Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Past

I'm sitting here this evening remembering the Christmas seasons of my childhood.  In this world where most folks feel as though they must shop until they drop, it surprises me that I can recall very few gifts of Christmas past.  I remember mostly other things.

I remember when I was very small, while my family lived in St. Paul with my Grandmother, my Dad would take Mother and me downtown to see the Christmas displays in the store windows.  They were a wonder.  There were scenes set up in the windows where Santa filled stockings or flew in his sleigh over the rooftops or the elves hammered and sawed in the North Pole workshop making toys.  These were mechanical moving pieces, as this was waaay before computers were used.  There were beautifully decorated Christmas trees and all sorts of wondrous things to see.  It was all magical to a child.

When I was older, living in Willmar, Dad would pile the family into the car and take us on a drive around town to see all of the houses decorated with Christmas lights.  We always drove through a neighborhood that Dad called "Pill Hill," because a number of doctors lived there and that neighborhood always had some of the best light displays.  I still enjoy seeing all the decorated houses this time of year.

Sometime during the holidays we always made molasses taffy.  Dad would cook it up on the stove, pour it onto a buttered cookie sheet and set it out on the porch to cool, and then each of us would grab some and pull and pull and pull until it was just right.  We cut the taffy ropes into pieces and wrapped them in waxed paper.  Then if we were lucky, Dad would make his "World Famous Peanut Brittle."  I swear that it was so much better tasting than any other.  I miss Dad and his peanut brittle especially now.

Mom made tons of Christmas cookies - gingerbread men, red and white candy canes with real crushed peppermint candy sprinkled on top, date filled cookies and always, sugar cookie cut-outs decorated with red and green sugar.  She made divinity and old fashioned fudge, enlisting me to beat the fudge with a spoon until it was just right.  We made popcorn balls, wrapped them in colored cellophane and tied them with ribbon, for treats on Christmas Day with relatives.  And then there was the smell of baking bread as Mom made buns and cinnamon rolls for our dinner with aunts, uncles and cousins on Christmas Day.

We always had a real Christmas tree, with the exception of that unfortunate year when Dad brought home this silver, shiny aluminum tree that looked like rolls of tin foil had exploded.  There was the smell of pine in the house, what with the tree and Mother's decorating every available space with pine boughs and shiny Christmas balls and red velvet ribbons.  The tree had some of the old large-sized lights and some lights made to look sort of like candles, but when they heated up a bit, liquid inside the glass tubes would bubble.  There were beautiful, shiny glass balls and tons of tinsel.  I think the tinsel was to mask some of the bare spots in the tree, but I loved it.

Dad always read the Christmas story from the Bible before we opened gifts on Christmas Eve.  He and Mother wanted to be sure that we children understood just what it was that we were celebrating.  I sometimes feel that the reason for our Christmas season has been forgotten, what with news reports about how many of millions of dollars have been spent on holiday shopping, advertisements of some stores staying open for the entire 48 hours before Christmas in order to rake in more money, and the TV commercial that shows people dancing through a mall, shopping bags in hand!  I guess that the lesson that my parents wanted me to learn was, indeed, learned.  For it is the memories of family and love and and the shared moments that have nothing to do with gifts, that are uppermost in my mind this Christmas Eve.

I pray that my grandchildren, when they reach my age, will remember less about whatever gadget or toy is under their Christmas trees and more about family being together and enjoying each others company.  David has taken his wife and children to spend Christmas Eve with his Grandmother, and I am so glad that he did.  I have many good memories of Christmas spent with her and I am happy that his children will also have those memories.  For no present can compare with the memories made with family.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas with the hope that you all make good and lasting memories with your families, and wish for nothing but good things for you throughout this coming year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cousin Curt

I received word this morning of the death of my cousin, Curt Matheny.  The news was not unexpected, for he had been very ill for quite some time, but no matter how prepared we think we are, the loss of a loved one still hurts.

I had known Curt my entire life.  He was just a few years older than me, and we played together as children.  I remember as a small girl, playing in his playhouse in the woods on his parent's farm in northern Minnesota.  I think his father must have built it for him out of pine slabs, and there was furniture in it that was made from logs.  I always thought how lucky he was to have such a wonderful place to play.

We stayed in touch in our younger years through letters, and I would see him on our family trips to visit relatives, at family reunions and more often when I lived in northern Minnesota for a number of years, for it was his at his family home that I liked to spend time.  Curt had a talent for woodworking and made some beautiful cabinets and furniture.  He made his living this way for many years.

I guess I am feeling a bit melancholy today.  Also a bit nostalgic.  It seems that so many of my father's family have gone on to their reward and there are so few of us left now.  I understand that this is the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Good-bye Curt.  I treasure the memories.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Memory is a Wonderful Thing - When it Works

So, this morning I get ready to leave my apartment and head downstairs to see what wonderful advertising junk mail is in my mailbox.  The box is more than likely full to overflowing by now, as I stayed in all day yesterday and didn't check the mail.  No wonder my mailman is so grouchy.  I would be, too, if I had to haul around all of those sale fliers and catalogs this time of year.  The same ones that I haul out with my trash.

Anyway, I reached into the little glass bowl that sits on the buffet next to my apartment door.  The bowl that holds quarters for the washers and dryers, a stray cough drop or two, some miscellaneous odds and ends and most importantly, my keys.

I always drop my keys in the bowl when I return home.  Always.  Well, almost always.

I reached in keys.

The search was on.  Turned the bedroom upside down.  No keys.  Shoveled various and assorted papers and, yes, junk off of my desk top.  No keys.  Did I drop them in the one of the desk drawers?  Nope.  Not there.  Checked cushions on the couch and chairs.  Nary a key was to be seen.  Nowhere in the living room did I find them.  Even checked the little doggie bed that Lily the Yorkie snoozes in.  She loves to find a scrap of paper or a ball of yarn or a quilt piece that is within her reach and haul it to her bed, where she hides it under a toy or her blanket.  Nothing there except three toys, a very old used bone, three pieces of kibble and a doggie treat she must have been saving for later.

Next was the kitchen.  Not on top of the fridge (Good Lord - I really need to climb up on a chair and clean that!)  Not under the table.  Not behind the buffet.  Not in the freezer.  Nowhere.

So I poured a cup of coffee and sat down.  There is no problem that can't be solved with a good cup of coffee.  Now, what did I do the day before yesterday, which was the last time I saw my keys.  I walked to the store three blocks away and bought dog food.  Had the keys when I got back.  Then I took the dogs out for some air.  Jesse walked and loved it.  Lily didn't.  Typical dog outing - walk one and carry the most stubborn one.  Unlocked my door with the keys.  Then I did a couple loads of laundry.

That's it!

Yep.  There they were.  Inside the pocket of the pants I put in the laundry basket that evening.

