Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I See Them

One of the things that I inherited from my mother, besides her love of writing and an indifference to cooking, was a box of genealogical notes on many, many pieces of paper.

A grandfather listed here. A birthplace recorded there. A photograph. A partially completed family tree. Anecdotes. All in her small and careful script. This was the project she'd been working on in her retirement.

Somewhere along the way, this box ended up with me, as did the silver and china. And in one of my bursts of "Let's organize this place!", I purchased a genealogy program that I was quite sure would convert those hundreds of scraps about dead people and sort them onto a new-fangled DOS program called Family Roots.

As is the way of things, those scraps multiplied like rabbits, and I now have several tons of paper of my own. (Lest you think me hopelessly behind the times, I do have Family Tree Maker 2011, a most excellent software program for those who would seek dead people. Can't quite manage to tame the piles of paper, however.)

Through the years,  I have been unable to make a lot of headway. My friend Gary has his family going back to the Norman conquest. As for me and mine, we are stuck in 1819 in New York City.

But occasionally, something miraculous does happen to rev up the hunt. This morning I discovered a fantastic website that is a New York newspaper database. And it's searchable! And free! Called Old Fulton New York Post Cards, it has 17.5 million newspaper pages from my old state.

This morning, instead of doing what I should do, I stumbled on this:

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle front page from June 18, 1915:  "Brooklyn Boys Who Were Graduated From Pennsylvania."

And who is smack dab in the middle? My grandfather.

Here he is a little less newsprinty:

I knew he went to the University of Pennsylvania to become a dental surgeon, but frankly, this newspaper wasn't among anyone's stash of memorabilia.

I may be the first Littell in 96 years to look at this newspaper.

I'm glad to see you, Pop.

You wouldn't be able to confirm your grandfather was George, veteran of the War of 1812, by any chance?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Because It's Just What We Do

Outdoor Christmas decorations, like cooking, are highly overrated, especially in Chicago.

The garland we bought from the Boy Scouts showed up on the porch about 10 days ago.

It is now 36 degrees and raining, of course.

Charlie and I have spent the last hour securing and sizing up the garland across the porch. We used "close enough" more than once to characterize our handiwork. And, by golly, it just has to be.

I am typing this post with my nose because I cannot feel my fingers.

Will someone please remind me NOT to buy a garland next year from an adorable 10-year-old in uniform?

Thank you.

What are your outdoor decorating preferences? I'd love to hear what you do, where you do it and with what (and whom).

Believe it or not, I steamed these stupid bows, not that it made a difference.
My fingers are too frozen to do further ribbon fluffing.
Bring on the hot toddies.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

After preparing us a plate of spaghetti with canned sauce, my friend Kathy said, "Remember, I'm a writer, not a cook."

I have lived by that ever since. It covers every eventuality in the kitchen and serves as the perfect excuse for eating out, something my husband and I do a lot.

While I do make exceptions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, exhausted), cooking is just not my thing. It's a time-consuming, messy, math-heavy activity that is never as good as the photographs. And even if I really, really concentrate on a good outcome, it rarely happens.

I'd much rather read a book.

And now, three days shy of Charlie's favorite day of the year (like the Old Man in A Christmas Story, he is a turkey junky), I am schlepping canned goods from one end of the Jewel to the other.

After queuing in the checkout, a senior citizen continually whacked my backside with her cart.

Lady, I cannot move ahead in the checkout line because there is nowhere to move.

I haven't begun to cook and already I'm thinking Chinese restaurant.

My family is particular about food traditions. I bore myself silly cooking the same old things (that's you, green bean casserole). But try to swap out a few dishes and you'd think Santa wasn't coming to town.

When I mentioned the possibility of a new dish this year (keeping in mind our 2 1/2 year old grandson), our daughter told me I was making her nervous.

"What's this new thing you're making?"

"Something Zach might like."

"What is it?"

"Wouldn't you rather be surprised?"

"No way. Tell me."

"Mac and cheese. With Gruyère."

"Oh. Well. That's probably okay. But there must be spinach casserole. And don't forget the crescent rolls like you did last year."

"I don't remember that."


"How about you figure out the desserts?"

"Why can't you make sherbet parfaits like you did last year?"

I don't remember making parfaits last year. At all. Clearly, it was such an innovation that I dazzled myself into forgetting all about it.

What do you make for Thanksgiving that your family can't live without?

For us, it's Stephen's Spinach Casserole. Below is the recipe, the first -- and only -- time Naperville Now will ever post anything to do with cooking.

Spinach Casserole
2 packages frozen chopped spinach (The stuff in a box. Birds Eye is superior.)
6 oz. cream cheese at room temperature (use the remaining 2 oz. on a bagel)
8 Tablespoons butter, softened (yup, the entire stick)
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese (grated, ground, your preference)
1 can artichoke hearts, well-drained (you can buy big; you can buy quartered; it's all the same, just not the marinated in oil kind.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare spinach according to directions. Transfer to sieve (I own one of these precisely because of this recipe) and press out excess moisture with a fork or spoon.

Mix cream cheese and butter; stir into hot spinach.

Place cut artichokes on bottom of casserole. Cover with spinach mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake 30 minutes. Recipe is easily doubled.

Whole Foods. You didn't really think I made this, did you?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rescue Me Update

A week ago, a stray cat wandered into my friend's life.

I asked, I pled (pleaded?), I even begged a little. No one was willing to take on the black and white hot mess that followed Carol around the backyard like a dog.

She took her this-is-not-my-cat to the vet for a much-needed tune-up shortly after that post.

