Author Archives: Mark Winn

Proverb – Sandusky, Ohio

Original version:

“Take one step towards God and he’ll take ten towards you.”

Anna told me she learned this proverb from one of her teachers at an all-girls Catholic school in Sandusky, Ohio. The saying was common throughout the school and she said it was hard to tell where it had originated from because it had been passed around the school for years. The teachers would consistently say it to students that they felt were struggling in their walks of faith. After hearing the proverb in her freshman year of high school, she felt it was very inspirational and has been using it ever since.

Anna thinks this quote has to do with God’s desire to become close to her. If she just put a little effort into understanding and becoming closer with God, God would put a lot of effort into understanding Anna. She said this quote did help her in her faith during times where she doubted God.

I think this quote has more than just religious implications. It is hard to quantify what one step towards God is or what it feels like when he takes ten steps towards you, but this proverb can be applied to many things. It is generally known that the first step or initial task is often the hardest. Once the job is started, the rest doesn’t seem so hard.

In an additional note, I grew up in a religious family with a fairly religious background myself and I find it interesting that I have never heard this quote or anything similar. It seems to be a quote that would be popular among Sunday school teachers and the such.


Original script/version:

“I am named Robbin after the birds that were singing when I was born.”

“I heard this first from my mother when I was very little, probably about 5 or six. Although we were living in Texas at the time, I was born in Colorado. I was born after a very cold, severe winter. My mother told me that she had named me Robbin because of the first birds that came out during the first break in the weather. And that’s why I’m named Robbin!”

Robbin told me she did not remember where exactly she heard this story first, although she thinks it was during a family gathering. She didn’t believe there was a lot behind the story other than she was born in the spring about the time the birds were becoming active again.

The robin could represent several things. Birds are often considered free and light-hearted animals. My grandmother could have associated this image of a bird with how she wanted her daughter to grow up. Robins also have a beautiful song, many mothers wish their daughters to be good singers when they get older.

In some places, it is very acceptable to look outside and name a child Willow or Sunshine, while in other places names must come from ancient traditions or past heroes. American names tend to be grandfathered down, names like Samuel, Joseph, Christopher; These are all names that came from forefathers. The fact that my grandmother chose to pick a more nature oriented name may say something about where she was living or what she felt.

Folk Language


Space Talk. Space Talk is an makeshift language, much like Pig Latin. Like Pig Latin, Space Talk uses English words and changes them. It inserts “i-b” into the middle of each syllable of a word. So a sentence would sound like, phonetically, “Thy-bis i-bis why-but i-bay si-ben-ti-bence why-bould ly-book ly-bike.”

My sister said, “Dad taught me how to speak it when I was 10 or 11 I think. Dad and my aunt Robbin learned to speak it from another adult when they were young. They don’t remember where exactly from. However, they spoke it enough that they can have entire conversations at a speed that no one can understand what they are saying. It is really only fun when there are other people in the room. That way we can hold entire conversations and no one really knows what we’re talking about.”

Jessica said she seems to remember running across someone at Carnegie Melon University that also knew Space Talk well enough to hold a conversation. It is definitely not as common as Pig Latin which I heard all throughout middle school and school.

The interesting thing about Space Talk, or even Pig Latin, is they seem to find a middle ground between English and a true second language. While it may sound quite foreign to a passerby, once you know the secret to manipulating words, you can start to understand bits and pieces almost immediately. It is not a language the can really define any specific culture or group, but it is as much an oral tradition as telling jokes.


Original script/version:

“I was told that when I had the hiccups, the best way to get rid of them quickly was to scare them away! It is a little difficult to be scared when you are expecting it, but the idea is to somehow have someone startle me enough to get rid of my hiccups.”

“I was originally told this trick by my older brother when I was about seven. I had a really bad case of the hiccups and I was almost in tears. My brother really liked to give me a bad time, so I think that was part of it. It did actually work the first couple times I had the hiccups. Then I think I expected it too much and it stopped working.”

Kyla said she thinks this might have just been a way for her brother to screw around with her. I don’t know very much about hiccups, and have never tried to have them “scared” away, but it doesn’t seem very plausible to me.

This could be related to a form of shock treatment. Some native Americans would alternate between sitting in a sauna and jumping in a ice cold river because they thought it was good for their body. Likewise, it could be believed that a sudden jolt would cause the body to change enough to stop the hiccups.