Now I understand why ladies of my vintage wear their glasses on a chain around their necks.  It has come full circle.  I used to,  more years ago than I care to think about, have to wear mittens that were attached to a string, to keep from losing one.  Never lost two - always one.  Wonder if the string thing works for keys.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don't Tick Us Off

I am in the process of updating my list of blogs that I enjoy.  When I first started this blog, I was all about quilting, but since that time my priorities and interests have changed somewhat, so within the next couple of days I will be deleting those blogs that I no longer read and adding many that I do.

One of the blogs that I enjoy is "Coffee with the Hermit"

This morning he had a post that had me giggling like a schoolgirl, particularly since I had just this past week had conversations with the Social Security Administration and the people at Medicare, trying to find out why money had been deducted from my check for the insurance, while at the same time I was not listed on the rolls of the insured through Medicare.  It was an interesting battle, just getting to talk to someone who might possibly know the reasons for this oversight.  I really wish I had read the following before starting that journey of telephone insanity!

Jim from "Coffee with the Hermit" has kindly given me permission to post this letter, which is a classic.

"Shown below, is an actual letter was sent to a bank by an 86 year old woman. The bank manager thought it amusing enough to have it published in the New York Times.

Dear Sir:
I am writing to thank you for bouncing my check with which I endeavoured to pay my plumber last month.

By my calculations, three nanoseconds must have elapsed between his presenting the check and the arrival in my account of the funds needed to honour it.

I refer, of course, to the automatic monthly deposit of my entire pension, an arrangement which, I admit, has been in place for only eight years.

You are to be commended for seizing that brief window of opportunity, and also for debiting my account $30 by way of penalty for the inconvenience caused to your bank.

My thankfulness springs from the manner in which this incident has caused me to rethink my errant financial ways. I noticed that whereas I personally answer your telephone calls and letters, --- when I try to contact you, I am confronted by the impersonal, overcharging, pre-recorded, faceless entity which your bank has become.

From now on, I, like you, choose only to deal with a flesh-and-blood person.

My mortgage and loan repayments will therefore and hereafter no longer be automatic, but will arrive at your bank, by check, addressed personally and confidentially to an employee at your bank whom you must nominate.

Be aware that it is an OFFENSE under the Postal Regulations for any other person to open such an envelope.

Please find attached an Application Contact which I require your chosen employee to complete.

I am sorry it runs to eight pages, but in order that I know as much about him or her as your bank knows about me, there is no alternative.

Please note that all copies of his or her medical history must be countersigned by a Notary Public, and the mandatory details of his/her financial situation (income, debts, assets and liabilities) must be accompanied by documented proof.

In due course, at MY convenience, I will issue your employee with a PIN number which he/she must quote in dealings with me.

I regret that it cannot be shorter than 28 digits but, again, I have modelled it on the number of button presses required of me to access my account balance on your phone bank service.

As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Let me level the playing field even further. When you call me, press buttons as follows:


#1. To make an appointment to see me.

#2. To query a missing payment.

#3. To transfer the call to my living room in case I am there.

#4 To transfer the call to my bedroom in case I am sleeping.

#5. To transfer the call to my toilet in case I am attending to nature.

#6. To transfer the call to my mobile phone if I am not at home.

#7. To leave a message on my computer, a password to access my computer is required.
Password will be communicated to you at a later date to that Authorized Contact mentioned earlier.

#8. To return to the main menu and to listen to options 1 through 9.

#9. To make a general complaint or inquiry.

The contact will then be put on hold, pending the attention of my automated answering service.

#10. This is a second reminder to press* for English.

While this may, on occasion, involve a lengthy wait, uplifting music will play for the duration of the call.

Regrettably, but again following your example, I must also levy an establishment fee to cover the setting up of this new arrangement.

May I wish you a happy, if ever so slightly less prosperous New Year?

Your Humble Client

PS: Don't make old people mad. We don't like being old in the first place, so it doesn't take much to tick us off."

I love it!

Friday, November 18, 2011

In Praise of Front Porches

Front porches seem to be a thing of the past.  I notice that many of the older homes in the town where I live do, indeed, have front porches.  Most in the newer developments do not.  There may be a small covered area by the front door, but not a real front porch.  A front porch, to be a really truly front porch, needs to cover the entire front of the house and perhaps extend around to one side.

My Grandma Paul's house in St. Paul had a front porch across the front of her house and extending a little ways around one side.  I played there often as a child.  It was the one place I could play and pretty much stay out of trouble.  It was when I left the porch that bad things happened, like being enticed by neighbor kids, older than my four years, to sliding down a two by eight board that they had propped up on the fence.  Sliding down on my belly resulted in a visit to the hospital to have a large sliver of wood removed from the area of my waist.  Should have stayed on the porch.

The first house my family lived in after moving to Willmar had a front porch.  The landlady who lived in the downstairs of the house allowed my sister and I to play on the porch.  One winter while we lived there, Willmar was blanketed by a huge snow storm.  My sister, who was not much older than a toddler at the time, walked off the edge of the porch into the deep snow and promptly disappeared from sight.  Good thing my Dad was right there to haul her out.  Should have stayed on the porch.

The next house in Willmar where we lived had a kind of half front porch.  Wasn't much of a porch.  But then, it wasn't much of a house, being very small.  But in the summer there were vines growing up wire that Dad strung from the roof to the bottom of the porch rail, which made the front porch cool and kind of dark and a really good place to play on hot summer days.

The best front porch of all the houses I lived in as a child was the front porch of the house on the farm.  It was a wonderful porch that extended all the way across the front of the house.  It was screened in to keep the bugs out.  Dad had dragged an old vinyl covered couch that folded down into a bed, out to the porch.  As a young kid I spent many a summer night sleeping on that old couch out on the porch.

From the porch we could see across the fields and Dad and I would stand there, protected from the weather, and watch the black summer storm clouds roll across the sky.  I still like to watch the clouds on a stormy day.

There was an old kitchen table and some chairs on the porch, and in the summer when we had weekend company, Mom would make pitchers of real lemonade and serve them with gingersnaps, out on the porch where it was cool and the breeze felt good out of the heat of the sun.

I think that we need more front porches.  For with a good front porch comes the art of just sitting and watching the world go by.  Or watching clouds roll in.  Or just sitting.  And thinking.  And remembering.  And dreaming.  Which is always good for the soul.

Monday, November 7, 2011


My phone rang last evening.  David called to tell me to check my email as he had sent me a picture.

He also said that there was a venison roast or two in my future.

Woo Hoo!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Almost Done

I believe I am nearly at the end of my food preservation marathon using the goodies from the Farmer's Market.  I still had apples left to dehydrate and I finished those today.  This is just part of the 60 lbs. of apples.  I used about 10 pounds earlier - froze 4 quarts, made me a bowl of fried apples and a pan of apple crisp.  Tasted so good.  Sorry, but I didn't save any for you.  It was just too delicious.  Didn't even last long enough for a picture.

