A Cook Fantastic

IMG_3987Last Sunday, this young lass and I made granola.

We also made a mess. Papa thoughtfully cleaned up for us.

Kezzie is a “cook fantastic”.




The enormous lake stretched flat and smooth and white all the way to the edge of the gray sky. Wagon tracks went away across it, so far that you could not see where they went; they ended in nothing at all.
Laura Ingalls Wilder *

Today is Foursday. Our Ezra attends preschool on “Tuesdays and Foursdays”.

Since today IS Foursday, and since I’ve been rather absent from these pages lately, I wanted to tell you about a few adventures we have had after the terror of Tula 2. Our little adventure started last Foursday as we headed up North to visit with our northern family and help Katy while our son-in-law, Tom, was away for a few days, but, let me begin in at the beginning.

My Tom, whom I will refer to as I often do as Antler Man, and I decided to take a little extra time driving on up, in part to soak up what we hoped would be a colorful landscape of colors throughout Wisconsin. The further north we went, the more vivid nature’s palette became.


We finally arrived at our destination in time to meet Kezzie’s school bus. For those of you close to grandchildren, this is likely routine, but, for those of us with some distance between our grands and ourselves, it is a treasured treat.


Katy, Tom and crew have been observing what is bound to become a family ritual, and one I highly recommend to all of you, wherever you live and whatever you climate. For them, way up north, they have dubbed their activities Parktober, in which they visit a state park every weekend in October.

On Saturday, last, before Tom left, we all piled into the car, layered with warm clothes and provisions. We drove past sweet little towns along the Minnesota side ledge of the Mighty Mississippi. Some lunch, some ooh’s and ah’s at the famous river town of Red Wing, and we headed to Frontenac State Park for a hike.

This is one of the first views we saw, overlooking Lake Pepin. By-the-way, the photo was taken by our Kezzie.


This is from the Minnesota side and it is Lake Pepin. THE Lake Pepin that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about as she told of the Ingalls family’s westward migration from the Big Woods of Wisconsin, crossing the lake, which is a very wide spot of the Mississippi. They crossed in winter, over ice, as it was the most expeditious way to cross at that time.

For those of you who often read my words here on the Cutoff, you know from my ramblings how fond I am of Laura’s books and her story. It was so thoughtful of Tom and Katy to include us in their weekend’s Parktober, and sweet of them to pick this particular state forest.

The wind was brisk, so off we went, following a trail into the woods.


We started to descend down dirt steps and I realized that what goes down, must come up. Hesitant, with a bum knee, I opted not to take the trail. Katy took pity on me, and we ventured in a different direction – through the prairie. It was warmer than on the bluff, with sun beating down on us, grasses surrounding us, and the colors of Autumn at their peak. Laura and Ma, er, Katy and Mom, walked close to two miles, snapping photos, talking, not talking, the sorts of discussions one has when on the prairie. It was one of those times where life grows sweeter by the moment.

IMG_3967 IMG_3960

Well, dear reader, it is still Foursday and I have a few evening chores to attend to. Before I close, here are two stores we stopped at in Red Wing on our way home. Who can pass up chocolate and books?

I took a photo of Kezzie – and she took a photo of me.

IMG_3974 IMG_3975 IMG_3978

One last photo, in the prairie. I couldn’t see the camera’s screen for the glare of the sun. Sometimes, you just have to click and hope for the best.

I think I will call it my Foursday tree. Thanks, Ezra, for a brand new word.


*Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/laura_ingalls_wilder.html#mSCuTTI5s8UyO0Cy.99

Tula 2


It sounds like a brand of toilet paper – or maybe an additive to motor oil?

TTP isn’t toilet paper, nor is it an additive.  It is rare, complicated and life threatening blood disease.  Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Below is the amazing machine that helped saved my sister’s life when she was diagnosed with TTP. I christened it Tula 2. It seemed fitting to name the machine; a lighter note in a heavy song. Tula is a nickname. My grandmother often called Dottie Tula when we were very young.

Tula 2 was wheeled into Dottie’s hospital room  – every day for seven days. A nurse, trained in the intricacies of plasma and platelets and plasmapheresis, accompanied Tula 2. 11 bags, approximately one liter each, arrived shortly after;  frozen, matching Dottie’s blood type.

Nurses verified information to insure that Tula 2’s plasma and Dottie’s matched. The specialty nurse checked and double-checked and hooked up the bags of plasma, the warming cylinder, the tubes and leads and ports of entry and other life-renewing details that escaped my small sphere of knowledge.

Other nurses rotated in and out to check Dottie’s IV; full of saline and antibiotics and steroids and other things they attended to.

