Category Archives: Those Were the Days

Princeton’s Red Covered Bridge

Princeton Covered Bridge, mom and meThe last stop in our little tour of Illinois was Princeton, the home of the Red Covered Bridge. Princeton Covered BridgeThe bridge was built in 1863 and runs across Bureau Creek just north of Princeton. It is still an active bridge, allowing cars to cross one at a time. (It’s no two lane highway!) Princeton Covered Bridge, detail of ceilingI loved this advertisement on the ceiling beams for Brown’s Household Panacea.Princeton Covered Bridge, information plaqueWhen I was young, we visited the bridge. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago about our visit to the bridge, I would have said we drove across the country to see it. The ride, as an eight year-old felt sooooo looooooong! In reality, Princeton is only about an hour away from my hometown. Isn’t it funny how your memory plays tricks on you? Princeton Covered Bridge, June 1986My mom dug out this picture of us on our first visit to the bridge in 1986. (That’s my brother in the snappy Hawaiian shirt and my mom was pregnant with my sister at the time.)

Fun times in Illinois!

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Old Salem Cemetery

gate at Old Salem Cemetery, Lacon, ILDuring our country drive, my dad and I stopped at the Old Salem Cemetery. Old Salem, the third oldest cemetery in Marshall County, is a small country cemetery northwest of my hometown. It’s tucked back at the end of a long dirt driveway, kind of the ultimate resting place. My great aunt and uncle are buried there. Old Salem Cemetery, Lacon, ILWhen I was in grade school, there were rumors of eccentric high schoolers going to Old Salem to perform séances among the turn of the century graves. And stories about ghosts and odd occurrences have swirled around Old Salem for as long as I remember. Old Salem CemeteryMost of the graves are from the 1800s, sparsely placed on the land among big old trees. It’s all framed on three sides by unruly forests. It’s easy to spook yourself into thinking you see movement in the trees, or shadowy figures watching you from the woods. Old Salem CemeterySupposedly, a young girl who died in a fire is buried at Old Salem. If you try to light a match near her grave, it will go out. I’ve never looked hard enough to find the grave and test the theory. Old Salem CemeteryGhosthunters also report going back to their cars after visiting the cemetery and having trouble starting the engine. Old Salem CemeteryIt is eerily quiet there. The silence coupled with the graves from the 1800s does make it a perfect place for ghost stories. But my dad and I didn’t experience any paranormal activity. Old Salem Cemetery, family graveMany of the graves have sunk into the earth or have sadly been damaged by vandals. (There were a bunch of beer bottles in the garbage can outside the gates, so it must still be a popular place for teenage partying.) Many of the graves are so old that the writing has been worn away. Old Salem CemeteryI wonder…is Adeline still alive or did she get buried next to her second husband? Old Salem CemeteryA sign of the times, there were a lot of children’s graves and family graves listing young children. (The lamb looks angry about this situation.) Old Salem CemeterySadly, the grounds aren’t cared for as much as they could be. There were a lot of branches down throughout the cemetery and the fence is falling apart. But it is still an active cemetery. The shiny new stones really stand out among the old ones here.  Old Salem CemeteryWhen we went to leave, my old car started right away (Can you be both disappointed and grateful?) and we managed to make it back to the paved road without getting stuck in the mud. Whew!

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Country Roads, Take Me Home

Reefer Road, Washburn, IL Do you know the John Denver song? It’s one of my favorites. Seriously, there’s no better medicine for the cold Monday morning blues than John Denver. 

Earlier this month, I spent some time with my parents in the corn and bean fields of downstate Illinois. We did a lot, which I’ll be sharing this week, but one of the most relaxing days was on Wednesday when my dad and I cruised the country roads together. We went to renew my license, went thrifting, had ice cream and on the way home we decided to take the long way. My dad pointed out who lived in each of the farm houses, where people I knew lived, and we had a lovely chat. It reminded me of when I was a student driver and got my blue slip. My dad rode along with me on my first drive through the country. He put his seat back and was the most chill I’ve ever seen him.

I’d forgotten how relaxing driving can be. When I was a teenager (driving my 1983 Cutlass) we “cruised” along the “main drag” (Illinois Route 89) of our small town before and after school every day…and in the evenings, after homework and supper. (It was a very small town with nothing better to do. Riding along in each other’s cars was the equivalent of hanging out at the mall, I guess.) When the speed limit is thirty and there’s no traffic, driving is fun!

Now that I live in a more urban area, I would have to drive a long way and through a lot of traffic to get to this kind of driving. There is just something so soothing about cruising along the winding rural roads, going no place in particular, where you hardly see anyone except maybe an occasional farmer or the mailman.