Tradition – Latvian

Original script/version:

“On the first day of spring, it’s tradition to give pussy willows to people, so when my parents came to visit me, they gave me a vase-full.

My grandmother showed me this tradition.  She was born and raised in Latvia, had her first daughter there, and my dad was actually born in Germany during WWII because his father was off fighting in the war and my grandmother had to pack up everything she could carry and take her daughter and start walking- all while pregnant with my father.  There is a very large Latvian community in Willimantic, CT which is the town next to the one I grew up in.  A lot of Latvian traditions were part of my childhood, but bringing Pussywillows for Spring was a big one.  It’s fun because they are these branches with these soft little buds on them- they feel like a cat.  As to what it means, I think it’s simply an offering of some sort, like poinsettas at Christmas or Lillies at Easter.”

I agree with Kate in her suggestion that the giving of these pussy willows is some sort of an offering. It could possibly have to do with trying to bring prosperity and good fortune in the spring. A pussy willow is not the most beautiful of flowers, its possible that it was an abundant flower in the region of Switzerland where the tradition originated.

Food – Switzerland

Original script/version:

The swiss potato pancake is called a roesti(or replace “oe” with o and the two dots above it).

“Swiss potato cake: a roesti is just as common in Switzerland as frenchfries.  You can’t get them at McDonald’s or anything, but a very common meal is Bratwurst, roesti, and these tasty tasty caramelized onions.  I first had a roesti at my grandparents house, and the wonderfully amazing thing about them is that they are about 12 inches in diameter and maybe 1.5 inches thick.  In order to flip one, you literally have to throw it in the air.  It’s almost a rite of passage in our family to flip a roest; my grandfather taught my father(his son-in-law, so there’s a bit of switch in culture there), and then my dad taught both my brothers.  I have yet to successfully flip a roesti; I’ve dropped one entirely and also had one smush back into the pan because it didn’t have enough rotation.  One day I’ll get it…” – Kate

From what Kate said, it sounds as though the cake is not only a common traditional food, but also acts as a rite of passage. It is hard to tell who in the family is typically in charge of making the dish. It could be that because it is such a common food, that at some point everyone learns to make it.


Original script/version:

Chris said, “Since the first Christmas I can remember, my family has always had this special way of delivering stockings and organizing Christmas mornings. It starts with Santa delivering the stockings in the middle of the night and putting them on the end of everyone’s bed. That way, in the morning, we could wake up and our stockings would be right there. We then had a rule that we could not leave our rooms until my parents said so. We usually decided on Christmas Eve what time we could go to the living room.”

My dad said because he had six other siblings, this tradition might have been passed between large families as a simple method of crowd control. He is pretty sure his parents did not start it. Instead of having seven little kids running around and screaming on Christmas morning, this was a way of keeping all the children occupied and quiet until the adults were ready to start the morning festivities.

This tradition was carried out by my own parents, and I like. It is not the traditional: hang-the-stockings-over-the-fireplace, but it is still our tradition. Me and my sister would always wake up at like 5:30 and meet in one of our rooms to look in our stockings. I am not aware of any other families that use this same method of delivering stockings, but my father said that in Europe, there is more variety in how people handle stockings on Christmas.

Recipe – Latvian

Original script/version:

“Latvians make these intense gingerbread cookies called Piparkuks for Christmas.  They are very thin and are not chewy at all like regular gingerbread.

Gingerbread cookies: Piparkuks are just as common in Latvian tradition as whatever Christmas cookie you can think of for Americans.  It is an incredibly time consuming process and involves a lot of detail and patience.  The Latvian Church in Willimantic used to make them by the thousands at Christmastime(this is no exaggeration; the cookies are very small and the dough very thin so a little goes a long way).  Here’s the recipe:”

3 sticks butter

½ cup oil

1 ¼ cup molasses

¾ cup honey

1 1/3 cup sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

9 ½ cups flour

2 eggs

2 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

4 t. cinnamon

4 t. ginger

1 ½ t. pepper

2 t. cloves

2 t. nutmeg

3 t. cardamom

5 t. coriander

3 t. lemon peel

3 t. orange peel

Mix butter, oil and sugars.  Heat to boil, add spices and cool.  When cool add eggs one at a time.  Mix baking powder, soda, and flour.  Add to wet ingredients, mix well.  The dough can be kept for weeks in the refrigerator.  Roll very thin and cut with small cookie cutters.  If the dough gets sticky, chill again.  Brush with beaten egg yolk and decorate with bits of almonds, if desired.  Bake 350-375 degrees for 10 minutes or less.

