IMG_6421My posts seem to be arriving as sporadically as Spring. Business and busyness are wiggling their way into my life these days.  I wonder about your life as well.

We had a quiet Easter Sunday here on the Cutoff. Following a moving church service and a time of fellowship with good friends, we wound our way home, taking the scenic route through towns with estates, down country-like roads. on to the vast acreage of the Cook County Forest Preserves. We do this as often as we can, appreciating the beauty that anchors our lives, feeling fortunate and blessed to live so close nature and thankful of those who came before us who preserved such large areas of forest and prairie, fens and marshes, trees and wildflowers.

We were also on a mission. Earlier in the week I noticed a flock of birds, unfamiliar to me, who had congregated along the shore of the nearby Saganashkee Slough. I will write more about them in another post, but, below is a photo of our migratory visitors.


Once home, our cameras loaded with nature shots,and a few of my feet or Tom’s nose, we each found a nest of our own to nestle in, relax, read, watch television, even take a little nap. It is good to relax and refresh sometimes.

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A big meal really wasn’t practical for just the two of us, but, a nice dinner, by candlelight, filled with flowers and reflection rounded out our Easter.  It was a simple supper; pork tenderloin (which I stuffed with apples and raisins), fresh, roasted asparagus spears, and baked sweet potatoes. Peter Rabbit joined us, munching on his carrot, and I, dear reader, felt once again the warmth of the season before us, the sacrifice so long ago behind made, and the hope of what lies ahead.

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I hope you are enjoying your emerging season, whether here in the northern hemisphere where the grass is turning greener and trees are showing buds, or you are enjoying autumn and look toward the  winter ahead in the southern hemisphere. I wish you peace as you begin your week, and soon a new month.




Where It’s Happening

IMG_6084On a recent Saturday morning, a contingency of garden club members, clippers in hand, were led by library staff to the basement. They were on a mission of horticultural concern. The library, Elmhurst Public Library to be precise, was preparing for an open house in celebration of their 100th anniversary. The Elmhurst Garden Club, which is celebrating their 90th anniversary, was asked to make table decorations.

What an exciting, innovative time the early 1900’s must have been. All around the Chicago suburban area (not to mention the city of Chicago itself) growth was apparent. Passenger lines, such as the “L”, were winding their way out to the suburbs, where forest preserve park districts, local park districts and libraries were being established. These were visionary folks who looked toward the future with a sense of the common good that should be found in their communities. It was also a burgeoning time in which women’s organizations were formed; clubs where women had a chance to gather, but, more importantly, where they could do good things and make a difference outside of their homes.

So it was that on this particular Saturday morning, for several hours, at least a baker’s dozen worked, under the expert eye of Marie, arranging flowers in slim bud vases, chatting and laughing as women are wont to do. A few members took what was left of the flowers to make more substantial bouquets for the library’s reception desk, circulation desk, etc. They were beautiful.


The next morning, many of us wandered in for a delicious pancake breakfast. Imagine that!  Pancakes! In the library!  I keep saying, dear reader, that the most “happening” places today are local libraries.  Several of us, plates of buckwheat, s’more, or apple fritter pancakes found tables in the children’s section, while a combo played, and I enjoyed the best conversation on bakeries with my friend Jean’s husband.

Eventually, we were invited upstairs to one of the study rooms, where we all grabbed vases of flowers.  Imagine us, if you will; flower girls, again.

One of the best treats of the morning was hearing my name called out. “Penny”. At first, I thought it to be the aforementioned Jean, but, quickly realized it was the woman behind her. Well, by gosh and by golly, it was none other than Dawn of Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes. We have been trying, for ages, to meet up and there we were, face-to-face, in a place we both love – the library.

Dawn and I met up again, upstairs. We chatted some more and decided to have our photo taken. What fun! As we walked out, a staff member asked if we would like to scan our photos and send to our phone, email, etc.  Isn’t it amazing?  100 years after its inception, in a public library, perhaps working on a term paper – or looking to build a chicken coop – you can scan the pages of a book and send it to your computer or phone?


But wait. There’s more.

Many libraries now have meeting rooms for big groups or small. Card holders can check out tools and blenders, knit with friends, watch a movie or attend a lecture. One can request a book, from another library, and have it waiting for you, and many libraries now have designated spaces for teens.

As a teenager, I was often in the library. I relished the day I was old enough to go the main branch of the Maywood library. I loved browsing the shelves, doing research for a term paper, and discovering all sorts of magazines I never knew existed, but, I did so in a hushed atmosphere, where even turning the pages of a book were quiet pursuits. Today, teens can meet up in a room like this, work on projects, write on a glass-like board, study, or, just hang out. Pretty wonderful, I think.

Happy 100th Anniversary to the Elmhurst Public Library!




The Dickens

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. 

Charles Dickens


Spring comes slowly in this fickle climate.

