Archive for October, 2012

The trees are mostly barren now, their spectacular colors swept into breezy drifts of crinkled mounds of yellow and orange and red; onto the grass, the drive, hither and yon. We had such a glorious fall here on the Cutoff, I know, but today I felt the first bite of winter nipping at my heels.

We still haven’t had a hard frost, but the air has turned colder. Mornings are crisp and evening comes early with candles and lamplight guiding our way. The furnace has kicked on and I needed my gloves this morning as I started the car. Not for long. Just long enough to herald a change in seasons.

Soups and stews have replaced grilled chicken out on the deck and summer shirts and sandals have all been switched to winter sweaters and cozy socks.

Oddly enough, today had the feel of snow coming. Temperatures reached fifty degrees, but the clouds were dramatic, heavy and grey with patches of blue here and there as the sun kept shifting its focus.

I thought of it all as I went about my day’s business. The cold, the dark, the comfort of home with its welcoming glow of light and warmth and comfort. As I thought my thoughts went again to all those on the East Coast who have battled the winds and waters and wrath of Hurricane Sandy. I thought of their unimaginable losses in the wet and cold and dark and fear, and I felt humble and hopeful all at the same time, thinking thoughts of recovery and comfort in the days and weeks and long months ahead for my countrymen and women to the east. My prayers are with them.

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Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the caldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and caldron bubble.

Cool it with a baboon’s blood,

Then the charm is firm and good.

Song of the Witches by William Shakespeare

Image of Girls Night Out by Will Moses

Just one more for girls who wanna have fun – after the ads.

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The Cutoff is blanketed in a quilt of golden snow as the leaves continue to fall, their softened sounds a magical mystery. It has been a most beautiful Autumn here. I knew it wouldn’t, couldn’t , last, yet, like all good things, I kept hoping for just a bit longer. I wandered about in the leaf strewn grass, soaking up  the colors, the mustiness and the crisp air, recalling the summer afternoons sitting under the arbor, sipping tea and reading.

My eyes were drawn to a flicker of gold in the distance. A ray of sunshine was playing tag with something. I needed to walk back to see what it was. Can you see it just beyond the bluebird house? Click on the picture for a better view.

My footfall was noisy as I dragged my feet. One must drag and crunch and shuffle through leaves to fully appreciate them, don’t you agree?  I marveled at how our landscape had changed overnight, exposing things hidden during the lush days of summer. Ancient farm implements, long forgotten by previous owners, emerged from their hiding spots,

and I caught a slight movement from within the brush. Can you see her? Our eyes met and held for a spell, then I walked on as she bent her head down, gnawing at whatever was tasty upon the forest floor.

The rest of the foraging expedition were eyeing me from the other side, waiting for me to move on . . .

. . . and so, I did, looking for that hint of gold I saw from the arbor. I found it. It was a single leaf, stopped in its descent by the tip of a small twig which had skewered it like a toothpick in search of an appetizer.

The sun illuminated its translucent beauty and I stood in awe at nature’s perfection.

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We get our kicks on Route 66. Not “kicks’, exactly, but Kix Cereal. You see, about a mile or so from the Cutoff, sitting on old Route 66, is a store where we buy groceries. Another mile or so east sits one of the many Historic Route 66 signs that dot the United States. As we hit a slight rise in the pavement, the magnificent skyline of Chicago comes into view. Some twenty miles away sits Buckingham Fountain, the gateway to Lake Michigan and the symbolic beginning of Route 66.

This now historic two lane highway once took travelers from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, ending in Santa Monica. Route 66 was the 2,451 mile Mother Road to a better life for many and the great migration west; those escaping the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression, seeking jobs in the fertile fields of Southern California, looking for wartime employment, or the glamour and excitement of Hollywood.

Route 66 wound around and through small towns and large, from the midwest to the southwest and the Pacific Coast, It brought tourists to their diners and motels, offered a place to settle down and start a family, or provided the opportunity to see local attractions as more and more people began to own cars. This long stretch of highway and the cars that rode on it helped support the economy of many towns. When the interstate highway system was completed and Route 66 was decommissioned as a highway, many towns and villages suffered economically, changing the way of life for many.

