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.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's Winter in Minnesota

And when it's winter in Minnesota, you just have to go and play in the snow.

And after you play in the snow, you come inside and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

That's just the way it is in Minnesota.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jacob is Three!

Our Jacob had his third birthday last Sunday.  Three Grandmas, one Grandpa and one Great-Grandma were there to help celebrate.

There were presents.

There was cake.

But best of all, there was Jacob.  

He is growing so very fast.  At least, it seems that way to me.  Not all that long ago, seems like just the day before yesterday, we were celebrating his birth.  Now he calls me to tell me what he has been doing, like his big sisters do.  The best part is when he says, "Love you, Gramma."

Happy Birthday, Jacob.
Love, Grandma

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

That Darn Cat

Ya see that face?  All innocence and cuteness?  Don't let him fool you.

I suppose he figured that if I wouldn't let him eat the brownies, he would just stomp through them instead.

Ya know those bear rugs that people have in front of their fireplaces?  I can see one like that about the size of a gray tabby cat as a bath mat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dad's Cars

When I was growing up, my Dad usually had two cars.  One was the family car that we drove to town for groceries and other shopping and drove to church on Sundays, and the other was what he called his work car.  That one he drove to his job as a Grain Sampler in Willmar.

I never cared much one way or the other about the family car.  But, Oh how I loved his work cars.  The ones he had when I was old enough to drive were an early 1950's  faded blue Plymouth and a gray Studebaker, also early 1950's vintage.  These were not spiffy classic cars.  These were dirty, rusty and disreputable looking cars.  They smelled of grain dust and oil.  They were parked away from the house as they were always leaking some sort of fluid from underneath.  The only thing he asked from his work cars was that they should run well enough to get him to work and back home again.

Whenever I could wheedle Dad's car keys from him, I drove one of his work cars.  They were great.  I could go places with friends and not worry about the car.  I could put a ding in the side of one, and if I covered up the new scratch or dent with a little mud, nobody could tell it from the dents already adorning the car.  Don't ask me how I know this.  I think that driving these old cars was reverse snobbery, in a way.  The kids at school had their highly polished, fancy painted, souped up Hot Rods.  I had Dad's old work car.  This appealed to my sense of humor.

This was the last of Dad's work cars that I remember.

Unfortunately for me, I no longer lived at home when he had this car, but I remember that it was at least as disreputable as his previous work cars.  It might have been worth living at home yet just to have been able to drive it.

Dad told me once that he would sometimes take my sister to school in this car, and that she would have him drop her off a block or so away from their destination so none of her friends would see her in the car.  I expect that I, on the other hand, would have been more likely to pull right up to the front door, or park it in the first row of the parking lot.

I've always been ornery that way.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I don't have cable TV.  I don't watch enough TV to justify paying the high fees.  I have an antenna.  It works well enough so that if I do want to watch TV, I have the choice of between 8 and 10 channels.  More than enough for me.  Most of the time.

This past weekend I was in my living room doing some hand sewing on a quilt.  Decided to watch a little TV while I worked.  This was a mistake.

Aside from the Public Broadcasting channels, there were mostly a variety of infomercials on.  At least half of these were for creams and lotions that, should I immediately call to order because operators were indeed standing by, holding their breath waiting for me to pick up the phone, credit card in hand, would take away every wrinkle that ever thought about appearing on my face.

I have a news flash for those people.  I am perfectly content with my wrinkled face.  The crow's feet around my eyes and the deep lines on either side of my mouth show that my sense of humor is alive and well and that throughout my life, I have laughed much more than frowned.  The rest of the lines and wrinkles give this face character.  They show that I have lived, not just existed.  When I see someone of my vintage whose face is perfectly smooth, I rather feel a bit sorry for them.  How can you lead a full life and not have it show in your face?

My Grandma Matheny had one of those faces that showed that she had lived.  She was a true pioneer in the northern Minnesota woods, moving to that area with her family when most roads were logging roads or trails.  Train travel was new to that part of the state and the railroad lines didn't reach as far north as she lived in the log house built by my Grandfather.  She raised her nine children there, without inside plumbing and without the modern conveniences that we are convinced we could never live without.  Grandma's face was lined with wrinkles.  I thought she was beautiful.