I had already dried a couple of dehydrator loads of apples when this picture was taken.

All total, I got 15 quarts of dried apple slices.

I tried vac sealing them in bags, but they tended to break into small pieces, so I put them in quart jars as I wanted slices to use in pies, apple crisp and other apple desserts.  A few weeks ago I canned a bunch of applesauce and 7 quarts of apple pie filling.  I will probably do that again next year, but I really like the dried apples.  They are so versatile and take up much less space than the canned.

When Duane and Becky brought me this last load of fruit and veggies they also brought me a surprise.  The Saturday that I had gone with them to the Farmer's Market I saw something that I really, really love.  Something that I hadn't had for a very long time.  Something that I used to buy from a farmer I knew when we lived up north.  But I had already come close to wrecking my budget so decided I had better not spend the money, although it was way less expensive than in the stores.  This was my surprise.

Yep.  A half-gallon jar of real, honest-to-goodness, pure honey.  The last time I bought a tiny little bottle of honey at the grocery, I was dismayed to find that it didn't taste at all like the honey I remembered.  After reading the label, I knew why.  It was thinned out with corn syrup.  Yuck!  Not this stuff.  It is liquid gold.  That night I just had to make biscuits so I could have them with honey.  Last night I made cornbread for the same reason.  It is wonderful!  Thank you for such a nice surprise.

So now all I have left to finish up is the rest of the 50 lb. box of potatoes.  Ten pounds went into the dehydrator this afternoon and there are about another 20 pounds waiting to be dried.  Then I think I am done for a while.  It seems like a lot of work, but it is well worth it, especially come winter time when I don't like going outdoors all that much, especially to grocery shop.

While I was in the middle of all of this cooking and peeling and blanching and canning, I couldn't help but remember how much of this kind of thing I had done when I wasn't much older than Boston and Maddie.  By that time, Mother was losing the use of her hands.  The arthritis in her joints was just too painful for her to do the work involved.  So as the oldest child, I was the only one old enough to help her preserve food for the winter.  Back then it wasn't just a trendy thing to do as it seems to be now.  It was a way of life.  It was the way we made sure that the family would be fed until the garden produce was ready the next season.  I remember that I wasn't very happy about spending so much time in the kitchen doing pretty much what I have been doing here lately.  I wanted to be outside playing.  Or in my room reading a book.  Or any of a dozen other things.  Anything but peeling apples and canning green beans.  But I find now that I am grateful to my Mother for having taught me not only how to make things like jam and relish and canned vegetables, but for also teaching me the importance of doing it.  I remember once complaining about all of the work involved and asking her why we had to do so much in the late summer and fall of the year.  She told me that I should look around me.  There were ants hauling off food into their ant hills for the winter.  There were squirrels stashing away acorns for the winter.  The farmers had put hay in their barns to feed their livestock for the winter.  She said that if we wanted to eat through the winter, a little hard work now was the way to do it.  She was right.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Potatoes, Peas, Carrots & Onions

I had asked Duane to bring me more potatoes from the Farmer's Market.  I had bought 50 lbs. two weeks before, dehydrated some and canned the rest.  I really like the canned cubed potatoes for convenience, and as a bag of potatoes from the store will go bad before I use them all, it makes sense to have them in jars in the pantry where they will last a long time.

This box of potatoes I wanted to can a little differently.  I am particularly fond of both beef and chicken stew over homemade biscuits.  So I wanted to can the vegetables together in the same jar for this use.  It is kind of my version of convenience food.  Open a jar of canned vegetables, another of canned beef or chicken cubes, toss in a little tomato and some homemade gravy mix and by the time the biscuits come out of the oven, the stew is ready.

Before Duane and Becky left my place on Saturday, Duane asked me if I wanted him to go to the grocery and pick up the carrots, peas and onions that I planned to can along with the potatoes.  I figured that he and Becky had already done way more than enough for me, bringing me all the goodies from the Farmer's Market, so I said that I would take care of that Monday.  His reply was, "Mom, would you rather spend Monday on the bus going to the store and hauling your groceries up the stairs by yourself, or would you rather have us do it so you can work on these vegetables!"  And because I am not a completely stupid woman, I handed him my grocery list.

I peeled and cubed some of the potatoes, peeled and sliced carrots and heated two large bags of frozen peas.  Then I layered the veggies in quart jars and processed them in my pressure canner.  I got 28 quarts of stew mix veggies, with a little bit of carrots and potatoes left over, which I bagged up and popped into the freezer.

I had planned to add chunks of onion in each jar as well, but on thinking it over, decided that the onion would probably turn to mush in the pressure canner.  So I peeled the 10 lbs. of onions, sliced them thin, crying like a baby the whole time, and filled my dehydrators with the sliced onions.  This is what 10 lbs. of onions looks like in my big 9-quart stainless steel bowl.

That amount of onions filled all seventeen dehydrator trays.

I put them on the table in my bedroom and shut the door.  I like the smell of onions, but I am not too sure that my neighbors do, although I have done this many times without anybody complaining about the smell.  But an open window near the dehydrators and the closed door help to contain the onion odor.  I let the dehydrators run all afternoon and overnight, as I like the taste when the onions caramelize a bit while drying.

This is what 10 lbs. of dehydrated onions looks like, in my 2-quart bowl.

If I want raw onion in a dish, this is not going to work, but for any kind of cooking, I just toss in a handful and they rehydrate really well.

I still have probably two-thirds of the 50 lb. box of potatoes left and I will dehydrate them later.  Right now there are 5 big bags of apples, right around 60 lbs. of them, waiting for me.

I really do love the Farmer's Market!  Duane says that he won't take me there next year unless he has a pickup and a hand truck.  I wonder why he said that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cranberry Sauce

Yesterday Duane and Becky went back to the Farmer's Market in St. Paul.  They brought me goodies.  Lots of them.

One of the goodies was a box of cranberries.  I had seen the cranberries when I went with them two weeks ago, but didn't buy any then as I had already filled the trunk and back seat of Duane's car with produce.  When I first saw the box they brought me, it ran through my mind that it was awfully small.  But when I measured out the berries from the box, I found that it held the equivalent of 15 bags of cranberries from the grocery.  At less than half the price of store berries.  And they were beautiful berries.  There wasn't a bad one in the whole lot.

So yesterday afternoon I made cranberry sauce.  Forty-two half pint jars of cranberry sauce.

Duane and Becky were still at my place when the first batch came off the stove, ready to go into the jars, and after a taste test, they pronounced it wonderful.

I think I will just sit here and admire these lovely jars for a while before moving on to the next project that involves 50 lbs. of potatoes, some carrots, peas and onions.

Gotta love the Farmer's Market.  And those who are willing to shop and haul and carry for me.  Thank you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Farmer's Market - It's a Good Thing

I had never been to a big Farmer's Market.  There is a small one locally, but the last time I went past where it is set up, there were probably no more than six or seven booths.  This past Saturday I got to go to a BIG Farmer's Market.  It was so much fun!

