Archive for November, 2012

I love the long shadows on November; those far-reaching limbs of trees seem to stretch out across the earth, connecting summer to winter with their long arms of hope.

As I watched the sun begin its journey this morning, I thought about the November shadows starting to form. Lights went on, for the rooms will still dark. tea whistled and the news of the day crept into my day.

As I trolled the ether waters, Garrison Keillor’s Almanac popped up. I enjoy reading the selected poem of the day; sometimes familiar verse, other times poets I have not met. On occasion, Almanac inspires a post, leading me to new waters. It isn’t always the daily poem that spurs me on, however, it is sometimes the list of birthdays; poets, essayist, literary giants.

Today, November 29, there were three notable birthdays. Authors who filled my childhood as much as ongoing years. As I read the brief biographies, my heart swelled and I thought of November’s long shadows, wondering at the lives of these notables and the shadows they cast on so many lives.

November 29 is day of birth for Louisa May Alcott, Madeline L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis.

Where would I be without “Little Women”, “A Wrinkle in Time” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”?

Where would we be, dear readers, without November’s long shadows?

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“Pete, what happened to your tie?”

“Bull Dog cut it.”

“Bull Dog cut your tie?”

“Yeah, he cut it with a knife.”

“Why did he do that?”

“I don’t know, Violet, he just cut it”.

“Didn’t he offer to pay for it?”

“No. He just stood there and cut my tie. I told him it was my favorite tie, too”.

A story told, many-a-time around the table as we were growing up, my aunt and uncles laughing, my mom being a little miffed but smiling sweetly. The story of Bull Dog cutting Pete’s tie, with a knife, and Violet incredulous that a friend could possibly do such a thing. Only, Bull Dog never did cut my father’s tie, a very nice tie that my mother bought him for some holiday or birthday.

I miss those days of neighborhood stories about the guys on the block who stood on street corners; gangs when it was okay to be in a gang of guys and the worst offense was maybe having your tie sliced in half.

I loved to hear this story, usually rendered at the family table, my dad cutting a loaf of bread, holding it close to his chest, slicing the knife through, just so. “Hey, Pete” my Aunt Christina would say, “remember the time you had Violet thinking Bull Dog cut your tie?” and on it would go, laughter begetting  more laughter, we kids begging for more.

The story took place in our house on Congress Street on the west side of Chicago. My dad, Pete, was cutting a loaf of bread in our large kitchen. My grandmother was stirring a pot of something on the stove. My mom was setting the table and my aunt was tending to some other mealtime chore.

We all lived in the same house, though this story came before we children did. No matter. I can still see the table, the stove, the “fridgidaire”, the pantry and the familiar faces around the table. I can imagine my dad, just home from work, slicing the bread.

Bull Dog was nowhere to be seen.

All the guys in the neighborhood had a nickname. My dad was Spud (as were his brothers before him and a nickname that managed to follow me as well). There was Blindy, whose name I believe came from his love of the drink, and Bull Dog, who was really a very handsome fellow. Ralphie was, well, Ralphie, and Romeo was really Vincent. I would have loved to have heard how he got his nickname. These are just a few of the characters who met on the corner like clockwork. They were the men who went off to war, some coming home, to marry and have children. They were like a secret club to me . They all came to my father’s funeral, some carrying his casket, all telling stories of their times on the corner. I will never forget one fellow, who I had never seen before, shake my hand, offer his condolences, and say “she looks just like Petey”. Little gifts at large moments.

As the tie story goes, my dad was slicing the bread, telling some story or other, perhaps talking baseball, not paying attention, when he suddenly cut through his tie, which he was still wearing. Aunt Christina saw him do it, as did Uncles George, John and Joe, and probably my grandmother as well. Daddy kept cutting, his expression never changing, as my mother looked up and saw the tie dangling there, almost in half, a mangled cloth, swiped like a slice of bologna about to be put on a piece of bread.  A tie sandwich! Hold the mayo!

Oh, the laughter and merriment that a simple slice of tie can bring.

I don’t think my mother ever bought my dad another tie, though.

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I’m gonna let it shine.

