Hanging by a thread

It was a downpour at high noon. It was raining so hard that I needed to pull my car into a parking lot to wait out the gale, glad I had brought a book along.

 I always bring a book with me. Who knows when you’ll be stuck in the car in a downpour, a snowstorm, waiting for two freight trains to pass, picking up someone who is delayed? One must always have a back-up plan. Mine is a book – and a chocolate bar.

I digress. Again.

Home again, I put this and that away, checked phone messages and then went out to check our little acreage. The downside of so many tall grasses and prairie plants is that they can look mighty forlorn after a storm. To survive, they must be able to bend in a heavy wind or hard rain. Lessons we learn from plants, are they not? We all need to bend at times, lest we break.

I tossed some vegetable peelings and a wilted bouquet of flowers into the half-hazaard compost pile, set the bowl down and went to straighten some grasses. Just as I reached out to pull a mass of sagging stems, something caught my eye. It was hanging by a thread.  It was something I’ve been waiting for all summer long.

A Monarch butterfly chrysalis.



Still raining, still hanging by a thread – and I am still monitoring my Monarch.



Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 2While most of the schools in our area have already been in session for several weeks, I still think of Labor Day as the last day of summer, signaling the official start of school, not to mention the unofficial start of Autumn. It is a time of new beginnings, at least for school children and their teachers, and for me it is a time of fond remembrances of zinnias.

My grandmother grew zinnias. I’ve written of them before and of how Yia Yia harvested the seeds, saving them in different colored packets made of tissue that differentiated the various colors of her plants. It was a practical and innovative filing system for a woman who did not know how to read or write. I do not know the origin of the seeds, but, I think they followed her home from a trip she took to Arizona, the only trip I ever knew her to take.

Each spring my father, or one of my uncles, would turn over the soil in a large, circular garden. The seeds would be sown, watered and weeded through the summer and seemed to always reach their peak right about the time that school started – the day after Labor Day.

In those days, we did not know who our teacher would be until the first day of school. Teachers’ names and class list would be posted on appointed doors, we would line up according to teacher, and our schooling would begin. A few days would pass in that hot and slow first week of school as we slowly settled in – and a few days would pass until Yia Yia went out to the zinnia circle and cut bouquets for my sister and me to bring to our teachers. Long stems were cut, the stems were moistened, then wrapped in newspaper, nice and tight on the bottom, loose on the top to let the colorful bouquet breathe. I can still remember those bouquets; their fragrance, their colors, the occasional insect who hid among the petals, and the delight of my teachers.

I can still see Yia Yia and her pride in her zinnias. I think of her in these late summer days, when the zinnias are in full bloom and the seasons are starting to flow from summer to fall, and of the scent and textures of those full bouquets, wrapped in newsprint, that came to school with me in the early September days of my youth.

These are a few zinnias that greeted me in several recent garden walkabouts in this summer full of glorious gardens.

Penny’s garden at Country Garden Cuisine

Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 1

Country Garden Cuisine:Zinnia 3 JPG

Downtown Hinsdale

Hinsdale:Zinnia:2 Hinsdale:Zinnia:1

Nina’s Garden

Nina Koziol's Garden:Zinnia IMG_2692

The Birds

DSCN9597 - Version 2It was a good morning for watering and weeding. The hot weather had the late summer blooms begging for a mercy. The birdbaths were dry as a bone. So . . .  I lugged the hose to the “way back” and filled the furthest water bowl to brimming as a chorus of robins and swallows and a few nervous wrens waited, all at a respectful distance, waiting for me to finish.

The robins were first up, though a crow quickly bullied his way into happy hour. No matter. Robbins are always civilized, waiting in line, taking turns at the bath, dipping and dunking and ruffling their feathers when done. They all waited as I snaked the hose to the bird bath just beyond the arbor, followed by the sky blue bath in the shade garden.

I watched as they enjoyed the splash park, and they watched me as I watered the clematis and roses, the Ladies Mantle and the hostas. I love watering hostas, for, no matter their condition, they perk up and say thank you as soon as the water reaches their toes, and is there anything more poetic than drops of water resting in between the creases of her Ladyship’s skirts?

A few steps up the arbor and onto the drive led me to our corner bird bath; a reclamation of a neighbors’ long-ago fountain destined for a landfill. As I dipped the watering wand into the basin, a bird swooped in and landed upon a shepherd’s hook, just a few feet from me. It was a young robin, pictured above, wandering the neighborhood while his parents were off to more grown up matters.