Duane and Becky picked me up early on Saturday morning and we went to downtown St. Paul.  The market takes up one city block.  There are more varieties of fruits and vegetables than I knew existed.  And flowers.  And honey.  And handmade soap.  And so much more that I can't remember it all.

We walked through and looked everything over and then went back and made our purchases.  I was afraid that I would do some serious damage to my budget if I wasn't careful, but the prices were good and I was more than pleased with what I bought.  I am not good at negotiating prices with vendors, but Becky is, so I left that part to her, and she did well for me.

We found a bushel of tomatoes at a good price, so into the trunk of the car they went.  Then there was 50 lbs of potatoes for much less than I have seen them at the grocery store, and way more fresh, just perfect for dehydrating, so those, too got hauled to the car.  There were bags of mixed apples that were really reasonable, so I took home three big bags for pie filling and dehydrating.  I needed green peppers for a relish I want to make, and I got a big bag full for only $6.  The last thing we found was cabbage.  Now, we aren't talking about your puny little grocery store heads of cabbage.  We're talking big, honkin' heads of cabbage, at only $2 each.  I bought six heads.  Becky and I had all we could do to each carry a bag of three heads.  There is some seriously good cabbage slaw that I like to can and some Chow Chow relish, and the rest will be dehydrated.  It is so good in soups. homemade chow mien and the like.  I chopped up one head today to get it ready for the dehydrator, and it filled two and a half gallon zip bags!

I'm thinking that Duane will probably think twice before asking me if I want to go to the Farmer's Market again.  He was my pack mule.  As I bought vegetables, he hauled them to the car and then came back for more.  Bless him and Becky for hauling most of it up the stairs to my apartment for me.  By the time they were done, it looked like a garden had exploded in my kitchen.  I didn't take any pictures of my loot, but will when I am done canning and drying.  It will be so nice to have this taste of summer when the snow is blowing this winter.

Thanks again, Duane and Becky.  I had such a good time.  I'm thinking that by the end of this week there may just be a few jars of home canned goodness waiting for you!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monkey Bars

When I checked my email this morning, I found this video of my grandson, Jacob.  It made my day!

His smile at the end is priceless.
Thanks to his Dad for sharing it with me.  Love it!

Monday, August 15, 2011


Earlier this summer I had a phone call from my youngest son.  He reminded me that my brother, sister and I all had landmark birthdays this year.  We would be 50, 60 and 65 years old, respectively.  And he thought that this should be celebrated.  It had been a very long time since we had all been together.  Life and distance between homes seem to get in the way.  Jobs, children's activities and other obligations make it difficult for all of us to be in the same place at the same time.  My children were determined to overcome these obstacles so they set a date and made plans.

We all met a little over a week ago at David and Staci's home.  I was amazed to see how our family has grown from we three siblings to the crowd that was there!

The grandkids made good use of the pool and managed to splash the grandparents as often as possible.  They swam and ran and played and enjoyed getting to know one another.  They are such fun to be with and watch.

We sat and talked and remembered and compared notes and got caught up on what we had all been doing.  Everyone contributed to the evening meal and if anyone went away hungry, it was their own fault as there was food enough for an army.

The day wouldn't have been complete without our children insisting that we have a picture taken, so we gave in and let them.  I'm glad that they did.  It is nice to look at it and remember such a fun day.

As I think back, it is hard for me to believe that so many years have passed since we were children.  And yet, here we are, with a whole boat load of grandchildren between us.  As a family, we have been blessed.  Thank you, my children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and my brother and sister, for making this a truly memorable day.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Garden Update

David emailed me some more pictures of his garden this past week.  It seems that although we have been complaining about the heat, his plants love it.  So much so that the radishes were becoming overgrown with other plants and had to be pulled.

He said that the wind had sort of flattened some of the tomatoes, but they are doing well in their new tomato cages.  I still have dibs on some cherry tomatoes!

The corn along side the back of the house - that same corn that I said would never grow in that spot - has made a liar out of me.  I'm thinking that if you listen really closely, you can probably hear it grow - it has grown that fast.  It hasn't set on ears yet, but I expect at the rate it is growing, it will soon.

And then there is the gratuitous cute grandkid picture!  Can't leave that one out.

I think the kids are enjoying the garden as much as their dad is.  And I am glad to see David's family growing some of their own food.  It is so much better than store-bought.  I hope his garden gives them as much pleasure and mine did for so many years.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Last evening David called and told me to check my email.  He had sent me pictures of his gardening efforts.  I think they look pretty darned good.

He has sweet corn growing along side the fence in back of his house.  When he planted corn there last year, I laughed at him because I thought the corn would never amount to anything in that location.  I wound up eating some crow, as he had enough to use in canning salsa, as many meals of corn on the cob as his family wanted and he even had enough to freeze.

This spring he put in this raised bed garden in his back yard.  I am impressed at how well everything is growing.  He has a couple of different kinds of tomatoes, some potatoes, onions, peppers and strawberries along with some other things that I can't remember.  I have dibs on some cherry tomatoes.  There is very little on this earth better tasting than homegrown tomatoes.

There are some YouTube channels that I follow, having to do with food preservation and gardening.  One of these has videos by a lady in Virginia, who posts a wealth of information.  One of her videos is about her raised bed garden.  (See her video Here.)  I had not heard about this trend until David told me what he was doing.  Since then I have found that this seems to be a growing trend.  When David told me about all of the plants he has in his garden, he remarked that maybe he had crammed too much in the space, but it seems that this isn't a problem.  He was able to get much more in that space than if everything was planted in rows.  Makes sense to me.

I wonder why more people don't have back yard gardens any more.  I have seen only one vegetable garden in my neighborhood.  With rising prices at the grocery stores, it seems to me that growing your own produce is a really good idea.  I remember as a young girl, looking across all of the back yards in my block, there was not one yard that didn't have a garden.  The only problem with having a garden is that it spoils a person.  Store-bought vegetables just never taste as good as those that are home grown.

And if you don't have a back yard garden, you miss the opportunity of having great memories in later years.  Like sitting in the middle of the tomato patch with your Dad, salt shaker in hand, eating tomatoes off the vine until you just couldn't eat any more.  Memories like that!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Proud Grandma

As you know, I have two granddaughters who dance.

Both Boston and Maddie are in competition dance this year.  And both did very well at their dance competitions the past two weekends.  Both girls won trophys and Boston won an award for being an "Outstanding Dancer."  Boston said before that competition that she really wanted to win that award.  When the girl puts her mind to something, it gets done.  Congratulations, Boston and Maddie.  You done good!

The things that these two young girls accomplish never ceases to amaze me.  I guess it shouldn't.  They love what they do.  They work hard at it.  They have the support of their parents.  But yet it boggles my mind that they should be able to do what they do, and do it so well.  Yep, this is Grandma bragging on them.  And they have earned the right to have me brag.