Grandma with Clarice, Shirley and one of Shirley's children

Sometimes when I was just a little girl, I would sit on my Grandma's lap.  Once in a while I would sit on her lap while she sat on the heavy, cast iron oven door of her wood-burning kitchen range, waiting for the room to heat in the early morning, just as my Dad had done when he was a little boy.  I remembering reaching up and touching her wrinkled face.  It was soft as silk.  Her smile deepened those wrinkles, and she was all the more beautiful to me.  I guess that along with that wrinkled face came the unconditional love that a Grandma has for her grandchild.

What I wouldn't give to see that wrinkled face again.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Were They Thinking

I love going through old pictures.  Many times they lead me for a stroll down Memory Lane.

Sometimes I will run across a picture that puzzles me.  One in which you wonder what those people were thinking about when the picture was taken.

Like this one.

This one was taken in 1960, sometime around Christmas.  The little doo-dad on the coffee table was a decoration that Mom set out only at Christmas time.  The candles on the bottom were lit and the heat from them made the angels above move round and round.  Mom and Dad are in the living room of the house on the farm.  But what on earth could they have been thinking about to have such sober looks on their faces!

That's more like it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On Happiness

One of the blogs that I read daily had a post recently about happiness and the fact that each of us is responsible for our own state of mind.  It stated that others can not make us happy.  We and we alone have the ability to choose whether to live in a state of happiness or in a state of misery.

Everyone has people in their lives who could drag us down if we allowed them to.  And each of us has circumstances, whether it be financial problems, work related aggravations, living situations or a myriad of other things in life, that could make us unhappy.  Even our long, cold, gray winters can bring us down.  But only if we let them.

The suggestion was made that we make a list of ten things that make us happy, and whenever we start to feel down in the dumps, take out that list and read it.  Focus on those things that make us truly happy.  Although I have never actually written down this list, this is a method I have used in the last few years to ward off depression.  Whenever I feel myself headed toward a pity party, I think about things more pleasant.  So here is my list of happy things.

1.  Fall leaves make me happy.  I love that time of year.  The hot, muggy summer days are gone, the air is crisp but not freezing cold, and the colors of the leaves are spectacular.  I love being outside this time of year just to drink it all in and enjoy.

2.  Flowers make me happy.  Flowers are one of God's best creations.  I love lilacs in the spring and daisies in the summer.  I love the rich colors of chrysanthemums in the fall.  My walks in the warm months of the year are made so much better when I see a yard full of flowers.  Or when I bring home cut flowers from the store.  They always brighten my day.

3.  Soft spring rains make me happy.  Spring rains wash away all of the dirty, dreary leftovers of winter.  They bring on the beautiful green leaves and grass of summer.  They make the world smell fresh and clean.

4.  Big brown puppy eyes make me happy.  Dogs are so trusting.  They love you unconditionally.  They want to be with you, even when you are grumpy.  And even if you just went out to get the mail, they act like they are so glad to see you when you come back.

5.  Phone calls make me happy.  I'm not talking about those calls where someone wants to sell me something.  Or those bad news calls that we have all received.  I am talking about the ones where my adult child says that they just called to see how I am.  Or those calls where a grandchild has something exciting to tell me about.  Or when a friend or relative calls just because they missed me.  Those are the phone calls that make me happy.

6.  The smell of homemade bread baking in the oven makes me happy.  It is not just the promise of the yummy goodness that will be ready to eat soon, but it is also the memories of the smell of bread fresh from the oven when I got home from school, as a child.

7.  Memories make me happy.  We all have good memories and bad memories.  The bad ones I have taken out, looked at them and then packed them away on a shelf in the back of the closet of my mind.  Those things that caused the bad memories cannot be changed, only learned from, and they are not worth dwelling on.  But the good memories live in my mind, right in front, where I can take them out, remember good times or people who are well loved or places that made me happy.  Good memories can bring sunshine to the darkest day.

