Category Archives: Words

christmastime oh christmastime

Today’s post comes from tim

in the words of the old charlie brown tune.

christmastime oh christmastime

how i wish that you were mine

every year you come around

and i always feel the same

christmastime oh christmastime

im so glad that you are mine

every year all over town

we all do sing your name

the feeling it inspires is hopeful

everyone agrees

the warmth and love that it invokes

is what impresses me

no need wondering why it is

lets just say our thanks

in a world where too much stinks

christmas love does rank

if we all enjoy this time

all december through

maybe we can brace ourselves

the end will be too soon


how can you remain in the moment



Why Blackhoof?

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

In August I decided to respond to a challenge put out by the Blackhoof Estate Winery in Barnum. (Yes, it’s true, there is a winery in Carlton County at latitude 46.5030° N and barely gardening zone 4. They plan to fill 6,000 bottles of wine this winter. Amazing harvest…but I digress.) They invited people to find the origin of the name Blackhoof which is the name of a river, lake, valley and township just east of my farm.

Researching anything is my favorite indoor sport. MPR finally made use, encouraged and developed my skills for their benefit. But now I am retired, I have to find and/or invent ways to indulge in it.

And so I began.

Warren Upham’s Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance, Volume 17, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1920, states that “Black hoof” is the English translation of an Ojibwe word.” Since it doesn’t mention what the Ojibwe word is…I googled and found  in an Ojibwa-English dictionary that Makadewaa is “black” and Ninzid (an) is “foot or feet.” Then perhaps Makadenasid might be “black hoof.”

But it doesn’t answer the question “Why” Blackhoof. I traveled to Cloquet to the Carlton County Historical Society for their files on the township and found these:

  • Named after a settler of that name (but who was that settler?)
  • Named for the abundance of black deer that once ranged the area (I could find no species of “black deer” native to North America though woodland caribou, moose and elk — not any deer– were abundant in the area before the settlers arrived.)

I continued googling…and found “Catahecassa (Black Hoof, possibly from ma‛ka-täwikashä), a principal chief of the Shawnee, who was born about 1740. He was one of the greatest captains of this warlike tribe…He was present at Braddock’s great defeat in 1755, and he bore a prominent part in the desperate battle against the Virginian militia under Gen. Andrew Lewis at Point Pleasant in 1774.”

Cool. But the question then is, what connection is there between the Ojibwe and the Shawnee in Ohio? Well, it turns out that the Ojibwe are part of a large language group of Native American and First Nation people known as the Algonquin “family.” As are the Shawnee.

Then the next question arises, how or why would the Ojibwe in northeast Minnesota know about Chief Black Hoof in the Ohio Territory? Turns out, that some of the Ojibwe on their migration west from the east coast and away from the Iroquois, settled in the Northwest Territory – including along the Ohio River and Lake Erie near the Shawnee.

So, getting closer. After reading what I had learned so far to my 93 year-old Minnesota aunt, she said, ”I’ve heard of Chief Black Hoof.” What? How? She had just read a book called The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians. So I immediately ordered a copy. And then I found the author Mary Stockwell’s website and emailed her. And her reply was, “Yes, there was an Ojibwe-Shawnee connection. . .The tribe often joined the Shawnee in wars against the British (French & Indian War; Pontiac’s War) and then against the United States (American Revolution, Indian Wars of the 1790s, and War of 1812). And they also were among the tribes who ended up in Kansas. (Would you believe I learned that watching a Netflix series, “The Pinkertons?”)

But I still couldn’t confirm that would be the source for the name of the river and lake. And then a friend who grew up in Blackhoof Township, said her father told her it was named after an Indian tribe. Could it be a mistranslation of the Ojibwe word and really should be Black Foot or Black Feet? Down another path altogether? Back to Google. The Black Foot tribe in Montana turns out to also be in the Algonquin language family. And they were once in the Great Lakes area before migrating on to Montana.

And what about the Blackfeet Sioux? I tend to count them out as the Chippewa and Sioux were enemies, not likely the Chippewa would honor their enemies by naming a river and lake after them.

screenshot-2016-11-28-at-9-13-21-pmI found that none of the Ojibwe whom I contacted — Anton and David Treuer, brothers from the Leech Lake Reservation who are both authors and professors; Karen Diver, former Fond du Lac tribal chair currently serving as Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs; Linda LeGarde Grover, author and UMD Native Studies professor – have any idea.

So this is where my research stands as of today. I did win the challenge and received a bottle of wine and a cap, along with fame on the Winery’s Facebook page. I also received encouragement — or rather, a mandate — to continue the search.