Tula 2 is a finely tuned machine, as are all of us. Dottie’s fine tuning suddenly and painfully went awry. Her blood platelets dropped dangerously low. Even before a definitive diagnosis, Tula 2 was called upon to exchange Dottie’s plasma and give her blood platelets a chance to multiply and thrive – and they have. There was no choice in this treatment. No chance to think it over, get a second or third opinion, weigh treatment choices. While not quite “out of the woods”, my sister can now see the forest through the trees. Brighter days have dawned. She is at home after a very long hospital stay, slowly regaining her strength.

I am so very grateful for EMT’s and emergency room doctors and nurses who detected a blood issue and called in a phenomenal team of doctors, nurses, and technicians. I am equally grateful for plasma donors; nameless and faceless heroes who give life to so many – and I am grateful to the Lord for bringing my sister back.







A popular little bakery, not far from here, bakes their own granola. Every-now-and-then, I’ll slip inside and pick up a bag. The clear bags, about eight ounces worth, are tied nicely with ribbon and hold some very tasty morsels. At $8 a bag, however, it’s a bit of a luxury not often indulged in.

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve splurged on one of these bags of goodness. I was tempted a few weeks ago, and resisted the urge. My reward for resisting an impulse purchase came a few days later. Looking for one recipe, I came across another I had filed away (yes, I still use recipe boxes).

Why I have never made this recipe for homemade granola is beyond me. I no longer remember where I first saw it, so, if it is yours, dear reader, forgive me for not acknowledging you – and know it is now THE favorite granola here on the Cutoff. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.

Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry, so, will scoop out some of my fresh granola and pair it with a few spoonfuls of yogurt.  Do you like granola? How do you enjoy it?

4 – 6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (I use 6)
1 cup or more nuts, chopped (I use walnuts, like a bigger chop, and more than a cup of nuts)
1 cup dried fruit or more to taste (I use golden raisins and cranberries)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (Penzey’s – of course)
1/2 cup honey (could add more, but, this is sweet enough)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

350 degrees (F)

Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper, grease paper.  I cut the parchment bigger than the pan, creased the corners. It made the granola easy to take out of pan.

Mix oats, nuts, cinnamon and fruit *

Whisk honey, vegetable oil, and vanilla then pour over oat mixture, stir gently and thoroughly.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir several times while baking.

Cool. I stirred it every so often to break up clumps as it was cooling.

* recipe calls for fruit to be added after it bakes. I added to mixture. Stir often while cooking, just watch so it doesn’t burn.


Tree Army

Chances are, if you live in the United States, or have visited here, and do any hiking, walking, running, or canoeing in local, state, or national forests, you have probably passed by or sought protection from the elements in structures similar to these.

IMG_3699Built during the Depression years, shelters and bridges were erected from stone and wood, perhaps made of adobe or other locally harvested and hauled materials. The structures pictured here are found in Fullersburg Woods. The stones were hauled in the ’30s from Waterfall Glen. The structures were built during the tenure of one of the most successful programs ever instituted by the government between 1933 and 1941 – the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC.

It is also likely that your outdoor adventures take place under the canopy of trees; trees planted by the men of the CCC. These crews were often referred to as the tree army. For the men who enlisted in the CCC, it was a meaningful, useful way to work in a time where no work was to be found. They learned a marketable skill or trade, regained a sense of pride in putting in a good day’s work – and sent much-needed money home to their families. They were fed, clothed, sheltered and paid $30, 25 dollars of which was sent home to family.


The CCC was also a massive conservation initiative. The nation’s farmland was devastated by over-cropping and unsustainable farming practices. Much of the country was a “dust bowl”, with land ravaged by soil that nature never intended for farming. Farms were devastated, as were the people on them. With no trees to hold soil in place and no trees to buffer the wind, dust storms turned the skies, then homes and lungs dark with dust, President Franklin Roosevelt led the charge to put men to work building bridges, roads and shelters – as well as planting trees.

On Tuesday morning a small group of us walked through a popular forest preserve in the area, Fullersburg Woods. While I knew that the CCC had a presence in Fullersburg during the 1930’s, I thought of it in terms of what is now the Nature Center. I did not realize, nor, if truth-be-told, even think of trees, assuming they were always part of the landscape. It was a revelation to discover that this forest had been primarily prairie. The trees were planted by the CCC, as they likely were in most of the preserves in Du Page and in Cook County.

Our guide was Chris Gingrich of the Forest Preserve District of Du Page County. He was also the speaker at our garden club meeting last week. He was as engaging and informative a guide as he was a speaker and walked us up hill and down dale through these amazing woods, showing us quite a number of shelters and sites that I had no idea existed here – or just failed to notice.

It is amazing, is it not, what we see in our lives and what we miss?

This is a sitting shelter. Salt Creek wanders behind it. It is open on all sides, with benches on two and a series of logs in between. A sturdy structure, it is well placed and made for resting during a long hike.