Don’t get me wrong…I love where we live. I love being able to walk or take the train to so many different places (as opposed to having to drive for twenty-plus minutes to get groceries or to eat out), especially in snowy weather. (Gosh, I really don’t miss driving in that!) But sometimes, I wish we had a little country house to retreat to when the city gets annoying. Then when times got tough, I could just hop in my car, turn on some John Denver and drive my blues away.

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Mrs. Roper Party

kaftans on the lania, Mrs. Roper Party guestsA few months ago on Twitter, I admitted that I was shopping for kaftans. I’ve been on a huge Three’s Company kick all summer, finding myself more interested in Mrs. Roper’s wardrobe than the storylines. If you’ve ever watched Three’s Company you know that every episode revolves around some sort of misunderstanding. But Mrs. Roper’s kaftans just keep getting better and better! The kaftans are so over-the-top fabulous and comfortable looking that I decided I needed one of my own. While I was deciding, we started chatting (on Twitter) about kaftans and Mrs. Roper and we all decided that we should get together and wear kaftans and lounge on the lanai. The Mrs. Roper Party was born.Zero bird Three's Company postcards, screen print I didn’t need to send invitations, but I had these fantastic Three’s Company theme song postcards from Zerobird Studio, so I sent them as little reminders about the party. crab dipcheese ballI had so much fun looking through old cookbooks and Pinterest for late 70s/early 80s recipes. For appetizers, Katie made crab dip, served on a groovy platter and I made a cheese ball, (I cut this recipe in half and used pimentos instead of green chiles and chopped cashews instead of pecans.) served with classic Ritz crackers. Peaches and Cream Jello MoldAnd I made a Jello mold! It wasn’t beautiful (My peach slices didn’t stay put and ended up floating around instead of making a pretty ring…rookie mistake) but it was delicious. And it was my first time using my vintage Tupperware mold and worked like a charm! For dinner we ate pineapple chicken (I used this recipe, but substituted canned pineapple for fresh, because 1970s…) and store bought fried chicken.Sidecar cocktail, Mrs. Roper PartyAs much as I wanted to stay on theme and make a Southern Comfort punch for the party, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I made a classic cocktail, the Sidecar. (Thanks, Kathy, for the photo above!) I was going to serve Brandy Alexanders with dessert, but we finished the brandy thanks to bartender Naoto keeping our glasses constantly filled. chocolate fondue, 1970s fondue potWe had chocolate fondue for dessert. My parents gave me a vintage 1970s fondue pot and this was the first time I used it. (Fondue was so easy that I’m not sure why we don’t do it more often.)lanai, balcony lightsThe weather couldn’t have been more perfect for lanai lounging. My only regret is that we didn’t get a full-length picture of us all in our kaftans. Other than that, 1970s entertaining is easy living. Not only did I get to throw on a breezy kaftan, but I could have made most of the recipes out of my pantry. Normally I’m rushing around buying fresh produce and chopping fruits and vegetables for party recipes. This time, I opened cans and boxes–Jello, canned peached, canned pineapple, crackers…everything just got tossed together. 1970s hostessing is amazing!
eating 1970s party food, Mrs. Roper Party, kaftans in the kitchenThanks to Katie, Donovan, and Kathy for being up for a kaftan party and to Naoto for taking care of all of us Saturday night.

Next up…sometime in the future…a Golden Girls party complete with cheesecakes!

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Double Indemnity on the Big Screen

Double Indemnity On Monday night, Peggy and I went to see a special screening of Double Indemnity at the movie theater. The film was shown as a part of the Big Screen Classic Events with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Fathom Entertainment. They are showing classic movies in select theaters around the country with introductions from TCM’s Robert Osborne (or Ben Mankiewicz.) Robert Osborne, TCM and Fathom PresentsBefore the movie, Robert Osborne shared some history of the movie. Fred MacMurray was very reluctant to do Double Indemnity because he was afraid of ruining his squeaky clean image by playing a murderer. In the end, MacMurray thought it was one of his best roles. And Osborne discussed how the Hays Production Code dictated changes to the script. Has anyone read the book? I just ordered it from the library because I’m curious about the original ending of the book. (No spoilers, please!)

I’d seen parts of Double Indemnity before, but it was such a treat to see it on a huge screen where I could appreciate the darkness and the light in the movie, the facial expressions, and the score. Someone on Twitter* mentioned that he noticed the silences during the movie better. I thought that was a great observation.

Sadly, there were only five other people in the theater with us at Melrose Park, so I hope they continue offering the rest of the series. Next up is a Grease sing-along**, but I am so excited for Psycho in September! (Full line-up is here. I’m sad I missed JAWS last month.)

Have you gone to one of these? Have you seen anything else good in the theater lately?

 

*If you like to watch TCM, the #TCMParty is a fun hashtag to follow if you want to have a Twitter chat during a movie.

**I hate Grease!

Double Indemnity image from here. (The article about women in Film Noir is excellent reading!) Photo of Robert Osborne is mine from the theater.