I stood there, holding the nozzle just so, creating a gentle spray. This fledgling watched the droplets and me, tilting and turning his head. At least I thought he was watching me, until he moved, in a wink, opened his beak, and caught a minuscule bug, crushing then swallowing and looking at me, as if to say “see me, Miss Penny, I can do this all by myself“.

It was really a very sweet moment and I mumbled “ohhhhh” and, do you know, dear reader, he did it again. I swear, he was smiling. He watched as I turned the nozzle off and pulled the hose toward the front, where a few more birdbaths beckoned me. As I tugged, for the hose is heavy and the drive is long, there he was, sitting on the rim of a rather dry bowl, waiting. I did not want to scare him off, so, I added water to a much more shallow bath and a few plants until he flew away..

All the baths full, I started pulling weeds, carrying them a short way to my nifty new wheelbarrow – and there on the handle was none other than my little feathered friend.

It is nice, is it not, to make new friends whilst working in the garden?


The Nightingale

nightingaleI don’t know if it is my general busy-ness right now or one of those pockets in life sometimes experienced; times when books sit on the literary burner for a spell, simmering. Unlike many folks, summer is not generally a season where I have time for much reading. I’m often found outside pulling weeds, hunting caterpillars, photographing flower petals or visiting gardens and garden centers, botanical gardens and arboretums. My personal reading well has run dry, which will soon become a challenge as our book group will soon be discussing “The Goldfinch” and I,  have managed a mere 46 pages.

I have, however, recently finished an audio book that kept my attention and had me riding around the block in my car a few more times for just one more chapter.

“The Nightingale”, by Kristin Hannah, begins on the west coast, 1995. An elderly woman, whose voice is heard periodically in the story, will be moving into a senior living with the help of her son. She has a recurrence of cancer for which nothing more can be done. She harbors a secret.

We then meet Vianne, whose life is somewhat idyllic on the family farm about a mile outside of the French town of Carriveau. Her husband, Antoine, is quickly drafted into the French army as rumors of a German invasion spread. No one thinks the Germans will invade.

Isabelle, 18 and headstrong, has been dismissed from her current school. It is one of many schools where she was invited to leave. Isabelle returns home to her father, Julien, in Paris. He promptly sends her packing to her sister, Vianne. This is something he has done to Isabelle all her life. Isabelle learns quickly and first hand that, indeed, the Germans will stop at nothing and do invade France.

A German captain is soon billeted in Vianne’s home. She can either allow this to happen, or be thrown out with her young daughter, Sophie. When Isabelle arrives, a tenuous situation becomes even more precarious for Isabelle’s temper and defiance threaten the household’s safety. Isabelle soon leaves, compelled to do something about France’s occupation. She joins the French Resistance, eventually becoming the infamous Nightingale as she leads downed British and American pilots over the Pyrenees. Vianne is left to cope with the horrors of the Nazis in her village, coping as best she can, starving, witnessing the rounding up of Jews, including her best friend, leaving her baby boy, Ari, for Vianne to raise; a crime to the Nazis.

This is the story of resilience. It is of the plight of French women in World War II and of their often unsung wartime efforts. It is also the story of sisters, complicated and often volatile, but full of love and endurance. It is a historical journey of the horrors of war in France, but, I think could also be applied to any war. It is about courage; courage of different kinds, for Isabelle’s is of outward resistance and action, while Vianne’s is one of protector and hidden defiance.

There are many hard scenes in “The Nightingale”, especially those in concentration camps and what women do to save their children. In spite of this, I encourage you to read Kristin Hannah’s latest book, even if it means while driving your car.






A Country Garden

DSCN9579 - Version 2
In a bucolic setting, along a less traveled road, standing steady against modern housing sits an 1847 historic home. It is surrounded by an equally historic small farm where one can step back in time in the potager and vegetable gardens, learn of newly introduced produce, rediscover old garden favorites , and learn that what you thought to be a weed, purslane, is really a herb rich in omega 3 fatty acids as well vitamins.

So it was, in a heavenly spot called Country Garden Cuisine, which is owned and operated by Penny Newkirk, that I took a local park district day trip with my friend Sharon and a busload of other good souls.