IMG_3718We walked up slight inclines, down others, one of which seems vaguely familiar to me. AHA! I think it might have been where I landed in a cup of tomato soup while trying to cross-country ski one winter. We passed a reclaimed prairie where once stood the CCC camp, where men slept and ate, read books, and played Monopoly, a popular board game of the time. Did you ever play Monopoly?


It was a brisk morning; one of the first of true fall-like weather. It warmed a bit as we walked and talked and listened and learned. As we came to the end of the trail, we finished our tour at what it now known as the Nature Center. Chris talked about the stones that were used to build the shelter, originally a boat house. It wasn’t hard to imagine the river frozen in winter with ice skaters gliding across, coming to the boat house to warm up at the massive outdoor fireplace. It is just as easy to admire the building now with windows and doors, for, it still stands and is used, a testament to a corp of civilians who built it – and thousands of other shelters, roads, fought forest fires and helped heal the land.IMG_3388




IMG_3633The main parking lot was filled. The first overflow lot on the west side was filled as well and a friendly worker was flagging me on to a third lot.

What was I thinking? Noon? On a glorious fall day, when schools were closed for Columbus Day?

I visit the Morton Arboretum regularly enough that I did not need to visit it on Monday – but, I did. I was really on a specific errand to pick an item up at the gift shop, but, soon realized I had chosen one of the busiest days possible to come.

I decided to by-pass the parking lot I was being directed to and drive to the lot at the Thorndale Education center; a good move. The lot was all but empty and the Joy Path was at my beck and call.

As I wound my way onto the footpath, a woman suddenly emerged out of the bushes. “Oh! Here it is. I’ve been looking for the Joy Path. Have I found it? “.  I assured her that she had and we walked companionably for a few minutes. Like myself, she had decided to depart from the “maddening crowd”. She asked me a few directional questions and said she was visiting from North Carolina. We chatted as we walked about the torrential weather in the Carolinas, the magnolias that grow in our respective states and I mentioned a favorite author of mine from Charleston,. My brief walking companion had heard of Andra Watkins and said she planned to read her book about the Natchez Trace, “Not Without My Father . . . “.

The proverbial fork in the road approached, she wended right while I stayed the course along the Joy Path, just as the sun poked out from under the clouds and spread a slice of buttery yellow across my path.


Eventually, the path led me to the Visitor Center, the long line to the ladies’ room, and a very busy gift shop. I stopped in my tracks for a moment, overwhelmed by the glorious colors that have begun to emerge.


I treated myself to a yogurt parfait and iced tea, then headed back  on the mile or so path to my car, the afternoon shadows already beginning to draw their shadows along the earth. As I crossed the road to my pathway back, who to my wondering eyes should appear? None other than my early North Carolinian walking companion. We exchanged pleasantries, then she returned to the Visitors Center while walked upon the footbridge; two strangers in the woods, one from down south, the other from up north, on a glorious September day.


It is amazing how quickly the leafs’ colors turn hereabouts. Where there was but a hint of gold yesterday, the first flicker of reds and oranges have entered the landscape today. This is what I was waiting for in dog days of August, and what I try to remember in snowy depths of winter.

It is the slant of the sun, the sparkle of jewels on the water, and chance meetings along the paths of life that warm the small moments and lighten our steps along the way.


Ach! Columbus!

7f255ee2-bb49-c661-9ed9bd371f0cf14d_1While my parents, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins were all flavorful ingredients in my life, it was my Yia Yia who made the stew into a ragout.

My grandmother was stern with a strong sense of what was right or wrong. She also was loving and kind, wise and knowing, and she had an incredible sense of humor.

From as long as I can remember, I was aware that Yia Yia had emigrated to America from Greece in the early years of the twentieth century, first by donkey over steep mountains, then by boat in crowded conditions to a foreign land to seek a better life. She kept a figurine of the Statue of Liberty on her nightstand and often told stories of growing up in the Old Country .

For most of grade school I tried to locate the Old Country on maps and globes. I don’t remember when I finally realized that for Yia Yia it meant Greece. I think for many immigrants the Old Country was a long ago place that remained in their hearts.

Often, when Yia Yia was tired or aggravated, she would sigh under her breath and murmur an audible aside. “Ach, Columbus!” she would say, in her heavy accent.

I was probably in the first or second grade, around Columbus Day, when I brought home my Crayola drawing of those three famous ships that sailed the ocean blue that I asked Yia Yia about Mr. Columbus. Why did she call his name?

Yia Yia told me of the wondrous story of how she had sailed with Chris himself and how, together, they crossed the Atlantic. After all, I reasoned, he did have a boat and she crossed the ocean in one. I spent some time being so proud of my grandmother and the fact that she was the only Greek to travel with Columbus. Even after I finally realized the truth – that he sailed some four hundred years before – my wonder and pride never waned . To this day, I can still her those words, in a deep sigh.

“Ach, Columbus!”

This is a repost of several years ago. I always think of it on Columbus Day – and sometimes find myself uttering “Ach, Columbus”. 

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