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I Am Big Bird

On Saturday, Karen, Naoto and I went to the Gene Siskel Film Center and watched I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. Caroll Spinney is the man who has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969.  I grew up watching Sesame Street and I’m extremely sentimental when it comes to my childhood, so when I learned about the movie, I was so excited to see it. Naoto was less excited, since he was robbed of a childhood with Sesame Street, but he came along willingly and didn’t regret it.

(Warning: possible spoilers to follow…at least as much as you can spoil a biography.) 

Even though the movie was mostly about Caroll Spinney, it was also very much about his wife, Debra, whom he met in his early Big Bird years after a divorce from his first wife and a very dark period in Spinney’s life. Debra is also his manager and very involved in the daily life if Big Bird. They seem like a match made in heaven…you could feel the love oozing out of the screen.

Some of my favorite parts of the movie were the old Sesame Street footage and interviews with the cast members of my childhood. Luis, Gordon, and Maria were familiar faces who helped to share the Spinney story. And it was awesome to see footage of Jim Henson, who hired Spinney after seeing him sort of fail at an audition. Because Jim Henson is no longer around, Spinney retold some of their conversations through his own sweetly drawn cartoons.

I also loved learning about the behind-the-scenes details of Big Bird in China. Apparently it was a grueling production because they had such a small staff. (The film was a huge undertaking for Public Broadcasting.) At one point, when Big Bird is floating on a raft in the water, Spinney recalls that if he had fallen in, the filming would have ended because Big Bird (the costume) would be ruined. Spinney and his wife had an instant love for Lisa Ouyang, the little girl who played Xiao Fu in the movie. At the end of the filming, they didn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye to her, making their reunion all these years later a sure tear-jerker.

It was chilling to learn that Big Bird had been invited by NASA to ride on the Challenger space shuttle. NASA believed Big Bird could draw in a younger audience and get them interested in science. But the Big Bird suit was too big for the shuttle and NASA asked a teacher (Christa McAuliffe) to go instead. Both Spinney and his wife got very emotional when they told the story of this close call. (I teared up too, in spite of reading about this fact beforehand.)

The movie really portrays Caroll Spinney as a complete person–you see his challenges and flaws as much as you see his success and contributions to his craft. I appreciate that in a biography, since we are all imperfect humans.

I highly recommend I Am Big Bird if you’re a fan of Sesame Street or the Muppets and Jim Henson. It was such a sweet walk down memory lane and has made me want to watch some old Sesame Street clips again. I came home and pulled out my copy of Sesame Street Unpaved and I’m re-reading it again. (And…I’m considering borrowing Big Bird in Japan from the library so I can compare notes with Big Bird’s trip.)

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Happy Birthday, Dad!

Mike the Telephone Man storyToday is my dad’s birthday. To celebrate, I’m sharing a story I wrote back in 1986 called Mike the Phone Man. I think we were finishing a segment on tall tales and we were assigned to write one of our own. I wrote about my dad, who was a telephone repair man. Here’s the story:

Once there was a telephone man. His name was Mike. One day something magical happened to him. Somebody wanted their phone fixed. And then one thousand more people called and he fixed them all at once. And then came pay day. Mike got one thousand dollars. And the next day he got called out to fix a line. And it was an eighty foot pole. And he climbed it in one second! And he got one thousand dollars again. And the next day he had to go fix another line. But the weather was very bad, But he walked and fixed it perfectly. And he got payed one thousand dollars. But the next day was Saturday and everybody went shopping that day but Mike went to the electric shop and bought a wire for Mrs. Jenken’s phone and it cost 12 dollars but of course he had it. When he went to fix Mrs. Jenken’s phone he had to go home for lunch. That night the magic went away and the next day he didn’t do so great but he was happy anyway. So he, his wife, and his two children lived happily ever after. THE END

Happy Birthday, Dad! Let’s celebrate with Portillo’s & Old Overholt! xo

(The story was written in second grade and, in case you’re wondering, I got an A in spite of the fact that I started every sentence with the word and.)

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12/12…12 Years Ago

Naoto Kimberly 2002Twelve years ago today, I met Naoto for the first time.

In true Sophia Petrillo fashion…Picture it:

It was a Wednesday night. I got home from work, changed into my old college overalls and a Bears cap (clearly dating was not on my mind), grabbed a magazine and walked to the Daily Grind, a now-defunct coffee shop in downtown Oak Park. I spent quite a bit of time there on the weekends and some evenings, reading and drinking coffee, just to get out of my (sometimes lonely) apartment.

I got my coffee and grabbed a table by the front window. I was in the middle of reading my Sports Illustrated article when this guy walked in and began carrying on about some fire at the Old Navy. He was carrying a disposable camera (insert racial stereotype here) and he was talking (really loudly) to his group of friends. I kept getting distracted and looking over. Pretty soon, he came over and sat at my table and struck up a conversation.

