we are.

When Next Year Comes


Once upon a time, in land not so far away, a man with a goat invoked a curse of some renown.

Like many tales, in the telling of the details, words were lost and words were gained, but, the essence of the story remains the same.

In 1945, during the fourth game of the World Series, Billy Sianis’ goat was ejected from Wrigley Field. Insulted at his goat’s harsh treatment, Mr. Sianis uttered a curse. “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more,”

What actually happened is lost over the span of seven decades, but, the legend of the Curse of the Billy Goat lingered. For 71 years, the Chicago Cubs have never won the National League Pennant, and never advanced to baseball’s World Series, in spite of many efforts to break the curse.

Whether you believe in curses or fairy tales, for 71 years avid Cubs fans, some two or three generations deep, would hoot and shout and get their hopes up, only to have them quelled at season’s end. Loyal to the core, they waited – and waited and waited – until next year!

Like the magical moments in fairy tales, next year finally came, and with it something special happened – the curse of the Billy goat was broken.


After 71 cursed years, the Chicago Cubs won the National League Division and are now in the World Series, which they have not won since 1908. Cubs fans the world over are elated, with shirts and caps and big “W” flags flying on pillars and posts and prominent buildings. There are Chicago Cubs caps on the venerable lions guarding the Art Institute of Chicago, and extra-large Cubbie t-shirts on the Field Museum dinosaurs.

These expressions of appreciation, encouragement and hope are important, but, something more meaningful, more magical, more wondrous has happened and it is coming from the hearts and souls and reminisces of people. It started to show, then to grow, on social media, in newspapers, on television and radio and has gathered fans and their ancestors together like a mother bear leading her cubs home.

Whether calling in or writing, texting or phoning – the stories of Cubs fans past or present are pouring forth. A common theme seems to have arisen. While fans of the Chicago Cubs have been on Cloud 9, it is their mothers and fathers, uncles and cousins, great-grandmothers, aunts and uncles whose memories are invoked with the hue and cry of

    ”           is celebrating in heaven!”.

A local television station, WGN, has encouraged everyone to send in their stories of loved ones who have passed on and their relationship with the Chicago Cubs. The stories keep growing and filling the air with a wholesomeness that is sincere and welcome in these otherwise uncertain times. There is no barrier, it seems, to who a Cubs fan is; no matter the gender, skin color, religion, ethnicity, political affiliations age, or education – there is no box to check off on the roster of rooters as so many people reveal their heartwarming stories of the decades of fans; fans that continued to wait until next year.

Whether or not the Cubs win the World Series is yet to be determined, but, in my humble view, they have already won the World Series of Human Spirit.

I have shared a story in the past of Tom and Ron Santo, which you can read here.

Championship sign is from the Cubs.

Goat photo is mine.🙂


1 9 5

mccook-libraryIt was my first time behind the wheel after “The Fall”. Apprehensive, I mentally mapped out a route along roads less traveled with destinations that didn’t require me to get in and out of the car.

Bank – ATM – ✔️

Drive-up postal box ✔️

Coffee – ✔️

Library – ???

My library card had expired a month ago. I needed to renew it. To do so, meant going into the library.

I live in a city that does not have a library. Sad, I know, BUT, it is a very nice city that tries to treat her residents well, and does so in what I feel is a rather nice way. To own a library card, we must buy one from another municipality. My city, however, will pay half of the charge, up to $100. That means, if a neighboring library sells you a card for $200, the city will reimburse for half of that. Not a bad deal at all.

For many years, I have purchased my card from a small library with a healthy tax base in the next town over. It is the library where I was ‘mullioned” a few years ago. They are such nice folks, recognize me, and are part of a very large library system, which allows me library privileges in a very large inter-library loan system.

Most of you know my love of libraries, and how I often frequent them.

I have a “library habit”.

The librarian told me she could renew my card, but, the fee had gone up. She suggested another library, equidistant from our house, that was offering my city and another a card for $100. (which means it would end up costing me $50).