Many of us remember Dinah Shore as she blew us all a kiss each week from her television show and encouraged us all to “see the USA in your Chevrolet”

Then there were these two fellows on the television series, Route 66. They made young girls’ hearts go pit-a-pat each week as they drove the cars that all the fellows longed for – and still do.

When I first left home for college, we drove Route 66 to Normal, Illinois. I will always remember that first trip to school, my dad behind the wheel, my mom trying to keep a stiff upper-lip, my own mixed emotions at leaving home for the first time. We drove out of the Chicago suburbs,  past cornfields, Joliet, more cornfields, on and on. It seemed forever, until we approached Dwight and the first stop light from Chicago. There was a diner at the light were we often stopped for coffee and a piece of pie.

As long as I’m riding along on the memory lane of Route 66, I should mention the Dixie Truck Stop near Funk’s Grove. Heading toward Springfield, they had some mighty tasty hamburgers and interesting people to watch. I believe it is still in operation, though with new owners. More “kicks on Route 66″ through part of Illinois. The phrase was first made popular by Nat King Cole. It is fun to listen to as he sings about all the places the Mother Road passes.

Do you have any memories of Route 66?

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It all started with Perpetua’s tasty post on soup. With the nip of frost in the air, I’d already been making soups, but her mention of  such intriguing delights as parsnip and apple soup and the flurry of comments that followed, with every soup imaginable described, some with recipes, my taste buds were on high alert. Since her post, which can be found here, I’ve made vegetable barley soup and tonight’s chicken dumpling. I love soup anytime, but the pot always seems to be simmering the most come Autumn.

Thinking about cooking soup and eating soup led me to thoughts of Robert Newton Peck’s book, “Soup & Me”,  especially  the hilarious chapter titled “Havoc on Halloween”.

Soup and Rob are childhood friends and we follow their mischievous boyhood adventures reminiscent  of Peck’s own childhood. I’ve blogged about “Soup & Me” before which I am incorporating into this post.

My introduction to Soup was as a substitute teacher after our Jennifer was born. I was called in to a 4th grade classroom and there in the lesson plans, right after lunch, was scheduled a Robert Newton Peck book. I remember the children settling down quickly after lunch, eager to hear the next chapter, and so I began. Never having read a Soup book before, I didn’t know what I was in for until the words became blurry on the page as I tried, unsuccessfully, to stop laughing at the hilarity of Rob and Soup, in their Halloween costumes, one a pirate, the other a ghost, with an enormous pumpkin taken from Mr. Sutter’s patch, hauled into a wheelbarrow. and rolled down Sutter’s Hill to a party at the Baptist church, all to impress Norma Jean Bissell.  Of course, the wheelbarrow with the heavy pumpkin picks up speed and the boys quickly lose control, as did I, laughing as loud as the children in the class.

From the street, there was one step up to the door of the Baptist Church. The door was closed. Actually it was a double door, painted red, coming at us like a giant red square. I tried to let go of the handle of the wheelbarrow, but my cramped fingers would not unlace. Just then, the one front wheel of the barrow hit the one step, and several things happened in rapid succession. The wheelbarrow, which had a split second earlier been traveling down Sutter’s Hill at a hundred miles an hour stopped with a buck. The pumpkin flew out and straight ahead. Soup and I tripped over the suddenly immobile bin of the barrow. The big pumpkin smashed open the doors of the Baptist Church, rolling at full steam down the center aisle. The aisle was waxed wood, causing Soup and I to slide on our bellies right behind the pumpkins. Pew after pew flew by. 

Events did not stop there. 

I didn’t see Norma Jean Bissell. But as I hurtled forward toward all the surprised faces, I did see Mrs. Stetson . . . kids were bobbing for apples in a huge tub of water. An adult was among them. Raising his dripping face from the tub of water, with an apple in his mouth, was none other than Mr. Hiram Sutter . . .

From “Soup & Me” by Robert Newton Peck. Illustration by Charles Lilly.

So from soup to smashing pumpkins, my mind floats like the leaves falling from the trees, with a hearty laugh tossed in for good measure.

