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Archive for October, 2011

All-Hallow’s Eve is upon us, with youngsters emerging as ghosts and witches and whatever the latest fad in costuming is, while youngsters-at-heart gather as politicians, celebrities, and the latest fad in costuming as well.

Trick-or-treating is a multi-million dollar holiday here in the States, and, I imagine, dentists do pretty well in the aftermath of cavities in youngsters and replacing crowns in adults who have eagerly chewed a caramel apple.

I miss the days of our daughters’  trick-or-treating, and even my own. As a youngster of the 50′s, we wandered the neighborhood in large packs. Like hungry wolves, we would roam in masses from house to house and street to street, returning home only briefly to unburden our laden sacks of treats.

My mother would never allow me to brandish a knife for any reason, let alone for carving a pumpkin. In fact, I don’t remember us ever having a Jack-o-Lantern as children. My yia yia did, however, make Greek pumpkin fritters, one of the few things she made that I did not enjoy, though I would love to try making them someday myself, guessing it was the texture that I didn’t like.

We did let our own girls carve pumpkins when they were age-appropriate. Tom was usually the carver-in-chief. His artistic gifts and engineering skills often yielded the spookiest Jack-o-Lanterns in the neighborhood. The yearly carve would go on as I roasted the pumpkin seeds. Come Halloween, Sloppy Joes were always simmering on the stove for the girls to eat when they came in.

Yesterday, I made Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf, this time as muffins, and whose recipe can be found here. A pumpkin serves as a colorful backdrop upon a shelf. To put out pumpkins in our yard is a fruitless endeavor. They would be desert along with the walnuts and apples and anything green that is left to the wandering herd of deer and marauding squirrels. I think I’ll make a big pot of Sloppy Joes, though, and light the pumpkin scented candle. Somewhere, I’ve The Legend of Sleepy Hallow, and perhaps Midnight, the black cat who wanders about the neighborhood , will stop by for a cup of milk.

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In Blackwater Woods. Mary Oliver

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver. American Primitive

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McKnuckle Burger

I paid my $1.10 for a Diet Coke, a late afternoon habit I’m trying to break, then I pulled forward to the pick-up window at the local McDonald’s.

The lead car wasn’t moving. It  likely meant an order of a plain fish sandwich or a quarter pounder without any special sauce, so, I closed my window against the misty rain and idled, vowing to do penance for my abuse of the environment. The radio was on. I caught a bit of the late afternoon news and a book was sitting nearby on the passenger seat. I’m easily entertained. Just as I reached for The Book Thief, the line moved. I inched forward in the queue.

The next moment was as classic as a Happy Meal.

I stopped, turned toward the pick-up window on my left, raised my right hand, partially closed my fist to grab the Coke, and proceeded to slam my knuckles into the closed window. It hurt. It really hurt. Rolling the window down, I could see the attendant trying very hard not to laugh. Poor thing. She lost it when I offered up a “You saw that, didn’t you?”

McDonald’s is considering offering a McKnuckle burger in my honor.

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Have I told you I love Autumn?

Though awakening in darkness is still taking some getting-used-to and the early end of sunlight at day’s end quickens my steps, I still love Autumn.

The crunch of leaves. The surprise of rosehips on the vine.  The sweet smell of apples.The luster of candles glowing through a window warms my soul and  has me leafing through Frost and Thoreau these last days of Autumn.

The fallen leaves still languish in assorted hues and textures on the lawn and in the flower beds, where perennials are spent and pleading for mercy – a hard task to toil when annuals are still blooming and a killing frost is yet to arrive.

It has been a strange fall, much like our past spring and summer. By now, there are usually hedgerows of leaves up and down our road; a sight to behold, I can assure you. Instead, we’ve still some green left on the trees and the magic of asters and mums still give us pleasure. We will surely be out in winter coats and stocking caps raking frosty leaves if we don’t get to them soon.