David said that he gets choked up every time he watches his daughters dance on stage.  He says the other parents have found out and give him a bit of a bad time about it.  But I can understand how this can happen.  Last week David stopped by and downloaded some photos and video of the kids.  The video was of Boston dancing at her first competition of the year.  I gotta admit that I teared up a bit watching her.  To see your child, or in my case, your grandchild, up on a stage, dancing her little heart out and doing such a fine job of it, just brings tears of happiness and pride to one's eyes.

And how can you possibly watch this one dance, knowing how shy she was about being in front of an audience just a couple of years ago, and not feel the emotions of pride and happiness at her accomplishment.

I am so very proud of you both, Boston and Maddie.
Love, Grandma

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Well Trained

My dogs are at my bedside the instant my feet touch the floor in the morning.  The bounce about like they have springs attached to their feet.  They twirl in circles.  Apparently, twirling in circles helps them get what they want.

I grope my way to the bathroom, where the dancing continues.  Up and down and around they go.  Worthy of any trained circus dog.  Any pictures that I have tried to take of this morning dance have been nothing more than brown fuzzy blurs.

I stagger into the kitchen, followed by the Yorkie Dance Team.  Before I get the coffee on, which is the most important part of my day, I grab the jar that holds their treats.  As I unscrew the top, the dancing and whirling escalates.  You would think that a ham bone for each was awaiting them.  But the treats are small.  Smaller than a quarter.

By now, they are standing on their hind legs in anticipation of goodies in their near future.  I give each of them a treat.  Jessie runs as fast as her short little legs will carry her back to my bedroom and hides behind my bed to eat her treat.  And Lily is off and running in the opposite direction to hide behind the coffee table in the living room.  They don't share well.

By the time I get the lid back on the jar and start my morning coffee, both are back in their beds, where they sleep until the middle of the morning.

I, on the other hand, am still struggling to get my eyes open all the way.

They have me very well trained.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dad and the Monsters

When I was a little girl I was afraid of the dark.
Monsters lived under my bed.
They hid in my closet.
I would lay in my bed, perfectly still, making sure that
my fingers and my toes didn't stray off the edge of the mattress.
If they did, the monster under the bed would grab them.
When the monsters were at their biggest and meanest,
Dad would come into my room.
He would sit in the rocking chair.
And he would quietly sit and rock until I fell asleep.
The monsters never got me.
Dad was there.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Ode to Spring

"Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz,
I wonder where
The flowers is."

Recited by my Dad every spring as far back as I can remember.  Usually performed as though he were a little boy who was standing in the front of an old country school room reciting his lessons, and always with a silly little smile on his face.

Isn't it funny, the little things that you remember......and miss.

Friday, April 1, 2011

It's Official. Spring is Here.

When I got up this morning, I looked out my living room window to see what the weather was doing.  On a branch of the little tree that grows there, sat a robin.  First one I have seen this year.  Spring is here.  I am so ready for it.  I want to see green lawns, green leaves and the first spring flowers.

I wonder if my kids remember going for a ride through the woods one spring on logging roads with Uncle Bruce and Aunt Etta.  That was back when going for a ride on a Sunday afternoon was a popular activity.  Before computers and video games and iPods and cell phones consumed our lives.  Going for a ride meant piling into the car and driving wherever one felt like going, seeing whatever nature had provided for us to look at.  This time, Uncle Bruce wanted to show the kids all of the beautiful May flowers that bloom in the north woods in the spring.  I particularly remember the tiny purple violets among the tall pines, along with many other varieties of flowers.  And the chokecherry trees in full bloom.

I'm not so sure that anyone but me will remember violets, but they might remember the two black bear cubs that wandered out onto the trail ahead of us.  We watched them for a time while they explored the world that was new to them, and then they scampered off into the woods.  The kids were young enough so that they wanted to get out of the car and go pet them, but Uncle Bruce said that their mama, although we never saw her, was close by, and she wouldn't be very happy to have anyone close to her cubs.

I think that sometime soon, after the river that is now busy flooding the walkway along it, goes back inside its banks, Jessie, Lily and I will have to go for a stroll along it and see if we can find some spring flowers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Days Are Better Than Others

There are times when I am totally ashamed of myself.  I had a bad day yesterday.  Arthritis is not fun.  It hurts.  Some days it hurts more than other days.  I found myself irritated because I couldn't do some of the things I wanted to do.  I also found myself in the middle of a pity party.  Shame on me.

My brother understands what this is all about.  Arthritis is our family inheritance.  How he keeps on keeping on, working in a physically demanding job, is beyond me.  I admire his strength and courage.

So in the middle of my mental whining (Whining out loud around here doesn't mean a thing.  The dogs ignore me and the cats could care less!) and feeling sorry for myself, I thought about my brother.  And then I thought about my mother, who was in a wheelchair and in a nursing home at a much younger age than I am now because of this disease.  I was able to get out of bed yesterday morning.  Mother could only get out of bed if someone lifted her.  I was able to take a shower alone, get dressed alone, fix my coffee and my meals without help and my hands still worked well enough to do some sewing.  Mother was unable to do any of these things.  What she would have given to have been able to function without help, I can only guess.

Today, on the other hand, is one of my Better Days.  I have been busy doing some of the household chores that were left undone yesterday.  I have been up and down the stairs in my building a couple of times without much of a problem.  I am back to normal, whatever normal is.  But I am left with a sense of shame at letting yesterday's trials get me down.  I try really hard not to do that.  Most of the time I succeed.  And when I don't, I think of those who are much worse off than I am.

It is sort of like the person who complained he had no shoes right up until he met a man who had no feet.

I think I need to concentrate more on what I do have, and be grateful for it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Food Obsession

Yes, I have developed an obsession with food.  Not so much the eating of it, although I will fight you to the death if you try to deprive me of my chocolate, but of the preserving of it.  Although I owe nobody any explanations of the way I choose to live, I feel as though I need to address this issue.  Mostly to give my children an understanding of what their mother is about.  Especially since some of them think I have stepped off the edge of reality.

When I was a young girl, my family had a large garden.  Every summer and fall we spent hours and hours in the kitchen canning and freezing the produce from this garden.  Money was tight.  Mother was ill most of her life.  She couldn't work outside of our home to provide extra family income.  Preserving garden produce insured that we would eat over the winter.

Later, when my children were young, I had a huge garden.  I canned and froze as much as possible, for money was very tight then as well.  Some of my children still remember the jars of food;  fruit, jam and jelly, pickles and relishes, meat and vegetables, that filled the basement shelves.  We may have been poor, but there was always enough to eat.

Things have changed.  I now live alone and have nobody to feed but myself.  I am not rich, but neither am I poor.  What I am is a widow living on a fixed income.  Every month that passes, my income is stretched thinner and thinner.  I am fortunate that I don't need a vehicle and the expense that goes along with it.  But other expenses like medical and groceries and rent, keep going up.  My income does not.