Country Garden Cuisine was a life-long dream of Penny. As she sold her culinary shop in nearby St. Charles, a nearby convent came to the point in DSCN9558time when they needed to close their doors. When they learned of Penny’s interest in their house and that she wanted to open a culinary school, the deal was sealed, the house was moved to a historic farmstead that had a 1860s barn and outbuildings, and her dream became a reality.

Some years ago, I read about Country Garden Cuisine in a house and garden style magazine. It was a lovely article, but, it was the name that popped out at me. You see, Penny and I went to the same university and managed to land on the same dormitory floor. Both of us being Penny’s, and Pennys being hard to find, we struck up a friendship. That friendship eventually became one of yearly Christmas cards, a few visits, and eventually time and space did what it often does in life, widening the tide of contact. When I saw the article, I cut it out, my heart went pit-a-pat, and I vowed to self to try to contact her and see her school.

Of course, more years went by until one day my friend Roz mentioned, then made happen a field trip for our garden club out to Penny’s school and I finally was able to see her and her wonderful farm. Recently, my friend Sharon mentioned a trip to Country Garden Cuisine and thought I might like signing up for it. I did.

On Wednesday, I was fortunate to visit Country Garden Cuisine again. Penny demonstrated to the group of women in attendance how to make appetizers; grapes covered in Roquefort cheese and a delicious kale pesto, which eventually went into the squash “bowl”, just brought in from the garden.


We took a stroll around the herb and vegetable gardens, “oohed” and “ahed” over the sunflowers and zinnias, that are excellent pollinator attractors in the gardens, and took in the scent of the many herbs that abounded, even as the season ends. The squashes and pumpkins are coming to harvest and, oh, dare I tell you of the treat we were directed to? Yes. Yes, I will, for it is too good to keep to oneself. At the end of the vegetable garden was a large bed of raspberry bushes, their tempting red heads beckoning us to come and eat up a handful of sunshine. Joy supreme.

Then, time for lunch, we wandered back in where Penny demonstrated and prepared a raw beet salad and quinoa pilaf that would accompany a pork tenderloin (topped with a peach salsa). We ate in the dining and sitting rooms of the old and welcoming house.

Food, history. and connections with the past linking to the present. A moveable feast.

This is actually a Kobocha squash, just about ready to pick from the garden.


Love Story

Harry_Volkman_WGN_TVIt was not quite midnight on a New Year’s Eve. One of the typical bitterly cold Chicago New Year’s Eves that are common hereabouts. I was wearing a long, black dress. It had colorful rick-rack on the hem and neckline and long black sleeves, accompanied by my long, brown hair; a girl in the ’70s dressed up for a movie, Love Story,  downtown on New Year’s Eve. A college student with nary a nickel to spare, my Aunt Christina gave me with the dress. I had casually mentioned seeing it in the window of a little dress shop near her house. A few days later, she gave me the dress so that I would have something nice to wear for my Uncle George’s surprise birthday party. I was so touched by her generous gift and her thoughtfulness – I still am.  I loved that dress and I wore it on many  occasions for years.

My New Year’s Eve date (can you guess who it was?) and I walked out of the Oriental Theater – and directly into bright lights! Really bright lights, and a television camera, only we didn’t see the camera right away. We didn’t see it until we accidentally walked right in front of it and Harry Volkman! Tom swiftly steered us away from the camera, whispering “it’s Harry Volkman“! We had just stepped into a weather forecast. There he was, Harry Volkman,  a weather map at his side, giving the late night weather report in downtown Chicago, the last forecast of 1970!

Tom and I reminisced about that New Year’s Eve on Friday. We hadn’t thought about it in decades, but, it was one of those moments, part of our own Love Story, that works its way back into our long running conversation of life. These moments in time that stay with us, sometimes hidden from thought for decades, but, reappear when such things as the news of the passing of a celebrity occur.

If you lived in the Chicagoland area between 1959 and the early 2000s, no matter which television station you got your news from, you probably heard your weather report from Harry Volkman at some point in time. He was among the first to use weather maps, sometimes drawing in crayon or chalk, to show weather patterns. Sometimes silly, even outrageous for the times in his on-air weather reports, he was a daily fixture in Chicago news television for many decades.

