Archive for September, 2012

I wanted to tell you about the long walk we took in the woods. I wanted to tell you how magnificent the prairie was, how the sun glistened on the water lilies, and how the path beckoned us to go further and further still. Instead, I’ll just show you. Okay?



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Oh, these bright Autumn days!

I find myself looking to Robert Frost’s Birches, perusing old Victoria magazines, and watching You’ve Got Mail. Joe Fox’s email to Kathleen Kelly about Autumn in New York, where he writes that  “I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address”, always makes me want to sharpen a dozen number 2 pencils to perfect points and place them in a vase with a bowl of candy corn nearby.

These crisp Autumn nights, how sweet they are, spending cozy hours rustling through old, battered cookbooks, looking for hearty soups to simmer and muffins to bake.

It is that crunchy time of year along the Cutoff. Time for taffy apples and raking leaves, with the primal chorus of Canadian geese casting passing shadows on the earth below as their lofty caravans migrate south.

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Pin money.

I have never heard a man use this term I have known for as long as I can remember. It has always been the women who have said it.

Women of my family, working around the kitchen table, kneading dough for kourambedes, brushing butter on paper-thin sheets of phyllo, working grape leaves around ground meat, casually mentioning that Patty was taking in laundry for some extra pin money.

Ma, slipping a few dollars to her friend Laura for coming over on her day off to give us a perm, saying it was pin money.

My Aunt Christina said it to me the first time I baby sat as I walked past her kitchen window with 50 cents held like Midas’ gold in the palm of my hand. “Now you have some pin money, Penny” as she smiled down at me.

“Penny, put this away for something special. It’s your pin money” said my Aunt Babe after my first week of stocking shelves for Burney Brothers Bakery at a grocery store in the City.

I mentioned it the other day as I thought out loud about ways to make some extra money and was asked what pin money was. Pin money, to me, has always meant small change or a few dollars, squirreled away here and there for something extra. At 50¢ an hour, it netted me the $3 I needed to buy a mohair sweater, spun in sunshine yellow, from the Ben Franklin Five and Dime when I was twelve years old. Quarters stashed away in a little tin can allowed me to purchase a leather-bound book held together by a strong, gold cord. “A Treasure Chest” is filled with wonderful quotes. It followed me to college and marriage and children and sits on a shelf. It was a book recommended to me my high school creative writing teacher. The chord remains taut. I still have a change purse where coins are tossed and eventually go toward something special; a book, a present, a new scarf.

Pin money, it seems, claims many origins, most of them about the purchase of pins. One source calls it “a small allowance to buy clothes”, another for  the purchase of pins, which were once an extravagant expense. Pins were, and still are, used for dressmaking, though they were paid for dearly in the past. Centuries ago, men would leave “pynne money” to wives or daughters in their wills. Nineteenth and twentieth century women were given an allowance, pin money, for expenses and, perhaps if one was frugal, a pair of silk stockings.

Pin money.

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While I have always enjoyed poetry, I have not had the tendency to read poems on a regular basis. Posts by Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm and Teresa over at Teresa Evangeline have introduced me to poets in the past several years that I had not yet met. They also served to remind me of some wonderful volumes I have sitting quite patiently on my own shelves. Then, there is Pamela, from The House of Edward, who has such a visually breathtaking post with her characteristically exquisite prose and an intriguing list of autumn reads, including a new book of poetry by Mary Oliver. Should you have the time, I encourage you to visit them. Perhaps explore an unfamiliar poet as you embrace this changing season. Find a quiet spot. Read a poem or two. Dare to read one aloud. Poetry comes alive when given a human voice.

All this leads me to Nancy Wood’s “Shaman’s Circle”, where I found Monday’s poem, Why the Great Spirit Made Hands.

I first discovered Nancy Wood in a gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Tom and I were exploring on a crisp, clear, winter’s day and wandered into Frank Howell’s gallery. Experiencing originals of Howell’s vast body of Southwestern art was amazing. We had both appreciated his work for some time, but, as with all art, it took on new meaning to see the actual paintings.