So I decided to change my lifestyle a bit to compensate.  I rarely eat out.  Twice a month I go out for breakfast with my oldest son.  We have been doing this for the last few years, and although I enjoy our breakfasts at a restaurant, it is more about the company.  But I get my fix of restaurant food at those times and it is enough.  I bake most of my own bread.  I can bake at least four loaves for the price of one loaf of store-bought bread.  I scoured the internet and found recipes for things like brownie mix, baking mix, cornbread mix, hamburger helper mix and stuffing mix.  These I can make for much, much less than I can buy them, and they taste good.  I buy bulk seasonings and spices and make things like taco mix, spaghetti sauce mix, onion soup mix and chicken coating mix.  All for very much less than the commercial equivalents.  And I have the added advantage of knowing what is in them as opposed to foods with unpronounceable chemicals included.

I don't have a garden as I did in the past.  Living in a city apartment makes that impossible.  Stuff just doesn't grow well in an asphalt parking lot!  So I buy fresh and frozen vegetables at the grocery store when they are on sale.  These can be either canned or dehydrated.  The canned vegetables I can use as a side dish with a meal or in casseroles and other dishes (I love creamed peas on toast.) and the dehydrated vegetables work really well in soups and stews.  If left frozen, they develop freezer burn long before I could use them up.  There is a Farmer's Market here and I hope to be able to buy tomatoes and other fresh produce there over the summer.  So much better than supermarket fare.

When meat is on sale, I buy as much as I can afford, freeze what I will use within a month and pressure can the rest.  I am not really good at meal planning.  It is more like deciding about 3 PM what would taste good for supper.  Yesterday I defrosted a pork chop, baked it in the oven along with potatoes and carrots that I had canned together just for that purpose.  The potatoes and carrots browned nicely in the oven and it was really good tasting.  Another day I opened a jar of chicken, another of peas and carrots, tossed them together with macaroni, dehydrated onion and mayo, and had a chicken macaroni salad for supper, along with a slice of homemade bread.  This is one reason that I can food.  I tend to get busy doing other things and forget about meals until I start to get hungry.  It is nice to be able to open a jar or two and supper is served.

Contrary to popular opinion, I have not, nor do I intend to join a survivalist group.  Not my thing.  Granted, I would prefer living in a country setting and having a garden and all of the things that go along with country living, but at this stage of my life I am realistic enough to know that this isn't going to happen.  I am more into preparedness.  Life has a way of blindsiding us from time to time.  I am pretty sure that people in Japan weren't aware when they went to work in the morning that their lives would drastically change by late afternoon.  Not that I think that we will suffer an earthquake, and a tsunami is unlikely to cover Minnesota any time soon, but things beyond our control can and do happen.  I just believe in being as prepared as I can be.

There are things that the hard-core preparedness people do that I don't.  I have no guns or ammunition stockpiled.  I haven't invested in a solar oven or propane camp stove.  I haven't converted savings into precious metals.  There are many of these things that just aren't practical for me to do or that I would be comfortable with doing.  But the one thing I can do to be prepared for the unexpected is to have food canned and dehydrated.  At present, I have probably 4 to 5 months worth of food put by.  My goal is a years worth.  I realize that at my present weight and girth, chances are I probably won't starve to death any time soon.  But I don't want to be one of those elderly people we hear about who have to choose between paying for the medications they need to keep them alive and buying food to eat.

I also don't want to have to ask for help, although there are times when a little help is greatly appreciated.  Being as self-sufficient as possible is particularly important to me.  It keeps me out of the nursing home.  It makes me feel as though I have some self-worth when I can take care of myself.  And by preserving food for future use, I can insure that I won't have to ask any of my family for help with the groceries, with the possible exception of hauling them up the stairs to my apartment.

I also really like the part where I don't have to rush to the store to stock up on essentials just before a snow storm.  I remember doing that in the past and fighting crowds of people doing the same thing.  I only go to the store now to buy the sale items or to replenish my kitchen pantry when I use the last bottle of ketchup or jar of mayo or need a dozen eggs.  I have everything I need to get through any storm or other unforeseen disaster.

So you all can stop worrying that Mom has gone over the edge or that her mind is going because she preserves food.  There is a method in this madness.  Now, if I begin to have meaningful conversations with Elvis, then you can worry.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2 AM Musings

One should never fall asleep around suppertime and wake up after 9 PM.  It really wrecks going to bed at a decent hour.

And to make it worse, strange thoughts float around in one's head at 2 AM.  Well, to be perfectly honest, strange thoughts aren't really all that unusual for me, but I digress.

I was wondering, at 2 AM, why my parent's generation was so terribly worried about what people would think.  Like the time when my Mother's doctor prescribed a shot of brandy at night to help her sleep.  Mother made Dad get the brandy from the druggist rather than the liquor store, even though he paid twice the price at the drug store for brandy in a prescription bottle, because she was afraid of what people would say if they saw him coming out of the liquor store.

As a kid, I went through a stage where I wore mostly jeans and my Dad's old flannel shirts.  I lived in the country.  I played in the woods.  I grubbed around in the garden.  I did yard work.  I sat up in apple trees and read books.  I liked jeans and old comfy flannel shirts.  But Mother was always after me to change clothes because what would people say if we got company and they saw me dressed like that.

My 4-H softball team practiced on Sunday afternoons.  I loved playing softball.  I was a pretty fair shortstop.  But Mother was worried about what people would say if they knew that I was playing ball on Sunday, which was a day of rest.

I always wondered who "They" were.  Who were these people who were just waiting for my family to do something out of the ordinary so they could say whatever it was that they were going to say.  I probably, in retrospect, shouldn't have posed this question to Mom, for, as I recall, it got me a week of living in my bedroom and a month of Wednesday night Prayer Meeting at the church, no doubt to pray for the state of my rebellious soul.  I think that having a daughter who was, at that time, a bit of a free spirit, must have been a trial for her.

Odd, the things one remembers at 2 AM.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Beef Sticks

A couple of weeks ago I made beef sticks out of hamburger.  I have this handy dandy little gizmo that came with the first dehydrator I bought.  You stuff it full of seasoned hamburger, squeeze the trigger and out pops beef sticks.

David had told me that his kids really like beef sticks, so I tried a 3 lb. chub of hamburger in my dehydrator.  A few days after David picked up the package and took it home, I asked whether the kids liked the homemade beef sticks.  He allowed as they must, because the package was nearly empty.

So Wednesday of this week he dropped off 6 lbs of hamburger.  Last evening I mixed the spices in and refrigerated it overnite.  Hamburger goes through the gizmo better if it is cold, and the spices need time to meld with the meat.

This morning I made beef sticks.  Six lbs of hamburger will fill nearly seven dehydrator trays.  The old towels under the dehydrator are to catch any grease that seeps out of the bottom.  I learned about doing that with the first batch I made.