March is a mercurial month with spits of sunshine and snow and a gasping wind that catches its breath, holds it, then blows with all its might. Those leaves of Autumn we thought we raked are tossed about like a a newly dressed salad and one is often playing a muddy game of pick-up-sticks after 50+ mph winds.


So it is here on the Cutoff. A waiting game. Anticipation.  Those of us who have lived our lives hereabouts know that several feet of snow can still fall down. It is tornado season and rivers can rise. Hard freezes can cruelly halt the growth of blossoms and Mother Nature can stomp her feet and proclaim “No. Not yet!”


Still-in-all, Spring brings hope and joy and childlike glee. We toss off our wraps of winter when we can. We muck about in the mud and we have a Dickens of a time on the first day of  Spring, knowing IT is coming.


Irish Blessing

“May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.”
Irish Blessing


Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Meanwhile . . .

IMG_5832. . . on yet another bookish adventure in my inter-library loan system, this time at the Indian Prairie Library,  I noticed this poster as I started to walk out. I decided right then and there to sign up for the lecture, which was to begin in about thirty minutes. Sometimes spontaneity becomes an illustrative page in time.

The meeting room was close to being a full house as interested library patrons and others gathered for the lecture. I was actually surprised at the 1 pm turnout. It looked to be at least 60 people – a good number on snowy weekday afternoon.

Isn’t it amazing what public libraries provide?  From the Lannon stone structure in Western Springs that recently gave me solace, to the day I was “mullioned” –  and lived to tell the tale – libraries have also been havens for me. They not only house books; they instill knowledge and awareness through lectures and provide places to meet, to learn, to expand our knowledge. Public libraries are such treasures, but, you already know that.

The Chicago ‘L’ is an integral part of the City and suburban transport system. It grew out of the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire with its early transports taking patrons to the Columbian Exposition. The Windy City and the ‘L” grew in tandem, raising the City of Big Shoulders up from the ashes and expanding it outward to the north, the south, and the west, part and parcel to eventual urban and IMG_6010 suburban sprawl.

I found Greg Borzo to be an interesting, entertaining and engaging speaker.  A noteworthy historian with a passion for the City of Chicago, I know I would enjoy having him for a docent on a Chicago tour. He proceeded to bring the steel and beams of Chicago’s elevated trains to life as he mapped the history of early means of transportation in the late 1800’s with many vintage photos, some of which I am showing here and credit to Greg Borzo’s book, “The Chicago “L” ” .

I am most familiar with the Lake Street “L” and can vividly remember my first time on it, catching the “L” in Oak Park with my mother, heading downtown to the dentist, whose office was in the Field Annex  of Marshall Fields.  So clear is my memory of all the stops along the way and all the stations, up in the air, where people got off and people got on. I remember Ma saying,  “Penny, we are now in the Loop” as the train circled round, making a loop, squeaking as it turned, the upper floor windows of businesses so close I could see in them. I hoped it wouldn’t fall down while in awe, catching the sun as it would  play hide and seek sun, peaking around the skyscrapers.

Greg Borzo spoke of the many train lines that are all a part of the “L” system and how the subway eventually came into being, an underground system of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). He showed photos of workers digging out the mud, underground, to form the tunnels that would accommodate the underground trains.

I was particularly interested in the funeral train cars, recalling childhood stories of how my paternal grandfather’s coffin, family and mourners were taken from the City to Elmwood Cemetery in the suburbs. The train my Papou’s coffin was transported in would not have been on the “L”, but, the funeral car would have looked similar to the one I show here from the book.  I can only imagine the long ordeal of sadness and grief, riding the rail out of the city to suburban areas during the Great Depression.

On a lighter note, we were also reminded of the many movies with scenes filmed on the Chicago “L”.  Can you name any?

Do you have an elevated transport system where you live?  Have you ever ridden on an elevated train?


I can’t wait to see what my next library visit brings.

Photos are from The Chicago “L”  by Greg Borzo


We are better than this

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I needed to clear my head. Hours in front of the computer screen, working on several projects with impending deadlines, too much caffeine and campaign noise were holding me captive, wearing me down. I needed to chew on some thoughts and digest them. I headed out into the crisp, sunny afternoon, a list of errands penciled every-which-way on the back of an envelope.

With piles of books just about everywhere, I really did not need another, however, when it comes to books, want has always trumped need and there was one book I wanted which was on a shelf of the Thomas Ford Library in Western Springs. A quick internet check of my inter-libary loan catalogue showed the book at this library, which was on my route. This Western Springs Library is a lovely, Lannon stone structure with an exemplary staff. It sits on a busy corner, surrounded by trees and embodies all a public library should be.

I parked my car a block away, had a nice stroll to the heavy wooden door, found the book, perused the sale cart (but did not succumb), and headed back out the door towards my car. Something caught my eye.

A feather and a Q.