This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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They spring up like a self-basting thermometer on Thanksgiving day. Turkey Bowls. Informal games – or fierce yearly rivalries – these  football games are played in neighborhood parks, on quiet side streets, and in backyards. Footballs are energetically tossed around by high school students in their prime, college students wishing they hadn’t partied the night before, and middle-aged men (and women) sure to be aching come Friday morning. These gregarious games of football are as big a part of many a Thanksgiving day celebration as stuffing and pumpkin pie.

I played this year, for the very first time.

I was out and about mid-morning for dinner rolls I’d forgotten, enjoying a few moments of turkey talk on the radio as I drove around. I was coming up to a park where a game of football was in play. Shirts and skins on a breezy 50° November morning, I sensed they wouldn’t be thinking about the few cars going by.

I saw the pass. Fast and low. Faster than the 30 mph I was going, with a wide receiver (I don’t know what that means, just thought it would sound good) aiming to catch it. Of course, said receiver, old enough to know better, did not look both ways as he crossed the street. Fortunately, this granny in her mocha VW with latte interior saw the pass, slammed on the breaks, and intercepted the pigskin with the hood of the car.

The young man looked chastened; relieved, no doubt, that it wasn’t his own skin that was intercepted.

With several stopped cars now lined up behind me, two teams of rivals cheering me on, wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, I waved goodbye, forgetting I’d pushed the automatic button that proceeded to close over my arm.

Oh well. So much for interceptions.

Image from Wikipedia.

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Here on the Cutoff, and through a great portion of the midwest, we woke to heavy fog. The eerie aura was both exciting and dangerous, especially for those out driving, catching the school bus, or attempting to get from here to there for Thanksgiving with visibility less that a quarter of a mile. We were, as the saying goes, in the soup! It was noon before the fog burned off, though we could see the sun shining throughout the haze of our day.

As I dusted and arranged things in our dining room for Thanksgiving,  I felt I was being observed. Indeed, I was. The deer were lounging just outside the windows, looking in at me. This one turned away, rather indignantly, when I noticed her. 

This afternoon, as I write with the sun streaming through the windows, a pumpkin pie, laced with chipotle, is cooling. A pan of shortbread is about to go into the oven. While it is baking, I think I’ll read a bit from “The Madonnas of Leningrad” before peeling the sweet potatoes for tomorrow’s feast.

An acorn squash sits on the counter, waiting to be halved, baked, then adorned with a bit of cranberry relish, brown sugar, and marmalade; another new recipe that will round out the leftovers for tonight’s supper.

It is quiet within and peaceful without. I am reminded me that I have a great deal to be thankful for. Our house is warm and dry, our electricity is on, bombs are not hurling towards us, the earth is not quaking under our feet. It was a great U. S. president, Abraham Lincoln, who first declared a national day of Thanksgiving in the midst of the Civil War, reminding us then, reminding us now, that we have much to be thankful for.

On another note, I wonder if this gobbler failed to get the email that warned turkeys against high visibility in November!

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Busy days, cozy nights, and beginning preparations for Thursday’s Thanksgiving feast have been keeping me busy. The cranberry relish is marrying its flavors, the turkey is thawing out in the refrigerator, a new pumpkin pie recipe with chipotle is on the menu, and there are a few dust bunnies that need to be corralled.

What have you been up to?

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Two Look at Two

I see him now, often; roaming silently through the brush. Looking out the kitchen windows as I start dinner. Reading the mail. I catch sight of the long tips of the now full rack blending with the barren tips of the tree branches. Often, a doe, rushing past, is the first clue that he, or a brother, is nearby. This king of our little forest is the one I wanted to see, however. Thursday, I finally saw him. Close. Eight points, at least. He was there, in sight,  right off the deck, then behind the garage – just as Tom was coming in the door.

“Buck” I shouted, floundering for my camera. “Big Buck”.

Tom looked at me for an instant, not quite sure what I was saying, then turned. A few yards away, the king of our little forest walked, majestically, past our arbor, in hot pursuit of his mate.

There we were, like Donner and Blitzen, rushing across our drive and into our neighbors’ yard, in equally hot pursuit of the buck. Most of the herd was out, the boys either resting on the ground or off to side, the girls in high anticipation.