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To Look at Any Thing

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods,” will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.
-John Moffitt


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My good friends at Amazon are so nice. They email me every day. Sometimes they email me more than once; in the wee hours of the morning, on the weekend, during a holiday. By-gosh-by-golly, there are so many emails from them I  couldn’t want for more, AND they call me by name. Hi, Penny! We have just the books you are looking for – and they do. They seem to know all my tastes in literature and music and even some things I didn’t know I was interested in.

As I was sipping a steamy cup of tea this morning, there were my A-friends with a whole slew of books they knew I would love. Books, whether on actual or virtual shelves, always get my attention, so, I scrolled through the book jacketed recommendations. The title of “Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages” made me pause. One click and there I was, instantly intrigued by this book about things left in books.

The author of “Forgotten Bookmarks”, Michael Popek, has compiled this collection of things he has found between the pages of books at his family’s used and rare bookstore in New York. From bookmarks to letters, bandages to pictures, ticket stubs to razor blades, anything and everything seem to be hidden among the pages of books.

Mr. Popek even has a blog all about things he finds in books, which I believe became the catalyst for the book (correct me if I am wrong) and can be found at www.forgottenbookmarks.com. It is a fun site to visit and there is even a children’s book giveaway there today.

I love bookmarks, though my page in a book is often left with a receipt for the coffee I was drinking, a napkin, or a newspaper clipping. I’ve been known to snip the corner off of an envelope to hug the corner of the last page I read, but I never, ever dog ear a page, even though I have a very pretty box that is filled with bookmarks I’ve picked up here or there, found in amongst family things, or been given by friends. Don’t get me wrong, I use them too, it’s just that odd things do find their way in between the covers of a good read, don’t they?

Not too long ago, going through a box of my dad’s things, I found inside a very nice collector’s edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “House of the Seven Gables” and little note written in my father’s beautiful script:

Please use clean hands when handling this book.

Have you ever found anything interesting or unusual in a book? Do you use a bookmark? What other things do you use to mark your place?


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When I checked out “Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah, I was hoping for an interesting audio book to pass the hours on my recent road trip. I liked the cover, had not read any of Kristin Hannah’s work, and  heard an intriguing discussion on the radio about it. Into my hands it went, along with two other audio books, just in case I needed another “read”, and off I went.

I just finished “Winter Garden” this morning as I pulled into a parking space to meet up with a friend. I didn’t want it to end and I did something I haven’t done with a book in a while. I cried those sobbing, choking tears that emerge from deep in one’s throat while reading a book. I call them my little women tears; the tears I always cry when Beth March dies.

I was thinking that “Winter Garden”, with its beautiful cover of snow, might be something for our book group come December. I’m silly that way. Snow on the cover – a good Christmas read? What a silly girl I am!  This is a story within a story of love and hardship, deprivation and forgiveness.

Sisters Meredith and Nina are brought together at the death of their beloved father. On his deathbed, he asks Meredith, who lives nearby and is involved in the family’s Washington apple orchard, to take care of their mother, Anya. He asks Nina, a renowned photographer who travels the globe, to hear the untold portions of their mother’s Russian fairy tale. He requests of Anya, who was born in Russia, that she finish telling the fairy story she began when the girls were children.

As the sisters work through their grief, they struggle with their cold and distant mother – and with each other. It is in the gradual, reluctant, telling of the tale by Anya that they grow to understand her and themselves.

The sisters believe the story to be a traditional Russian folk tale; a prince and a beautiful maiden, trolls and black knights, elements that make up Russian folklore. There is more to this fairy tale, however, as it takes the reader from Washington State to Leningrad and then Alaska over a span of more than sixty years.

I’m not sure I would have continued with this book if I wasn’t listening to it on a long car ride. With twelve CD’s, I barely made it through the first six before I returned home. If I had not read a few reviewers admit that they almost gave up on the book, urging readers to keep going, I might have stopped. I’m so glad that I kept with it. So glad.

SPOILER ALERT This Russian tale inside the story is, at first, enchanting and romantic, of young lovers and poets in Leningrad. It takes a turn as the beautiful Vera’s father is arrested by trolls in a black carriage. Vera and Olga, her sister, are forced to take work in the Hermitage. There are food shortages and distrust of anyone and everyone, bombings, tragedy and unimaginable choices.

It is the fairy tale that captivated me, drew me in, deeper and deeper, as the tale unfolded with Anya’s telling of the horrors of the siege of Leningrad.