After about 12 hours, I had beef sticks.

I love my gadgets.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Month of Sundays

While doing my little stint at the computer this morning, I realized that it has been a month of Sundays since I last blogged.  Well, OK.  Maybe not quite that long.  But it has been a while.

I tend to get sidetracked.  A lot.  Especially if I have a new toy to play with.  I have been dehydrating veggies.  Cub had a sale on frozen veggies, which work really well in the dehydrator.  Just open the bags, spread them on the trays and let them dry.  I tried some shredded cabbage, too.  I like cabbage in soup, and that worked really well.  I also dried 10 lbs. of onions.  I use lots of dry onions, and they turned out great.  The other day, I opened a jar of canned chicken broth and a jar of chicken, dumped them into the crock pot, tossed in a handful of each of the dried veggies and let it all cook.  All of the veggies rehydrated really well and that was some seriously good chicken veggie soup.

I also tried drying a variety of fruit.  The strawberries turned out OK as did the mandarin oranges.  The oranges are a good snack.  But I wasn't thrilled with any of the other fruit, so I probably won't be drying much of that.  Maybe enough to chop up and use in muffins or quick breads.  I haven't tried apples yet.  They might turn out fine.  We shall see.

I have another new kitchen toy that I have been playing with.  When I got my new dehydrator, at the same time I got a jar sealer attachment for my Foodsaver.  That is the neatest little gadget since the invention of the bread slicer.  I wasn't happy with using plastic bags for storing my dried stuff.  Little creepy crawlers can get into Ziploc bags.  I know this because I had to toss out a bag of wheat flour that I had in a plastic bag.  So I put all of my extra dry stuff into glass jars and vac sealed them.  When I use the veggies, I just pop the lid, take out the amount I want to use, and reseal the jar.  Cool.  The dollar store had brown sugar for a buck a bag, so I bought some and sealed that in quart jars and stashed it in the pantry.  It stays soft and I don't wind up with brown sugar rocks.  I love it!

Then there was the sale at Joann's.  Flannel for $2.50 a yard.  That's less than half of the normal price.  I am in need of blankets.  I am not fond of blankets from the local big box stores.  I really like quilts.  Especially warm, snugly handmade quilts.  So I bought enough flannel for three new quilts.  These are not fancy, but are more utilitarian.  There were lots of little kid prints and not much of a selection of other styles, so I went for bright and happy as opposed to beautiful.

This orange quilt top is done and the other two are in various stages of completion.  I expect that winter will be nearly over by the time I get the backs and batting put together with the tops, but that is OK.  I will be all snugly warm when next winter comes blowing in on us.

So that's what I have been up to for my Month of Sundays.  Pretty tame stuff compared to your lives, but it works for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Play Toy

I just love kitchen gadgets.  My kitchen is small  and without much storage space, so I am selective about the gadgets I buy.  But I just couldn't resist this one.

Meet my new Nesco Dehydrator.

I have been looking at this one online for quite some time.  But the only store in my area that carried them in stock and not just for online ordering was Fleet Farm.  I don't do credit cards any more, so ordering online is a hassle.  I can't get there by bus.  So Wednesday this week, David picked me up and took me to Fleet Farm.  I had so much fun.

I found my dehydrator, extra trays for it, plastic mesh sheets that fit on the trays to keep tiny pieces of food from dropping into the lower trays, plus another gadget that plugs into my Food Saver for sealing dehydrated foods in glass canning jars.  I was in heaven!

I have a dehydrator that is several years old, and I have used it to dry onions, but not much else, as it had no temperature control on it.  It had a tendency to cook as it dried, and that made for less than perfect dried foods.   The new dehydrator has the temperature control which will make it much easier for me to dry all the foods I want to dehydrate.  I tested it with some frozen vegetables that I had bought on sale a couple of weeks ago.

This is what you get from one pound bags of peas, cauliflower and two bags of broccoli.  The cauliflower turns white again when rehydrated in water.  I cook very few big meat and potato meals for myself, but prefer soups, stews, casseroles and the like.  So now, rather than having freezer space taken up with bags of veggies, or cupboard space crowded with cans of veggies, I have the dried veggies that take up much less space.  I can just toss a handful of whatever combinations I want into a pot of soup simmering on the stove.  Or rehydrate them in water to add to a casserole.  I love it.

I am off tomorrow to do a little grocery shopping, and will get a variety of fruits to dry as well as more frozen veggies.  I love dried fruit, but don't like the prices of the prepared stuff, or the additives in them to give them a longer shelf life.  And the home dried fruit tastes so much better.  David requested some beef sticks that can be made with ground beef and spices, so I will make those next week as well.  I think I like the beef sticks as much as his kids do.

Thank you, David, for taking time from your busy schedule to run me over to Fleet Farm.  It was nice to be able to spend time with you.  I really love it when we have time to just talk.  And I am having so much fun with my new play toy!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Rocky and Bullwinkle

If I let my family know that the other evening I spent a couple of hours watching reruns of the old Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show, do you suppose they might insist on therapy for me?

Especially if they knew that I spent a good deal of that time laughing out loud, all by myself, at the silly jokes and puns?  And that I giggled all the way through the Fractured Fairy Tales and Dudley Doright segments?

Yeah, they probably would.

I won't tell them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Slow Down, You Move Too Fast"

Simon and Garfunkel had it right with those lyrics in their song.

Why is it that we feel the need to move so fast?  I think, speaking only for myself, it is due to years of this learned behavior.  It began with my mother, who was a bit of a perfectionist.  Dust bunnies hopped away in terror.  Dishes didn't dare sit dirty in the sink for more than 10 minutes after a meal.  We washed clothes on Monday and ironed them on Tuesday, etc., etc., etc.  I remember watching my Dad mow the lawn at the farm, on nearly a dead run behind the lawn mower.

I understand the need to keep my living space free from dirt.  I mostly do that.  But I find myself rushing about to get things done.  I don't know why I do this when I now have all the time in the world to get things done.  The dust bunny police are not going to knock on my door.  I answer to nobody but myself.  So why, in the name of good common sense, should I rush about like a chicken with no head!  There is no good reason that I can think of.

We live in a fast-paced world.  It seems to me that so many people try to cram so many things into one 24-hour day.  I did the same when I was still in the work force.  I still have trouble slowing down, and if per chance I take a day and do nothing, I blog about it, because it is so unusual.  That's kind of sad.

I believe that the world would be a much better place if we had more rocking chairs on more front porches, and if we used them.  To sit.  And rock.  And cuddle with a kid.  And remember the good things.  And hum a long remembered song.  And sip a good cup of coffee or glass of homemade tangy lemonade.  And watch the world go by.  And take time out of busy lives to smell a few roses.  And enjoy a sunset.