Harry Volkman brought many young children, now adults, to their television sets as he would often visit area schools to talk to students about the weather. It was customary for schools to honor him with a boutonniere. Mr. Volkman would then wear it during his evening’s forecasts and he would mention the school during the weather report. He also visited retirement homes.

Harry Volkman also encourage young viewers to call in weather conditions. He would mention them by first name on the air; names like Tom from Aurora reports . . .  It would be anything from cloud formations to rain or snowfall and temperatures. By-the-way,  that kid named Tom grew up to be our revered meteorologist, Tom Skilling, who now gets paid to report the weather and is a well-known and respected meteorologist in the Chicago area.

I was thinking about all of this as the news of Harry Volkman’s passing hit the airwaves last week, as well as of this rather noble idea of citizen scientists, which I mention here on the Cutoff from time-to-time. Harry Volkman made weather interesting. He captured our attention with weather details in a new way that we could relate to, and invited his viewers to be part of the process of not only predicting weather, but, in being active citizens – citizen scientists – as they noted weather conditions. He was a true mentor to those entering his profession, and a moment in time for two college kids out on a date.

Rest in peace, Mr. Volkman. Rest in peace.

Image from here.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave


It was one of those mornings.

I wandered around the grounds checking for blossoms, deer damage, and caterpillars, a cup of coffee in one hand, a camera in the other. I enjoy the quiet of early morning with hazy hints of the day ahead.

The swallowtail caterpillars have vanished. Day-by-day, one-by-one they disappeared, having grown as large as my thumb.  I was surprised by a Swallowtail butterfly that flitted out of the meadow rue; exactly where the caterpillars had been munching. The Monarch caterpillars have also disappeared, though I can find no cocoons, I’m hopeful for a few more butterflies this summer.

I sipped my morning brew while the bees sipped the Echinacea and dipped into the August Lily, dusted in pollen and sated with nectar.

Early mornings are like this, here on the Cutoff. A buck roaming from yard to yard, his proud demeanor and growing rack leading his confident stride. Chipmunks and squirrels, telling one another off.  A yellow wooly caterpillar making its way toward colder weather as a wren scolds me for being too close to her nest.

The sun was inching toward the purpose of this day, sending its golden rays through the nooks and crannies of our little acreage. As I looked toward its  rising, in between the branches and brambles of the boundaries between our little acreage and the clear-cut lot next door, I saw a few strings of silk glistening.


There. Between a branch and thicket was the weaving of a web.


As I aimed my camera, shooting at different angles, at times not even sure I was capturing the handiwork of an industrious spider, a hint of red caught my eye. He moved quickly, so assuredly, that before I could aim my camera’s lens he was across two acres and out of view.

So goes a red fox on a sunny August morning whilst I was webbing.

I’m sure there is a fable in here somewhere, but, I have not as yet learned how to knit one on my web.


I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Mike McCurry's Daily Blog

Creative information about Real Estate and Life in the Western Suburbs of Chicago

El Space--The Blog of L. Marie

Thoughts about writing and life

leaf and twig

where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry

Loop Head Lore

stories from the west of county clare


Your Guide to a Stylish Life

Apple Pie and Napalm

music lover, truth teller, homey philosophy

Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth

My Chicago Botanic Garden

A blog for visitors to the Garden.

Living Designs

Circles of Life: My professional background in Foods and Nutrition (MS, Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, RDN, LDN) provides the background for my personal interests in nutrition, foods and cooking; health and wellness; environment and sustainability.

Women Making Strides

Be a Leader in Your Own Life


farming, gardens, cows, goats, chickens, food, organic, sustainable, photography,

Middlemay Farm

Nubian Goats, Katahdin Sheep, Chickens, Ducks, Dogs and Novelist Adrienne Morris live here (with humans).

The Cottonwood Tree

Beautiful Things Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder

cakes, tea and dreams

savoring the beauty in the everyday

Romancing the Bee

Beautiful Beekeeping, English Cottage Gardening, and Cooking with Honey

Book Snob


teacups & buttercups

An old fashioned heart

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Analysis and reflection from someone endlessly fascinated with Louisa May Alcott. Member/supporter of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (including the Alcott International Circle) and the Louisa May Alcott Society.


Reducing stress one exhale at a time ...exploring Southern California and beyond

Kate Shrewsday

A thousand thousand stories

Blogging from the Bog

musings from and about our cottage in the West of Ireland


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 500 other followers