Geneva speech therapist publishes bucket list book about her dachshunds
Mary Skaar of Geneva definitely loved helping special needs children in her 35-year career as a local speech and language pathologist. And she definitely loved her two dachshunds, Annie and Lucy.
Put those passions together, and the result was a children's book about building language skills titled "Fun with Annie and Lucy," one that Mary worked on a few years ago but made it a goal to have it on bookstore shelves this month.
It was a bucket list item for Mary, who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer 10 years ago and took on that illness with a determination and grace that stood out until her passing last week on June 11.
"She was involved with the book every step of the way," her daughter-in-law Lauren Skaar said. "We did a reveal once we got all of the books and let her know the books were here. She was able to hand out books to close friends and family members."
The most special moment came about two weeks ago when Mary and her family members saw the book on the shelves at Little Traveler in Geneva. The book is also available at Townhouse Books in St. Charles and Harvey's Tales in Geneva or on the Skaars' website at longdogbooks.com.
Her passing and the timing of the book release were critical in getting her message out to future generations of children who could benefit from engaging with the book.
"I think it's important to understand that 'Fun with Annie and Lucy' is not just a storybook," said husband Jim Skaar, a Geneva attorney. "As a speech and language therapist, Mary's passion was language development, and Mary knew it's important for both her special education students as well as mainstream students to be engaged with books at an early age in order to develop their language skills."
In that regard, "Fun with Annie and Lucy" is designed "to foster that language development by being interactive, and fun to read," Jim said.
It was easy for Mary to equate fun with her dogs as well, considering she had been involved in "wiener dog Wednesdays" in which she would bring Annie and Lucy to a park to meet with others who owned dachshunds.
After her family helped get the book self-published, it represented another event Mary was determined to experience.
"Something really special about Mary is that she was diagnosed with the illness 10 years ago, and she just wanted to keep reaching these milestones," Lauren said.
"She wanted to see her daughter's high school graduation and then her college graduation, and then law school graduation, all of them kind of a reach because it was such a rough diagnosis," Lauren noted.
She also made it to see daughter Laura marry Lauren, a proud moment for her and the family.
"Things started progressing (with the illness) a few months ago in taking a turn, but luckily she did not suffer long," Lauren said. "And even up to the end, the day before she passed, she was up and walking around."
There is little doubt Mary Skaar touched numerous lives through her life's work in helping special needs children. By any measure, that is simply a wonderful life. In that way, the family felt her passing should not overshadow what the book is really about.
"This is a success story," Lauren added. "She made it 10 years, and it doesn't quite feel as bad because of that. It was cool to have her see the books in the stores, as that was a main goal and really special."
Park dry for now
Reader Peter Ambrose sent a photo of flooding last year near the old Mill Race Inn property and leading into Island Park along the Fox River in Geneva.
The dry spring weather has left the river quite low, which is troublesome in many respects, but a nice break for Island Park.
The park has grappled with flooding damage for the past few years, which seems to occur far more often because of natural erosion.
When it dries out for a long time, Island Park can remind us of what a nice setting it can be. For many years, it was the site of the annual Fox Valley Folk Music and Storytelling Festival, the park district's Wednesday night concerts, weddings, running events and picnics with few interruptions.
Because any or all of those events can't take place in a muddy, soaked setting, park district officials have been trying to devise ways for the park to divert overflow water.
So far this year, it hasn't been a worry. Now things are so dry; we have to worry about our trees and bushes dying.
But, as Ambrose pointed out in his note with the flooding photo: "Don't like the weather? Just stick around. It'll change soon enough."
My kind of stands
Glancing at the Pottawatomie Park refreshment stand menu in St. Charles the other day certainly brought back wonderful childhood memories -- though I was not a Pottawatomie Park attendee 60 years ago.
I was hanging out with friends and trying to learn how to swim at Centennial Beach in Naperville during those years. I was a lousy swimmer, so the concession stand was a favorite part of the adventure.
I asked my wife to guess what I bought just about every time I went for refreshments. She guessed a frozen Snickers bar, but I'm not sure that sort of concoction was even available when I was plunking down my quarter for a treat.
The answer to this trivia question entails one of the greatest inventions of our time -- the good, old-fashioned ice cream sandwich.
It would have been a relatively rare treat in our home freezer, so it was an especially welcome sight at the beach.
If anyone had kept count, it's likely the young Heun lad consumed nearly 200 of these treats over four summers at the beach.
Pottawatomie's main concession stand serves the park and miniature golf course, and the pool has its own smaller stand, but the menu is the key. No matter what age, who doesn't like pizza, hot dogs and popcorn?
But the frozen treats always lured me. And this stand has something called a Chocolate Taco and numerous other choices, including the delightful Chocolate Éclair ice cream bar.
Speaking of sugar
It takes a fair amount of willpower to walk past Hahn's Bakery in downtown Geneva on our weekly ventures when walking our dog.
So, on occasion, I don't walk past. I go in.
On the most recent visit, I discovered something that gives me a nice jolt in the morning. The young fellow at Hahn's called it a caramel chip scone. By any name, it was delicious.
Granted, I do not eat an entire scone in one sitting. My wife would have to peel me off the ceiling if that became a habit. Just a few bites for two or three days hit the spot perfectly.
Speaking of bakeries
The signs are up for Masterpiece Bread in Geneva, at 1441 S. Randall Road, with entry off Bent Tree Drive in the Eaglebrook subdivision.
The sign notes that in addition to bread, the bakery will sell cookies for our pleasure. The artwork shows a large cookie with chocolate chunks -- that sort of makes it my Mona Lisa.
I've been waiting for this sort of option since Great Harvest Bread Company left downtown Geneva years ago.
Most importantly, I would be able to walk to Masterpiece Bread from my house. Or maybe float there like a cartoon character being drawn in by the fragrance of the bread and cookies.
A playground for all
The new sensory garden and all-inclusive playground at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles mentioned a few months ago is now open.
This excellent playground should bring all sorts of kids of all ages and abilities together for some summer fun.
The St. Charles Park District put this project together with the help of a $248,000 Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The playground replaced a Safety Town setup in Pottawatomie Park that hadn't been used for several years.