For now, however, I think I’ll light a candle and open the Stillwater Sampler by Gladys Taber. This latest addition to my Taber collection unexpectedly jumped into my hands the other day while browsing in my favorite little book booth at Jackson Square Mall. Yes, I’ll languish a bit more, like the leaves on the lawn, over the last of Autumn.

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Expression

Simplicity

is

the

glory

of

expression.

 

Walt Whitman

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With grace

Isn’t she lovely? Her name is Penelope and she was painted by Charles Francis Marchal. She caught my eye immediately; for her name, her talents with a needle, her grace. I imagined myself as her, but, alas, all we have in common is a name. I’m not very good with a needle, as you may know, but, I can crochet and do needlepoint, so, there is hope for me.

Grace? Ah, grace is another thing altogether.

I was away from home for the very first time in my life, living in a dorm, eating cafeteria food, and making new friends from all over the state of Illinois. Girls from small cities, farms, and our state capitol, Springfield. When my friend, Janet, invited me home for the weekend, I was elated – and I didn’t even have to ask my parents for permission.

Bear in mind that, as an over-protected and shy girl, I was rarely allowed to attend an overnight sleepover, and the few I did attend were either with relatives or the homes of friends from church. This was the big time for me!

Janet’s mother was sweet and I truly appreciated meeting her and staying the weekend. After a time, we went upstairs to the attic room which, to me, seemed straight out of Little Women. I remember it as spacious and it felt so special, which it was compared to the tiny bedroom with oversized furniture I shared with my sister growing up. The fact that it was on the second floor was even more magical.  I knew it at once as I ascended the long stairway.

Suddenly, Janet bolted up and cried “They’re here! They’re here!”. Her Springfield friends had pulled up and were heading in and Janet was so excited to see them. I was too. Her excitement was infectious and I was engulfed in this moment of new things and new friends and new freedom previously unknown to this little Greek girl from the suburbs of Chicago.

Janet fairly flew down that long, steep staircase, and I was but a few steps behind her!

How she moved with such agility was beyond me. I felt my descent from at the first step, then the second, then the rest. All of them. Each and every one of them as they came up to greet my behind. Janet ran down faster than fast and, just as the doorknob turned, the door opened, and my new friend’s friends walked in, I, too made my entrance.  Just then, at just the right moment, I arrived, with all of the grace of a hippopotamus and all of the racket of a locomotive.

I had arrived. All of me. Landing with all that clamor. There I plopped, rather decidedly,  flat on my bottom, sitting, cross-legged.

All I could think of to say was “hi”.

There I was, sitting amid much laughter, laughing myself,  for what more can you do when you’ve suddenly appeared like a pumpkin being dropped from the sky?

First impressions – priceless!

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A few Saturday stops

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock . . .
                                      
     
No frost on the pumpkins, yet, but, these two turkeys surprised me on a suburban street. Pretty bold of them with Thanksgiving just a month away.
(click on the turkeys for a better look)

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Breck Girl

Sipping coffee, we somehow wandered into a conversation about hair washing. Before I knew it, I was telling Jennifer how my mom used to wash my hair in the kitchen sink, me kneeling on a chair, a washrag keeping shampoo out of my eyes. White vinegar still reminds me of the rinse Ma would conjure up to get all the soap out of my hair. After a shampoo, I always felt like a wilted lettuce salad.

In the summer, a towel dry was all that was needed and being outdoors in the sunshine.

Winter. Ah, winter. That was another matter altogether.

While my mom was busy washing my hair, Yia Yia, my grandmother, would be at the oven, dragging a chair from the kitchen table, opening the oven door. After a bit of a fluff with a towel, the tangles in my thick hair would have to be combed out, which I can assure you wasn’t any fun at all. Then, I would sit on the chair in front of the oven with my wet mane draped over the back. The oven door would be open. The chair just far enough to be safe. Close enough to dry my hair. My mom and my grandmother chatting and working in tandem, washing and drying my hair, then my sister’s. A wash and a dry – a family affair.