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I have endeavored, in the 6 1/2 years of rambles here on the Cutoff, to write of nature, books, family, friends, good deeds, bits and bobs of life. I have purposefully stayed away from political positing and views. In the course of time, you, dear reader, have come to visit me here. You come from near and from far. You are family and friends I have known for a very long time, and friends I am just now meeting. You are from Down Under and Across the Big Pond, and so many places in between –  and you all matter to me.

All Americans are not what you see in the news these days. If some of the political rhetoric you are seeing and hearing is troubling to you, it should be. It is to me as well. Discourse is healthy and part and parcel where free speech is championed. What I, and perhaps you, are hearing these days is something different.

Rhetoric of hate and blame has been used before in history. The stirring up of crowds who are unsatisfied for whatever reason and willing to blame”others” has led us down some of our darkest hours in history.

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A political candidate, whose opening salvo is to immediately forge a wall between neighboring nations and brand a culture as rapists and murderers, shows a glimpse into the character of that candidate. Demeaning comments about women is not a trait I seek in a presidential candidate. From locker room language profanity, to base innuendoes of genitals, this is not the mark of a statesman. Threats and innuendoes of how things will be done, who will cow-tow down to his orders, is not what I look for when I cast my vote and it is not what I hope for my children and grandchildren, my country, and for yours.

Campaign rallies have always been raucous events and a place for protestors, but, the outlandish, dangerous taunting that is meant to incite from the podium by a presidential candidate leaves me fearful and alarmed for our common good.

In a place in time when we are working to halt bullying in our young, how do we explain to our children this man, a contender for the office of the President of the United States, who has bullied workers, businesses, war heroes, reporters, women, and the men and woman he has been running against, that bullying is not allowed. How do we make a country safe when such a candidate shouts from the podium for security to go ahead and beat up a protester and that he, himself, will pay their legal fees – or even proclaim he would like to punch someone in the mouth?

It was seeing the feather and the Q that brought me to this point where I need to say what I need to say. I am embarrassed and I am appalled. We are better than this. American is better than this. Our political parties are better than this.

The letter Q and the quill have long symbolized mankind’s ability to write.  It is fitting to be on a public library, where we can freely read what is written. I thought of this, of the freedoms we have, of the power of the pen and of a candidate whose security staff bowled down a photographer. Other photographers and journalists were right there, recording it in their varied professions.  This candidate has implied, in what I deem a loosely veiled threat, that if he is president, he will change all this – and more.

I think not. I wasn’t trumped when I went looking for a book, and I pray we will not be trumped by a bully.

Birds will keep flying and quills will fall  – and we are better than this.




IMG_5896When I think of orchids, I think of my mother-in-law, who always wore an orchid on Mother’s Day. She requested a cymbidium orchid for our wedding. I had heard of orchids, but never cymbidiums before. I mentioned it to our florist, who was also a cousin. Irene jotted it down as if it were no big thing. Little did I know then that cymbidiums are commonly used for corsages.

Over the years, I observed her carefully take her orchid off and put it in a little plastic bag that held a moistened paper towel. She would place it in the refrigerator. When I asked her why she did this, she said it would keep the orchid fresh and she would be able to wear it again, which she did, pinning it on her lapel for work the next day, and sometimes even the Sunday following Mother’s Day.

I thought about my mother-in-law last week as I passed a row of cymbidium orchids during an outing of our garden club to Orchids by Hausermann in Villa Park. As soon as I saw the sign naming this orchid, my mother-in-law came to mind. I was busy talking and now sorry I didn’t get a photo of one.


IMG_5907Hausermann’s, as most folks around here refer to this business, is the oldest and largest orchid producer in the Midwest, with clients around the world. It was started in 1920 and today is run by 4th and 5th generation family. Come February and March, Hausermann’s holds an open house on two weekends, inviting the public in to their growing spaces.  While Hausermann’s is open to the public during business hours, this is a yearly opportunity to see the entire operations, including a peek through the glassed-in room where orchids are propagated.

We were able to walk the many connected greenhouses, taking in exotic scents and colors and features of hundreds of orchid varieties. Staff wheeled out more orchids as bare spots started to appear on tables.  A holding station for selected orchids was available, allowing shoppers to continue to browse before purchasing their plants. There was even a room for refreshments, replete with coffee, tea, strudel, muffins, etc.


IMG_5876About ten of us managed to work our way to a long table where we rested and chatted and put the world to right on a cold and cloudy winter day. It was a casual gathering as members wandered about, left purchases with one of us while they ran back for another treasure. While my friends walked out with well-wrapped packages, I managed to leave without making a purchase.  I did, however,manage to capture a few photos to share with you.

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Perhaps I’ll venture back one day soon and buy a cymbidium. IMG_5879IMG_5845IMG_5917


Juliet Batten

Author, artist, speaker, teacher and psychotherapist

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