We mostly watched him, the king, and we knew him; the Christmas buck of two years past. He had survived! There is now an almost imperceptible limp of the injured leg. Just enough for us to know, it is him. I invite you to read the story of the late night drama in late December that played out in our front yard  to fully understand our excitement at seeing this royal creature again. Be assured,, his rack is kingly, his gait imposing, especially with his slight hesitation. The story is here.

If you click on the pictures twice you can see him. I’m sure he’ll be back, as I’m sure Antler Man will be looking, soon, for the antler sheds.

Two Look at Two by Robert Frost

Love and forgetting might have carried them
A little further up the mountain side
With night so near, but not much further up.
They must have halted soon in any case
With thoughts of a path back, how rough it was
With rock and washout, and unsafe in darkness;
When they were halted by a tumbled wall
With barbed-wire binding. They stood facing this,
Spending what onward impulse they still had
In One last look the way they must not go,
On up the failing path, where, if a stone
Or earthslide moved at night, it moved itself;
No footstep moved it. ‘This is all,’ they sighed,
Good-night to woods.’ But not so; there was more.
A doe from round a spruce stood looking at them
Across the wall, as near the wall as they.
She saw them in their field, they her in hers.
The difficulty of seeing what stood still,
Like some up-ended boulder split in two,
Was in her clouded eyes; they saw no fear there.
She seemed to think that two thus they were safe.
Then, as if they were something that, though strange,
She could not trouble her mind with too long,
She sighed and passed unscared along the wall.
‘This, then, is all. What more is there to ask?’
But no, not yet. A snort to bid them wait.
A buck from round the spruce stood looking at them
Across the wall as near the wall as they.
This was an antlered buck of lusty nostril,
Not the same doe come back into her place.
He viewed them quizzically with jerks of head,
As if to ask, ‘Why don’t you make some motion?
Or give some sign of life? Because you can’t.
I doubt if you’re as living as you look.”
Thus till he had them almost feeling dared
To stretch a proffering hand — and a spell-breaking.
Then he too passed unscared along the wall.
Two had seen two, whichever side you spoke from.
‘This must be all.’ It was all. Still they stood,
A great wave from it going over them,
As if the earth in one unlooked-for favour
Had made them certain earth returned their love.

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Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,

They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.

Both Kezzie and Ezra had colds while we were up north.

Kezzie is so sweet and growing up so quickly. She has learned to sneeze and cough into her sleeve, and does it as perfectly as a very big two and one half year old can. She is also well into pretending and we had such a delightful time swimming at the beach, riding in a boat, eating picnic food, all while the first appreciable snowfall covered the house.

Ezra, well, Ezra, dear baby boy, can be showing his charming little half smile one second and exude a mist of moisty germs in the next. Though I ducked for cover, often, it was not often enough. By day three, my throat was scratchy, my head ached, I felt chilled. Day four brought on the “wheezles and sneezles” of A. A. Milne.

When Ezra is a bit out of sorts and fussy, he likes to be held outward and on his side. Most of you know my coordination challenges, so, can appreciate how long it took me to perfect this method. All he needed here was just a bit of TLC. We all need that sometimes, don’t we?

I certainly did by day four. By dinnertime, I had reached my sneeziest and needed to be bundled into bed. There I was, in my pajamas, a sweater, a flannel shirt, and a bathrobe, just needing to close my eyes. I was feeling that headiness that comes with a cold. A cloud of mush over my brow. My eyes burned. I just needed to close them; and so, I did, with a certain young lass coming in and out with plastic sandwiches and watermelon, stirring pots and lending me books. She was fine in her toddler activity and I was fine with my eyes closed tight.

Can you imagine my utter surprise, dear reader, when suddenly I felt an infant nasal aspirator in my own congested cavity? She did hand me tissue and said “Yia Yia, blow your nose”. It was a very special kind of TLC and I felt much better. Sure wish she was taking care of me right now.


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Time to do a little housekeeping here on the Cutoff.. As you might remember, my cell phone died just as I was called up to Minnesota on Labor Day, when our little Ezra was born. I won’t bore you with a tale retold, especially one about a cell phone – well, Smart Phone, a Droid, which is really much smarter than I am! You can read it by clicking above.