Of I went, down the road, to a charming library, nestled in a small but established residential area that was surrounded by thriving industries and major expressways. I parked on the street, closer to the entry than my own back door. Doors automatically opened and I was greeted by non-other than the head librarian, who asked if she could help me. I assured her I was fine, in spite of my very fat boot, and said that I was interested in getting a library card.

This library, dear reader, and this librarian are everything a library should be! Not only was I welcomed with open arms (and a handshake), but, I was introduced to another library patron, Betty, who lived in my own city, and invited to come to a once-a-month coffee hour at the library.

My maiden voyage, after The Fall, was going pretty well – until . . .

. . . no, I stayed on my feet. It was while one of the librarians was entering my information from my expired card. The head librarian had just handed me a welcoming tote bag, and filled it with all sorts of useful items and the library’s brochure, as she offered me a chair to sit on. The registrar asked a few questions, then, casually said “it looks like you have some outstanding fines“.  I could not imagine what fines they might be, but,  I did remember returning a few items last month a day late.  I asked how much I owed.

One ninety-five!

How could that be? Surely I would have received a notice for such an outstanding fine, either via email, phone call, or, gasp, the U.S. Postal Service. I was flummoxed, fretting, and forlorn, for sure!

The registrar kept entering information on her keypad. I wondered if she was tapping out code for “felon in library – owes bigly” (sorry, I couldn’t resist that).

I endorsed a personal check for the library card fee, handed it to the registrar, and asked who I should make the check out to for the fine, calculating how I was going to square such an unexpected deduction in my checkbook. There HAD to be a mistake, but, one should not leave such outstanding debt dangling like a hanging chad (sorry, again). If I didn’t ante-up, would I be arrested? abandoned from libraries for a millennium? book lice sent to monitor my every page turned?

Oh, don’t worry. You can pay it anytime?“.

Are you sure? That’s a big fine. Can you check again and tell me which library I owe the money to?

She noted the items: two books, an audio, and I could remit payment another day.

Just that for $195.00?

We stared at each other, for a moment, maybe two, and then the registrar replied, aghast, “Oh, no! I wasn’t clear. That is $1.95!“.

It is good, is it not, to have a good laugh, even at one’s own expense, on a maiden voyage in a medical boot while renewing a library card?

Dewey Decimal is still used in libraries, or adapted for modern-day usage, but, that one distinctive decimal point is the one that can cause chaos.

Off I hobbled,  with all of my goodies, a new book, and a smile over my faux pas . I’ve needed a bit of an adventure, and I had one, once again while in a library.

Moving along . . .

. . .  and I am, truly, starting to move along!


I have graduated to a walking boot, which allows me to move about without the walker or crutches and can be removed for showering.

We should take joy in the small things, and this is most certainly one of them.

The orthopedic specialist confirmed the fracture on Friday. A well-defined plan of action has been established. It has me staying off the injured foot as much as possible for the next several weeks, then gradually using my foot a bit more, followed by physical therapy; all of which will take me right up to Christmas.

 A very good goal post, indeed.

I have been able to master the five steps which lead up and down to our family room and entryway. The boot allows me to slowly roam the main level of our home. I am able to be self-sufficient while the Antler Man is Up North; a commitment made long before my fall and one that I am thankful he was able to keep. The refrigerator and pantry are well-stocked and our dear, dear Jennifer has been checking in on me. The neighbors are “on call” in case of emergency. Encouragement, offers of help and support from friends will carry me through.

My friend, Donna, shared medical equipment, a shower stool being the most appreciated one. If you have ever been injured or had surgery, you know the pure joy of taking your first shower and the ability to take regular ones.

Thank you for all your kinds words, comments, emails, thoughts and prayers. They carry me through.

I am looking forward to the Durells on Masterpiece on Sunday night, and enjoying  my books group’s selection, “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. I was able to see the first three episodes of a new television series, This is Us, and have been inspired by more cooking shows, and recipes, than I can name.

What have you been reading, watching, making, baking, cooking, doing?

Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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