8.  Making things makes me happy.  It doesn't matter if it is a quilt that I make, or a batch of chocolate chip cookies or a really good supper.  I get as much pleasure crocheting a granny square for my work-in-progress afghan as I do from making a loaf of bread.  I come by this honestly.  My mother was creative.  She sewed and made crafty things when I was young.  It is her influence that causes me to be happy while "doing something," no matter what it is.

9.  Woods and water make me happy.  There is a feeling of peacefulness that goes along with a walk in the woods or along a shore.  The smell of pine trees, the sounds of bird's songs and the gentle lapping of water on a shore make for a serene soul.  Whenever I have been unhappy or distressed, a walk in nature has most times brought me back to a place of happiness.

10.  I have saved the best for last.  My children and grandchildren make me the happiest of all.  Whether we are spending time together on a family picnic or on a holiday or special occasion, or whether I am just looking at their pictures that I keep in my bedroom, or talking with them on the phone, my family never ceases to make me happy.  They are my best thing and I love them will all of my heart.

I can guarantee that if I were unhappy, reading my list of happy things would turn the most dreary time into one of complete joy.  It works.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Survive Winter

I have finally figured it out.  I now know how to survive a Minnesota winter.  I stay indoors.

I don't recall disliking winter when I was a child.  I remember the fun of building snow forts.  And snowmen.  And making snow angels.  And ice skating.  And sledding.

Going sledding at my Grandma Matheny's house near Blackduck was exciting.  The cousins would take sleds and toboggans to the hill in the cow pasture across from the house.  This hill was full of rocks and tree stumps.  The person who was steering the sled had better be good at it, or we would hit a rock or stump and go flying off into the snow.

One year when I was about 8 or 9 years old, my Christmas present was a pair of ice skates.  Five blocks from our house in Willmar was an outdoor ice skating rink.  I spent many hours there skating.....pretending I was an Olympic skating star.  Truth be known, I never did get the hang of skating backwards or doing the fancy steps and jumps, but Oh, how I loved to skate.

When my family lived on the farm, sometimes in the winter my Dad and Uncle Ronnie would pack up us kids on a Sunday afternoon and head for the lake.  They would shovel off an area so we could ice skate.  Or they would drive the car around on the ice and snow, towing us on skis or sleds.  I'm pretty sure that the towing part would be frowned upon today, what with all the concern with safety issues.  But we sure had fun.  And afterward, there was always hot chocolate and cookies at either our house or at Ronnie and Em's.

I guess I really don't hate winter.  I love to sit in my rocking chair by the window with a cup of tea or coffee and watch the snow fall.  I love the way the snow makes everything look so beautiful.  But after years of clearing snow off of sidewalks with a shovel and years of slippy sliding on the ice, walking or driving, I much prefer to watch winter from the comfort of my living room.

Works for me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Great Canning Marathon

So, when I shopped for groceries I found ham and beef roast on sale.  Brought home a ham and two roasts.  Cut the meat from the ham bone and cubed it.  Cut both roasts into cubes and browned the cubes in the oven.  Stuffed the whole shebang into pint jars and canned them.

Canned meat isn't pretty.  Jars of canned peaches are pretty.  Jelly in jars is pretty.  Meat is not.  But it doesn't have to look pretty to go into a ham and scalloped potato dish or into a country beef stew or homemade vegetable beef soup, which is where these jars of meat will wind up.  I think I need to can more ham and beef the next time there is a sale.

I had a little ham left over.....not enough to fill a pint jar.  So into my pantry I went and dug out a bag of dry split peas and a couple jars of carrots.  Dumped them into a stock pot along with the broth that I had boiled the ham bone in, the leftover ham and the meat from the ham bone, threw in a handful of dried onion and a little pepper.  Tossed in a pint of celery that I had canned a while back, just for fun.  Brought the soup to a boil and then let it simmer on the back burner all day.  This is seriously good split pea soup.  Had a bowl for supper and canned the rest.

This soup separates during canning, but combines again when heated and stirred.

Then I decided to try something just for fun.  I had found a recipe for canning French Fries.  I already can potatoes.  I do this because I can get a pretty good price on a large bag of potatoes as opposed to the smaller bags.  Trouble is, I can't eat even a small bag before they go bad.  Canning them solves this problem and I can have canned potatoes boiled, mashed or fried.  Works like a charm.  I love French Fries.  So I decided to try this recipe.