We talked about our jobs, running and coffee, we exchanged business cards and had a lot of laughs. He called me ‘Kimber” from the start. If it had been any other person, I would have thought that was weird and unacceptable, but for some reason, with Naoto it was okay…

If I remember correctly, Naoto’s friends gave up on him coming back to their table and we shut the place down. Since it was late, Naoto offered to walk me home. He seemed harmless enough, so I let him. (P.S. I would never do this today.)

I should add that Naoto was wearing a vintage Puma sweatshirt, high-water corduroys and sneakers…we made quite the pair.

I should also mention that there were several points in the beginning of our conversation that I looked down at my magazine and tried to give Naoto a subtle hint that I was reading. (If these were available back then, I might have used one…just to be funny.) But he didn’t take the hint and kept on talking. He was charming and interesting and funny so I gave up and finally put my magazine down.

Shortly after we met, Naoto left for Japan to visit his family. We emailed each other the obligatory “Happy Holidays” messages and kept lightly in touch until later that winter when I invited him to a party. I was hosting a “Table Warming Party” to celebrate the fact that my apartment’s dining room was no longer empty–I had bought a new table and chairs. My college friends were there, along with people from work and Naoto brought a couple of friends, too. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever hosted. It was a perfect mix of wonderful people, great conversation and fabulous (simple) food…and gosh, that was a great apartment.

The best part of the party–and the moment Naoto completely stole my heart–was at the end when he said, “Okay everyone, let’s help Kimber clean up!” Naoto led the charge of washing dishes and cleaning up the dining room and kitchen. It was of course wonderful to have help cleaning up, but I especially loved the fact that the whole thing extended the party just a little bit longer. I hate when parties end.

It wasn’t until a few months later that we actually started dating, but I think everyone who was at that party that night knew…even if I didn’t.

The picture above is the first picture of Naoto and I together, from the party that night.

Happy 12/12, Naoto. Putting my magazine down for you was the best decision I’ve ever made. 

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Sweet Tooth Part 2

DSC_0112I’ve been on a little bit of a vintage candy kick again lately. It all started with a Twitter conversation with Danielle about ZotZ. About a week later, I had a package full of ZotZ delivered to my mailbox! (Thank you, Danielle!) On the outside, ZotZ look like a regular hard candy. But when you bite into one, there’s a powdery inside made of acids and sodium bicarbonate that react with your saliva and create fizziness. It’s a little bit of a shock at first, but then you grow to anticipate the fizzy fun. ZotZ have been around since 1968, which seems like a long time considering how technologically advanced they are. They are pretty sour and a lot of fun! I’ve been enjoying/hoarding them, choosing a new bubbly flavor to try each day or so.

Recently, Naoto and I were perusing World Market and I bought a couple of candies that I enjoyed as a child. The first, Chick-o-Stick–a long orange stick of candy made from hardened sugar with peanut butter and coconut. I loved these as a kid and I was happy to eat this one up again without the help of Naoto. (He hates coconut.) For those who have never had one, it is kind of like a butter finger, but sweeter and without the chocolate. Chick-o-Sticks have been around since the Great Depression…I love thinking about eating a candy that my great-grandmother may have eaten!

And of course I had to pick up some Fruit Stripe Gum. Fruit Stripe is just as I remembered…super fruity and tasty for about ten seconds, then flat, no flavor. Womp. Womp… But it’s still delicious, and well worth the $1.25 I paid. Fruit Stripe has been around since the 1960s (when apparently no one cared how long the flavor in their gum would last). It really does evoke the best childhood memories…no matter how fleeting.

We are thinking about bringing some vintage American candies to Japan for our omiyage (souvenirs associated with location, as customary in Japan). I only have a few more weeks to collect some good ones for Naoto’s mom and sisters and their families. Can you think of any “must have” American candies we should take?

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Knox On-Camera Recipes

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Knowing my love for all things vintage & gelatin, my friend Karen snagged this book from her grandmother’s collection (don’t worry–we gave it back!) It is the Knox On-Camera Recipes Gel-Cookery Guide. Printed in 1960, the guide is a print-version of TV demonstrations and (according to the introduction) “gives you a new look at the many rewarding uses of Unflavored Gelatin(e).”

Basically, the recipe book takes delicious dishes–like gazpacho, spinach salad, Waldorf salad, deviled eggs…and gelatin-izes them…which creates beautiful and yes, slightly weird, molded presentations (as seen below).

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DSC_0016While I am super-interested in trying to make a savory gelatin dish just for the nostalgia of it all, the thought of molded avocado and tuna kind of makes my stomach turn. Part of me thinks that there’s a reason Jello survived in its sweet form…and maybe we should just leave savory gelatin in the past.

How about you? Have you ever had a savory gelatin dish? Would you ever try one?

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