“They are very dense and VERY spiced.  I have very vivid memories of sitting in the kitchen in the basement of the Latvian church and watching like 15 old Latvian ladies chat away in Latvian as they are rolling this dough and making these delicate cookies.  Usually they are topped with an almond sliver, but for the kids they used to add on those tiny little colored sprinkle/balls.  (You know, not the jimmies, but the tiny little dots.)” -Kate



One Tin Solid

Listen Children, to a story, that was written, long ago

About a kingdom, on a mountain, and the valley far below
on the mountain was a treasure, buried deep beneath the stone,

And the valley people swore they’d have if for their very own


Go ahead and hate your neighbor,

Go ahead and cheat a friend

Do it in the name of heaven,

You can justify it in the end

There wont be any trumpets blowing,

Come the judgment day

On the bloody morning after,

One tin soldier rides away

Then the people of the valley,

Sent a message up the hill

Asking for the buried treasure,

Tons of gold for which they’d kill

Came an answer from the mountain

With our brothers, we will share

All the secrets of our kingdom,

All the riches buried there


So the valley shook with anger,

(Mount your horses, draw your swords)

And they killed the mountain people,

So they won their just reward

Now they stand beside the treasure

On the mountain dark and red

Turn the stone and look beneath it,

Peace on earth was all it said


My sister heard this song at a Girl Scout camp in 5th grade. It was taught and sung around a campfire environment. She said she remembered it more that other camp songs because she agreed with the message that it conveyed. She continued to sing the song for several years as she continued to attend Girl Scout camp.

I heard my sister singing this song after she learned it at camp. I like this song because of how it ties religious ideas with everyday characteristics. You have the valley people that are greedy and want the treasure from the mountain. The mountain people don’t actually have treasure, but they are willing to share their way of life with them. The valley people then take war to the mountain, killing everyone on the mountain. When they look for the treasure, all the mountain people had was peace.

I had believed this song was pure folklore – a camp song that was song mainly in that environment. After some research, I discovered that the song was written by two men, Dennis Lambert and  Brian Potter, and recorded in 1969 by the band Original Caste. I know my sister did not know that when she learned the song and am sure that most, if not all, of the camp counselors teaching the song did not know there is an official, recorded version of the song. This is an example of some that went from being a published material and sort of de-evolved into a folk song.


Original script/version:

Family Chocolate Pie Chocolate Pie


¼ lb butter

¾ C sugar

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 sq melted unsweetened chocolate

Cream butter and sugar.  Bear in one egg, vanilla and chocolate.  Beat for 5 minutes.  Add second egg and beat 5 more minutes.

Make a pie shell of prepare a frozen pie shell per package directions.  Let shell cool.  Pour filling into cooled pie shell and refrigerate for several hours.

Whip Cream:

Beat whipping cream.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla to taste while whipping.

Spread over pie.  Garnish with grated semi-sweet chocolate.

I have grown up eating the same chocolate pie for every imaginable occasion. Whether it be casual dinners with friends, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter, there would be chocolate pie. It is a recipe was passed into my father’s family long ago, and now every one of my father’s siblings makes the pie for their families as well.

My dad told me he got the recipe from his mom about the time he graduated from college. He said my grandmother had received it from her parents. Although the recipe is not complicated and my mother is a very good cook, it is always my father that makes the pie.

He says, “As you know, every pie comes out a little differently. I have been slightly changing the recipe every time I make it and its fun to see how each pie comes out. About two years ago, my sister Robbin and I came up with the secret to consistently make a good pie. The trick is to let the butter warm up to room temperature before mixing in into the other ingredients.”

It is typical to make several extra pies when going to a friends house so there is one or two to each for dessert, and then we can leave another with our friends. When going to a potluck, our family is always in charge of bringing desert because people like the chocolate pie so much. The receipt has continued to spread as it is now being made by my sister in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.