Do you have any suggestions where to look next?


Today’s post comes from tim
Image result for kurt vonnegut drawingsnovember 11th is kurt vonneguts birthday.
vonnegut and i are joined at the hip as soulmates.
 i love his brain. he is just enough of what he is to be perfect for me. not too much not too little. just right.
kurt always remembered nov 11 as his birthday and armasist day . armasist day was to celebrate world war 1 veterans. then we had world war 2 pop up and then the korean war. if you give every war a holiday the postal workers and government employees would be happy but we would be in trouble. the war based political machine we have in washington would end up with a new holiday every 10-15 years.
hey ww1 guys move over we are going to do a war dejour combo, spanish american war vets stopped , wwI is all done and wwII is walking real slow but korean and vietnam guys are getting there with just a little slower gait. granada, persian gulf, serbia, afganastan and iran are the latest.
from kurt:

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things. — Breakfast of Champions

kurt wrote a book that was released just before he died that may be my favorite. man without a country. kurt talked about his uncle who was an exceptional guy.

“My uncle Alex Vonnegut, a Harvard-educated life insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania Street, taught me something very important.

He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to NOTICE it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery; or fishing, and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.

Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

― Kurt Vonnegut

we have all  at one time or another been put in a place where pain has played a  role in our lives. it is part of the human condition but particularly noticeable at times some times more than others. when these times are recent and numbness still hovers it is particularly important to take note of epiphanies large and small.

notice it and say it out loud today… and tomorrow…. and then again next week and maybe it can be a part of your awareness going forward. celebrate the small stuff and do it out loud.

you got an uncle or author or other person in your life that had a saying worth passing on?

The Three Minute Summary

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown

When working at my first bookstore job at the (now defunct) Bookstore of Edina in 1987, one of our novelty items was a set of audio tapes: (something like) “Eight-minute Classics”.  I have not yet found the exact title online, but they were very much like this.

I am reminded of them by an email received today from a reading friend in California, who sends this gem:

“39 popular books summarized in 3 sentences or less”
by James Clear

In short, James Clear states “This page shares a full list of book summaries I have compiled during my reading and research… ¶ I have tried to summarize each book on this page in just three sentences, which I think is a fun way to distill the main ideas of the book. If a particular book sounds interesting to you, click on the full book summary and you can browse all of my notes on it. Enjoy!”

I’ve looked through his book list and found one or two that I have actually read. One is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which James Clear summarizes thusly:

“To become a better writer, you have to write more. Writing reveals the story because you have to write to figure out what you’re writing about. Don’t judge your initial work too harshly because every writer has terrible first drafts.”

He also provides quite an extensive book list, which I have not yet had time to peruse, but what I’ve seen so far is impressive.

I have been inspired to summarize one of my favorite books, Jane Eyre (but the sentences will not be quite so thorough as his):

“A mistreated orphan becomes a governess. She falls in love with a married man, who is also her employer. She flees a difficult situation, but eventually returns and marries him.”

Give us a summary of a favorite book, or one you’ve recently read, in about three sentences.

Hot Rails and Rising Bollards

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

Our recent trip to Great Britain and Ireland helped me develop a renewed love of the English language. I learned some new words on our trip to Europe, words for technological advances I had no idea existed prior to the trip.  I also developed an appreciation of how funny ostensibly stuffy writing can be.

20160523_164429I noticed in our hotels in Dublin and Great Britain these pipe contraptions affixed to the walls in the bathrooms with a placard letting us know they were Hot Rails. They looked like towel racks with knobs and dials on them, and they were, in fact. loaded with towels. When you turned the dials, the pipes filled with hot water, which warmed the towels and made them toasty warm. What a lovely idea, and why don’t we have them readily available in the US?

I also noticed official traffic signs warning of Rising Bollards. What wonderful words! What would you imagine Rising Bollards to be? These signs were frequently placed in narrow streets near hotels where it would have been possible to drive or park a vehicle, and where there was often nothing that could have been construed as a Bollard or anything else. A quick rising_bollardssearch of the internet revealed that a Rising Bollard was a steel post that was lowered into the ground and that would electronically rise so as to prevent someone from parking or driving a vehicle in the area. It could also be lowered at whim. I don’t know who was responsible for raising the bollards, or under what circumstances the bollards would be raised.  We read in the London Times about someone who was suing their municipality for raising the bollards underneath their Volkswagen, smashing into the engine and causing untold damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle.