He was pronounced quite healthy, despite a few battle scars and a sniffle.

Temperatures dipped into the 20s.

He moved into the house proper.

Carol named him Oliver Twist.

Of course, once you name something, you're sunk.

"But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?"
                                                                   T. S. Eliot
Welcome to the neighborhood, Oliver.

You have a keen eye for upholstery and the tender-hearted.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This Christmas cactus is the only houseplant I haven't managed to murder.

As soon as it's vaguely warm out, I take him to the patio and overlook him for three months. He is used to neglect as I don't do much for him during the rest of the year either. I guess the vagaries of Chicago's summer and my poor memory suit him to a T.

In October, after a good scrub, he resumes his place in the living room and blooms like mad. As soon as the blossoms fall off, he becomes depressed and goes all droopy until it's time to live outside again.

This sounds quite a bit like me, actually.

I divided this plant earlier this year. His twin, currently being neglected at our daughter's house, is blooming happily.

Have you had luck with houseplants? Have a favorite? Leave me a comment.

Monday, November 14, 2011


(Part I of this series began here, with Part II here, should you prefer your stories in a linear fashion.)

"Well, it's done. And so, to sleep."

"You held out a long time, my friend."

"Feeling very stark. The kids playing around us in this mild weather isn't helping."

"Look around. We're in good company now. Every tree's a little diminished, but everyone's coping, for the most part."

"By the way, when did they get here?"

"Last week. You were snoozing during all of the leaf gathering and arguing about which 'fork' they should use to build their winter perch."

Yawns. "I have been sleeping more. Too much gray, too many clouds."

"But you overlooked some other new arrivals." 

"Nice twigs. Woven and not flung together like some squirrels I know."

"Hey, now."

"Hey yourself." Yawns. "Keep an eye on all of the coming and going, okay? And wake me in four months."

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."

"You write that?"

"Borrowed from Shakespeare. The Tempest."

"Ugh, don't remind me. I hate winter. And I miss my green."

"It's a good color on you."


"Until March, then."

"Don't kid yourself. April's more like it."

"Okay, then. See you in leaf time."

"By the way, are squirrels sanitary?"

"Not so much."

 "That is disgusting."

"Cost of doing business, I'm afraid. But there'll be plenty of snow, sleet and rain ahead to keep us tidy."

"The good and bad news of precipitation in Chicago. Alas, there's nothing more to be done."

"Except rest. And dream."

"I'll be dreaming about a nice wind storm relocating those squirrels across the street."


"Uh oh. The parkway Maple!"

"Now you've done it."

"Have not."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rescue Me

My pal Carol, who lives next to a forest in Naperville, has found a stray cat.

Kitty is in need of a home. Also some antibiotics due to what sounds like a respiratory infection.

He may also need a little help with some tail scratches incurred in the wild.

If you can open your heart and pocketbook to this little guy/guyette, send an email to Carol at witchaywm(at)aol(dot)com. (You get that I have monkeyed with her email so she doesn't get spammed, right?)

Or leave me a comment and I will forward your message to Carol, who regrets she is unable to care for Kitty long-term.

(That cat is pretty cute. Bandit would have a heart attack, so I'm afraid we are out of the running on this.)

Friday, November 11, 2011


To those who are serving and those who have served, our heartfelt thanks.

Lt. Frank D. Littell
Big Spring, TX -- 1942

Midshipman Al Johnpeter
New York, NY -- 1943

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Accept No Substitutes

After a 3-day, madcap visit to St. Louis to look at (all of the) wedding dresses (that have ever been made), it is time to contemplate this vision in violet.

I am very proud of Betsy for coordinating little Charley's ensemble today. Her Aunt Sis will be very proud when she sees her niece styling just so this Wednesday afternoon.

More details to follow on the 2012 wedding plans, just not tonight.

I can tell you the dress we found for Anna is so lovely, I gasped. Several times, I think. Jumping may have been involved. Also multiple pictures and cell phone calls to Chicago.

How great it is to know you've found the one.

So, my marrieds, have any wedding gown stories to share? Naperville Now is all ears, so leave a comment.

(I just unpacked my 31-year-old dress last month. It has a certain Miss Havisham-like quality to it, I fear. But no worries. Should I need a wedding gown, and who doesn't, I have another. I wore it to a fancy ball and my high school graduation, which is how we do things back east.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Between Bandit, babysitting the next generation and unwrapping KitKat bars that magically did not leave the house on Halloween, I have fallen behind on Naperville Now. My apologies.

Our 1,000-year-old dog, whose brushes with death have been numerous and terrifying, woke up Thursday unable to walk. His body was skewing right, causing him to fall down like a mad drunk. Added bonus: the imbalance thing caused him to vomit pretty much across every surface of the house.

Dr. McIntyre, The Welcome Waggin' vet who makes housecalls, determined his condition to be not a stroke but vestibular disease. It is ideopathic, manifests suddenly (particularly in older dogs), and is awful to watch.

A magic shot set him nearly to rights and bits of liverwurst throughout the day sustained his rebound. By Friday night, he had managed the two steps out to the yard and back under his own steam. He was even a little peppy, all things considered.

While Bandit looks like a ghost dog (we've had him groomed since this picture was shot), he somehow manages to keep tabs on who has an English muffin or a bowl of chips (and who might be willing to share).

Today, the granddchildren are in our care, and I apologize, old dog, for the disruption and love and chasing they provide. You have never been a fan of little kids but have suffered them with grace. They are reliable sources of food, afterall, and in this life, that is no small thing.