I knew of the siege. High school world history texts wrote of it, if only in a few paragraphs. My world history teacher, who had been to Russia, expounded on it, but, I really did not understand  those 900 days of siege in a starving city in the coldest of Russian winters that came alive through Hanna’s writing. It left me wanting to learn more about this horrific time and place where it is estimated that one million people perished. It also made me wonder about the Russians who emigrated to Alaska and the west coast of the United States, especially after World War II.

Was Winter Garden more than an interesting cover? It surely was!


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Mid-century. That’s what it is being called; that warp in time so many of us, now of a certain age, grew up in. It was as magical and idyllic as it was frightening and confusing and many of us, we baby boomers, had a playmate of sorts that we grew up with. The television. Big cabinets with little screens, three or four channels in shades of gray that went off the air at midnight, when the pictures would start to fill with snow and the national anthem would play, signing off for the night. When I was old enough to stay up that late, I always stood, in my pajamas, at sign off time.

We of the mid-century club watched Romper Room and Howdy Doody, Bonanza and Dr. Kildare, along with those commercials with jingles that still linger, like the one I started singing the other day as I cut up a banana for Kezzie.

I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say

Put some rubber in your blubber

And you’ll bounce away!

 “Mom” cried Katy, “I always thought that was the song until friends said it wasn’t”.

Well, it really wasn’t the jingle, but, we all sang it that way and it became real to us. We would put our hands in the air or on our hips and belt it out like Carmen Miranda as we walked across the narrow bridge over the Eisenhower Expressway, giggling at the thought of all that blubber bouncing on the trucks speeding below us on the Ike.

When bananas, just being introduced into our midwestern stores, were in season, it was a rare treat to have one, carefully peeling so as not to bruise. That first bite, each time, so rare and delicious, was like visiting a foreign land . . . and then someone would start blubbering and we’d try not to bounce.

I don’t really remember if I saw this commercial on television or at the movie theater, where the jingle aired and whose purpose was to teach us all how to eat a banana. My sister and cousins would pile into Aunt Christina’s black and white Plymouth. The car always reminded me of saddle shoes. We would spend a hot summer day or Saturday afternoon watching double features at the Lido Theater.

As Kezzie ate her banana, Ezra cuddled in his mommy’s arms, and Yia Yia washed some berries. Suddenly, mid-century music escaped out of that little device we call a cell phone, which is not only a phone but a typewriter and a tape recorder and a camera and the repository of all YouTube has to offer. There was Ms. Chiquita Banana, teaching us how to eat a banana.

Do you remember this jingle? Are there others you remember from your childhood? Did you or your friends do your own interpretations of commercials?

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The magnificence of maples and oaks and birches with pines interspersed was dizzying. Ancient rocks pushing through the ground, reminders of ice age glaciers cutting through the vast valleys and hills of Northern Wisconsin, were powerful in the early morning sun. As I drove the interstate toward home, I felt as if I had been dropped into a bowl of candy corn.

I love Autumn so much. I can’t seem to let it go. Not yet. I want to see it and hold it in my view for as long as possible, a Midwesterner’s reward for the brutally hot, dry summer we had and memories to keep close when the long winter settles in. Do you ever feel like holding on to a season for as long as you can? 

I stopped at a rest area near Black River Falls and walked around a bit, stretching my legs after hours driving. In the thirteen years I’ve made this drive, I’ve never stopped at this wayside. I walked about and I wondered why, grateful to find something new on a familiar path. The view was picturesque and I learned that one of Wisconsin’s major crops is peat moss grown in the area. Who knew?

I stopped at the apple orchard I mentioned a few blogs past, happy to know it was still selling apples this late into October, and that it was open so early in the day. I hauled a half bushel of Cortlands, a red cabbage, and butternut squash into the car, deciding to gaw rather than gee as I drove out the drive. My reward was such a pleasant country road, with gentle turns and swaths of sun brushing across the farmland.

Oh, the russet colored wonders of corn stalks drying under such a blue sky with the colors of Autumn for company.

Pulling to the side of the lane to take pictures, I could hear the gurgling sound of Sandhill Cranes, so high I couldn’t see them migrating south, reminding me to continue my journey home.

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