The Times of London was extremely funny.  I don’t know if the writers and editors intended it to be that way, but there were the most odd  stories that made me wonder if it was all made up. The story that sticks in my mind was a half page article about a woman who confessed on her death bed that she killed her husband 18 years earlier by bashing him on the head with an ornamental stone frog.  She wrapped his body in a tarp and hid it in their shed. No one questioned his disappearance, and she spent the next 18 years telling people that she had got away with murder and that people were really going to be surprised at what they would learn once she died. No one   bothered to say anything about her odd pronouncements until after she died, and people were strangely surprised when the police found his corpse in the shed. She kept the weapon,  too. I found it delightful that a photo of the stone frog was prominently displayed in the article. I don’t know if the journalist did this with tongue in cheek. I can’t help but think so. I love the power of language.

Describe a charming cultural oddity. 


Who Are YOU?

Header Image by John Tenniel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

When Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole, one of the many peculiar creatures she meets is the caterpillar. After initially ignoring her, the caterpillar asks Alice a rude question: “Who are YOU?” Who indeed! Alice struggles to answer. She has already experienced so many bewildering changes she no longer knows what to say.

Who are you? To some degree, it is a trick question. The question implies that there is a definite answer, and that simply isn’t true. We all have multiple identities. They change and evolve as time passes. Many of us claim identities that don’t quite fit the facts. Some of that is innocent, in a way, since we often deceive ourselves about this issue.

For much of my life I had an identity that seemed credible to others and was comforting to me. Then one day, like Alice, I experienced so many changes that I totally lost my ability to answer the caterpillar’s question. I have spent almost two decades developing a new answer to the question. By now I have constructed a new identity, using pieces left over from the wreckage of former identity but mostly based on fresh insights.

There are conventions to help us answer people who ask us who we are. A century ago it was common to identify by referring to church affiliation or participation in service clubs. One of my grandmothers identified as a Methodist. The other was a proud member of the Loyal Order of Moose.

In earlier times people were identified by where they lived. Biblical scholars claim we know much about Jesus if we remember he was a Nazarene. I have recently learned that I am (and always will be) a Minnesotan.

Most people, when asked who they are, start by referring to their occupation. I am intrigued by the ways this varies. For some people, it is impossible to separate their identity from their work. For others, how they make money has nothing to do with their true character. Increasingly, people define their identity by their recreational interests.

Many people—but I think especially women—define themselves in the context of their immediate family. Ask who they are and they answer with information about their husband and/or children. And yet for some people, the roles of wife and mother are irrelevant to any useful understanding of their unique identity.

I smile to remember how my father characterized himself the night he met the woman who became his wife (and, a bit later, my mother). He said he was an artist who rode in cavalry charges on weekends. Both facts were true. What he did not say was that he became a cavalryman as a way of proving he was not gay. To be fair, he was probably not
sufficiently self-aware to know that about himself at the time.

Modern understanding of personality has been impacted by therapy so profoundly that many people use concepts from counseling when expressing their identity. Who are you? One answer that might be useful is provided by Meyers-Briggs. In that context, I am an ENFP on a good day but an INFP on a more typical day.

It is relatively easy to describe identities if we are allowed to use an unlimited number of words. What is far more challenging is compressing the description until we are left with a handful of essential truths that reflect the essence of a person.

As an example, let me introduce my friend, the 92-year-old woman I write each morning. Who is she? She is a reader, a donor and a traveler. There is far more to know about her, of course: mother, widow, former university administrator, avid student of history, and so forth. But I suggest “reader, donor and traveler” define her unique and essential character. Anything I might add to a definition of her personality would have to come after those first three characteristics.

Reader. She reads voraciously, especially history and social commentary. The word “reader” also reflects a commitment to lifelong learning. Her greatest fear is that she might lose her sight. Books have been her main source of solace in the years since her husband passed away.

Donor. My friend addressed a midlife crisis by simplifying her life radically. She and her husband sold their South Minneapolis home and built a primitive house in a valley in southeast Minnesota. Their new home had no bathroom, running water or furnace. It was such a cheap place to live that my friend and her husband could donate to causes close to their hearts, two people of modest means expressing generosity on a scale normally associated with wealthy people.

Spiritual voyageur. My friend was raised as a judgmental sort of fundamentalist Christian. With the passing of years she became more tolerant and progressive. An abhorrence for sin morphed into a compassion and a deep concern for social justice. My friend often refers to her “voyage” as a person of faith. To her, it is the single most consequential fact of her life.

The caterpillar became a butterfly, although she is too modest to claim that.

Who are YOU?