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A Chorus of Crickets

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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Baker’s Twine and Kraft Paper

Baker’s twine and Kraft paper;  items that bind boxes and bakery together into neat bundles of laundered shirts and school books. They are as useful as they are evocative of other eras, and they came to mind several times lately, reminding me of my childhood.

Bakeries – stand alone, family owned, old-fashioned bakeries – are harder to find these days. We are fortunate to have a most excellent Swedish bakery  nearby. I frequent it now-and-then for their outstanding pecan coffeecakes and the best hot cross buns during the Lenten season. A German bakery bustles, especially on Saturday mornings when the small shopper area is elbow-to-elbow and where the best molasses cookies and apple pie can be found. Earlier this week, I was on the hunt for a Czech bakery a friend recommended some time ago which is in another nearby suburb that once was peppered with many such bakeries.

I selected a few brownies and a cherry coffeecake for a special someone who I hoped would enjoy it. The checker, who was efficient if rather no-nonsense, quickly wrapped up my purchases, hand tying the boxes of sweet wonders as if strumming a guitar. Her motions were almost musical as she mentally measured the chord of string and tied my bundle in a sturdy bow, handed my bundle over and sang out “next”.

I think a few Linzer cookies might have made their way to my mouth as I drove away.

Later, homeward bound, I stopped at The Farm. The Farm it is a favored summer vendor of mine for produce – and flowers. They grow most of the flowers they sell from a large plot of land behind the old barn from which vegetables, fruit, honey and seasonal items are sold, especially sweet corn.

I selected some bell peppers, pickles, plums and peaches. A jar of honey was set in the cart . . . and then, there were the fresh cut flowers, bundled in sturdy vases of Kraft paper. The bouquets reminded me of bouquets long before the plastic sleeves without a soul that we find today – and they reminded me of my grandmother.

Yia Yia grew a circle of zinnias every year in our back yard.  Come September, a few days after school resumed, Yia Yia would pick the choices zinnias from the garden and gather them together in a bouquet. She would wrap them securely in newspapers, creating a vase to keep the stems together, sending me off to school with a glorious garden bouquet for my teacher.

I selected a bouquet, not the zinnias, but instead an arrangement with hydrangea and grasses, knowing they would sit comfortably in front of the window, where they will primp and pose until they are passed their prime. It will be right about then that more sweet corn will be calling – and perhaps a bouquet of zinnias will follow me home then.

I am sorry for the darkness of the photos here. I tried to lighten them up, unsuccessfully. I hope you have an idea of the textures in the bouquet.

Do you use baker’s twine? How about Kraft paper?

A little on-line research, and a few off-line gardening books, brought me to Childe Hassam’s painting, At the Florist, which is pictured on top of this post. The bouquets from The Farm reminded me of Hassam’s painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had my back

It was surprisingly busy for a Sunday afternoon. Long lines at the counters and dressing room. I was in a high-end store in a high-end shopping center in need of a specific item I’ve needed that Nordstrom’s carried. Sunday was the last day of their semi-annual sale and a good deal was to be had!

I queued up for a dressing room, then to make my purchase. I thought about grabbing a quick bite in the restaurant, realized I was all queued out and just needed to head home. I walked toward the escalator, following another flow of shoppers navigating more lines, and approached the rolling staircase.

There I was, a smallish bag in one hand, a largish purse in the other, not well-balanced at all, with the optical illusion of steps before me oscillating downward in a “Now you see me, now you don’t” pattern.

I don’t do steps well. You can imagine my expertise on escalators.

I waited, a second longer than socially acceptable, then dipped my toes onto the outgoing step, grabbing the sliding rail, aware of the growing line-up behind me. I am the pain in the butt you do not want to follow on escalators, but, I am what I am (or is it I yam what I yam?) and stepped on, turning slightly  to see who was on the step behind me.

No one!

No one was behind me – then someone was. Detecting my slight turn of the head, a soft voice said, “You are fine. I’ve got your back.” Someone had my back! Wow! My protector said “I’m a rehab nurse. I saw your hesitation. I do not want you to be hurt and don’t want to have to take care of you on the bottom of the escalator”. We both chuckled, I told her I appreciated her kindness, and disembarked from the disappearing steps as they folded into wherever it is that escalator steps escape to. I tilted my head back toward my rear guard and said “Thank you, dear angel, for having my back”. “You’re welcome”. 

It is comforting to know that someone has your back now-and-then, especially on an escalator.

Has anyone had your back lately?

From YouTube

 

Aw, shucks

The bin was new. It stood a few feet from a table filled to overflowing with freshly picked corn. A portly picker was joined by a woman with a kerchief on her head and a sleek woman in heals who was likely on her lunch break from her office nearby. A hand-lettered sign read

PLEASE SHUCK YOUR CORN HERE – THANK YOU”.

I wandered a bit, slowly pushing my squeaky cart, selecting some zucchini and a few bright vine-ripened red tomatoes, then I headed over to the corn just as another boxful was being dumped onto the table. I stowed my cart close by and started going through the corn, feeling them for soft spots and selecting a half-dozen ears of somewhat equal size. I put them, one-by-one, into my cart and shuffled over to the shucking bin.

“This is new” I said to a woman whose attention was firmly focussed on the ear of corn she was undressing. “Yes, It is. Already a lot of silk and husks in here.” I started to shuck my first cob, over the bin, tossing the corn’s coverings inside. “I wonder what they do with these?” said another. Compost? Bedding for farm animals? We shucked and talked and shucked some more, as others came to the bin with their desired dole of sweet corn.