I just peeled and cut them lengthwise into fries, packed them in wide mouth pint jars so they would be easier to take out of the jar, covered them with boiling water and ran them through my pressure canner.  I only had four empty wide mouth pint jars for the French Fries, so I filled enough small mouth jars with cubed potatoes to fill the canner.

Of course I had to give the fries a taste test, so the next day I opened a jar.  These only take a couple of inches of oil to fry, so I heated the oil, dumped the drained fries into the pot and let them brown.

I really can't tell the difference between these canned French Fries and those I have made with raw potatoes.  They are yummy.  I may have to can up a few more jars of these.

And with that, the great canning marathon came to an end.

It gives me a sense of accomplishment to see these jars of meat, soup and potatoes on the pantry shelves and knowing that if I get a hankering for beef stew and biscuits, I don't have to run to the grocery store for the ingredients.  Grab a few jars off the pantry shelves and before long, dinner is served.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Favorite Photo of Mom

I have no idea where or when this photo was taken or even who took it.  I only know that's my Mom sitting on that rock.  I know that she is too far away from the photographer to be able to know who it is just by looking at the photo.  But I found it in the photo album that she had put together when she was young.  You can see by the caption she wrote underneath that it is indeed her.

And I really love this photo of her.

(You can click on any photo and bring it up full size in another window.)

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Have Chihuahuas

 Actually, I have Yorkies.  Jessie Jane and Lily.  Eleven and nine pounds worth of  Yorkies, respectively.

Yorkies coats require constant brushing.  Their hair grows long and mats up easily.  After three years of working at a job where I bathed and brushed dogs of every shape and size and breed, this activity is not high on my list of fun things to do.  Truth be told, I tend to procrastinate when it comes to brushing my dogs.  And they hide in their kennels when they see the doggie brush in my hand.

This is what they looked like a few of days ago.

I hang my head in shame.

So I took them to Starla on Wednesday for their grooming appointment.

I now have Chihuahuas.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's the Police

Yesterday morning my phone rang.  It was someone downstairs using the intercom to get into my building.  He said he was the police.

Now why is it that when you hear it is the police at your door, your heart stops momentarily and you get a sinking feeling in your stomach.  You wonder what it was that you did wrong.  Must be some leftover guilt from being raised by parents who believed that anything that wasn't church related was wrong.  After all, I haven't robbed any banks lately.  I don't own a car, so there are no outstanding traffic tickets.  I'm too old and too tired to get myself into too much trouble these days.  So why is a policeman calling me wanting to get into my building?

As I live alone, I make it a practice not to buzz anyone in that I don't know.  So I went downstairs and after checking his identification, I let the officer in.  Turns out, he was a very nice young man who just wanted to know if I had a phone number for my landlord.  This officer's job is to work with apartment building owners in my area, for the purpose of reducing drug traffic and crime.

I am fortunate to live in a building where this isn't a problem as far as tenants go.  It wasn't always so.  When Mike and I first moved here 15 years ago, we had a neighbor down the hall from us who was a drug dealer.  There were a parade of his customers knocking on his door day and night.  Later on there was, how shall I put this, a lady of ill repute living here, with another parade of men knocking on her door.  There was an assortment of people who couldn't seem to live together without fighting, and the police were called regularly to referee.  We continued to live here only because the rent was so reasonable and we were allowed to have our pets.

So my landlord first fired the guy who managed the building as this man was only concerned with collecting rent and turned a blind eye to everything else.  Then my landlord set about to clean out the building.  He remodeled the apartments and took care to check references when renting an apartment.  He installed a security system.  I now have good neighbors and no longer worry about who is wandering the halls.

It is nice to know that the local law enforcement is working to help landlords in my area when it comes to crime.  Makes me feel a little more safe and secure.  I gave the nice young man a couple of ginger cookies that were cooling on the kitchen table.  And thanked him for watching out for the residents of this area.

So the next time a policeman knocks on my door, I may not jump to the conclusion that it is a bad thing.