Just as I was getting into the groove of a phone with email capacity and all the other bells and whistles and applications and such, my email provider dumped me, mid-sentence , and passed me off to someone else, like a blind date at the prom with a better prospect. Let me just say that it wasn’t a pretty picture. I moaned and groaned, couldn’t attach documents or pictures; because there were no preferences. Nothing. Oh, it was just a mess.

So, I decided to change my email provider. It was really rather easy, especially for someone as technically challenged as moi. A click here, another there, a bit of password and username gymnastics, secret questions and there I was, a gal with a plan.


I couldn’t comment on most other blogs, even those of you on WordPress. Oh me. Oh my. Henny Penny’s sky was truly falling.

I may wail and rant and complain, but, I don’t give up very easily if there is something I really want to do. So, I changed my email address on WordPress, and found that I could once again email with my lifeonthecutoff moniker and the silhouette showed up, but, I noticed a problem with those of you on other blog engines (is that the right phrase?), not to mention I wasn’t getting notices from those of you I have subscribed to.

All that to say, if you haven’t heard from me, it is likely because I’m not yet connected, or, if a strange mix of Penny and Cutoff and ampersands, and various punctuation symbols have you wondering where Penny from the Cutoff is, I’m still here, my friends. I have a regular post brewing right now. Although I was out-of-town for a week, I’m still reading you, catching up, and floating about the blogosphere.

I won’t even mention the computer being down at the library and the librarians all in a flurry trying to remember how to hand process books. Then, there was Walgreens, where I just needed a few sundry items. Their computer was down as well, just as I was checking out. What almost sent me over the rim of reason, all on this very same day, was pushing a shopping cart at the grocer’s that actually had a flat tire. All the thin rubbery stuff hanging off, as if to say, what do expect, Henny Penny, the sky is falling!

Off I go to do some more housekeeping. Hope you are all well.

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Our son-in-law Tom likes to watch American’s Test Kitchen. His quiet enthusiasm  has led me  to watch whenever I can. Compliments of the Public Broadcasting System, it airs in my area and I think of Tom often when I watch. Not only do we see delectable recipes being demonstrated, but we learn a bit about the science of why one ingredient works better than another, how products like canned peeled tomatoes are rated, or what the best bang for your buck is if you are looking for a stand mixer.

It was while I was up in Minnesota visiting that I saw an episode on chicken and dumplings that set my taste buds afloat and brought to mind my Aunt Babe, who made the most delectable dumplings I ever set my teeth into. Aunt Babe, Isabelle, was my mother’s older and only sister.

Babe was a force to reckon with.  Often the instigator of family spats, she could cut you down to size in an instant. She could also be your greatest ally. I was afraid of Aunt Babe as a child. I sometimes resented her when I was I young adult and she moved in with my mother. I grew to love her as a woman and mother.

Aunt Babe would call me on my birthday or holidays, then she would call me more frequently. Eventually, I realized she was repeating herself more and more in the course of a conversation and that she was calling me at odd times. Since she was calling from Michigan, I worried about the cost and asked her daughter if she was aware of how often Aunt Babe was calling me. It was sad to not hear from her as much after that. Her phone bills, it seems, were exorbitant – and she was calling others as well. Eventually, the calls stopped. I miss her gruff “yyyyellow” as a greeting, instead of hello, or picking up the phone to hear “doing?” Her wicked laugh and role as family historian stilled. Her storytelling and good food, however, remain in my heart and mind.

Aunt Babe had given me some recipes when she heard I was putting together cookbooks for my girls. I still have them, in her own script. She was known to leave out ingredients or steps. The little touches that make good recipes great. Aunt Babe never shared with me her recipe for dumplings, but the ones being made on America’s Test Kitchen looked a lot like hers.

I’ve had a hankering for chicken and dumplings ever since I saw them on American’s Test Kitchen. I was intrigued by the use of a dish towel, under the lid as the dumplings cooked to capture the steam. The use of buttermilk and baking soda with the flour sounded like they would float on air. The weather had turned cold, the days had shortened, and my appetite was whetted, so I found the recipe in “The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook” and set out to try my hand at these dumplings.

I can almost see Aunt Babe, nodding approval and smiling down at me.

Yum! You can find the recipe here. For vegetarians, they would be good floating in vegetable broth.

We’re on the road again, headed back up to Minnesota. I wonder if another recipe with a tasty memory will find me there.

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