The conversation was pleasant. “The pickles look good”, said one as another commented on the fresh blueberries and peaches inside the barn, along with some freshly drawn honey. We discussed the best way to cook corn – a dozen ways to corn-on-the-cob heaven – and agreed that it was nice to be able to toss the leavings into the bin instead of the mess in our kitchens or decks. We were an amicable group of varying ages and from different walks of life enjoying the chat and the prospect of sweet corn over dinner come suppertime.

t wondered, silently to myself, if this was what it was like to be among women at a communal oven for baking bread – or the proverbial well. There we were, on a hot midsummer’s afternoon, gleaners of the glory of sweet corn, chuckling and chattering as we shucked the corn, offering tips on cooking or serving this midwestern summertime indulgence.

That evening, the Antler Man and I had a simple supper of broiled salmon, salad and sweet corn-on-the-cob, without the usual corny mess, thanks to the shucking station at my favorite farmstand.

How about you? What have you gleaned lately?

Yasou – Pam and Spero

Not only was there moussaka and pastitsio, there was also chicken and sausage, salads galore, pies, cannoli cake, and baklava – there was also the heartwarming realization that the younger generations are now making the recipes of our ancestors and crafting their own delectable dishes as well.

This was my summer’s second familial gathering, this time on my father’s side of the family. When Pam and Spero offered to host a congress of cousins in July, I leapt for joy. Well, of course, I didn’t actually leap. You know the extent of my athletic abilities – I haven’t leapt in years and never voluntarily. I felt like leaping. At any rate, with my two left feet firmly on the ground, I was both grateful and anxious for the opportunity to see cousins I have not seen in quite a while.

When I say cousins, I am referring to the farther reaching limbs of the family tree. We are Greek. The youngest new growth  and the deepest of roots count as cousin! I was well into my teenaged years when I finally realized that I actually had only two aunts by blood – the other forty were cousins; first, second, third – all cousins!. Aunt Helen, Aunt Bea, Aunt Janet, Aunt Stella, Aunt Georgia – these were all my father’s first cousins, and they are just from one limb of the tree – AND I had several Uncle Johns as well.

While many of us reside in the Chicago area, others traveled long distances to attend. Since we last gathered, there has been sadness, illness, challenges and losses, but, there have also been births, accomplishments, milestones and happiness. It was healing, helpful and hopeful to congratulate and console – and be together.

I found it intriguing to listen to or engage in conversations about family occurrences, remembered in as many ways as there are siblings, cousins and in-laws. What we remember, forget, or see from a different perspective contributes to lively conversations, especially when told by some of the best story tellers around!

Here are a few of us who were in attendance. They represent several generations and are a small slice of the wonderful legacy of my generation’s grandfather’s; brave and enterprising souls who crossed the Atlantic as the 19th and 20th century merged.

I did not know my paternal grandfather. He died when my father was a teenager. My father died young as well, when I was in my teens. He loved family. Our house was always a gathering spot, especially on summer weekends. He would have enjoyed Pam and Spero’s home and hospitality. I felt his presence among us and couldn’t help but see so many family traits; the eyes, the sense of humor, the art of conversation.

All in attendance enjoyed good food and warm hospitality, which would not have happened if it were not for the graciousness of Pam and Spero. They opened their door, invited us in, and made this reunion possible. To your health, Pam and Spero, and Ευχαριστώ !

Golden – Linda and Paul

I was pleasantly surprised when a “save the date” announcement arrived, then quite delighted when the actual invitation came for Linda and Paul’s celebration of their golden wedding anniversary with a party to mark the occasion. It was mind-boggling to realize that 50 years have passed by!

Linda and I are first cousins. Our mothers were sisters. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding.

I was hoping that we would be able to attend. Tom and I had a few challenges which needed to be met before we could commit. At long last, that which needed to be was finished, rendering me pleased as punch to pack up the car and head to Green Bay, Wisconsin in June.

I was surprised and felt special when I was asked to be a bridesmaid. A shy, bookish and awkward teenage girl who had never worn a long gown or attended more than a handful of weddings, I was nervous and excited – and I felt the twinges of an awakening in the woman I would eventually become. I realized, much later in life, what a gift I was given in being asked to “stand up” for Linda’s wedding. Young and naive, I had no idea of what to do, but, with my mother’s guidance and the kindness of all, the wedding remains a very sweet moment in time for me. Indeed, Linda and Paul’s wedding has been a lasting example to me of including younger family members in joyous times. In asking me to attend her wedding, Linda was also honoring my mother, her Aunt Violet.

The limbs and roots of family trees are so much a part of who we are and what we become. On reflection, the wedding also gave me warm remnants of joy to hold on to just two years later when my father passed away.

What a beautiful day the anniversary celebration was, with a splendid gathering of Linda and Paul’s children, grandchildren, brother, cousins – and Linda’s childhood friends. Everyone chatted, caught up, looked back, laughed and shed a sigh or a tear for those no longer with us; what family does when it gathers together after so many years. This golden anniversary celebration was as much fun as it was a balm for my soul. It was an honor to share Linda and Paul’s anniversary and a moment in time in which I realized that the long ago gift of being asked was given to me, once again, in the invitation to join in the celebration, leaving me with a thankful heart.

Here I am, a teenager, at Linda and Paul’s wedding. I have the sweetest memory of their wedding ceremony in a heavenly little church in the countryside and I wish them many more years together.

Jill Weatherholt

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