I think my rocking chair is calling my name.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Grandma's Laundry

I have been known to whine about doing my laundry.  I whine about it a lot.  Anyone who knows me also knows that laundry is not my most favorite job in the world.  Did I mention that I don't like laundry?

I was thinking about my Grandma Matheny the other day.  Her first child was born in 1898.  By 1906 she had six children, including two sets of twins.  She did lots of laundry.

When I wash clothes, I pop them into the washer, go drink a cup of coffee while they wash, toss them into the dryer and drink another couple of cups while the machine does the work.  Not Grandma.  She took buckets outside to the water pump in the yard, hand pumped them full of water and hauled the buckets into the house.  I'm thinking that she made more than just a few trips carrying buckets of water.  Then she heated the water on her wood burning cook stove and filled a wash tub with the hot water.

I don't know for sure what Grandma used for laundry soap.  I make my own laundry soap.  I do this because I want to, not because I have to, and because commercial laundry detergents make my skin itch.  And because I can get six months worth of homemade laundry soap for the price of one small bottle of commercial laundry soap.  And because my handmade soap gets my clothes really clean and fresh.  But if Grandma didn't make her own soap, she used a large bar of harsh soap and cut or grated flakes off of it to wash her clothes.  Soap flakes and soap powder weren't invented until the mid 1900's.  And store-bought laundry soap would have been expensive.  She didn't have money for luxuries like laundry soap from a store.

When my clothes go into the washer, an agitator swooshes them around in the soapy water and gets them clean.  I'm pretty sure that Grandma's house didn't have electricity until later years when her children were nearly grown.  So Grandma did the agitating of clothes by rubbing them on a washboard.  She had nine children.  In 1906 she had two sets of twins under the age of four plus two older children.  That's a whole lot of cloth diapers and overalls over those years to scrub on a washboard.  To say nothing of the dirty farm clothes and children's play clothes.  Those kids got dirty.  They didn't sit in a clean environment playing video games or watching television or playing computer games.  They played outdoors.  In the woods.  In the dirt.  They worked outdoors as well, in the garden or helping with farm chores.

When my clothes have finished washing, they go into the dryer.  Grandma's clothes went in a basket and were hauled outside to the clothesline where they were hung up to dry.  I don't know how she managed to dry clothes in the winter.  Some hung clothes outside to freeze-dry and some hung clothes in the house to dry.  Either way, it was a whole lot more work than tossing them into a dryer.

When my clothes are dry, I fold them or hang them on hangars and put them away.  I don't own anything any more that needs to be ironed.  My ironing board stays in the closet until I need to press fabric for a quilt.  But Grandma didn't know about perma-press.  The clothes for her family were made of cotton, wool and other organic fabrics.  They came off the clothesline wrinkled.  I expect that this didn't matter for work clothes and play clothes, but the dresses she made for herself and her daughters and the shirts that the boys wore to school or church all had to be ironed.  When I want to press a quilt top, I just plug my iron into the outlet, let it heat up and in minutes, the job is done.  Grandma heated heavy flatirons on the top of her wood stove and with these she ironed clothes.  For eleven people.  Sometimes twelve, if my Great-grandfather was staying with them as he did sometimes.

And she did all of this along with the routine cleaning and cooking required to take care of such a large family.

I am such a wimp in comparison.  I do believe that I can not whine ever again about doing my little dab of laundry.  Or whine about any of the other daily chores that I do.  I don't have to haul water or scrub clothes on a washboard or haul heavy baskets to a clothesline or iron with heavy flatirons.  I have it pretty darned good.  The superwomen of today have nothing on my Grandma.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Brothers Are a Good Thing

When I was a young girl, I wished for a brother.  I had a sister already, and that was good, but I always wanted a brother.  I envied my friends who had brothers.  I always thought that a brother would be just the neatest thing.  When I was 15 years old, I finally got my wish.

When that brother was about three years old, I lived in a small rented house.  The landlord was a crabby old man, who refused to turn on the heat, even though the weather was unseasonably cold for the spring of the year and we were sick from living in such cold, damp quarters.  When he caught me trying to heat the kitchen using the oven, he yelled at me.  My brother was with me when that happened.  My mother told me later that my brother went around with rocks in his pockets for days afterward.  When Mom asked him about the rocks, he said that he was going to throw them at the mean man who yelled at his sister.  Even then, he was watching out for me.

On Saturday afternoon, that same brother and his lovely wife came to see me.  Kelly was in the area for his job, and Jackie had driven down to spend the weekend with him.  Kelly is away from home a lot.  Their time together is limited.  That they would choose to spend some of that precious time with me just blows me away.

We sat at my kitchen table and drank coffee (lots of coffee) and ate cookies and we talked.  We got caught up on our various kids and grandkids and how everybody was doing.  We exchanged cute grandkid stories.  We talked of our parents and of times past.  We remembered aunts, uncles and cousins and told those stories as well.  Jackie, bless her heart, listened to all of it, uncomplaining.  She is a gem.

Time always goes by way too fast when I am with my brother, and although several hours had passed, too soon it was time for them to go.  Saying goodbye is always hard to do, but knowing that we will do this again whenever we can, makes it easier.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Aunt Em

My Aunt Em was probably my most favorite aunt.  This was, I think, because there were only 10 years separating us in age and because she was the only one of my aunts who lived close to me while I was growing up.  But more than that, she loved me unconditionally.

Em had graduated from High School in St. Paul, where she had lived with my Grandmother.  But when she married Ronnie, she moved to his farm near Svea, just a few miles from my family's home.  We spent holidays with Ronnie and Em and their family the whole time I was growing up.  There were kids birthday parties and Sunday picnics at the lake and other times when Mom and her sister just got together to talk over a cup of coffee.  Em and her family were a huge part of my life.

I won't dwell on her death, for that is too painful for me.  I will tell you about the blue octopus she made for me, that lived on my bed until I was out of school and had a home of my own.  She is the one who gave me a jar of her homemade dill pickles, complete with a big red bow on top, for Christmas one year because I always hounded her for her homemade pickles when we were at her house.  She is the one who took care of me when my mother was ill.  She is the aunt who was always there when I needed her.

Her sense of humor was second to none.  She could make me laugh no matter how grumpy I was.  She told stories, mostly on herself, like about the time she used her big pressure cooker to cook up a big batch of vegetable soup that she canned every fall.  She set the lid on the cooker, thinking that it was set so that it wouldn't seal, but the lid slipped, sealed and pressure built up, eventually blowing the lid off.  She wasn't hurt, but she spent the next couple of hours cleaning vegetable soup off of the stove, the floor, the cupboards, the walls, the ceiling.....

My family traditionally spent Christmas Day with Ronnie and Em's family, while I still lived at home.  The funny thing is, I remember very little about the Christmas presents, other than the octopus and pickles.  What I remember most is sharing a good meal and how much fun it was when we all got together.  There was laughter and love and good-natured teasing and all of the things that are present when people who love one another are in each other's company.

She was one in a million.