There I would sit, the oven my hair dryer, and pretend that I was about to become THE next Breck Shampoo Girl!

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Harvesting

The first Autumn we lived here on the Cutoff, we stains suddenly appeared on the road. Closer inspection revealed hard green fruit that had fallen. Walking in the grass had us twisting our ankles and raking brought a unique new challenge.

Then, we noticed one of the green fruits was opened and there inside it sat a walnut .

We soon realized that there were black walnut trees up and down our road and that we had several on our property. Dozens of walnut trees.

This year, there was a bumper crop!

Thousands of hard walnut husks are everywhere. These husks are harder than you can imagine and while the squirrels are adept at nutcracking, we mere humans are not.

A Garden Club friend offered that her family would put a cloth down, then the walnuts, and roll over them with the car to crack the husks. This seemed  a bit unusual and we wondered that it wouldn’t crack the inner shell, destroying the nut.

Then, we noticed all the husks by the mailbox that had been run over by the mailman and, sure enough, there was the shell.

So, Tom gathered  walnuts and set up a station for cracking the rock hard husks. Tarp at the ready, rubber gloves employed against staining our hands, and the car positioned with all its horsepower, we began the task of harvesting walnuts.

After a few rolls of the car, the husks were ready to open.

We forced them open with our gloved paws, moving off as much of the outer husk as possible, and tossing them into the pail.

Next, they are washed and hung in mesh to dry for several weeks.

I can’t wait to crack the first shell open and hope that the walnut meat is ripe inside. Have you ever tried cracking a walnut? We have some hard work at hand, but, with the soaring price of nuts, I’m grateful for this bountiful opportunity and glad that my favorite Antler Man is willing to give it a try.

I use walnuts in baking, especially at Christmastime. Greek “paper” cookies, fudge, banana bread and, sometimes, karidopeta. I may even attempt some baklava this year and hope to toast some for our salads.

Isn’t it grand to learn new things, no matter how many years we travel through life?

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Men of Concord

Prize Farmer

December 28, 1853. E. W—–, who got the premium on farms this year, keeps twenty-eight cows, which are milked before breakfast, or 6 o’clock, his hired men rising at 4:30 A.M.; but he gives them none of the milk in their coffee.

 Men of Concord, by Henry D. Thoreau. F. H. Allen: Editor. N. C. Wyeth, Illustrator. Page 110.

With twenty minutes to spare before my luncheon engagement,  I darted into the Goodwill Store a few doors down. With only twenty minutes, I knew I couldn’t get into too much trouble. I also knew I would have time for only one section, so, I headed over to my first choice, the book section.

A quick glance at the shelves indicated some fine books had been brought in since my last visit. Paperbacks and novels, some newer editions, some with the distinctive covers of older issues, all in good condition.

There, with its neat little spine facing me, was the title, Men of Concord and one surname, Thoreau. As I ever-so-gently slid it off of the shelf, the wonderful cover greeted me. The words upon its pages taken from the journal of Henry David Thoreau. The magnificent illustrations from an admirer of Thoreau. N. C. Wyeth.

You may remember my telling of our autumn sojourn a few years ago to Massachusetts and Walden Pond, which I wrote about here. It was a wonderful trip, made even more so by an afternoon lunch on Walden Pond and a walk through the woods that Thoreau wrote so famously about in Walden.

You may also remember my appreciation for the artwork of N. C. Wyeth, especially in his illustrations of a favorite childhood book, The Yearling, which I wrote about here.

To find the words from Thoreau’s journals so evocatively illustrated by N. C. Wyeth was a blissful encounter indeed.

Walking out of the store, I felt good at how little trouble I did get into, hugging my book, in pristine condition, at a whopping price of $1.95!

I thought I did pretty well for myself in such a short time.

Plates from the front of the book. Please click the pictures for a better look, especially the cover above.

Thoreau and Miss Emerson

Bronson Alcott at the Granary Cemetery in Boston

Four boys and a horse.

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