As I wandered around, I noticed some books for sale; works of poetry illustrated by Frank Howell. Feeling I’d found the best of all worlds right there at my fingertips, and something I could actually afford, I picked up “Spirit Walker”, discovering it was signed by both Howell and Wood. What more can I say, dear reader? “Spirit Walker” walked out the door with me and I felt as if I made a new friend. Over the years, I acquired “Shaman’s Circle” and “Dancing Moons”.

Nancy Wood’s poetry comes from her longtime association with the people of the Taos Pueblo Indians of Santa Fe, New Mexico, embracing their spirituality and relationship with the earth. Her poetry has an earthy quality to it and a great respect for the land, the sky, the soul. She also has a deep respect for the people; the mothers and grandfathers and children in the circle of life.

I don’t think it was an accident that Why the Great Spirit Made Hands opened up to me just when I had a picture for it. Wood’s words have presented themselves to me at other times in my life; a memorial service reading, the difficult time of a friend, a winter’s day, the night sky. Has this ever happened to you? Have you experienced a new poet or poem lately?

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The Great Spirit made hands before he made

      eyes or feet, so people could learn to hold

      one another. Hands were useful for touching

      the hard ribs of trees or the soft tongues of flower petals.

      Hands discovered the dry uncertainty of snakes, the

      slipperiness of fish, the mystery of feathers. Hands found

Other hands and clasped together to embrace the oncoming world,

      unafraid. Two pairs of hands, burned by fire and cooled

      by water, felt their way along unfamiliar paths and then

      reached out and found they needed one another

      to make a home in the wilderness of their minds.

From “Shaman’s Circle”, Why the Great Spirit Made Hands by Nancy Wood.

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I loved saying onomatopoeia as a young girl, imagining all of the words I could say that would imitate the sound they represented.

As soon as I heard the word onomatopoeia last week on Wisconsin Public Radio, my thoughts turned to sixth grade. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Bristor, gave us the task making a grammar magazine. We each had parts of speech to describe, commas and question marks to place into context and illustrate with faces and clothing.  I still have my magazine, with its faded green construction paper cover and yellowed pages. It is safely packed in a box with doily valentines and old report cards and other remnants of my childhood.

I listened to the program, A Way With Words, with its lively conversation about modern onomatopoeic words that have emerged in our technological era. Words like pew pew for lasers and brring brring for phone rings, and I wondered what other words there were in this new age, sounding like what they are. Do you know any?

You can listen to the program here, as well as find other Way With Words discussions that you might find interest.

Image from Google.


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A few years ago, driving down the interstate from Minnesota to Illinois, a few hours of scenery into Wisconsin, a simple sign that just said APPLES in big red letters lured me off-road, past cranberry bogs, and to Rex’s barn where the sweet smell of apples invited me in. Since then, whenever I’m traveling this route in fall, I try to stop for apples – and did just that on my way home on Sunday.

I pulled into the drive, past the farmhouse, and to the barn, the cool Autumn air wafting in through the car windows, a family was backing their van out, leaving me a very nice space to park. They, and others, were on the midwest fall adventure of picking their own apples. Seeing them brought back memories of doing the same when our girls were young.

The barn was bustling with activity when I walked in. Apples were rolling down the washer and Rex family members were  explaining the process to bright eyed youngsters. I stepped into the cooling area, glad to have put on my jacket, sampled a few apples and cider before picking a bag of Cortland apples and a jumbo head of cabbage.

There was an “honor” box for purchases, but, I waited for a young lady to tally my purchase. I really just wanted to soak in the atmosphere of an apple orchard in fall, content in my haul – and that I wasn’t the one out in the orchard doing all the hard work!

Tom came home last night, with another even bigger bag of Cortlands, having stopped as well on his journey down the interstate. We are set with apples for some time here on the Cutoff.

Apple crisp, applesauce, and just plain eating apples out-of-hand are on the menu.  I’ve had a taste for an apple Dutch pancake, all puffed up and steamy from the oven, with a little dusting of powdered sugar on top. My favorite recipe for Dutch apple pancakes is from P. Allen Smith and can be found here. The picture below is from the site. I use my cast iron skillet and omit the caramel sauce.

Do you have some favorite apple baking recipes?

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